Edwards, Allmendinger, Gordon and Ryan Blaney highlight storylines
Chad Norris with Trevor Bayne after their Texas win in 2011. (ASP, Inc.)
Carl Edwards, winless in his last 52 races and fighting to make NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, has a new crew chief, Roush Fenway Racing announced Tuesday.
Chad Norris will replace Bob Osborne as Edwards’ crew chief immediately. Osborne was with Edwards when Edwards made his Cup debut in 2004 and ran the final 13 races that year. The following season, their first full season together, Edwards won four races and finished third in the points.
Osborne and Edwards parted in May 2006 in what is Edwards’s worst full season to date, before being reunited in 2007. They had been together since, winning 18 races and finishing second in the championship twice.
Their split this time comes as Edwards is 11th in the point standings, 46 points behind the 10th and final points-qualifying Chase spot. He is not in position for one of the two wild card spots at this time since he doesn’t have a victory. Seven races remain until the Chase field is set.
“At this time in my life, however, concerns with my health have necessitated that I change my role within the organization,” Osborne said in a statement issued by the team. “This transition is not an easy one, but I’m thankful to have the full support of Jack (Roush), Carl and the entire organization. I also have every confidence in Chad Norris, and I look forward to working with him as we continue to pursue a championship in 2012. I also appreciate the privacy and respect that the community will give me and my family during this difficult time.”
Osborne will remain with Roush Fenway Racing and be a senior member of its management team and steering committee.
“I cannot say enough good things about Bob Osborne,” Edwards said in a team release. “I’m so thankful for what he’s done for me as a driver, and he is without a doubt one of the smartest guys in the sport. I’m also appreciative of the fact that he’ll continue to be a resource for me and our team as we focus on these final races.
“We’re very fortunate to have Chad Norris as part of our organization to take over for the No. 99. I’ve known Chad for a long time and he is a fierce competitor. We’ve got our work cut out for us over the next seven races, and I’ve got every confidence Chad can lead our team to where we need to be.”
Norris has been with Roush since 2005, when he scored his first win, a Nationwide Series victory, in his fifth race as crew chief for Matt Kenseth. He’s led the company’s research and development test program since last year. Norris most recently oversaw wins in the Nationwide Series for Marcos Ambrose and Trevor Bayne in 2011. He has also served as Bayne’s NNS crew chief this season.
“Our commitment to winning a championship with the No. 99 in 2012 has not wavered,” owner Jack Roush said in a statement. “I’m committed to providing the resources to Carl and to his team to do that, and this restructuring of Bob’s role and the introduction of Chad Norris as the crew chief for the No. 99 will put us in the best possible position for these final seven races before the ‘Chase’ begins.”
’DINGER’S DATE SET A date has been set to test AJ Allmendinger’s “B” sample following his failed random drug test prior to the July Daytona race weekend.
Allmendinger’s business manager, Tara Ragan, released in a statement that, “We now have a confirmed date for the testing of AJ's “B” (split specimen) sample. The test will take place on Tuesday, July 24 at 8:00 a.m. CDT and be conducted at the Aegis Analytical Laboratories in Nashville.
“Pursuant to the 2012 NASCAR Rulebook and in line with the procedures, we have elected to have a designated independent toxicologist present on AJ's behalf. Along with everyone else, we are looking forward to hearing the results as quickly as possible.”
A NASCAR statement indicated that the date was selected by Allmendinger. According to an ESPN report, Allmendinger’s “B” sample test is expected to be complete by the Brickyard 400 on July 29.
Martin Truex Jr., shooting down rumors of a departure. (ASP, Inc.)
GETTING CLOSER Martin Truex Jr. says he’s “getting close” to a contract extension with Michael Waltrip Racing. Truex’s contract expires after this season, along with sponsor NAPA. Both are expected to remain with Waltrip’s team.
“We're kind of finalizing some details, but I've been obviously extremely happy with the performance of the team this year,” said Truex, who is eighth in the point standings. “It's been so great to be a part of MWR, not only this year, but the last three seasons to really be a part of where we've kind of come from as a team and where we're heading. To be a part of that building process and be a part of the performance of the team increasing and kind of feel like I've had a little bit to do with the team's success has been very fun for me and it's something I want to continue doing.”
Truex and his No. 56 team have scored four top-5 and nine top-10 finishes in 2012.
LETTER CAMPAIGN A letter on behalf of NASCAR, IndyCar, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball was sent this week to Rep. John Boehner, Speaker of the House, urging his continue opposition to an amendment that would ban military sports sponsorships.
“Given the success of the military’s use of professional sports to reach out to the American people, we encourage you to support the U.S. Armed Forces and enable them to continue to have the same access to media and venues as world leading businesses and nonprofits,” part of the letter states. “Please work to remove the Kingston-McCollum Amendment from the House DOD Appropriations bill.”
ROAD TRIP Jeff Gordon is using his time off this week to return to Rwanda for the opening of a cancer center on behalf of the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation. He went there in December to look at what was being done there for children.
“We had already made a commitment to fund a cancer center there,” Gordon said. “Now, we are actually doing the grand opening and the ribbon cutting ceremony of it actually starting. It took a little while to get … the hospital is there, but to get the cancer center, which is the part that we're helping to fund. It also took a while to get some pretty important people scheduled there. I am excited that Paul Farmer, he's kind of master-minded it all, will be there. But we'll also have President Clinton there, and the president of Rwanda, President Kagame. I'm excited.
“I'm able to be a part of something that is ground-breaking in rural East Africa. This is the first of its kind of any cancer center. When they look at the projections in a developing country like East Africa, cancer is on the rise there, and can be very curable and treatable in many cases. It's just not happening. This is a big step, and I can't wait to get there and be a part of this event.”
PIT STOPS Penske Racing announced Tuesday that 18-year-old Ryan Blaney will drive for the team in at least three Nationwide races this season. Blaney, the son of Cup drive Dave Blaney, is scheduled to make his team debut Aug. 4 at Iowa. Ryan Blaney also is scheduled to drive in the Nationwide races at Richmond and Kentucky. ... The Cup Series is off this weekend before running the next 17 weekends. The Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series are both at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend.
Kasey Kahne in Victory Lane in New Hampshire. (ASP, Inc.)
NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship wild card hunt took a definitive turn at the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Denny Hamlin and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team dominated the LENOX Industrial Tools 301, leading 150 laps. However, miscommunication during the final round of pit stops on lap 235 of 301 between Kahne and crew chief Darian Grubb dropped their Toyota from first to 14th.
At issue was their decision to take two tires or four under caution. Hamlin’s team put four tires on, while the majority of the leaders only took two. The time lost in the pits handed the lead to Kasey Kahne, who led the final 66 laps — the only laps he led all day — en route to his second win of the season.
Hamlin staged an epic run through the field in the closing laps, but came up shy, finishing second.
“If he (Hamlin) was to keep the track position, I never would have passed him,” Kahne said. “For him to be on four tires and us on two, he was catching us pretty fast. (It’s) just what they chose to do. Somebody said they said something about tires — they took four, he meant two — I don’t know how it happened.
“We had great luck today. For those guys to miscommunicate, that helped us a ton. I’ll take ’em any way we can.”
Denny Hamlin (ASP, Inc.)
Hamlin later explained the crux of the problem.
“When the caution flies, when pit road opens, that time is so small, your time to communicate, figure out what you're going to do, you really have about 45 seconds to get it.
“What happened was Darian asked me, he said how much of the tires he felt like I used up. I said I felt like I used them up a substantial amount. So my information to him was, ‘Yeah, I’ve used up the tires.’ He said, ‘I think two is the call.’ I said, ‘OK, just give me tires and no adjustments.’
“He took that as I meant four tires. So it’s just that small miscommunication just messed us up a little bit.”
The miscue may have very little influence on Hamlin’s playoff positioning with seven races left in the Cup Series’ regular season. He sits fifth in the standings, with a 61-point cushion over 11th place. His two wins also provide a nice insurance policy, as the final two spots in the Chase are awarded to drivers with the most wins not already qualified.
Meanwhile, Kahne’s victory may be the turning point in his quest for a Chase appearance. Ranked 16th with a single win entering the New Hampshire race, Kahne vaulted up the standings to 12th by day’s end. Further, his two victories currently find him with the No. 1 wild card slot.
Kyle Busch (13th in the standings), Ryan Newman (14th) and Joey Logano (16th) all have a single win, as well.
“I think three (wins) would put you in a real good spot,” Kahne said of making the Chase. “Two helps, but three would put you in a real good spot. We’re going to stay after it. We have some really good tracks coming up. I like my car a lot, so I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Carl Edwards sits 11th in the point standings but has yet to win this season. At 46 points behind 10th-place Brad Keselowski, it would seem at least one victory is needed for last season’s championship runner-up to transfer into the playoffs. He finished 18th in Loudon.
“I think this will be good for us,” Edwards said of the upcoming off-weekend. “We’ll go back to the shop and get a real war plan. I say war plan because I think it’s going to be tough, but we’ve got to plan for the next seven races. We can do it, though, and now we’ve just got to get it done.”
NASCAR's handling of drug issues leave more questions than answers.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
We live in an instant gratification society. Fair or not, Facebook and Twitter breaks the news of the world long before Brian Williams clears his throat and gets ready to report it on NBC. Groupon provides us with deal-a-day discounts, making cheap choices so we don’t have to search for them. Direct Deposit removes the need to go to the bank; YouTube keeps you at home instead of the movies. Technological advances are made with the concept that 21st-Century humans have run out of patience.
In some ways, NASCAR brass has finally caught onto the concept. The conversation about shorter races, while I’m in objection to it, has some merit; fans no longer want to sit on their couch for four hours when 1,000 entertainment distractions reside all around their doorstep – sometimes right inside the house. The sport’s evolution with social media, despite the controversy over the #NASCAR/Twitter partnership, gives its base instant access the likes of which its stick ‘n’ ball brethren would kill for. Despite an unrelenting mountain of criticism these days, there’s actually only two pieces of the publicity puzzle where NASCAR remains as Neanderthal as they come.
Too bad they’re the most important ones: penalties and drugs.
This week was another reminder of that, with more questions than answers to leave fans scratching their heads instead of discussing the consistency and timeliness of their decisions. Take a penalty on Daytona winner Tony Stewart, for example, who failed post-qualifying inspection the Friday before the race. Once he did so, the time was disallowed which, in certain circumstances, would keep the car from making the race altogether. But Smoke’s team gets a mulligan. As part of NASCAR’s exclusive “top 35,” which guarantees a spot on the grid to the first 35 cars in owner points, he could cheat as much as possible and still start the race from the rear.
Huh? That’s like Brian Urlacher getting a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer but getting it taken off the board because he’s one of the NFL’s best players. In the end, Stewart used his 42nd starting spot to win the race, earning the maximum amount of points only to get docked six for the penalty in question. Six points? When subtracted from the total, that still leaves the man with the third-most points from the race itself, a compromise the antithesis of Goldilocks in that nothing feels exactly right. Some will say that since Stewart started the race with a legal car – it was fixed after inspection – there shouldn’t have been any consequences at all. Others, knowing the advantage these types of infractions can give a driver during a plate race, feel the book should have been thrown straight at the No. 14. Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus, after all, was threatened with a six-race suspension (ultimately erased on appeal) for a pre-practice Daytona 500 violation on his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.
Or take the case of Danny Stockman, Austin Dillon’s crew chief who was suspended two weeks from the Nationwide Series after a post-qualifying violation of his own down at Daytona. For Stockman, it was the second violation that occurred during a probationary period but the first one didn’t result in missing time. Compare that to Kurt Busch, whose initial probation violation for cussing out a reporter — not a scenario that created an on-track advantage — resulted in him getting shutout of the racetrack, his ride, and a paycheck for a week. Confused? I’m sure. How in the world do these penalties compare?
Simple answer: they don’t. I’d love to point out these violations in the rulebook, educating you all, but in this age of transparency NASCAR doesn’t even have one available for public viewing. If I write down the answers (and I’m one of the lucky ones), even if the sanctioning body remains inconsistent you have to trust my responsibility as a journalist instead of looking up the text yourself – a next-step ability in this age of Wikipedia more and more people are expecting to legitimize the sports they watch. Gone are the days when a good ol’ boy family network can run things with an iron fist. Today, that’s a little too “conspiracy theorist” for a sporting audience that’s grown too smart for any secrets.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
That provides the perfect transition for the sport’s biggest whisper train heading into Loudon: drugs. AJ Allmendinger, occupying one of Penske Racing’s prized rides, remains on the sidelines this weekend six days after being “temporarily suspended” for drug use. What, why, how, where? Answers are quick to come in baseball, football or basketball, but require Sherlock Holmes to deconstruct the confusing policies of NASCAR Nation. As we all understand it, Allmendinger tested positive for a stimulant at Kentucky, above acceptable levels and according to NASCAR’s policies, making him an on-track danger to other competitors. Yet the ‘Dinger was not informed of the issue until the day of the race at Daytona, seven days later and ultimately pulled with less than 90 minutes to go before the driver’s meeting. The hasty decision left car owner Penske, an innocent victim, in such a lurch that he literally took substitute Sam Hornish Jr. off a TV stage in North Carolina and flew him in with seconds to spare before the event.
Why the lengthy gap between a positive test and the temporary suspension? Common sense tells you Aegis labs wasn’t working on Saturday morning, so that means Allmendinger may have had both qualifying and practice time with NASCAR’s knowledge he had been above elevated levels the week before. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A “B” sample test, to be conducted at Allmendinger’s request may take “several days” and ultimately exonerate him from any wrongdoing. In the meantime, “privacy concerns” have kept NASCAR from revealing the actual drug in question while the full results stay pending. All we know is it’s a “stimulant,” which could be one of hundreds of drugs in NASCAR’s policy book that, again, isn’t available for public consumption.
To a point, I understand it. In some other sports, like the NFL, confidentiality agreements can often supersede public knowledge as to the specifics of what a player tested positive for. But at this point, the word “drugs” has dashed Allmendinger’s reputation to the point there’s no recovery (unless a massive public relations apology campaign stays connected to a “B” sample that comes back negative). Adding a specific drug is insult to injury at this point, as the damage, in a sponsor’s eyes and for a garage reputation, has already been done. Which means if the sport still has to go through the process a second time, leaving question as to whether the drug policy was violated, why can’t Allmendinger still be racing, pending appeal? The second you pull him, it’s guilty until proven innocent where the driver is fighting a losing battle to clear his name. And if the “B” sample does come back with a negative result, in opposition to the “A” sample, what does that say about the sport’s testing system as a whole?
Three years after the Jeremy Mayfield controversy, the most high-profile driver suspended for drugs until last weekend, you’d think NASCAR would have learned lessons from it all. Back then, there wasn’t even a specific list drivers were clear on concerning what drugs could trigger a positive test. The court battle Mayfield pushed, while ultimately a losing one, revealed sloppy handling of samples, a convoluted policy and confusion over the whole system. That left the sport with no winners, no matter how many appeals got thrown out. With public perception skeptical, that means the onus is on NASCAR to prove both the consistency and the quality of its drug testing. The next time something happened, it would have served the sport well to have all answers readily available, a clear public path from peeing in a cup to kicking a driver out as a showcase for how they’ve put all their ducks in a row.
But NASCAR did not. Instead, we’re heading towards Friday no clearer on Allmendinger’s future and ultimate punishment than we were the Saturday before. Fair or not, in 2012 that’s the opposite of what society expects. After all, people don’t want to spend their spare time feeling confused. It’s OK for NASCAR officials to feel that way in private, but at some point, their final decisions need to come back clearer, concise and consistent.
The majority of these cars didn't make it another 10 laps. (ASP, Inc.)
1. Matt Kenseth Kenseth was the man to beat at Daytona for a second straight trip, although the fortunes of plate racing found him third by night’s end. Still, RFR is the team to beat on the plate tracks.
2. Jimmie Johnson Johnson’s 2012 plate racing results: 42nd, 35th and 36th. In fact, his plate stats over the last few years — outside of a Talladega win — aren’t that impressive. Speaks more to the style of racing than the driver.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. You can throw a blanket over the top 3. Each has 13 top 10s in 18 races and at least one win. Junior slots third here because he trails Kenseth in the standings and Johnson in the wins column.
4. Tony Stewart Stewart closes the gap on the “Big Three” every three weeks or so. His problem lies in consistency — he seems to either finish in the top 3 on race day or outside of the top 20.
5. Denny Hamlin It’s hard to fault a guy for getting wrecked while racing for the win at Daytona. That was the story of Hamlin’s night, so we’ll give him a pass and see what New Hampshire holds.
6. Greg Biffle Biffle took the blame for the final “Big One” of the night in Daytona, though it’s hard to pin that on any one driver. His sliding from top 5 to 21st in the wreck is punishment enough.
7. Brad Keselowski Keselowski seems to always be near the center of the storm. From getting hit on pit road to spinning out without any help, he had a rough night but rebounded for a respectable eighth-place showing.
8. Kasey Kahne Stewart’s dancing partner at Daytona, Kahne managed a seventh-place run thanks to the craziness in the final two football field’s worth of the 400.
9. Clint Bowyer Since a scintillating four-week stretch that culminated in a win, Bowyer has limped to 16th- and 29th-place runs. That said, he’ll be a pre-race favorite in Loudon this Sunday.
10. Martin Truex Jr. Truex is still hanging tough at seventh in the point standings, but a win would go a long way in securing a spot in the Chase.
11. Jeff Gordon Somehow brought a wrecked racecar home to a 12th-place finish. Still 87 points out of a Chase birth.
12. Kevin Harvick Congrats to the Harvicks on the birth of their first child, Keelan Paul, born on Sunday.
13. Joey Logano Currently occupies wild card spot No. 2 — but it’s oh-so-close in the mid-teens.
14. Kyle Busch If it’s not mechanical woes that fell Busch, it’s a Daytona “Big One.”
15. Carl Edwards Thirty-two points out of 10th in the standings and desperately scrambling to get things on track.
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman
Packs vs. tandems, tradition vs. change, shortened races and 2012 surprises
Jeff Gordon: Tradition or entertainment? (ASP, Inc.)
Tradition vs. Change. Shorten races vs. keeping them the same. Tandem drafting vs. pack racing. Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council faced many choices with this week’s NASCAR survey.
There was more, including what has been the biggest surprise of the season to how they graded last weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Daytona. The opinions vary — and in some cases are quite strong. Here’s what the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say about these issues.
Tradition vs. Changes, which one matters most to you? Former champion Jeff Gordon was asked during a media session last weekend at Daytona about possible changes for the sport. Part of Gordon’s response included this statement: “What is more important — history and tradition or the most entertaining form of racing?” The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was asked that question — what means more to you? Tradition or changes to make the sport more exciting?
67.2 percent said traditions 32.8 percent said changes to make the sport more exciting
What Fan Council members said:
• Gimmicks are the road to ruin. This is a great sport, making changes to appease the fly-by-night fans will just alienate your most loyal fans while temporarily pleasing those who will leave you inevitably to follow some other trend.
• It's sad that some people need to be entertained. I prefer to keep the traditions. That said, I would understand if NASCAR was forced to make changes in order to compete. I just hope they realize they can keep the traditions while adding extra entertainment.
• I love the traditions, but I have to confess: If the entertainment value doesn't increase, I won't be watching much longer.
• I’m not an old fuddy-duddy veteran fan complaining all the time about these changes. I only started watching in 2005. I was confused by all the constant changing and thought it was strange. But isn’t the racing better?? I think so.
• This one was easy for me. In my opinion, history and tradition are exciting. I understand the need to tweak things now and then because the cars have changed and the level of competition has become more level. But major overhauls, such as instituting a playoff system where one was not only unnecessary but doesn't fit the sport, don't work. They provide a temporary shot of interest among non- or casual fans but when that dissipates (as it has done), the sport is left with unhappy core fans that are less prone to instill a love of the sport in their kids, which in turn creates a void in the fan base in the next generation.
• I think NASCAR is one of the few sports that have changed to make it more exciting. Traditions and history only will get you by for so long.
• It's nice to know we have input to NASCAR. At some point, the line needs to be drawn. The show is the show. Not all races are awesome and not all are stinkers. Whining about every flaw leads to constant criticism of our sport. NASCAR seems to be in good shape compared to some other forms of motorsports (AMA). I don't know exactly what criteria NASCAR uses to make changes, but I'd like to think they use surveys like this one.
• I would rather stick to our roots. Trying to give the fans what they want, in my opinion, has made the racing worse. Look at the All-Star Race in May. That race turned into a race of strategy rather than a showdown for a million bucks. Also, look at Bristol.
• I'm all for keeping the traditions in the sport so long as the teams are allowed to innovate and compete to be the best. If that doesn't happen, then you have to go the route of the WWE and do tricks to make the races/racing more exciting. There has to be more excitement even in the long races. Drivers/teams are riding around in the first half to 3/4 of the races just logging laps and then the exciting racing starts. Sad.
• Get back to basics and the numbers will improve.
• Sometimes traditions hinder progress.
What races need to be shortened (if any)? NASCAR Chairman Brian France said last weekend at Daytona that series officials would look to shorten races, noting it has “worked well” at Auto Club Speedway, Dover and Pocono. Fan Council members were asked what races, if any, needed to be shortened.
35.6 percent said the Atlanta race (500 miles ... last year’s race was 4 hours, 0 minutes) 34.9 percent said Texas fall race (500 miles ... was 3 hours, 16 minutes last year) 34.2 percent said the Texas spring race (500 miles ... was 3 hours, 7 minutes in April) 29.5 percent said “None” 27.4 percent said Charlotte fall race (500 miles ... was 3 hours, 25 minutes last year) 26.0 percent said Talladega fall race (500 miles ... was 3 hours, 29 minutes last year) 18.8 percent said Talladega spring race (516 miles with GWC ... was 3 hours, 13 minutes in April) (Every track received votes, but no other track received more than 15 percent of the votes)
What Fan Council members said:
• This makes no sense at all. Why would anyone want the races shortened? Are they going to reduce ticket prices by an equal ratio? Doubtful.
• Just about anything with a 500 after it should be shortened.
• Might as well shorten both ’Dega races if these guys are just gonna ride.
• The race I really think needs shortening is the Coke 600. I know it's traditionally been the one marathon race, but we saw this year that with the style of racing we're seeing the extra 100 miles is dreadfully boring.
• Stop catering to ADD Nation! The sport needs a few long races. The Coke 600 and Southern 500 should never be shortened.
• For me, the races don't need to be shortened because of the time of the race (with few exceptions). They need to be shortened to prevent drivers from riding around until the end of the race. The plate races are the prime example of this. But we see this at a lot of tracks. I think the road courses, Phoenix, NHMS and a few other have races that are about the right distance.
• I'm never in favor of cutting from any race. If you need to cut laps and miles from a track to make a race more interesting, maybe you should be taking a look at the product that's being put out there.
• I wouldn't mind the length of any race if they actually raced. I'm sick of them riding around for two to two-and-a-half hours and then racing the last 50 to 100 laps.
• No sir, no sir, no sir! Do not shorten any more races!
• I think the time from Atlanta is deceiving because there were so many cautions for the bad weather.
• I think there needs to be only three races longer than 400 miles: the Daytona 500, the Southern 500 (at Darlington over Labor Day weekend) and the 600-miler at Charlotte. These days the cars and drivers can handle the 500-mile length no problem, so it's no longer a matter of whether they will last the grueling length. Now it's drivers just logging laps in the middle, so let's cut that down some, especially at the cookie-cutter tracks.
What’s been the biggest surprise of the Cup season?
36.9 percent said Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick among winless drivers this year 30.4 percent said Matt Kenseth leaving Roush Fenway Racing after the season 13.4 percent said lack of cautions this season 8.2 percent said Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s strength 7.2 percent said success of Michael Waltrip Racing 3.9 percent said “Other”
What Fan Council members said:
• The big names who are winless is a HUGE story, but things happen. The Kenseth story is UNBELIEVABLE and I never thought it would ever happen.
• I HATE Toyota, but MWR has been a huge surprise, I have to admit.
• I'm in total disbelief over Carl's season. Something's gotta give. And since when did he become Jack's red-headed stepson?
• There are a lot of mid-season surprises, but I am most surprised at the lack of wins and great performances from drivers like Edwards, Harvick and Gordon.
• Danica Patrick still running after both Darlington events. Anybody who understands the nature of that beast would have bet against it.
• I would have picked Junior’s strength a couple of weeks ago, but I still can't believe that Kenseth is leaving Rousch Fenway after so many successful years there.
• Lack of cautions is really making this boring, but with the way the CoT has been, it's not a surprise when NASCAR isn't throwing cautions for water bottles. Dale Jr. is the big one for me. We all knew he had the equipment and was getting accustomed to Steve Letarte, but he is far more confident and focused than I've ever seen him. He's not just doing the best he can to get in the Chase as his main goal. He BELIEVES he can win
• AJ Allmendinger getting suspended for failing a drug test eclipsed my surprise at Matt Kenseth leaving Roush Fenway Racing. I initially ignored the mentions of Matt's contract because I fully expected him to re-sign with Roush. I was surprised when the rumor began that he was really a free agent. AJ's suspension 90 minutes before (Saturday night’s) race came out of left field.
• The lack of cautions is by far the story this year. That long green run at Texas brought it to the forefront. When there are green flag pit stops at Martinsville, you have a problem.
Pack racing or tandem drafting? (ASP, Inc.)
Grading Saturday's Cup race at Daytona
47.6 percent called it Good 26.8 percent called it Fair 14.1 percent called it Great 11.5 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• Same old restrictor plate race. Drive around for 120 laps and wreck for the last 40. I can't really blame the drivers for just riding in the beginning. If they didn't, there would be no one left. I'm really over plate races. I think they should be for cash only and no points. My driver won and I'm still saying this.
• Great race that had lots of action for everyone.
• The million-dollar wreckfest. This isn't racing, it's Barnum & Bailey-style entertainment. Single-file draft, tag team — this is nothing more than high speed soap box derby racing combined with bumper cars. It might be exciting to those interested in near-fatal crashes, but talent never makes an appearance here.
• The first half of the race was comparable to 1.5-mile racing (insanely boring) but the last quarter of the race was insane. Stewart winning from 42nd after qualifying second showed how good of a car he had. Smoke is not a great qualifier, so when he does well, its trouble for the field. All the lovers of pack racing and carnage got what they wanted, except Junior winning.
• I love the drama that restrictor plate races bring, but I wish the cars didn't run so hot because that really hindered what the drivers could do.
• Again, another week of NO PASSING! Who would have thought I would ever have graded a restrictor plate race Poor? *YAWN*
• The current rules package got rid of the tandem racing but also got rid of the competition up front. Now that we have only 12 lead changes vs. 50-plus, I am not a huge fan. Throw in the demolition derby at the end and I am quickly losing interest in the Cup races at plate tracks.
• The only thing that stopped me from choosing “Great” is that the best car/driver (Kenseth) didn't win. Matt RACED the whole race and was in the thick of things all night. Stewart rode around in the back most of the time and ended up last man standing. That to me is NOT racing. Aside from that, the racing was very good.
• First great race of the year.
• Can we call it restrictor plate “racing” any longer? Four cars in contention for the win because the rest of the field has been wiped out behind them? Bring back the two-car tango, please. At least then it took true skill to win and not just blind luck.
Which do you prefer at restrictor-plate tracks: Tandem drafting or pack racing?
52.8 percent said pack racing evident in the Cup race 47.2 percent said tandem drafting evident in the Nationwide race
What Fan Council members said:
• I don't like tandem drafting, but the Nationwide race was more exciting than the Cup race, in my opinion.
• I thought the Nationwide race was very exciting. It kept me on the seat of my chair the entire time. Lots of lead changing and good solid racing. The Cup race was boring. By the end, most everyone had crashed. That’s what happens in pack racing … don't understand why everyone likes it so much!
• I do NOT like tandem because you are so dependent on getting pushed and to have to have a pusher to win the race is NOT racing in my opinion.
• I enjoyed the tandem drafting from the very beginning — I don't understand why people hate it so much.
• I like a mix of both.
• I was at both races and I felt the intensity more during the Nationwide race than the Sprint Cup race. It seemed like they were racing the last lap on every lap. The Sprint cars with the smaller radiators and restrictor plates kept the cars from getting too close to each other and hooking up for more than half a lap.
• Two by two is boring. This is racing, not boarding the Ark.
• Pack racing at least gives you the hope of some action, as the cars are side-by-side for several laps at a time.
• I think the pack racing is great. It makes for a more unpredictable race. And that is why I like tracks like Daytona and Talladega. I think it’s great because it gives the underdogs a shot a winning a race.
• I hate them both. I hate how so many cars get demolished. I know NASCAR has done a great job working on safety, but I feel like they are playing with fire with the plate races. Luckily, no one was injured and no cars went airborne.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
AJ Allmendinger issued his first public comments Tuesday since NASCAR temporarily suspended the Penske Racing driver before last weekend’s race at Daytona for a failed drug test.
“I have informed NASCAR that I have requested that the ‘B’ sample be tested, following the steps according to NASCAR’s 2012 rule book regarding this situation,” Allmendinger said in a statement.
“I fully respect NASCAR's drug usage policy and the reasons they have it. I am hoping this can get resolved as quickly as possible so that I can get back to driving the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge. I am sorry that this has caused such a distraction for my Penske Racing team, our sponsors and fans. Obviously, I would never do anything to jeopardize my opportunity here at Penske Racing or to my fellow drivers. I am very conscious about my training and health and would never knowingly take a prohibited drug.”
Penske Racing previously announced that Sam Hornish Jr. would drive for Allmendinger this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He drove for Allmendinger at Daytona, arriving from Charlotte, N.C., shortly before Saturday’s race and finished 33rd.
Allmendinger’s test results should be known later this week.
If his “B’’ sample affirms the previous drug test, then Allmendinger would remain suspended and be given a program he would have to undergo to regain his status to race in NASCAR. If his “B’’ sample disproves the previous sample, Allmendinger would be reinstated immediately.
With only a one-year contract with Penske Racing, Allmendinger’s future is further clouded. Car owner Roger Penske spoke on Sirius XM’s NASCAR Radio on Tuesday about Allmendinger’s future.
“I think that we’ll have to assess this situation,” Penske said. “You know, it’s something you just don’t do overnight. We’ll look at the details and understand it and we’ll make our moves accordingly. But at this point it would be way premature for me to speculate on what we might do. I think we’ve got to focus on our team and NASCAR, we’ve got good momentum and we’ve got to finish out this season strong. This will, obviously, the outcome of this will dictate what will be the future from the standpoint of ourselves and any member of our team that would be in this situation.”
Ryan Newman's US Army Chevrolet (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
ARMY LEAVING NASCAR Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday that the U.S. Army would not return as a sponsor to the team next season and that “due to a reallocation of its marketing budget that will not include a presence in NASCAR.”
An official with the Army told USA TODAY Sports that the Army would not return because it was not receiving a return on investment for its sponsorship. The Army will spend $8.4 million on its NASCAR program, including sponsorship of Ryan Newman’s team for 12 races, this season.
NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps issued a statement about the Army leaving the sport after this season:
“The U.S. Army has been in our sport for more than a decade and has enjoyed great success as a NASCAR team sponsor during that time. The Army sponsorship served to connect our troops with the American public, to engage active service men and women around the world with the sport they love, and to assist with recruitment and retention.
“NASCAR and the military share many of the same values. NASCAR fans are twice as likely as non-fans to serve in the military and 37 percent of active service members and veterans are NASCAR fans. The Army made a budget decision that won’t allow it to return to NASCAR in 2013. However, NASCAR continues to be a powerful and critical part of the marketing mix for other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and more Fortune 500 companies than any other sport.”
PENALTIES NASCAR announced multiple penalties on Tuesday for infractions discovered last weekend at Daytona.
NASCAR docked Tony Stewart six driver and owner points for a post-qualifying infraction where series officials found an unapproved open vent inside the car.
NASCAR also fined crew chief Steve Addington $25,000 and placed him on probation until Aug. 22. NASCAR also placed car chief Jeff Meendering on probation until Aug. 22.
Greg Zipadelli, competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing, issued a statement after the penalties were announced.
“While we respect and accept NASCAR’s decision, we want to be clear that there was no malicious intent,” Zipadelli said. “In a rush to replace a cracked rear windshield that happened during tech inspection prior to qualifying, we jostled a cooling hose that was behind the seat. We understand NASCAR’s position and will abide by its decision.”
NASCAR also issued two Nationwide penalties Tuesday.
NASCAR penalized Austin Dillon six driver and owner points for an unapproved open vent hose inside the car, which was discovered in a post-qualifying inspection. NASCAR also suspended Dillon’s crew chief, Danny Stockman, who was already on probation, until July 25 and fined him $10,000. NASCAR also suspended car chief Robert Strmiska until July 25.
NASCAR also docked car owner Joe Gibbs six owner points after the team’s No. 18 Nationwide car did not meet the minimum front car heights after the Nationwide race. NASCAR fined crew chief Adam Stevens $10,000 and placed him on probation until Aug. 22. Car chief Christopher Landis also was placed on probation.
STAYING PUT Denny Hamlin recently signed a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing and says his focus was to remain with the only team he’s raced for in Cup.
“(Joe Gibbs Racing) has been extremely generous to me in a lot of different ways,” said Hamlin, who made his Cup debut with the team in 2005 at Kansas Speedway. “They bent over backwards for me in a lot of different ways and really have helped me and put me with a great team.
“Really, when you look at where can you go and improve the seat that you're in, there just isn't any out there that you'd want to even consider. I feel like I'm with a championship-caliber team, obviously a championship crew chief. We've only been beat once by a JGR driver in points since I've been there. I feel like however Gibbs is capable of running is where we'll run and I feel like we have championship caliber cars.
“Any move that you make over money or something like that will eventually catch up to you. My thought was always to stay with Gibbs. You don't want to test the waters and end up shooting yourself in the foot because there's very few, both sponsors and teams out there that have the relationship with their driver that I feel like we have.”
EXPECT THE WORST AND HOPE FOR THE BEST That seems to be the philosophy Carl Edwards has taken into the remaining races before the Chase field is set after Richmond in September.
Edwards is 11th in the points but he remains winless this season and is not in position to get one of the two wildcard spots. He’s 31 points out of 10th, the final automatic spot to the Chase.
Edwards said he recently talked to his team about their situation.
“Our luck has been so bad this year that we can’t make any other mistakes,” he said. “We have to go forward assuming that the things that could go wrong are going to go wrong, so we need to go out and minimize the mistakes around the things that we can control.”
That was evident in Saturday night’s race when he returned the to pits under caution because he wasn’t sure a wheel was on tight with how the car was reacting. The team found no issue and Edwards continued without problems. He went on to finish sixth in the race.
BABY NEWS Kevin and DeLana Harvick celebrated the birth of their first child, a son, on Sunday. Keelan Paul Harvick weighed 6.8 pounds and was 19.5 inches at birth. Said Kevin Harvick: “Time literally stood still when I held our baby for the first time.” ... Darian Grubb, crew chief for Denny Hamlin, announced via Twitter on Monday that his wife had delivered the couple’s second child. Gabriella Grace weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces and was 18.5 inches. ... Truck Series driver Timothy Peters recently announced that his wife, Sara, is expecting the couple’s first child. Due date is Dec. 17.
Drivers and teams to watch as the circuit hits its mid-summer classic in Daytona
Matt Kenseth (ASP, Inc.)
Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway (please don’t call it the Pepsi 400 — Firecracker 400, however, will be accepted) marks the halfway point in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
The year’s third restrictor plate race was once run on the morning of the fourth to beat the oppressive North Florida heat and humidity. “On the track by 11:00, on the beach by 2:00,” was the mantra before lights and night racing. NASCAR’s signature speedway has endured wildfires and truck fires in recent years, as well as Turn Two disemboweling itself in the middle of an event, but all should be solid as we’re knee-deep in the Summer Stretch. And as the championship chase begins to take shape, the contenders have begun to separate themselves from the pretenders. Unless, of course, it’s 2011 and you’re Tony Stewart, stumbling into the Chase like the town lush, but suddenly start running like Tony Stewart once the title fight begins.
But I digress. Let’s review our current top 10 in points, how they got here, and who on the outside looking in has to get their stuff together if they have any hopes of contending for the Cup come September.
1. Matt Kenseth Wins: 1 (Daytona 500)
Let’s see, Daytona 500: Check. Points leader: Check. Bailing on team mid-season: WTF? Kenseth’s announcement that he is leaving the No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford at season’s end sent shockwaves through the fanbase. His likely destination appears to be Joe Gibbs Racing, although a proposed Andretti Autosport venture into NASCAR with Dodge assistance has been bandied about. It’s bad enough that Jack Roush’s former flagship No. 6 has been mothballed, but now the tried-and-true driver of the No. 17? Tragically coincidental — since it was the original driver of the No. 6, Mark Martin, who sold Roush on Kenseth, convincing him to field the No. 17 Cup ride for him in 2000. The last driver to win the Winston Cup in 2003 has been a model of consistency this year, much as he was that season. Kenseth’s low-key demeanor and approach will likely serve him well during what will prove to be a tumultuous few months in the Ford camp. With a win, eight top 5s and 12 top 10s to his credit this year, if Kenseth and the Wisconsin Mafia can keep the distractions at bay they very well could exit in style, giving Roush his third Cup Series championship. But distractions and fallout associated with being a “lame duck” lurk around every corner.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Wins: 1 (Michigan)
All together now: “JUUUUUNE-YEEERRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!” Finally, after 143 races and four years of futility, Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke into the winner’s circle at Michigan, the site of his last win in 2008. That victory did more for the psyche than the stat sheet, as Earnhardt is what Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket would deem, “Definitely born again hard.” With a win, seven top-5 and an even more impressive 13 top-10 finishes, the No. 88 team has done more in four months than it had in the last … well, forever. Credit Steve Letarte and Rick Hendrick, who essentially put Earnhardt with Jeff Gordon’s former team last season. The Prince of Kannapolis is doing his fans proud, so don’t be surprised to see a lot of old, red No. 8 gear being dusted off and thrust back into service in the coming months. Take heart Junior Nation — you’ve earned it, and your man is back near the top. Junior hasn’t been in a fierce title battle in so long, it’s hard to predict what type of showing he’ll make. But if a late-season slide doesn’t derail his momentum (and with Letarte calling the shots, it shouldn’t), Earnhardt is looking gbetter than he has in … well, forever.
3. Jimmie Johnson Wins: 2 (Darlington, Dover)
Oh yeah, don’t forget the “other driver” at Hendrick Motorsports. When he’s not cruising around with Mr. H on his windowsill, Jimmie Johnson is just being Jimmie Johnson; going about his business with painful precision and without much fanfare. Like a Glock pistol, he may be short on flash and flair, but he is dead-nuts reliable and never fails when the money is on the line. His nine top 5s and 13 top 10s are the most in both categories, and should serve as a harbinger of things to come in the fall. As in the past, the No. 48 team vets and fetters out the junk and finds what works during the summer months, then sets “phasers to kill” come September. For those who have tired of the “Five-Time” moniker, don’t worry. You may be calling him “Six-Time” by Thanksgiving.
4. Greg Biffle Wins: 1 (Texas)
Biffle started off the season strong, posting a trio of top-3 finishes in the first three races. He made a mockery of the last half of the April event at Texas Motor Speedway, and led the points from Las Vegas in early March until a 24th-place finish at Pocono, when he surrendered the top spot to his soon-to-be former teammate, Kenseth. A Roush veteran since his 1998 Truck Series debut, Biffle will prove to be the backbone of the team with Kenseth’s impending departure. While the No. 16 team started strong, it has stumbled in recent weeks, posting two sub-20th-place runs in the last four races. It was the No. 16 team that stopped Roush’s win skein in 2010, when the company got off track with misleading data simulation and sucky software on the engineering side. If there is a trend that must be watched with this bunch, it is that Biffle tends to go through crew chiefs quickly. Eight top 5s and 10 top 10s are a testament to his consistency, as well as the effect that current chief Matt Puccia has had for the driver who is in position to be the first in NASCAR history to win a championship in all three touring series.
5. Denny Hamlin Wins: 2 (Phoenix, Kansas)
What a difference a year makes. This time last season, Denny Hamlin was, to be honest, a mess. With three top 5s and six top 10s, coupled win a number of cryptic comments made during interviews that at best sounded whiney, Hamlin was still suffering the side-effects from his team’s 2010 implosion. Now with a new attitude and re-found mental toughness (and 2011 championship-winning crew chief Darian Grubb making decisive calls), Hamlin has a pair of wins, and eight top-5 finishes. Those runs account for nearly all of his top 10s, and it must be noted that he has two DNFs in his last three races — courtesy of a fiery exit in Michigan and the front bumper of teammate Joey Logano at Sonoma. If Hamlin can keep from getting wrecked or exploding — and a TRD IED does not find its way between the fenders of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota — he will likely find himself in contention to win the title, as he was in 2010. This time, however, he will be better prepared mentally and strategically to contend.
6. Kevin Harvick Wins: 0
The driver of the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet hasn’t had a lot to brag about this year — but he hasn’t had much to really complain about, either. Usually the first one to ride his crew if they make the smallest of errors, Harvick has achieved his position not so much with poise and audacity, but on reliability and finishing races. A smattering of eight top 10s and three top 5s is decent, but not exactly championship caliber. If Harvick were to have a catastrophic failure in the coming weeks — which would lose him say, 40 points — the impact would be significant, and could potentially drop him out of the top 10 in points. He’s gotten by on a number of eighth- to 14th-place runs, but if he’s to solidify his place in the Chase, the No. 29 operation as a whole needs to step it up on the track, in the pits and in the garage while prepping the car for Sunday.
Clint Bowyer (ASP, Inc.)
7. Clint Bowyer Wins: 1 (Sonoma)
Not only do you see him every 15 minutes in a 5-Hour Energy or NASCAR.com commercial, you now see him up front, leading and winning races. Bowyer’s move to Michael Waltrip Racing was seen by many as a risky move, albeit one he was essentially forced into after he lost his ride in the No. 33 at RCR (despite winning a Nationwide title in 2008 and qualifying for the Chase three times in six seasons). With former RCR crew chief and competition director Scott Miller making the move to MWR as well, the performance of all involved has risen substantially. With six top 5s and nine top 10s, the occasional win, or at least contention for the win, is no longer an oddity. This, coupled with some veteran leadership from Mark Martin in a part-time arrangement in the No. 55, along with teammate Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 56 group, finds MWR becoming this generation’s — dare I say it? — RCR.
8. Martin Truex Jr. Wins: 0
Martin Truex Jr. is enjoying his best season in Cup competition since his 2007 rookie campaign when he won a race, made the Chase and ended the year 11th in points. Currently sitting in eighth position on the strength of four top-5 and eight top-10 finishes, Truex has been a key cog in the MWR Renaissance of 2012. However, there may be storm clouds on the horizon. Truex’s finishes have begun to waver, his eighth-place run at Kentucky ending a string of three races without a top 10. Now is not the time to mix inconsistency into the equation, particularly with the crapshoot that is a restrictor plate race at Daytona on the docket. While Truex is only 10 points out of fifth in the standings, he’s also less than 20 points from 10th. If he keeps the steady-as-she-goes performance trend and avoids any back-to-back disasters or mechanical maladies, he looks to be a safe bet to make the Chase field for the first time in five years.
9. Tony Stewart Wins: 2 (Las Vegas, Fontana)
Towards the bottom of the top 10, we find a pair of drivers on the tail end of making the Chase, but who are arguably the most potent in the field. Tony Stewart has seven top-5 finishes and eight top 10s, but it is how he came to those numbers that are the most telling: two wins, back-to-back second-place runs and three third-place showings. Add in some mechanical woes by way of EFI foul ups, and you have created the crusty Tony of old the last couple of months. Quite possibly the only person in the country who was not cheering the Earnhardt victory in Michigan, Smoke has found that delicate balance of diplomacy and irritability that has guided him to three championships. Streaky performances be damned, he’s in prime position to add a fourth to the mix — half of which would be as an owner/driver, something not seen since The King’s heydays of the 1970s.
10. Brad Keselowski Wins: 3 (Bristol, Talladega, Kentucky)
The one driver barely clinging to top-10 status is also the lynchpin in the Chase scenario. Keselowski has won three races at three diametrically different tracks: Bristol, Talladega and Kentucky. Plate track, short track, intermediate — it doesn’t seem to matter where the Miller Lite Dodge goes, it can be a force to be reckoned with. It would appear that the strategy being employed by the No. 2 team is to focus on wins ahead of all else. Three of his top 5s are victories while the other two barely made it as fifth-place performances. His top 10s are then comprised of a pair of ninth-place finishes, with the rest being mid-teens or worse-than-30th finishes. The only DNF they suffered was post-Tweet at the Daytona 500 in February, and it was about this time last year that Keselowski made the transition from promising driver to leader and motivator following a broken ankle during a testing crash. It remains a mystery why Penske is leaving Dodge to join forces with Ford, what with the modest win totals of the two-car team over the last few seasons. However, it remains committed to its current manufacturer and stands to make some noise for the Mopar faithful if its flagship No. 2 team can avoid any calamities in the coming weeks. Of course, even a tumble out of the top 10 finds Keselowski in the catbird seat, with three-times the wins as anyone from 11th to 20th in the standings.
On the Outside Looking In
To think that Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch would be reduced to relative obscurity in October is nearly unfathomable, especially considering Edwards’ 2011 consistency, Gordon’s seemingly resurrected career with crew chief Alan Gustafson and Busch’s ability to hammer out wins in quick succession. However, all three have missed the Chase before, and they’re nearing the point of no return without some wins. Nine races remain before the Chase for the Championship begins in Chicago, and of the three, only Busch has a 2012 win. Edwards’ and Gordon’s teams have had both bad luck and bad calls that have kept them out of Victory Lane, while the engines supplied to the No. 18 from TRD have been straight up TuRDs, with three straight engine failures conspiring to drop Busch to 12th in points.
Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman all reside within the top 20, and each have one win. Among them, only Kahne has displayed any sort of consistent speed to threaten breaking into the top 10. Even if that happened, it would likely require Keselowski and Stewart to fall out. With The Big Keselowski having three wins and Smoke two, that would also require Logano and Newman to crank out a couple of more wins apiece if they were to qualify — not out of the realm of possibility, but certainly not expected.
Paul Menard, in 13th, will need to repeat last year’s Brickyard 400 triumph to have a shot at taking one of the two open wildcard spots, as he has yet to claim a win this year. Jamie McMurray and Jeff Burton are over 100 points out of 10th and have struggled to find the top 10, much less score wins. Marcos Ambrose isn’t in much better shape, though a trip to Watkins Glen may get him back in the wildcard conversation.
Racing, traffic and TNT coverage at Kentucky Speedway
Photo by ASP, Inc.
TV coverage, traffic and the racing at Kentucky were on the minds of members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council this week. With the recent complaints about commercials, especially during the Kentucky race, members were asked if Pay-Per-View should be an option. Members also discussed if they were satisfied with the fixes to the traffic situation to go to Kentucky Speedway and what they thought of the racing there last weekend. This is what members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had to say:
Would you subscribe to a Pay-Per-View channel to watch races without commercial interruption if that was offered? In light of the complaints about commercials interrupting NASCAR broadcasts, particularly the last couple of weeks, Fan Council members were asked if they would consider subscribing to a Pay-Per-View service to watch races without commercials if that was offered.
64.7 percent said No
35.3 percent said Yes
What Fan Council members said:
• Definitely! Hard to know what would be a fair price ... maybe $300 for the season. The frequency and repetition of ads is out of control. Casual fans, who are not also following scanners, Twitter, etc, are never going to sit through trying to watch an entire race as poor as the broadcasts are now.
• That's a terrible idea and it would just bring the ratings down even further. You will not gain viewers by raising their cable/satellite bill. The race still being shown in the corner of the screen is good. More of that could help.
• I wouldn't just for the fact it would be crazy expensive. If you look at the cost of what it is to actually run a commercial during these races and how the economy is still shaky, it would not be a good thing to do. With Twitter, RaceBuddy (for TNT at least) and streaming car/driver audio on my Sprint phone I actually don't mind the commercials. I can still keep up with the action. Worse case: I will listen to the race on the radio before I would pay for a premium channel.
• I cannot stand commercials. Considering it already costs me money for cable each month as well as two TiVo's, the thought of spending more money to see a race is not high on my list. But most likely I would do it when it came down to it. Now, I TiVo a race and watch it later in the day so I skip the commercials anyway. TiVo has spoiled me ... I find it so hard to sit and watch anything live these days!
• We miss so much of the racing action due to the number of commercials, it would be a great idea to offer Pay-Per-View for Cup races.
• No, because we are already paying for cable, plus that is one of the reasons I have PitCommand.
• TV cable subscriptions are already outrageous. The best solution is watch on DVR and fast forward through the commercials.
• There are many more ways than ever to follow the race live now days, so people should just shut up about commercials and enjoy the racing!
• I pay enough already for my cable subscription. In this economy I can't afford more costs to watch TV. I agree that there are too many commercials, but my complaint is that the broadcast misses important parts of the race during commercials and doesn't catch the audience up when the commercials are over.
• If I had the funds available, I would in a heartbeat.
• I AM NOT gonna pay every week for something I have been watching for free since I was a kid. Besides, the way the racing has been lately, why would I pay to watch that either?
• Yes! I never thought I'd say this, but after this season's broadcasts, I would definitely pay for a season of real racing coverage. I like the DirecTV broadcasts but they tend to have the same four or five drivers on every week — if I could see more of the field, more of my driver, and more racing, I would pony up the bucks.
Would you consider going to a race at Kentucky since traffic was not as big an issue as last year?
51.1 percent said Yes
48.9 percent said No
What Fan Council members said:
• Not yet. It appears the traffic outbound was still an issue, and some of the improvement inbound was probably due more to less attendance. Needs a few more years of seasoning before I'd consider it. Plus, I’m not exactly sure the track has the most exciting racing.
• I went last year and due to the (traffic) nightmare did not renew for this year. I said “yes,” I would go back. May take me another year or so as it sounds like leaving still has issues.
• Yes, they fixed the problem and it would be a great place to see a race.
• Went last year via backroads; went this year all highway and it was a breeze!
• I would keep Kentucky on the list of tracks I would consider going to since they apparently fixed the traffic issues. The first few years of Texas Motor Speedway were a nightmare for traffic also.
• I really wanted to go this year, but with last year's horrific traffic problem I wanted to wait and see if the changes made a difference. I always go to the Michigan and Road America races. Don't know if, financially, I can go to three races in a row. Guess I better start saving now.
• Went last year, camped and avoided the traffic mess, but it (was) still the most miserable experience I've ever had at a race track. No coolers, no porta-johns in parking lots or campgrounds, boring race, not to mention watching the traffic at a dead stop as the race started, and eventually seeing that same traffic turned around because they couldn't get in. I will never spend another penny at Kentucky.
• I would have gone regardless. Anybody who has been going to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race for the last 18 years can tell you to come early, leave late and have plenty of beer. I read comments from after the race and looks like traffic ran smooth, which is good for Kentucky Speedway. Now, maybe some of those fans that skipped out will come back.
• After last year, it was the last place I wanted to go. Seeing how they improved it so much, I think that I will move it up the list.
• I will consider going back. I had season tickets for several years before this year but had no desire to go back after last year.
Grade Saturday's Cup race at Kentucky.
59.2 percent said it was Good 27.7 percent said it was Fair 7.5 percent said it was Great 5.6 percent said it was Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• Worst race I've ever seen, plain and simple. TNT will have to really outdo themselves to do a worse job broadcasting.
• Had everything. Racing, fuel mileage, changing track conditions, enough cautions to let people fix their cars and come back from bad adjustments. That was about the best racing I've seen this season.
• Too many commercials and not enough racing. Only the fact that Brad won gives it a fair rating.
• At least this race had some drama: Kyle Busch having issues, Kasey Kahne coming back from a lap down to finish second, Carl Edwards and others trying to stretch fuel.
• Clean air was so important — the car out front could just get away. There apparently was some good racing in the field (you could find a little of it on RaceBuddy) but for those of us watching the TV broadcast, it was all about mashed potatoes vs mac 'n' cheese, and that was just TERRIBLE. I actually gave up watching the telecast, switched to social media and was streaming Dr. Who on Netflix instead.
• I graded it fair, because the last few restarts got lively. I don't know which was more boring, Sonoma or Kentucky. Somewhere Pocono is laughing and saying, “Yes, I'm no longer hated!! Thank you for repaving me!!”
• Glad that Brad won, but the race itself, with all the commercial interruptions, was boring. No passing except for Kahne at the end of the race.
• I was there and was bored. I still found myself scrolling through Twitter to stay in touch.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Which winner had the most impressive performance at Kentucky?
47.0 percent said Austin Dillon for leading all but eight laps in the Nationwide race 44.8 percent said Brad Keselowski for winning the Cup race in his third race in three nights 8.1 percent said James Buescher for being the first repeat winner in Trucks this season
What Fan Council members said:
• Dillon without a doubt. With that many Cup drivers in the field, I figured it would be one of their races to lose. I was wrong. Dillon showed why he was deserving of a Nationwide ride this year. It was impressive.
• Probably would've voted for Austin except the post-race inspection failure tainted that one a bit.
• Brad put together a great race. Start to finish, he announced that he is here and looking to win a lot of races. He earned a lot of respect from me.
• I'm going to say Brad K. because racing three straight nights in the heat is pretty badass. Plus, it's Cup competition — there is no comparison with the other two from that standpoint.
• They were all pretty darn impressive to me. What a great three nights of racing. I LOVED it!
• 192 laps (led)? That's just crazy!! I know it's gonna be tainted by some since (Dillon) failed post race inspection, but you gotta give the kid some credit. Good to see the legacy of the No. 3 live on!!
• Brad running all three races in that terrible heat and using a back-up car no less to drive it to a win was amazing!!
• How could anybody say Austin Dillon? He had an illegal car.
• Brad Keselowski being the first third-time winner this season is something to look at versus everybody who has won. Obviously, Jimmie Johnson and the rest of Hendrick would be Keselowski's main competition. It's definitely not Austin Dillon, he along with his crew chief, cheated.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at email@example.com.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
No. 1 in our rankings, No. 1 in her heart. (ASP, Inc.)
1. Jimmie Johnson Lost a shot at the win during the final restart in Kentucky when he picked up trash on his tires. Managed to rebound to sixth after a quick backslide, his 13th top 10 of the season.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Was never a factor for the win at Kentucky, but ran consistently in the top 10 most of the evening before climbing to fourth at race’s end.
3. Matt Kenseth A classic Kenseth performance, he was invisible all Saturday afternoon, but popped into the top 10 after the sun went down and drove to seventh, retaining the points lead.
4. Tony Stewart There’s a sizeable gap between the top 3 and the rest of the field. Smoke was the victim of electrical demons in his ignition system and was most likely cursing NASCAR’s EFI system and that damn KFC commerical the rest of the night.
5. Denny Hamlin Fifth- and third-place runs bookend 34th- and 35th-place showings. When he stays out of the wrecks and the suspension holds up, he’s as good as creamy mac 'n' cheese.
6. Clint Bowyer String of top 10s ended at Kentucky when Bowyer became the victim of Ryan Newman and Joey Logano’s dust-up on the front stretch.
7. Greg Biffle Was a 10th- to 12th-place car until he thought his tire went down late. The pit stop resulted in a 21st-place showing and a drop in the point standings, to fourth.
That ain't beer, kids. (ASP, Inc.)
8. Brad Keselowski Wins at Bristol, Talladega and Kansas prove that this team is capable of winning on any type of track and at any time. Confidence has to be boiling over heading back to the beach.
9. Kasey Kahne A loose wheel cost him a lap early in the going at Kentucky. Kahne soldiered on though, and had an absolute rocketship at the end of the race, when he claimed second.
10. Martin Truex Jr. The 1-to-2-mile intermediate tracks have been where Truex and crew have flexed their NAPA-supported muscle this season. Though not a contender for the win at Kentucky, the eighth-place run sufficed.
11. Jeff Gordon Stop the press: Jeff Gordon did not have any fluky problems on Saturday. The result: fifth-place.
12. Kevin Harvick How Harvick has managed to stay around sixth in the standings is a mystery.
13. Joey Logano Note to Joey: Newman outweighs you by probably 75 pounds. Let it go, man.
14. Kyle Busch Kyle’s game of Duck, Duck, Goose continues with “Engine, Engine, Engine, Shock!”
15. AJ Allmendinger Back-to-back top 10s a good sign as the circuit prepares to enter the second half of the season.
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard
The equipment and team help but Dale Earnhardt Jr. says a key reason for his success in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season is crew chief Steve Letarte.
Since being paired together last year, Earnhardt has scored one victory, 11 top-five finishes and 25 top-10 finishes in 53 races.
Thus, since they’ve been together, Earnhardt has finished in the top 10 in nearly half the races. The last time he finished in the top 10 in more than half the races was 2004 when he was fifth in the points.
Earnhardt’s 13 top-10 finishes this season are already one more than he had last season and equal to the number he had in 2009 and ’10 combined.
While Letarte and his crew provide Earnhardt with fast cars, Letarte also has helped his driver’s confidence.
“Steve Letarte has made me calmer and more productive in the car,” Earnhardt says. “He gets more out of me as a driver and brings the best out of me. I’m better at completing races, putting together full races, not getting upset with the car, not getting frustrated and sort of botching the whole deal or sabotaging the race.
“He’s brought a lot of good things out in me and brought a lot more confidence. I’ve got a lot more confidence. Confidence is half the battle when you’re out there competing. If you don’t have any confidence, you just can’t get anything done.”
That is helping make this a special summer for Earnhardt. He’s often struggled in this stretch of races from June to August, but not this year.
He finished fourth at Dover for his first top-10 result there since 2007. He placed eighth at Pocono for his third consecutive top 10. He won at Michigan for his first top-10 run in his last four races there. While he’s never finished in the top 10 at Sonoma, he was 13th until he was collected in a last-lap crash and finished 23rd. He recovered by placing fourth at Kentucky a year after finishing 30th there in the inaugural event.
“We’ve had a pretty good summer so far, so if we can keep that going I’m going to be real excited about the rest of the season,” Earnhardt says.
As the Cup Series heads to Daytona for Saturday night’s race, Earnhardt will be looked upon as one of the favorites. Daytona is fun again for him since tandem racing no longer dominates that event.
“I think things have gotten a lot better with the rules they (NASCAR) made for this particular season,” Earnhardt says about plate racing at Daytona and Talladega. “We’re racing more, we’re not tandem drafting all the time so your race really is in your own hands, and what you do with it and what you make of an afternoon is really up to you and you alone for most of the event. So I kind of like that.
“That’s the way I’ve always thought racing should be. We never had racing where you were so dependent on another car until we had the re-paves at Daytona and Talladega and tandem racing came around. It was OK to watch, and I think some of the drivers probably enjoyed it, but for me it was just the opposite of a driver’s instincts.
“But, the rules have kind of moved away from that a little bit and hopefully that is the way it stays. Hopefully we will keep going in the right direction to get it to where it’s you against 42 other guys.”
NUMBER CRUNCHING Dale Earnhardt Jr. has completed all 5,027 laps run this season. Matt Kenseth is next, completing 5,026 laps and Greg Biffle has completed 5,025 laps. ... Jimmie Johnson has led the most laps this season at 811. Greg Biffle is next at 527 with Jeff Gordon third at 421. ... Paul Menard has the most consecutive top-10 finishes at Daytona entering this weekend with three. He was ninth in last year’s Daytona 500, eighth in last July’s race and was sixth in February. Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano each have two consecutive top-10 finishes at Daytona. ... Since winning at Daytona in July 2009, Tony Stewart has not finished in the top 10 in the last five races there. Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski has never finished in the top 10 in Cup at Daytona in six attempts. His best finish is 15th.
PIT STOPS Saturday’s Daytona race is the 18th in the 36-race Cup schedule, marking the halfway point of the season. ... Bill Elliott will drive the No. 50 car this weekend at Daytona as Turner Motorsports makes its Cup debut and has Walmart as sponsor. ... Joey Logano makes his 100th career Nationwide start Friday at Daytona where he won last year’s event. He’s had 14 wins, 47 top-five finishes and 77 top-10 finishes in his first 99 starts in that series, making his debut in 2008.