New storylines will emerge at Speedweeks in Daytona
It’s been a unique start to Speedweeks in Daytona for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Though technically, I guess most starts are unique. This one, however, has taken a new (if not predictable) turn since Danica Patrick went public concerning her relationship with fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to re-hash, quote-for-quote, the events of the week.
Peppered with questions on Media Day — coincidentally held on Valentine’s Day this year — the couple, as well as most all other drivers, answered a bevy of most un-race-oriented queries largely in stride. The mere existence of questions, of course, drew the ire of many fans and media members alike, though in defense of those interested there hasn’t been much else to talk about.
After all, a similar “Media Tour” was held just three weeks ago in Charlotte with the sport’s principles. Then, drivers, crew chiefs and owners dutifully answered competition-related questions. On their teams’ 2013 outlook, drivers were “excited;” on the new cars, crew chiefs toed the NASCAR line, praising the new body lines, noses and whatever else makes this new “Gen-6” car unique (there’s that word again) from homogenized models used since 2007. Owners smiled, talked of optimism in filling out sponsorship livery, practically giddy in how new personnel were coming together to make this season what’s sure to be their best yet.
Patrick waited until after the Media Tour to admit to the Associated Press that the long-circulated rumor of a budding romance with Stenhouse was, in fact … uh, fact. And with only closed team tests in the two weeks that followed, there honestly hasn’t been much from a competition perspective to reveal, aside from prognostication and conjecture.
So here we are, three weeks later and facing a similar volley of questions about the season and the new car that have already been answered. The only new development? Yep, you guessed it.
But take note, because this is the reality of the situation (good, bad or indifferent): Media outlets, circa 2013, are in a race of their own. It’s a race to coax page views and hits in a new and up-to-the-minute informational landscape. There are ad dollars at stake for sites that have found monetizing the internet a challenge, and without those precious funds, less money to send journalists to cover the real meat ‘n’ potatoes of the sport. The truth is that Patrick attracts said hits even when there’s nothing new to cover. But when there’s a love angle? It’s a viral feeding frenzy. And in all fairness — and despite what some may opine — “The Danica Thing” (I refuse to go “TomKat” or “Bennifer” with this) is news for no other reason than a couple in a relationship will compete against one another at the highest level of their chosen sport. (Save the Patty Moise/Elton Sawyer comparison — this isn’t 1990, Moise was not “a brand” and neither were running on the Cup circuit for Rookie of the Year.)
So look on the bright side, race fans: Cars are now, finally, on the track. Practice sessions are underway, an exhibition race is in the offing and a week of drama awaits in preparation for the sport’s most prestigious event, the Daytona 500.
I promise you, the storylines of Speedweeks 2013 will evolve. Drivers will win races, cars will crash, rules will be tweaked and trophies will be hoisted. “The Danica Thing” will live on, likely to find a tertiary spot in the season’s ongoing storylines, and the focus will shift to what drew fans to the sport in the first place: competition.
Just be patient. And remember that each season begins with its own unique set of circumstances.
Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Carl Edwards' new crew chief, Jimmy Fennig. (ASP, Inc.)
Until last week, crew chief Jimmy Fennig admits he had “very seldom’’ talked to Carl Edwards in their years together at Roush Fenway Racing.
“I’m the type of crew chief that I focus in on the job at hand and the driver I have and don’t really pay too much attention to other drivers,” said Fennig, who most recently was Matt Kenseth’s crew chief.
Next season, Fennig and his crew will partner with Edwards as Kenseth drives for Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s part of a series of changes taking place at Roush Fenway Racing. Two-time defending Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. replaces Kenseth in the No. 17 Cup car. Trevor Bayne takes Stenhouse’s Nationwide ride. The Cup team of Greg Biffle and crew chief Matt Puccia will remain intact.
Fennig, who became a crew chief in 1986 and won the 2004 championship with Kurt Busch, admits he doesn’t know Edwards too well but doesn’t see that as a hinderance in their pairing.
“My goal has always been to win races,” said Fennig, the winning crew chief in the 1988 Daytona 500 with Bobby Allison and this year’s Daytona 500 with Kenseth. “No matter who drives the car, that’s what I try to do every week and that’s something I know we already have in common.”
Fennig will be Edwards’ third crew chief since the start of the 2012 season. Bob Osborne started with Edwards. Osborne, citing health issues, stepped down as crew chief in July and was replaced by Chad Norris.
Edwards was winless this season and finished 15th in the points a year after losing the championship on a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart. Edwards scored only four top-10 finishes in the 17 races with Norris as crew chief, thus a change wasn’t surprising.
“We all just sat down and looked at it and Chad and I talked at length about it,” Edwards said of the change. “Everyone agrees the opportunity to have the experience of Jimmy Fennig on the box to get ... back to Victory Lane is what we should do. It wasn’t something that I single-handedly requested or just that Jack (Roush) wanted to do it. As a team we thought this was the best thing to do. The biggest thing at Roush is that he has so many good people that we can move people around and do things like this and it is good for the whole company.”
Along with that move, Roush will pair Stenhouse Jr. with crew chief Scott Graves. Both will be rookies in Cup.
“I would normally not be an advocate for bringing a crew chief who hadn’t been established with a rookie driver into the Cup Series, but Scott Graves – in my words – he’s been a prodigy for the small amount of experience he’s had making the final decisions,” Roush said.
“He made great decisions for Carl at Watkins Glen and he’s made great decisions for Ricky when he’s been with him this year. So I think given the fact he’s a mechanical engineer as well as an experienced team engineer, he’s going to bring enthusiasm and creativity to Ricky that we might not otherwise be able to achieve with somebody that had more experience.”
JR Motorsports' Regan Smith. (ASP, Inc.)
JR MOTORSPORTS MOVES JR Motorsports announced a new crew chief for Regan Smith on Tuesday and hinted that it could run just one team full-time next season in the Nationwide Series.
The team announced that Jimmie Johnson’s longtime engineer, Greg Ives, would become Regan Smith’s crew chief next season. Ives was the engineer for all five of Johnson’s Cup championships.
JR Motorsports also noted in a release how it “continues to streamline its race program.” The release stated that the team is preparing for the “likelihood” that it will run one full-time team with Smith as driver and one part-time with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and select drivers. This past season, Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt were the team’s two full-time drivers. Patrick is moving to Cup to drive full-time with Stewart-Haas Racing and has stated a desire to run some Nationwide events.
ROOKIES OF THE YEAR Ty Dillon was selected as the Rookie of the Year in the Truck series, marking the third consecutive year a Richard Childress Racing driver won that honor. Austin Dillon won it in 2010 and Joey Coulter won it last year. ... Austin Dillon was selected as the Nationwide Rookie of the Year and Stephen Leicht won the rookie of the year honors in Cup.
SEEKING SPONSORSHIP Kyle Busch said after Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race that Dollar General will not return as a sponsor on his Kyle Busch Motorsports entry.
“Unfortunately, we’re sponsor-less next year, so we’ll see what happens through the offseason,” Busch said.
The team announced earlier this month that Joey Coulter will drive full-time for it in the Truck series next year.
PIT STOPS Joe Gibbs Racing confirmed Monday that Elliott Sadler will join the team to run in the Nationwide Series next year. ... Paul Menard ran the most laps in Cup this season. He completed 10,406 of the 10,442 laps run (99.7 percent) this season. ... Jimmie Johnson led the most laps in Cup this season at 1,744. Kyle Busch was next, having led 1,436 laps. ... There were 15 different winners in Cup this season, down from 18 last year. This season marked the second consecutive year no driver won more than five Cup races. Champion Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin each won a series-high five races this year.
Gordon/Bowyer melee mars AdvoCar500; Keselowski turns tables on Johnson in points battle
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Once the smoke cleared, the cars (or what was left of them) were loaded and the Sunday sun set over Phoenix International Raceway, a new championship landscape had emerged in NASCAR. But tempers as hot and raw as the surrounding Sonora Desert shifted the focus of the Sprint Cup Series’ AdvoCare 500 from said title battle—and the race’s previously-MIA winner—to wrecked racecars, fist fights and talk of on-track payback.
Kevin Harvick, last seen in Victory Lane following a Cup Series event in Sept. 2011, led the final 15 laps to notch his third career Cup win in Avondale, Ariz.
However, a shakeup atop the Chase standings took center stage when Jimmie Johnson—the points leader entering the race—spent over 20 laps behind the wall after his right front tire’s bead melted, resulting in a hard hit to his No. 48 Chevy. That opened the door for Brad Keselowski to execute a 27-point swing by finishing sixth in the event while Johnson limped to a 32nd-place showing, and regain the points lead by a daunting 20 markers with one race remaining in the 2012 campaign.
But a dose of on-track retribution and off-track fisticuffs trumped even the championship fight, as Jeff Gordon wrecked Clint Bowyer with just over one lap remaining in the scheduled 312-lap event. Gordon, upset with Bowyer for contact that wounded his No. 24 moments earlier and for incidents that he deemed had “escalated over the year,” waited on the latter and hooked him into the Turn 4 wall. The crash also swept up Aric Almirola and Joey Logano and nearly involved Keselowski, who was able to scoot low to avoid the mess of tangled cars.
As Gordon exited his demolished car in the garage, Bowyer’s team rushed to the scene and engaged the No. 24 team in what resembled a Wild West bar room brawl in Tombstone.
Gordon was ushered into his hauler without contact while Bowyer emerged from his injured vehicle on pit road and sprinted into the garage where he attempted to confront Gordon but was unsuccessful.
“Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me,” a curt Gordon said as he exited the track. “He got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I had it. That was it, and I got him back.”
Said Bowyer: “I barely touched him and then I feel him get into Turn 3 and try to turn me and he missed and then next thing I know Brett’s (Griffin, spotter) telling me on the radio that he’s waiting on me. It’s pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion and what I consider one of the best this sport’s ever seen. To act like that is just completely ridiculous.”
Photo by ASP, Inc.
The incident also ended any title aspirations Bowyer may have had, however slim.
“That was my opportunity to try to get myself back in the championship hunt,” Bowyer said. “When you’re disrupting a championship run like that, it’s too bad. They ask us not to do that in the drivers’ meeting and there’s usually a lot of respect there.”
The drama was far from over, though, as the field went back to racing in a green-white-checker restart. With Harvick holding off Kyle Busch—who led a race-high 237 laps—Danica Patrick was spun in Turn 3 but no caution was displayed. As she slowly rolled her car away, an oil slick was visible in Turns 3 and 4 and down the frontstretch.
As the pack raced at speed through the oil, cars began bouncing off one another with the checkered flag in the air, triggering an accident that collected a half dozen cars. Even Keselowski got a piece of the action, but managed to bull through to finish sixth.
Denny Hamlin, Busch, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounded out the top 5.
The post-race fallout, however, centered around the Gordon/Bowyer skirmish.
“The sport was made on fights. We should have more fights,” a victorious Harvick deadpanned. “I like fights. They’re not always fun to be in—sometimes you’re on the wrong end—but fights are what made NASCAR what it is.”
His simplistic, if not tongue-in-cheek, opinions were not reflected by the new points leader.
“It just drives me absolutely crazy that I get lambasted for racing somebody hard (the previous week in Texas) without there even being a wreck and then you see stuff like this, and that’s OK from the same people that criticized me,” Keselowski said. “It’s OK to just take somebody out, but you race somebody hard, put a fender on somebody and try to go for the win, and you’re an absolute villain. That’s ridiculous.
“But then we can just go out and retaliate against each other and come back in and smile about it, and it’s fine? That’s not what this sport needs. It needs hard racing, it needs people that go for broke, try to win races and put it all out there on the line, not a bunch of people that have anger issues. That’s not good for anybody, and it really hurt my feelings to be a part of a Chase race for the championship and have that jeopardized from people that can’t keep control of their emotions.”
Keselowki goes to the season finale having only to finish 15th in Sunday’s Ford 400—and that’s if Johnson leads the most laps and wins the race.
“Unfortunately, we lost a lot of control, or all control, in the championship,” Johnson said. “We can go down there and win the race and do everything on our behalf and it still won’t net us a championship. So, we’ll go down and do our part and just see how things unfold. Today was proof that anything can happen in this sport and we’ll see how things shake out in Miami.”
by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
Who else but The Captain? After 15 Indianapolis 500 wins, a NASCAR Nationwide title, and currently in serious contention for a Cup title, it would be hard to deny a self-made billionaire who started out with a single Chevrolet dealership. He’s won in all makes, from a Taurus to a Matador, a Camaro and a Challenger, Chargers and Grand Prixs – and he came within a few hours of owning his own car company when GM was divesting itself of Saturn in 2009. Didn’t like Romney being derided for being a millionaire, you say? Well how about a legitimate billionaire? An added bonus: He hails from Ohio, a swing state everyone covets and worth its weight in sheet metal.
by Vito Pugliese
Vice President – Mark Martin
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Who else would make a better veep than Mark Martin, the guy who has finished second place in Cup titles on five occasions? Many contend that he won the title in 1990 (much like former VP Al Gore still contends he won in 2000). The same could be said for the 2007 Daytona 500 when NASCAR’s rules changed coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap — although you’d never hear Martin complain about it publicly. His current part-time gig is tailor made for vice presidential duties, allowing him time to attend state funerals, photo ops and ribbon cuttings, as well as bridging the gap between young and old voters. Who else better to extol the virtues of both hard work and Gucci Mane to the electorate? Besides, if you really need to find him (unlike Dick Cheney) his undisclosed location will be pretty easy to find – the gym in his basement.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Chief of Staff – Chad Knaus
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The Chief of Staff sets the tone for the administration and directs the steps and actions of the day-to-day happenings within the White House. Chad Knaus is the obvious answer here. George W. Bush had Karl Rove as “The Architect” to his 2000 presidential campaign, while Jimmie Johnson had Knaus as his architect in five consecutive successful title runs from 2006-10. When Johnson backed it into the wall at Kansas a few weeks ago, it was Knaus who calmly surveyed the damage and directed his men on how to repair the No. 48 car. Could a mangled heap that was just shortened by two feet even make the minimum speed at the newly-repaved, downforce-dependent speedway? Naturally, he made it through with a ninth-place finish – just one spot behind rival Brad Keselowski.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
First Lady – Danica Patrick
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Yeah, I know. Kind of a cop out, but whatever. At least you get a nice picture out of it.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
White House Press Secretary – Carl Edwards
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The Press Secretary is the person responsible for going out in front of the public each day and making things seem better than they really are – or completely obfuscating any semblance of trouble, wrong-doing or dire consequence waiting around the corner. The “spin master in chief” must keep control of the story regardless of what may really be happening in plain sight, and the next time that Carl Edwards seems down and out or riddled with uncertainty will be the first. He’s the perfect driver for any sponsor, and after losing the 2011 championship on a tie-breaker and enduring a winless streak that in a couple of races will approach two years, Edwards could convince even the most skeptical voter that the cup isn’t just half full, it’s half as big as it should be — and he’d do it from the infield TV booth. Every weekend.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Secretary of State – Jeff Burton
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No brainer. He is “The Mayor,” after all and may be destined for a career in politics once he ditches the firesuit. No matter how ridiculous a situation, if you ask Burton about it you’ll get a 10-minute explanation that begins with, “Well let’s take a look at it…” and at the end, you’ll wonder why there’s even a problem in the first place. If Secretary of State isn’t an option, perhaps Jedi Mind-Master is further down the chain of command. Heck, even when Jeff Gordon went after him at Texas a few years ago, he smoothed things over and they rode in the ambulance together. Originally recruited at one time to become the heir to Dale Earnhardt Sr. prior to his untimely passing, Burton is as positive a representative of the sport as one could ask for, making him the perfect man for the job.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Secretary of Defense – Jack Roush
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What other guy arrives to the track in a World War II P-51D Mustang and has an SR-71 model of his own tuner Mustang GT? He definitely would be no fan of foreign aggression, as demonstrated by his disdain of Toyota entering NASCAR, and most certainly has “This Aggression Will Not Stand” crocheted on a pillow in his hauler's heavily fortified rec room. Jack started out drag racing with the Tijuana Taxi, dominated IMSA and Trans-Am in the late 1980s and into the '90s, and started up one of the most successful modern NASCAR teams 1988. He bleeds red, white and Blue Oval, and his answers to even the most mundane and routine questions sounds suspiciously like those that would be voiced by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. While Jack has had a couple of brushes with mortality the past decade with airplane crashes, he has no intention of grounding the fleet. He’s still at the track every weekend and signs his autographs with “U.S.A.” under his name. No questions as to where his loyalties lie.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Speaker of The House – Kurt Busch
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There would be no mother****g doubt at what time a g******ed vote or motion is taking place, because Kurt Busch would be the first one to tell you when that s*** was going down and how the f*** it was going to happen. Maybe Patricia would take the gavel out of his hand before he goes after the leader of the Senate with it. NASCAR’s walking sound bite would be second in succession to the presidency, leading him to question what dumb son of a b**** drew up that stupid plan, and why he isn’t first. F***!
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Administrator of the EPA – Ward Burton
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Ward Burton walked away from racing a few years ago and began to focus his energies on conservation and environmental efforts in his home state of Virginia. In 2005, he was appointed to the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries. Ward is an avid hunter and his Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation works to promote hunting, fishing, care and stewardship of forests and wetlands. Besides, where else are you going to find a guy willing to state that, “I wish I had something to have shot through the damn window” in an interview following getting wrecked by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Bristol?
by Vito Pugliese
Secretary of Health and Human Services – Jimmy Spencer
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Obviously. Slightly overweight, formerly sponsored by McDonald’s, a ketchup maker, muffler shops, and tobacco companies, Spencer smokes cigars and has the best hair money can buy. Or glue. Either way, Spencer — much like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — is a picture of health and would be a voice of reason amongst the sea of insanity that permeates through Washington (or Charlotte). He never forgets, isn’t afraid to take a swing and routinely hands out stogies, straight jackets and sob chamois on Race Hub. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
It’s been but three days since our nation elected its leaders, and we’re still all feeling a little bit of a political hangover. The Republicans can’t believe they got beat, the Democrats are relieved they won, and while half the country is wringing their hands over the results and what lies ahead, the other half is just glad it’s over. Or they’re smoking a bunch of weed since it was legalized in a couple locales. Either way, it got me to thinking what a NASCAR election cycle might look like. Here’s how I envision Capitol Hill looking, where D.C.
The 2013 Sprint Cup, Brad Keselowski's spike in popularity and Kyle Busch's hot streak
Chevrolet's as-yet-unveiled 2013 Cup car. (ASP, Inc.)
A Goodyear tire test Tuesday and Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway could provide a clue as to how racy NASCAR’s 2013 Sprint Cup car can be.
While the focus will be on tires at the test, NASCAR also will experiment with the car in hopes of making it easier for drivers to run closer together. One of the reasons mentioned this year for the relative lack of cautions was that it was so hard to race close together for a stretch, although Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski showed it can be done late in last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, said Monday that “there are some things that we are working on that show promise” and could create tighter racing when the cars debut next season.
He noted that officials are experimenting with the car’s underbody, along with the front of it and the rear spoiler.
Andy Graves, Toyota’s Cup manager, notes that when a car is alone in clean air, it has maximum downforce, thus is compressed and as close to the ground as possible. When two cars are running near each other, the trailing car loses some of that air pressure and the car rises.
“If the car is very pitch-sensitive and very ride-height sensitive, then, unfortunately, you lose more downforce when you’re behind someone,” Graves says.
“We’re trying to develop from the splitter, the spoiler, studying the data, looking at wind tunnel information that is more advanced than it’s ever been; we’re trying to understand and come up with some characteristics that performance stays the same whether you’re all by yourself or in traffic. That is going to help the racing.”
Pemberton said he’s confident that the new car will be better than when the current car debuted as the Car of Tomorrow in 2007.
“It goes back to us spending more time getting the car closer developed when we hand the car off,” he says. “It will be a far, far, better racing car to start off with and then the teams will take it to the next level.”
Brad Keselowski suggests not judging the car’s performance too early next season, though.
“The odds are that this car is not going to come out of the gate perfect,” he says. “It’s going to take time. But much like if you unveiled a new iPhone and rolled it out and said, ‘In a year we’ll have it working right,’ your customers probably aren’t going to be happy about that. I think we all know that and are braced for it, but we know long-term that this car is going to be part of the solution for getting NASCAR as strong as it possibly can be.”
If everything goes as NASCAR hopes, Graves says the cars should be easier to drive than the current cars but says the driver ability will still matter.
“Making cars hard to drive, that’s not what separates talent on the race track,” he says. “It’s all the other intangibles. It’s operating in traffic from setting someone up for the pass, it’s managing your tires, managing the race, understanding fuel mileage. There’s a lot of different aspects, in my opinion, rather than making the cars hard to drive and say the best driver is going to be the guy that best manages that.”
NEW FAVORITE At one point during last weekend’s race at Texas, the crowd roared when Brad Keselowski took the lead. He missed that.
“I would have liked to have heard that,” Keselowski said. “That’s one of my biggest regrets of being a race car driver is missing out on those moments. In other sports, like football or basketball or baseball when they do something and the crowd cheers, you really feel it, (but) racing, you’ve got none of that. It’s really a big bummer because I would have loved to have heard that.”
Keselowski knows that he’s gained fans during this Chase as he battles five-time champion Jimmie Johnson for the championship.
“I think I have a lot of Jimmie-hater fans,” said Keselowski, who trails Johnson by seven points with two races to go.
“I’m not sure how I feel about it. I try really hard to engage a very informed and positive fan base. That might not be necessarily along those lines, but I’ll take every fan I can get.”
Keselowski understands why some fans feel the way they do toward Johnson.
“It’s American culture, build somebody up just so you can tear them down, whether it’s the president or sports star,” he said. “It’s just American culture. Maybe one day I’ll be so fortunate as to be torn down.”
CHARGING Although not a title contender, Kyle Busch has scored 274 points in the Chase, fifth-most among all drivers. Busch is coming off a third-place finish at Texas last weekend, his fifth top-5 finish in the Chase.
“I wish we were in the deal,” Busch said after last weekend’s race at Texas, “but that’s what next year is for.”
TITLE RACES With two races to go, Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse are tied for the points lead in the Nationwide Series. Austin Dillon is third, 21 points behind them.
In the Camping World Truck Series, James Buescher has a 15-point lead on Ty Dillon with Timothy Peters 25 points back and Parker Kligerman 27 points out with two races to go.
PIT STOPS NASCAR announced Tuesday that comedian Howie Mandel will host the Sprint Cup Series Awards program on Nov. 30 in Las Vegas. ... Donny Schatz won the World of Outlaws championship driving for Tony Stewart’s team. ... Kyle Larson, a development driver for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, won the K&N Pro Series East championship last weekend with a sixth-place finish in the season finale at Rockingham Speedway. ... Sunday’s Cup race marks Danica Patrick’s 10th and final one of the season. She is coming off her career-best Cup finish of 24th last weekend at Texas. ... Jimmie Johnson, victorious last weekend at Texas, has won 22 races in the Chase. Next on the list is Tony Stewart with 11 Chase victories.
Kenseth survives, notches third Sprint Cup win of 2012
Matt Kenseth in Victory Lane at Kansas. (ASP, Inc.)
There is typically one race in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship that throws the Sprint Cup field the proverbial curveball.
The perils of Talladega are well known, so drivers and teams approach it with a survivalist’s mentality. The 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway appears staid when compared to the aforementioned 2.66-mile behemoth or even the cramped confines of the half-mile Martinsville Speedway. But with a fresh coat of new asphalt, a narrow groove and changing weather conditions throughout the weekend, Kansas proved to be anything but normal.
Ill-timed pit stops, spins, hard crashes, paybacks and an emotional winner highlighted the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Matt Kenseth, on his way out at Roush Fenway Racing after a celebrated 14-year tenure, proved the “lame duck” tag doesn’t apply to him or his No. 17 team. Kenseth survived a harrowing moment early in the race to lead the final 49 laps en route to his third win of the 2012 season, and second in the last three weeks.
“It means lot,” an emotional Kenseth said in Victory Lane. “I just have to thank God for the opportunities he has put in front of me and the guidance he has given me throughout my whole life. I have to thank Jack Roush and (competition director) Robbie Reiser and (former teammate) Mark Martin. Without them, I would have never been at Roush Fenway Racing.”
Kenseth’s road to the winner’s circle was an arduous one. He slapped the wall on lap 173 of 267 while attmpting to miss a spinning Aric Almirola. That dropped him to 24th on the ensuing restart, deep in a field that had proven to be aggressive.
However, as Kenseth steadily advanced his position, others saw their hopes dashed.
Chase contenders Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart each spun, while Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman were involved in an altercation that will most certainly be continued before the season is over. Even Danica Patrick got into the action, spinning Landon Cassill and, in the process, wrecking herself, when she took exception to his on-track methods.
Kansas’ newly repaved surface narrowed the racing groove, forcing drivers to take advantage of any opportunity presented to them. A Kansas record 14 cautions was the result, as aggressiveness seemed the order of the day.
“The restarts were pretty wild,” Johnson said. “You had to run so hard that when something happened and you lost grip, the car just stood up on the tires and would take off and you couldn't control it, and guys were sliding everywhere.”
Johnson would know. He backed his No. 48 Chevy into the wall on lap 137. His team responded as title contenders do, furiously working on the car under yellow while remaining on the lead lap. Johnson finished ninth, one spot behind points leader Brad Keselowski.
“I’m glad I survived the carnage and brought back a decent car,” Keselowski said of his eighth-place run. “I dodged a bullet of a race.”
Keselowski’s lead over Johnson in the point standings remains at seven, while third-place Denny Hamlin lost five points due to a 13th-place showing. He sits third in the title hunt, 20 points back.
Clint Bowyer (sixth) finds himself still in contention, just 25 markers behind Keselowski. Kasey Kahne (fourth) has moved to within 30 points of the lead.
But while the championship continues to sort itself out—eyeing a final-race shootout in Homestead, Fla., Sunday was about Kenseth and the team that continues to give up.
“We still have some races left we want to win,” Kenseth said. “It says a lot about these guys—how hard they work to give me the best stuff and give me a chance to win every week.”
Rule Changes, Bowyer's Big Win and Earnhardt's Absence
Clint Bowyer (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Don’t be fooled by the court jester routine Clint Bowyer seems to play in press conferences. For all the joking he does, he’s serious about winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
With five races left in the Chase, Bowyer is fourth in the standings for car owner Michael Waltrip’s team, 28 points behind series leader Brad Keselowski.
“Who would have thought in a million years after making this switch and coming over to a new family and everything that was new that we would be in Victory Lane three times and (there are) still—how many races, five races left?” said Bowyer, who joined Michael Waltrip Racing after having spent the previous six seasons at Richard Childress Racing.
“Five races left, and we're still in contention for a championship. Our first year together, just to be able to do that with a brand-new sponsor, a brand-new manufacturer, I'm telling you the truth: I was almost uncomfortable going to the shop at the beginning of the year because I didn't know one face there. I knew Ty Norris (executive vice president) and (crew chief) Brian Pattie and Michael ... and if I could catch him when he was there I could talk, but other than that I didn't know anybody there.”
Bowyer’s press conference with Waltirp and Pattie after winning Saturday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway mirrored a comedy routine with references to the pre-race show that featured a tight-rope walker, “Days of Thunder” and other such moments.
For all the fun Bowyer has had this year, he’s played a role with teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Mark Martin in raising Michael Waltrip Racing’s profile. Bowyer already has topped his career bests with three wins, eight top-five and 19 top-10 finishes.
He’s looking for more this weekend at Kansas Speedway, his home track.
“That's probably the biggest thing is to come off this win, going into your hometown, the family and friends, everybody that goes there, it's just so important to be able to roll in on a positive note,” Bowyer said. “And to be able to win there some day, we've gotten close, if we could possibly pull this off again in Kansas, it would be … that's my … do you dare say Daytona 500, but it truly is. That's the biggest race you can possibly win is in front of your hometown.”
2013 CHANGES NASCAR announced several competition changes for next season, including the end of the top 35 rule in the Sprint Cup Series.
Among the rule changes is that the Nationwide fields will be reduced from 43 to 40 cars next year. The Cup Series will continue to have 43-car fields and the Camping World Truck Series will again have 36-truck fields.
The top 35 rule—which guaranteed a starting spot to the top 35 in car owner points regardless of their speed in qualifying—ends after this season. NASCAR will return to the format it had before the top 35 rule was enacted in 2005.
Starting next year, the fastest 36 in Cup qualifying make the race with the final seven spots based on provisionals—one of those seven available to a former champion if they are entered, if not then it becomes a seventh provisional. The provisionals are based on car owner points, thus the six (or seven if there isn’t a former champion needing a provisional) highest cars in the car owner points that aren’t among the 36 fastest will make the race. Provisionals are unlimited.
Another change is that the qualifying order for Cup will be determined by a blind draw instead of based on speeds in the first practice session. If qualifying is canceled due to rain, the starting lineup will be determined by practice speeds.
Provisionals in the Cup, Nationwide and Truck series will be based upon the previous year’s car owner points for only the first three races of a season. Previously, it was for the first five races in Cup and Nationwide and the first four races in the Truck Series.
For the first time since 2008, teams will be able to test at tracks that host NASCAR events. NASCAR issued the ban in 2009 to help teams save money but with so many teams testing at tracks that didn’t host a NASCAR event, it made sense to allow teams to test on tracks they’ll race.
Cup organizations will be allowed four tests at tracks that host a NASCAR race. Thus, Hendrick Motorsports can have all four of its teams at a test and that counts as one test. Even if only one driver shows up for Hendrick to test at a track that hosts a NASCAR race, it will count as one of the four tests allowed per organization.
Organizations in the Nationwide and Truck series will be allowed two tests at tracks that host a NASCAR race. Nationwide and Truck organizations can receive an additional test if they have a driver who is an official Rookie of the Year candidate.
NEW STREAK With Dale Earnhardt Jr. sitting out because of his concussion and Scott Riggs failing to qualify, last weekend’s Charlotte race marked the first Cup event since 1961 without a driver from the state of North Carolina. With Earnhardt still out and Riggs’ team withdrawing from Kansas, there won’t be a North Carolina driver in Sunday’s race, either.
BACK AT IT AJ Allmendinger is entered for Phoenix Racing for this weekend’s race at Kansas. Allmendinger finished 24th last weekend at Charlotte for the team in his first race since returning from a suspension for failing a drug test in late June. Allmendinger won the pole at Kansas in April when he was with Penske Racing.
TESTING Cup teams are scheduled to test Wednesday at Thursday at Kansas Speedway since the track has been repaved. Teams will be allowed to test their 2013 car if they choose.
The test is one of the reasons Stewart-Haas Racing chose this race as one of the 10 Cup events Danica Patrick will drive this season. This allows her to gain additional experience in the car and with the track.
PIT STOPS The last three winners at Kansas (Denny Hamlin in April, Jimmie Johnson in Oct. 2011 and Brad Keselowski in June 2011) rank in the top three in points. ... Jimmie Johnson has seven consecutive top-10 finishes at Kansas. ... Kyle Busch has led more laps than any other driver during the first five races of the Chase at 356 with 302 of those coming at Dover. ... Richard Childress Racing is winless in its last 35 races, dating back to Clint Bowyer’s win at Talladega in October 2011.
Brad Keselowski in the May Talladega race. (ASP, Inc.)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Brad Keselowski admits he has conflicting emotions heading into this weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.
“There’s part of me that says no matter how bad Talladega goes I can only be 47 points back or 46 or so, so it can’t be that bad,” he said Tuesday. “Then there’s the other side of me that thinks that if we go to Talladega and have a bad day and end up losing a championship by those points, that would really be a shame.”
Keselowski admits he’s not trying to “overthink” the Chase and just race.
One thing he’s pondered, though, is how much he’ll compete in the Nationwide Series as he goes for his first Cup title. Keselowski said he will not run the Kansas Nationwide race — Ryan Blaney will — and could drop more races depending on how he’s doing in the Chase.
Keselowski enters this weekend’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 with three victories, eight top-five finishes and 12 top 10s in the last 13 races. He’s also won two of the first three Chase events to hold a five-point lead on Jimmie Johnson.
“There isn’t one silver bullet,” Keselowski said of his strong run since late June. “It’s everything. The cars are good. The execution on pit road has been strong. Knock on wood we haven’t had (mechanical) failures, which is a credit to the staff at Penske Racing. With the exception of Bristol, I haven’t driven it in the wall. That’s what it takes. Just having one of those pieces isn’t enough. You have to have them all. Just missing one of those pieces will keep you from having a solid day. Right now as a team we’ve had it all.”
As he did after winning Dover last weekend, Keselowski reiterated that seven races remain in the Chase. Defending series champion Tony Stewart was 24 points out of the lead with five races to go last year.
“There’s a lot of fight left,” Keselowski said.
INSIDE A WRECK It will likely happen often this weekend at Talladega, cars skidding, sliding and slamming into each other. It’s one thing to see it from the stands or watching on TV, but what’s it like inside a car during a crash at Talladega?
Jimmie Johnson explains:
“When something happens you start evaluating the damage to your car. If there are a couple of small bumps along the way, your mind’s thinking, ‘OK, that’s not too bad. I didn’t get hit in a wheel, maybe just a fender. We can fix that. We can fix that.’ And you’re keeping some hope until there’s always typically a moment when you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s going to hurt, that’s going to require some behind-the-wall time to fix that up.’
“So, you just kind of hang on and go for the ride. I’ve been fortunate to stay on my wheels and not be upside-down, so I don’t necessarily have a good play on that. Although it would be kind of cool to flip if you’re going to out, you may as well go out in style. But you just kind of evaluate what’s going on and hope that you don’t hit anything too hard and you can get to pit lane and get it fixed.”
STRONG START Joey Logano has recorded a top-10 finish in each of the three Chase races so far. He’s actually scored more points (107) than Chase drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. (100), Martin Truex Jr. (100), Kevin Harvick (96), Jeff Gordon (94), Greg Biffle (85) and Matt Kenseth (67).
Logano opened the Chase by finishing seventh at Chicagoland Speedway, was eighth at New Hampshire and placed 10th at Dover last weekend. It’s the first time this season he’s scored three consecutive top-10 finishes.
Ryan Newman's Quicken Loans Chevy. (ASP, Inc.)
CHANGES ABOUND Quicken Loans’ decision to double the number of races it will serve as Ryan Newman’s primary sponsor next season from nine is just one of what appears to be many changes that will take place for Newman.
Car owner Tony Stewart said the organization is looking at different options for a crew chief for Newman. The possible change is related to Danica Patrick moving to Cup full-time next season. Newman, who has worked with Tony Gibson, has failed to make the Chase in two of his four seasons at Stewart-Haas Racing.
“We have to consider all options for everybody,” Newman said. “It’s not just about me. It’s about myself, it’s about Danica, it’s about Tony. They all have to work together.”
So what is Newman looking for as he plans for 2013?
“Just more consistency,” he said. “We just need to be more consistent performance-wise and that starts here in the shop and continues on at the race track.”
Newman has one victory and 11 top-10 finishes this season, but he also has failed to finish four races, equaling his total for the past two seasons combined. The fewest top-10 finishes he’s had while at Stewart-Haas Racing was 14 in 2010.
PIT STOPS Points leader Brad Keselowski has the best average finish among active drivers at Talladega at 13.0. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is next at 14.8 with Kurt Busch next at 15.1. ... Greg Biffle has completed all but five of the 8,231 laps run this season, most among any driver. Kevin Harvick is next, completing all but 16 laps this season. ... The Nationwide Series is off this weekend. The Camping World Truck Series joins the Cup series at Talladega for the fred’s 250 on Saturday.
Days after Brad Keselowski employed some gamesmanship — and subsequent mind games — at Chicagoland Speedway, Tony Stewart detailed his use of mental deviousness, claiming that he knew even before last year’s NASCAR season finale at Homestead ended that he would beat Carl Edwards for the Sprint Cup championship.
He could see it in Edwards’ reaction that weekend.
Stewart recounted that story in a fan forum Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame when asked about his come-from-behind charge to win the championship.
Stewart had won four races to put himself within three points of Edwards heading into the Homestead race. Three days before the event, Stewart and Edwards met with the media to discuss their championship battle and Stewart unleashed his boxer’s bravado.
Asked how far they would go to win the title, Stewart started the following exchange that day:
“I’d wreck my mom to win a championship,” Stewart said. “I respect him as a driver, but this isn't about friendships this weekend. This is a war. This is a battle. This is for a national championship. It’s no-holds barred this weekend. I didn’t come this far to be one step away from it and let it slip away, so we're going to go for it.”
“Did you say something?” Edwards asked.
“Yeah, you can come visit my trophy in the room at (Las) Vegas when you come there,” Stewart responded, referring to the site of the season-ending banquet.
“He’s got the talking part figured out,” Edwards replied.
“They say there’s talkers and doers. I’ve done this twice,” Stewart said.
Tuesday, Stewart talked about that media session and what followed:
“The trash-talking started on Thursday at the media event, which wasn’t really necessarily my plan until I got there. When we got there, I saw that Carl was nervous and it was like a drop of blood for a shark. As soon as I saw that it was like instincts kicked in for me. I’ve been in championship battles before with guys that had that look. You just know that you can kind of take advantage of that situation a little bit.
“So we wore him out at media day, but then he came back and won the pole and pretty much made a statement that it didn’t look like it really phased him too much.”
While Edwards led much of that race, Stewart battled various issues, including running over debris that forced him at the back of the pack. Yet, Stewart continually moved toward the front.
During a red flag for rain about 150 laps from the end, NASCAR parked the cars on pit road. It was then that Stewart knew he would win the title even though Edwards led and Stewart was only a few positions behind.
“I saw what to me was the final blow to him,” Stewart said. “He got out of the car ... looks back and we’re four cars behind him. The look on his face was, ‘How did he get up there already?’ He sat there for ... that rain delay, he was with his crew chief and Jack Roush at the pit box and I was just sitting on the wall talking to crew guys, laughing and carrying on. I knew we had it won. I hadn’t raced him all day but I just knew mentally we had the advantage.”
Stewart also later said that his car’s handling was as good as it had been, allowing him to make various moves. He called the race “the most fun I’ve had on pavement, for sure.
“That’s by far the best pavement race I’ve ever had,” Stewart said. “Everybody goes, ‘Oh, he did something different, he rose above everything.’ My car was really good. That’s the moral of the story. My car was good and balanced all day. When you get it driving that nice, you can do things like we were doing. I put myself in spots that I wouldn’t normally do because it drove so well and it felt so good that I felt more comfortable getting myself in those positions.”
AJ Allmendinger. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
REINSTATED NASCAR announced Tuesday that it has reinstated driver AJ Allmendinger after his successful completion of its recovery program.
“I want to thank everyone for their support,” Allmendinger said in a statement issued Tuesday. “I am grateful for the opportunity to return. The Road to Recovery program was really helpful to me in getting my priorities reset away from the race track. And, honestly, that helped find my love of racing again and why I began racing in the first place.”
Allmendinger failed a drug test at Kentucky in late June and NASCAR temporarily suspended him for the Daytona race the following week, forcing him out of the car hours before the race. He had the opportunity to request his remaining urine sample be tested and that was done later that month. After it came back positive, NASCAR indefinitely suspended him July 24.
Penske Racing released Allmendinger on Aug. 1. That opened the No. 22 ride. Sam Hornish Jr. has driven the car since Daytona. Joey Logano will take over the ride next season.
SHOWING IMPROVEMENT With the opportunity to drive in the Cup Series after AJ Allmendinger’s suspension, Sam Hornish Jr. is showing signs he could be ready for another full-time effort in the series.
Hornish’s finish at Chicagoland Speedway was the third consecutive race he’s placed 11th. He’s finished in the top 12 in five of the last six races, including a fifth-place run at Watkins Glen.
In the Nationwide Series, Hornish’s sixth-place finish last weekend at Chicago marked his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races.
SPECIAL GROUP Ryan Blaney became the seventh first-time winner this season in the Camping World Truck Series and the 12th different winner in 15 races when he won at Iowa last weekend.
The first-time winners in the Truck series this season are John King (Daytona), James Buescher (Kansas), Justin Lofton (Charlotte), Joey Coulter (Pocono), Nelson Piquet (Michigan), Ty Dillon (Atlanta) and Blaney.
In the process, Blaney — at 18 years, eight months — became the youngest driver to win in NASCAR’s three national touring series.
PIT STOPS JR Motorsports announced Tuesday that Ryan Pemberton would serve as Danica Patrick’s interim crew chief for this weekend’s Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway. The team released Patrick’s crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., earlier this week. ... A Chase driver has won the fall New Hampshire race every year since the Chase’s debut in 2004. ... The winner of the fall New Hampshire race has gone on to finish in the top three in points four of the last five years.