Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's AdvoCare 500
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Coming off another exciting race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads south to Atlanta Motor Speedway for this weekend's AdvoCare 500. Only two races remain before the Chase for the Cup gets underway in Chicago, and if the past few weeks are any indication of things to come, you better hold on a lot tighter than Tony Stewart holds onto one of his helmets.
Since the series hit the summer stretch in June, there have been 11 different winners in 11 races, dating back to Joey Logano's win at the repaved Pocono Raceway. Last week, it was Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin that broke in the new configuration at Bristol and went to Victory Lane.
Just as the battle for wins each week has heated up, so has the battle to secure a spot in the 12-driver Chase field.
Hamlin's victory was his third of the season, making it a four-way tie for the most win on the seasons with Hamlin, Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. So far, only four drivers have locked themselves into the Chase: Johnson, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. This weekend, eight other drivers could mathematically lock themselves into the field.
While the top 10 is settling things amongst themselves, the fight for the two wild card spots are very much up for grabs. Entering this weekend's race, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch hold the coveted position, but anything can change, as Sunday night's race proved. Among those looking to secure a spot in the Chase through via wild card are Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards.
In the meantime, we've seen wild races over the course of the last three weeks. Last-lap drama, helmet throwing, finger pointing, accusations of teams testing the boundaries of the rulebook … you name it, it’s happened.
With a 500-mile race under the lights on the fast, high-banks of the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway, the stage is set for yet another dramatic weekend for the Cup Series.
However, look for that streak of 11 different winners to end this week as Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the entire No. 48 team look to solidify their spot as the top seed heading into the Chase.
This organization has shown it is once again in championship form, with a win at Indianapolis, a second last week at Bristol, a third at Watkins Glen and a 14th at Pocono. Don’t forget, the 27th-place finish at Michigan is very deceiving as Johnson lost a motor leading in the closing laps.
A three-time winner in Atlanta, Johnson enters the weekend as the fantasy favorite. Already locked into the Chase, Johnson and Knaus are now looking solely for wins. While this group has not been to Victory Lane at AMS since it swept the races in 2007, Johnson was second last year and third in the September 2010 event. Look for him to improve that finishing position by one spot Sunday night and emerge as the Chase favorite heading to Richmond.
While questions arose about when last year's Atlanta event would be run after rain washed out the race until Tuesday, there was no question as to who had the best car when the green flag finally flew. Veteran Jeff Gordon dominated the day, leading seven times for a total of 146 laps en route to his fifth Atlanta win.
Marking the 20th anniversary of his historic first start in the Cup Series, the four-time series champion is on the verge of missing out on this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Currently third in the Chase wild card battle, with one win (Pocono), Gordon is 55 points out of the top 10, but only 16 behind fellow wild carder Kyle Busch. If Gordon can score his second win of the season, it would go a long way towards his quest to make the Chase.
The No. 24 team, led by crew chief Alan Gustafson, has been strong of late, but two poor finishes at Watkins Glen and Michigan have made things much more difficult. Expect Gordon to be a contender throughout Sunday night's race and be there in the end, challenging for the win.
Five Favorites: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne
This year, veteran Mark Martin has proven that you are only as old as you feel. The 53-year-old is running a limited schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing, but each time he climbs behind the wheel, he’s a threat for the win. Making only 15 starts thus far in 2012, Martin leads the series in poles (four) and has two top 5s and five top 10s.
Over the past few seasons, however, Martin has struggled a bit on the high banks of Atlanta. Since finishing second in the spring 2006 race, he has only two other top--10 finishes and seven finishes outside the top 20 (including three DNFs).
Despite his not-so-stellar record in Atlanta of late, Martin appears renewed at MWR and is this week's undervalued pick of the week.
When looking for another undervalued driver for your fantasy lineup, you might want to consider Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola. While Almirola has only one start in Atlanta, he sat on the pole earlier this year at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another mile-and-a-half track. The No. 43 team has not set the world on fire this season, but with crew chief Mike Ford now calling the shots they have steadily improved.
Do not expect this team to get up there and battle Johnson, Gordon, et al, for the win, but they could score a solid finish and give you the fantasy points you need as the season winds toward its home stretch.
Five Undervalued Picks: Mark Martin, Aric Almirola, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard
Have you ever seen a kid trying to eat an ice cream cone when it is about 100 degrees outside? Typically it’s a losing battle. That's where Carl Edwards currently finds himself with only two races left before the Chase field is set.
For the past few weeks, Edwards has been our darkhorse pick of the week. Each week, he has proved why. A sixth at Michigan was a solid finish, but not what the team needed to make the Chase. Last weekend at Bristol, Edwards was out front leading, but made a mistake late in the race, bypassing a fuel stop under caution. The resulting 22nd-place finish was the result when the tank ran dry.
With only two top 5s and 11 top 10s, Edwards has rarely been in contention to win races this season. After losing last year's championship battle to Tony Stewart by virtue of a tiebreaker, the driver of the No. 99 has struggled to bounce back.
Admitting there is a "real sense of urgency" at the moment, Edwards also pointed out earlier in the week there are a lot of talented drivers in a similar situation.
"It’s almost hard to put into words how close the competition is and any loss you have, there are gonna be a ton of people who capitalize on it, and any gain you have it’s really hard to have a real positive gain over the field technically or competitive-wise, points-wise," he said. "I don’t think that it could be any more competitive. Misery likes company and right now we’ve got a little bit of company back there, but I don’t know if it makes me feel any better, but it is good to see that it can happen to anybody.”
Once again, though, Edwards heads to a track where he is very capable of winning. The Roush Fenway Racing driver has three wins, eight top 5s and 10 top 10s on the 1.5-mile track, finishing second in the September 2010 race and fifth last season.
Although his last win cam in 2008, if he and crew chief Chad Norris can put together a strong setup under the car, stay out of trouble both on the track and in the pits, as well as play the strategy right, this could be the weekend Edwards finally gets out and does his signature backflip — and then the wild card battle really gets crazy. If not, you can pretty much write off his Chase hopes for 2012.
Five Darkhorse Picks: Carl Edwards, Landon Cassill, Jamie McMurray, Regan Smith, Danica Patrick
Best Average Finish at Atlanta (Wins/Starts)
Jimmie Johnson — 10.0 (3/20)
Tony Stewart — 11.2 (3/25)
Jeff Gordon — 12.2 (5/38)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 12.8 (1/24)
Matt Kenseth — 12.9 (0/23)
Carl Edwards — 13.6 (3/14)
Greg Biffle — 16.1 (0/17)
Jeff Burton — 16.6 (0/34)
Juan Pablo Montoya — 16.9 (0/9)
Mark Martin — 17.3 (2/51)
Denny Hamlin in Victory Lane at Bristol. (ASP, Inc.)
Few topics in NASCAR have been as polarizing as track owner Bruton Smith’s decision to “narrow up” the historic half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway.
Once the scene of some of NASCAR’s most memorable on- and off-track antics, the rough ’n’ tumble short track in East Tennessee recently played nicer, thanks to progressive banking that allowed drivers to safely run two- and three-wide into Bristol’s massive turns. Smith’s call to shave off a groove’s worth of concrete near the wall was intended to force drivers low and into a more aggressive mode.
Turns out, Smith got it wrong. But in being wrong, he got it right.
Drivers were initially forced to the low and middle grooves, but as the night progressed, the ground-down high groove took on rubber — so much rubber, in fact, that the high groove was the only place to run with meaningful speed.
A rotating door of drivers spent time leading the field (22 lead changes among 13 drivers) thanks to varying pit strategies. But in the end, the proverbial cream rose to the top. Denny Hamlin, in the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, muscled his way past Carl Edwards with 39 laps remaining and pulled away, winning his third race of the season and first career Cup event at Bristol.
“Honestly, it’s just a different kind of racing,” Hamlin said of the track that favored one-lane, upper-groove racing. “There’s nothing (Smith is) going to do that’s going to make us run the bottom — that’s not the fastest way around the track. But it was the same thing; we were all running in the line, and just waiting on the next guy to screw up to get around.
“So that’s what you’ve got to do at the old Bristol and that’s exactly what we had to race today. The slide job was an option to pass, which, you know, that won us the race.
“I don’t think that we saw as much side-by-side racing but you didn’t see side-by-side racing with the old Bristol. You saw a bunch of cars waiting in line to get knocked out of the way or mess up, and that’s the same thing we had today.”
Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top 5.
Whether the grounding process was the main reason for a more intense race, the fact was the drivers were feeling friskier than normal.
Thirteen cautions punctuated the event (11 for wrecks), the most witnessed at the track since March 2007. Two incidents, in particular, brought back memories of Bristols-past.
The first involved Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart — a pair with a history — who took one another out on the frontstretch while racing for the lead on lap 334. After climbing out of his wrecked car, Stewart waited for Kenseth to exit pit road, where he fired his helmet at the No. 17 Ford in disgust, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Stewart’s unofficial teammate, Danica Patrick, had a surprisingly solid run going in her first Cup start in the bullring. While running 19th and on the lead lap, Patrick was turned into the backstretch fence by Regan Smith with just 64 laps remaining. In turn, she waited for Smith to pass under caution, waiving a disapproving finger in his direction.
Even the soundbites were classic Bristol, with Stewart vowing to “run over (Kenseth) every chance I get for the rest of the year,” and Patrick’s crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, threatening to strangle Smith.
In the end, fans seemed pleased with the mayhem, while drivers were split.
Five-time Bristol winner Kyle Busch had the most critical comments, deadpanning that the track was “terrible.” While another five-time winner, Jeff Gordon, sang its praises:
“I say grind the whole place. That was awesome. That reminded me of old-school Bristol. It was pretty exciting.”
So while tempers and soundbites were the order of the night, the true measuring stick of whether Smith’s plan was a success will be seen at the turnstiles next season.
Until then, Bristol will remain as polarizing as ever.
The "New" Bristol, the 2013 Cup Schedule and Danica Back to Cup
Bristol in the spring. (ASP, Inc.)
One theme is consistent among competitors as NASCAR returns to Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time since track changes intended to create tighter racing.
“I just hope that they didn’t screw it up,” points leader Greg Biffle says.
“I just hope they didn’t screw up the race track,” Ryan Newman says.
“Nobody really knows what is going to happen,” Jimmie Johnson says.
After lackluster attendance in the spring and complaints by fans about the lack of action, track officials narrowed the groove to force cars to run closer together and create that door-banging excitement some fans said was lacking.
“I think it is going to be exciting either way,” Biffle says. “I heard they ground the corner more down the straightaway so that when you come up off the corner you will go across that patch coming on to the straightaway, which may be difficult to go from the bottom groove. They carried it around maybe further than it needed to be, but we will have to wait and see when we get there how the race track drives now. I hope it is good.”
Newman is worried what type of racing drivers will see.
“I hope they didn’t take the racing away,” he says. “The beating, banging and crashing is not the racing that I like. That’s what some of the fans enjoy, but that’s not the racing I like. I like being able to run side-by-side. The problem we had the tire just didn’t allow us to be able to fall off so the first five laps of the run were like the last five, 120 (laps) later. Your car didn’t fall off, your balance didn’t change, and everybody was virtually the same speed.
“To me, the tires are the biggest issue when it comes to a place like that.”
Goodyear did a tire test this summer. Cup teams will use a different left-side tire than in the spring race. The right-side tires will remain the same version run in the spring.
“I’m more interested in the changes done to the tire compound than anything else,” says Brad Keselowski, who has won the past two Bristol Cup races. “I think that’ll be the bigger key to the puzzle and we’ll just have to see how that unfolds. Obviously, I’m going to run all three series Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and if there’s a difference in the track I should be the first to know.”
The Camping World Truck Series races Wednesday night at Bristol with the Nationwide race Friday night and the Cup race Saturday night.
Danica Patrick at Darlington in May. (ASP, Inc.)
LEAVE HER ALONE This weekend’s race at Bristol will mark a busy stretch for Danica Patrick as she prepares to move to Cup full time next season. She’ll compete in four of the next six Cup races, running at Bristol this week and then Atlanta, Chicagoland and Dover in September.
She’ll face added attention, which team owner Tony Stewart says is unnecessary.
“I’ll be honest, I wish everybody would get off her back and just let her go race and let her learn,’’ Stewart says. “Everybody is putting so much pressure on her and so much focus on her. Going to a place that you’ve been to is obviously going to help, but everybody needs to take a step back and let this girl learn and do what she is trying to do there.
“It’s kind of a double-edge sword. It’s been great from the publicity side, but for her, I don’t know how she handles it. It’s making me nervous having to talk about her all the time, let alone, she is the one that has to actually do it. I just hope everybody respects her enough to give her the room to know that whether she makes three laps or whether she finishes the whole race, the whole goal is to just learn.”
His advice for Patrick?
“Go out and learn. That is exactly what I told her,” Stewart says. “It’s not been rocket science. The biggest thing is every lap you run in a car the better you’re going to get and the more you are going to learn. Even if you are running fifth or 25th you are learning something. The goal of these 10 races — which is exactly what we said back in the media tour, clear back in January — was that these races are designed to give her laps in the car and get her more time and experience. The good thing is she is excited about it and that is the attitude you have to have going into it.”
PLAN AHEAD The 2013 Cup schedule is slowly being revealed as some tracks have announced their dates. NASCAR isn’t expected to announce the 2013 schedule until next month (this year’s schedule wasn’t announced until late September last year).
Here’s what has been announced for 2013: What was called the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona will be held Saturday, Feb. 16. The Daytona 500 will be Sunday, Feb. 24.
The Cup series will race at Las Vegas on March 10. Texas Motor Speedway will host Cup races April 13 and Nov. 3. Darlington’s Southern 500 remains on Mother’s Day weekend on May 11. Dover’s two Cup races next year will be June 2 and Sept. 29. Indianapolis’ Cup race will be July 28.
PIT STOPS Brad Keselowski has scored seven consecutive top-10 finishes, tying Kasey Kahne for the longest streak this season. ... Matt Kenseth has had six consecutive top-10 finishes at Bristol, the longest active streak for that track. ... NASCAR announced Tuesday that Aaron Fike has completed his road to recovery program and his indefinite suspension for violating the Substance Abuse Policy has been lifted. He was suspended in July 2007 after being arrested on heroin charges. He later admitted in an ESPN The Magazine article that he took heroin on some race days.
NASCAR fined Kurt Busch $50,000 on Tuesday for his actions toward the end and after Saturday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington.
Busch was one of three people fined and one of four people placed on probation.
NASCAR put Busch on probation until July 25, citing Busch for “reckless driving on pit road during the race’’ and for being involved in an altercation with another competitor after the race.
Busch’s reckless driving on pit road was for shooting through Ryan Newman’s pits after a stop late in the race. Newman’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, said that his pit crew had “to jump out of the way ... and try not to get hit.”
After the race, Busch ran into Newman’s car on pit road. Newman told SI.com that Busch said it was an accident and it happened as he was taking off his helmet.
“I’m pretty sure there were 42 other guys that are taking their helmets off and doing whatever for the last 10 years and that’s the first time that’s happened to me. Circumstances, I think, are that he lied and was so frustrated that he doesn’t know how to deal with his anger.”
As for when Busch fired out of his pit stall late in the race, Newman told SI.com: “I’m not sure why [Busch] did it and tried to run over our guys and NASCAR officials. And nobody is. I think the chemical imbalance speaks for itself.”
Busch will be on probation for the All-Star Race, along with the Coca-Cola 600 and races at Dover, Pocono, Michigan, Sonoma, Kentucky, Daytona and New Hampshire. Provided he has no other issues, his probation would end before Indianapolis.
NASCAR also issued other penalties for an incident after the race between the teams.
• NASCAR fined Newman’s gas man, Andrew Rueger, $5,000 and placed him on probation until June 27 for failing to comply with a directive from a NASCAR official.
• NASCAR placed Gibson on probation until June 27 since the crew chief assumes responsibility for the actions of his team members.
• NASCAR fined Craig Strickler, Busch’s motorcoach driver, $5,000 and placed him on probation until Dec. 31 for interfering with a member of the broadcast media.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
TEST PASSED Danica Patrick didn’t crash and she didn’t wreck anyone else. While it wasn’t easy, she made it through a full weekend at Darlington, running a total of 635 laps between her Sprint Cup and Nationwide cars in races, practices and qualifying.
She admitted that she isn’t as comfortable running beside the wall and it was evident that her line through the corners during the Cup race was half a car width further from the wall than many drivers at times.
Still, she made it through the weekend. For those who questioned why car owner Tony Stewart wanted her to run one of her 10 Cup races this year at that track since the series runs there only once a year, the answer is simple. It’s difficult. Very difficult. She’s going to face this challenge at some time, so she might as well do it now.
“I accomplished all the things I wanted to accomplish,’’ Patrick said after finishing 31st in the Cup race, six laps behind the leaders. “Things went good on the Nationwide side. Here on the Cup side, my goals were to be respectable out there. I think I held my own alright. And, the other one was to finish, and both of those things happened. I will be much less worried coming back to this place.
“I definitely got a feel for all the elements. Starts, restarts and pitting, obviously I made a mistake there; and all that stuff. Just how to get runs on cars. What to do when the car feels a certain way. Which lines to take, and to accommodate for the car and how it feels.”
Said Stewart, her Cup car owner: “What she did in these two days is hard to do. To have the result, the way she ran (in the Nationwide race, finishing 12th), I’m sure I’ll get a chance to watch more of what she did after we get home. The time I was around, got to watch, she did a really good job.”
PROPER MENTALITY Denny Hamlin on what type of mentality a driver has to have for this weekend’s All-Star race: “Bulldog. You have to be just a guy that puts it all on the line. Nowadays, more than ever, the All-Star Race — teams pretty much take disposable cars that they know there’s a good chance it’s not going to come back.
“The driver’s mentality is that it’s all for money, so there’s nothing to lose. It takes someone who’s willing to drive 100 percent qualifying lap every single lap. Those are the guys that are usually successful in winning.”
NATIONWIDE DEBUT Darrell Wallace Jr., who has been a part of the Drive for Diversity program, will make his Nationwide debut this weekend at Iowa Speedway driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“The goals have to be just kind of running up front, hopefully making a name for myself, running top 10,” Wallace said.
SILENT TREATMENT Kevin Harvick was asked if he ever talked to Kyle Busch about their incident in last year’s Southern 500 that led to a post-race pit road altercation. Harvick said: “I don’t talk about Kyle or to Kyle.”
PIT STOPS Martin Truex Jr.’s fifth-place finish at Darlington was his fourth top-five finish of the season. He had only three top-five results last season. ... Five drivers have won the All-Star Race and series title in the same season: Darrell Waltrip (1985), Dale Earnhardt (1987, ’90, ’93), Rusty Wallace (1989), Jeff Gordon (1995, ’97, 2001) and Jimmie Johnson (2006). ... Jeff Gordon is 24th in the points. He’s one point behind Mark Martin, who has skipped three races this season.
Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Saturday's race in Darlington
Brad Keselowski ... lookin' up. (ASP, Inc.)
In honor of Mother’s Day, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the “Lady In Black” for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. On the schedule for 62 years, Darlington is steeped in NASCAR history and is one of the toughest tracks on the circuit.
One crew chief called Darlington “the most unique track” the series runs at throughout the year. The egg-shaped 1.366-mile oval has one of the most unique grooves in the sport, and with nearly every driver earning the well-known “Darlington Stripe” the crews will have the bondo and hammers on hand.
More than any track in the sport, drivers will truly have to race the track and not the competition to be successful Saturday night under the lights. The pit crews will have to get the job done on pit road as well, especially leading into next week’s Sprint Pit Crew Challenge.
Be sure to keep an eye on the best 10-lap average stat after both Friday practice sessions before setting your lineup. That stat didn’t matter too much last weekend at Talladega, where Brad Keselowski pulled away on the final lap to score his second win of the season. Leading on the final lap with Kyle Busch tucked behind in tandem, it appeared Keselowski was a sitting duck to Busch. However, Keselowski was able to disconnect from Busch’s car and had the race in hand off Turn 4.
Making his 100th career Sprint Cup Series start, Keselowski heads to the Track Too Tough To Tame as this week’s NASCAR fantasy favorite.
With two wins in the first 10 races of the season, the Penske Racing driver is confident he will be in the Chase as a championship contender and feels “the shackles are off” in the remaining races before the final regular season race at Richmond. In layman’s terms, he’s focused on adding more trophies to his collection as opposed to “point racing.”
Keselowski also considers Darlington one of his favorite tracks. He currently holds the second-best average finish (7.3) behind Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin (6.5), but is without a win at the legendary facility.
Series points leader Greg Biffle certainly knows the joys of winning at Darlington, with back-to-back Southern 500 wins in 2005 and ’06. The Roush Fenway Racing driver comes off a fifth-place finish at Talladega, his sixth top 5 and seventh top 10 of the season.
Despite his two wins, Biffle has only two top 10 finishes in the five Darlington races since his victoreis. However, he has momentum on his side heading to this weekend’s race, making him another fantasy favorite.
Another driver entering this weekend’s race with “the shackles off,” as Keselowski put it, also happens to have the best average finish among active drivers at Darlington. Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb have been solid together throughout the first 10 races, and Hamlin has one win at Darlington, so expect the No. 11 team to be a strong contender Saturday night.
Five Favorites: Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch
Regan Smith enters this weekend’s race as the defending winner, earning his first official NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory last May on older tires over Carl Edwards. That win was one of only two top-10 finishes up to that point in 2011. This season, Smith heads to Darlington with zero top 10 finishes, suffering through a disappointing stretch of races.
An engine failure last week dropped the Furniture Row Racing’s driver to 27th in the standings. Looking to break his slump and kick-start his season before the All-Star break, Smith is a solid pick for this weekend’s race. Despite his poor start to 2012, Smith and his team will walk through the garage the defending champions for the weekend. That confidence boost could go a long way for a team that is looking to turn things around.
While Smith is the defending winner, Edwards goes into Darlington with three top-5 finishes in his last five starts — two of those being second-place showings. Searching for that first victory at Darlington — as well as his first of 2012 — look for Edwards to be among the front-runners on Saturday.
If there is one group of drivers that the Lady In Black favors, it is the veterans. Therefore, consider Jeff Burton,Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon as well. They have a combined 11 Darlington wins.
Five Undervalued Picks: Regan Smith, Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon
Martin Truex Jr. ... lookin' cool. (ASP, Inc.)
Michael Waltrip Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. is coming off the two worst finishes of his season, but registers as our darkhorse pick for Saturday night’s Southern 500. The New Jersey-native considers the egg-shaped demon among his best on the circuit. While he only has two top-10 finishes in six Darlington starts, his worst finish is 19th (2010). Looking to rebound from a pair of disappointing outings, expect Truex to put up solid fantasy numbers.
Typically known for their road course skills, Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya both enter this weekend’s race as darkhorse fantasy picks.
In each of his three starts, Ambrose has had a solid qualifying effort (three top-10 starts), but has struggled to produce the results. His best finish was 13th last May. This season has not been the best for Ambrose and the Richard Petty Motorsports team. It seems each week they bounce between top-15 and sub-25th-place runs. Coming off a 14th-place finish in Talladega, Ambrose may be on course for another lackluster finish, so pay attention to Friday’s practice session.
Montoya has an average finish of 18.8 in five Darlington starts, with his best finish (fifth) coming in 2010. This season has also been an up-and-down ride for Montoya, but prior to his 32nd-place finish at Talladega, the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver had one top 10 and six top 20s. Montoya will not score you the big points this weekend, but he may give you that solid 12th- to 20th-place finished needed to push you past your opponents.
In case you haven’t heard, some driver named Danica Patrick will be making her first career start at the famed Darlington Raceway. It is uncertain how the stock-car convert will handle the Lady in Black on her maiden voyage. If you’re feeling adventurous, put her in the lineup. But know the consequences.
Five Darkhorse Picks: Martin Truex Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Juan Pablo Montoya, David Ragan, Danica Patrick
Best Average Finish at Darlington Raceway (wins):
1. Denny Hamlin — 6.5 (1)
2. Brad Keselowski — 7.3 (0)
3. Jimmie Johnson — 9.8 (2)
4. Jeff Gordon — 11.1 (7)
5. Ryan Newman — 11.6 (0)
6. Jeff Burton — 12.1 (2)
7. Mark Martin — 12.2 (2)
8. Tony Stewart — 12.3 (0)
9. Martin Truex Jr. — 12.3 (0)
10. Carl Edwards — 13.9 (0)
Danica's no-call, Gordon's Chase hopes and plate racing at Talladega
Danica Patrick (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Talladega always leaves fans with something to talk about and last weekend was no different from Danica Patrick’s bump that sent Sam Hornish Jr. into the wall after the checkered flag in the Nationwide race to the Jeff Gordon’s woes and the type of racing fans saw.
There was much to discuss after Talladega and members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council tackled some of those subjects.
SHOULD NASCAR HAVE PENALIZED DANICA PATRICK FOR HER ACTIONS AFTER THE TALLADEGA NATIONWIDE RACE? On the final lap of Saturday’s Nationwide race at Talladega, Sam Hornish Jr. squeezed Danica Patrick into the wall and Patrick retaliated after crossing the finish line by tapping Hornish, which sent him into the wall. Hornish said afterward he had a right front tire going down, which made it difficult to control his car. NASCAR did not call either driver into the hauler after the race — but will talk to both this weekend at Darlington. Patrick later apologized to Hornish. Fan Council members were asked if NASCAR should have penalized Patrick for her wrecking Hornish after the checkered flag flew:
41.4 percent said Patrick should be put on probation for the next few races 41.0 percent said Patrick should not be penalized in the era of “Boys have at it” 9.4 percent said Patrick should be put on probation until the next Nationwide plate race (Daytona in July) 8.2 percent said Patrick should have been suspended for at least the next Nationwide race
What Fan Council members said:
• If Busch gets tossed for wrecking Hornaday under caution, she should miss a race for wrecking Hornish on a cool down lap. FINED, at the very least.
• I don't think a warning is inappropriate. People were comparing that incident to Kyle vs. Hornaday at Texas, but I watched that with a stopwatch and Kyle was on Hornaday's bumper for five seconds under the caution, while Danica hit Hornish but didn't push him around the track like Kyle did.
• For me it was a racing deal. Sam said he had a tire going down and got into Danica. Danica felt she was run up the track and into the wall on purpose. She made her feelings known to Sam that she didn't like what happened. I have seen this happen before with other drivers and NASCAR didn't really do anything to them. It was not the extreme as it was with Kyle Busch plowing into Ron Hornaday at Texas where NASCAR had no choice.
• Yes, probation at the very least! You don't wreck drivers on the cool down lap, bottom line.
• Let it go. It's over and was clearly boys (and girls) have at it.
• No, I do not think she should be penalized. She is NOT KYLE BUSCH and intentionally wrecking anyone to affect the outcome of the race.
• I choose that she should be put on probation but that's such a meaningless penalty. I know they'll be talking to her at Darlington but I think they should have called her to the NASCAR hauler right after the race. Waiting a week makes it seem like they're only talking to her because fans were upset.
• I love “boys have at it” but there still has to be some policing of the drivers, Danica should at least be put on probation. This is nothing like the Kyle Busch/Ron Hornaday incident last year, but she still turned Hornish head on into the wall at over 100 mph, and given what took place with Eric McClure earlier in the race, there's no place for retaliation to that magnitude.
• While we are in the era of “boys have at it,” that doesn't extend to yellow flag or post-checkered flag car issues. If she wanted to punch him after the race, that's fine, but no retaliation with her car. I think a warning is a good first punishment. Kyle Busch was suspended because of a pattern of this type of behavior, she doesn't have the pattern (yet!), so a probation that lasts through the next plate race seems fair.
• Aren't we getting just a tad worked up about all things Danica? If this had been any other driver, it wouldn't be making headlines. Evidently NASCAR didn't see a problem with it. Get over it and stop scrutinizing everything she does.
Jeff Gordon (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
WILL JEFF GORDON MAKE THE CHASE? A crash relegated Jeff Gordon to 33rd in Sunday’s race at Talladega. That drops him to 23rd in the points with 16 races left until the Chase field is set. Fan Council members were asked if Gordon will make the Chase this year:
59.6 percent said No 40.4 percent said Yes
What Fan Council members said:
• I think he needs to win three races to get in as a wild card, so no. He’s out.
• He's running fast enough to possibly get a couple of wins and get in as a wild card. But it's looking unlikely that he drives his way into the top 10.
• His luck won’t turn around.
• I think some of the people higher in points than Jeff Gordon will have engine issues and other issues throughout the summer months and Gordon will end up in the Chase.
• I think he is a fantastic driver, but this just isn't his year. I feel bad for him.
• He’s toast. I’ll be surprised if he gets more than one win and it will take two to get a wild card. The field is way too competitive.
• Even though I’m not a fan of his — what makes him arguably one of the great drivers is his ability to get things turned around.
• I think we are witnessing the downfall of the great Jeff Gordon's career. It happens to everyone, it’s just his turn now.
• Jeff Gordon is one of the greatest drivers in history and is very capable of knocking off a string of top 10s and top 5s, as well as knocking off a couple or three wins between now and then. Looking at the run Brad Keselowski had from July to September last year to make the Chase, I believe Jeff Gordon will be able to fight his way in.
GRADING SUNDAY’S CUP RACE AT TALLADEGA
62.3 percent said it was Good 18.5 percent said it was Great 14.6 percent said it was Fair 4.6 percent said it was Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• NASCAR needs a permanent fix instead these band-aids to fix tandem racing and high speeds … your customer base is growing impatient.
• It was great to see pack racing back at Talladega, and 3-wide and even 4-wide racing helped keep it interesting!
• Finally a race that had everything. Pack, train, tandem ... it was all there. More passing then I've seen in a while.
• I don't know what more people would want. It was interesting, sure it went green forever, but people were able to pass and race.
• I’ll say the race was GOOD... Can't give it a GREAT rating because the rules package wasn't amended to allow everyone to run in the pack without overheating. It was different though because it wasn't quite tandem racing and it wasn't quite pack racing. This is a crazy year in NASCAR!
• The best race of the year for me.
• Was very good race with action all over the track. The rules changes worked as far as preventing a two-car tandem from just taking off BUT the (engine) temp issue was a negative.
• Looks like the rule changes lived up to the expectations. Almost no two-car breakaways at all except on the closing laps. And with a G-W-C at the end, made it a great race.
• Can't say I am a fan of the plate races anymore. What we've seen the last couple of years at the plate tracks is not racing. I actually liked the two-car tango more than what we have now.
• I thought this race was good. There was plenty of action for everyone. There was pack racing, tandem racing, and for those people who like crashes, there was that.
Ab-so-lute-ly ridiculous that NASCAR refused to provide a fix for the overheating of engines. I hope Tony doesn't get into trouble for his comments. He hit the nail(s) on the head.
SHOULD A RESTRICTOR-PLATE RACE BE IN THE CHASE?
75.3 percent said Yes 24.7 percent said No
What Fan Council members said:
• Frankly, I'd be fine with no plate races in the Chase. Now that there is no tandem, I am back to loving them, but as far as the Chase goes, I’m not a fan of races where the drivers don't control their own destiny.
• Absolutely! I believe the Chase should include some of the tougher tracks like Talladega. Since the Chase is about the BEST drivers and the BEST teams racing for the championship, why shouldn't they race at the toughest tracks? Talladega combines strategy, performance, endurance and the element of surprise to give drivers a test of their driving skills, their stamina, their mental acuity, their abilities to manage the car, their reflexes and their powers of observation and quick thinking.
• Yes, I'm fine with it, but I wouldn't complain one bit if they took the plate race out of the Chase.
• A wild card race at Talladega adds a lot of excitement to the Chase. Although racing there is so different than anywhere else, it has become a tradition; and an important part of the NASCAR identity. It clearly deserves to have a place in the process from which we crown our champion.
• I'm kinda at the point where I don't think Daytona and Talladega should even pay points much less have one race in the Chase. It's too much like the lottery. Last year's fall Talladega race didn't have much to do with the title race but it has in the past.
• The Chase needs to showcase a sampling of all the tracks in the regular season.
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.
“This is so much fun,’’ Mark Martin said after his third-place finish last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
Well, the 53-year-old Martin never said he was retiring, just that he wouldn’t race a full schedule years ago when he first cut back.
Car owner Rick Hendrick talked him into returning full-time the past three seasons, but Martin is back to a part-time schedule and enjoying his new ride with Michael Waltrip Racing. It comes as changes in the past year there have made the organization more competitive and likely headed for Victory Lane with either Martin, Martin Truex Jr. or Clint Bowyer soon.
Martin enters this weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway 20th in points although he skipped Bristol and Martinsville. Still, he ranks ahead of 14 drivers who have competed in all seven races this season.
To get a better measure of Martin’s success, though, consider this: His average finish is 10.4 — better than every driver but points leader Greg Biffle (6.0 average finish), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8.1), Martin Truex Jr. (8.2), Kevin Harvick (9.0) and Matt Kenseth (9.0).
Three top-10 finishes in five starts has helped Martin’s average finish. He’s also completed every lap in all five races he’s run.
“I am just so proud of MWR and all the people there and the teamwork that they have shown there starting with Martin Truex, Jr., who has put so much work into getting the program where it was when we started the season,’’ Martin said. “They really have a lot of great people there with great attitude, great teamwork.’’
It just makes him anxious for the next race.
“There's nothing else that I find quite as much fun as going to work with a great race team with a great attitude,’’ said Martin, a former Kansas Speedway winner. “So it's fun for me to go to every race that I get to go to.’’
Isn’t that what work — or retirement — is supposed to be? Fun.
SHOW ME THE MONEY With the series moving beyond Texas, it ends a significant period for teams. The richest part of the schedule is complete.
While sponsorship money is what drives teams, what they earn in races still matters.
The Daytona 500 is the sport’s richest paying race. Its purse this year was $19,142,601, which will be about $10 million more than any other race pays. The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway typically is second, at around $9 million.
Other high-paying races early in the season include Texas ($7,132,592 payout this year) and Las Vegas ($6,382,683). The other races thus far with their payouts were: Phoenix ($5,040,864), Bristol, ($5,551,155), Fontana, Calif. ($5,847,881) and Martinsville ($5,009,303).
Last year, Daytona, along with the spring Texas and Las Vegas races, ranked among the top six races in money paid.
Thus, this is a period for teams — especially for small teams who rely more on winnings — to have some money to pay previous or upcoming bills. Since some small teams have little or no sponsorship, what they earn at the track is critical to their survival. It’s a reason why some teams start and park.
If a team made the least amount of money in each of the first seven races, it would have still collected $715,159. Understand that money is used to pay the driver, crew and other expenses from engines to tires to travel costs, so it can go fast, especially if a team is relying on winnings instead of sponsorship to defray costs.
The next race expected to pay out more than $6 million will be the Coca-Cola 600 at the end of May. There wasn’t a race last June that paid as much. With Indy and Daytona ($6,101,344 purse last year) in July, it makes that month a bountiful period for teams.
Last year’s 10-race Chase featured only one race that paid more than $6 million. That was Texas at $6,857,822. Two 2011 Chase races had purses of less than $5 million — Martinsville at $4,851,202 and Phoenix at $4,957,233.
Tony Eury Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dainca Patrick (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
DALE JR.’S ADVICE Dale Earnhardt Jr. recently said that he hoped Danica Patrick, who drives for his JR Motorsports team in the Nationwide Series, could keep from putting too much pressure on herself this season.
“That’s pretty darn good advice coming from Dale just because he’s obviously in a pressure situation,’’ Patrick said. “When I would come and do the races over the last couple of years, it wasn’t like there was no pressure but I was on such a learning curve that there was going to be good weekends, there was going to be bad weekends and at the end of the day it wasn’t for a sole championship as one driver. It was a little less pressure for sure.
“Now coming into this year, knowing that it’s for points and knowing that it’s really trying to take it to the next level, I do think that I probably put more pressure on myself. I think that’s great advice to relax. I’m running for the championship, so that pressure, I think, got to me a little bit. What matters is having a good time and having good races and you don’t do that by putting tons of pressure on myself.’’
PIT STOPS Hendrick Motorsports has gone 13 races without a Cup victory, its longest drought since a 15-race winless streak that stretched from the end of the 2002 season to the beginning of the 2003 campaign. ... NASCAR estimated the attendance at Sunday’s Camping World Truck race at Rockingham Speedway as 27,500. While that was an inaugural event — and likely to attract more fans — it was a larger estimate than 12 of the 25 truck races last year, including events at Charlotte, Iowa, Kentucky, Las Vegas and Homestead. ... With speeds nearing 215 mph at a recent Goodyear tire test at the repaved Michigan International Speedway, Matt Kenseth was asked if they were going too fast there. He said: “I don’t think we were going too fast as far as the cars being out of control or not having a good race or anything like that.’’
Weighing in on Reutimann, Martinsville vs. Bristol and the Truck Series
David Reutimann, pre-stall. (ASP, Inc.)
by Dustin Long
Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had much to talk about in regards to Martinsville. From their thoughts on David Reutimann trying to make it to the end but causing a late-race caution to the racing in both the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series races, Fan Council members didn’t hold back in what they had to say.
DO YOU SIDE WITH WHAT DAVID REUTIMANN DID?
One driver said there was “no logical reason” for David Reutimann to end up stopped on the track at the end. Reutimann apologized afterward and said, “I was just trying to stay in the top 35 (in car owner points — he fell out of the top 35), which is why we were trying to limp around out there.” Who do you side with? Reutimann for trying to stay out or those who were critical of him? Here’s how Fan Council members voted:
53.3 percent sided with drivers upset with Reutimann, saying he should have exited the track sooner. 46.7 percent sided with Reutimann and staying out to do all he could to remain in the top 35 in car owner points.
What Fan Council members said:
• If a car/driver has mechanical problems, I think they are obligated to get the car off the track for their safety, as well as of the others. In this case, his decision changed the outcome of the race!!!!!!
• David did what anyone else would have done and if they say they wouldn’t they’d be bald face lying!
• Absolute bonehead move on his part. He affected the outcome of the race.
• Reutimann is in a position no other team has ever been in — trying to stay in the top 35 to satisfy a commitment made to another team. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Also, while the caution definitely changed the race why is Clint Bowyer not the one people should be focused on? Or Ryan Newman? Them driving 3-wide into turn 1 at Martinsville had much more of an impact than David Reutimann did.
• I’m not a big Reuitimann fan, however I can’t fault the guy for trying to do what was best for his car. Yeah, its unfortunate he stopped where and when he did —and changed the outcome of the race. But, you know, every race’s outcome is changed by all kinds of things — some notable and some not.
• While I empathize with Reutimann, he should NOT have stayed on the track. I feel particularly bad for him because he has always been a good guy who never deliberately caused any problems for anyone & you could tell by his post-race interview he felt genuinely awful. However, IMO there is never a good reason to screw up a race, especially with so few laps left, when you KNOW your car is not going to survive.
• I 100% side with Reutimann on this. NASCAR has created this mess with the top 35 (rule) and the driver and crew were doing everything possible to stay in the top 35. Only solution is do away with the damn top 35. It is the worst thing that has happened to our sport in the history of NASCAR.
• I see both sides and, unfortunately, there was no good outcome on either side of the argument.
• I understand the desire to stay in the top 35, but there comes a time you need to Get. The. Damn. Car. OFF. The. Track!
Staying in the top 35 is crucial for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Reutimann’s choice did not force Bowyer to dive-bomb Gordon, nor did it force Newman to tap Bowyer. The real problem was with the lack of common sense and lack of respect displayed by Bowyer and Newman. They chose to make moves (to win at all costs) which cost the strongest cars in the field. Reutimann, well aware of his weak position, was doing the best he could with what he had. The same could NOT be said for Bowyer and Newman.
• I get what people are saying, but it is tough for the “non super teams” to compete in Cup. They have to scratch and claw there way around week after week, so being in the Top 35 is very important. Plus, there is the obvious added pressure for Reuti because it is Danica's car and they NEED it in the Top 35 for her Darlington start. I was more annoyed with Bowyer, to be quite honest.
• He was black flagged. Get off track when black flagged.
Martinsville Speedway. (ASP, Inc.)
GRADING SUNDAY’S CUP RACE AT MARTINSVILLE
52.0 percent called it Good 37.9 percent called it Great 8.5 percent called it Fair 1.6 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• The end was wild. Start & middle the same old boring racing!!
• Best race this year so far. Lots of good side-by-side racing and a great and exciting finish. Plus, no rain!!!!!!
• Maybe my expectations for Martinsville are too high. I have been going twice a year for the past 7 years and this is the first time I ever left disappointed. A wild finish does not make a good race. It was just overall boring.
• All the action that’s been missing from Bristol for the past 4-5 years. Not as good as last year’s spring Martinsville race, but it was still a great one to watch nonetheless. With the way most of the media have talked about the fans wanting the “old” Bristol back, they make it out as though we aren't real fans of racing because that's what we want. But just look at how absolutely entertaining the race was Sunday from green to checker and I ask was that not some real racing we saw? There was everything you could want: Side-by-side racing, long green flag runs, retaliatory bumps (not intentional wrecking), entertaining pit strategies, and multi-car wrecks, not intentional but caused by the circumstances. It was great but yet they want me to feel bad because I'd like to see it at Bristol as well as Martinsville? Sorry but I want it at every track.
• The first 490 laps reminded me of Bristol two weeks ago. It was business as usual with no noticeable incidents. There was more bumping and banging but it was tame. The few laps before the Reutimann caution were exciting watching the 24/48 battle it out again at Martinsville. The last two restarts obviously spiced up this otherwise semi-boring race.
• Best race of the season, so far. Now if Bristol can get its act together.
• That was the first Martinsville race I have seen that was a little boring...
• I was at race and action around track all day. Great race. Ending was exciting too!
• I love racing at Martinsville. Can we race here 4 times a year? Definitely the next track on my bucket list!
• That’s short track racing at its best. Even the long green flag runs had good side-by-side racing. Why NASCAR doesn't run more races at these type of track I will never understand.
WHICH CUP RACE WAS BETTER? BRISTOL OR MARTINSVILLE?
84.7 percent said Martinsville 15.3 percent said Bristol
What Fan Council members said:
• I enjoyed both races, but found Martinsville bit more exciting. I felt passing was easier and the best cars were able to get to the front.
• Beatin’ and Bangin’! Rubbin’ is racing on short tracks and Bristol doesn’t have that anymore. Road courses have more collisions than Bristol does now. Just hope Bruton doesn't screw it up more.
• Martinsville was by far the more entertaining race from a TV viewing perspective.
• I picked Bristol because I liked the side-by-side racing, which Bruton is now going to try to do away with.
• I choose Martinsville only because of the ending. The first 490 laps were like a normal race at Michigan or California (or Bristol). Lots of racing, but lacking excitement. If Reutimann had not stopped on track, the 24/48 battle would have provided some excitement to the checkered flag. But nothing beats a restart in overtime.
• I love both tracks. Every time I watch the race it makes me even more unenthused to watch the 1.5 (milers).
• It seemed that at Bristol no one could pass and at Martinsville there was passing going on all over the place. Jimmie was able to come up thru the field twice.
• I’m choosing Bristol because I like the side-by-side racing. But to compare the two, that’s not fair to either race track. I got to see the exact race I expected out of both tracks. I know there’s a call to change Bristol back to the old Bristol, but I’m not sold on it. I also think that fans that voiced their opinion better be careful what they asked for.
• The expectations for Bristol are SO high that anything less than all out beatin’ and bangin’ will be a disappointment.
DID YOU WATCH THE TRUCK RACE SATURDAY?
Last Saturday marked the Truck Series’ second of the season (its first race was more than a month ago at Daytona). Fan Council members were asked if they watched the race and why or why not.
61.3 percent said they watched the race 38.7 percent said they did not watch the race
What Fan Council members said:
• Always watch the truck races! Looking forward to seeing them revive racing @ Rockingham!
• Best racing in NASCAR hands down. I wish the trucks got more notoriety.
• Some of it, but got tired of seeing Harvick dominate, so I left. Think they have too long a break in between the 1st and 2nd race.
• Love the truck series, too bad we had to wait a month for the second race. If NASCAR is serious about the Truck series, I feel they need to be more consistent in the scheduling of races. How could they expect the casual fan to keep interest in the series?
• What? There was a truck race?? (Insert cricket chirps here.)
• Couldn't watch it. Was on the road from Virginia Beach to Lynchburg then on to Martinsville… Listened intently on Sirius MRN feed!!!!!!!!!
• Yes I love watching every NASCAR event I can and the past year or two I’ve really gotten into the Truck and Nationwide series. NASCAR did a brilliant thing when they did the choose-one-championship rule because now these two series really are developing their own identity separate from the Cup series even though the last Nationwide and Truck races were won by Cup regulars.
• Sorry, truck races just lack excitement for me. They look like little low power die-cast hot wheels that don’t really belong on a race track. I do understand they fulfill a needed training level to help introduce and provide a training platform (for) the next generation of Nationwide and Sprint Cup drivers.
• Too long of a break and honestly just forgot about them...
• Wasn’t at home — had no control of the set at the home where I am staying as a guest. They were nice enough to let me watch the Cup race.
• Was on the campus of Michigan State University seeing a production of “Memphis.” Culture on Saturday, racing on Sunday!
I was at Legoland with my family. We were celebrating my son's 10th birthday. So, family won out over a race. Otherwise, I would have watched the truck race.
Fans can join the Backseat Drivers Fan Council 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.
Qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
by Dustin Long
Does qualifying matter? Are fans watching? Is there a better way? Those were among some of the questions members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council debated this week, along with rating last weekend’s Cup race at Las Vegas and if what is happening in the Nationwide Series is leading them to watch more of that series.
Here’s what Fan Council members had to say this week:
Cup qualifying: When should it be held?
58.0 percent said they like Cup qualifying on Friday 27.8 percent said they like Cup qualifying on Saturday 14.2 percent said Other
Here’s what Fan Council members said:
• It's nice to sit after a long week and watch the cars go around the track on Friday nights. I know it sounds very simplistic, but I find it a good way to wind down.
• I prefer the Friday qualifying. It gives the teams more chance to work on the cars and more of a chance to qualify if weather becomes an issue.
• I like it when the tracks can get most of the action on two days. I think I could go to more races if the weekends were more compact. I like to see EVERYTHING when I go so when they do quals and practices on Friday, it is a little more expensive.
• Qualifying on Friday with one practice, gives the drivers two practices on Saturday. This always gives the drivers and crew chiefs the time necessary to adjust their cars properly and makes for a better race.
• I hate qualifying on Saturday. When I show up to the track Saturday I enjoy watching 2 hours of Cup practice. It’s cool to see your driver making runs and listening to them on the scanner. When they just do quals on Saturday you see your driver for about a minute. Then its over. Plus the track changes so much from Friday to Sunday. I think it makes it harder for guys to hit on setups. While one guy can hit on it and just kill everyone.
• Qualifying is easier to "watch" on Twitter and at work on Fridays. More fun to watch practice on Saturday, plus I think it gives a better opportunity to fine tune cars after qualifying.
• Qualify before the Nationwide race makes for a better Saturday. May even bring more people for the Nationwide race.
Are you watching qualifying?
54.2 percent said they watch as much of qualifying as they can 27.3 percent said they’ll watch it if they have nothing else to do 13.1 percent said they don’t care for qualifying except to see where their driver starts 5.4 percent said qualifying is boring and they don’t watch it.
What Fan Council members said:
• I'm watching and trying to mine the commentary for little nuggets of information that will help my fantasy team picks.
• I'm not a fan of seeing single cars on track making circles, I would love to see some kind of format with multiple cars on track but understand that could skew the times on tracks where drafting could come into play.
• I enjoy watching/listening to the discussions and interviews. However, I hate when they don't actually show the cars qualifying. Let the interview audio run over the qualifying video. I don't need to see the people talking.
• I DVR it every week and try to replay as much as I can.
• I don't watch qualifying. I would be a lot more interested if there were points awarded for the pole.
• My stance on watching qualifying has changed recently ever since I switched my cell phone to Sprint. Thank goodness for Sprint because I can watch all practices and qualifying on my phone, and I watch every chance I get.
• Let's be honest, nothing exciting here. Only curious to know how my drivers are doing.
• I not only watch it, but follow it on NASCAR.com PitCommand.
Qualifying races: Gatorade Duel No. 2. (ASP, Inc.)
What about qualifying races?
Daytona holds qualifying races to help set the lineup for the Daytona 500. Fan Council members were asked what would they think if NASCAR set the field at some tracks via a qualifying race.
34.7 percent Loved the idea 26.3 percent Liked the idea 24.2 percent Hated the idea 14.8 percent said they Don’t Care
What Fan Council members said:
• In my opinion, NASCAR (and specifically, the Sprint Cup Series) is the top of the food chain when it comes to American motorsports. Let's leave the qualifying and heat races to local tracks. In this economy, teams can't afford to tear up and replace equipment in preliminary events.
• Love the idea for Daytona 500 and love it for other tracks as well!! The more racing the better and it would give it a grassroots type feeling....like Saturday night dirt track racing where you qualify and then you race your feature.
• I like the opportunity for more races. That way, you know that the best cars that will race will be racing on Sunday. Also, if NASCAR decides to go this way, allow a backup car for the race with no penalty if they wreck in the qualifying race.
• No! No! No! Hate the idea.
• I love the idea of it, but with the top 35 rule, it is blunted somewhat.
• More racing = more fun. I'd rather watch them race each other. It would probably increase the need for backup cars.
• Stop trying to change things that are not needed...
• They do that at Daytona for the 500, and it is STUPID! Why qualify 3rd and have to start 28th?
• That would be FANtastic!
• I'd actually prefer <GASP> the F1 style of qualifying. Some type of knockout qualifying under race conditions as opposed to one car on the track at a time.
Rating Sunday’s Las Vegas Cup race
64.7 percent called it Good 17.6 percent called it Fair 12.9 percent called it Great 4.7 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• The middle part of the event was a typical 1.5-mile track race; not much excitement. The battle at the end, between Stewart & Johnson made up for it.
• I thought it was pretty good as I attended the race, not sure how it looked on TV. It seemed like the race had a dominant car leading for each quarter. First it was Junior, then Kenseth, Johnson, and finally Stewart. These EFI issues are scaring me though.
• Track position is way too important on mile-and-a-half tracks nowadays, and this showed again on Sunday. It's not fun to see a car lead a large portion of the race and then not be able to pass cars on older tires once back in traffic. Good cars should be able to come to the front.
• Oh here it comes.. You'll get a bunch of boring comments. It wasn't!!! I watched a lot of drivers pass a lot of cars. That is racing! I liked it!!
• I actually found it boring until the last 10 laps. No action.
• Very boring race up until the final 20 laps. Cookie Cutter tracks are always snoozers and I'm glad Las Vegas doesn't have a second race.
• I'm only giving it a good rating due to the way the race ended. There was some serious driving going on behind the wheel of that number 14 and the number 48 and it made for one hell of a show towards the end. The first 240 laps though...well there's a reason the term cookie cutter keeps being brought up with these tracks. They are all different we know and they each drive different but the viewing experience of tracks like Vegas, Kansas, Chicagoland, Kentucky, Michigan, and California are always the same and produce the same results when you watch.
• I thought Vegas was as good as you could get at a 1.5-mile track that isn't Atlanta.
Nationwide Series viewership
The first three Nationwide races have been won by non-Cup regulars with James Buescher winning at Daytona, Elliott Sadler winning at Phoenix and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning at Las Vegas. Fan Council members were asked if seeing the Nationwide regulars win makes them want to watch more of the races in this series.
58.3 percent said Yes 37.3 percent said their decision to watch Nationwide races is not impacted by this 4.3 percent said No
What Fan Council members said:
• This is exactly as it should be! Great job by NASCAR and some of the Cup team owners to take focus in the NNS off NSCS drivers.
• I love the Nationwide regulars are putting on a show. Since Kyle Busch isn't such a factor at the beginning of this year, others have a chance of showing what they got. It's exciting, and I love they get the spotlight. It's also fantastic we get to see some new faces and see who the next stars of this sport are going to be.
• I absolutely believe there should be no Cup drivers in Nationwide (and I'm a Kasey Kahne fan.) So I have been thrilled to see non-Cup drivers win in their own series!!!
• I used to watch every Nationwide and Truck race, but once Kyle Busch took over I stopped watching those where he was entered. The more I see the non-Cup regulars win, the more I want to start watching again.
• I don't care whether a Cup guy or a non-Cup guy wins. I think this shows the folly of NASCAR trying to push Cup guys out of the series through their "declare which championship you are running for" rule. Every Cup guy who normally runs Nationwide races except Carl Edwards was in those first three races this season. Things like that just work themselves out.
• There are two reasons for me NOT to watch the Nationwide races this year... one NO Carl Edwards and two TOO much Danica.
• Ever since Danica Patrick has decided to be full time in Nationwide, I started watching every race. Last year, I could care less who won in Nationwide unless Danica won it.
• I honestly could not care less about Elliot Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or even Austin Dillon. I watch Nationwide races because they are on, not because I have interest in anyone running for a Nationwide championship. You could put 43 monkeys in the drivers seats and I would still watch because it is a race.