Predicting the best fantasy drivers in Phoenix so you don't have to.
Jimmie Johnson (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season rolls on to Phoenix International Raceway for the Subway Fresh Fit 500. To help guide you through the 2013 Fantasy NASCAR season, Athlon Sports will be offering up our best predictions for each race. And because Yahoo's Fantasy Auto Racing game is arguably the most popular, we'll break down our picks according to its NASCAR driver classes—A-List, B-List, C-List.
So, without further ado, NASCAR scribe Dustin Long's fantasy predictions for Phoenix, ranked according to each driver's likelihood of taking the checkered flag (or at least finishing toward the front):
1. Jimmie Johnson — Has the highest driver rating (115.8) in the last eight years at Phoenix. Also has the best average finish among current drivers at 6.7, scoring 12 top-five finishes in 19 starts
2. Kevin Harvick — Has three top-four finishes in his last four Phoenix starts, including a win last fall.
3. Denny Hamlin — Took second in the fall Phoenix race (46 laps led) and won the spring race last year (61 laps led).
4. Jeff Gordon — In the last three spring races at Phoenix, he’s finished eighth, first and second
5. Brad Keselowski — Finished no worse than seventh in his last five races at tracks 1.1 miles and under last season, including a sixth-place finish at Phoenix.
6. Kasey Kahne — Joined Hamlin and Kyle Busch as only drivers to run every lap of last fall’s race in the top 15, finishing fourth.
7. Tony Stewart — Has never gone more than three consecutive races without a top-10 at Phoenix. Last two finishes there are 19th and 22nd.
8. Matt Kenseth — Last four finishes at Phoenix have been 14th, 13th, 34th and 12th. He’s led 52 laps during that time, leading 49 of those laps in November 2011 race before being eliminated in a crash.
9. Clint Bowyer — Has more finishes of 20th or worse (eight) in his career at Phoenix than he has top-10 finishes (five) there.
Kyle Busch (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
1. Kyle Busch — Led 289 of the 631 laps run (45.8 percent) at Phoenix last season.
2. Ryan Newman — Has finished in the top 5 in five of his last six Phoenix races, including a win in 2010.
3. Mark Martin — Has qualified in the top four in two of his last three starts at Phoenix. Also has six top-10 finishes in his last eight runs there.
4. Kurt Busch — Finished eighth at PIR last fall while driving for Furniture Row. It was part of a season-ending, three-race streak of top-10 finishes after joining that team.
5. Carl Edwards — Best news is that Daytona is behind him after he was involved in numerous incidents during Speedweeks. As for Phoenix? It’s been a mixed bag lately with a first and a second along with three finishes outside the top 15 in his last five starts there.
6. Greg Biffle — While he has four top-10 finishes in his last eight Phoenix starts, he has not led a lap in any of those races.
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Has one top-10 finish in his last eight races at Phoenix. Has not led a lap in his last seven races there.
8. Jeff Burton — Has more green-flag passes for position (854) than any other active driver in the last eight years at Phoenix. Also had the most green-flag passes for position (76) in last fall’s race there, finishing 13th.
9. Joey Logano — Has had two DNFs in last six Phoenix races but has finished 11th or better in the other four races during that stretch.
10. Martin Truex Jr. — Has one top-10 finish in his last six Phoenix starts.
11. Paul Menard — Two ninth-place finishes in the last three Phoenix races are the only times he’s scored a top-10 finish in 12 career starts there. Also has never led a lap at Phoenix.
12. Bobby Labonte — Ranks second among active drivers in green-flag passes for position (783) in the last eight years at Phoenix.
13. Juan Pablo Montoya — Has finished between 11th and 19th in each of his last five Phoenix races.
14. Marcos Ambrose — Best Phoenix finish in nine races there is an eighth, which he scored in November 2011.
15. Jamie McMurray — Has one top-10 finish in his last eight Phoenix starts.
16. Aric Almirola — Has best finish of 12th in four Phoenix starts and has yet to lead a lap there.
1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Running his first Cup race at Phoenix. Never finished outside the top 10 in six Nationwide races there.
2. Austin Dillon — Also running his first Cup race at Phoenix. Finished sixth and fourth in two Nationwide races there last season.
3. Danica Patrick — Started 37th but finished 17th in November in lone Cup start at Phoenix.
4. AJ Allmendinger — Making season debut. Started in top two in three of his last five races there. Started 15th and finished 18th in spring Phoenix race last year (did not run November race).
5. Casey Mears — Last five finishes at Phoenix: 22nd, 39th, 26th, 18th, 24th.
6. David Ragan — Last five finishes at Phoenix: 33rd, 25th, 33rd, 36th, 25th.
7. Dave Blaney — Has placed between 23rd and 27th in last three Phoenix starts.
8. David Stremme — Making his season debut after Michael Waltrip drove for the team at Daytona. Finished 34th and 29th in Phoenix races last year.
9. David Gilliland — Has not finished better than 22nd in last nine Phoenix starts.
10. Travis Kvapil — Placed 20th at Phoenix last November and led four laps.
11. David Reutimann — Finished 36th and 40th at Phoenix last season.
12. JJ Yeley — Coming off top 10 at Daytona. Has not finished better than 26th in last five Phoenix starts.
13. Ken Schrader — Last start at Phoenix was November 2008 when he finished 27th. Last top-10 finish at Phoenix was in 1997.
14. Scott Speed — Last made Phoenix race in November 2011, finishing 39th.
15. Mike Bliss — Career-best Phoenix finish came in 2005 when he finished 20th.
16. Josh Wise — Finished 37th and 38th at Phoenix last year
17. Joe Nemechek — Has recorded seven consecutive DNFs at Phoenix.
18. Michael McDowell — Announced on Wednesday via Twitter that his Phil Parsons Racing team would not make the trip to Phoenix.
After a Daytona 500 that catered to the more intelligent teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage — track position and strategy reigned supreme — one of the two duels this season in the Arizona desert greets America’s best drivers on Sunday.
There are a lot of unknowns with the Gen-6 car taking to a surface and configuration at Phoenix International Raceway that is just three races old. What we do know, and what we could anticipate, is revealed in the numbers.
78.8% Following his win in the Daytona 500, Jimmie Johnson currently has a 78.8 percent chance of making the Chase, the highest percentage in the series through one race.
And that’s a conservative figure based on past averages. If Johnson and the No. 48 team out-performs their past selves at a few tracks during the 26-race “regular season,” then they are even more of a lock to clinch a playoff berth for the 10th time in 10 years. One such track is Phoenix, where, when we last saw Johnson, he crashed in the penultimate race of last year’s Chase that served as the first blow of the self inflicted 1-2 punch that knocked him out of contention for the championship. He is followed by Brad Keselowski (68.7 percent) and Greg Biffle (53.1 percent) in the current race to the Chase.
7.500 According to PEER (Production in Equal Equipment Rating), Denny Hamlin, the winner of last year’s race, is the most productive driver at Phoenix, heading into the weekend with a 7.500.
Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb scored a win in their second race together as a driver-crew chief combination, leading the last 59 laps en route to the win in 2012. Additionally, he finished second there last fall after leading 46 laps and averaging a third-place running position.
Kevin Harvick (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
3.21 In the March Phoenix race last year, Kevin Harvick finished second but had the race’s best average running position, 3.21.
Ironically, it was the fall race, in which he averaged an eighth-place running spot, that Harvick won. It’s pretty clear that, in the brief time we’ve seen this iteration of the Phoenix layout, Harvick has figured out something to his liking about this one-mile racetrack.
1,658 There were 1,658 green-flag passes in the most recent Cup Series race at Phoenix, which included eight passes for the lead.
This is actually a drop from the prior two races on the current surface. In the first race (fall 2011), there were 1,680 total green-flag passes, including 10 for the lead. In this race last season, the green-flag pass total increased to 1,995 with 26 passes for the lead.
+30 Brad Keselowski passed 30 more times than he was passed in last fall’s Phoenix race.
That plus-30 pass differential was as good as gold in a race in which, by comparison to preceding events, passing came at a premium. Keselowski and the No. 2 team endured six pit stops — Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne only pitted four times — so his ability to move forward on a track that rejected such a thing was a life saver, helping him earn a sixth-place finish.
3.78 Through three races on the new Phoenix surface, Mark Martin has the smallest finish deviation among the track’s top 10 drivers in PEER.
What does this mean? Martin has been a reliably high finisher in the last three races, with scores of 16th, ninth and 10th, so it’s a good bet that he’ll find his way into the top 10 of the final running order at the end of Sunday’s race. If he’s not able, then it might serve as indictment on Michael Waltrip Racing’s Gen-6 mile-track program.
289 Kyle Busch led 289 laps (of 631) across two Phoenix races last year.
After blowing an engine in 2011’s race, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was a force with which to be reckoned in 2012, leading 52 laps in the February event, eventually finishing sixth. He finished third last fall after leading a race-best 237 laps and averaging a running position of 1.56. Busch’s 289 laps-led tally is far and away the best of the series in the last three races; Tony Stewart has the next-best mark with 169.
1.167 A serviceable producer according to his 1.167 PEER in three races on the new PIR surface, Bobby Labonte could fare well for himself if all is good with his ride.
Labonte’s finishes there have increased from 21st to 16th to 15th dating back to the fall 2011 race. If JTG-Daugherty Racing brings a drivable setup and a fast Gen-6 to the desert, the 2000 champion is a candidate to secure a decent finish. This is a possibility; over the offseason JTG-Daugherty quintupled its roster of engineers (going from one to five) and focused on enhancing its relationship with Toyota. We’ll soon find out whether this investment for improvement pays immediate dividends.
We interview the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Camry 140 characters at a time
A certain champion-to-be fired off a now-famous tweet during the 2012 Daytona 500, but long before @keselowski, there was @dennyhamlin. Since he’s still active and engaged on Twitter, we figured the most natural way to conduct an interview with the driver of the No.
For those who feel that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has gone too corporate, you'll always have this little gem. After winning at Talladega for the fifth time in his then short career, Earnhardt’s exuberances got the better of him. The 25-point fine would prove costly, as it may have provoked him to make an ill-advised move in Atlanta a couple of weeks later that would cost him a chance at the Cup. By the way, the most overlooked part of Junior’s Victory Lane interview is the line “Man, we just smoked ‘dem guys that was on ‘dem old tires!” Man, it still doesn’t look right seeing him in anything but a red Budweiser Chevrolet.
by Vito Pugliese
Robby and Mikey in Loudon ... Again
2 of 12
You’d find few people that don’t have something nice to say about Michael Waltrip. Sure, Clint Bowyer may have deemed his current car owner the “worst driver in NASCAR” a couple of years ago, but at least he didn’t cuss him out on TV. Although it’s been a few years since Bill Webber has called a NASCAR race, he still leads the league in apologizing for language during a live racing broadcast.
by Vito Pugliese
Earnhardt's "Purple Shirt" Interview
3 of 12
How many times over the years have we seen footage of that black No. 3 car turning people at short tracks or executing the bump and run? It helped sell a lot of t-shirts and created a persona that earned him far more than any of his seven championships. However, when the favor was returned, “The Intimidator” became “The Irritated-or.” Exhibit A: This interview with Dr. Dick Berggren. Thankfully, Bob Jenkins’ winning call was made prior to flat screen HDTVs, otherwise many would have shattered during the live broadcast.
by Vito Pugliese
DW wins his 500
4 of 12
Never a man at a loss for words, Darrell Waltrip’s victory in The Great American Race in 1989 is one of the most iconic interviews in the sport. After 17 years of trying, driving car No. 17, in pit stall No. 17, on February, 17th, it must have been a complete coincidence … correct? Sorry, no cussing or going off here.
by Vito Pugliese
The Greatest Invocation in History
5 of 12
Joel Osteen, take lesson! Looking for a seasonally appropriate pre-Thanksgiving Day prayer this week in the wake of the NASCAR season wrapping up? Look no further than the invocation at the Nashville Superspeedway Nationwide race in 2011. Pastor Joe Nelms, a good ol' Tennessee boy, should be invited to every major sporting event to deliver equally inspiring words.
by Vito Pugliese
Yeah, It's All the Media's Fault
6 of 12
What compilation of videos of guys going off would be complete without a few words from Kurt Busch? These were at New Hampshire in 2009, after a botched pit stop and contact with the No. 6 car of David Ragan. Might want to fire up the ear buds for this one, folks. Especially if you’re sitting in the cubicle. The only question: Which is better, the random screaming or the Einstein line?
by Vito Pugliese
Bad (Mouth) Brad
7 of 12
Looks like a little of Kurt Busch must’ve rubbed off on BK during their tenure together at Penske Racing. Following Halloween Havoc at Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, Brad Keselowski went off regarding some of the comments made about him by his fellow drivers for refusing to lose the championship and racing hard against Jimmie Johnson the week before in Texas. What a coincidence, as “Refuse To Lose” was the motto of Jeff Gordon’s Ray Evernham-led championship teams of the mid- to late ‘90s. Normally as cool as Brad normally appears to be, this session was evidence that the pressure was starting to build a little — and was perhaps the vent session he needed.
by Vito Pugliese
Kimi Raikkonnen: Cold Blooded
8 of 12
Kimi Raikkonnen made a start in the Camping World Truck Series in 2011, so I guess this counts. They don’t call him the Ice Man for nothing. He a stone cold killa. Say what you want about Kurt Busch … at least he doesn’t go Terry Tate on the smallest of fans.
by Vito Pugliese
They Weren't always quasi-teammates
9 of 12
Smoke and Three-Time (at the time) get into it after a first-lap incident at Watkins Glen, when Tony Stewart put Jeff Gordon into the Armco barriers through the esses. A grainy video, but note one of Gordon’s crewmen is Steve Letarte. Also audible is Stewart’s suggestion that if he would “speed up, you wouldn’t have that problem.” Classic Smoke.
by Vito Pugliese
Denny vs. Brad, 2009
10 of 12
When Brad Keselowski first came on the scene, he ruffled some feathers. A few drivers accused him of racing and “trying” too hard. When your family has faced losing everything, that tends to make you a little more aggressive and try harder than some might normally. Note the prophetic words from Dennis at 3:05. Guessing this is probably crocheted on a pillow somewhere in the No. 2 hauler.
by Vito Pugliese
Meanwhile, Back in the Booth...
11 of 12
Sometimes, it's not the drivers that make for the most entertaining soundbites. Here's a short selection of your favorite television personalities having a hard day — highlighted by a hilarious outtake of @MartySmithESPN. We love ya, Marty.
It was a rough and tumble few weeks for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, what with the fisticuffs in Phoenix and Brad Keselowski pounding beers on Sportscenter. Some say that racing has turned into wrestling … to which I say, thank GOD. After Clint Bowyer went Ultimate Warrior and rushed to the aid of his team, Keselowski did his best Stone Cold Steve Austin impression with a massive glass of Miller Lite. These recent actions brought to mind some of the best interviews, insults, invocations and other dust-ups in NASCAR’s colorful history.
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
NASCAR's new start times, title favorites and grading Martinsville
(Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Times are a-changin’ in NASCAR but will fans see a change in who has been the champion most often in recent years? With starting times for the remaining races pushed back, members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council were asked if they liked the move, along with who now is their pick to win the title with three races left and what they thought of the Martinsville race. Here’s what they had to say about those issues and more:
Later start times for the final three races: Good or bad? Starting with Sunday’s race at Texas, the final three Cup races will begin at 3 p.m. EST, an hour later than the other day races in the Chase. Fan Council members were asked what they thought about the later starting times:
45.7 percent said they were “neutral” 31.7 percent said they hate it 11.9 percent said they love it 10.7 percent said they like it
What Fan Council members said:
• Morning, noon, or night I will watch my NASCAR races.
• I wish NASCAR would stop changing the start times!!!! Real NASCAR fans will watch regardless of the start time, but quit trying to change the start times to fit the network!!!
• Most NFL games will be in the third or fourth quarter, then you have the rest of the 4:00 games. This is bad for NASCAR, especially considering the lack of passing we saw at Texas in the spring. Most people may be tuned out before the green flag ever waves. As a person on the East Coast, I hate the long wait.
• I will record the race and watch it when time permits. The 3 p.m. start time will cause me to turn on a football game and why stop watching something to start watching something else?
• What happened to the standard start times??!! NASCAR has to stop worrying about what other sports are doing and what times they are on. Do your own thing. If you want to compete with the big boy sports then start at 1 p.m. and go up against them!! I feel the fans prefer the 1 p.m. start time. NASCAR, if you believe in your fans start the races at 1 p.m. those that want to watch it will.
• By starting the race at 3 p.m. I am home from church and can see the green flag and also hear some of the pre-race show and comments.
• I'll miss the ending of most of them due to work. The 2 p.m. EST start time worked perfect for me. Oh well. Leave it to NASCAR to make random changes at random portions of the season.
• I love NASCAR and I'll be watching whatever the time. American football season doesn't start until the week after Homestead for me. UEFA football is on early. The NHL is on strike. There's nothing better or more important on television than the final Cup races in my household.
• Perfect time to start the race. Lets our West Coast viewers tune in at a decent hour. Love races that start in the day and end at night.
• Don't care, as I DVR all races. I then watch a condensed version skipping the commercials, and the spread out green flag parading. Usually I can watch the whole race in less than an hour.
(Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Who will win the championship?
53.4 percent said Jimmie Johnson
39.1 percent said Brad Keselowski
7.6 percent said Clint Bowyer
What Fan Council members said:
• Sorry Brad and Clint, I'd rather have either of you win it … but Jimmie's got you on experience, skill and the not-so-secret-sauce of Chad Knaus.
• Same as I've thought all year: Jimmie Johnson. The fact that people pick other drivers (Carl Edwards for instance) before the season starts or based on how someone is running mid-season (Dale Jr.) is laughable. The Chase is a beast unto itself, and until someone shows that they can handle the pressure and maintain poise and performance during the Chase, the 48 should be the pick to win EVERY year.
• I think the Brad-Paul combo will outsmart the Jimmie-Chad combo these last three races. A little part of me hopes that Clint can somehow rally and win it, though. Absolutely love underdogs. Cheering for anyone but Jimmie now that Denny is out.
• I said Brad K. when the Chase started & I'm staying with the pick.
• My head says Jimmie Johnson but my heart says ANYBODY but the 48. Just like Jimmie rallied in Kansas & made a statement, I believe the No. 2 team made one in Martinsville by starting in the back and moving up throughout the race and finishing sixth.
• I’m a firm believer that you have to lose one to learn how to win one. Too much pressure. Also think Hendrick has more resources available to JJ than Bad Brad has available to him.
• Clint is my favorite full-time driver, but as much as I'd like to see him win the title, I think he's one year away. I just wish the national NASCAR media would quit drinking the Kool-Aid and proclaiming that the 48 has already got the thing won.
• As far as I'm concerned, it is always Mr. Five-Time’s championship to lose.
What race are you looking forward of the three remaining?
43.2 percent said Homestead
34.3 percent said Phoenix
22.5 percent said Texas
What Fan Council members said:
• As sad as I will be to have this season end, I am looking forward to Homestead to see who the 2012 champion will be. I still believe we will not know who the winner will be until the last lap at Homestead. Jimmie, you better win another race in case it comes down to a tie.
• Homestead, because it’s the last race! I think it's time for this mediocre season to come to an end!
• Looking forward to Phoenix because it is not a 1.5-mile track. Phoenix could be a decisive track for the Chase.
• None of them really because of the poor TV coverage. Phoenix might be somewhat interesting but Texas & Homestead will be snoozers because of the cookie cutter design.
• Could think of five other tracks I would rather see in the last three.
• I say Texas because it’s the next one and ANYTHING could happen.
• Homestead now provides some of the best racing on the circuit, I only hope the points battle is as close as it was last year.
Grade Sunday’s race at Martinsville
62.7 percent said Good
20.7 percent said Great
14.9 percent said Fair
1.7 percent said Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• Passing for the lead, passing in the back, rubbin’, door slammin’, what else do you want?
• This is racing, no pushing tandem cars and no one is waiting for the “Big One.” It is just good racing all around the track. Lots of excitement. I love short tracks.
• Brad races through from the 32nd spot, Denny comes from the rear twice after penalties, Kyle Busch spins and comes back to finish second and the list goes on as to why this was a great race.
• I really thought there would be more beating and banging. Watching Denny and Brad move through the field was exciting, but other than those two, not much drama.
• I was there. It wasn’t the best or the worst Martinsville race. And with the same drivers winning all the time there’s no wonder the track was only half full.
• Outside of Johnson winning (which is poor), the race provided good action like Martinsville usually does. Strategy, passing, good side-by-side racing ... what the sport was built on. Hope to see more of that in the final three races.
• That was one race I enjoyed flag-to-flag. Good short track racing with beating and banging throughout with just the right amount of cautions.
• It was just OK. For a small track, I expected a lot more bumping and banging. The only standouts were the misfortunes of Hamlin and Harvick. Compared (perhaps unfairly) to the all the action involving a variety of drivers last week at Kansas, the on-track action at Martinsville seemed surprisingly lackluster.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at email@example.com.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
Earnhardt to make NASCAR Sprint Cup return in Martinsville
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to race this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports announced Tuesday.
Earnhardt missed the past two races after suffering a concussion Oct. 7 in a last-lap crash at Talladega Superspeedway. It was his second concussion within six weeks. He suffered a concussion in a crash during an Aug. 29 tire test at Kansas Speedway.
Earnhardt’s rehabilitation program was directed by Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, who also consulted with Dr. Micky Collins, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
“Dale Jr. has done everything asked of him,” Petty said in a statement issued by Hendrick Motorsports. “He hasn’t had a headache since Oct. 12, and we have not been able to provoke any symptoms since that time. I have informed NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports that he is medically cleared for all NASCAR-related activity.”
Earnhardt sought Dr. Petty because of lingering headaches after the Talladega race.
“The one symptom that is more important than all the tests is headache, and as long as there’s any headache, the brain is not healed,” Petty said Oct. 11 during a press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway announcing that Earnhardt would miss the next two races because of a concussion.
“We want him to have four or five days after he has no headache, and then we'll give him some sort of test like to get his pulse rate up, see if we can provoke a headache, and then if we can't, we'll let him go out and drive a lap or two and see how that goes, and if that goes well, we'll probably clear him to race.”
Earnhardt drove 123 laps in a Sprint Cup car Monday at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga., without any issues.
Crew chief Steve Letarte wrote on Twitter after the test that Earnhardt “looked great and ran some awesome laps.”
Petty monitored the test. He cleared Earnhardt Tuesday morning after a final neuropsychological evaluation in Charlotte.
On Sunday at Kansas Speedway, car owner Rick Hendrick said that it was never a consideration to hold Earnhardt the rest of the season.
“He’s burning up to get in the car,” Hendrick said. “He wanted to run this weekend. He’s very anxious. He wants to get back. No way you’re going to hold him out unless the doctor wouldn’t clear him, but he’s good to go.”
While Earnhardt was out, Regan Smith drove his car. An engine failure left Smith with a 38th-place finish at Charlotte, but he placed seventh at Kansas last weekend.
Earnhardt is the second driver in NASCAR’s national series to suffer a concussion and miss races this season. Eric McClure suffered a concussion, along with other injuries, in a crash during the May 5 Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. McClure, who suffered his third concussion in less than two years in that incident, sat out five races before returning.
Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement did not include a statement from Earnhardt. He’s scheduled to talk to the media Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway before practice.
Matt Kenseth (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
LAME DUCK? Sure, Matt Kenseth is leaving Roush Fenway Racing after this season to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing, but he’s won two of the last three Cup- races. Had it not been for some mechanical issues earlier in the Chase, Kenseth, who won at Talladega two weeks ago, might have a chance to contend for the title.
“We've had two great races where they couldn't be better, and we had four that probably couldn't be a lot worse, other than Loudon,” Kenseth said after his 24th career Cup victory. “It's been up and down. I thought last year we were really strong. I thought in the Chase last year we had a shot to win the championship as far as performance. I feel like I let my guys down and didn't do a good enough job making decisions on the track or even off the track. I felt like I cost us, but our cars were fast enough to win.
“This season we started off real fast and could run in the top five every week it felt like. We went through a couple months where we didn't perform as well. Unfortunately, one of those months ran into the Chase. I just felt like we were a little off as a group, plus we made a few mistakes that we typically never make, have had some other problems that cost us some finishes. It feels good to get here, have a fast car, have everything happen right, be able to get the win.”
Another driver on the move after this season is Joey Logano, who will leave Joe Gibbs Racing for Penske Racing’s No. 22 ride. Although he finished 19th at Kansas on Sunday, he’s placed in the top 10 in four of his last six races.
PIT STOPS AJ Allmendinger is back in the car for Phoenix Racing this weekend at Martinsville. Allmendinger finished a career-best second there in the spring for Penske Racing. ... Points leader Brad Keselowski has an average finish of 13.4 in five previous starts there. ... Jimmie Johnson, second in the points, has six wins at Martinsville and has finished outside the top 10 there only twice since 2002 (20 races). ... Denny Hamlin, third in the points, has four Martinsville victories and only two finishes outside the top 20 there since 2005 (14 races).
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.”
Denny Hamlin wreck a rough reminder of racetracks in crisis
Denny Hamlin began Thursday playing the role of NASCAR Chase contender. How’d he end it?
Trying to avoid the label of tragic footnote.
Smashing his car into the Turn 1 wall at a reported 202 mph, a test at the repaved Kansas Speedway turned into a headache—literally—as Hamlin fought dizziness to the point he made a second trip to the infield care center for further evaluation.