Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's race at Martinsville
by Jay Pennell
Few sports crisscross the United States quite like NASCAR, and with that, the Sprint Cup Series returns to the East Coast this weekend for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Rain got the best of the series last weekend in Fontana, Calif., with defending champion Tony Stewart scoring his second win of the season in an event shortened by weather. Just five races into the year, Stewart and his Steve Addington-led crew have hit their stride early as others are simply struggling to get their season started.
With momentum and confidence on his side, Stewart returns to the site of one of his most dramatic runs of the 2011 Chase.
After struggling for the majority of the event last fall, Stewart was able to fight to hold on to a lead lap position and eventually worked his way through the field and to the front of the pack. Besting Jimmie Johnson on the final restart of the day, Stewart went to Victory Lane and kept his title hopes alive. That race would have as much to do with his eventual championship as the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
On a roll already this season and coming off one of the most impressive performances in recent memory, Stewart is among this week’s stronger plays, but is not the overall favorite.
That honor belongs to none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While Stewart was methodically working his way to victory at Martinsville last October, Earnhardt Jr. was beating and banging his way to a seventh-place finish. His aggressive style was an enjoyable sight to the fans, but also evidence of his ability to score a solid finish on the paper-clip short track.
Last spring, Earnhardt nearly broke a winless streak that dates back to 2008. However, Kevin Harvick was able to capitalize on a late-race charge to make the pass for the lead with four laps to go and score the win, relegating Junior to a second-place finish.
Entering this weekend, Earnhardt is enjoying a strong start to the season with two top 5s, three top 10s, and sitting third in the championship standings. Winless in his last 134 starts, Earnhardt is on the verge of snapping that streak and giving team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
That opportunity could not come at a better facility. The Hendrick cars have been among the strongest at Martinsville since they began showing up. Geoffrey Bodine scored the team’s first victory here in 1984, while Hendrick cars have a total of 18 wins — second only to Petty Enterprises — as drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson lead the active duty drivers in wins at Martinsville with seven and six, respectively.
Yet this weekend, it won't be “Five-Time”' or “Four-Time” that will be earning another Grandfather clock trophy. With the numbers adding up, momentum on his side and a string of strong performances at Martinsville backing him up, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is this week’s fantasy favorite.
Five Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart
While Gordon has been one of the most successful drivers at Martinsville over the years — he leads all active drivers in wins (seven), top 5s (25), top 10s (31), laps led (3,094) and lead-lap finishes (30) there — his 2012 season has gotten off to a rocky start.
Despite high hopes and great expectations leading into his 20th season in the Cup Series, the four-time champion is 25th in points and has only one top-10 finish on the year (eighth, Phoenix).
An ill-timed miscue on pit road last weekend in Fontana cost the No. 24 team a strong finish and the ability to move up the standings and back into contention. So has the season has gone for Gordon, crew chief Alan Gustafson and the entire No. 24 team.
Yet through it all, Gordon is encouraged by the fast racecars he has each week and knows all the team needs to get back on track is one “complete” race. And what better place for that to happen than at Martinsville?
Gordon is the type of driver that can hit a streak of solid runs and race for wins. After a slow start to the season, this is the weekend it turns it around for the No. 24 team.
Five Undervalued Picks: Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle
Martinsville is a track in which veterans such as Gordon are supposed to excel, not the young guys. But this week’s underdog pick goes to 21-year-old Joey Logano.
In six starts at Martinsville, Logano has completed all but five laps, has one top 5, two top 10s, zero DNFs and an average finish of 13.8 in six starts. While he has yet to set the world on fire or take home the trophy at Martinsville, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver did finish second to the ever-present favorite at Martinsville, teammate Denny Hamlin, in 2010.
Already in 2012, Logano has shown he has Chase potential. Through the first five races of the season, Logano has two top 10s and his worst finish was 24th last weekend in Fontana.
If he can keep the fenders on the car and avoid trouble throughout the day, Logano should score solid fantasy points for your team. He might not be the one celebrating the win, but he could give you those extra points needed.
Three Underdog Picks: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger
Best Average Finish at Martinsville (Wins):
1. Jimmie Johnson — 5.4 (6)
2. Denny Hamlin — 6.5 (4)
3. Jeff Gordon — 6.9 (7)
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 13.0 (0)
5. Tony Stewart — 13.4 (3)
6. Joey Logano — 13.8 (0)
7. Ryan Newman — 14.4 (0)
8. Brad Keselowski — 14.5 (0)
9. Jeff Burton — 14.6 (1)
10. Juan Pablo Montoya — 14.7 (0)
Dustin Long Takes a Spin Around the NASCAR Circuit
Photo by ASP, Inc.
by Dustin Long
Kasey Kahne is not panicking about the start to his season. He’s relieved, in a way, heading into this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway even though he’s 27th in championship standings.
Kahne feels better after a season-best 14th at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. A poor finish might have dropped him outside the top 35 in the car owner standings, meaning he would not have been guaranteed a starting spot at Martinsville.
“I was a little worried at California,” Kahne said Tuesday afternoon. “If we had one more bad race there, we would have been fighting for a (starting) position at Martinsville, which would have been unheard of for us.”
While Kahne has not had the results in his first year with Hendrick Motorsports, his car has shown speed. That provides hope. Success will come when he can avoid trouble.
His season, so far, has been a litany of misfortune.
His Daytona 500 ended early because of a crash and he placed 29th. He hit the wall early at Phoenix and limped to a 34th-place finish. He crashed early at Bristol and finished 37th. His best finish before Sunday was 19th at Las Vegas.
Even after Sunday’s finish, Kahne wasn’t thrilled, writing on Twitter: “Pissed I ran bad. Happy my car is in one piece.”
Kahne, who started fifth at Auto Club Speedway, began sliding back in the pack shortly after the green flag flew.
“I started off really loose and was sliding around a lot and the race got over too quick,” Kahne said. “We didn’t have enough time to get the car right. By the end of it we were running probably seventh-place lap times, but we were so far behind because of all the green-flag laps. We were getting better. We had made a lot of gains. We just needed 200 laps. The rain came and we didn’t get it.”
He finished and that’s something considering his early woes.
Kahne heads to Martinsville 68 points out of 10th place in the points — the last spot guaranteed to make the Chase. A year ago, Brad Keselowski was 50 points out of 10th at this point. Keselowski fell further back during the summer and still made the Chase via the wildcard.
So there’s no reason yet for Kahne to panic.
“I’ve handled it pretty well,” he said of his struggles. “The biggest reason why is how fast our cars are and the way they feel. I think everything is there. The engines run incredibly good compared to what I have had in the past.
“I knew going in just because I was going to Hendrick Motorsports didn’t mean I was going to start winning more races. It’s still a huge team effort. There’s still a lot of things you have to do right in order to run up front and contend for those wins. It takes a little bit of time. I think we’re pretty good as a team. Hopefully, we can start running in the top 10.”
NEW FORMAT The Sprint All-Star race, which will be held May 19 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, will have a new format this year.
The 90-lap race will be divided into five segments. The first four will be 20 laps each with the final segment 10 laps.
Gone is the 10-minute break before the final segment. Instead, there will be a mandatory pit stop — with a twist.
The winners from the first four segments will move to the front of the field and be the first four cars to enter pit road for this stop. They’ll be followed by the rest of the field. The move was made to encourage drivers to race more for a win in the previous segments.
So the winner of the first segment will enter pit road first, followed by the winner of the second segment and so on. Should there be a repeat winner of segments, the second-place finisher in that segment moves up. Thus, if a driver wins the first two segments, he’ll be the first car in pit road (for winning the first segment) and the second-place car in the second segment will be the second car on pit road.
There will once again be a fan vote to add a driver to the All-Star Race. Also, the pit crew challenge on May 17 again will determine the order teams pick their pit stall for the all-star race.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
A-HA Carl Edwards was recently asked about having an “A-ha!” moment at a track — the moment where everything seems to come together at once — and if he’s had that moment at Martinsville Speedway.
“I still haven’t had my ‘a-ha’ moment at Martinsville,” said Edwards, who has five top-10 finishes in 15 starts at the half-mile track. “Martinsville definitely is tough. The guy that has helped me the most at Martinsville is Jeff Burton. He helped me when I was first starting and Bobby Hamilton spent a lot of time with me. I still don’t feel like I have that place mastered.”
BACK IN THE SADDLE Brian Vickers will be back in the No. 55 car for Michael Waltrip Racing this weekend at Martinsville. This is the second of six races Vickers will run for Mark Martin this season. Vickers is running both Bristol, Martinsville and New Hampshire races.
He’s coming off a fifth-place finish at Bristol. His next race with the team won’t be until July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
PIT STOPS Jeff Gordon has scored 13 top-five finishes in his last 14 starts at Martinsville. ... Travis Pastrana will compete in Global RallyCross driving a Dodge Dart. ... Joey Logano’s Nationwide victory last weekend at Auto Club Speedway marked the first time in five races a Cup regular had won a Nationwide race. ... Jimmie Johnson’s career average finish at Martinsville is 5.4, while Denny Hamlin’s career average finish there is 6.4. ... Jeb Burton, the 19-year-old son of 2002 Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton, makes his Camping World Truck Series debut this weekend at Martinsville.
Have you noticed the oddity already taking place in NASCAR this season?
Don’t see it?
Look at the Nationwide Series where all three races have been won by drivers not competing full time in Cup this year.
James Buescher won at Daytona, points leader Elliott Sadler at Phoenix and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Las Vegas last weekend.
Consider that only six of 34 Nationwide races last year were won by drivers not competing in Cup full time. In 2010, only one race was won by a Nationwide regular not competing in Cup.
The odds are likely that the current streak will end this weekend at Bristol. Kyle Busch has won the last three Nationwide races there and is entered, along with Cup drivers Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano.
Still, a tide is turning.
Sadler, who did not win a race but finished second in the points in 2011, is excited about his chances of winning multiple races this year.
“I feel like when we show up every week, we’re going to be very, very fast,” he said. “We’re going to haul butt at Bristol. They’re taking my favorite car. It’s neat to have this confidence in this race and it’s neat this race team has this confidence in me.”
Others can relate.
The first three races show what the Nationwide Series can become a way to showcase its drivers, particularly the younger ones. Buescher is 21, Stenhouse is 24.
It’s not just them having success.
Look at what 20-year-old Cole Whitt and 21-year-old Austin Dillon have done so far.
Whitt was fourth at Daytona, 13th at Phoenix and sixth at Las Vegas. Dillon was fifth at Daytona, fourth at Phoenix and seventh at Las Vegas. They’re the favorites for the rookie of the year title and, based on how they started the season, could make that an interesting race.
It’s already been quite a start to the season for Whitt, who might be better known as the driver who bumped teammate Danica Patrick at Daytona, causing her to wreck. He hit the wall during qualifying at Las Vegas, but the team repaired it instead of going to a backup.
“I didn’t want to start that way with Danica,” Whitt said. “I messed up. Hopefully, over time I can earn that respect back from them. That, obviously, put a lot of limelight on us, a lot more than I wanted. Obviously, I felt a little bit of the pressure. Hopefully, with a clean race (at Las Vegas) and run as good as we did, we keep pulling those off and earn the respect of the veterans.”
The challenge for the series, though, remains, finding a way to make it affordable for teams to provide younger drivers quality rides. That’s not easy in this economic climate, but that’s what it will take for the series to gain more attention and interest from fans.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
HOLD ON TIGHT Jeff Gordon was asked what it was like inside his car when it went upside down during his crash in Daytona. Gordon gave a detailed answer that I thought might give you a sense of what drivers experience in such a crash.
Here’s an edited version of what Gordon said:
“You hold on tight and you just hope that it ends soon. You hold onto the steering wheel, but you basically just brace yourself for any impact that may be coming. The one thing about when you are flipping upside down, you really don’t know what’s coming next because you can’t see. You’re spinning around and you’re seeing the sky and the track and the sky and the track and it’s all happening pretty fast.
“There are only a few split seconds through that whole experience where I was nervous. One was when I was sliding on the door. I was more concerned with if those sparks turn into fire and I need to get out, how am I going to go through the other window? I knew some cars had gotten into me and I thought the car might be stuck like that. That didn’t last for very long because I started flipping. Then I was like, ‘Please don’t land upside down.’ Then it landed upside down.
“When it landed upside down, everything was fine. I told the team I was fine, but now it’s like how am I going to get out? The longest part of that entire wreck was waiting for (rescue crews) to get to the window and going through the process of whether or not we should flip it over or not. That seemed like it took forever and I wish I would have waited longer because I wanted to get out in a hurry and they wanted to wait and flip the car over.
“I wish I had waited because I tried to get out and that was the only time I was scared. I was stuck inside the car when I tried to unhook. That was the part that wasn’t much fun. As far as coping with it, maybe it’s just the mentality you have to have to be a race car driver. I was ready to get back in the car as fast as I possibly could and go out there and go race.”
WHAT’S IN A NAME Kevin Harvick and his wife DeLana have a name for their son due this July, they’re just not telling. Instead, they’re calling the child, for now, Otis.
“It is just something silly that we came up with as we have gone through the few months,” Harvick said. “That has been the most common question as to what we are going to name the boy. We don’t really want to tell anybody until it’s time so we just came up with a code name and that is what we came up with.
“It’s really (Ryan Newman’s wife) Krissie Newman’s fault to tell you the truth. She calls me that every once in a while, so we just called it ‘Baby ‘Otis’. At least it has some kind of name; you can refer to it as something. I keep wanting to call it ‘it’ and DeLana gets mad at me. She’s like ‘you can call it ‘son or boy’? So we just came up with ‘Otis’.”
PIT STOPS Trevor Bayne’s ninth-place finish last weekend at Las Vegas was his best finish in Cup since winning last year’s Daytona 500 ... The car Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet dryer at Daytona now resides on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s property among a collection of destroyed race cars.
1. Greg Biffle Biffle’s team was the one under the Roush Fenway banner that laid low during the offseason. The result has been third-place finishes across the board. Bristol is usually good to them, too.
2. Jimmie Johnson It’s highly unlikely Chad Knaus’ appeal is overturned, but by appealing, Hendrick Motorsports bought Johnson a pair of top-5 finishes. Win or lose with the committee, this team remains a lock for the Chase.
3. Denny Hamlin We’ll take the 20th-place finish at Vegas as a hiccup. Although, after fourth- and first-place runs at Daytona and Phoenix, the dip at an intermediate track was notable.
4. Tony Stewart “Hey Darian, anything you can do, I can do better!” One week after Stewart’s former pit boss earned his first win with Hamlin, Stewart and new boss Steve Addington even the score.
5. Kevin Harvick Worst finish so far this season is 11th. Harvick and the re-tooled No. 29 team have an uncanny knack for always being “there.” A couple wins in the next month or so could be on tap.
6. Matt Kenseth Kenseth was on the business end of a Carl Edwards late-race move once again. For some reason, those never work out too well for the 2003 champ.
7. Carl Edwards “The Aggressor” raced on to a fifth-place finish, his second top 10 of the year. Strangely, Edwards has yet to lead a lap this season. Is another hangover in store for last season’s championship runner-up?
8. Mark Martin Says he’s OK with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after their dust-up in Vegas. The odds of anything spilling over to Bristol would have already been long — and those odds are off the board since Martin won’t even run there.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. The dominating run in the first half of the Vegas race was encouraging, but fading to 10th was all-too-familiar. Bristol should be another top-10 performance, though.
10. Kyle Busch “Rowdy” is ranked here more on 2012 potential than 2012 accomplishment. Bristol may change that.
11. Joey Logano So far, so good for the new Logano/Jason Ratcliff pairing. Wonder if he’ll be looking for the 24 this weekend?
12. Brad Keselowski A fifth is sandwiched between two 32nd-place finishes. Again, potential/accomplishment. And again, that could change this weekend.
13. Paul Menard Has quietly enjoyed two top-7 runs at Daytona and Vegas. He was fifth in last year’s spring Bristol race.
14. Martin Truex Jr. If this team ever learns how to finish a race, it’ll be dangerous.
15. Marcos Ambrose An excellent Bristol darkhorse, Ambrose has three top 10s in six Cup Series starts.
Just off the lead pack: Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman
Kobalt Tools 400 Entry List
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Entry list for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Driver, Number, Make, Team Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports Robby Gordon, No. 7 Dodge, Robby Gordon Motorsports* Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports David Reutimann, No. 10 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing Casey Mears, No. 13 Ford, Germain Racing Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing Joey Logano, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers* AJ Allmendinger, No. 22 Dodge, Penske Racing Scott Riggs, No. 23 Chevrolet, R3 Motorsports* Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports Josh Wise, No. 26 Ford, Front Row Motorsports* Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing David Stremme, No. 30 Toyota, Inception Motorsports* Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing Ken Schrader, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing Brendan Gaughan, No. 33 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports Dave Blaney, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing* Timmy Hill, No. 37 Ford, Max Q Motorsports* David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports Ryan Newman, No. 39 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports Bobby Labonte, No. 47 Toyota, JTG Daugherty Racing Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports J.J. Yeley, No. 49 Toyota, Robinson-Blakeney Racing* Kurt Busch, No. 51 Chevrolet, Phoenix Racing Mark Martin, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing Regan Smith, No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing Landon Cassill, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing Joe Nemechek, No. 87 Toyota, NEMCO Motorsports* Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports Travis Kvapil, No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing Michael McDowell, No. 98 Ford, Phil Parsons Racing* Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
*Not in Top 35 in Owner's Points. Must qualify on speed.
"Seriously Kyle, Scottsdale would do you a world of good." (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
Like every other NASCAR landing page on the web, Athlon Sports has a little fun each week ranking the drivers and teams of the Sprint Cup circuit. Our rankings go beyond how each finished the weekend prior and/or where they sit in the official championship standings.
The rankings you’ll see here represent what we (read: I) think are the strongest overall teams on tour, from top to bottom, based on performance, resources, strength of team/organization, overall talent of driver and, yeah, a tip of the cap to a job well done if they won the last race. Think of it as Athlon’s NASCAR version of the college basketball Top 25.
Keep in mind these are subjective, and often done somewhat tongue-in-cheek (depending on my mood), so have some fun with them and take them for what they are: a weekly spin around the circuit, highlighting the best teams and their drivers.
Oh, and our rankings have a cool name … why no one thought of “Horsepower” Rankings before is beyond me. That said, kick back for five minutes of leisurely reading that require no real thought on your part. Agree? Disagree? Have a better witty comment for any given driver? Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the page.
1. Denny Hamlin Let’s not overreact here, but Hamlin and new crew chief Darian Grubb led the most laps at Daytona prior to finishing fourth and followed it up with his first win since June 2011. Solid start for a team that needed one.
2. Greg Biffle Consecutive third-place runs to start the season from a team that had only three top 5s all season in 2011. And with Vegas on the horizon, it’s no stretch to think that Biffle may improve upon those results.
3. Kevin Harvick Seventh- and second-place showings for the driver some have made a championship favorite this year (ahem, myself included). That’s all the more impressive considering he has a new crew chief and retooled pit crew.
4. Matt Kenseth On SPEED’s post-race show following Phoenix, Kenny Wallace told Hamlin that his fourth- and first-place finishes to start the season were “unprecedented.” I bet Kenseth’s 2009 season would take exception to that.
5. Jimmie Johnson Johnson and the boys did what they needed to do at Phoenix (fourth) after a disastrous Daytona — which included wrecking on Lap 2 and possibly losing the crew and car chiefs to NASCAR-mandated vacations.
6. Mark Martin Back to a partial schedule, Martin has kicked off his tenure with Michael Waltrip Racing is style, with finishes of 10th (Daytona) and ninth (Phoenix). Don’t kid yourself, a big part of that is the driver.
7. Joey Logano Logano, also with a under the guidance of a new crew chief, is getting off to the start he needed in a contract year. His ninth- and 10th-place runs are the best results to start the season in his young career.
8. Kyle Busch Rowdy was strong at Daytona — leading 52 laps — before finishing 17th when the craziness started near the end. A sixth at Phoenix was a respectable follow-up. Dare I say … Kyle is flying under the radar?
9. Carl Edwards Edwards and company will find their footing soon enough, but having led zero laps with eighth- and 17th-place finishes to their credit is a little more quiet a start than anyone expected.
10. Brad Keselowski Much like Busch, Keselowski’s shot to win the Daytona 500 was ruined late but he rebounded nicely with a fifth-place run in the desert.
"Pssst, Junior, I put Icy Hot in Stevie's headset ... because I can!" (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
11. Tony Stewart Stewart got off to a slow start last year too, and look how that worked out.
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Being happy with a top 15 in Phoenix isn’t exactly what you want to hear out of the team. Unfortunately, it looked like a lot of the same ’ol, same ’ol from the 88.
13. Jeff Burton A good run went bad when the engine went up in smoke late. Otherwise, the 31 team has had a promising start.
14. Jeff Gordon Made the most of a mediocre day at PIR with a solid eighth-place finish, which is what Jeff Gordon does best.
15. Marcos Ambrose The results may not show it, but Ambrose and his RPM bunch have been pretty racy so far. They may not be flashy, but don’t be surprised if the top 10s start to pile up as we go forward.
Just off the lead pack: Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr.
Check back each Tuesday for Athlon Sports’ revised rankings, and follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
NASCAR has suspended Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec six races for C-posts on the No. 48 Chevrolet that the sanctioning body did not approve of in pre-qualifying inspection in Daytona. Both will also be on probation until May 9. In addition to the suspensions, Knaus has been fined $100,000 and driver Jimmie Johnson and car owners Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick have been penalized with the loss of 25 driver and 25 owner points.
The suspensions will be deferred, however, until an appeal hearing is completed.
A statement released on Wednesday stated: "The No. 48 car was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the rule book or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event); and 20-2.1E (if in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted -- unapproved car body modifications)."
A closer look at the NASCAR Rulebook reveals this about Rule 20-2.1E: "Streamlining the contours of the car, beyond that approved by the series director, will not be permitted. If, in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted."
Hendrick Motorsports responded with a statement of its own, saying it plans to appeal the penalties.
“Our organization respects NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body governs our sport,” said owner Rick Hendrick. “In this case, though, the system broke down, and we will voice our concerns through the appeal process.”
For a moment, well, actually about two hours on Monday night, it appeared as if the Daytona 500 would conclude one of the greatest weekends in racing upsets.
As crews doused a jet fuel fire and then washed Turn 3 with Tide, Dave Blaney was in the lead. Rain appeared on its way. The race was past the halfway mark. If it was called, Blaney, who had to race his way into the 500, would be the winner.
It seemed a fitting end to what had been a crazy few days at the track. Wild rides, wild finishes and unlikely winners made Daytona a place where dreams come true — instead of that Disney place about an hour down the road.
It began with the Camping World Truck race when John King, making only his eighth career series start, won and upon climbing out of his truck in Victory Lane, said: “Man, I’m a rookie, I’m not supposed to be here. Oh my gosh. This is unreal.’’
King, in his first race for Red Horse Racing, had never finished better than 15th in a Truck race before Daytona. He called Friday’s victory “feature win number three’’ for his career, noting he’d won one dirt late model racing and one late model race.
His victory didn’t come without controversy, though. Contact from King’s truck caused leader Johnny Sauter to crash during the second of the three attempts to finish the race under green.
“I’ve never pushed in my life,’’ King said of the drafting at Daytona. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart.’’
The next day, the Nationwide Series topped King’s dramatics when James Buescher, running 11th in the final corner of the final lap, won. Yes, he was 11th on the final corner and won the race when the 10 cars in front of him wrecked.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Buescher said of his victory.
It was hard to believe, considering those collected in the crash among the leaders included Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
So, it was with those finishes as a backdrop, the sport faced a trifecta of upsets with Blaney in first as the clock moved beyond 11 pm EST on Monday.
But the track was repaired, the rain didn’t stop the race and Blaney didn’t win (finishing 15th). Instead, Matt Kenseth held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle in a car that had overheating issues, fuel problems, a bad tachometer and radio woes throughout the race to score his second Daytona 500 victory. Kenseth’s victory brought a sense of order — the Roush Fenway Racing cars had been strong all week and Kenseth won his qualifying race — amid all the chaos of Speedweeks.
PRIMETIME Sunday’s rainout and rain Monday afternoon gave the sport and its fans a chance to see what it would be like to have a prime-time weeknight Cup race.
It’s something some fans have called for in recent years. The theory being that it would draw a larger TV audience than a Sunday afternoon race or a Saturday afternoon race.
FOX reported that Monday night’s Daytona 500 drew an 8.0 rating, down eight percent from last year’s race, which was held on Sunday afternoon. Monday night’s rating was up four percent from the 2010 Daytona 500, which was twice delayed by a pothole.
FOX also reported that the total audience watching at least a portion of Monday night’s race was 36.5 million, up from last year’s 30 million.
So, let the debate continue if it’s worth it for the sport to run a prime-time weeknight race.
FUNNY BUSINESS? Did Greg Biffle protect teammate Matt Kenseth, who was leading, from Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the green-white-checker finish that decided the Daytona 500?
Here’s what Earnhardt and Biffle had to say about the final lap:
Earnhardt: “I know that they're teammates, but his group of guys that specifically work on that car or travel down here to pit the car during the race, his crew chief, Greg himself, they work way too hard to decide to run second in a scenario like that. I'm pretty sure that … if (Biffle) had an opportunity to get around Matt and had a chance to win the Daytona 500, he would have took it immediately.
“He's trying to do what he could do. If I were him, I can't imagine what his game plan was in his head, but if I were him, I would have tried to let me push him by and then pull down in front of Matt, and force Matt to be my pusher and then leave the 88 for the dogs.’’
Said Biffle: “Once (Earnhardt) got against my bumper ... I was about three-quarters throttle, and then once we got straight I pushed the gas down. I thought that we would drive up on the back of (Kenseth’s car) without a problem. It must have just pushed enough air out in front of my car that it pushed (Kenseth’s) car out about five or six feet in front of me and I couldn’t get any closer.
“We were all going the same speed, so when I moved over, Matt moved over real easy and Junior is against my back bumper. So, I am trying not to wreck because he is shoving on me, and I am doing this down the back(stetch) thinking, ‘I am not going to be able to get a run at him.’
“The only thing I could have done was got real straight down the backstretch and pushed the brake pedal down and kept going straight and slow our cars down a fair enough and then let Junior make a run at Matt around (turns) three and four and we could have moved up beside him coming off the corner and then Junior and I would have had to dice it out to the line. That is probably what I should have done.’’
PIT STOPS Matt Kenseth collected $1,589,387 for winning Sunday’s Daytona 500. David Ragan, who finished last, collected $267,637. Ragan ran one lap before he was eliminated by a crash. ... Last year, eight of the 12 drivers who made the Chase finished 20th or worse in the Daytona 500. That could be good news for Jimmie Johnson (42nd Monday), Jeff Gordon (40th), Brad Keselowski (32nd), Kasey Kahne (29th) and Ryan Newman (21st). ... The difference in limiting the tandem draft? Last year’s Daytona 500 featured 74 lead changes. Monday night’s race had 25 lead changes.
1. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
2. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
3. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
4. Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
6. Regan Smith, No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing
7. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports
8. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
9. Jeff Burton, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
10. Elliott Sadler, No. 33 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
11. Michael McDowell, No. 98 Ford, Phil Parsons Racing
12. Joey Logano, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
13. Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
14. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
15. AJ Allmendinger, No. 22 Dodge, Penske Racing
16. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
17. Robby Gordon, No. 7 Dodge, Robby Gordon Motorsports
18. Ryan Newman, No. 39 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing
19. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
20. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports
21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing
22. Mark Martin, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
23. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Dodge, Penske Racing
24. Dave Blaney, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing
25. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
26. Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
27. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports
28. Kurt Busch, No. 51 Chevrolet, Phoenix Racing
29. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing
30. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing
31. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing
32. Bobby Labonte, No. 47 Toyota, JTG-Daugherty Racing
33. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
34. Joe Nemechek, No. 87 Toyota, NEMCO Motorsports
35. Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Chevrolet, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
36. Casey Mears, No. 13 Ford, Germain Racing
37. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing
38. David Reutimann, No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing
39. Landon Cassill, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing
40. Trevor Bayne, No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers
41. David Stremme, No. 30 Ford, Inception Motorsports
42. Tony Raines, No. 26 Ford, Front Row Motorsports
43. Terry Labonte, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing
Did Not Qualify: 09 – Kenny Wallace; 23 – Robert Richardson III; 37 – Mike Wallace; 40 – Michael Waltrip; 49 – J.J. Yeley; 97 – Bill Elliott
The Daytona 500 cranks up the Sprint Cup season on Sunday.
by Matt Taliaferro
The Daytona 500 will kick off another exciting NASCAR season on Sunday, as Tony Stewart tries to defend his Sprint Cup title against many worthy adversaries. The Budweiser Shootout was exciting last weekend with Kyle Busch winning in thrilling fashion, and Carl Edwards will start on the pole for the Great American Race. From the pages of Athlon Sports Monthly, here’s our 2012 NASCAR preview.