Dale Earnhardt: The Michael Jordan of NASCAR's Dream Team? (ASP, Inc.)
Throughout the Olympics one often hears about a “Dream Team’’ in one sport or another. So what about NASCAR?
Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council were asked if they were an owner with four teams and could pick any Cup driver in any era, who would be the four for their Dream Team? Their picks proved quite interesting.
They also debated Jeff Gordon’s chances of making the Chase and Sunday’s Pocono race. Here’s what Fan Council members had to say:
Who is on your NASCAR Dream Team?
74.3 percent selected Dale Earnhardt Sr. 58.9 percent selected Jimmie Johnson 43.2 percent selected Tony Stewart 38.7 percent selected Richard Petty
Others 33.2 percent selected Jeff Gordon 23.6 percent selected David Pearson 18.8 percent selected Kyle Busch 15.1 percent selected Cale Yarborough 10.6 percent selected Tim Richmond 10.3 percent selected Dale Earnhardt Jr. 9.6 percent selected Darrell Waltrip 7.5 percent selected Davey Allison 6.8 percent selected Junior Johnson 6.5 percent selected Matt Kenseth No other drivers received more than 5 percent of the vote
What Fan Council members said:
• Dale Earnhardt for sheer tenacity and stubborn will. Jeff Gordon because he’s won championships with multiple crew chiefs. Cale Yarborough because he is the only driver who has REALLY won three championships back-to-back-to-back (sorry, I'm not counting Chase trophies — that is over 10 races not a full season.) David Pearson because he has an amazing winning record while rarely running a full schedule.
• I would want a team deep with knowledge, and someone to groom. That is why I picked Kyle Busch. Could you imagine Busch with the tutelage of Petty, Earnhardt and Jaws?
• Tony, Kyle, Dale (Sr.), and David Pearson. That's a winning team for certain! Four guys who could win in anything they stepped foot in. And can you imagine what the conversations and fights in the hauler would be like? Woohooo!
• The King: Because he is The King with wins that would guarantee me sponsors and TV “face time.” But also because he cares about the fans to a legendary level and would bring me a very loyal fan base. Smoke: Because if it has wheels and I need it to cross the finish line first, I want his butt in that seat. Curtis Turner: If he couldn't swing deals to get sponsorship money for me, he'd come up with some scheme to get someone else to give me the money. And he had no fear when it came to racing. Bill Elliott: Another great racer who took care of his cars more than the other three! Popular, a great back story, media friendly and sponsor sensitive.
• I picked DW, Tim Richmond, Kyle Busch and Smoke. All four can wheel anything with tires, and do it well. I went with an old-school/new-school theme. I see all four of these guys sort of being one in the same in their respective periods. There is enough talent there to fill Lake Lloyd but the egos and attitudes would be the only problem!
• Big E, Smoke, Busch and Junior Johnson. Give 'em a big slice of badass!
• Had to go with Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty, just because they are the best drivers this sport has seen. Then I went with two darkhorse choices: First, Terry Labonte just because he is one of the most consistent and level-headed drivers the sport has seen, and can definitely be a true asset on a Dream Team. Then I went with Buddy Baker because he has driven so many types of vehicles, not just NASCAR, and has a true need for speed and aggressive style that could help win in a style like in an Olympic-like format.
• I tried to go with some from a different era. So I went with Davey Allison, who let's face it, if he were still alive, would have been a great champion and made some great stats. Jimmie Johnson — five championships all in a row, people think he's vanilla, but he'll blow your socks off. Enough said. Dale Earnhardt — people feared him on the track and he’s a seven-time champion. Enough said. And Cale, first driver to win three championships (consecutively) and one hell of a driver.
• I chose The Intimidator because he knew what he needed from a car at all times and could rattle the best out there. He always gave 100 percent and hated losing. Seven titles and 76 wins along with a strong fan base (helps sales) would give my team a strong boost. Smoke has won in multiple forms of racing and is one of the best stock car drivers in recent memory. I would take Smoke in a one-race, winner-take-all battle over anyone. Pearson is a confident driver, but he will sneak up on you. Anyone that can be as dominant at Darlington and the big tracks like the Silver Fox will be on my team. Ned Jarrett is humble, well-spoken and drove as hard as he needed to. He would save the equipment and drive intelligently. I like the balance of my team and feel as though it could stand up against any team.
• Obviously, the best three drivers ever: Dale Sr., the King, and Five-Time. For my fourth driver, I went with Tim Richmond. Had he not be taken from us far too early, Dale Sr. would not have seven titles.
• This was one of the toughest questions ever! To put together my Dream Team I not only took into consideration talent but drivers who would complement each other and help each other be better than their raw talent alone. In my opinion, the all-time, all-around leadership of Richard Petty, the take-no-prisoners attitude of Dale Earnhardt Sr., the steadying even-keel resolve of Jeff Gordon and the feisty drive-the-wheels-off-anything-with-superb-car-control of Kyle Busch would blend perfectly, creating an unbeatable team.
• Most importantly, I would want Chad Knaus, Ray Evernham, Smokey Yunick and Dale Inman as my Dream Team’s crew chiefs.
Jeff Gordon: Closing in on a Chase bid? (ASP, Inc.)
Will Jeff Gordon make the Chase? Gordon moved to second in the wild card standings (based on a tiebreaker) after his Pocono win. In late June, 29.2 percent of Fan Council members thought Gordon would make the Chase. So, what do Fan Council members think now?
70.5 percent say Gordon WILL make the Chase 29.5 percent say Gordon WILL NOT make the Chase
What Fan Council members said:
• Absolutely! If anyone has noticed he has been competitive all year, but that bad luck streak did him in. It is gone and they are rejuvenated to keep it going. He's going into the next five races at tracks where he can dominate for sure. NEVER count out Jeff Gordon!!
• I'd love nothing more than saying “yes he will make the Chase,” but I'm afraid 2012 will not be Jeff's year. The only thing he's been consistent with is bad cars and bad luck this season. He deserves better.
• I gave this a lot of thought before checking “yes” — I don't want to jinx it! But I honestly feel he has had the cars and most definitely the ability to win all season but has been slammed with the worst luck of his career. It's about time the law of averages kicks in and he posts the finishes he should have had all along. The same way a bad streak can start with an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence, a good streak can start with one. Wasn't it fitting that his win drought was ended by rain?
• Just about gave up on the 24, but he is alive and some of his good tracks are coming up. Still think he needs one more win, as both Kyle (Busch) and Ryan (Newman) are capable of winning any week.
• All of the Hendrick cars are running great right now. If Jeff Gordon can stay on the track and race up front, he can definitely make the Chase.
• I think he will make the Chase. He seems to be running a little better than Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch at the moment.
• No. Flashes of brilliance so far, but too inconsistent. Gustafson has seemed to always have this issue though, going back several years to the Kyle Busch days. He is one of the best crew chiefs when he is on, but if he is just a little off, count on them running in the 20s.
• (Gordon) had an eighth-place car and his teammate's bonehead move gave him the win. He's not going to get in. They've been way too inconsistent.
• After all the bad luck he has had in 2012, this may be just what he needs to get right for the Chase!
• I think his team is headed in the right direction. Wouldn't be surprised to see him get another win.
Grade Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono
54.8 percent called it Good 26.9 percent called it Fair 10.2 percent called it Great 8.2 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• Giving it a “poor” rating because of what happened with the weather. As soon as the severe thunderstorm WARNING was issued, the stands should have been cleared, the cars parked and everyone taking shelter. Innocent people were hurt and one fan lost his life. Totally unacceptable.
• Since a fan died at the race and nine others were injured, I can't give this race any other grade other than “poor,” no matter what happened on the track.
• Once again, Pocono was one of the better races of the season. No one thought we would say that at the beginning of the year. However, I can't rate this as "great” due to the bizarre officiating for the rain. There were apparently about three laps where the track was completely clear, but NASCAR wouldn't wave the green due to the upcoming storm. If NASCAR was that concerned, they should have brought the cars to pit road immediately instead of fooling around under caution for no reason and risking fan safety.
• The race should have been rescheduled for Monday. All one had to do was look at the radar. That was no race.
• The rain made the race better than normal with a possible “moving finish line.”
• The rain being imminent from the start made the race more like a Truck Series race than a normal Cup race. Intensity from the green flag, no driving around for 300 miles then deciding to go.
• As a seasoned fan, I enjoy and understand the complicated strategies when the race is clearly going to be ended after the halfway point is reached and rain is imminent. I think it might be different for new fans coming into the sport. The racing was good and clean — typical Pocono for me. I enjoyed it.
• It sucks when someone wins because of rain that really did not have a good chance of winning.
• Good race for Pocono. It wasn't as exciting as the last Pocono race, but it wasn't as boring as the previous Pocono races. I enjoyed watching the passes for the lead when they occurred. I enjoyed watching Carl Edwards and others come through the field. I was thoroughly disappointed by the 48-17 incident, but things happen when the 17 gets anxious.
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.
Dodge Bolts, Allmendinger Talks & Junior Dishes on the Road Course
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Unable to find the right partners, sponsors and teams to put together an effort for next season, Dodge announced Tuesday that it will withdraw from NASCAR after this year.
Dodge was left without a Sprint Cup team for 2013 after Penske Racing announced earlier this year it would move to Ford next season.
Ralph Gilles, President and CEO of Street and Racing Technology Brand and Motorsports, likened Dodge’s challenges to a puzzle not fitting together.
“Everything from the driver selection, the teams, the shops, the engine, you name it, it’s a very, very complex situation,” Gilles said.
“We don’t want to just show up when we go racing, we want to win. It’s a difficult deal. To replace Roger (Penske) is not easy. It took him several years to get to the level he’s at. These things take a lot of time to develop.
“I think if you talked to Roger, he’d be the first one to tell you that this wasn’t in his crystal ball, signing up with Ford at the beginning of last year. Ford has been very aggressive, trying to get critical mass in the sport with new launches coming up. That’s their strategy and we’re not in a position to do the same thing. There’s really no one to do it with. The game of musical chairs in NASAR is a real deal. It’s shrinking capacity.”
Gilles said that time ran out on his organization to find the right situation. With the sport’s top teams locked into contracts with Ford, Chevrolet or Toyota, it meant Dodge would have go with a mid-level or low-level team or bring in a new owner.
“Literally, my staff is exhausted from flying all over ... meeting with teams and putting together deals and trying to find the right drivers and everything,” Gilles said. “At the same time, trying to find new people, incremental people to come to the sport because, again, it’s really tight nowadays, the sponsors are just not as flush as they used to be. We had our hopes up, just like everybody else.
“We didn’t want this day to come but it has. We’re not excited about this but it’s the reality of where we’re at right now.”
When Dodge returned to NASCAR in 2001, car owner Ray Evernham’s teams were supported by the Dodge Dealers as sponsors. Gilles said that notion was examined.
“In the past we had dealers literally providing a portion of every car sales to the sponsorship of the team,” Gilles said. “That was a pretty exotic setup. We did think about that and some dealers offered that up. But the issue wasn’t that. It’s really how do you compress time and set up a team from scratch, basically, at the highest level of racing in less than seven months.”
Since it’s return to ’01 return to Cup, Dodge has won 55 races and has been represented in the Chase seven of the eight years. Brad Keselowski is on pace to put Dodge back in the Chase this year with Penske Racing.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
ALLMENDINGER SPEAKS AJ Allmendinger, indefinitely suspended by NASCAR last month for failing a drug test, spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday and explained to ESPN.com and Foxsports.com that he tested positive for the prescription medicine Adderall.
The medicine is meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Allmendinger told both websites that he was tired a few days before the Kentucky race while out with a friend. A friend of his friend offered what he said was an energy pill. Allmendinger said he took it.
“I didn’t think anything of it because I’ve taken energy supplements for working out, that my trainer gives me,” Allmendinger told Foxsports.com. “So I didn’t even think about it. That was my big mistake. It was nothing crazy. It just gave me a little more energy.”
Three days later he was randomly drug tested at Kentucky. The following week, just hours before the start of the race at Daytona, he was informed that he had tested positive for amphetamine. NASCAR sat him out of that race and his suspension became indefinite later when his B sample also failed a drug test.
Allmendinger is currently in NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He told Foxsports.com that he meets with a counselor each week and can be drug tested at any time and has. He told Foxsports.com he hoped to complete the program by the end of the month.
LOTTERY WINNER? The Sprint Cup Series heads to Watkins Glen this weekend for the final road course race of the season.
Points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr., who last had a top-10 finish at the Glen in 2005, has a unique way of looking at road course races.
“With me and a road course, it’s a lottery,” he said. “I’ve had some good runs there and had some fast cars there. When we went there in 2008 with Tony (Eury) Jr., we rained out qualifying so we started up front and we led quite a good portion, the first 30 laps or so. We were really fast. I know I can go around there.
“That place is a lot easier than Sonoma. It’s just straightaway, turn, straightaway, turn and that’s really what I’ve been doing all my life. It’s a lot easier than Sonoma, a lot less technical. The gains that we made (testing last) week, they were literally gains that I could see on the stop watch and on the race track. I know I didn’t like the car when we tested at Road Atlanta earlier this year. When we went to Sonoma I had the same issues with the car, I didn’t like it. We fought a lot of similar problems. We showed up at the test (last) week with the same problems and the same disappointment with the car and then we made a lot of changes and a few of them changes in particular revolutionized the way the car drove and the way it felt.
“The stop watch was way faster so I’m excited. I’ve been real happy to go to all the race tracks this year. I particularly don’t look forward to going to Sonoma and Watkins Glen as much as I do the ovals, but I’m excited about Watkins Glen this trip. Hopefully we can go down there and be competitive.”
PIT STOPS Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick are taking part in a two-day Goodyear tire test with the 2013 car Tuesday and Wednesday at Martinsville Speedway. .... Brett Moffit, who turned 20 on Tuesday, finished ninth in his Nationwide Series debut last weekend at Iowa Speedway. “I wish we would have ended up a little better, but I guess a ninth-place in my first start is not bad,” Moffit said afterward. He also is the K&N Pro Series East points leader with two wins and nine top-10 finishes in 10 races.
Sorry Pepsi, but it looks like a Miller Lite. (ASP, Inc.)
1. Jimmie Johnson Although a flat tire foiled Johnson’s hopes for a second straight victory, it’s pretty obvious who the best team on the circuit is these days. Last week: 1
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. See: Johnson, Jimmie, then substitute “second best” for “best” and “transmission” for “flat tire.” The Pocono troubles won’t derail this bunch much, if at all. Last week: 2
3. Matt Kenseth Said Kenseth of the final, fateful restart: “He (Johnson) just drove in incredibly far and spun out. Maybe he had a flat, but I am not so sure about that.” Not a happy camper. Last week: 3
4. Brad Keselowski Played the off-cync pit strategy game for a second straight week. And for a second straight, came up short. But hey, when you have three wins, you’re free to give it a go.Last week: 6
5. Denny Hamlin Was on his way to a third consecutive top-10 finish until Kenseth took a hard left directly in front of him. Was later released from the infield car center on Sunday after experiencing abdominal pain.Last week: 4
6. Tony Stewart Drove from 28th to fifth at Pocono, which is no easy feat. Has advanced to sixth in the standings on the strength of four consecutive top 12s.Last week: 5
7. Jeff Gordon When the circuit last visited Pocono in June, Gordon sat 22nd in points with zero wins and three top 10s. After its return trip, he sits 13th in points with a win and nine top 10s.Last week: 9
8. Greg Biffle Lined up fourth for the final restart at Pocono which, in hindsight, wasn’t a good place to be. Although he was shuffled back to 15th, he now finds himself only six points out of the championship lead.Last week: 8
White is slimming. (ASP, Inc.)
9. Kasey Kahne Things are tight in this area of the rankings, where Biffle, Kahne, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer have jockeyed back and forth. Kahne’s runner-up at Pocono was fortuitous, but he’ll take it.Last week: 7
10. Martin Truex Jr. Truex’s third at Pocono was his best finish since a runner-up at Kansas in April. Using consistency over flash, he’s remained in the top 10, currently slotting in safely at fifth.Last week: 11
11. Clint Bowyer Like Truex, Bowyer has held fast to his top-10 spot. Unlike Truex, he actually has a win (Sonoma).Last week: 10
12. Ryan Newman Riding a streak that includes consecutive showings of fifth, 10th, seventh and sixth.Last week: 13
13. Kevin Harvick Harvick better hope he has a Stewart-esque Chase run in him, cause it ain’t pretty right now.Last week: 14
14. Kyle Busch The ability is there — as the Indy runner-up proved — but mechanical issues are killing this bunch.Last week: 12
15. Carl Edwards Squeaks back into the top 15 after a decent seventh at Pocono. Now needs two wins in five races.Last week: Not ranked
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Paul Menard, Regan Smith
Yet, moments after the event ended on lap 98 of the scheduled 160-lap distance due to an intense thunderstorm that blanketed the area, one storyline put all others into perspective.
Brian F. Zimmerman, 41, of Moosic, Penn., a father of two, was killed when he was struck by lightning in the facility’s parking lot. The fatality was reported by Pocono track president Brandon Igdalsky on Sunday, nearly three hours after the race.
Nine others were also injured in the strike. Four victims were taken to Lehigh Valley Health Network. As of Monday morning, one has been discharged and three remain in stable condition. The other five were treated and released at various hospitals in the area on Sunday.
According to The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., Zimmerman’s vehicle was struck while he was standing next to the open back hatch. Paramedics were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead on arrival at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg, Penn.
Brian Neudorff, a certified broadcast meteorologist with KMVT-TV in Twin Falls, Idaho, and popular NASCAR Twitter contributor who updates fans of raceday weather conditions, constructed a rough timeline of the severe weather event.
According to Neurdorff, the National Weather Service issued a warning for the track at 4:12 p.m. EST. Despite lightning in the area, NASCAR did not red flag the race — halting all on-track action — until 4:43 pm. EST when rain began to fall.
The severe threat was relayed to fans at the track via public address system when the race was red flagged — warning them to take shelter and evacuate the grandstands — although many with radio, scanner and/or social media access were made aware of the potential for dangerous conditions well before then.
As race controller, it is NASCAR’s call to stop an event for any reason. It is the track’s responsibility to warn fans and coordinate evacuation efforts if inclement weather is threatening.
“We are deeply saddened that a fan has died and others were injured by lightning strikes following today’s race at Pocono,” NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said. “Our thoughts are with them as well as those affected by this unfortunate accident.”
Pocono Raceway released a statement on Monday, stating, in part that, “We work in conjunction with NASCAR regarding safety of fans, teams and other attendees throughout the course of our race weekends. Additionally, we are in constant communication with local and national agencies regarding weather conditions and emergency services.
“At approximately 5:01 p.m. EST, the first lightning strike occurred on property inside our Grandstand Parking area, located near Gate 5A. A Pocono Raceway Grandstand Fire unit was stationed in the vicinity and witnessed the actual strike. The response was immediate as the unit reported the incident to our control tower and advised spectators were injured. CPR was started immediately to Mr. Zimmerman by a friend on the scene.
“We are in the process up establishing a Memorial Fund is for victims of this incident.”
Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400
Fan- and Pennell-favorite (for Pocono), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ASP, Inc.)
This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the Pocono Mountains for the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. When the series last hit the 2.5-mile oval in June, it was Joe Gibbs Racing's Joey Logano that went to Victory Lane, leading 49 of the 160 laps and moving veteran Mark Martin out of the lead in the closing laps.
As the series heads back to Pocono, Logano is back in the rumor mill with his name being mentioned as a potential candidate for the No. 22 Penske Racing ride for 2013. While said rumor mill churns and silly season heats up, it is important to remain focused on the job at hand, and that is winning races — and for you, your weekly fantasy match up.
Last weekend at Indianapolis, it was five-time champion Jimmie Johnson that put on a dominant performance to earn his fourth Brickyard 400 trophy. The No. 48 car was the class of the field all day, with few cars even in the same zip code (to borrow a phrase).
This week, Johnson leads all drivers in average finish (8.8) and has two victories at Pocono. While he failed to lead a lap in June, the five-time series champion finished fourth. With the team looking as if it is rounding into championship form, it will be hard to pick against Johnson.
However, the two-time Pocono winner is not this week's fantasy favorite (although he is among the top five). That honor goes to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After his fourth-place finish last weekend at Indianapolis, Earnhardt took over the points lead from Matt Kenseth. Leading the championship standings for the first time since 2004, Earnhardt is enjoying his best season in years, but is still hungry for wins before the Chase field is reset for the final 10 races of the season.
In June, Earnhardt Jr. led 36 of the 160 laps at Pocono before finishing a disappointing eighth. One of the strongest cars that afternoon, crew chief Steve Letarte called his driver to pit road late in the race, concerned about making it to the end on fuel. When Logano and others on the same strategy stretched it to the end, Earnhardt understood it was too early in the season to start taking gambles and losing a host of points.
With six races left before the Chase field is set, Earnhardt is now in a position to gamble for wins. Hungry for victories and continuing his consistent ways, look for Earnhardt — who has finishes of sixth, ninth and eighth in his last three Pocono starts — to score his second victory of the season.
Five Favorites: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Tony Stewart
Carl Edwards ... still smiling (ASP, Inc.)
To say the 2012 season has been a disappointment for Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards would qualify as the understatement of the year. After losing last year's championship battle to Tony Stewart in a tie-breaker, Edwards and the No. 99 team have been off the mark in 2012, currently enduring a winless streak that dates back to March 2011 (53 races ago).
To make matters worse, Edwards has a new crew chief, Chad Norris, atop the pit box calling the shots while long-time pit boss Bob Osborne handles personal health issues away from the track.
Coming in at one of the most crucial times of the season, Norris now has the task of getting the near-champion into the Chase. Sitting 12th in the championship standings, Edwards is on the outside looking in, as Kyle Busch (1 win) and Kasey Kahne (2) currently hold the two Chase wild card spots.
Following another poor finish in Indy — this time caused by an engine issue — Edwards proclaimed they are done points racing and “officially racing only for wins” over the next six weeks.
“I think it will involve lots of pushing on the right pedal and turning left and going as fast as possible, Edwards said. “We have to take chances. We have to go race. We can do that; we can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice. We just go race for wins. I wouldn’t bet against us. We can do it.”
With two wins, five top 5s, seven top 10s and an average finish of 13.6 at Pocono, this weekend provides a good locale for Edwards to get started on his quest for wins and a spot in the 12-driver Chase field.
In June, Edwards started the race from the outside of the front row, but was hit by pole-sitter Denny Hamlin in the first corner of the first lap and was forced to race his way through the field, placing 11th. Bringing the same car to the track this weekend, Edwards will be looking to finally turn his season before it's too late.
Also struggling to keep his Chase hopes alive is four-time series champion Jeff Gordon. Much like Edwards, Gordon's only hope of making into the final championship battle is to win, win, win.
While Gordon has finished inside the top 12 in the last six races, and advancing from 22nd to 15th in the standings, it is simply not enough for the veteran driver. However, there is no Chase for the fantasy racer, meaning you should not hesitate selecting him for the squad.
Gordon has been putting up solid numbers of late, and with time running out before the Chase field is set, Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson will be doing all they can to include themselves in the elusive 12-driver field. With the third-best average finish at Pocono (10.4), look for the No. 24 car to be among the best cars in Sunday's race. While a solid finish may not go far in terms of Gordon's championship hopes, it may go a long way in determining this week's fantasy match up.
Five Undervalued Picks: Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer
The last time the Sprint Cup Series raced at Pocono Raceway, it did so without former champion Kurt Busch. Suspended from NASCAR competition following a post-race incident with a reporter at Dover, Busch had to sit out the 14th race of the season while the rest of the competition broke the new track surface in.
Although Busch was not in the race, his Phoenix Racing team finished 21st in the with David Reutimann behind the wheel.
Despite a rocky 2012 season, Busch owns the 10th-best average finish at Pocono (15.5). In a great showing with his former team, Penske Racing, the former champion sat on the pole once and finished second and third in both 2011 events.
If he can keep the car out of trouble, the team can get the job done on pit road — and if the engine lasts the full 400 miles — look for Busch to score a decent finish, which could make the difference for your fantasy team.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind situation at Busch's former team, Penske Racing, as it has been forced to deal with the suspension of AJ Allmendinger. Stepping into the ride and getting a much-unexpected second chance has been Sam Hornish Jr.
Thrust into an awkward situation, Hornish has made the best of things to date and has been named the driver of the No. 22 for the “foreseeable future” by team owner Roger Penske. Perhaps auditioning for his future behind the wheel of the No. 22, Hornish scored a 22nd-place finish in Loudon and a 16th-place finish last weekend at Indianapolis.
Now four races into this unexpected venture, Hornish and the entire team head to Pocono as a bunch focused on working together as a cohesive unit and producing good results.
Perhaps no better track could come for Hornish and the Todd Gordon-led team. Hornish considers Pocono to be among his favorite tracks on the schedule, with one top 5, two top 10s and an average finish of 19.9.
“I’ve raced there enough that I can go to that track with a lot of confidence,” he says. “I think I can handle the compromising challenge pretty well. I think that there's a lot of guys that don't like going there, so they've already got this negative opinion about it. Their attitude is probably not in the right place.”
With this team finally coming together behind Hornish and his confidence level high, look for them to record a respectable finish.
Five Darkhorse Picks: Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Juan Pablo Montoya, Regan Smith
Best Average Finish at Pocono (Wins/Starts):
1. Jimmie Johnson — 8.8 (2/21)
2. Denny Hamlin — 9.3 (4/13)
3. Jeff Gordon — 10.4 (5/39)
4. Mark Martin — 11.1 (3/51)
5. Tony Stewart — 11.5 (2/27)
6. Ryan Newman —12.7 (1/21)
7. Carl Edwards — 13.6 (2/15)
8. Matt Kenseth — 13.9 (0/25)
9. Kevin Harvick — 14.0 (0/23)
10. Kurt Busch — 15.5 (2/22)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead at Indianapolis, giving his fans something to cheer about in a season where there have been plenty of highlights. Although the points will be reset at the start of the Chase, the question becomes can Earnhardt continue his successful season and win the championship?
That was among the questions Backseat Drivers Fan Council members were asked about last weekend’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here’s what they had to say about those issues and more:
Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. win the championship? Earnhardt took the points lead at Indianapolis, the first time he’s led the points since late in the 2004 season. Fan Council members were asked if they thought he would win the championship this year:
64.5 percent said No
35.5 percent said Yes
What Fan Council members said:
• Even though I've been an Earnhardt fan all my life and have been hoping that Junior would finally win a Cup championship, I don't think this is the year. First, Jimmie Johnson served notice (Sunday) that anyone winning the championship this year will have to beat him to do it. Next, even though Junior is perhaps the most consistent driver in the sport this year, consistency, without wins won't get the job done. I think he'll win again. Ultimately, though, I think 5-Time becomes 6-Time. Jimmie is just too good.
• One win in four years. Letarte's track record in the Chase is pretty poor, especially when he got used up by Knaus in 2007. Earnhardt's record in the Chase isn't much better. There's no value in leading the points before the Chase.
• It's hard to pinpoint just why I don't think he will win. I think it's a combination of a lack of complete faith in Steve Letarte's ability to close the deal along with the feeling the luck he's had will not last. On the other hand, I do see maturity in Junior that just might supersede everything else.
• This has been his most consistent year. Consistency wins championships.
• He has yet to convince me he has the killer instinct to go out and drive beyond the car to go out and win more races and win the Chase.
• As a Junior fan, I'm just worried the team is gonna choke.
• As Steve Letarte said in a pre-race interview, “Give FIVE reasons why they won’t AND I’ll give ya FIVE reasons why they can.”
• Dale Jr. does not have the mental/emotional fortitude to win the championship. He has a tendency to get focused on and bothered by things that distract him. I believe Steve Letarte will give him the cars, and his crew will give him the performances necessary to win a championship, but I believe Junior will get distracted by something the media says, the fans want (or are saying) and he will lose enough focus to lose the championship. I believe he will learn that lesson and be a stronger contender for the championship the next time he's in the position.
• He has momentum behind him, a great owner and crew chief and crew. Plus he has Junior Nation behind him. It's his to lose.
• Even though he doesn't have the most wins this season has been the most consistent — but that isn't going to help with the last 10 races. Guys like Johnson and Stewart are going to step up and start rattling off wins and top 5s in the last 10 races. If Dale Jr. wins a couple more races before the Chase I would change my answer.
• Sorry Junior Nation, he's not going to win it. It will take multiple wins in the Chase to win it and his team is more about consistency. I also don't think he has the killer instinct it takes to win it. Until someone else wins one, I'm not sure anybody but Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart can win the title. I think it comes down to those two guys.
• Most consistent driver all year. He will win another race this year and capture that elusive championship. He is surviving the summer months well, where he typically does poor, which indicates that come fall, he will excel. I’ve never seen Junior this confident, mature and consistent.
• While he is my driver, I don't see domination. I see speed and consistency from the 88 team — and they belong in the Chase — but the winner of the Chase will dominate throughout it.
• I have to answer “yes.” I am a Junior fan and I have to have that faith. I am scared to even think it though, for fear that I will jinx him and Junior Nation! Regardless, I am so proud of his (and the entire 88 team’s) performance this year. BRAVO!
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Grade Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis
51.8 percent said it was Good 35.8 percent said it was Fair 6.6 percent said it was Poor 5.8 percent said it was Great
What Fan Council members said:
• Really not a lot of racing at all. It's understandable at IMS because these are big, heavy cars that are aero-dependent and not made to run big, flat tracks.
• We actually saw some racing instead of the parade I have been used to at Indy. It is still hard to pass with the cars being so aero-sensitive but it seems the most dominant car won Sunday, unlike Saturday.
• One guy dominated and the only time anyone could pass was the first couple of laps of the run (after a restart). Not exciting unless you were a Johnson fan.
• Extremely boring. NASCAR doesn't belong at Indy.
• Seven laps in and the field was strung out into a single line and from that point on the only passing was (with little exception) on pit road or at restarts. That's how it always is at Indy (and Pocono and California and Michigan), so not unexpected. The Indy race isn't there for the exciting racing, it’s there for the prestige of running tin tops at Indianapolis. It should stay there for the history. It’s not like it’s the only place with strung-out, not particularly exciting, racing.
• For an Indianapolis race which tends to be more about pageantry than great racing, this was a pretty good race. It had slow/boring spots, but also had action — that was covered on the television broadcast — throughout the field. The leader running away from the field typically makes for a boring race, but the restarts alleviated the lack of competition for the lead during the longer green flag runs. There was some passing on a track known for its lack of passing. There were tire and engine issues adding the element of surprise to portions of the race.
• More single-file racing. Very little passing. This track is just not made for stock cars. And did you see the number of empty seats?! WOW!
• I saw a lot of tweets stating the race was boring. I don't know how anyone said it was boring. I saw a lot of passing, pit strategy, green flag stops, etc. Yes, Jimmie Johnson spanked the field, but there are a lot of other races for points, wild card, etc., going on. In racing, it's not over until the checkered flag flies. I never find a race boring — some especially more exciting — but never boring.
• That was a horrible race. It is never good. Why did I even bother? A lot of people assign blame to the “tire debacle” a few years ago (2008) for the declining attendance. We've had four races since then with no tire issues, so let's face it: stock cars suck at this track. And most of the seats there are terrible — there are huge parts of the track you can't see. WHY would anybody go there for a Cup race? NASCAR weekends are expensive. If I am going to spend the money, it'll be at a track where I can see all the action! (Example: Richmond is our next race!)
• I attended the race at the Brickyard. Granted, you can't see much of the track, but I still thought the racing was pretty good. I focused on some battles between drivers — not just my driver. I did see passing until the field got too far apart. Neat to see Jimmie win his fourth Brickyard. Hated to see Matt get wrecked, but loved seeing Dale Jr. leave leading in the points.
Grade how ESPN showed the end of the Indianapolis Cup race. ESPN noted that it showed the final 23 minutes of the race and the first eight minutes of post-race coverage without commercial interruption. To do that required more commercial breaks earlier in the race. Fan Council members were asked if they were fine with the long commercial-free portion at the end of there race or if they would rather have the commercial breaks more evenly spaced.
88.8 percent liked how ESPN showed the end of the race minus commercials
11.2 percent wanted more evenly spaced commercial breaks throughout the race
What Fan Council members said:
• What I really liked was the actual post-race coverage. Usually, we don't get much and I have to start looking for more info online, but this time I could just stick with the TV.
• The end of the race is what matters. Sure, we might miss what causes a caution or two but I think we all agree, at the end of the race, when strategy is coming together we want to see that.
• At least they (ESPN) are making an effort to appease viewers. I didn't notice the commercials in this race, to be honest, which is a good thing. (Believe me, the mashed potatoes/macaroni & cheese debate has been tattooed into the national conscience of NASCAR Nation.) I don't need uninterrupted post-race coverage unless there's some sort of controversy, a la the Nationwide race this weekend.
• In an ideal world, there would be fewer commercials. However, I liked this because a lot of the time, the drivers don't “race” until later in the race.
• Whoopie do! For a good portion of those 23 final minutes they had a single-car camera shot of the 48. That's not really showing the race. Use a split screen if they want to focus on the leader — but show the racing in the field.
• I think their entire coverage was great! The timing of commercials was better than TNT.
• ESPN's coverage of the race was textbook how a race should be covered regarding commercials.
• I noticed more commercials in the early broadcast and was worried ESPN was going TNT on us, but then I also noticed the long run at the end going commercial-free and I approve of this immensely.
Grade the inaugural Nationwide race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
30.8 percent said it was Good 23.3 percent said it was Fair 21.5 percent didn’t watch 17.2 percent said it was Poor 7.2 percent said it was Great
What Fan Council members said:
• Maybe I'm just bitter, but I loved attending the NNS race at LOR. It was close racing and you can see the entire track. As a Speedway native, I love IMS with all my heart, but I chose to watch the NNS race on TV knowing I would be going to the Brickyard the next day. I didn't feel it was worth the money to watch a race with very little passing two days in a row.
• Any good feelings I might have had about the race were gone the minute NASCAR decided that, in spite of all the evidence in his favor, Elliott Sadler had to do the pass-thru penalty. The race ended for me right then. I've never been one to jump on conspiracy theories, but in that case, NASCAR made a decision that changed the outcome of the race and potentially the outcome of the season.
• Inconsistent calls and Cup drivers galore because they “needed” to be the first one to win at The Brickyard (in NNS). Roughly the same amount of people showed up that would have at LORP. It's time to go back to the short track.
• I think it was a HUGE mistake to take this race away from Lucas Oil Raceway and put on the big track. It did nothing but show two races that were boring this weekend. Since when is it better to take away all of the short tracks? I don't understand the thought process behind this move.
• It's great to see the NNS at Indy.
• They don't deserve to be running there. They were out of place and it just felt wrong. The race wasn't any good either.
• Fantastic action with the Nationwide race. I am in the “Support Elliott Saddler” camp. I think, truthfully, that Dillon was at fault and the correct action for that particular restart would have been to just do it over — very unfair to dump the whole blame on Elliott. And how could he possibly have slowed to give the position back without wrecking a lot of cars?
• I thought it was a little better than the Cup race. I don't know why — maybe because it was shorter? One thing I do know, though, is that Elliott Sadler got screwed. Bad call by NASCAR. That section of the rulebook might need to be updated. I'm not a Sadler fan, but he handled himself with a lot of dignity and class in that deal.
• It was very fun to watch. Some passing. Suspense. Well done.
• Lots and lots of drama! And some good racing!
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.
Haven't we seen this movie before ... like in 2006, '08 and '09?
"Hey, watch the hair, Chad!" (ASP, Inc.)
1. Jimmie Johnson (—) Johnson has had two crashes in 2012, resulting in 42nd- and 36th-place finishes and one engine failure, leading to a 35th-place run. Otherwise, he’s been 12th or better every week.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (—) Junior has been nearly as good as his Hendrick teammate through 20 races, with 17th- and 23rd-place runs the only blemishes outside of the top 15.
3. Matt Kenseth (—) Even before a crash ended his day in Indy, Kenseth wasn’t having a banner performance. How will this team handle its driver’s lame duck status down the stretch?
4. Denny Hamlin (+1) Hamlin is certainly back to his contender status, with two wins on the season and three finishes of sixth or better in the last four races (including a near-miss in Loudon).
5. Tony Stewart (-1) Stewart somehow snuck into the top 10 by day’s end at Indy despite being a non-factor throughout the race. In fact, it was his worst showing (10th) at IMS since forming his own team — or a team being handed to him. Whatever.
6. Brad Keselowski (—) Along with Hamlin, Keselowski seemed the only driver with anything for Johnson on Sunday. A slow pit stop doomed his chances and the three-time winner in 2012 settled for ninth.
7. Kasey Kahne (—) Front-end damage to Kahne’s Chevy forced the team to play catch-up all day in Indy. A popular pre-race pick, Kasey persevered to a 12th-place showing.
8. Greg Biffle (—) After a quiet three-race stretch where Biffle was all but invisible, he burst back onto the scene at the Brickyard with a confidence-building third-place finish. Keep an eye on him at Pocono.
9. Jeff Gordon (+1) Time is running out for Gordon, who finds himself a distant 15th in the point standings with zero wins. Try as they might, the 24 team has been a fifth- to sixth-place car the last six weeks. Still, if he can cash in just once...
10. Clint Bowyer (-1) Rebounded from what appeared to be some ugly sheet metal damage prior to the halfway mark at Indy to post a respectable 15th. It could’ve been worse.
They're not the King's cowboy boots or Marcis' wing tips, but hey, whatever works for ya, Carl. (ASP, Inc.)
11. Martin Truex Jr. (+1) Indy was a typical run for Truex in 2012: Qualify in the mid-teens and finish about eighth.
12. Kyle Busch (+3) Up to 11th in the standings and currently a wild-card qualifier after a runner-up at the Brickyard.
13. Ryan Newman (—) Fifteen points behind Busch in the wild card standings with a single win. It can be done.
14. Kevin Harvick (-3) Averaging an 11.7-place finish — which Harvick has thus far — won’t win him a title.
15. Mark Martin (Unranked) Had he started every race this year, Martin would slot in around 13th or 14th in the point standings.
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard
Jimmie Johnson dominates, scores fourth victory at Indianapolis
From left: Rick Hendrick, Jimmie, Genevieve and Chandra Johnson. (ASP, Inc.)
It took Jimmie Johnson only 29 laps to steer his No. 48 Chevrolet to the front of the field in Sunday’s Brickyard 400. Once there, he rarely looked back, leading 99 of the final 131 laps to score his fourth Sprint Cup Series win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Johnson, who qualified sixth, also gave Chevrolet its 10th straight win at the famed auto racing venue, while team owner Rick Hendrick scored his eighth win at IMS in NASCAR’s 19 visits.
“I knew (the) second or third lap yesterday on the track that we were going to have an awfully good chance at winning,” Johnson said of Saturday’s first practice session. “That confidence that I had helped us through practice yesterday. There were a couple moments where maybe an adjustment didn’t work and we lost a little pace, but I just had a feeling, and I just knew we were going to be fine.
“We qualified well and then went out there today and put it on them, so ... solid performance.”
Johnson beat Kyle Busch to the line by a race-record 4.758 seconds. Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top 5. Johnson’s only real competition — Denny Hamlin (sixth) and Brad Keselowski (ninth) — led a total of 49 laps but faded late.
Johnson’s third win of the season ties him with Keselowski and Tony Stewart for most on the circuit.
Johnson’s previous three Brickyard wins also coincided with three of his four Cup titles (2006, ’08 and ’09).
“I feel that from a performance standpoint, we’re as strong as we’ve ever been,” Johnson said. “We’ve had issues late in a race that’s cost us track position for a variety of reasons, and that’s the part that we need to make sure is buttoned up before the Chase starts and carry that through the Chase.
“But from a performance standpoint, these are amazing racecars. We’ve made a lot of progress through the off-season and then getting started this year. I feel really good about the Chase — I’m ready for it to start.”
Johnson’s shop mate at Hendrick Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Jr., ascended to the top of the Sprint Cup championship standings thanks to a fourth-place showing. Previous points leader, Matt Kenseth, was swept up in a wreck on lap 134 of 160 and finished 35th.
“You can't win the championship until you lead the points,” Earnhardt’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, said. “To lead at any time in the season, especially this late in the season, proves this team is capable of winning a championship.
“We definitely haven’t hit our stride yet. There’s still room for improvement.”
“We need to win more races,” Earnhardt added. “If we want to win the championship, we have to. I imagine we can win a couple races in the Chase. I don't know if finishing fourth or fifth (each week) is going to do it.”
Favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Jeff Gordon and Alan Gustafson in Victory Lane at Phoenix last season. (ASP, Inc.)
After a well-deserved off week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the famed yard of bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this weekend's Crown Royal presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard.
The annual Brickyard 400 is considered one of the most prestigious races of the season by those in the garage area. In 18 visits, 11 drivers have put their name on the winner's trophy at the famed speedway, seven of them former series champions. Winning at Indianapolis is no simple feat, and will rank among the most important victories in a driver's career.
Veteran Jeff Gordon knows just how special it is to score a victory at IMS. The Hendrick Motorsports driver won the inaugural event in 1994, and has since gone on to collect a total of four Brickyard 400 wins, the most among all Cup drivers.
In last year's event, Gordon had one of the strongest cars in the field, leading 36 of the 160 laps. While he had plenty of fuel to make it to the end, his task was to chase down leader Paul Menard, who was attempting to stretch his fuel mileage to the end. Gordon charged nearly to the back bumper of Menard's No. 27 Chevrolet, but was forced to settle for second as Menard went on to score his first career Sprint Cup Series victory.
As the season moves to Indianapolis this weekend, Gordon is mired in 17th in the series standings and running out of time if he wants to be a part of the championship battle in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. An up-and-down season has left him scratching his head for answers, it seems things have finally started to fall into place for Gordon and his Alan Gustafson-led team.
Since their 35th-place showing at Darlington in May, Gordon’s No. 24 team has scored five top 10s in the last eight races — moving him from 24th in points to 17th. Headed to one of his best tracks (he holds the second-best average finish), the four-time champion is in dire need of a win. Going off their notes from last year, look for the veteran to record his name in the record books again and kiss the bricks for the fifth time.
If Gordon wants to score that all-important fifth Brickyard 400 win and join the in Chase wild card discussion, he will have to beat teammate Kasey Kahne and defending series champion Tony Stewart.
Kahne started on the outside of the front row in last year's event, led 48 laps, but was foiled in the fuel mileage gamble in the closing laps and finished 18th. This season, Kahne has been making the most of his time at Hendrick Motorsports, scoring two wins, including the last Cup Series race at Loudon two weeks ago.
While Gordon may hold the most wins at Indianapolis, Stewart holds the best average finish among active drivers (8.1). The former open-wheel star has two wins at the Brickyard and has finished inside the top 10 in nine of his 13 starts. This season Stewart and his Steve Addington-prepped team have three wins, and this organization knows how to step up when it matters most. It’s safe to say that anytime the circuit hits the brickyard, Stewart is on everyone’s radar.
Five Favorites: Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth
Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick has flown a bit under the radar thus far in the 2012 season, but that is about to change as the series heads closer to the Chase. Currently sitting sixth in the championship standings, Harvick has three top 5s and nine top 10s through the first 19 races.
The proud new father has been solidly consistent this year, finishing outside the top 20 on only two occasions. Harvick is the 2003 Brickyard 400 champion and also holds the third-best average finish (10.0) among active drivers.
Although it appears Harvick is a safe bet to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, a win would go a long way when the 12-driver field is reset following Richmond in September. Look for Harvick and his Shane Wilson-led crew to contend for that win on Sunday.
Whenever any form of motorsports heads to Indianapolis, one name stands above the rest is Roger Penske. The famed team owner has a total of 15 victories in the Indianapolis 500, but is searching for his first NASCAR victory at the yard of bricks.
While the majority of attention surrounding this organization has focused on AJ Allmendinger’s failed drug test and the fallout from that announcement, Brad Keselowski is set to put the attention back where it belongs: on the track.
“It definitely gives you a sense of pride when you go to Indy as a member of Penske Racing," Keselowski said. "You look at everything Mr. Penske has been able to accomplish there in open-wheel racing. It would be one of the coolest things I could ever do in a racecar if I could get him his first win in the Brickyard 400. I really think we have a good chance to do that on Sunday.”
Keselowski is among the best in the garage at overcoming adversity and rising to the occasion at the most significant times, and this week should be no different. At the famed speedway, Keselowski holds the 10th-best average finish (14.0) and was ninth in last year's race.
With three wins to his credit in 2012, Keselowski is 10th in the championship standings, but in search of more victories. Overcoming adversity and stepping up on the sport's biggest stages are among Keselowski's most notable attributes, so look for a solid day out of the No. 2 team this weekend.
The defending Brickyard 400 winner, the aforementioned Menard, was able to score that illusive first career Sprint Cup Series victory last year by stretching his fuel mileage to the end, but result was no fluke, as he also had one of the strongest cars of the day. Only once has the defending race winner gone on to win the following year at Indianapolis (Jimmie Johnson, 2008 and ’09), but could Menard be the second?
Much like in 2011, Menard is currently on the outside of the top 10 in championship standings in 15th. With time running out before the Chase field is set, a win would once again put Menard solidly in the wild card discussion heading to Richmond.
Five Undervalued Picks: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer
It is not often that a former race winner at a track is a darkhorse pick, but considering the type of season Jamie McMurray and his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, are having, it is hard not to consider them as such.
McMurray, the 2010 Brickyard 400 winner, has the seventh-best average finish (13.1) among active drivers with one win, three top 5s and five top 10s. McMurray was fourth in last year's event, but has finished outside the top 15 on four occasions.
This season, however, both McMurray and Montoya have been out to lunch. After a host of internal changes during the offseason, the expectations were high for team owner Chip Ganassi, however his cars currently sit 20th and 21st in the championship standings.
Of course, this is Indy, and much like fellow team owner Penske, Ganassi expects to run well here. Montoya has been a contender throughout the years in the Brickyard 400, only to have mistakes on pit road and accidents ruin solid runs. In fact, aside from finishing second in his first attempt at Indy in a stock car in 2007, Montoya has finished 28th or worse in three of his five starts.
This weekend, however, the Ganassi teammates are running in Friday’s Grand-Am Road Racing Series at Indy. Whether this will take away or contribute to the team's overall effort is up for debate.
Another former Indianapolis 500 winner you may want to keep an eye on is Penske Racing's Sam Hornish Jr. Taking the reins of the No. 22 Dodge from the suspended Allmendinger, Hornish now has the rare opportunity at a second chance in the Sprint Cup Series.
Hornish has struggled to adjust to the unexpected promotion to Cup over the past two races, but at a track he is comfortable racing at, perhaps this team will come into their own with Hornish as their driver this weekend at Indianapolis.
Five Darkhorse Picks: Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sam Hornish Jr., Regan Smith, Jeff Burton
If there is one certainty for this weekend's race at Indianapolis, perhaps it is going with Chevrolet drivers on your fantasy lineup. Since the Cup Series has been racing at IMS, the bowtie brigade has won 13 of 18 races, including the last nine events.
Among the most unique tracks on the schedule, the key to success at Indy will be a solid setup that makes the car work well throughout all four of the track's unique corners. Fuel mileage was a deciding factor in last year's race, and may play a major role in this year's race as well.
Best of luck to all the fantasy racers out there this weekend, and if you win, don't think twice about going out and kissing the bricks on your patio.
Best Average Finish at Indianapolis (Wins):
1. Tony Stewart — 8.1 (2)
2. Jeff Gordon — 9.1 (4)
3. Kevin Harvick — 10.0 (1)
4. Carl Edwards — 11.0 (0)
5. Clint Bowyer — 11.8 (0)
6. Mark Martin — 12.9 (0)
7. Jamie McMurray — 13.1 (1)
8. Greg Biffle — 13.1 (0)
9. Kyle Busch — 13.1 (0)
10. Brad Keselowski — 14.0 (0)
Jimmie Johnson leads the pack (but don't tell Chad Norris)
"Hey Carl, my new crew chief drinks your sponsors product to help him fall sleep." (ASP, Inc.)
1. Jimmie Johnson A Daytona crash is the only blemish on Johnson’s stat sheet since mid-May. Indianapolis is typically the event that Johnson, Chad Knaus & crew use as a jumping off point for the Chase.
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. According to Junior's buddy Mike Davis, Earnhardt has completed the first 5,488 laps this season, a record in NASCAR’s Modern Era. He also has 20 consecutive lead lap finishes, dating back to 2011.
3. Matt Kenseth No flashy stats for Kenseth, just a stream of steadiness for the points leader. His 13th at Loudon, along with a 13th at Sonoma, are his worst showings since a 16th way back in March.
4. Tony Stewart Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski are closing the gap on the Big Three of Johnson, Earnhardt and Keselowski, although Smoke’s Loudon performance was disappointing after winning there last year.
5. Denny Hamlin “Hit or Miss” Hamlin was a hit on Sunday, despite falling short in the end due to miscommunication with the crew chief. Hamlin’s last six races: Three top 5s, three finishes of 25th or worse.
6. Brad Keselowski May deserve to be higher on the list, as BK and the boys appear to be gaining steam — which says something since they’re already weekly contenders.
7. Kasey Kahne Was Sunday’s win what we’ll look back on as his Chase-clinching run? Impossible to say, but suddenly, the heat is turned up on about five drivers clawing for a wild card slot in the Chase.
8. Greg Biffle His ninth-place finish in New Hampshire led the Roush Fenway contingent — odd in that the “Fenway” in the race team’s name is the same associated with a certain New England sports franchise.
"Hey Martin, I hear Carl has some badass new crew chief." (ASP, Inc.)
9. Clint Bowyer Back on track to the tune of a third-place run at Loudon after two hangover-esque weekends that proceded the Sonoma victory.
10. Jeff Gordon Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson are obviously going all-out for wins at this point, which explains his frustration after finishing a respectable sixth in Loudon. Those wins are now imperative.
11. Kevin Harvick Harvick’s eighth in Loudon was his best showing in over a month. A win would cinch things for him.
12. Martin Truex Jr. Has 50 points on 11th-place Carl Edwards. And at this rate — without a win — he’ll need ’em.
13. Ryan Newman Baby news for the second straight week: Ryan and Krissie welcomed Ashlyn Olivia on Monday.
14. Joey Logano Currently in a log jam with Newman and Kyle Busch for that second Chase wild card spot.
15. Kyle Busch Maybe if he went back to racing three times a weekend ... ?
Just off the lead pack: Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard