The Harbaugh Brothers are both in Super Bowl XLVII, but are not the only active siblings in sports.
The Harbaugh Brothers are hogging — or Har-gging or whatever — all the attention at Super Bowl XLVII. But little Johnny and Jimbo aren’t the only tikes in the backyard turned titans in the world of sports. Here’s a rundown of the top 30 sets of active athlete siblings, with the combined accomplishments of the top 10 brothers, sisters and twins.
For those who feel that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has gone too corporate, you'll always have this little gem. After winning at Talladega for the fifth time in his then short career, Earnhardt’s exuberances got the better of him. The 25-point fine would prove costly, as it may have provoked him to make an ill-advised move in Atlanta a couple of weeks later that would cost him a chance at the Cup. By the way, the most overlooked part of Junior’s Victory Lane interview is the line “Man, we just smoked ‘dem guys that was on ‘dem old tires!” Man, it still doesn’t look right seeing him in anything but a red Budweiser Chevrolet.
by Vito Pugliese
Robby and Mikey in Loudon ... Again
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You’d find few people that don’t have something nice to say about Michael Waltrip. Sure, Clint Bowyer may have deemed his current car owner the “worst driver in NASCAR” a couple of years ago, but at least he didn’t cuss him out on TV. Although it’s been a few years since Bill Webber has called a NASCAR race, he still leads the league in apologizing for language during a live racing broadcast.
by Vito Pugliese
Earnhardt's "Purple Shirt" Interview
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How many times over the years have we seen footage of that black No. 3 car turning people at short tracks or executing the bump and run? It helped sell a lot of t-shirts and created a persona that earned him far more than any of his seven championships. However, when the favor was returned, “The Intimidator” became “The Irritated-or.” Exhibit A: This interview with Dr. Dick Berggren. Thankfully, Bob Jenkins’ winning call was made prior to flat screen HDTVs, otherwise many would have shattered during the live broadcast.
by Vito Pugliese
DW wins his 500
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Never a man at a loss for words, Darrell Waltrip’s victory in The Great American Race in 1989 is one of the most iconic interviews in the sport. After 17 years of trying, driving car No. 17, in pit stall No. 17, on February, 17th, it must have been a complete coincidence … correct? Sorry, no cussing or going off here.
by Vito Pugliese
The Greatest Invocation in History
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Joel Osteen, take lesson! Looking for a seasonally appropriate pre-Thanksgiving Day prayer this week in the wake of the NASCAR season wrapping up? Look no further than the invocation at the Nashville Superspeedway Nationwide race in 2011. Pastor Joe Nelms, a good ol' Tennessee boy, should be invited to every major sporting event to deliver equally inspiring words.
by Vito Pugliese
Yeah, It's All the Media's Fault
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What compilation of videos of guys going off would be complete without a few words from Kurt Busch? These were at New Hampshire in 2009, after a botched pit stop and contact with the No. 6 car of David Ragan. Might want to fire up the ear buds for this one, folks. Especially if you’re sitting in the cubicle. The only question: Which is better, the random screaming or the Einstein line?
by Vito Pugliese
Bad (Mouth) Brad
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Looks like a little of Kurt Busch must’ve rubbed off on BK during their tenure together at Penske Racing. Following Halloween Havoc at Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, Brad Keselowski went off regarding some of the comments made about him by his fellow drivers for refusing to lose the championship and racing hard against Jimmie Johnson the week before in Texas. What a coincidence, as “Refuse To Lose” was the motto of Jeff Gordon’s Ray Evernham-led championship teams of the mid- to late ‘90s. Normally as cool as Brad normally appears to be, this session was evidence that the pressure was starting to build a little — and was perhaps the vent session he needed.
by Vito Pugliese
Kimi Raikkonnen: Cold Blooded
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Kimi Raikkonnen made a start in the Camping World Truck Series in 2011, so I guess this counts. They don’t call him the Ice Man for nothing. He a stone cold killa. Say what you want about Kurt Busch … at least he doesn’t go Terry Tate on the smallest of fans.
by Vito Pugliese
They Weren't always quasi-teammates
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Smoke and Three-Time (at the time) get into it after a first-lap incident at Watkins Glen, when Tony Stewart put Jeff Gordon into the Armco barriers through the esses. A grainy video, but note one of Gordon’s crewmen is Steve Letarte. Also audible is Stewart’s suggestion that if he would “speed up, you wouldn’t have that problem.” Classic Smoke.
by Vito Pugliese
Denny vs. Brad, 2009
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When Brad Keselowski first came on the scene, he ruffled some feathers. A few drivers accused him of racing and “trying” too hard. When your family has faced losing everything, that tends to make you a little more aggressive and try harder than some might normally. Note the prophetic words from Dennis at 3:05. Guessing this is probably crocheted on a pillow somewhere in the No. 2 hauler.
by Vito Pugliese
Meanwhile, Back in the Booth...
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Sometimes, it's not the drivers that make for the most entertaining soundbites. Here's a short selection of your favorite television personalities having a hard day — highlighted by a hilarious outtake of @MartySmithESPN. We love ya, Marty.
It was a rough and tumble few weeks for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, what with the fisticuffs in Phoenix and Brad Keselowski pounding beers on Sportscenter. Some say that racing has turned into wrestling … to which I say, thank GOD. After Clint Bowyer went Ultimate Warrior and rushed to the aid of his team, Keselowski did his best Stone Cold Steve Austin impression with a massive glass of Miller Lite. These recent actions brought to mind some of the best interviews, insults, invocations and other dust-ups in NASCAR’s colorful history.
Phoenix isn’t the first time Jeff Gordon’s found trouble. There was the infamous pit-road shove of Matt Kenseth in 2006; then, a few years later he and Jimmie Johnson butted heads at Texas. But this incident, in the fall of 2010 at that same Texas racetrack is the one most people remember. Gordon and Jeff Burton made contact as the caution came out and, regardless of who’s story you chose to believe, all hell broke loose. The end result was two totaled racecars and a Rainbow Warrior more than ready to throw down. Both had been through frustrating seasons, going winless, and each had already been “Chased” out of championship contention; but who would have expected the forty-somethings to start throwing punches? “I knew he was going to be mad,” said Burton… but that mad? Both drivers raced the next week, but NASCAR punished them in its own way: they had to ride to the infield care center in the same ambulance.
by Tom Bowles
9. Mr. Excitement punches Mr. Busch
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Before the Jerry Punch incident, getting “inside Jimmie Johnson’s head,” the monkey-have-a-relationship-with-a-football comment, or even Maricopa County law enforcement finding out “who he was,” Kurt Busch had one main enemy: Jimmy Spencer. The two had gone back and forth for well over a year by the middle of 2003, ever since Busch roughed up Spencer to earn his first Cup Series victory at Bristol. But after they had wrecked each other multiple times at multiple tracks, what happened at Michigan was too much for the “Mr. Excitement.” Spencer, after hearing Busch had spent several portions of the day trying to cut down his tire, went right up to the No. 97 car after the race. On the in-car audio, you could hear Busch provoke and what followed was the punch heard ‘round NASCAR Nation. What was tough for Spencer was “Boys, Have At It” era this was not; he was parked a race for inappropriate behavior.
by Tom Bowles
8. 5-Hour Fisticuffs
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Michael Waltrip may be a mild-mannered, sponsor-shrilling owner now but back in his driving days, he had his moments. Take this incident at Michigan, where he and Lake Speed battled for position in a last-lap scrape where Waltrip got the short end of the stick. It was Speed 11th, Waltrip 12th at the checkered flag, but Waltrip was determined to get the last word. Parking in front of the No. 9 car on pit road, he walked over, pulled down Speed’s window net and threw two punches to show how much he cared for their on-track contact. Both drivers would race the following week, although the incident did muddy Waltrip’s “peace and love” reputation among the fanbase.
by Tom Bowles
7. "Biffle's an Idiot."
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It may have been the Nationwide (then Busch) Series, but that didn’t make the race win matter any less to Kevin Harvick. He and Greg Biffle were fighting for position when Harvick was spun. None too happy about it, Harvick patiently waited atop the pit wall for the race to be over, and as soon as Biffle exited the car the sophomore Cup driver was waiting to deliver the message that type of contact wouldn’t be tolerated. Biffle held his ground, as shaky as it was, but despite no major punishments for either side, he ended up the big winner over the long-term. A few weeks later, Harvick endured the heavy hand of NASCAR, being suspended for a race after some hard, inappropriate contact with other drivers in the Truck Series.
by Tom Bowles
6. Open Season on Open Wheelers
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This clip goes to show that sometimes, the drivers aren’t the only ones who get to throw punches. After Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart tangled on this restart in Chicagoland, the anger from the incident landed smack dab in the middle of pit road. Kahne’s crew, unable to control themselves after being spun out of first place, went right down into the Home Depot pit stall to show their displeasure. Chaos ensued, in a brawl that needed multiple NASCAR officials to untangle even though the drivers themselves didn’t seem as angry. Yes, everyone raced the next week but poor Kahne would have to wait nearly a year, until Richmond in 2005, to score his first Cup victory.
by Tom Bowles
5. Grandstanding at the Glen
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How can you make a list like this one without including NASCAR’s Colombian temper tantrum? Montoya has had plenty of feuds over the years, including absorbing a punch from Ryan Newman behind closed doors, but this wreck seems to be his most infamous NASCAR incident. Ironically, it was Martin Truex Jr., not Montoya, who caused this multi-car crash entering Turn 1 at the Glen. Kevin Harvick (common thread?) being none too happy and under the impression that JPM was at fault, went up to the No. 42 and blamed him for causing it all. The helmet-grabbing and patty-cakes that ensued entertained the crowd — in part because it proved neither actually wanted to throw down — but over the long-term meant far more for Montoya than the oft-aggressive Harvick. From that point on in stock car racing it cemented the then-rookie’s reputation that he wouldn’t back down on the racetrack, under any circumstances. That’s a driving style that’s earned him few friends in the garage area.
by Tom Bowles
4. The Further Misadventures of Happy Harvick
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Happy Harvick was a little bit of a misnomer in the closing laps of this short-track shootout. Fighting for second with Ricky Rudd, his No. 29 car got spun out in one of those “racin’ deals” down the stretch. While Rudd went on to a top-5 finish, Harvick’s goals were realigned quickly: park next to that No. 21 car on pit road and let him have it. Jumping on, then over, Rudd’s Ford, Harvick didn’t stop until both crews were involved in a little melee. Who came out the big winner? Well, Harvick in the long run: he kept on contending for a championship while Rudd, despite coming close never won a race in three years driving for the Wood Brothers.
by Tom Bowles
3. The '89 Winston: DW vs. Rusty
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For years, Darrell Waltrip was the bad guy, unable to do anything right in the eyes of the fans. That ended in an instant at age 38 near the end of the 1989 All-Star Race. Rusty Wallace, while battling for the lead off Turn 4, spun Waltrip’s No. 17 in what many considered to be a dirty move. While Rusty went on to take the checkers, the crews went at it on pit road while Waltrip was “robbed” of what could have been a $200,000-plus payday. More importantly, from that moment on there appeared to be a paradigm shift; suddenly, Waltrip was the popular elder statesman while Wallace became the fast-talking, aggressive heel.
by Tom Bowles
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If you think Jeff Gordon ruined Clint Bowyer’s title chances (as remote as they may have been) you’ll be beside yourself after seeing this video. Dale Earnhardt, fighting for the win with Ricky Rudd had Rusty Wallace far behind him at the back half of the top 10 and poised to open up a big lead in the championship over his rival. But Rudd was looking for a victory and dove underneath the No. 3 car hard entering the final lap. As the cars hung tight into Turn 1, the brakes started squealing, Bob Jenkins’ voice started cracking and suddenly, both cars were heading towards the wall. While Geoff Bodine went on to win, some say the points lost that day cost Earnhardt the title. No wonder why the crews went at it after the race. In the end, more verbal assaults were thrown than physicalities, but the damage would define the 1989 championship race. Earnhardt, who had some colorful language on-air, wanted Rudd suspended for the year but NASCAR, especially back in the ‘80s, would have none of it. Both raced (cleanly) the next time out.
by Tom Bowles
1. "The Fight"
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NASCAR fans debate a lot of things, from fuel mileage finishes to mystery debris cautions, but this brawl is pretty much a unanimous No. 1 on any list. Let’s set the scene for you: Last lap. Daytona 500. Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison banging sheet metal down the backstretch for the win. Wreck. As Richard Petty streaks by to take the checkers, both drivers have to sit and deal with what could have been. As brother Bobby Allison comes to check on Donnie, emotions have a chance to boil over ... and punches follow. As Ken Squier so eloquently put it: “They’re angry. They know they have lost.” But you know who won? The sport of NASCAR. With record ratings due to a blizzard along the East Coast, its first flag-to-flag telecast was a roaring success that produced a generation of racing fans that would remain loyal for decades.
Who else but The Captain? After 15 Indianapolis 500 wins, a NASCAR Nationwide title, and currently in serious contention for a Cup title, it would be hard to deny a self-made billionaire who started out with a single Chevrolet dealership. He’s won in all makes, from a Taurus to a Matador, a Camaro and a Challenger, Chargers and Grand Prixs – and he came within a few hours of owning his own car company when GM was divesting itself of Saturn in 2009. Didn’t like Romney being derided for being a millionaire, you say? Well how about a legitimate billionaire? An added bonus: He hails from Ohio, a swing state everyone covets and worth its weight in sheet metal.
by Vito Pugliese
Vice President – Mark Martin
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Who else would make a better veep than Mark Martin, the guy who has finished second place in Cup titles on five occasions? Many contend that he won the title in 1990 (much like former VP Al Gore still contends he won in 2000). The same could be said for the 2007 Daytona 500 when NASCAR’s rules changed coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap — although you’d never hear Martin complain about it publicly. His current part-time gig is tailor made for vice presidential duties, allowing him time to attend state funerals, photo ops and ribbon cuttings, as well as bridging the gap between young and old voters. Who else better to extol the virtues of both hard work and Gucci Mane to the electorate? Besides, if you really need to find him (unlike Dick Cheney) his undisclosed location will be pretty easy to find – the gym in his basement.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Chief of Staff – Chad Knaus
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The Chief of Staff sets the tone for the administration and directs the steps and actions of the day-to-day happenings within the White House. Chad Knaus is the obvious answer here. George W. Bush had Karl Rove as “The Architect” to his 2000 presidential campaign, while Jimmie Johnson had Knaus as his architect in five consecutive successful title runs from 2006-10. When Johnson backed it into the wall at Kansas a few weeks ago, it was Knaus who calmly surveyed the damage and directed his men on how to repair the No. 48 car. Could a mangled heap that was just shortened by two feet even make the minimum speed at the newly-repaved, downforce-dependent speedway? Naturally, he made it through with a ninth-place finish – just one spot behind rival Brad Keselowski.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
First Lady – Danica Patrick
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Yeah, I know. Kind of a cop out, but whatever. At least you get a nice picture out of it.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
White House Press Secretary – Carl Edwards
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The Press Secretary is the person responsible for going out in front of the public each day and making things seem better than they really are – or completely obfuscating any semblance of trouble, wrong-doing or dire consequence waiting around the corner. The “spin master in chief” must keep control of the story regardless of what may really be happening in plain sight, and the next time that Carl Edwards seems down and out or riddled with uncertainty will be the first. He’s the perfect driver for any sponsor, and after losing the 2011 championship on a tie-breaker and enduring a winless streak that in a couple of races will approach two years, Edwards could convince even the most skeptical voter that the cup isn’t just half full, it’s half as big as it should be — and he’d do it from the infield TV booth. Every weekend.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Secretary of State – Jeff Burton
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No brainer. He is “The Mayor,” after all and may be destined for a career in politics once he ditches the firesuit. No matter how ridiculous a situation, if you ask Burton about it you’ll get a 10-minute explanation that begins with, “Well let’s take a look at it…” and at the end, you’ll wonder why there’s even a problem in the first place. If Secretary of State isn’t an option, perhaps Jedi Mind-Master is further down the chain of command. Heck, even when Jeff Gordon went after him at Texas a few years ago, he smoothed things over and they rode in the ambulance together. Originally recruited at one time to become the heir to Dale Earnhardt Sr. prior to his untimely passing, Burton is as positive a representative of the sport as one could ask for, making him the perfect man for the job.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Secretary of Defense – Jack Roush
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What other guy arrives to the track in a World War II P-51D Mustang and has an SR-71 model of his own tuner Mustang GT? He definitely would be no fan of foreign aggression, as demonstrated by his disdain of Toyota entering NASCAR, and most certainly has “This Aggression Will Not Stand” crocheted on a pillow in his hauler's heavily fortified rec room. Jack started out drag racing with the Tijuana Taxi, dominated IMSA and Trans-Am in the late 1980s and into the '90s, and started up one of the most successful modern NASCAR teams 1988. He bleeds red, white and Blue Oval, and his answers to even the most mundane and routine questions sounds suspiciously like those that would be voiced by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. While Jack has had a couple of brushes with mortality the past decade with airplane crashes, he has no intention of grounding the fleet. He’s still at the track every weekend and signs his autographs with “U.S.A.” under his name. No questions as to where his loyalties lie.
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Speaker of The House – Kurt Busch
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There would be no mother****g doubt at what time a g******ed vote or motion is taking place, because Kurt Busch would be the first one to tell you when that s*** was going down and how the f*** it was going to happen. Maybe Patricia would take the gavel out of his hand before he goes after the leader of the Senate with it. NASCAR’s walking sound bite would be second in succession to the presidency, leading him to question what dumb son of a b**** drew up that stupid plan, and why he isn’t first. F***!
by Vito Pugliese
Photo by ASP, Inc.
Administrator of the EPA – Ward Burton
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Ward Burton walked away from racing a few years ago and began to focus his energies on conservation and environmental efforts in his home state of Virginia. In 2005, he was appointed to the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries. Ward is an avid hunter and his Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation works to promote hunting, fishing, care and stewardship of forests and wetlands. Besides, where else are you going to find a guy willing to state that, “I wish I had something to have shot through the damn window” in an interview following getting wrecked by Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Bristol?
by Vito Pugliese
Secretary of Health and Human Services – Jimmy Spencer
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Obviously. Slightly overweight, formerly sponsored by McDonald’s, a ketchup maker, muffler shops, and tobacco companies, Spencer smokes cigars and has the best hair money can buy. Or glue. Either way, Spencer — much like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — is a picture of health and would be a voice of reason amongst the sea of insanity that permeates through Washington (or Charlotte). He never forgets, isn’t afraid to take a swing and routinely hands out stogies, straight jackets and sob chamois on Race Hub. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
It’s been but three days since our nation elected its leaders, and we’re still all feeling a little bit of a political hangover. The Republicans can’t believe they got beat, the Democrats are relieved they won, and while half the country is wringing their hands over the results and what lies ahead, the other half is just glad it’s over. Or they’re smoking a bunch of weed since it was legalized in a couple locales. Either way, it got me to thinking what a NASCAR election cycle might look like. Here’s how I envision Capitol Hill looking, where D.C.
It was a hard-fought effort at New Hampshire, a solid third-place finish for Davey Allison as he tried to right the ship in a disappointing 1993. One year removed from title contention, he hadn’t won since Richmond in March and sat fifth in points, a whopping 323 behind Dale Earnhardt roughly halfway through the season.
“Just wait until next year,” he said after not winning that Sunday. “Come back and try it again.”
The tragic reality? There would be no 1994 trip to the Magic Mile. In a cryptic interview, one in which he specifically went out of his way to mention the wife and kids this post-race chat, was the last time we ever heard from Allison in public. The next day, en route to a test session at Talladega, Allison crashed his helicopter while landing at the speedway, killing himself and seriously injuring longtime friend Red Farmer. It’s a tragic reminder of how fragile life can be in the racing world.
by Tom Bowles
9. Rusty Wins Inaugural Race
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On the same Sunday as Allison’s interview, Rusty Wallace took control of the first ever Cup event held at New Hampshire’s 1.058-mile oval. Starting 33rd, it didn’t take long for the No. 2 Miller car to rip its way through the field, taking the lead shortly after the halfway point and establishing itself as the fastest car. For a debut race, the finish was fairly tame at the speedway – Wallace took the lead on a pit stop during the final caution with 30 laps remaining and breezed to a 1.31-second victory over Mark Martin. It was part of a 10-win season for Rusty, perhaps Penske Racing’s finest effort, but DNFs would ultimately derail him in a quest for a second title over Dale Earnhardt. And as for the Magic Mile? It’s a good thing Rusty cashed in early; he never won again at the speedway, leading just 145 laps in 21 additional starts after starting off his Loudon career by pacing the field for 106 circuits.
by Tom Bowles
7. Burton Wins Third Straight … When Stewart Runs Out of Gas
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Tony Stewart and fuel at Loudon seem to mesh as well as Juan Pablo Montoya and jet dryers. Dominating the 1999 Jiffy Lube 300, the Cup Series rookie appeared to be headed towards his first victory, but out of nowhere the fuel tank ran dry with just over two laps remaining. That left Burton, who started 38th, to seize control and take a shocking victory to become the only driver in NASCAR history to win three straight spring/summer races in New Hampshire. Overall, the Magic Mile has treated Burton well; his four career victories there are the most for him at any facility on the Cup circuit. But the race was notable just as much for Stewart’s temperamental reaction — a sign of things to come — after coasting to pit road, he waved off the media and stormed out of the race track without comment. “I was so consumed with emotion,” he said later. “I just didn’t do the right thing.” It wouldn’t be the last time we’d see that in this Sprint Cup career.
by Tom Bowles; Photo by NHMS
6. Payback Proves Costly in Chase
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Once upon a time, back when points didn’t consume drivers every minute of every race, they didn’t automatically tiptoe around championship contenders during the Chase. Robby Gordon, in 2004, was a prime example. During NASCAR’s first ever postseason event, at the height of drama and the unknown, he turned it into a “tete a tete” with Greg Biffle … other drivers be damned. After Biffle spun him out early, Gordon waited for an opportunity to hit the No. 16 back and piledrove him in Turn 1, igniting a multi-car wreck. Tony Stewart, then Jeremy Mayfield got involved as two Chasers saw their title dreams go up in smoke over someone else’s mess.
“I don’t know why they’re settling it on the race track,” said Mayfield after bringing his car behind the wall for repairs. “I guess they’re too scared to settle it outside the race track.”
Gordon got penalized two laps for starting the whole mess, but the die was cast: the reaction from Chasers seems to have started a trend where those not involved in the championship are extra careful not to interfere in the title race.
by Tom Bowles
5. Jimmie Johnson’s Spin … to Ultimate Win
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One year removed from the “milk and cookies” meeting — the infamous Rick Hendrick/Chad Knaus/Jimmie Johnson powwow that ultimately saved their relationship — Johnson headed into the 2006 Chase with high hopes. Having lost the championship to Tony Stewart the year prior, the group was determined to push forward but bad timing on a chain reaction incident, early in this race at New Hampshire, pushed the No. 48 right into the wall. It would leave them ninth in points after the race, 139 behind leader Kevin Harvick and seemingly out of the hunt for another title.
“There are nine more,” Johnson said cryptically. “There's a lot of time left. Anything can happen.”
And it did. J.J. roared back from the deficit to take the first of five consecutive titles. Fuel for thought in Jeff Gordon’s camp this season, perhaps?
by Tom Bowles
4. Mother Nature Smiles on Logano
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For the rookie known as “Sliced Bread,” New Hampshire was doing a good job of trying to slice his car into tiny little pieces in the spring of 2009. Falling a lap down at one point, he actually caused the race’s ninth caution by spinning out on lap 184. But another incident a few laps later, involving the No. 82 of Scott Speed, earned Logano his lap back via the Lucky Dog – and an opportunity.
Crew chief Greg Zipadelli, knowing the car would start at the end of the longest line anyway, brought his driver in for an extra splash of fuel, knowing Mother Nature had some storm clouds on the horizon. Turns out a long green-flag run immediately unfolded, and when other drivers had to make their stops, the battered and bruised No. 20 Toyota could go just a bit longer than anyone else. Running conservatively, in part because the car was a mangled mess, Logano was in front by just a few seconds at the perfect time – when a raging downpour soaked the track and forced a yellow, red, then a checkered flag 27 laps early.
It was the most surprising way anyone expected the “best driver of his generation,” according to friend Mark Martin, to win a race. But what’s even more shocking? It took until Pocono, in June 2012 for this once-promising youngster to take race number two on the Cup level.
by Tom Bowles
3. Jimmie Johnson vs. Kurt Busch
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Kurt Busch doesn’t like Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie Johnson doesn’t like Kurt Busch. So for the two of them to race together in the closing laps of New Hampshire in 2010, you knew something a little out of the ordinary was going to happen. Johnson clearly had the fastest car, but Busch had the best front bumper as he outright pushed the No. 48 car out of the way entering Turn 1. The defending Cup Series champ slipped, but never outright lost control, in a move that would prove to be Busch’s undoing. Losing about a second, Johnson quickly ran the No. 2 back down, produced payback with a little contact of his own, and scooted by for the win with about two laps remaining.
“I usually get caught up in it,” Johnson said after the race. “So I knew what my thought process was, ‘Wreck his ass.’”
Busch did hold on to finish third but the intimidation tactics didn’t really work; Johnson charged on to win the 2010 title over Denny Hamlin.
by Tom Bowles
2. Clash of the Gordons
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It was a Twilight Zone race, a crisp and cold day where New Hampshire served as a substitute season finale for NASCAR. Postponed from the attacks of September 11, 2011, to after Thanksgiving this event was purely for show, as Jeff Gordon clinched the championship one race earlier at Atlanta. But that didn’t stop him from stomping the field in Loudon. In all, the No. 24 car led 257 of 300 laps, and was in its own time zone until a series of late cautions changed the outcome of the race.
Losing the lead to Sterling Marlin on pit road, Gordon was put in heavy traffic and forced to fight his way back to the front. In the process, Robby Gordon, who had put together a credible, top-5 performance, closed in on the back bumper of Gordon and made his presence known. The two tangled, with Jeff losing control – and his edge – while their sheet metal rub slid them into Mike Wallace and spun the No. 12 out.
Jeff was angry, and retaliated under yellow, but Robby was focused from that point on and sped to his first ever Cup Series victory.
“Everybody thought you couldn't make me mad. You can make me mad,” said Jeff afterwards. “It was a heck of a battle. It was between me and him anyway. I just wish it would have been done fair and square instead of just knocking a guy out of the way.”
by Tom Bowles
1. Ernie Irvan Completes Comeback
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In August 1994, a wreck at Michigan left Ernie Irvan fighting for survival. The second tragedy in two years for Robert Yates Racing’s No. 28 Ford, you wondered what more could happen to an organization that was known as one of NASCAR’s classiest. But in a miraculous recovery that took over 14 months, Irvan bounced back and eventually returned to a racecar.
Competing full-time in 1996, he had run well at several tracks but Loudon was finally the place Irvan put it all together. Coasting to a five-second victory, bringing smiles to every crew member and race fan in the stands and taking the checkered flag made the miracle complete. In a “full circle” move, Irvan responded by doing a Polish Victory Lap, in honor of Alan Kulwicki and bringing to mind the late Davey Allison, who Irvan had replaced three years prior. It was also a sign of things to come for RYR, which saw its team finish 1-2 for the first time in history as the sport started towards the reality of multi-car programs continually on top of the charts.
In 2003, Matt Kenseth became the final Winston Cup Champion in less-than-dazzling fashion. He won all of one of 36 races while posting 24 top 10s for an average finishing position of 10.2. He clinched the title by merely starting the second to last race of the year at Rockingham. After promptly blowing an engine and finishing dead last, he ended the year 90 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, and 207 ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
With new series sponsor Nextel coming on board for 2004, and a desire by NASCAR CEO Brian France to have his sport compete more closely – and resemble – the NFL, a playoff-type championship format was instituted. The Chase has evolved over the years, but the cumulative year-long points battle was replaced by a final 10-race title bout for 10-12 drivers.
With Chicagoland the site of the 2012 Chase this Sunday, let’s take a look back at the previous eight Chase campaigns, and how they rank.
1. 2004 Nextel Cup — The Chase Era Begins
When it was announced that the 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion would be determined by a 10-race playoff, purists scoffed. How could any new champion be judged against the likes of Petty, Earnhardt, Pearson, or even Jeff Gordon? The first 10-race playoff – or “raceoff,” if you prefer – helped relieve much of that anxiety. Going into the final race at Homestead, there were five drivers with a chance to win the title. Kurt Busch held an 18-point lead (under the old Latford points system – the equivalent of a five-point lead today) over Johnson, with Gordon, Earnhardt and Mark Martin in close pursuit.
This Chase featured some of the greatest moments of the past decade, including Earnhardt winning for the seventh time at Talladega just weeks after suffering burns and being knocked semi-conscious in an ALMS crash – and then being docked 25 points for blurting out a profanity during his post-race interview. The second to last race at Darlington was a testament to it being one of the finest tracks on the circuit with a back and forth contest between Gordon, Johnson, and Martin. The 48 team showed early on why it would go on to win five titles (thus far), by winning four of the final six races, and finishing second at Homestead.
The most poignant moment? Busch suffering a blown right front tire, and the tire liberating itself from his No. 97 Sharpie Ford, which missed knocking down the pit wall by a paper-thin margin. As the wheel continued onto the track, a caution came out, keeping him from losing a lap. The race came down to a green-white-checker finish, with Busch’s teammate, Greg Biffle winning while keeping the No. 48 at bay.
Busch’s eight-point title win over Johnson, at the time, was the closest ever. Be that as it may, the purists were incensed further, noting that had the championship been decided by a year-long cumulative points total as it had since 1975, Gordon would have won his fifth title.
2. 2011 Sprint Cup — The Tiebreaker
Ever poo-poo guys who stay out to lead a lap to get a bonus point or wrench on their car after caving the side of it in, just to come back out 80 laps down in hopes of picking up a position? If so, the 2011 Chase should be the slap in the face that illustrates that every position counts.
Tony Stewart stumbled into the Chase like a drunk guy at the club demanding another Red Bull and vodka. Smoke even admitted weeks earlier that if his team did make the Chase, that they’d just be in the way. All of that changed at the drop of a hat, as the No. 14 took the first two wins of the Chase at Chicago and Loudon.
Stewart ultimately would win five races of the 10 (put the calculator down, it’s a 50 percent win percentage), to Carl Edwards’ zero victories. Edwards played it safe, taking the slow and steady route to what should have been the year that he broke through for a title. Edwards finished second at Homestead despite leading the most laps and Stewart won, despite having a piece of Kurt Busch’s bell housing lodged in his radiator ductwork. With the two tied at race’s end, the Chase went to the first tie-breaker: Wins. And Stewart’s five bested Edwards’ one, which came at Las Vegas in March — a skid he has yet to break.
A bit of coincidence regarding that Vegas race: Edwards only won due to fuel miscalculation by Stewart, who had the race in hand until the closing laps.
3. 2006 Nextel Cup — Johnson’s Rally
Jimmie Johnson’s first title will be remembered for starting a dynasty. However, the most amazing thing about Johnson’s 2006 Chase performance was the hole from which he climbed out of to win.
After finishes of 39th, 13th, 14th and 24th to begin the Chase, the 48 team found itself in a seemingly insurmountable 156-point hole to Jeff Burton. Sitting eighth in the standings, the team, which wasn’t THE TEAM at the time, began its comeback in modest-enough ways, finishing second at Charlotte.
Who could have guessed that that finish would begin a streak of five consecutive runs of second or better, relentlessly beating away all comers. Johnson made up 10 points on first at Charlotte, a dropped the hammer at Martinsville, narrowing his deficit to 41 points with a dominating win.
From there, it was child’s play, moving into second in the standings (-26) after Atlanta and by Matt Kenseth for first the following week at Texas. Another runner-up showing followed in Phoenix, and by Homestead he only needed to play it safe to protect his 63-ppoint advantage. He did so, of course, coming home ninth and beating Kenseth by 56 points.
4. 2005 Nextel Cup — Winning Races and Climbing Fences
By the time the 2005 season rolled around, a couple of constants had been confirmed: Tony Stewart liked to eat, loved Indianapolis Motor Speedway and climbing things (specifically, catchfencing). Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson was in his fourth full Cup campaign, and had racked up a whopping 16 wins by the time that season’s Chase began.
The 48 came out strong, winning the second race at Dover, but then triggered a 30 car pile-up at Talladega, which would ultimately be Johnson’s downfall (despite another win at Charlotte).
Roush Racing was poised to win its second straight Chase by sheer numbers, owning half of the Chase field with Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards. Edwards was in his first-full year of competition, but wasted little time in showing he was for real, snatching a win away from Martin at Texas and sweeping both Atlanta races for the year. Biffle won the season finale at Homestead by a bumper over Martin, but the title fight that day was on between Stewart and Johnson.
Johnson needed to win to beat Stewart for the title, but ended up beating themselves — as they had on more than one occasion that season. Johnson blew a left rear tire on lap 127 of 267 and nearly took out Jeff Gordon in the process. The incident capped a season of friction between Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, leading to the now-famous “milk and cookies” meeting arranged by owner Rick Hendrick in the offseason.
Stewart, on the other hand, shimmied his bulbous behind up the fence yet again, claiming his second championship in four years and becoming the first driver to claim a Cup title under two different point systems since Richard Petty in 1979. Petty, in fact, won titles under four different points systems. Beat that, Tony.
5. 2009 Sprint Cup — Score One for the Geritol Gang … Almost
When you’re 50 years old, you’re usually planning the next decade of work so you can punch out a few years early and retire. When you’re Mark Martin, you take a new full-time job and still answer the bell at 0600 every morning to start pounding steel.
After taking a couple of years off from the mental and physical grind of a yearly 10-month prize fight, Martin joined Hendrick Motorsports for his last best shot at bringing home the hardware. Through the regular season, Martin and the No. 5 team racked up four wins – his most since 1998 – and served notice that there was a new contender to the throne, both at HMS and in the Cup Series.
Out of the blocks fast with a win in Loudon, it would be up to Johnson to battle back and beat Martin to win a fourth consecutive title. The 48 team responded, with a 271-lap leading drubbing at Dover and follow that up with wins at Fontana and Charlotte. At Talladega, Johnson appeared to be on the verge of suffering a big blow, with Martin running in the top 10 and Johnson hung out, barely in the top 20. A green-white-wreckers finish ensured a flip-flopping in the order, as Martin ended up on his roof while Johnson skating through for an eighth-place finish.
It looked like the 48 would be mailing it in from there on out, except for the first lap at Texas a week later, when Sam Hornish Jr. went Sam Hornish Jr., and clipped Johnson’s car, sending it head-on into the inside wall. A week later, though, Johnson won at Phoenix, with Martin following in fourth. At Homestead, Johnson came home fifth, while the 5 team struggled with a in 12th.
It would be Johnson’s fourth consecutive title, while Martin ended the season second in points for the fifth time in his career.
6. 2010 Sprint Cup – Hamlin’s Collapse
The 2010 season will be remembered for many things: Jimmie Johnson’s obscene fifth consecutive title (which would give credence to the notion that the Chase was simply not working) and for Denny Hamlin firing a Desani bottle at the side of his FedEx Camry.
It was a title for the taking for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team; Chad Knaus had fiddled with success, swapping out his crew mid-race at Texas with that of his No. 24 shop mates — a race Hamlin won, his seventh victory of the year. So confident was the No. 11 team that then-crew chief Mike Ford declare,d “I think our race team is better than their race team ... and I'm not afraid to go toe to toe with them to do it.”
About two seconds after he said that, you could pretty much guess what would happen next.
At Phoenix, the 11 team all but had things sewed up. Hamlin had led 190 of 312 laps, and was well on his way to locking down his first title and the fourth for Joe Gibbs Racing. Then Ford got cold feet on fuel mileage and had Hamlin pit. When others — including Johnson — went the distance, Hamlin finished 12th to Johnson’s fifth. What followed at Homestead was a meltdown of mammoth proportions. Hamlin qualified 37th, and on lap 25 was throwing up chunks of sod on the backstretch. It actually was a pretty good save, and he managed to bring the car home 14th. Only problem: Johnson finished second and won the championship by 39 points.
Of note, had this been under the prior points system, Kevin Harvick would have been the season champion by a staggering 285 points.
7. 2008 Sprint Cup – Jimmie Ties Cale
Usually when you win nine races in a season like Carl Edwards in 2008, you’re pretty much guaranteed to come home with a championship. That is, of course, you’re up against Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team and their seven wins. In a season that was dominated by the obsession over Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning only one race in his first year with Hendrick Motorsports (while Jeff Gordon won zero) and eight wins by the new plot of the No. 18, it was Johnson and Edwards that emerged as the two Chase contenders.
Heading into Charlotte for the halfway point in the Chase, Johnson held a 72-point lead over Edwards. A week earlier, Edwards attempted a last lap pass on Johnson for the win that was last seen executed during my 10th season in career mode of NASCAR Thunder 2003 for PS2. Edwards barely cleared Johnson for the lead – then promptly walled it.
At Charlotte, it as though Edwards was in position to keep it close for the second half of the playoffs. That was until his ignition system went bonkers, leaving him 17 laps down in 33rd place, while Johnson came home sixth. Edwards would rally to win Atlanta, Texas and Homestead, but it was not enough to eclipse Johnson and the No. 48 team.
Edwards lost the Chase that year by 69 points. Under the prior system, he would have won by 16 points.
8. 2007 Nextel Cup – The Bomb … and Not in a Good Way
One word comes to mind when describing the 2007 Chase: Brutal. The field was expanded to 12, and it was the first year of NASCAR’s baby, the over-hyped and under-stylized Car of Tomorrow. Top-heavy turds with cow-catchers and Erector-Set wings replaced the shovel-nosed, cock-eyed machines that were sealed off at the nose, riding on collapsed front suspensions.
Jeff Gordon essentially dominated the year, posting a ridiculous 30 top 10 finishes, 21 top 5s, six wins and five second-place finishes. Unfortunately, he ran up against his teammate, Jimmie Johnson, who was coming off his first title (and was on quite the tear himself, winning 10 races). With Charlotte being the halfway point of the Chase, Gordon won in a green-white-checker finish after Ryan Newman wrecked with two laps to go. Gordon had a 68-point lead and was heading to Martinsville, where Gordon has seven career wins. Naturally, the inevitable happened.
Johnson won four races in a row.
Gordon tried to keep pace, meeting each win with a top-10 run, but that didn’t work for long. Heading into the final race of the season, Gordon’s title hopes were virtually DOA, trailing J.J. by 86 points. Gordon finished fourth while Johnson cruised around in eighth en route to his second of five straight titles.
Just how bad did these two decimate the field in the first appearance of the CoT? While Johnson beat his teammate by 77 points, third-place Clint Bowyer was 346 points behind in third. Ninth-place Carl Edwards? 501 points — and he won Dover two races into the Chase. Had it been the points system used the first 26 races for the final 10, Gordon would have waltzed to his fifth career championship (sixth if the same criteria was used in 2004). Under the points system used from 1975-2003, he would have beat Johnson by 354 points and Tony Stewart by 706 points.
Considering that sort of margin, you can thank the Chase for helping to curb some real stinkers over the past eight years. If you’re a 24 or 99 fan, though, you’ll probably curse it for denying Gordon the chance at closing to within one title of Petty and Earnhardt, and Edwards from winning a title of his own.
Either way, you can blame Matt Kenseth.
by Vito Pugliese
Follow Vito on Twitter: @VitoPugliese
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)
Like the tortoise and the hare, sometimes the fastest car doesn’t always win in NASCAR. In 166 Cup Series starts, journeyman Paul Menard had collected just five top-5 finishes, leaving critics claiming his career was more a product of his moneymaking father than raw talent. Even after landing a ride driving for a powerhouse team, Richard Childress Racing, Menard was seldom considered a threat to win. But in last year’s Brickyard, saving a little extra gas put his No. 27 Chevy in the lead down the stretch, keeping the driver off pit road while other lead-lap cars were forced to stop. At one point, a hard-charging Jeff Gordon was gaining more than two seconds per lap on Menard but ultimately came up short, with the 30-year-old earning his first and only NASCAR Cup victory in a major upset. It was an emotional moment for Paul’s father, John, who had pursued the Indy 500 dream for decades as a car owner but was never able to win open-wheel’s biggest prize. “My heart was going 1,000 miles a minute,” he said. “I don’t know if I can take it. It’s unbelievable, a wonderful place. Our family has spent so much time here and now, to have Paul’s first victory here… it’s incredible.”
7. Two Legends Duel In Brickyard 400 Finish of 2002
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Rusty Wallace, the 1989 Cup champion was NASCAR’s short track ace but a bridesmaid in the races that seemed to count the most. Never a Daytona 500 winner, he finished second at Indy three times, leading 148 laps but could never pull off the big trophy. His third and last chance came in 2002, leading for 12 circuits and holding crucial track position and clean air entering the final 50 miles – you want to be out front at one of the sport’s most difficult tracks to pass. But NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, Bill Elliott would not be denied as his No. 9 Dodge scuffled with, then slipped by Rusty en route to claiming victory. Why is this one so memorable? It was a “last hurrah” of sort for both men, front and center in this race but who would win a total of just twice more (one for each) before retiring full-time from the Cup Series.
6. 2002: Kurt Busch vs Jimmy Spencer
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Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer had a long and sordid history by the time the 2002 Brickyard 400 came around. And after getting shoved out of the way at Bristol that Spring, a move that made the difference on Victory Lane Jimmy Spencer reminded an audience of millions he never forgets. Hitting Busch’s rear bumper hard entering the corner, the move left Busch losing control and slamming the outside wall hard, totaling his No. 97 Ford. The younger Busch, then only in his second Cup season went on a rant against Spencer during and after the race, a feud that would simmer and boil over by August of 2003 in another incident that ultimately lead to Spencer’s infamous one-week suspension from the Cup Series.
5. Tire Problems At 2008 Brickyard 400
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Goodyear? More like Good God when it comes to the 2008 version of this event. With a tire compound incapable of lasting at high speed, steady blowouts kept the longest green-flag segment of the race at 13 laps. Big names like Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, and Juan Pablo Montoya were among the innocent victims, ugly wrecks that turned the race into a game of low-speed, single-file survival. Jimmie Johnson took the checkers during a final “sprint” where simply keeping yourself from spinning out was considered successful. How bad was it? Some of the race’s top finishers admitted that even on the white-flag lap, they were driving at no more than “80 percent” of top speed to ensure their car made it to the checkers in one piece.
4. Tony Stewart Wins At His Hometown Track… Then Climbs The Fence
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Tony Stewart lives and breathes Indy. The Indiana native, an open-wheel convert had always put the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 at the top of his career list of races to win. But while the 500-miler has always been elusive, bad breaks and a full-time transition to NASCAR keeping him out of Victory Lane it took just seven years to claim success in a stock car. Passing Kasey Kahne in the race’s final 15 laps, Stewart pulled away to a convincing margin of victory and then celebrated by climbing the fence to the delight of 200,000+ hometown fans chanting, “Tony, Tony.” Sometimes cantankerous in public, it was a “let his hair down and relax moment” that helped spark a summer surge, one which ultimately propelled him to a second Cup Series championship by November.
3. Dale Earnhardt Tastes Victory At Indy
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The second Brickyard 400 took almost two days to complete, rain pushing the start of the race back several hours. When it did go green, it stayed there with just two caution flags, letting the cream rise to the top as it gave limited chances for drivers and teams to adjust their race cars. There is no better person to handle that strange scenario than NASCAR’s Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt; rising from his 13th starting spot, he took the lead for the first time with 28 laps remaining and held off a hard-charging rival in Rusty Wallace to take the checkered. After going 0-for-16 years at the sport’s other big race at the time, February’s Daytona 500 it was a relief for Earnhardt to get the monkey off his back for this prestigious race in start number two.
2. A Bodine Brothers Feud
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Racing brothers having bad blood between them? That’s nothing new; just ask Kurt and Kyle Busch. But having their argument play out on one of NASCAR’s biggest stages? Now that’s something different altogether, especially when it happens while battling for the lead. With 60 laps to go, Geoff’s No. 7 and Brett’s No. 26 made contact off Turn 4, spinning Geoff in front of the field of 40 cars coming right at him. Dale Jarrett couldn’t avoid it, causing a mess on the frontstretch and ending the hopes of perhaps the only car that could have run with Jeff Gordon that day. Brett? He finished second, but didn’t talk to his brother for a long time afterwards. "We've had some family problems,” said Geoff afterwards, “Some personal problems between the two of us, and (Brett) unforunately took it out on the race track and never expected he'd do it. He's my brother I love him, but he spun me out."
1. Jeff Gordon’s Win … And Ernie’s Flat Tire
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Heading into NASCAR’s first race at Indy, Jeff Gordon had the number “one” on the most important line on his resume: Victory Lane. Just 23, the man with Indiana roots and a superstar label so desperately wanted to put his name on the map; and for most of the day, it looked like it would be a walk in the park. But as the laps wound down, Ernie Irvan’s No. 28 creeped up, taking the lead with 11 laps remaining and setting up a frantic finish between the two. But it was then, just as the duo started slicing and dicing it all went kaput for the Texaco/Havoline Ford; a flat tire sent him scurrying to pit road while Gordon was left to cakewalk to Victory Lane.
Favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301
Defending Loudon winner Ryan Newman. (ASP, Inc.)
The race may have ended Saturday night, but the smoke has yet to settle following the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway — both literally and figuratively.
Defending series champion Tony Stewart did what few could Saturday night, passing Roush Fenway Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle for the lead. The two were attached at the bumper and out ahead of the pack for the majority of the night, leading a combined 124 of the 160 laps. Yet in the final frantic laps, Stewart was able to work with Kasey Kahne and push around the pair on the outside.
Earning his third victory of the year, Stewart tied Brad Keselowski with the most wins this season, and further solidified his spot in the Chase. Aside from a 32nd-place finish at Kentucky, Stewart and his Steve Addington-led crew have one win and four finishes of third or better in the last five events.
The two-time champion typically hits his stride during the summer stretch, and that seems to be the case again this year, so the competition should pay heed at New Hampshire, a track where Stewart owns for victories.
At times is seems Stewart performs at his best when faced with adversity and distractions abound for his organization at the moment. With the U.S. Army pulling all funding from NASCAR at the end of the year and Ryan Newman's name coming up in the Silly Season talk, Stewart is going to have to start answering questions soon.
However, there are bigger controversies, more time for that to develop, and Smoke just so happens to be heading to one of his best tracks, statistically speaking.
Over the past two seasons, Stewart has one win and two runner-up finishes in four races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That 24th-place finish in the other event? He led 100 of the 300 laps, but ran out of fuel on the final lap giving the win to Clint Bowyer in September 2010.
Stewart-Haas Racing was the class of the field in this race last season when Newman led the organization to a 1-2 sweep of both qualifying and the race. Newman also led 62 laps in September's Chase race, but was among those short on fuel in the closing laps.
Despite a win this season, Newman currently trails Kyle Busch and Joey Logano in the wild card standings. A strong run (or a win) would move the No. 39 team closer to the championship battle.
Bowyer, the Sonoma winner, is another driver with his eye on the wild card standings. After scoring the win on the road course, Bowyer has dropped from seventh to 10th in the standings after a 16th at Kentucky and wreck-induced 29th in Daytona.
Bowyer is strong in Loudon though, with two wins and four top 5s in his 12 visits, however, also has seven finishes of 17th or worse. He has led a combined 229 laps in the last three New Hampshire races, with one win (Sept. 2010), a 17th and a 26th after running out of fuel with the lead in the final laps.
Five Favorites: Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin
The aforementioned wild card battle continues to intensify with each race, as Busch, Logano, Newman and Kahne jockey for the final two Chase spots over the next eight weeks. The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates of Busch and Logano currently hold the two transfer positions, but there is a lot of racing left before anything is decided.
While Busch has been trying to kick the trend of poor finishes, Logano has one win, two top 5s and three top 10s in the last five races. Along with his strong runs on the Cup slate, Logano has also been tearing things up in the Nationwide Series (four wins, a fifth and a sixth in the last six events), leaving the 22-year-old feeling comfortable and confident behind the wheel, despite being a prominent figure in the Silly Season rumor mill.
The July New Hampshire race has been good to the driver of the No. 20 Toyota throughout his young career. In his three July starts at the “Magic Mile” Logano has one win, two top 5s and three top 10s. Logano has not fared as well in the fall race, however, with three finishes outside the top 20 in four attempts.
Look for the trend of strong runs to continue this weekend as Logano and crew chief Jason Ratcliff go after their second win of the year, positioning themselves for a Chase berth.
Five Undervalued Picks: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton
Darkhorse pick of the week: Brian Vickers. (ASP, Inc.)
As teams and sponsors look to 2013, free agent drivers shopping for rides are doing their best to impress. For Brian Vickers, who is driving a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing, much must be accomplished in limited time.
In his three 2012 starts behind the wheel of the No. 55 Toyota, Vickers has two top 5s (Bristol, Sonoma) and an 18th at Martinsville. Team owner Michael Waltrip was behind the wheel of the No. 55 last weekend at Daytona, surviving the carnage at the end to finish inside the top 10.
Vickers was fifth in Loudon last September, but finished 34th in the July event. In fact, in his 13 starts at NHMS, Vickers has five finishes of 34th or worse. With so much on the line for his future — along with the success of the No. 55 throughout the season —Vickers is this weekend's darkhorse pick.
If a three-time Loudon winner can be considered a darkhorse, then Jeff Gordon is it for Sunday's 300-miler. While the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet has the third-best average finish in New Hampshire (10.8), his luck this season has been devastating to his playoff hopes. Strong runs at historically successful tracks have gone to waste due to mechanical failures, wrecks and a host of other issues.
There is no doubt the four-time series champion will be a contender Sunday, but can his team put together a full race free of issues — self-inflicted, luck-related or otherwise? Given they are just on the outside of the wild card hunt and need solid finishes, Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson understand they need to do all they can to score wins.
“We are not afraid of trying things with the setup or during the race,” Gordon says. “We're not afraid to take some risks. Each race that goes by without a win (means) the more risk we are willing to take. But I feel like we're still a long way from being out of this thing.”
Five Darkhorse Picks: Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kurt Busch, Sam Hornish Jr.
Best Average Finish at New Hampshire (wins):
1. Denny Hamlin — 9.0 (1)
2. Jimmie Johnson — 10.0 (3)
3. Jeff Gordon — 10.8 (3)
4. Tony Stewart — 11.5 (3)
5. Ryan Newman — 13.0 (3)
6. Jeff Burton — 13.6 (4)
7. Kurt Busch — 13.9 (3)
8. Carl Edwards — 13.9 (0)
9. Matt Kenseth — 14.0 (0)
10. Kevin Harvick — 14.1 (1) *Mark Martin, with one win and an average finish of 12.5, is not entered in this weekend’s event.