Days after Brad Keselowski employed some gamesmanship — and subsequent mind games — at Chicagoland Speedway, Tony Stewart detailed his use of mental deviousness, claiming that he knew even before last year’s NASCAR season finale at Homestead ended that he would beat Carl Edwards for the Sprint Cup championship.
He could see it in Edwards’ reaction that weekend.
Stewart recounted that story in a fan forum Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame when asked about his come-from-behind charge to win the championship.
Stewart had won four races to put himself within three points of Edwards heading into the Homestead race. Three days before the event, Stewart and Edwards met with the media to discuss their championship battle and Stewart unleashed his boxer’s bravado.
Asked how far they would go to win the title, Stewart started the following exchange that day:
“I’d wreck my mom to win a championship,” Stewart said. “I respect him as a driver, but this isn't about friendships this weekend. This is a war. This is a battle. This is for a national championship. It’s no-holds barred this weekend. I didn’t come this far to be one step away from it and let it slip away, so we're going to go for it.”
“Did you say something?” Edwards asked.
“Yeah, you can come visit my trophy in the room at (Las) Vegas when you come there,” Stewart responded, referring to the site of the season-ending banquet.
“He’s got the talking part figured out,” Edwards replied.
“They say there’s talkers and doers. I’ve done this twice,” Stewart said.
Tuesday, Stewart talked about that media session and what followed:
“The trash-talking started on Thursday at the media event, which wasn’t really necessarily my plan until I got there. When we got there, I saw that Carl was nervous and it was like a drop of blood for a shark. As soon as I saw that it was like instincts kicked in for me. I’ve been in championship battles before with guys that had that look. You just know that you can kind of take advantage of that situation a little bit.
“So we wore him out at media day, but then he came back and won the pole and pretty much made a statement that it didn’t look like it really phased him too much.”
While Edwards led much of that race, Stewart battled various issues, including running over debris that forced him at the back of the pack. Yet, Stewart continually moved toward the front.
During a red flag for rain about 150 laps from the end, NASCAR parked the cars on pit road. It was then that Stewart knew he would win the title even though Edwards led and Stewart was only a few positions behind.
“I saw what to me was the final blow to him,” Stewart said. “He got out of the car ... looks back and we’re four cars behind him. The look on his face was, ‘How did he get up there already?’ He sat there for ... that rain delay, he was with his crew chief and Jack Roush at the pit box and I was just sitting on the wall talking to crew guys, laughing and carrying on. I knew we had it won. I hadn’t raced him all day but I just knew mentally we had the advantage.”
Stewart also later said that his car’s handling was as good as it had been, allowing him to make various moves. He called the race “the most fun I’ve had on pavement, for sure.
“That’s by far the best pavement race I’ve ever had,” Stewart said. “Everybody goes, ‘Oh, he did something different, he rose above everything.’ My car was really good. That’s the moral of the story. My car was good and balanced all day. When you get it driving that nice, you can do things like we were doing. I put myself in spots that I wouldn’t normally do because it drove so well and it felt so good that I felt more comfortable getting myself in those positions.”
AJ Allmendinger. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
REINSTATED NASCAR announced Tuesday that it has reinstated driver AJ Allmendinger after his successful completion of its recovery program.
“I want to thank everyone for their support,” Allmendinger said in a statement issued Tuesday. “I am grateful for the opportunity to return. The Road to Recovery program was really helpful to me in getting my priorities reset away from the race track. And, honestly, that helped find my love of racing again and why I began racing in the first place.”
Allmendinger failed a drug test at Kentucky in late June and NASCAR temporarily suspended him for the Daytona race the following week, forcing him out of the car hours before the race. He had the opportunity to request his remaining urine sample be tested and that was done later that month. After it came back positive, NASCAR indefinitely suspended him July 24.
Penske Racing released Allmendinger on Aug. 1. That opened the No. 22 ride. Sam Hornish Jr. has driven the car since Daytona. Joey Logano will take over the ride next season.
SHOWING IMPROVEMENT With the opportunity to drive in the Cup Series after AJ Allmendinger’s suspension, Sam Hornish Jr. is showing signs he could be ready for another full-time effort in the series.
Hornish’s finish at Chicagoland Speedway was the third consecutive race he’s placed 11th. He’s finished in the top 12 in five of the last six races, including a fifth-place run at Watkins Glen.
In the Nationwide Series, Hornish’s sixth-place finish last weekend at Chicago marked his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races.
SPECIAL GROUP Ryan Blaney became the seventh first-time winner this season in the Camping World Truck Series and the 12th different winner in 15 races when he won at Iowa last weekend.
The first-time winners in the Truck series this season are John King (Daytona), James Buescher (Kansas), Justin Lofton (Charlotte), Joey Coulter (Pocono), Nelson Piquet (Michigan), Ty Dillon (Atlanta) and Blaney.
In the process, Blaney — at 18 years, eight months — became the youngest driver to win in NASCAR’s three national touring series.
PIT STOPS JR Motorsports announced Tuesday that Ryan Pemberton would serve as Danica Patrick’s interim crew chief for this weekend’s Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway. The team released Patrick’s crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., earlier this week. ... A Chase driver has won the fall New Hampshire race every year since the Chase’s debut in 2004. ... The winner of the fall New Hampshire race has gone on to finish in the top three in points four of the last five years.
Edwards, Allmendinger, Gordon and Ryan Blaney highlight storylines
Chad Norris with Trevor Bayne after their Texas win in 2011. (ASP, Inc.)
Carl Edwards, winless in his last 52 races and fighting to make NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, has a new crew chief, Roush Fenway Racing announced Tuesday.
Chad Norris will replace Bob Osborne as Edwards’ crew chief immediately. Osborne was with Edwards when Edwards made his Cup debut in 2004 and ran the final 13 races that year. The following season, their first full season together, Edwards won four races and finished third in the points.
Osborne and Edwards parted in May 2006 in what is Edwards’s worst full season to date, before being reunited in 2007. They had been together since, winning 18 races and finishing second in the championship twice.
Their split this time comes as Edwards is 11th in the point standings, 46 points behind the 10th and final points-qualifying Chase spot. He is not in position for one of the two wild card spots at this time since he doesn’t have a victory. Seven races remain until the Chase field is set.
“At this time in my life, however, concerns with my health have necessitated that I change my role within the organization,” Osborne said in a statement issued by the team. “This transition is not an easy one, but I’m thankful to have the full support of Jack (Roush), Carl and the entire organization. I also have every confidence in Chad Norris, and I look forward to working with him as we continue to pursue a championship in 2012. I also appreciate the privacy and respect that the community will give me and my family during this difficult time.”
Osborne will remain with Roush Fenway Racing and be a senior member of its management team and steering committee.
“I cannot say enough good things about Bob Osborne,” Edwards said in a team release. “I’m so thankful for what he’s done for me as a driver, and he is without a doubt one of the smartest guys in the sport. I’m also appreciative of the fact that he’ll continue to be a resource for me and our team as we focus on these final races.
“We’re very fortunate to have Chad Norris as part of our organization to take over for the No. 99. I’ve known Chad for a long time and he is a fierce competitor. We’ve got our work cut out for us over the next seven races, and I’ve got every confidence Chad can lead our team to where we need to be.”
Norris has been with Roush since 2005, when he scored his first win, a Nationwide Series victory, in his fifth race as crew chief for Matt Kenseth. He’s led the company’s research and development test program since last year. Norris most recently oversaw wins in the Nationwide Series for Marcos Ambrose and Trevor Bayne in 2011. He has also served as Bayne’s NNS crew chief this season.
“Our commitment to winning a championship with the No. 99 in 2012 has not wavered,” owner Jack Roush said in a statement. “I’m committed to providing the resources to Carl and to his team to do that, and this restructuring of Bob’s role and the introduction of Chad Norris as the crew chief for the No. 99 will put us in the best possible position for these final seven races before the ‘Chase’ begins.”
’DINGER’S DATE SET A date has been set to test AJ Allmendinger’s “B” sample following his failed random drug test prior to the July Daytona race weekend.
Allmendinger’s business manager, Tara Ragan, released in a statement that, “We now have a confirmed date for the testing of AJ's “B” (split specimen) sample. The test will take place on Tuesday, July 24 at 8:00 a.m. CDT and be conducted at the Aegis Analytical Laboratories in Nashville.
“Pursuant to the 2012 NASCAR Rulebook and in line with the procedures, we have elected to have a designated independent toxicologist present on AJ's behalf. Along with everyone else, we are looking forward to hearing the results as quickly as possible.”
A NASCAR statement indicated that the date was selected by Allmendinger. According to an ESPN report, Allmendinger’s “B” sample test is expected to be complete by the Brickyard 400 on July 29.
Martin Truex Jr., shooting down rumors of a departure. (ASP, Inc.)
GETTING CLOSER Martin Truex Jr. says he’s “getting close” to a contract extension with Michael Waltrip Racing. Truex’s contract expires after this season, along with sponsor NAPA. Both are expected to remain with Waltrip’s team.
“We're kind of finalizing some details, but I've been obviously extremely happy with the performance of the team this year,” said Truex, who is eighth in the point standings. “It's been so great to be a part of MWR, not only this year, but the last three seasons to really be a part of where we've kind of come from as a team and where we're heading. To be a part of that building process and be a part of the performance of the team increasing and kind of feel like I've had a little bit to do with the team's success has been very fun for me and it's something I want to continue doing.”
Truex and his No. 56 team have scored four top-5 and nine top-10 finishes in 2012.
LETTER CAMPAIGN A letter on behalf of NASCAR, IndyCar, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball was sent this week to Rep. John Boehner, Speaker of the House, urging his continue opposition to an amendment that would ban military sports sponsorships.
“Given the success of the military’s use of professional sports to reach out to the American people, we encourage you to support the U.S. Armed Forces and enable them to continue to have the same access to media and venues as world leading businesses and nonprofits,” part of the letter states. “Please work to remove the Kingston-McCollum Amendment from the House DOD Appropriations bill.”
ROAD TRIP Jeff Gordon is using his time off this week to return to Rwanda for the opening of a cancer center on behalf of the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation. He went there in December to look at what was being done there for children.
“We had already made a commitment to fund a cancer center there,” Gordon said. “Now, we are actually doing the grand opening and the ribbon cutting ceremony of it actually starting. It took a little while to get … the hospital is there, but to get the cancer center, which is the part that we're helping to fund. It also took a while to get some pretty important people scheduled there. I am excited that Paul Farmer, he's kind of master-minded it all, will be there. But we'll also have President Clinton there, and the president of Rwanda, President Kagame. I'm excited.
“I'm able to be a part of something that is ground-breaking in rural East Africa. This is the first of its kind of any cancer center. When they look at the projections in a developing country like East Africa, cancer is on the rise there, and can be very curable and treatable in many cases. It's just not happening. This is a big step, and I can't wait to get there and be a part of this event.”
PIT STOPS Penske Racing announced Tuesday that 18-year-old Ryan Blaney will drive for the team in at least three Nationwide races this season. Blaney, the son of Cup drive Dave Blaney, is scheduled to make his team debut Aug. 4 at Iowa. Ryan Blaney also is scheduled to drive in the Nationwide races at Richmond and Kentucky. ... The Cup Series is off this weekend before running the next 17 weekends. The Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series are both at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend.
Kasey Kahne (5) and Jeff Gordon (24). (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
The Long and Short of It
What was supposed to be a celebration has become a burden for Hendrick Motorsports. Mired in a 15-race winless drought, its longest since 2002-03, the organization remains at 199 Cup victories as the series heads to Talladega.
Whenever the team scores its 200th victory — a significant number in a sport that reveres Richard Petty’s 200 career victories as a driver — it will be more relief than triumph.
Yet, even as some focus on what Hendrick hasn’t done, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is second in the point standings and Jimmie Johnson is sixth. It’s surprising they haven’t won. Earnhardt has finished second or third four times and Johnson has done so three times. Hendrick has placed at least one car in the top 5 in each of the last five races. Twice it has had two cars among the top 5 in that stretch, including last weekend at Richmond when Earnhardt was second to Kyle Busch and Kahne placed a season-best fifth.
What makes this winless drought less dire for this organization is how much speed many of these cars have. It’s not like they’re struggling to stay on the lead lap in many races. Still, there are issues.
Gordon has struggled in qualifying. His three top-10 starts came at the short tracks. While he’s led 339 laps, second only to Johnson’s 362, nearly all of the laps Gordon came at Martinsville. He, Johnson and Earnhardt appeared as if they would all finish in the top three and give Hendrick his noteworthy victory at a track where he won his first Cup race. A late caution bunched the field and Gordon and Johnson got knocked out of the lead on the restart, symbolizing how agonizing close they’ve been to victory at times this season.
Gordon understands how important it is to score a victory soon.
“Well, it’s always important to win,” he says. “And we’re always trying to win as hard as we possibly can. It’s just like getting ready for the All-Star race. No points involved; we’re going to really go all-out to win. Well, we do it every weekend.
“But we do recognize that at this point, and it’s not completely out of the question that we could make up those points and get in the top 10 legitimately. If you look at our season last year, the amount of points that we made up from this point until the Chase, we did it. And we can do it again. But we’ve got to get a lot more things going our way than what’s happening right now. And we’ve definitely put ourselves at a huge deficit.”
Kahne has had all sorts of misfortune. He had only two finishes in the top 20 in the first six races. He fell out of one race because of an accident and another with engine problems. Gordon also had an engine problem, coming in the Daytona 500.
Even with such issues, it’s not hard to think that it won’t be long before a Hendrick car arrives in Victory Lane. Maybe this weekend. Gordon’s six victories at Talladega are most among active drivers and Earnhardt is next with five.
Johnson, the last Hendrick driver to win a Cup race, remains confident.
“My mindset from when I started and through the championships and still now, is if you run in the top 5, especially the top three week after week, you’re going to win your fair share of races,” says Johnson, who has seven top-10 finishes, tying Earnhardt for most this season. “And I fully believe in that statement. And although there are times I’ve left the track disappointed with a second or a third or whatever it may be — or 12th at Martinsville because I felt like we had a good shot at it — I still really believe in that philosophy and I’m very happy with how we’re running and the speed we have in our cars.”
LOOK AT THIS KID The talk beforehand was about Travis Pastrana making his Nationwide Series debut last weekend at Richmond, but 18-year-old Ryan Blaney had people talking afterward when he finished seventh in his series debut.
“It exceeded my expectations a little bit,’’ said Blaney, the son of Cup driver Dave Blaney. “We thought coming out ... with the racecar all still intact and a good top-15 finish would be real nice.”
He’ll return to the series in a couple of weeks at Darlington — a track he’s never visited.
Blaney said he’ll prepare for Darlington by watching tapes of the racing as he did before the Richmond race, along with talking with other drivers.
Mark Martin (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
NOT GOOD TO BE NO. 1 Mark Martin continued the trend the pole-winner not winning the race. No pole winner has won a race this year. No pole winner has won in the last 27 races. The average finishing position for the pole winner during those races is 16.5.
The last pole winner to win a race was Ryan Newman at New Hampshire in July 2011.
This streak likely will continue. The pole-winner has won only once in the last 27 races at Talladega.
PIT STOPS Kevin Harvick has been running at the end of all 22 starts he’s had at Talladega. ... Matt Kenseth has failed to finish in the top 10 in each of the last 10 races at Talladega. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth are the only Cup drivers to have completed all 2,926 laps in the first nine races of the season. ... This weekend will be the first race for Mike Ford as crew chief for Aric Almirola on the No. 43 car. Ford helped Denny Hamlin nearly win the series title in 2010. ... Carl Edwards will use the same chassis at Talladega that he used to win the Daytona 500 pole.