Danica Patrick and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
Dancia Patrick is coming to NASCAR full-time. The current IndyCar Series driver and “GoDaddy.com girl” announced on Wednesday that she will leave the open-wheel series at the conclusion of the 2011 season to drive the JR Motorsports GoDaddy.com No. 7 Chevrolet in a full Nationwide Series campaign in 2012. JR Motorsports is owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Patrick and GoDaddy.com CEO Bob Parsons held a press conference in Phoenix, Ariz. — Patrick’s and GoDaddy.com’s hometown — in which they each signed the driver/sponsorship contract and unveiled her 2012 paint scheme.
Patrick says they are planning a partial Sprint Cup Series schedule in 2012 in a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy, but would not speculate on rumors that she will run in the season-opening Daytona 500 (though it is widely believed she will). Patrick stated she will likely run eight to 10 races, and that a full-time Cup schedule in 2013 is the goal.
As for the 2012 Indianapolis 500, Patrick said she was “still uncertain” as to whether she will participate.
In 20 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts in 2010-11, Patrick has one top-5 finish — a fourth at Las Vegas in March — and two additional top 10s (10th-place runs at Chicago and Daytona in 2011).
Currently in her seventh season on the IndyCar circuit, Patrick has one career win (Montegi, 2008) and 61 top-10 runs in 111 starts.
He looks like the "New Kyle" only when champagne is involved. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Kyle Busch “The Surgeon” begins to pull away … kind of like he’s going 128 mph and the rest of the field is doing the 45 mph speed limit.
2. Jimmie Johnson To those harping about how Johnson is ripe for the taking, take notice that he has only six finishes worse than 11th (in 23 races) this year and sits second in the point standings. Blue 48, prepare to make your Chase run.
3. Jeff Gordon The four-time champ has averaged a seventh-place finish since the calendar turned to June. And in this point system — even more than the last — consistency is key.
4. Brad Keselowski The Keselowski Express rolls on with a third-place showing at Michigan on the heels of first- and second-place showings. Is he a title contender? Let’s not go there yet, but man, is he turning heads.
5. Carl Edwards A stalwart atop the Horsepower Rankings throughout the season, Edwards’ performance was supposed to improve after he re-signed with Jack Roush, not plateau off in mediocrity.
6. Matt Kenseth Led a largely-disappointing Roush contingent at Michigan — one that saw teammate Greg Biffle win the pole and lead the most laps. But in the end, Kenseth’s 10th was the best Uncle Jack could muster.
Apparently, the Aflac duck wasn't available. It got roasted along with Carl's engine. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
7. Ryan Newman Newman is very quietly putting together a solid season. He’s no Kyle Busch, but if things continue along the current path, he could make a respectable showing in the championship standings.
8. Kevin Harvick Harvick has been awful quiet lately. Too quiet, in fact. Makes me wish for the days of his grandstanding with Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Rudd, Carl Edwards ... am I leaving anyone out?
9. Kurt Busch Wonder if, after 38th- and 34th-place runs, Kurt is wishing he was still behind the wheel of the Miller Lite Dodge? After all, his scripted sponsor plugs worked better then. Kind of.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior sits 10th here not because of his impressive performances, but because no one else has wrested it from him. And at this point, that wouldn’t be hard to do.
11. Mark Martin Showing real signs of speed the last few weeks — and there’s still time to sneak into this Chase.
12. Tony Stewart His cars aren’t handling right, he’s frustrated, Bristol is up next and he’s on the Chase bubble. NASCAR media beware!
13. Denny Hamlin Sometimes you get the feeling Denny gets inside his own head.
14. Greg Biffle At least he’s qualifying better these days ...
15. Clint Bowyer Somehow still hanging in at 11th in the standings, which may speak to the competition down there.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr.
Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter@MattTaliaferro
There was no fuel mileage or weather-related strategy involved in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway — only pure, unadulterated horsepower. And Kyle Busch had the most of it, pulling away from Jimmie Johnson on a green-white-checker restart to win his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of 2011, and in the process, take the lead in the championship standings.
Of course, the first order of business for Busch was disposing of Johnson, whose ascension to the top of the pylon was a fortuitous one. He was the first driver to make his regularly scheduled pit stop under green flag conditions with 32 laps remaining. As he exited his stall, the yellow flag was displayed, and when the rest of the lead lap cars hit pit road under caution, Johnson assumed the lead.
He held that position — followed by Busch — after the green waved until a hard-charging Busch passed the five-time champion with 18 laps remaining. Busch drove away from there, but was drawn back to the field when his brother, Kurt, blew a tire and hit the Turn 1 wall with four laps to go.
Under the ensuing caution, the top 8, including Busch, Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, stayed on the track while a number of cars — led by eighth-place Ryan Newman — hit pit road for tires.
No amount of new tires, yellow flags or green-white-checker restarts would stop Busch, though. He dusted Johnson at the line when the green waved and walked away for a .568-second victory.
“I saw the 2 (Keselowski) was going to restart on the inside,” Busch said of the final restart. “I didn't know whether he was going to push the 48 (Johnson) or try to make it three-wide. I figured I'd just give myself the best opportunity to win, and that was just to run the topside, keep my momentum rolling up through Turns 1 and 2.
“When we got down in there (Turn 1), we were side-by-side a little bit. Jimmie had to pinch his car a little bit too much being the inside guy. Whether you get tight or loose, it's going to be hard to hold yourself off that outside guy. I figured I'd just give myself all the room that I needed to my outside in case I needed to run as high I could. There wasn't much debate from my side.”
With the win, Busch became the first driver to clinch a Chase berth and now leads the series with four wins this year.
“I feel like it's anybody's game right now still,” Busch said of the championship. “Although the 99 (Carl Edwards) had problems today, they can still come back. (The) 48 is going to be tough; 29 (Kevin Harvick) is going to be good. Hopefully, we can get our teammate in there with the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and he'll be good, too.”
Edwards and Hamlin — two drivers that had experienced a plethora of success at Michigan over the last few years — were both snakebit on Sunday. Edwards had engine issues early that dropped him 28 laps off the lead lap and finished 36th. Hamlin hit the wall with 71 laps to go when a tire went down and wound up 35th.
The poor showing dropped Edwards from the points lead to a tie for third, 39 markers behind Busch. Hamlin’s day may prove to be much more costly. Already on the playoff bubble, last year’s Chase runner-up slipped to 14th in the standings; his only saving grace being a win that — as of this week — would qualify him as a wild card Chase participant.
The other current wild card qualifier is Keselowski, who finished third, marking his third consecutive top-3 finish. At 12th in the standings, he owns two wins which lead any driver outside of the top 12 — and with apologies to Busch and his No. 18 crew, may be the hottest driver and team on the circuit.
“One good run breeds another good run,” Keselowski said. “I'm not sure how to quantify that — how or why. I think I'm probably a little too close to the fire to truly understand it. But (the last three weeks have) been amazing. It's been more than I could ever ask for and exactly what we were looking for out of our team here at Penske Racing and everyone that supports us.”
Three races remain in NASCAR’s regular season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart sit ninth and 10th in the standings and, despite not having a win, would be the final two to qualify for the Chase via points. Clint Bowyer is 11th, 24 points behind Stewart, but does not have a wild card win to fall back on as of yet. Keselowski, in 12th, is 72 back of Stewart, followed by Greg Biffle (-58), Hamlin (-59, one win) and AJ Allmendinger (-62). Paul Menard and David Ragan are the only other two drivers ranked 11th-20th that have a wild card win, but they sit mired in 18th (Menard) and 20th (Ragan).
Brian Keselowski's Rockingham wreck — sans SAFER barriers. (Photo by Yvonne Leonard)
by Mike Neff
Word this past week that Rockingham Speedway is taking a step toward increased driver safety has sparked interest that the historic track could be moving a little closer to having NASCAR national touring series races return. The management of the facility has announced that SAFER barriers will be installed in two phases by the end of the year, ultimately covering the turns and the inside wall on the backstretch. Whatever the reason for the improvements to the facility, it is a very positive step for the track and any drivers who will compete there.
Rockingham Speedway is a one-mile track with high-banked corners that hosted NASCAR events from 1965-2004. Its high banking makes for high speeds that can translate into dangerous situations for drivers making contact with walls that are made of concrete or metal. This past spring, Brian Keselowski had a big wreck during the USAR Pro Cup race when a tire blew heading into Turn 1 — the fastest portion of the track. Whether they get a Nationwide and/or Truck race, putting SAFER barriers on the walls is a terrific move for the safety of anyone competing at the facility.
Rockingham has been working to return to national prominence since it reopened in 2008 with a much-ballyhooed ARCA race featuring Ken Schrader and Joey Logano. A huge crowd — in ARCA terms — filled the stands to celebrate the return of active racing to The Rock. Since then, track owner Andy Hillenberg and his group have hosted several races for the benefit of fans in the Sandhills region of North Carolina, from regional to national touring series. However, they have not been able to secure a NASCAR touring series date in any of its top three series. One of the big stumbling blocks has been the lack of SAFER barriers, which are required by NASCAR’s sanctioning body for a national touring division race.
The second step, and by far the bigger stumbling block for Rockingham to get back on the NASCAR national schedule, is the testing ban at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks. The niche that Rockingham has established for itself is that it’s a testing destination for the locally-based NASCAR teams. Between the big track and “Little Rock” — the Martinsville-esque half-mile also on the grounds — there is testing taking place at Rockingham hundreds of days a year. This testing has been the lifeblood of the track since the ban was implemented. Foregoing all of that testing is going to be a major revenue hit for the facility that will most likely be too big of a pill to swallow. Provided an agreement can be worked out where teams can still test at Little Rock, the move might make sense for Hillenberg.
The ultimate question for Rockingham is whether the fans are going to come out and support the track. We constantly hear complaints that NASCAR has turned its back on the shorter, local tracks — particularly in the Southeast — but when push comes to shove, the fans have not shown up when the opportunity has been presented. The UARA/Pro Cup doubleheader that was held at Rockingham earlier this year saw roughly 500 people in the stands. Another track, Nashville Superspeedway, has shut down because crowds continued to shrink after the initial boost from the opening of the track. North Wilkesboro Speedway was reopened and, while crowds were continuing to grow with each event that took place, the stands were far from full. In order for these tracks to survive, thrive and ultimately regain a position on the NASCAR touring schedules, the fans must support them with their attendance.
Putting on a Truck or Nationwide Series event is a major financial commitment for a racetrack. The overhead on race day is far greater than the kind of expense involved with hosting a UARA race. From a safety perspective, there isn’t much difference because the safety provided to competitors during a race is the same no matter the series; however, the additional financial obligation is far greater. More ushers, concessions workers, traffic directors, law enforcement officers, supplies and myriad other things are required to stage an elite-level event. On top of those expenditures, there are sanctioning fees that have to be paid to NASCAR, which balloon into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. When considering all of the expense involved — piled on top of the revenue that will be lost by not having testing at the big track — it is easy to see what a gamble it is for Rockingham to host a Truck or Nationwide race.
Fans have paid lip service for some time to the lack of respect for history and tradition NASCAR has shown over the last 15 years. As the economic recovery has struggled to take shape and tracks have been forced to allow national touring events leave their facilities, it has come to the point where the opportunity is presenting itself for the race fans to put up or shut up. If Rockingham chooses to put on a Truck or Nationwide race in the near future it will be up to the fans to prove to NASCAR the track’s worth by showing up in strong numbers for years — not just on opening day.
Fans can honestly affect the future NASCAR schedules by showing support for a small-market track. If the fans fail to show up for a race like that at Rockingham, they have no one but themselves to blame when tracks lose dates to shiny, newer facilities in bigger markets.
From the Spotter's Stand
Denny Hamlin had one Heluva Good! run at the June 2010 race with the sour cream dip sponsor, leading 123 of 200 laps and cruising to his second straight win — after taking the checkers at Pocono the week before — with a 1.246-second margin over runner-up Kasey Kahne and pole-sitter Kurt Busch (60 laps led).
The August trip in 2010 to the 2-mile oval in Brooklyn, Mich., was a little more exciting. Kevin Harvick became the first driver to clinch a spot in the Chase after outdueling runner-up Hamlin, passing the 11 ride on Lap 190 before taking a 1.731-second victory. Despite not taking tires on the final caution, Harvick was able to handle well enough for his first MIS win.
Earlier this season, it was Hamlin again finding Victory Lane. Although Greg Biffle led the most laps (68), but Hamlin's FedEx crew got the No. 11 Toyota on track first under a round of yellow-flag stops with under 10 laps remaining. He then outran Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards to grab his one and only win of the year thus far.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Michigan is a track that demands a driver hit his marks lap after lap, setting the car up for a run into the next corner. If the momentum is lost, the lap time goes with it. A delicate combination of balance, using downforce and grip, ultimately separates the contenders from the mid-packers. Drivers love Michigan, and a large part of that is because it’s easy. It’s wall-to-wall racing. The driver can run low, high or in the middle. It’s easy to pass. It’s not the fans’ idea of a perfect track, but it’s pretty close for the drivers. Michigan’s pavement has very low grip, but it’s not too big a problem because the track is so wide and there’s so much room.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: Carl Edwards’ 12 top 10s in 14 starts (two wins) at MIS is ridiculous. Pretty Solid Pick: Carl’s Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth. Good Sleeper Pick: Red Bull Racing’s Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers could turn heads here, as each has one Michigan win already on the resume. Runs on Seven Cylinders: Despite being red hot lately, Brad Keselowski has been ice cold at his home track. Insider Tip: Fuel mileage will come into play. Know which teams get good MPG and have crafty crew chiefs.
Classic Moments at Michigan
It’s Awesome Bill’s most awesome performance at what may be his best racetrack, as Bill Elliott drives the iconic No. 9 Coors Melling Thunderbird to its fourth consecutive win at Michigan in the 1986 Champion Spark Plug 400.
Elliott leads 125 of 200 laps in an event that isn’t without controversy. A hard-charging Tim Richmond falls from second to fifth late in the race after confusion over when a caution is displayed. Richmond races back to second after the restart but is not able to run Elliott down on the last lap.
The race is also notable in that David Pearson makes his final NASCAR start. Pearson, who won a record nine races at MIS, finishes 10th in the No. 21 Chattanooga Chew Chevy.
1. Kyle Busch Leads the series in top 5s (12) and is tied for the lead in wins (3) and top 10s (14). He also leads all drivers in best looking wife/girlfriend (and there’s some stiff competition there).
2. Jimmie Johnson Kurt Busch never got close enough to J.J. at the Glen for sparks to fly, but Bristol and Richmond are coming soon, so maybe these two will help us forget about Boris Said vs. Greg Biffle. By the way, Said vs. Biffle? Really? No offense to either, but who really cares?
3. Jeff Gordon Quiet day for JGo at the Glen. Still, he finished 13th, which was Gordon’s ninth top-15 finish in the last 10 races. This team is dangerous.
4. Carl Edwards Edwards’ last six races have netted an average finish of 14.6. On the bright side, he’s got the contract negotiations behind him and still leads the point standings.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
5. Brad Keselowski Is this ranking too high for Keselowski? Maybe, but there’s no doubt the boy is delivering on his potential — busted ankle and all — and could make for a nice darkhorse title contender (and no, none of his product was consumed in the writing of this article).
6. Kevin Harvick Scores his first top-10 finish at Watkins Glen since the July Daytona race. That said, he’s somehow pulled a Carl Edwards and stayed firmly entrenched in the top 5 in the standings. Doesn’t he just seem to disappear sometimes?
7. Kurt Busch It’s hard to recall the last time a lapped car gave the leader the boot, but that’s what we saw out of Busch at the Glen. Let’s see — Kurt would now be wise to steer clear of Johnson and Allmendinger for a while.
8. Matt Kenseth Random stat of the day: Matt Kenseth — not especially known for his road racing acumen — has six straight finishes between 12th and 14th on the roadies. I don’t know how to interpret that, but there it is.
9. Ryan Newman The circuit returns to Michigan on Sunday, where Newman scored a sixth-place finish in June. Expect about the same out of a team that’s been trending upward in the season’s second half. And expect some sarcastic response to a reporter during his Friday media availability for good measure.
10. Tony Stewart A solid top 5 at the Glen was spoiled late. The resulting 27th dropped him in the standings to the edge of the Chase cliff. That oughta put Tony in a real good mood in Michigan.
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. A 15th at the Glen? Yeah, Junior will gladly take that and move on to the site of his last win.
12. Denny Hamlin We’re all just glad Denny walked away from that one. It’ll be interesting to see what a new engine package does for his team moving forward.
13. Paul Menard A blown tire late at the Glen ruined what was another pretty decent run for Menard. I’m sure if you asked him about it, he’d give you a very leveled and somewhat emotionless response.
14. Joey Logano That road course training Joey got from Max Papis paid off to the tune of a fifth-place run. Man, this kid is still all over the board.
15. Greg Biffle This may be premature, but Biffle could very well rocket up these ranking after he wins Michigan this weekend.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin
Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter@MattTaliaferro
A green-white-checker finish, savagely wrecked racecars, a fight in the garage and a first-time winner in the Sprint Cup Series.
No, this wasn’t Bristol, it was Watkins Glen — one of two road courses, which have become NASCAR’s new destination for can’t-miss excitement. And the person most excited following Monday’s rain-delayed Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen was Marcos Ambrose.
Ambrose became the fifth first-time winner in Cup competition this season after getting by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski in the first turn of the final restart at Watkins Glen International.
It was a daring move executed by Ambrose, a road-racing ace from Launceston, Tasmania, Australia. Starting on the outside of the front row alongside Busch, he was rooted out of the way when the green waved by Keselowski. However, Ambrose fought back, opening a hole in between the two and driving off from there.
One-half lap later, a violent crash occurred when Boris Said and David Ragan got together. Ragan slammed an angled wall, then skidded back onto the track where he caught David Reutimann’s machine, tipping it sideways, rolling it over and into another wall.
Both walked away sore but otherwise uninjured.
When NASCAR threw the yellow flag for the incident, the field was frozen and Ambrose, Keselowski and Busch cruised to the podium finishes well under full throttle. Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano rounded out the top 5.
“We survived today,” Ambrose said. “We fought our way back to the front. We had a late race restart. You know, fought and gouged our way to the front and got the win — just a dream day, and very thankful for the opportunity that I’ve got to be here and that I’ve made the most of it today. ”
As Ambrose and Keselowski were handling their post-race media obligations, Said and Greg Biffle were taking care of unfinished business in the garage area.
Biffle, who was directly behind the last-lap skirmish that eliminated his teammate, Ragan, confronted Said. Biffle reportedly got a couple of punches into Said’s window as he sat with his helmet on.
Said then exited the car, tracked down Biffle when yelling and shoving match amongst a scrum of crewmen ensued. Said had harsh words for Biffle in an interview with ESPN:
“(Biffle is) the most unprofessional little scaredy cat I’ve ever seen in my life. He won’t even fight me like a man. If someone texts me his address, I’ll go see him Wednesday at his house and show him what he really needs. He needs a friggin’ whooping — and I’m going to give it to him.
“I went over there to go talk to him, and he wouldn’t even let me get out of the car. Throws a few little baby punches and then he runs away and hides behind some big guys. But he won’t hide from me for long. I’ll find him. I won’t settle it out on the track – it’s not right to wreck cars — but he’ll show up with a black eye one of these days. I’ll see him somewhere.”
Biffle later typed a response on Twitter:
"1st of all I want to make sure everyone sees the wreck between David (Ragan) and David (Reutimann), now that's coming from a guy (Boris Said) that says I am unprofessional.
“Let me tell u something Boris, “the roadcourse ringer” caused that wreck. He did the same thing to me earlier in the race off the carousel.”
"The same place Sam (Hornish) got off & caused the horrific wreck with (Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton in 2009). Thank God, they paved that run off.
"Then Mr. Class pulls in behind my truck after the race today?! Shouldn't you go check on David & David? How unprofessional & disrespectful!''
The point standings were shaken up after the wild affair. The third-place finisher, Busch, is now tied with Carl Edwards (12th) atop the standings. Keselowski, who has consecutive finishes of first and second since suffering a broken ankle, moved into 14th after being mired in 23rd just four races ago.
"It's raining Kurt's and Kyle's, Ryan." Photo by ASP, Inc.
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Kyle Busch For the second race in a row, Busch overcame issues that hindered his early-race gains to post a top-10 finish. The runner-up at Pocono finds him just 11 points out of the points lead.
2. Jimmie Johnson Entertained us all by engaging in a “I-don’t-really-wanna-fight” shouting match with Kurt Busch following his fourth-place finish at Pocono. Oh, and he did so with a faulty clutch (which was clutch).
3. Jeff Gordon The June Pocono winner wasn’t nearly as stout on Sunday, but he’ll gladly take the sixth-place run and move on to a road course. Have we mentioned Gordon is NASCAR’s “road course king?”
4. Carl Edwards OK, so the contract thing is behind Edwards and he still sits atop the point standings. The only question is whether any damage was done within the team that may bite him down the road.
5. Kurt Busch Kurt tried to play off the incident with Johnson as simple “hard racing.” Problem is, it sometimes seems Busch is putting on his media-friendly face and feeding us a line.
6. Ryan Newman His 5.5-place average finish over the last month is as impressive a stat as you’ll find in the series, but maintaining that level of performance over the next 17 weeks will be close to impossible.
7. Kevin Harvick Harvick’s slide is the polar opposite of Newman’s, as he’s averaged a 15.5-place showing in the last four events. History shows he’ll finish stronger, though.
8. Matt Kenseth Eighth may be a bit low for Kenseth, but that’s probably the way he prefers it with his low-key nature. Could make for a nice Chase darkhorse.
9. Brad Keselowski I said last week Keselowski probably wouldn’t make the Chase this year but was a shoe-in for 2012. I stand correct: He’s not only a shoe-in for 2012, but for this year as well.
10. Tony Stewart Something is amiss with Smoke. Still, would it surprise you if he and the No. 14 team rattled off a win at the Glen this weekend and defended their Atlanta title three weeks later?
11. Denny Hamlin That’s two Pocono races that have gotten away this year. Sunday’s shouldn’t have happened.
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Just when we were throwing dirt on his grave, Junior rolls to a top-10 finish.
13. Paul Menard Follows his big Brickyard win with a 10th at Pocono. We’ll see what the Glen holds ...
14. Greg Biffle Consecutive top 10s for Biffle and the new crew chief. However, they needs wins. A couple.
15. Joey Logano A win evaporates like the water on the track. As do his Chase hopes.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, David Ragan