Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday August 17, 2012
As the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour heads to Michigan International Speedway this weekend, plenty of attention will be focused on the new tire that teams will race there, replacing the ones that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won convincingly on in June. Earnhardt, Jr. himself will be another focus of fans and media as he tries to grab another win to boost his Chase position. Earnhardt is also in position, should he get lucky, to clinch his Chase berth this week. In fact, he’s one of five who can seal the deal. Anyone who can nail down a spot early is dangerous simply because it gives those teams two or three weeks where they can go for broke every race in an attempt to gain the ever important bonus points that come with wins. But is simply getting assured of a spot early a guarantee of Chase success?
Well, to be honest, no. There are many variables, beginning with bonus points, and when the smoke clears at Richmond, some of them could be much further down the list. If past performance means anything, then some of them have reason to worry based on prior Chase history. And then there is the rest of the field, some of whom are due to move up in the standings when points are reset. But let’s take a look at the five men who have put themselves in position to be able to breathe a little easier if things go right on Sunday, how realistically they can lock up a spot…and what their championship chances look like early on.
Johnson is likely the early title favorite as well as the most likely to enjoy an early Chase gift, though it’s still a long shot given Johnson’s Michigan record. He has yet to win there. With three wins so far in 2012, Johnson would begin the Chase tied for the lead if nobody betters that total by September. Johnson holds the point lead by a single point over Greg Biffle, and holds that lead thanks to his remarkable consistency; despite failing to finish any of the three restrictor-plate race, Johnson has a 10th-place average finish, and has not finished worse than 14th at any non-plate track. While a fourth win may be unlikely at Michigan, he does have wins at Bristol, Atlanta, and Richmond. It would not be a huge surprise to see him alone on top of the heap when the dust clears with four or five wins.
And in the Chase, Johnson just gets better. He has 20 Chase race wins, all of them coming while he was a title contender (Johnson has not missed a Chase since the system was introduced, making him the only driver with that distinction). The next driver on the list, Tony Stewart, has 11 Chase victories. In short, Johnson and his team know how to win in the Chase. Their 2011 stumble was an anomaly based on recent performance, not the norm…and if Johnson’s Chase dominance returns this year, he could have a new nickname after Homestead: Six-Time.
The Achilles’ heel: If there is a weakness with the No. 48 team in recent years, it’s the pit crew. This year’s crew has been consistent, but they often don’t gain Johnson any spots in the pits, and if it comes down to a final pit stop for a win, the edge could go to someone else, leaving Johnson to make up the difference on the racetrack. Johnson can, but if he has to consistently, it will cost points.
If bad luck strikes Kahne, Edwards, and Ryan Newman at MIS, Biffle could sew up his chance for all the marbles, and come out with the points lead. Biffle has two wins and a Michigan average finish of 12.4, two spots and then some ahead of Johnson’s 14.7 MIS average. In fact, none of the five would-be clinchers have more MIS wins than Biffle, though both Earnhardt, Jr. and Matt Kenseth have a pair of wins as well.
The biggest obstacle for Biffle’s Chase run could be his win total. With a single victory this year, he currently stands to enter the Chase tied for fifth, and while that’s just six points in arrears to the top guy right now, it’s still a deficit. However, two of the drivers he could be tied with are Earnhardt, Jr. and Kenseth, so among the current top five, at least, he’s on fairly equal ground. He also leads all Cup drivers in average finish, with a stellar 9.4.
Once the Chase starts, Biffle could be strong. He has seven wins in the playoffs, fourth all time. He’s good at the Chase venues, particularly the 1.5-milers, and is probably in the best position of his career to win it. Ironically the reason he has such a great shot is primarily due to the status of his teammates: Roush Fenway golden boy Carl Edwards needs a win in the next four weeks to have a shot at making the Chase at all, and Matt Kenseth is in a lame duck position, leaving his RFR No. 17 at the end of the year. That would put the RFR spotlight on Biffle, and the driver could well rise to the occasion.
The Achilles’ heel: This could come in the form of Biffle’s own teammate. Should Carl Edwards make the Chase, Biffle would no longer enjoy sole possession of the top dog spot at RFR, a team which has often had multiple teams in the Chase but not consistently been able to have multiple serious title threats in a given year.
Kenseth has a couple of advantages when the pressure is on. One, he’s pretty darn unflappable. He doesn’t have meltdowns nor does he overreact to much on the racetrack, whether it’s a poor-handling car or an on-track incident. He just drives along, not demanding attention until the end, when he’s suddenly and inexplicably in front of the field. While, like the others in this group, he needs colossal issues for the competition, he’s also capable of making his own luck. He has a pair of Michigan wins on his resume to go with an MIS average of 9.3, so he’s a major threat on Sunday.
While Kenseth has often been (wrongly) blamed for the inception of the Chase in the first place, his Chase performance is not as rock solid as you might expect. While he’s missed the cut just once, Kenseth has an average Chase race finish of 14.8. That’s very good, but not what it takes to win titles under the Chase system. Still, given that Kenseth is a threat at almost any track, he’s definitely a threat to become the second driver to win titles under both the old system and the Chase format, something not even Johnson would be able to lay claim to. (In fact, there are just four drivers with a shot at dual-format titles; Tony Stewart already has them, Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, and Bobby Labonte are the only other full-time drivers with titles under the old system.)
The Achilles’ heel: Kenseth has already announced that he’s leaving his Roush Fenway team, the only team he’s ever driven in the Cup Series for, for a new opportunity in 2013. Though he’s run well even as a lame duck, you have to wonder how long that can last. Will Kenseth be excluded from RFR team meetings as his departure becomes imminent? Will he get truly equal equipment, or will Biffle get an edge in order to keep the driver’s title in the RFR camp next year? You’d like to think that he’d get a fair shake, but the question has to be asked just the same.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
While it’s all but a given that Earnhardt will need to wait one more week to officially claim his Chase spot, he heads to MIS with confidence, having won the June race. What Earnhardt needs to do is concentrate on winning the race and gaining a position on the soon-to-be leaders when the Chase does start. Earnhardt’s red-hot early season run has cooled somewhat, but he has been ultra-consistent in 2012, with a 10th place average…and for a driver who was all over the place a year ago, his newfound focus on finishing as close to the front as possible every week has paid big dividends.
An MIS win would vault Earnhardt into a tie for fourth place in the Chase with Denny Hamlin. And while Earnhardt doesn’t have the Chase experience of Johnson or Kenseth, he has the greatest drive he’s had in years to win it all…and that in itself is dangerous. With Johnson having nothing to prove and Kenseth already thinking ahead to his new ride, Earnhardt could be more of a factor than many people think.
The Achilles’ heel: Earnhardt hasn’t shown that he can thrive under pressure, and he lacks the unflappable personality that makes Johnson and Kenseth so dangerous. Earnhardt has had moments in the past where he loses himself when there’s adversity, and this can destroy his confidence in himself and his team and worse, cause communication between Earnhardt and his crew chief to become all but non-existent. Earnhardt will have to be able to handle pressure like he’s rarely seen in the Chase, much of which will come directly from his friend and teammate Johnson.
Like I said on Monday, Keselowski is most likely a year away from serious title contention, but he’s also scary even in inconsistency; he can go on a tear where he suddenly reels off top finishes at tracks where he hasn’t performed that way before, so if he puts it all together, he’s still dangerous. A win at Michigan, where Keselowski has yet to visit Victory Lane, would give him a guaranteed Chase spot as a wild card, as no driver would be able to pass his win total. But it’s likely that he’ll stay in the top 10 anyway, meaning that a fourth win could be even more valuable, because it would put Keselowski, the least experienced Chase driver among these five, on top of the points come reset time. That would be a huge confidence boost for Keselowski.
Keselowski is a bit of an unknown in the Chase simply because he’s in just his third full Cup season and made his playoff debut just last year. In 28 Chase races (stats count all Chase races, not only the ones for which drivers were contenders), Kesleowski has an average finish of 18.8, and just four top-5 finishes. Still, his Chase average is better than Earnhardt, Jr.’s 19.2, and Keselowski is such a streaky driver that a hot stretch at the right time could make him a very real title threat right now.
The Achilles heel: Like Kenseth, Keselowski is in a bit of a lame duck situation as Dodge will be leaving NASCAR at season’s end, and has possibly already turned focus elsewhere. But unlike Kenseth, Keselowski still has an advantage in that Dodge is not going to another team, and therefore has more incentive to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Keselowski in hopes of going out with a bang. Which way this goes could bear watching. Keselowski’s Chase inexperience is also a concern when compared with that of his rivals.
Is the 2012 Sprint Cup champion a lock to come from this group? Nope, not with the points being reset in a month. However, the earlier a team can nail down a spot, the more time that team has to spend concentrating on nothing but winning races in order to improve their starting position. No, that’s not everything either, as Tony Stewart proved in 2011, when he started in 10th place. But if you consider the performances that got these five drivers into this position, you have to like their chances enough to give them an edge. Nothing is guaranteed in racing, but it never hurts to go out and take what you want. That’s what these five drivers have done in 2012, and now, they find themselves on the brink of the next step. It’s still anyone’s game, but right now, these five are holding the most cards.
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