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 · Thursday January 24, 2013
NASCAR is a sport driven by performance. What a driver accomplishes, or fails to accomplish, on the racetrack affects not only his personal gratification but his team’s — and even his sponsor’s — bottom line. Sure, some give more leeway than others, and some drivers are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt. But the bottom line is no different than that of any other employer. If a driver doesn’t live up to expectations, eventually, his job could be on the line, his failure trumpeted not just by his team but by others. Race fans can be brutal, the media can be even more relentless, and there are plenty of drivers in the garage holding pink slips and looking for work. Don’t overlook that personal desire to be competitive, either; sometimes, a driver’s worst enemy in trying to fix weeks worth of failure is himself.
The pressure on these drivers, in 2013 comes from all sides, every race. As competitive as the field is in today’s Sprint Cup Series, a minor lapse in average finish can mean the difference between a champion and a runner-up, Chase berth or none, year-end point fund money or empty pockets. Three finishing positions might not seem like much, and it might not be week to week, but it adds up, especially with the Chase in play. Consider this fact: Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with an average Chase race finish of 9.3. Johnson has five titles. Carl Edwards’ average finish in Chase races is just three spots behind Johnson’s, second among all drivers… and he doesn’t have one.
That said, while everyone enters the season feeling a need to win, to ramp up performance, there are always some drivers for whom the need is much more palpable, more intense. For some, sponsor contracts are up for negotiation; for others, there’s a personal need for validation, something to prove. So who is under the gun in 2013? Here are my top picks.
Jeff Burton While Burton might be in a slightly more secure spot at Richard Childress Racing, courtesy of Kevin Harvick leaving at the end of this year, he’s not entirely safe in the No. 31 ride. The driver will turn 46 in June, and with the trend towards younger wheelmen, he needs to ramp it up. RCR has development drivers Austin and Ty Dillon both needing seats in the next few years… and because they are team owner Childress’ grandsons, they’re going to get them. Harvick’s departure opens the door for Austin Dillon’s expected move to Cup in 2014, while Ty Dillon is expected to spend 2014 and 2015 in the Nationwide Series, which could buy Burton some time — but not much.
There’s also the “wild card” known as Kurt Busch. Busch will drive for RCR satellite Furniture Row Racing this year; if Childress likes what he sees in the 2004 Cup champ, it’s possible he could lure Busch to his fold. Burton does hold one ace on that one; he is one of the most respected veterans in the garage, a great asset as a mentor for Austin Dillon while the latter makes the move to NASCAR’s top series. Busch, for all his talent, is still Kurt Busch, and not really at the top of the list of mentor candidates.
But there are also sponsors to please, and the fact is that Burton hasn’t made the Chase since 2008, hasn’t won a race since then, and hasn’t had a top-5 points finish since 2000. Busch has an edge on numbers; not only does he have a Cup title, he has 24 wins to Burton’s 10 since Busch entered the series in 2000, though Burton’s 21-win career total isn’t far behind Busch’s. Sponsors can see those numbers, and sponsors don’t necessarily care how good a mentor the guy selling their product is for another sponsor’s driver. In short, Burton has to step it up. In his favor could be the new car; Burton’s best numbers come in the fourth-generation car, and many drivers who preferred that model have been optimistic about the Gen-6. New crew chief Luke Lambert, who nearly led Elliott Sadler to a Nationwide championship in 2012 and has had success with Burton in the past will certainly help. If this driver can put himself in the top 15 in points when the season’s over, it should buy him another year — but that could be a tall order.
Carl Edwards Edwards has shown that he can be a championship-caliber driver. The problem is, every time he gets close, the momentum is never sustained. Edwards has twice finished second in points, and twice failed to crack the top 10 the year after. Both times that he fell just short of a title, he dropped more than five finishing positions on average the next year and failed to win a single race.
For Edwards, it’s not his job or his sponsor on the line; he has a seemingly endless parade of backers and is probably secure in the Roush Fenway camp as the team’s only real up-and-coming driver is Trevor Bayne, unlikely to ever unseat Edwards. This is all about personal redemption, about having something to prove. But no matter the reason, it’s impossible to overlook that it desperately needs to happen.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. This is a driver who, in the eyes of some, will never live up to expectations. His ride isn’t in jeopardy; Earnhardt’s signed through 2017 and sells more merchandise than any other driver. Sponsorship is a bit of a question mark at the moment, but team owner Rick Hendrick isn’t really worried; there have been offers and there will be more. This driver gets airtime every week because of his popularity.
2012 wasn’t a terrible season for Earnhardt, in reality. He led the points and was in position for a title run before being sidelined by a pair of concussions, the first of which left him at less than 100% just as the Chase started. The second, of course took him out of the driver’s seat for two weeks in the midst of that championship run, leaving him a distant 12th in points.
Now, Earnhardt needs to prove he’s back: to himself, his fans, and the media. Simply put, he needs to show that he can return to the form of last year before his injury, when Michigan was his personal playground en route to his first win since 2008. Otherwise, the huge gains he and his team made in 2012 will be questioned as a fluke by many. There is also no glossing over the fact that Earnhardt has been expected to be a champion since day one. Whether or not that’s fair, it’s presumed because he’s an Earnhardt, the namesake of a seven-time champion. It’s not a fair assumption, but it’s been there, often unspoken, the elephant in the room nonetheless.
There is probably more pressure on Earnhardt than any other driver, and he needs to at least win and make the Chase this year to silence the critics… and perhaps even to silence his own trepidation.
Martin Truex, Jr. Truex, like Earnhardt, the son of a driver, had his best season in five years in 2012. Rumored a year ago to be on the hot seat with Michael Waltrip Racing and sponsor NAPA, Truex performed, never ranking worse than 11th in points from Daytona to Homestead. He looked to be on the verge of winning races.
But he didn’t, and that’s why Truex still needs to find a little more. He is capable of reaching Victory Lane, and while that may not make him a championship favorite, he can put his team in the Chase. And unlike 2012, where his improvement was enough, this year, he needs to do both. Toyota has drivers in the fold looking for a Cup ride, and Truex needs to show that he’s a cut above. Right now, that’s the case but the results still have to be there. The gun is no longer pointed at his head, but it’s still within firing range should he backslide.
Ryan Newman Newman is a driver capable of winning races, and that’s been apparent since he won as a rookie in 2002 (he was also that year’s Rookie of the Year) and came back to lay claim to eight more victories as a sophomore. He’s won seven times since, but he’s also never finished higher than sixth in points, showing a tendency toward inconsistency.
Now, with Kevin Harvick already signed at Stewart-Haas Racing next year, Newman absolutely needs to impress some sponsors to convince Tony Stewart to start a fourth team for Harvick rather than handing him the keys to the No. 39. As it is, Stewart said this week that there are eight or nine races for Newman this year without a sponsor.
That means he needs to make the Chase, but more than that, this pending free agent must win and post consistent top 10 and top 5 finishes. If not, he is very likely to be looking for work instead of welcoming a new teammate next year.
Denny Hamlin Hamlin is a championship-caliber driver. He’s shown that. And in reality, 2012 wasn’t a bad year for Hamlin by anyone’s standards. His five wins tied Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski for the series lead, and he was in the thick of the title hunt until a mechanical failure at Martinsville. Hamlin was the 2010 series runner-up and, like Edwards, slumped miserably the following year. Hamlin made the 2011 Chase, but finished ninth with no hint of the fire he’d shown the year before, when he carried the point lead into Homestead but lost the title to Johnson. Hamlin rebounded in 2012, arguably stronger that Edwards did after his first runner-up hangover. But after Martinsville and despite a second-place run at Phoenix, Hamlin’s team didn’t look like the same one that had taken the green flag at Martinsville.
That part is a little worrisome. There have been rumblings about Hamlin caving to the pressure in ’10, letting the confidence of Johnson get to him. And 2012 did lend a bit of credence to that after Hamlin couldn’t recover from Martinsville and faded to a sixth-place points finish after going into that fateful event in third, just a handful away from the top spot.
Hamlin needs to enter 2013 with nothing but confidence, and he needs to win a race early to curb any lingering doubts and expel those skeletons from his closet. His title hunt in 2012 was derailed by mechanical issues, not any lapse on his part… but he needs to come out swinging and show that he isn’t going to fold under pressure. His job and sponsor and job are by no means in jeopardy, but he can’t let his title hopes be at risk from something that was completely beyond his control.
Kyle Busch Like Hamlin, Busch doesn’t need to worry about his job; he recently signed a contract extension at Joe Gibbs Racing, and there has never been a question of whether or not he’s talented enough to win a title—he most certainly is. Busch has won at least one race in every full season he’s spent in the Sprint Cup Series. He’s finished in the top 10 in points four times in those eight years.
Busch was close to brilliant in the 2012 Chase, finishing in the top 10 eight times and the top 5 in seven. His average finish during the final ten races was ninth — better than runner-up Clint Bowyer’s Chase average. The problem was, Busch wasn’t in the Chase. And when he is in it, he hasn’t run nearly as well. In 2011, for example, Busch made the postseason. In fact, he started the Chase with the point lead. But his 17th-place average during the ten-race playoff relegated him to 12th place, and that type of stumble has been a pattern that hasn’t corrected itself.
So for Busch, whose 2012 Chase bid was derailed as much by bad luck as by anything within his control, the need to improve performance isn’t necessarily in the first 26 races, but the final ten. Busch has been his own worst enemy in the playoff format, and what he needs to show he can do with regularity is take small problems during each race in stride, to keep them from becoming bigger ones. In short, he needs to cool and reset the reactor before a meltdown occurs. On a skill level, Busch is as talented as just about any driver in the field. His problem is an inability to channel his emotions and refocus when the pressure is on. Such horrid Chase history looks poised to repeat itself every year; Busch needs to break that pattern in order to be a champion.
Certainly, there are other drivers out there who know they need to ramp it up in 2013. Jeff Gordon is running out of chances for a fifth title. Jimmie Johnson suffered too many DNFs in 2012 to be a contender. Kevin Harvick is a lame duck but can’t afford to stagnate for ten months. In fact, if you asked, every driver would tell you they need to improve this year. But for some drivers, for a variety of reasons, it’s more than lip service—they must take their performance up a notch.
Connect with Amy!
©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
I feel like if Truex gets a win early in the season, he will get the confidence to go on a run for the championship (sorry Chase)
Recent articles from Amy Henderson:
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.