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
Tuesday March 4, 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 April 12, 2013
They include a two-time champion car owner, and drivers who have won some of the most prestigious races NASCAR has to offer. One driver is a former Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year, another has that honor in the Nationwide Series. They have seen what the view from the top looks like.
And now they’re trying to get back there the hard way.
NASCAR isn’t a sport where past accomplishments are a guarantee of future success. It is a sport where the haves and have nots are obvious to fans, just from the way they run week to week. It’s not kind to teams who don’t have thousands, if not millions, of dollars to lose. And yet it’s a sport on which dreams can be built. But the building isn’t easy and it doesn’t always happen. For NASCAR’s single-car teams, it’s a constant struggle to compete, and for some, simply to make it to the track with a car good enough to make the race.
They have to do everything the big teams do, but they have to do it with less money, fewer people, and often with equipment that’s far from top of the line. Many fail. But for those who persevere, the rewards can be sweet. And it is possible to make it, one step at a time, sometimes with a step backwards to make the next one forward happen. This year, three single-car teams, in particular, have taken a giant step forward.
For tiny upstart Circle Sport, that step is to simply finish races. For Germain Racing, a team that has finally found stability, that step is finish consistently in the top 20. For Phoenix Racing, it’s a step toward being competitive with the big teams every week. They’re three teams on the rise, though at three very different places.
Phoenix Racing has enjoyed a great run out of the gate in 2013. They’re currently 11th in owner points, ahead of some of the sport’s most powerful teams. That’s a great start, but what makes it truly remarkable is that they’ve done it with three different drivers. Regan Smith kicked off the year with a top 10 run at Daytona, finishing seventh. AJ Allmendinger has finished no worse than 16th in three races and young Austin Dillon kept it together admirably at Las Vegas, just missing the top 20. Most recently, Smith drove the No. 51 to a hard-fought 22nd at Martinsville, a decent run that was the team’s worst of the year.
Owner James Finch is no stranger to having a variety of drivers in the seat. It’s been said in the past that Finch changes drivers more often than underwear, but this year that’s by design. And so far, the team has carried it off without a hitch. In fact, they plan to use that to their advantage.
“With the three different drivers, we’re trying to take them to their strengths,” said team General Manager Steve Barkdoll at Martinsville, “so if we can continue to have good racing luck and not have failures or accidents, I think we can stay somewhere around here (in points).”
The team is also no stranger to Victory Lane, winning 13 times in the Nationwide Series to date and breaking through in Sprint Cup in 2009 with Brad Keselowski’s Talladega win. Smith also has a victory to his credit, winning the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington, one of NASCAR’s most difficult tracks. It’s clear that this team has learned how to run competitively during their time in the sport, which spans over a decade, and while they’re not a Chase-level team yet, they could well be a top-20 team this year in owner standings…and that’s something more than half of the teams in the garage can’t say.
Germain Racing is entering its fifth year in the Sprint Cup Series, and for the first time, will not only enter all 36 races but plans to finish them all as well, after sponsor GEICO stepped up with more funding, and owner Bob Germain made a commitment to be running at the end every week. That alone has made a huge difference to the team, which had already been showing signs of improvement in 2012.
“That’s a huge weight off,” said driver Casey Mears in an interview at Martinsville last weekend. “Last year, we’d have two or three good runs and then have to start and park. We didn’t really realize how tough that was to rebound from and how frustrating. The start and parks just killed us last year, just deflated the team and it was really hard to rebound from. The guys would get frustrated—it was like, ‘wait a minute, we’re working hard yet, what for? We’re going to have to park.’ So, I think mentally, that was a tough process to get through. So having that weight lifted off our shoulders and knowing we’re going to go run all the races definitely set a new tone in the shop.”
That’s clear from the way the team is running. In 2012, they finished in the top 20 just three times and were unable to crack the top 15. This year, Mears and the No. 13 have four top 20 runs in six races, including a trio of top 15 finishes. Mears drove through the field to 16th at Martinsville, passing a lot of cars that have higher price tags attached. And the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 winner says that in some ways, he’s the best he’s ever been.
“I’ve heard guys say when they’re later in their careers that they’re the best they’ve ever been. You’re sometimes fortunate to get good opportunities, but probably a little too early, you know? Through Bootie and a lot of these guys, we have worked so hard together that I have learned more about the sport and these cars than I ever have in the past couple of years just because of how hard we’ve had to work to make it happen,” Mears says.
Hard work is a common vein running through the small teams; it has to be. These teams have to do as much work as the big teams do to make their race cars go fast…but they have to do it with less. It’s not that they don’t know how to put winning racecars on the track; Germain Racing has a pair of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship trophies in the shop. Mears has won in two NASCAR national touring series, ARCA, Indy Lights and Grand Am. They know how to win, which only makes them hungrier. And, like Phoenix, it’s not out of the realm of imagination that they could find Victory Lane in 2013; they were in contention at every restrictor plate race in 2012 and Mears led most of his Gatorade Duel before getting caught in a crash in the Daytona 500.
For tiny Circle Sport, winning isn’t yet on the radar. For this team, simply being able to run the distance most weeks is a big step forward. In 20 races in 2012, the No. 33 was running at the end after just seven. The team did see Stephen Leicht win Rookie of the Year honors, but that was really by default. This year, the team signed Landon Cassill to run their car, and owner Joe Falk believes in Cassill’s talent behind the wheel.
The team gets chassis from Richard Childress Racing but doesn’t enjoy the level of alliance that Furniture Row Racing, which considers itself basically a fourth RCR team, does. They do have an agreement to run RCR driver Austin Dillon in a handful of races, and the sponsorship money and technical help from those races will help keep Cassill on track each week.
While many fans malign small teams for starting and parking, Falk says that for most owners entering the Cup Series, it’s a necessity in NASCAR today.
“The thing is that if we weren’t able to start and park, we wouldn’t be able to be here,” said Falk on Sunday at Martinsville. “You have to do that to build your team. It’s a lot easier to figure how to make the car run for one lap to qualify for the race and then ride around at the back and pull in. If you start and you’re going to run the race, that’s a whole other game, and you’ve got to really be elevated and you can’t do that overnight unless you’ve got tens of millions of dollars. Most guys who are back here who do that, they really want to race. They love to race. Most everybody runs a few races a year the whole race to do the best they can. They have to start and park those other races to make that work.”
While many have called for penalties for those teams, it’s not so simple. They do want to race. Germain racing, for example, used every lap of the races that they had to end early to gather information for the day when they could go the distance…and there’s no doubt that’s paying off. Mears says that parking early was agonizing for him.
“The first time I had to do that was probably one of the hardest things I ever did,” says Mears, and the truth of it is obvious in his voice. “I mean, I grasped the concept. I understood that as a whole, it was better for our team and for our program, but the first time I ever did that, I just thought, ‘What am I doing? What are we doing here?’”
Cassill was a bit more matter-of-fact about it, but he echoed Mears’ sentiment. No driver wants to do that; but they have to understand why they do.
“It’s hard, but if you’re smart and you understand the big picture, it’s not that hard,” Cassill said in the Martinsville garage on Friday. “If you’re narrow-minded and you don’t understand how this business operates, then you can get easily discouraged—and I’ve been there before. I’ve been in the Cup Series since I was 20 years old, and I felt that way before when I didn’t know about start and parking, but now I do, and it’s gotten me into good opportunities. It’s kind of a necessary evil in certain situations.
“These guys, they don’t want to, they want to race. We’ve gone into races this year, thinking we were going to start and park, but we had the opportunity to run better and made the midrace decision to run the whole thing. That shows me that they’re making a legitimate effort to run this team and turn it into a full-time racing team.”
And they are.
“I think we’ll run the whole year,” says Falk. “The only race we haven’t finished was Las Vegas, and we had an engine problem, but our plan was to run that whole race. We’re going to run every race and when Austin’s driving the car, it will be a full-blown deal with a big sponsor and we have the money to run. That helps us pay for Landon to run. Today we’re testing some stuff for RCR on our car that they don’t want to run on the other cars. We have a really good relationship and that’s working out good for us. We’re going to run this race today and go as hard as we can. There will be other races where we’ll have to not run as hard, but we’ll run the whole day.”
Falk adds that NASCAR’s change in purse structure didn’t make a difference in the team’s decision, but the change in how teams are locked into races did.
“The point structure, you’ve got to run more so you’re guaranteed in,” Falk says. “That was a big plus in NASCAR’s favor. Last year, if you were in the top 35, you were in, and for everybody out of that, nothing mattered. So now you want to get all the points you can get. For example, the last two cars this week, the 44 and the 19, they were tied for that last spot, but the 44 had a better finish and they’re racing today—over one point. Two weeks ago , had those 19 guys thought about that, they’d have run for one more spot. It takes so much to figure this out.”
And he’s figuring it out with just five people. That means that there isn’t time for things like testing in a wind tunnel or on a seven-post rig. While the big teams are running new parts all weekend and sometimes going through more than one batch of them, Circle Sport doesn’t have that luxury.
“We have good chassis and bodies, that’s fairly new stuff, but we don’t have new components,” explains Cassill. “So one thing we’re struggling with right now at Martinsville is we have a really good racecar, it handles well, but we have pretty old brakes on the car, so we’re at risk of blowing out a tire because we don’t have fresh stuff. We need somebody to jump onboard that would sponsor us for a race or even sponsor our components so we can buy new parts for our cars. There’s probably 50 or 100 thousand dollars’ worth of components that we need to make our cars lighter and newer and fresher. A step after that is to upgrade to where we can lease better engines.”
There’s no doubt that each of these three teams has made a giant step forward in 2013, but they aren’t done yet. For Phoenix Racing, the next step is to maintain their newfound success—but that will take money.
“It’s really nice being up here,” says Barkdoll. “There’s some advantages to being here, and we think with our three drivers we deserve to be up here. Last year with Kurt, we kind of learned what we needed to work on as a team and we did that, and Kurt and Phoenix helped each other and we’re both up here in points right now… It’s a small org, there’s 11 of us who travel and work seven days a week. But we know that. We’re fortunate enough to have an owner who’s willing to spend his own money on this. Being up here (in points), we’d sure like to be able to get a sponsor to save him some cash. That’s what we’re hoping for. One thing you can do with 18 people instead of 300, 400, 600 employees is we can race a lot cheaper but still be competitive. We’re looking for like a third of what they are, so we’re hoping to find a company that will help us do that.”
Smith adds that the team’s fast start makes it easier to keep the momentum rolling.
“When you’re a small team, that’s even more important and even more critical. You’ve got a lot more to worry about if you start tearing up race cars and things like that,” Smith says. “The smaller the team, the more of a burden that puts on the guys where they have more to have to worry about fixing stuff than making stuff better. We had a little bit of bad luck in the duel at Daytona, but everything else went pretty smooth, and I think that helped when AJ got in the car to not have to worry about digging out of a hole, but instead about maintaining the points position. Hopefully that’s helped us some,” said Smith on Sunday.
Germain Racing, as well, has to prove they have the staying power to maintain their fast start. Mears is confident that with a little luck, they can.
“We’ve taken a big leap, and we need to show that we can maintain that,” he says. “The biggest thing that’s difficult throughout the year is that everybody improves. So, by staying the same (in points) you’re actually improving as well. If we can just continue to make small improvements, continue to be as competitive as we are now, we’re going to have those days when we’re a top 10, top 5 contender. We just have to keep knocking down those top 15, top 20’s. If we hone in on that, we’re going to run better than that at times. We just have to keep that in mind and stay within that wheelhouse.”
For Circle Sport, moving forward means getting to the end of every race and keeping the car in one piece so they can race it again in a week or two.
But whatever the goal, the common bond these three teams, at very different places in their respective evolutions, share is how hard everyone works, from the owners to the drivers and every person in the shop.
“We don’t have near as many people—we have basically about five people and everybody’s worked like crazy,” says Falk. “I guess a good example of that is after Bristol two weeks ago, we tore this car up that we have here today, I was at the shop that Tuesday, and they were tryong to get loaded to go to California, so myself and one other guy started taking this car apart so we could get it back to RCR to get it repaired. Everybody does everything in this deal.”
They have winners and champions among their ranks. And in 2013 these three small teams are showing just how far a group of people who want to make something with next to nothing can go. The odds be damned, Phoenix Racing, Germain Racing, and even tiny Circle Sport are making it in NASCAR’s elite division, one step at a time. This time, for these teams, it’s been a big step. It means racing on old brakes and used tires. It means driving a cranky race car while battling the flu or an aching body. It means taking less and somehow making it more. In some ways, they’re a bigger story than their mega-team competition will ever be, simply because of the odds they must overcome.
These teams are living proof it can be done. And what a story that is.
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