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.
A Nationwide Series regular went to Victory Lane for the first time in 2009 Saturday night. It only took a lucky caution…and a lot of help from Mother Nature…to finally make it happen.
The only car left on the lead lap waiting to pit before green flag pit stops cycled through, Mike Bliss got a lucky break that instantly absolved all the bad luck his Phoenix Racing team has endured this season on Lap 153, when Kevin Hamlin’s contact with the turn 4 wall brought out a yellow that trapped literally the entire field (sans Lucky Dog Brendan Gaughan) at least one lap behind his No. 1 Chevrolet. Restarting in traffic behind the 11 cars that started in front of him on the tail end of the lead lap, Bliss methodically worked through traffic and kept out of trouble until rain started falling on the track just before Lap 170. Though NASCAR and track crews worked feverishly to dry the speedway, the jet dryers reported having lost the track shortly afterward, leaving Bliss celebrating in Victory Lane as the red flag turned to checkered.
For Bliss, it marked his second career Nationwide Series victory and first since Lowe’s Motor Speedway back in October of 2004. More importantly, the trip to the Winner’s Circle was a shot in the arm that his No. 1 team was overdue for: they had one of the best cars at Talladega and Richmond these last few weeks before being sidelined in both events with mechanical trouble. Bliss’ triumph marked the second win of the season for the Phoenix Racing operation and moved the Nationwide regular back into the top 10 in the championship standings.
As for the points race, leader Kyle Busch finished third despite leading over half the laps run on Saturday night after being trapped on the tail end of the lead lap. But despite that disappointment, he extended his lead to 73 markers over second-place Carl Edwards, who won the pole but faded in the race’s second half to outside the top 10 (he rallied late to finish 10th). Jason Leffler made up ground on Edwards with a strong sixth place run, but lost another 20 points to Kyle to fall 173 in arrears. After wrecking twice in practice, Brad Keselowski finished eighth in his third race car of the weekend and now sits fifth in points, 241 in arrears.
He may not have picked up the most positions from where he started, but there is no doubt that Saturday night’s hard charger was Jason Leffler. The driver of the No. 38, who went out in qualifying almost immediately after his NNS title competition Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch both qualified one-two, was highly frustrated after his time trial run that landed him 28th on the grid. Angry to start so far behind, he spit a verbal tirade directed not at his team, but at those they are trying to keep up with:
“Why can’t I qualify up there with those f****** guys?”
Leffler’s crew told him to shake the bad run off for the race… and boy, did he ever. There was no driver on the track working harder for every pass than the driver of the No. 38, who methodically made his way to the front and was convincingly blowing by cars all night. Prior to the Lap 153 caution that jumbled up the field during a green flag pit stop cycle, Leffler had cleared lapped traffic and was running down both leader Kyle Busch and second-place driver Brian Vickers. Unlike last season, the Great Clips squad is now proving capable of putting winning cars on the track every weekend, and to lose only 20 points to Kyle Busch on a night that the No. 18 dominated another intermediate race was a job well done for this bunch. Plus, unlike Rowdy, when Leffler was expressing frustration it was about him…not his team. I don’t need points to tell me who’s the better driver in that regard.
Let’s get one thing clear here: Brad Keselowski drove one hell of a race on Saturday night, finishing in the top 10 after starting 40th. Coming into the race, Keselowski had taken only two laps behind the wheel of his car (his time trial laps, which were very slow as he used them to simply feel out his Chevrolet). That’s because he was driving a vehicle that the team had at the shop that was prepared not for LMS… but for Dover this coming weekend.
What’s most frustrating for Keselowski is it was his team, not himself, responsible for the issues he struggled through. Due to glaring oversights by his race team that resulted in drastic sway bar problems, Keselowski wrecked not one, but two, cars during the first NNS practice on Thursday. As a result, his team skipped Happy Hour and had to return to their race shop to prepare a third car.
Considering those circumstances, an eighth place result for the team was an incredible recovery. But Saturday’s race marked another opportunity blown by the No. 88 team to get back in the title hunt (remember, they nearly won this race one year ago before Denny Hamlin took them out with a cheap shot). Because of oversights at the shop, Keselowski had to endure two hard wrecks, meaning the team is now behind in preparation for the Dover race weekend. Plus, once in the race, the team was behind from the get-go, learning as they went about their backup backup car and having to claw their way through heavy race traffic all night long. The No. 88 car also proved to have more trouble on restarts: on the long run, there are few NNS regulars better than Keselowski, but much of that advantage is being wasted during a run trying to pick up two or three positions that they lose on the initial start.
So between the qualifying woes and the complete inability of the team to get up to speed on short sprints, the 241 point gap between the team and the point leader is going nowhere. You can’t win races, much less a title, giving up positions every time we go back green.
Though Michael Annett and Kevin Hamlin endured the only heavy wrecks of the evening at Lowe’s, there are several that endured ugly weekends nonetheless.
Before the green flag dropped, John Wes Townley missed the race in a backup car after running some very conservative laps. Townley had no practice in that Ford after wrecking his primary in Happy Hour, one of several crashes he’s endured in a difficult rookie season on tour. The wreck, which started when his No. 09 snapped loose exiting turn 3, resulted in damage only because Townley got on the brakes instead of staying in the gas to keep his car off the wall. The avoidable incident led his crew chief to respond over the radio, “You could have saved that car.”
During the event, Donny Lia enjoyed about the shortest return to NASCAR possible. With the cars coming to a green/yellow in order to start the race, Lia brought the No. 07 Toyota down the pit road after only one lap with ignition issues… the same issues that led the team to be unable to complete their qualifying laps. Lia’s response over the radio as he pulled into the garage: “Great race, guys.”
And yes, unfortunately there’s more MSRP Motorsports bashing after listening to their scanner Saturday night. In an article published by Dave Rodman on NASCAR.com, team owner Phil Parsons was quoted as saying that his No. 90 and No. 91 cars were running the way they were in an effort to court sponsors.
Well, I’ll say this much on that one: after listening to Johnny Chapman’s radio chatter, if they’re trying to court some extra money there is no, and I mean no, sponsor out there that is going to give these teams a decent sum based on what I heard. Among the more frustrating tidbits was when Chapman reported to the crew under the pace laps that the fuel pressure gauge in the car was reading incorrectly. The team’s response: “I think I’ve got another one back at the shop, we’ll fix it over the next couple weeks.” A couple of weeks to fix a gauge? Sounds like a real race shop right there. Other highlights included Chapman diagnosing a “vibration” after his crew chief suggested it under yellow, the crew chief asking Chapman and the crew if they all wanted Klondike bars once they parked as other cars were setting their pit road speeds, and the cornerstone modus operandi of MSRP… voluntarily dropping to the back of the field prior to the green flag. Phil Parsons, just stop insulting our intelligence and quit kidding around that you’re trying to be a competitive car owner in this Series.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Stanton Barrett. Despite being a full-time competitor in the Indy Racing League this season, the Hollywood stuntman failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. But being the journeyman racer that he is, Barrett refused to take no for an answer when it came to racing Memorial Day weekend. So Barrett took his part-time No. 31 ride back for Lowe’s, taking out his Indy frustration by qualifying the car an impressive 11th for Saturday’s race. He then followed that up with a top 25 finish, one of the better runs this season for the No. 31 team despite facing one of the season’s most competitive fields. As sad it was to see Barrett miss the Indy 500, it’s always a pleasure to see a true racer working hard to succeed at a NASCAR event.
Also, since I know several of his fans are loyal readers of this feature, here’s a tip of the cap to Jeremy Clements for making the field for the 300-miler. Going from a borderline DNQ speed in practice to a 26th place starting position is no small deal, and while the 27th place finish wasn’t flashy, Clements ran a clean, consistent race that showed no rust despite being only his second start of the 2009 campaign. Kyle Busch is looking for a driver to help him run the non-companion NNS races… well, look no further than a guy who’s consistently successful on a limited budget.
The Final Word
It took a third of the season, but congratulations need to go to Mike Bliss as the first Nationwide Series regular to win a race this year. Bliss did not have the best car by any stretch of the imagination on Saturday, but he was a legitimate top 10 runner until the lucky caution. The No. 1 bunch also was due for a dose of good luck, deserving the trip to Victory Lane after the way they lost the Richmond race earlier this month.
And while Cup regulars did dominate the show, taking 10 of the top 15 finishing positions and leading all but 29 of the laps run, the Nationwide regulars as a whole performed solidly in front of the hometown crowds. Brad Keselowski and Justin Allgaier both rebounded from horrendous qualifying efforts to score top 15 finishes, Kenny Wallace scored a top 20 after leading a few laps, and Jason Leffler truly drove like a man possessed all night long, turning in a truly gutsy performance.
But despite all of that, Leffler — the highest-performing Nationwide regular in the championship standings — still lost ground to point leader Kyle Busch. As I wrote two weeks ago, the title chase that could very well come down to Leffler and Busch is truly a David and Goliath struggle… and last night, Goliath proved just how formidable a foe he is. For despite all of Leffler’s heart and determination to recover from a poor time trial, his car just couldn’t make up ground on Busch’s Toyota when the No. 18 had clean air. Unfortunately on these intermediate tracks, it’s all about motors, and Triad Racing Technologies’ Toyota powerplants just aren’t JGR’s.
But Leffler did as much as could be expected on Saturday night. It was a night that Busch truly was the class of the field…again…but his gain in the title Chase was minimized about as much as it could be. And for Braun Racing to stay in this hunt, all they can do is play to their strengths on the shorter tracks while keeping their opponents in sight on longer ones. They did that on a rainy night at Lowe’s; and if they can just keep that up, the JGR NNS program will find itself under pressure it didn’t experience last season down the stretch.
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