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.
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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.
Bryan Davis Keith · Tuesday February 15, 2011
ONE: This Isn’t 2010’s Denny Hamlin
Just as he finished second to Jimmie Johnson in last year’s Chase, the second most prevalent question this offseason behind ‘Can Johnson win six titles in a row?’ was ‘Can Hamlin recreate the magic of 2010?’ that saw him lead the Cup Series in race wins even after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery midseason. If the start to the very young 2011 season is any indication, the answer to the second question is no.
Exhibit one was seen coming to the checkered flag on Saturday night. Hamlin, no stranger to taking care of business in this event (he won the Shootout as a rookie back in 2006), was in perfect position to steal a win from Ryan Newman…until he chose to make his final pass to the low side instead of going high. With the double yellow line leaving Hamlin’s Toyota no room for error, all Newman had to do was pinch down, sending the No. 11 down onto the apron and out of contention for the win.
Hamlin was quick in post-race remarks to note that it was go low or send Newman into the grandstands. It wasn’t that simple. Sure, at the extremely high speeds that were seen on this Saturday, a decision as to where to go had to be made in the blink of an eye. But that ignores the fact that Hamlin, the second place car for the final few laps, opted until the final turn of the final lap to make a one-and-done attempt at winning. It also ignores the fact that for all the precedent that Regan Smith set at Talladega in 2008 trying to avoid a wreck in a plate race, that a former Shootout winner that’s proven capable of getting the job done made the one move that guaranteed he would not get it done this night.
Fast forward to the next afternoon in Daytona 500 qualifying. Coming up to speed just after exiting pit road, Hamlin’s machine suddenly veered off the track in a hard left and plowed through the grass…because the steering wheel fell off. A minor error? Yes. An equipment problem? Maybe. But to not have the steering wheel of a race car secured properly is about as glaring a mistake as a driver or team can make. And call it making a mountain out of a molehill, but two mistakes have already cost the No. 11 a shot at a win and nearly destroyed a Daytona 500 race car. It’s going to take a whole lot more than that to give Jimmie Johnson another serious run for the crown.
TWO: An Unhealthy Car Count for the Daytona 500
For the first time since 2005, fewer than 50 cars showed up to attempt the Daytona 500, not only the most prestigious of stock car races, but also its richest payday. 48 cars is the lowest count since 2004, when only 46 entered (and only 45 actually made it onto the track). And with at least six of those entries being part-time cars, the 2011 season is opening with less than a full field of full-time entries.
It doesn’t take a magic 8-ball to figure out what this means once the Cup ranks take their traveling circus out west; the danger of a short field is very real. But in the shorter term, it also is of great detriment to a vital component of Speedweeks…Thursday’s Gatorade Duels. Races that have already had their significance and their impact castrated by the advent of the top-35 rule, the prime source of drama for the events…those who have no choice but to race into the Great American Race…is rather underwhelming this year.
Take a look at the heavy hitters…they’ve already secured their spots in the field thanks to qualifying speed. Awesome Bill, Texas Terry, Joe Nemechek and Travis Kvapil can all rest easy because whatever happens in the qualifying races, they’ve already qualified. That leaves Duel One to be a likely three-way battle between Dave Blaney, Kevin Conway and Michael McDowell (JJ Yeley’s car was well off the pace at under 181 mph), with Duel Two pitting Michael Waltrip’s one-off entry against the two Germain cars (Todd Bodine and Casey Mears (can you say, team orders?), and the two slowest cars that took speed this past Sunday in Derrike Cope and Brian Keselowski. Cope couldn’t catch a whiff of the lead draft in Saturday’s Budweiser Shootout…and Keselowski was slower than him. Neither one will be racing…they’ll be riding and praying for attrition.
It’s always a thrill to see stories like Kirk Shelmerdine or Kevin Lepage race their way onto the sport’s biggest stage. But a race within in a race for something so important can and should come down to more than a handful of cars. Waiting to see a wreck isn’t the same as watching drivers battling each other to make their way in. But the former is not likely what Thursday will bring.
THREE: Will The Earnhardt Factor Determine the Daytona 500?
Rewind back to July of 2001, the return for Cup racing to Daytona after the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 500. The 400-miler came down to a battle between Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Waltrip had the look he needed to make the pass and take the win…until what he attributed to all-but-divine intervention in his recent publication prevented him from making the pass, allowing Jr. to score an emotional win that ignited over 100,000 fans in the grandstands.
Think back to last summer, when Dale Jr. announced that he would for the first and only time drive his father’s No. 3 in NASCAR competition, taking to the Nationwide Series circuit for a 250-miler on the hallowed high banks in the Wrangler colors his father made famous. Jr. had a car that was among the class of the field. But the race ended with very little drama. Despite being trailed for numerous laps coming to the checkers by a stout line of cars that included the vaunted JGR Toyota of Joey Logano, no driver dared step out of line, and Jr. took the checkers unmolested.
Now, on the tenth anniversary of Sr.‘s death, Earnhardt Jr. is suddenly the favorite for Sunday. He’s on the pole. Hendrick horsepower is proving to be as good as anything that’s under the hood in Daytona Beach. Chances are, barring a wreck, he will be near the front of the field when this upcoming 500 is settled. Question is, if the No. 88 is at the point with the race on the line…will anyone have the balls to pass him?
I don’t claim to have proof of larger restrictor plates being shuffled around the garage stalls, or instructions being given that an Earnhardt is to win a race, or any of the other conspiracy theories that have floated around restrictor plate races the last decade. But it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize how big a story it would be to have Jr. start 2011 by winning the 500 on the tenth anniversary of his father’s death. It would light a fanbase dying for a spark. It would be a public relations coup for NASCAR.
Is there a driver out there with the gumption to take all that for himself (or at least try anyway) should this scenario play out this weekend? The answer to that question, should it show itself, will say more about the state of this sport than any feel-good victory ever could.
FOUR: Probation for Michael Annett Sends the Wrong Message
Yes, young people make mistakes. Yes, putting a driver on probation after a DUI is consistent with NASCAR’s policy precedent (Scott Wimmer received the same penalty as a Cup rookie in 2004). But what does it really say to a race car driver when, mere weeks after doing something both as asinine and dangerous as driving a motor vehicle at four times the legal alcohol limit, they still get to show up at Daytona and race as if nothing happened?
Obviously, there’s not going to be any sponsor backlash in this case; Pilot Travel Centers and Michael Annett are a family deal. And obviously it’s not necessarily the job of NASCAR or Rusty Wallace Incorporated to ensure that their drivers are fine, upstanding citizens.
But this is a sport that involves doing highly dangerous activities…with cars. Like it or not, there is a massive perception problem to have drivers with serious moving violations racing stock cars professionally in front of national audiences without some form of repercussion for their actions. Further, probation obviously isn’t an effective deterrent to curb these kind of incidents…seeing as how the Wimmer story didn’t really seem to register on Annett’s brainwaves.
NASCAR should have parked Annett. On second thought, they never should have had to, because Rusty Wallace Incorporated should have parked him, sponsor considerations be damned. What really happened or not, the way this is playing out is a driver with his own sponsor got a slap on the wrist despite an egregious wrong, and will continue with a dream job as if it never happened.
FIVE: The Real State of the Sport
There is reason for stock car fans to be excited…namely, the Daytona 500 is less than a week away. NASCAR’s crown jewel is all but here. And listening to the word coming out of Daytona Beach, rumor has it that ticket sales are up 30% from where they were last year, when the 500 sold out maybe 24 hours before the green flag dropped.
That claim is impossible to substantiate, and very hard to believe after seeing the crowd for the Budweiser Shootout. With the backstretch closed and large swaths of the grandstands in turns 1 and 4 closed as well, there were a noticeable number of empty seats in the pricier upper deck (regardless of the checkered flag pattern the seats were painted in). NASCAR said there were 80,000 people there, just like they did last year. Problem is, between the patchy crowd in the upper deck and the vast sections of closed bleachers, there’s no way the grandstands at Daytona were 50% full.
The margin for error in terms of a sellout of the 500 was very slim last season. If the Shootout was any indication, it’s going to be that much closer this year, no matter what the forecasts say. And what does that say about any sport, that it’s Super Bowl has empty seats? The attendance ticker will tell quite the tale on this Sunday before a single car takes the green.
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On, point one, Bryan, you are definitely making a mountain out of a mole hill.
Everything else you say is spot on. Although I doubt there will be short fields. There will be 43 cars at every venue, but don’t be surprised if as many as 10 of them race each other to see who can load up and leave first.
randy “need one more?”, “volcanonacho”, “dansmom”, “JACOB” goldman, do you have anything stupid to say under my name?
So now you’re taking Michael Waltrip’s word for fact? How low can you go? And starting a conspiracy theory about a larger RP? How stupid do you think your readers are?
It’s probably just me, but every time someone interviews Hamlin, he still seems to have that shell-shocked look on his face, like he still can’t believe his team choked last season. I’m not sure Denny and the #11 team has put 2010 behind them yet, and that may not bode well for their 2011 campaign.
Or I could be completely wrong and he could kick everyone’s a$$ this year.
Re Hamlin: I agree with Jacob on this one. He made the decision to go low and it was the wrong one. Its not like his season is a disaster already because he didn’t win the shootout. Would you consider it an utter failure if he didn’t win every race? Even super Jimmie doesn’t win every race.
RE Earnhardt factor: I have been thinking the same thing this week. Nascar doesn’t fix races but if he is contending at the end it will be interesting to see if he gets that debris caution or if the other drivers start to drive a little different.
Re Annett: Not shocked at all by this. He has a big name sponsor and races for Rusty Wallace, so just a slap on the wrist. If this was a back marker, they would have come down heavily on him. It just depends who you are. Rusty should be more ashamed after his tough talk after the incident happened. He essentially did nothing.
RE Attendance: I wouldn’t be surprised if the 500 sold out, but I expect empty grandstands everywhere else this season.
There’s only one thing worse than being at the track,having to watch on Fox, with the ying yangs they have for commentators.
There should be NO PENALTY to Annett, no different than any other job,What you do away from work is none of the employers business.If you got a DUI should you be suspended from writing here?
To all Jr bashers talking about him taking the pole position, all that just means is your driver did not get it.
I’m pretty sure no one bashed jr for getting the pole. it was a good lap with good equipment. calm down
Conspiracy Theory? I think it will become conspiracy fact. A Jr. win on this weekend will be a PR bonanza for Na$car and anyone associated with it worth literally millions. Awful lot of temptation for a plate just a hair bigger. Wouldn’t be the first instance of cheating and race fixing, and won’t be the last.