NASCAR, IMSA and AMA Pro announce Fanschoice.TV
posted by Mike Neff
Wednesday March 12, 2014
Free live streaming of events will allow fans to view previously unavailable live events online
AMA Pro, NASCAR and IMSA announced the launch of Fanschoice.tv today. The free service will stream motorcycle races, sports car races and regional touring and local short track events. The first event will be the AMA Pro flat track 200 from the 1/4 mile dirt track at Daytona International Speedway.
Fans will have access to multiple camera angles, live timing and scoring and a feed from the track’s PA system. In addition to the touring events from IMSA, AMA and NASCAR, three NASCAR Home Tracks have already signed on to be part of the release. Langley Speedway in Hampton, VA., Lake County Speedway in Painesville, OH., and Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, WA. will have all of their races available for viewing on the new service.
NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series, Whelen Modified Tour and Whelen Southern Modified Tour will all be shown on Fanschoice.tv. The awards banquets for both the Whelen All-American Series and the Touring Series will also be streamed.
IMSA coverage will include streaming of its developmental and single-make series, as well as selected practice and qualifying sessions for the two IMSA national sports car series, TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge that are part of the recently-announced five-year agreement with Fox Sports.
NASCAR Changes Qualifying Format
posted by Summer Bedgood
Tuesday March 11, 2014
Following safety concerns regarding NASCAR’s new qualifying format, the sanctioning body is introducing some changes in preparation for this weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. According to the Associated Press, NASCAR is banning teams from cool-down laps after their qualifying attempts, but will instead be allowed to hook up cool-down units to the engine through hood flaps.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a release from NASCAR fully detailed the changes. Teams will be allowed a single cool down unit to be connected through the right or left side hood flap, however the hood must remain closed. Additionally, two crew members will be allowed over the wall while cooling down.
“The qualifying is new to all of us and as we have said over the past several weeks, we are looking at it from all aspects,” said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition and racing development. “Following discussions, both internally and with others in the garage area, we moved quickly to make a few revisions that will be effective starting with our two national series events at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. We believe this will only enhance and improve what has demonstrated to be an exciting form of qualifying for our fans, competitors and others involved with the sport. Moving forward we will continue to look at it and address anything else that we may need to as the season unfolds.”
The move comes after three weeks of NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying system, where multiple cars are allowed to make qualifying attempts at the same time instead of the traditional one-car-at-a-time procedure. Drivers and teams had complained that the new rules didn’t allow them to cool their engines down on pit road, and the cool-down laps caused a dangerous situation with slower cars staying on the track at the same time that other cars were running by them at much higher speeds.
The rule will begin this weekend in Bristol, a track that has a much narrower racing surface than Daytona, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
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!
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Danny Peters And Tom Bowles · Wednesday May 19, 2010
With the season a third of the way through already following this past Sunday’s 400-lapper at the Monster Mile, we’re taking a brief moment of respite, handing out awards while grading all the drivers and teams on their performance so far in 2010. Yesterday, we covered off the awards portion (Best Driver, Most Improved, Best Race … all of which you can view here.)
Looking for Drivers Kes-Vickers? Click here to jump to the other section.
25. A.J. Allmendinger (-566 behind Kevin Harvick): There’s something so hugely likable about the ‘Dinger (and I’m not talking about Mrs. Allmendinger here) but for some reason, he can’t quite get it done on-track despite early promise in a number of races this year. It would be great to see the No. 43 back in Victory Lane. Never. Gonna. Happen. Grade: C.
Tom’s Take: ‘Dinger had an outside chance at this year’s Daytona 500 before a wreck had it all blow up in his face. That’s his NASCAR career in a nutshell; whether it’s the brakes at Darlington or a bad pit stop at Dover, every time he’s got it going on something random just goes wrong, either with himself or the supporting cast. Those growing pains are cool for the first two years of your career, but ‘Dinger’s in year four. One of the sport’s nice guys needs to start making nice on the track – now – in order to keep a ride for next year. Grade: C.
28. Marcos Ambrose (-700): Roll on, 2011. And that’s about all I have to say about the Aussie. Grade: D.
Tom’s Take: Remember when he was the trendy pick for the Chase? Now, he’s just a weekly wrecking ball, with more DNFs for wrecks (two) than top-10 finishes (one). Ambrose would do well to dial back his aggression a la Juan Pablo Montoya in 2009; once he does, I expect this team to get back on a roll. It’s just too bad this 2010 sleeper fell asleep, because even if he wakes up now the Chase is already nothin’ but a pipe dream. Grade: F.
7. Greg Biffle (-187): Eight top 10s in 12 attempts is good enough for the Chase. The question is, can Biffle find that elusive speed that will push him over the edge and make him the first man to win a Cup, Nationwide, and Truck title? On the evidence so far, I’m guessing not, but he’ll be there … or thereabouts. Grade: B.
Tom’s Take: Biffle is the third-best driver in a Ford, which isn’t saying much considering how they’ve been running. He’s making the best of a bad situation, but consistency gets you in the Chase; it doesn’t put you in position to win it. The FR9 engine might help him steal a win at Michigan, but other than that I don’t see a miraculous run to the top of the points anytime soon. The Biff is just kind of … bleh. Grade: B.
37. Mike Bliss (-1147): Finished 10th at Talladega, had a ridiculous paint scheme promoting the Kim Kardashian fragrance and that, well, is about that. Grade: D.
Tom’s Take: Had a good ride with Tommy Baldwin Racing sunk by a handful of DNQs; that sent him back to his Cup bread and butter, the start and park. I see Bliss as one of those Nationwide guys that steps into a Cup ride and suddenly forgets how to drive. Isn’t it weird when that happens? Grade: D.
15. Clint Bowyer (-376): With a top 10 every other race, Bowyer has, like his two other RCR teammates, run well this year. One quick note: he has two DNFs already – one more than he accrued over the last three full seasons. Grade: B.
Tom’s Take: My worry with Bowyer is that his teammates have combined to lead 411 laps. He’s led just 46, encountering the type of bad luck along the way that was due to catch up with him. Without a top-5 finish since the Daytona 500, RCR’s resurgence is neatly masking a competition problem at the No. 33, and with no short tracks coming, he’s a Chase bubble contender at best right now. Grade: B-.
8. Jeff Burton (-199): The entire RCR organization has improved, markedly, this year and like Harvick, Burton’s form has trended up. After a pit road miscue at Darlington — a race he should have won — the usually placid Burton vented about what sort of team the No. 31 wanted to be. How’d they respond? Second at Dover last Sunday. Clearly, they want a championship, and clearly Burton has the ability. The interesting question is: Can he get it done at last after 18 years and 559 races? Grade: B.
Tom’s Take: The likable Burton has led laps in eight of the last nine races, the first time in a decade he’s done it. That was also the last year he seriously challenged for a title, and at 43 this year you’ve got to think he realizes there’s not many chances left. With Harvick still having contract and sponsor issues to work out, expect the No. 31 to come to the forefront as RCR’s lead car in the next 12-race set. Grade: A-.
9. Kurt Busch (-237): With new crew chief Steve Addington bedded in, Busch has a win (Las Vegas) and that’s been just about it. We’ve not even seen any good in-car verbal tirades, and to the best of my knowledge, he’s not yet called Roger Penske “dude” again. Probably not a bad idea to keep it that way. Grade: B.
Tom’s Take: With Silly Season out of the way, a new long-term deal with Penske should leave Busch free to focus on a title. But some early adrenaline from Addington joining the team has appeared to wear off. It wasn’t too long ago people were talking up the No. 2 as Jimmie Johnson’s title threat. Now, they’re just kind of … there. Not sure what to expect over the next two months. Grade: B+.
2. Kyle Busch (-69): I don’t know if this is the new Kyle Busch, but he’s certainly different. Two wins, seven top 10s, and an average finish of 10.7 suggest, like Happy Harvick, Kyle’s for real in 2010. The serious question with KB is what happens when he goes through a slump or encounters some serious bad luck. For now, though, the signs are good. Grade: B+.
Tom’s Take: The two biggest things Kyle Busch needed to do already happened: scaling back his Nationwide schedule and working to resolve his Truck contractor issues. That $3 million distraction should go away in the next few weeks, leaving Busch free to focus on a Cup program that’s title-worthy. The biggest question is whether he can make it through June unscathed. The four-race stretch of Pocono-Michigan-Infineon-Loudon has typically killed momentum for the No. 18. Grade: A-.
36. Kevin Conway (-1025): This is the dude that starts three laps down at every race, right? The one with some cheap form of Viagra as a primary sponsor? He’s the 2010 Rookie of the Year by complete default, and that’s a shame given some of the names who’ve won the award. Grade: D.
Tom’s Take: Conway’s like the new kid with the doofy glasses in school that everyone talks about behind their back. People say all the right things in public, but on the radios each race day it’s like the moving roadblock people want to pummel out of the way. At some point, I think that’ll actually happen, and you wonder how the marketing genius-turned-driving failure is going to respond. One thing’s for sure: even a lead-lap finish is not in the cards looking ahead. Grade: D-.
16. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-374): With just three top 10s on the season, and now a full year under Lance McGrew’s guidance, it’s essentially more of the same from the sport’s Most Popular Driver — mediocrity. Yes, he’s a factor at restrictor plate tracks — but then again, so was Michael Waltrip. Grade: C.
Tom’s Take: I’ve made mention many times how Earnhardt just went through his best six-race stretch of tracks and failed to pick up a top-5 result. Leaving over 100 points on the table, mistake after mistake has left his average finish with McGrew (21.7) worse than the 21.3 in the dozen races of 2009 that left Tony Eury, Jr. with a pink slip. Historically, the next few races are awful for Earnhardt, so don’t be surprised if he’s outside the top 20 by late June – leaving this team in shambles for a second straight year. Grade: C-.
10. Carl Edwards (-281): I bet his coach driver is glad he didn’t agree to grow a beard until Carl wins again (as he so ill-advisedly did in 2006, ending up looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway). It’s been 48 races (Homestead-Miami, 2008) since Edwards took a checkered flag, and given the way his organization has run this year, it might be another 48. All told, though, Edwards should make the Chase. Grade: B -.
Tom’s Take: It blows me away that Carl Edwards has led just two laps this year; that’s one less than the number of drivers he flipped, an awkward moment in what’s been a tough start to 2010. Let’s not forget, this guy’s the same one that won nine races in 2008! Rumors have died down that Jack Roush might kick Bob Osborne to the curb, but something has just got to get jumpstarted somewhere ‘cause when Michael McDowell has led more laps than you (in a start-and-park ride, no less) someone needs to be held responsible. Ford’s top driver shouldn’t be struggling like this. Grade: A-.
35. David Gilliland (-951): Average start: 34.8, average finish: 27.6. Best run of 19th at Martinsville. Nothing to see here people, let’s move on. Grade: E.
Tom’s Take: He’s spent the year serving the role of b*tch boy for Front Row Motorsports, saving Kevin Conway every time he drops one of their cars outside the top 35. Just another sign of how money talks nowadays, but oh how this driver could shine if he just had a little extra cash. That lone top 20 in older equipment showed a glimmer of hope for a program that should improve. Grade: C-.
6. Jeff Gordon (-163): I wonder if Jeff practices his “first loser” speeches. He’s had plenty of opportunity this year, after all. All of which does, however, go to show just how hard it is to win a Cup race and … this coming from a driver who’s done it 82 times, good enough for sixth on the all time list. That said, with five top-5 runs and eight top 10s in 12 races, Gordon has shown he means business; the No. 24 will be a factor to win it all in 2010, no question. Grade: B.
Tom’s Take: Eight second-place finishes tell it all for a driver that’s yet to win since Texas in April 2009. You can only shoot yourself in the foot so many times, and at this point Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte have run out of toes. More laps led than any other driver means nothing without a trip to Victory Lane, and with so many points left sitting on the table, my worry is it may actually cost them the Chase. Grade: B.
34. Robby Gordon (-869): Still gritting it out, with a best finish of 14th (Phoenix) on the season so far. You have to wonder how much longer Gordon (and his extra-curricular activities) can continue to hold back the tide of the big teams. Here’s hoping it’s a little while longer. Grade: D.
Tom’s Take: It’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever had to say, but Gordon’s time in Cup will come to an end this next stretch. It’s been one hell of a fight, but unless a primary sponsor steps up, I see missing races and putting the team up for sale in his future. Grade: D-.
5. Denny Hamlin (-150): Talk about a tale of two seasons. Pre-spoiler and pre-ACL surgery announcement, everybody’s “trendy” preseason pick to dethrone Double J flat out sucked. Since then, he’s been nothing short of magical with three wins in seven races. More importantly for Hamlin, he was fourth at Dover, his worst track statistically speaking, which can only augur well come Chase time. Grade: A.
Tom’s Take: Entering the year, I was one of Hamlin’s biggest critics. Now, I salute the man with respect after all he’s done surrounding what should have been a season-destroying ACL tear. That win at Martinsville seemed to energize the program, and having the surgery proved to be the best off-track decision of his career. Can he run down Johnson and the No. 48? He’s probably the best positioned of any of the challengers right now. Grade: A.
1. Kevin Harvick (Leader): What a bounce back after a miserable old year in 2009. Harvick has nine top 10s in 12 races plus that elusive victory at Talladega, snapping a streak that dated all the way back to the 2007 Daytona 500. Looks like Harvick’s settling in for the long haul this year; expect him to be a factor come Chase time. Grade: A.
Tom’s Take: Until he signs on the dotted line, I’m not sold on Harvick re-signing with Richard Childress for 2011. And who are these sponsors outside the sport that they speak of? Financial and contractual issues always get bigger as the year goes on, and it’s my lone fear it’ll derail what’s otherwise an outstanding effort. Grade: A.
30. Sam Hornish, Jr. (-755): Go back to the IRL mate, please, for your own sake. You’re a one-man wrecking crew in NASCAR. Grade: D.
Tom’s Take: Hornish has talked a good game and given it his all in stock car racing. But as Dario Franchitti will be the first to tell him, there’s no shame in this grand experiment not working out. An underlying story this year has been the long-term health of IndyCar; but if the ratings shoot up enough to keep sponsors happy, I’d expect him back on the open-wheel side in 2011. Grade: D.
4. Jimmie Johnson (-131): While all the Jimmie fans wail and gnash their teeth in despair about his bad luck and “unfair” speeding penalties, the rest of us are just enjoying the fact that for the first time since the mid ’00s, Jimmie looks vaguely fallible. Despite his bad form of late, Johnson still has 30 Chase bonus points, a crucial boost come September. Grade: B. (would be B -, but he has three wins)
Tom’s Take: Three wins in five races have faded into a shutout since, with three DNFs putting some awkward red ink on the resume. But isn’t it funny how every year, the No. 48 goes through a stretch where people question whether they’re the ones to beat? I used to join those critics, but after four straight titles I’ve finally learned my lesson. Still the No. 1 Chase seed if the season ended today, don’t be fooled — this team is right where it wants to be. Grade: A.
21. Kasey Kahne (-531): With the news that Kahne will make the switch to HMS in 2011, and uncertainty surrounding him for next year, you can’t help but wonder if 2010 will be the forgotten year once Kahne hangs up his driving gloves and helmet. He may pull out a win or two at some point, but given Ford’s poor overall form – maybe not. Grade: C.
Tom’s Take: The second Kahne said he was leaving for Hendrick, half the NASCAR world gasped, and he became an immediate title contender for 2012. It’s just that now, he needs to deal with the short-term pain at RPM and wherever he ends up in 2011. Fifth at Texas days after the announcement, let’s look at his last four finishes: 21st, 21st, 20th, 20th. Hardly a Chase-worthy resume to me, and I don’t expect much to change over the summer. Grade: C-. (But A for his career-defining move)
3. Matt Kenseth (-126): Kenseth flew out of the gates with five straight top 10s. But after Gordon (or more specifically his front bumper) ensured Kenseth didn’t get a chance for the victory at Martinsville, things have slipped some. Troubles with Ford aside, Kenseth should make the Chase easily enough. Grade: B+.
Tom’s Take: People forget how gutsy a move it was to can Drew Blickensderfer one race into the season — and after a top-10 finish at Daytona, no less! It’s the kind of move champions make when they’re looking to get on top of their game, and ever since, the No. 17 has been the class of the Ford camp. First on my list to get a win for the Blue Ovals this season; my guess is the Coca-Cola 600. Grade: A-.
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The Biff gets no respect…Bleh? seriously? Third best Ford driver? seriously? He’s driven circles around Edwards and Kahne this year! I know he’s not the media golden boy, but give him some props for being a top driver. BTW he’s led 125 laps, over 100 times more than Edwards with a A- grade. Perhaps this article needs to be revised!
“for the first time since the mid ’90s, Jimmie looks vaguely fallible”. Huh?