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.
Doug Turnbull · Tuesday October 6, 2009
There have been far more defining races at Kansas Speedway, as far as points are concerned, than Sunday’s Price Chopper 400 — where everyone left with virtually the status quo. However, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson, one and two in the Chase both going into and leaving the race, let the standings behind them compress, as while despite starting the day on Row 1 they finished 7th and 9th. Because of clever strategy and a fast pit stop, Tony Stewart grabbed the lead during the last caution sequence and held off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon to win the event. But Chasers took nine of the top 10 finishing spots, leaving little room for other drivers to show much muscle and making the early “Jimmie Johnson wins the 2009 title at Dover” declarations look silly (especially since Mark Martin has led the points the whole Chase). By the way, drivers leading the standings after Race 3 have won three of the five Chases to date. But I digress…
Anyways, here are this week’s HOT, WARM, and COLD drivers of the week – as always, keep in mind that these are not in any kind of order nor are they the full list of every driver in each category.
HOT: Juan Pablo Montoya – Montoya has become the Jeff Burton from three years ago, the Clint Bowyer from two, and the Greg Biffle from ’08, securing the “Where in the Heck Darnation Did This Back-of-the-Top 10 Driver in the First 26 Races Come From?” award. At this point in the Chase the past three years, Burton led the points while Bowyer and Biffle held close to the lead in third. Montoya and the No. 42 team are following this same format… though nowhere near as quietly. Montoya has driven each of these Chase races like the last of his life, forcing the issue on almost every pass and worrying very little about street cred in the garage area for his driving tactics. Montoya took the Target Chevrolet 4-wide at one point during the race at Kansas and gave Jeff Gordon a little love shove another time, likely stirring complaints from the veteran. Sunday’s 4th place effort may not have been dominant, but it allowed Montoya to gain points on Martin and Johnson and remain part of the eight-driver brigade that is within 120 points of the leader — the closest Chase race in history, so far.
HOT: Jeff Gordon – Sunday was the first race in awhile that Gordon actually moved forward in the closing laps. The No. 24 Chevy seemed to have this ability in the first quarter of the season, as Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte were on the same page with adjustments that improved the car as races wore on. But as Gordon’s aging back seemed to ache more and more, so did his ability to come back from problems through the summer months. Maybe the pain’s been receding a bit? Whatever the reason, Sunday’s runner-up finish not only moved him up a spot to 7th, it keeps the veteran just over 100 points out of first in the standings and gives the No. 24 team the feeling that they can still contend for Gordon’s fifth title.
HOT: Tony Stewart – Placing Stewart in this category was not as easy as you might think. Though he won Sunday’s race and is now 4th in points, his methodology in doing so and history as of late are more of the WARM variety. Stewart started the race in 5th and led the majority of his 37 laps on the day after taking two tires during the final pit stop and gaining the leader’s clean air in the closing laps of the race. The No. 14 team’s victory was its first top 5 since winning Watkins Glen about two months ago. With quasi-teammates Johnson and Martin finishing in the top 5 and top 10 as often as Sunday, Stewart and his team need to up their ante to their midsummer levels, when they were the clear championship favorite.
WARM: Greg Biffle – Greg Biffle and the No. 16 Sherwin-Williams Ford team made a loud statement in Kansas, leading the most laps and painting a big stripe beneath their feet as the lowest-ranked real contenders for the title. Biffle was in position to win the race, but decided not to override crew chief Greg Erwin’s call to take four tires on the final pit sequence, causing him to relinquish the lead to winner Stewart. Roush Fenway Racing has not shown the firepower needed to contend for race wins much of the year — never mind the championship — but an unlikely Biffle is 8th in points and 114 markers out of the lead. If he avoids the “Big One” at Talladega, that likely will eliminate the title hopes of some ahead of him (like it took him out last year), and then, he has positioned himself well for the stretch run. By the way, Biffle has had an array of finishes at this week’s track in California, but did win there back in 2005.
WARM: Kasey Kahne – Blown engines, engine changes, merging madness, teammate uncertainty, manufacturer confusion, personnel turmoil, and Saudi Prince-involvement are not elements a championship-hopeful driver and team want to deal with, but Kasey Kahne has seen these ominous clouds darken what had been a remarkable season for the tumultuous organization that is Richard Petty Motorsports. Kahne’s 190-point separation from the points lead is well above the 165-point deficit that Jimmie Johnson overcame at this point in the 2006 Chase, and Kahne has ten times more drama surrounding him. Still, the Budweiser team can salvage this Chase, on the strength of two-straight top 10s, and make what has been a whirlwind 2009 a success.
WARM: Marcos Ambrose – Finishing 14th the past two weeks is not a lot to write home about, but Marcos Ambrose is a leader of sorts. The points standings can be divided, arguably, into six levels: “The Chasers” (spots 1-12), “The Best of the Non-Chasers” (spots 13-16), “The Never Had a Chance to make the Chase After Juners” (spots 17-24), “The We’re So Pathetically Awful, No One Cares Where We Are in Pointsers” (spots 25-36), “The Start and Park Full-Timers and the Upstart Part-Timers” (spots 37-46), and “We Got Fired, We Quit, We Never Had Much Sponsorship, We Only Have Sponsorship and Not Any Cup Experience, We Only Race Road Courses, or We Failed NASCAR’s Ambiguous Drug-Testing Policy and are Filming Our Own Demisers,” (spots 47-65). Ambrose leads level three, sitting 17th in points, and is ahead of all of Richard Childress Racing and portions of several other powerhouse teams. He’s good, but will not be in the Chase next year as a sophomore in my opinion — though surely 1/4 of the NASCAR media will pick him as a darkhorse contender to do just that after the way he’s run as of late.
COLD: Brian Vickers – This is a pretty obvious pick for the category. Vickers entered the Chase as the Jeremy Mayfield of 2009 (this is, of course, referring to the “Cinderella Mayfield” that won the Fall Richmond event in 2004 to race his way into the Chase). The Red Bull team had everything going for it, but seemingly has used up its bad luck mulligans and much of its muster, as Vickers’ blown engine and 37th place finish Sunday leave him 250 points out of the lead. Better luck next year, Brian.
COLD: Erik Darnell – After finishing 30th in his first two Cup races, rookie Erik Darnell inched forward on the learning curve with a 29th Sunday at Kansas. That’s one way to look at Darnell’s dismal effort, so far, as a sponsor-gap-stopper in the No. 96 Ford. The other way, of course, is to wonder vehemently why an untested rookie replaced 2000 champion Bobby Labonte unceremoniously in that ride. Don’t blame Darnell — he would be dumb to turn down the opportunity. Instead, blame two entities: Northern Tool and Equipment and Yates Racing (with Roush Fenway Help). I don’t know how the talks to replace Labonte for seven of the final 12 races went down, but if I’m the marketing guy at Northern Tool and Equipment, I’m not going to have any trouble having Labonte in the car, even though Darnell has been a loyal driver for my company for a few years. If I’m Yates Racing, I’ve dealt with declining veterans (a la Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd and Ernie Irvan) and know that, even though their numbers are down, they still can handle a race car. How did they let this happen? This mismanagement will be a great mix with the erratic style that the Gillett family employs at Richard Petty Motorsports (assuming the two parties merge).
All of this madness, of course, leaves Labonte as this year’s unlikely hottest remaining free agent. Wh’ould’a thunk it?
COLD: Paul Menard – While Yates Racing is getting heaped upon, Paul Menard might as well get thrown into the COLD category. His season in the No. 98 has not turned around, as he has only three top 20s since Darlington and got damage in the pileup on lap 11 Sunday. Menard, though, need not worry. Since his dad is writing the checks that determine his Cup career, he not only will keep his ride, but he may be able to strongarm his way into a better situation, since he reportedly is not happy with the RPM-Yates merger. There’s still a bit of life in Menard’s 2009 season, as he is in a hot battle with David Ragan, Bobby Labonte and David Stremme for the race to be the lowest-ranked driver that has run each race. Menard currently leads Ragan by 80 points for this dubious honor.
Here are the HOT and NOT issues of the week in racing:
HOT: Earlier start times?- According to published reports, NASCAR is looking into standardizing start times for races next season. While nothing has been announced, one idea being tossed around is to have most races, if not all of them, start at 1 PM Eastern on Sundays. While this may not help West Coast ratings, it will certainly make racing more attractive to watch where its most potent fan base is located – on the East Coast. With the moving of the California race date from Labor Day and this reported early start time uniformity underway, maybe NASCAR is finally listening to its fan base. Or maybe I shouldn’t jinx this.
NOT: Stories falling through the cracks – While the mainstream NASCAR media has flocked to stories such as, The Chase, the No. 5 and No. 48’s dominance and ‘illegal’ race cars, Danica-mania, and Dale Jr. dismay, it is forgetting to update two stories that unfolded in the Spring months.
Carl Long was likely all eyes and ears as the story about NASCAR’s tolerances of the No. 5 and No. 48 cars unfolded. As those got away without penalty (and likely rightfully so), Long has just begun returning to the racetrack and says that he will not be able to race unless he pays a $20,000 fee every time he enters a NASCAR event, as he still owes his large fine to the sanctioning body. Long’s engine back at Lowe’s Motor Speedway may have been big, but the circumstances surrounding his penalty (like the fact that he ran it in practice for a non-points-paying event) made many wish that NASCAR had some tolerance for the small teams it claims it wants to protect. Yet since the initial uproar over Long’s suspension and fine, there have been few reports following up on the driver or hawkfully watching other penalty situations to see how they are handled for bigger teams. Too bad.
Another big story development to go fairly unnoticed in the past week or two is Jeremy Mayfield’s hiring of Mark Geragos to represent him in the ongoing lawsuit and court battle against NASCAR for his testing positive for methamphetamine and subsequent suspension. While a familiar name to many, the Geragos hire may not help Mayfield in the court of public opinion. Geragos represented at some time or another both Michael Jackson (in his 2005 molestation trial) and Scott Peterson (for the murder of his pregnant wife). Mayfield seemed to have public opinion swinging in his favor in the initial weeks following his suspension, but since then has not only had his suspension left in place, but also gotten sued over the engine and parts of his race team, and, in an even more damning development, has seen more people besides his hated stepmother come forward and claim he used meth in NASCAR affidavits. This story has gotten old, but these details also got passed over of late and are certainly more detrimental to Mayfield’s case than the quagmire of half-truths that comprised this story when it broke.
The stars of NASCAR meet the stars of Hollywood at California Speedway next week. While the points are guaranteed to stay tight, just know the racing action may prove not to be at the often-maligned track. Turn here next week to see which drivers (if any) break away from the rest in their title hopes, and which others see their Sprint Cup championship chances set over the western horizon.
Listen to Doug each Saturday afternoon on The Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury 120 with host Captain Herb Emory, on News/Talk 750 WSB in Atlanta and online at wsbradio.com. You can also hear Doug co-host The Lead Lap: North Georgia’s Racing Leader, Saturdays from 10-11 a.m., 1240 ESPN Radio in Gainesville, GA and online at racefanradio.com. You can also download Doug’s Bill Elliott Racing Podcasts on BillElliott.com and ChaseElliott.com.
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Darnell and Menard may have struggled much this season, but the truth is Bobby Labonte has done little better with Yates as the 96 is only 1 spot ahead of the 98 in the owner points standings. Minus flashes of brilliance from Biff, Carl, and Matt, the Ford brigade’s been terrible this season. As a Ford guy, I hope this changes soon…
Stop blaming Menard all the time. The Ford teams suck period! But will NASCAR help them out? NO! They never do. This spot is about Chevy (GM)! Just look at the past 30 years.
I think Erik has done a real good job. How much better has Labonte done in it anyway and besides, this is the first time Erik has ever raced a Cup car. He has been there at the end of each race; that’s a lot better than a bunch of the others regular Cup drivers! I hope someone gives him a full-time ride in Cup next year!!