Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Kurt Smith · Friday June 5, 2009
Being the Official Columnist of NASCAR is not an easy job. It’s not a matter of simply handing over a few million to NASCAR, as with most “official” entities. It takes effort. Column topics must be selected with care, as opposed to just hitting the escape key and writing something about Junior when news is dull. A thoughtful angle that no one else has observed should be provided. A position has to be taken on racing issues of the day.
OK, that’s B.S. This job is fun and the difficulty level is in stark contrast with my salary of untold millions.
Still, while my “official” title is self-proclaimed, it does carry certain responsibilities, and among them is one that I have long tried to avoid. And that is deciding upon and sharing who I think are the best drivers in the sport today. There isn’t any right answer. No matter who I put in my list here, someone will take issue with some or all of it. That’s okay; that’s great in fact, because maybe in a discussion I could learn some things that I didn’t know.
My choices generally aren’t based on statistics. I did look up certain things, because hunches need to be confirmed to some degree. But for the most part, I’ve purposely based this list on simple observations from watching nearly every Cup race over the last 6-7 years. Statistics don’t tell the whole story and I only have a week to write a column.
General criteria for my list include things like: Is the driver consistent? Does he do well at difficult tracks like Darlington or Martinsville? How good is he relative to his teammates in similar cars? How does he fare on road courses? Does he avoid DNFs? Does he win more on-track battles than he loses? Does he not, in the immortal words of D.W., beat himself? And there are criteria that do not figure in at all, like restrictor plate track success and more success on intermediates than anywhere else. It sounds egregious, but Daytona 500 wins count for almost nothing here.
So keep this in mind and let me know what you think of this list. Remember, it’s just my observation-based opinion, but also remember that how much of a fan I am of a driver counts for nothing. Trust me on that.
Now, let’s get started with the list of the five drivers that did not make the top 10:
15) Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer didn’t set the world on fire in his rookie season, but he did manage a few good finishes while he learned Cup cars: a fifth at Phoenix, fourth at the Brickyard, third at Fontana and an eighth at Dover. In 2007, he surprised everyone by jumping into the points lead winning the first Chase race at Loudon, and then he managed to stay at least remotely in the hunt against a Hendrick duo that was leaving everyone else mere dots in their rear view.
Bowyer has scored consecutive fourth-place finishes at Sears Point, so it’s doubtful that they were both flukes. He also seems to fare well at short tracks, with a win at Richmond and a fifth at Martinsville in a year (2009) when Childress is having a bunch of trouble.
Just from personal observation, it seems to me that Clint doesn’t win as many on-track battles as he needs to. I could be utterly wrong about that, but that’s just the way it appears. And despite leading the points standings for a brief period this year, Clint needs RCR to get its act together to show what he can really do out there. Unlike Kevin Harvick or Jeff Burton, I haven’t seen that…yet…from Bowyer. He makes the top 15 by putting up similar numbers to the 29 and 31, but he hasn’t earned a top spot.
14) Greg Biffle
Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch share an all-out driving style, and more so with Biffle, that tends to lead to inconsistency. When Biffle is on, I believe he is as good as anyone. But when he isn’t on, he can look very average as a driver. Biffle is extremely streaky, often going from five or six top fives to five or six mid-pack runs. That would make him appear, at least partly, to be much better at some tracks than others.
Biffle has won at the Lady in Black, which is almost enough in itself to make my list. He won at Loudon and Dover last year, so he has shown some versatility. But except for a 7th in 2007, Martinsville seems to be a weak point of late for the 16 bunch.
It seems that Biffle often wears out his equipment more than most drivers do, and in Biff’s early years with Roush and their fast but fragile engines, that hurt him considerably. Biffle’s victories, Darlington excepted, tend to come at the intermediate tracks, the strength of Roush Fenway. We know he owned Homestead, but until he consistently does better at places like Martinsville, he doesn’t make the top 10.
13) Ryan Newman
Rocket Man, you may remember, beat out Jimmie Johnson for 2002 Rookie of the Year, and he wasn’t driving Jeff Gordon’s cars. Then he struck gold in 2003, winning eight races and spurring debate about his finishing sixth in the standings in a year when the champion won just one. Maybe someone should have questioned how he finished sixth.
Newman benefited a few times from the lucky dog rule at the time enabling a driver to top off with fuel another time, since he would be at the back of the field anyway. People were wondering how he seemed able to go eight laps longer than anyone else on a tank of fuel, until NASCAR disallowed more than one pit stop for lucky dog recipients. A win is a win and the 12 team simply exploited a loophole as any team would and should, but those wins weren’t because of any driving skill on Ryan’s part. In fact, falling a lap down was a big part of helping him win.
Still, Newman has definitely shown racing ability in the heat of battle. He can make things very difficult for drivers who want to pass him, a skill he may have learned from Rusty. Watching him in on-track duels is always fun. In close to equal equipment, Newman can be harder to pass than a pound of cheddar. I’ve seen him outrace Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, and that is saying something.
Newman may get higher on this list once he starts showing what he can really do in a Stewart-Haas car, but his record with Penske wasn’t spectacular enough to rank him there yet. There are a few top 10s mixed in with some dismal performances in several years.
12) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Junior is better than his results have shown, particularly this year. Maybe it isn’t a scientific or rigorous observation on my part, but Tony Stewart did once proclaim Little E a “multiple championship driver”—and this is when Junior was driving the No. 8 car for DEI. Smoke’s opinion is probably worth more than mine.
Earnhardt, Jr. might even rank higher on the list if it weren’t for his occasional mental mistakes, as we’ve seen this season. Like Kasey Kahne, Junior excels at running a high line, but this often bites him running in a less rubbered part of the track. And costly pit miscues will drop a guy a notch. You don’t see it as often from higher-ranked drivers on this list.
Junior may be getting outshined by his Hendrick teammates for the moment, but don’t forget that he was easily the top performer at DEI when his engines held together, and that includes outracing a two-time Busch series champion in Martin Truex, Jr. In 2007, Junior finished 7th and 5th at Bristol and had a 5th at Martinsville. He finished 8th at Darlington in 2007 and topped that with a 4th in 2008. Junior is consistently competitive at Martinsville and has won at Bristol, something you can’t even say about Jimmie Johnson yet.
The most talked about driver in NASCAR makes my top 15, but until he starts proving he can get it done in the best equipment available, I can’t put him in the top 10. As our Girl Friday Amy Henderson has said, now is the time.
11) Kevin Harvick
Happy is another guy whose talent often exceeds his equipment, especially this season, but I still put this guy near the top 10. Harvick may be best at short tracks like Richmond and Bristol—he had a second and fourth at Bristol last season—but name the type of track and Harvick has probably had a good finish there recently.
Harvick set the bar high with his rookie season, stepping into the biggest shoes imaginable after Dale Earnhardt’s untimely passing. He won in just his third start, edging Jeff Gordon by .006 seconds in Atlanta, and then won another race on his way to a ninth-place finish in the standings without the benefit of Daytona 500 points. Maybe Earnhardt might have done better, but one could hardly fault Harvick’s performance. Since then, like most drivers, Harvick seems to rise and fall with the fortunes of his team in general.
Last year Harvick put together a string of nine top 10 finishes, only two lower than sixth, at a most diverse variety of tracks: Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol, California, Richmond, Loudon, Dover and Kansas. That’s what I’m talking about with consistency. In 2006 Harvick put up wins at Phoenix (twice), Richmond, Loudon, and Watkins Glen, and he didn’t finish lower than 11th at Bristol or Martinsville. For short tracks or road courses, you could do worse than to put Happy in the car.
As awful as Harvick has been in a season where Childress can’t seem to get a handle on anything, I’d still put him in one of my cars before all but 10 other guys.
So there it is friends, the list of drivers that make the top 15 of the Official Columnist of NASCAR’s list. I had reasons for excluding Kasey Kahne (nearly all of his wins are at intermediate tracks), Brian Vickers (not enough strong performances in a Hendrick car), and Martin Truex, Jr. (hasn’t shown consistently good results yet), but that didn’t make it any less difficult to do it.
I think it speaks volumes that before I have even dented the top 10, I’ve listed five drivers that could have been selected in the beginning of the year as at least sleepers to win a title without laughter. That says a lot about the parity in the sport today, even if it makes this evaluation that much harder.
And so now that I’ve got your attention, tune into Happy Hour next week and see the even tougher choices of drivers ranked #10 through #6. No Shorts while all of this is going on, unfortunately. I’ve taken enough of your time.
Now tell me how wrong I am so far.
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Oh Denny… Kurt’s going to be so proud of you.
How are you going to put Denny Hamlin in the top 10? His 4 wins hardly justify his placement higher than 3 of the top 10 winnigest drivers of the decade (see Tommy Bowles article… I did notice). And that’s IF you rank him 10th.
Half of his wins were at Pocono with vastly superior eqipment. Contend for a championship (not implode like the past two years) and I’ll be convinced.
DM, I am going to rank Hamlin in the top ten, where exactly I’m not quite sure yet.
I won’t get into why, but briefly, low win total aside, he gets in the top 5 and top 10 an awful lot. And wins at Pocono aren’t insignificant, regardless of the equipment.
After reviewing your criteria for ranking, I have to agree that DH is consistent, performs well at difficult tracks(especially Martinsville), road courses and hangs with Rowdy in similar equipment.
However, he never seems to be a contender to hang in with the big boys when it counts – in the end. And that is where my questioning comes into play. There is no arguing that he’s had a rash of bad luck, leading a majority of the race and having mechanical or tire issues ruin his day. But I don’t see the intangible killer instinct within him. He often seems complacent when his stuff gives out, and he folded bad in both the 07 and 08 Chases. The ability to close the deal against your competition speaks volumes IMO.
As I continue to struggle to find factual information to support my rebutle; I’ll point out that the list is for “Drivers in NASCAR“ which would include the nationwide and truck series as well. Under that umbrella Kevin Harvick’s performances in lower series and Truex’s two championships have to carry some weight.
Ultimately, the top 4 drivers are clear-cut. The champ, Rowdy, Smoke and Icy-Hot. Arguments for rankings 5-15 could easily be made for each candidate with much validity.
Denny Hamlin in the Top 10? No F’n way. If I were in charge of Gibbs I’d drop him and try to get Truex….or Kahne.
People harp on Kyle for his attitude but I think Denny is worse. He just doesn’t get the media attention as much.
Well ok, you can dispute Denny Hamlin in the top ten next week. But I am putting him in there, if you’re kind enough to check in you can see why, and then I’ll be glad to read your rebuttals.