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.
As is often said, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.
But in the past two weeks, I couldn’t rely simply on my own judgment in deciding who should be ranked as the 15th through 11th and then the 10th through 6th drivers in the sport. I had ideas that I thought were worthy for the most part…I have been watching for a while. But then a look at the numbers would cause changes in where drivers were ranked on the list.
Nowhere did a look at the statistics change the order where I ranked drivers more than it did in the top five. Before perusing the stats, the order of the top five that seemed right was this:
5) Jimmie Johnson
As it turned out, only one of those looks correct now. And I’ll bet it’s the last one you’d suspect.
So here is Happy Hour’s top five drivers in the sport, as opined by the Official Columnist of NASCAR, based on observation and some, but not a great deal of, research. As with the last two lists, after each driver is named there is an explanation of why he is where he is. Feel free to dispute anything you like—but remember, you may learn, as I did, that perception isn’t always reality.
5) Kyle Busch
Rowdy has more raw ability than any driver I’ve ever seen race, and yes, that includes Dale Earnhardt. (Relax, let me finish.) What keeps Kyle from topping this list is that, at the moment, that ability is still just a little bit raw. Kyle Busch is like Sandy Koufax in a way. Koufax was wild as anything early in his career—but once he learned just a hair of control, he became one of the all-time greatest. No doubt Kyle is similarly destined. He is great to watch busting through a field, but he still beats himself on occasion—such as earlier this year in a stupid tangle with John Andretti that caused him to cut a tire.
He isn’t there yet. Still, when Jeff Gordon says that there’s no catching him when his car is right, that’s probably worth some points. Busch races all-out all the time and when he isn’t at the front, you know he’s probably on his way there, daring everyone on the track to try and stop him. If another driver wins a battle with Kyle, you can bet his car was probably better.
Kyle Busch not only won at Darlington last year, he hit the wall enough times in that race that the winning car looked like it was headed for a scrap heap. He’s won at Dover and Atlanta and swept the road courses last season. He won the inaugural CoT race at Bristol, willing the car to victory lane just so he could publicly blast the new design. At most of the tracks where the driver arguably matters the most—places like Darlington, Dover, Bristol, Martinsville, Watkins Glen—Kyle has scored a win or multiple top 5 finishes. Only Pocono seems to be an Achilles heel for him.
Rowdy is usually the top performing Gibbs driver on race day, which isn’t a knock on Denny Hamlin. And we know he has a lot to do with the car’s success himself from his equivalent prowess in a Billy Ballew truck.
4) Tony Stewart
Stewart gets ranked very high on the list for one major reason. Smoke took over a car that last year—with the same Hendrick engines—couldn’t even qualify for many races. It isn’t just his being behind the wheel that has turned that car into the current points leader, but you can definitely bet that that wouldn’t have happened with Johnny Sauter there. Many drivers are talked about as being able to get a good finish with a subpar ride. Tony Stewart has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s one of the best at it.
And let’s not forget the considerable success in the 20: 33 wins, two titles, only one season out of the top 10 in points…and without a Chase, he’d have certainly been there. 13 top 5 finishes at Bristol and Martinsville. A nearly unmatched record at Loudon and Dover, with 10 top 5 finishes at both venues.
Only Jeff Gordon has more road course wins among active drivers, with Smoke scoring four at the Glen and one at Sonoma. I did take Stewart down a notch for not winning at Darlington, although he did finish third there this year. In Stewart’s one-win season last year, he finished fifth at Martinsville, second and fourth at Richmond, and second at Pocono and Watkins Glen.
Stewart scores fourth only because he does on occasion make race-losing mistakes, especially when his notorious temper flares. A speeding penalty on pit road at Sonoma after a row with Boris Said comes to mind, as does being penalized a lap at Pocono following a run-in with Clint Bowyer (a race where he still finished seventh).
But Stewart definitely gets props for moving from a great team to a team that was, to put it nicely, mediocre and turning it into a great team. And remember, they ran Hendrick engines last season too.
3) Jimmie Johnson
Some will argue that Jimmie is ranked too low here. Others will say he’s ranked too high. It is difficult to determine just how good Jimmie is, because he has driven for the same great team and genius crew chief for his entire career (although he did win two races while Chad Knaus was suspended), so it’s hard to know how well he’d do otherwise. He wasn’t a world-beater in a Busch car, but considering that his team folded while he was racing for them, I don’t know that he was doing so badly.
So let’s look at the other criteria. Consistent? Check. Wins on track battles? Almost always. Takes care of his equipment? Check. Diagnoses the car well? Yep. Good at, say, Martinsville or Darlington? Swept Darlington in 2004 and has owned Martinsville like few drivers have, winning five of the last six events and only once in his career finishing out of the top 10. Races well at every type of track? Just about. He hasn’t mastered the road course and only recently scored his third top 5 in 15 Bristol races, which keeps him out of the top spot here. But otherwise he does just fine, including four wins at Dover and at least one win almost everywhere else on the circuit. Good compared to his teammates? Check. He held off his mentor in the famous Martinsville battle, and that isn’t just done with great equipment.
Johnson very rarely beats himself, Michigan being an anomaly. He demonstrated superb car control in the two races best known in recent history for tires inadequate to new paving: Charlotte 2005 and Indianapolis 2008. All of the drivers were doing all they could to hold on in both events. Guess who won them.
So yes, Jimmie Johnson is a great driver and even underrated in a sense, since his team and crew chief are often given credit for his success—much as with his mentor. While the claim is not without merit, there’s a pretty skilled guy in the driver’s seat of the 48 car, too.
2) Mark Martin
And of course, Martin is second. I got one right.
To say that Mark Martin is the best NASCAR driver in history to not win a championship doesn’t tell the full story. Mark Martin is also a better driver than many who did win one. I’d rank Martin over Rusty Wallace, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Bobby Labonte or Dale Jarrett without reservation. Kurt Busch may have slightly outperformed Martin as a Roush teammate, but I doubt he would have challenged for wins in a Ginn car.
Martin took a part time ride on a two-car team that was just about nowhere and wheeling and dealing to stay alive, and not only challenged for wins, but even took over the point lead for a time. It’s that performance that gets him this high on the list. In his first 11 races for Ginn (later DEI), Martin scored four top 5s and seven top 10s. He sat out a race while leading the points.
Martin’s had a long career, but most guys could race twice as long as Martin and not have 17 top 5s at Darlington, 21 at Dover, 15 at Bristol, 11 at Martinsville, and 19 at Pocono. And Martin is as good at the road courses as anyone except for possibly Stewart and Jeff Gordon: four wins and 19 top 5s in 37 road course races. Martin hasn’t won at Pocono or Indianapolis, but he’s won at just about every other track.
Fortunately, Martin is making this ranking look very good this season. He is driving a car that managed just five top 10s and one top 5 last year, and he’s won three races—as many as his three superstar teammates combined—and is currently eighth in the points standings with two 40th place finishes to blown engines and a 43rd getting caught up in a big one at Talladega. Without the blown engines, he’d probably be leading the points right now. He put on a clinic at Darlington that was so effective that Jimmie Johnson didn’t even bother trying to battle him. Martin’s winning car was in stark contrast to Kyle Busch’s one year before—it didn’t have a scratch on it. Now that is car control. And it’s doubtful that we need to question whether Martin beats himself on the racetrack. No need.
That Martin is one of the most well-liked, well-respected, and popular drivers in the sport, and that I’m a huge fan of his means nothing to me on this list. He is where he is here because he’s that damn good.
#1) Jeff Gordon
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
Name the track and Jeff Gordon has won on it…with the exception of Homestead, which is an aero-dependent track and hardly a measure of a great driver. In particular, the more difficult the track, the better Jeff Gordon gets. Seven wins at Darlington; lest you think Wonderboy has lost anything on the track, consider that Gordon also hasn’t finished lower than third in his last five races there. And Martinsville? Just one finish lower than sixth and four wins in the last 12 races. In one of the wins, he was three laps down, earning two of his laps back without using the free pass. That was one of the most impressive displays of racing this columnist has seen.
And on the road course, Gordon is the undisputed king, with five wins at Infineon and four at Watkins Glen.
Aside from no wins at Homestead, there are only four tracks on the current Cup circuit where Gordon doesn’t have multiple wins: Chicago, Texas, Phoenix, and Vegas. None of them were on the schedule when Gordon started his Cup career.
Having just one win in the last 51 races has distracted from how strong his runs have really been in that period. At both Bristol and Martinsville he has finished out of the top five just once. Nothing lower than ninth at Richmond. Fifth and seventh at Dover last season. Fourth at Pocono this year.
Like Mark Martin, Gordon rarely loses races to mistakes—the wheel-hop at Watkins Glen does come to mind, if only because you don’t see that often from the driver of the 24. If Gordon has a weakness, it’s that he may not be the best at diagnosing a car, although he is very good at getting the car contending at the end of a race. As Jimmie Johnson once said, Gordon’s weaknesses are only so weak. He did seem to fade at the end more than some of the other drivers in my top five, especially when compared to his teammate in the 48. But given how often he’s finished in the top 5, I’d say maybe that perception isn’t correct.
I can’t think of any driver who has scored the most points over a whole season with three different crew chiefs, too…so it can’t all be put on one smart crew chief. Jimmie Johnson has always had Chad Knaus. Jeff Gordon has won or challenged for titles with Ray Evernham, Robbie Loomis, and Steve Letarte on the pit box. Crew chief changes don’t often go so smoothly, although all three are more than capable head wrenches. Gordon’s entire team got turned over at the end of 1999, and two years later he was holding another Winston Cup in the air.
The difficult tracks, the versatility, the generally mistake-free racing and the adaptability. It’s all there. After considering everything, Jeff Gordon’s the guy I want behind the wheel.
Well just a few more words—thanks for staying with me well beyond the 2,000 word point. You may have noticed that my top three drivers all race for Hendrick Motorsports, and the fourth drives for a “satellite” of HMS. And you’d be right in questioning whether their equipment is the reason for their high placement.
Fair enough. I have two thoughts about this. The first is, yes, the top four guys have benefited from very good equipment. But anyone who has watched a few NASCAR races isn’t going to dispute the abilities of any of these four drivers. Seriously.
The second point is that Rick Hendrick is a consummate team owner, as anyone who works for him can tell you. He clearly excels at getting the right people to build engines, change tires, and make calls in the pits. In that regard, why shouldn’t his judgment be trusted in choosing drivers, too? I doubt he would spend the money he does to build great racecars and then just put whoever comes along in the driver’s seat.
So I’m okay with this list, even if it didn’t turn out as expected.
But if you’re not, feel free to let me know.
©2000 - 2008 Kurt Smith and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Can’t add anything other than to say you’re right! I might move Jimmie to #2 only because he’s got the hardware and I think he’s more aggressive than Mark, but Mark’s no slouch. Gordon’s an obvious #1. He’s earned the most Cup points, I think, 6 times, only one time behind Petty and Earnhardt. Good article.
Even with Gordon as my favorite driver, I might have conceded that either Tony Stewart or Jimmie Johnson was better, but you make a pretty good case here Kurt. Now I can show this to all my friends who are Stewart fans!
The thing about Gordon, and this is not really a knock on him, is that you can say that he always gets 100% out of a car, and nothing really more. If he’s got the 10th best car out there, barring fuel mileage or other pit strategy wackiness, or wrecks of better cars, at best he’s going to bring it in 9th. But at worst it will probably be 11th. He gets everything out of it that’s reasonable.
Compare that to Kyle, who, if you give him the 10th best car, will probably overdrive the heck out of it and get it up into the top 5 and in contention, but a good fraction of the time he’ll pay the price and come in 30th.
So from a points perspective, you probably want the guy who gets consistently the most out of his equipment, but man the other guy is a lot more fun to watch racing.
Do not see how you put Mark ahead of Smoke and Jimmie if this is career ranking, Both are multi- time champions. Smoke has 34 wins in 371 starts, Jimmie has 42 wins in 270 starts, while Mark has 38 wins in 737 starts and no championships. Which is what they are really racing for.(stats from racing-reference.info)
First, I am not a Jimmy Johnson fan but, How can you put Mark Martin ahead of Jimmy when he has 3 Championships and Mark has none???? I think you are way off base with this one. Even Tony has Championships and look where you have him, don’t make sense to me.
That’s a fair thing to dispute, wcfan. I’ll try and answer it.
Martin hasn’t won the big prize, but he has come as close as a driver possibly can, finishing second four times, third four times, and fourth three times. In most of those seasons a driver’s ranking was measured over an entire season, not just the last ten races. Consistency over a long period of time means a lot in evaluating a driver. Johnson had great all-around seasons from 2006-2008, but he only scored the most points over 36 races in one of those years.
I ranked Martin ahead of Stewart because he is a little bit better at places like Darlington and Dover, and also for how well he did driving for DEI/Ginn, and for the fact that I can’t recall any incident where Martin took himself out of a race. I ranked him ahead of Johnson because head to head, driving for the same team this season, Martin outsmarted Johnson at Michigan and flat outdrove him in Darlington. Two races isn’t the best sample I admit, but it’s what I worked with.
But your objection is noted.
Actually upon further review, maybe Dover wasn’t a good example…Mark and Tony both about equally good there, as they are on road courses as well. So scratch Dover. But at Darlington Martin clearly has the edge. That suggests to me that Martin has a little bit better car control.
Realistically, the skill level of your top five is so close that ranking them in any order works. Any one of them is capable of beating the others on any given day.
“Aside from no wins at Homestead, there are only four tracks on the current Cup circuit where Gordon doesn’t have multiple wins: Chicago, Texas, Phoenix, and Vegas. None of them were on the schedule when Gordon started his Cup career.”
Phoenix was definitely around and on the Cup schedule when Gordon started, having hosted Cup since 1988. He’s still a fine choice for number one though, even without the extra accolade.
The only major point I’d dispute on the list is Martin being in second, for many of the same reasons listed above. He’s good, but I can’t help but feel it’s perception —- not the results —- that got him to number two. Martin has a stack of great points results, but his average finish (full seasons only) is 6.2 to Stewart’s 5.3. He’s good, but he’s just not number two good by any statistical measure.
Kurt, I did not remember Mark being in that many Championship races, until you put his stats up. After reading your reply I went and looked them up and discovered that 3 times prior to the chase and 2 times while in the chase was Mark within 1 race points wise of catching the Champ. If we used the old points (consistency as you said) Mark would only have been within 150 points(roughly 1 race) of the Champ 4 times and probaly lost 2 of his 3 top 4 point finishes. Mark is a good driver, but I believe he has settled for top 5 finishes instead of racing for the win many times and that is what cost him Championships
That should read season finish, not to be confused with race finishes.
IMO but I would switch Tony to where Mark is. And the reason for that besides the 2 Championships is what Mark has said about Tony. And that is, ““I don’t believe the trophy makes the man. Tony Stewart, in my eyes, is the greatest race car driver I’ve watched drive in this era. A.J. Foyt might have been that when I was a little boy, but Tony Stewart is my driving hero.”
Steven, you’re right about Phoenix, that was a bit of falling short on my part. I will add though that Phoenix did not host two races a year until 2005, so hopefully that mitigates my error some.
wcfan, yes Martin probably would have lost two fourth place finishes. But even that said, he still finishes third four times. By not going for the win and taking the points? Maybe, but the guy that knows when to take the points will win the title more often than not.
A couple of breaks here and there and a different ruling on the 1990 penalty and Mark could easily be a three or even four time champion. I know winning the title certainly matters, but I don’t know that you can base a driver’s skills entirely on that. That Martin has been so close so many times counts for something.
Still, good points and you’re definitely doing your homework.
Melissa, I don’t want you to think for a second that I don’t value what Mark says, but I will add—and I left it out of the article—that Jeff Gordon once said that next to Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin was his toughest opponent on the racetrack.
Kurt, I keep hearing about the 1990 penalty(if I’m not mistaken) it was 25 points in the 3rd race of the season, should have been plenty of time to make that up. There are many drivers in the CUP series that with a couple of breaks could have been Champ, Mark is not the only one. I get tired of hearing Mark is the best nascar driver never to win a championship, while I believe Mark is a good driver, I would never label him a Great Driver. This is what is so great about racing, we can agree to disagree on many different subjects while still “enjoying” the racing. ( this will be my last post on Mark) Kurt keep up the good work.
Great series of articles Mr. Smith. Really enjoyed them. Keep up the good work!
Well thanks Danny.
And thanks to all who took the time to read and comment.
Earnhardt won titles with four different crew chiefs.
1980: “Suitcase” Jake Elder was his crew chief at the start of the season, but was replaced by a kid named Doug Richert mid-season (yeah, that Doug Richert.)
1986, 1987, 1990, 1991: Kirk Shelmerdine
1993-1994: Andy Petree
Sean, I should have clarified…I was focusing on active drivers. I did know that Dale won with two different teams…also a fairly uncommon achievement. But thanks for the information.
Kurt as a Martin Fan for years I ‘am delighted in your #2 Placement. Personally I would rate Mark in the current Top Four. Pretty tough separating Johnson ,Smoke and Mark ! Grudingly I agree with Gordo as #1 lol . Keep up the Great Articles Kurt !
Indeed it is difficult to separate the four Ty. Thanks for the kudos.
You are so totally right about Jeff Gordon being #1! How could anyone doubt that for a minute? Your reasons were so right-on,too. You made me think about Martin. I had never really thought of him as the best after Jeff, but he looks really good now. It is funny the top two are “gentlemen” on the track and off, too. Both have a lot of class in their treatment of others and the things they say about others. Jeff is the total package as a sportsman. Great competitor, gracious almost to a fault, and humble. We met him and he is no different that he looks on TV. A great guy. He has shown he can win and run up front with a different of crew chiefs. It is a shame that the chase came along or we would have seen him have 6 championships as he certainly earned them throughout the whole season not the ten-race championship. Thank you for a fantastic write-up about a fantastic man!