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.
We’ve crossed the halfway point of the 2011 Sprint Cup “regular” season. Take away the ten events in the almighty Chase, and we’re suddenly staring down the barrel of the twelve races that’ll decide who runs for the money and who runs for the show. If the second half of the season is anything like the first half, NASCAR fans will be too exhausted to pay much attention to who’s challenging for the big prize. Our collective typing fingers, call-in-radio-show voices, and blurry eyesight will keep us from concentrating on the matter at hand – the “post-season” spectacle designed to steal away the hearts and minds and television ratings of football fans across the nation.
As summer approaches, an analogy comes to mind regarding the NASCAR season we’ve witnessed thus far; as I ponder the progression of 2011 as played out on the racetracks of America, a nostalgic image – an ideal formed from the memories of childhood – appears. I hearken back to the days of summer when the county fair would set up in a dusty, worn-down pasture near the outskirts of town. Not unlike John Mellencamp, I was born and raised in a small town. Heck, I’ve always lived in a small town. I currently live in a small town on the northern shores of Lake Michigan – so small, in fact, that it’s officially designated as a “village”. As such, county fairs have always been part of my annual social calendar. The exhibits, the entertainment, and the food have left an indelible mark on my psyche, as well as my waistline. This year’s goings-on in NASCAR are presently doing the same thing, minus the waistline deal (that’s all my doing; Brian France and company can rest easy).
Consider, if you will, what a county fair (or a state one, for that matter) involves. The overall intent of a fair is twofold. First of all, it’s a way to commemorate and celebrate the accomplishments of proud and talented individuals from within your own community. Whether you sewed a beautiful quilt, baked a glorious pie, or grew an enormous pumpkin, the fair offers an outlet for display, competition, and recognition. Such accomplishments are celebrated and rewarded.
The second objective of a fair is to provide entertainment and diversions for a community (be it large or small) in need of a break from the tedious demands of everyday life. For a child actively involved in 4-H, for a kid who spends most of their time working around their farm or working on their studies in school, a week at the fair is a much-anticipated event. Taking part in competition, like showing an animal they’ve raised and prepared, is a welcome escape from their customary life, the weeks and months doing work for others. The same is true for adults who see the fair as a brief respite from the mundane. In a rural community, the county fair can be a highlight of the year.
The 2011 edition of NASCAR competition has already added plenty of highlights to our collective memories, and we’re only fourteen races into the season. Nine different drivers have visited victory lane in the Cup series, while new names are working their way into the record books of both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck divisions. We’ve seen breath-taking finishes, historic achievements, and no shortage of both physical and emotional fireworks…. and it’s not even July 4th yet. NASCAR Nation circa 2011 has already exceeded most people’s expectations, with a scramble to the Chase looming ahead. As such, we’re approaching that time of year when communities settle down for some much-needed relaxation and all-important mid-year diversion. Such is the time of year when one’s mind wanders toward fairs and festivals and what they provide to their audiences. From the looks of current events going on within NASCAR, I’d say we’ve reached that point in racing, as well.
If county fairs celebrate and reward accomplishments, then the 2011 season has plenty to cheer about. From Trevor Bayne’s “Cinderella” win in the Daytona 500, to Regan Smith’s victory in the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington, to David Ragan’s success in the Sprint Showdown at Charlotte, we’ve enjoyed a season of new names in new places – like victory lane at some tough tracks in some tough events. Toss in the success of Jeff Gordon at Phoenix and Pocono, and a historic run by Danica Patrick at Las Vegas to break a 62-year old NASCAR record, and suddenly we’re hanging blue ribbons all-around. The resurgence of Penske South Racing over recent weeks has been fun to watch, especially following the wake of how said resurgence took shape (more on that later).
The turn-of-events experienced by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Steve Letarte, and the entire No. 88 Hendrick racing team is another achievement worthy of celebration. Despite not notching a victory (yet), the No. 88 team has been more consistent, more competitive, and more impressive than we’ve seen them in past years; sitting third in the Cup points standings despite not winning a race (yet) is nothing if not a celebration of competitive consistency. As this coming weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway marks the third anniversary of Junior’s last Cup win, and given the fairly positive energy seeping through NASCAR’s top division this season, might the time be right for the No. 88 team to earn a blue ribbon of their own and place their names on the roster of winners for 2011?
And the award-worthy performances just keep on coming. When you think about Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and his breakthrough win in the Nationwide race at Iowa, and Justin Allgaier’s recent, fuel-starved coast to victory at Chicagoland, the long list of accomplishments calling for our recognition just keeps coming. Combine solid runs in the CWTS by seasoned veterans like Ron Hornaday, Jr. and (believe it or not) Kyle Busch with top-ten showings by younger drivers such as Cole Whitt, James Buescher, and Matt Crafton, and suddenly there’s more to celebrate. Add a strong 11th-place finish by Johanna Long at Texas last Friday night, and perhaps we now have yet another competitive female driver to reckon with in a national touring series? The times seem to be changing for the better.
The overall, upbeat nature within NASCAR thus far, however, goes well beyond victory lane. County fairs are often showcases for the newest in advances designed to make your work and your life easier. As a kid, I used to spend hours climbing all over the latest in tractors and farm equipment (in fact, I still do, even though I haven’t driven a farm tractor in years). Seeing new ways to do old chores was part of the magic at the county fair; it allowed people to believe in the idea that newer was often better, and that change was actually something to embrace.
We’re seeing that now in NASCAR. The addition of ethanol fuel has suddenly allowed people to use the terms “environmental concerns” and “NASCAR” in the same sentence, even though the new vented fueling system has added challenges to what used to be a pretty simple (though wasteful) task. Development of the unique “single point dry break” dump can has made refueling during pit stops both slower to do and more difficult to insure, but it’s also made this necessary job a bit more environmentally-responsible. Many of the fuel mileage issues we’ve seen in 2011 seem to come from the complexities of this new “green-minded” approach, but this is also part of why so many of us love racing; creating and mastering new practices and procedures to meet the demands of such developments allows crewmen to play an even larger role in the success of their race team, and that’s highly cool.
Other advances also affect the general nature of NASCAR competition, even for those of us who spend race days glued to a couch. On-track changes like new nose pieces have made airflow a concern, bringing rejuvenated attention to the age-old issue of keeping engines cooler, and the controversy over “clean” versus “dirty” air. On the spectator front, 2011 has given fans the “split-screen” television commercial – an attempt to satisfy both the sponsors and the consumers who spend their hard-earned and precious dollars on them. Satellite radio has brought in-car communications to its listeners, allowing fans to eavesdrop on discussions between drivers, crew chiefs, and even NASCAR officials. This development provides fans with an intimate, audio relationship with the competitors, their race teams, and the administrators who police all the action; this nationally-available opportunity also forces everyone involved to accept a new level of transparency – an “open door”, of sorts, that makes NASCAR a more egalitarian community. Scanners have been part of the fan experience for many years; now it’s possible to “share the love” without even being in the same time zone as the track.
Unfortunately, such intimacy often comes with a price. This closeness has also been part of the 2011 season so far – our opportunity to observe and critique the behaviors of competitors and to witness the odd twists-and-turns that make up our NASCAR Nation.
It’s like the sideshow tents we’d see at the county fair. As kids, my friends and I would challenge each other to test our courage; we’d pay our admissions and walk cautiously behind the waving curtains that separated all of us from all of them: the unusual and the freakish; the odd and the often-horrific. Of course, much of our anxiety came from the innocence of our youthful ages and the tests of bravery we put ourselves up against. Our county fair was quite small, so for every dog-faced boy and human pin-cushion, there was also a good chance you’d get to see a dancing chicken (the formula: one chicken + one hot plate + snappy music = entertainment for the middle-school masses) or a talking bird (a good place to learn the latest in profanity, too, if you timed your visit properly). It was a place to stare, a place to shriek, and a place to laugh…. much like the 2011 NASCAR season so far.
Consider what’s been going on in Brian France’s traveling show. We’ve had pit road “bump-and-grind” shows, verbal criticism of teammates, in-car radio tirades against crews and owners (here’s the Penske connection mentioned earlier), and fisticuffs of several types – from the Ryan Newman/Juan Pablo Montoya “punch” (the quotation marks mean it was implied) to the Richard Childress/Kyle Busch headlock WITH punches (nothing implied here, by the way). In addition to such entertainments, we’ve also had Kyle Busch clocked at 128 on a local road between Troutman and Mooresville (near where my oldest daughter goes to school, so drive carefully), and a CWTS driver and crew fired (then abandoned!) at the track by an unhappy owner. Toss in some NASCAR-issued warnings for rough driving (guess who?) at Pocono, and an R&D shop “time out” for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota following a failed post-race inspection, and it’s about time to go out and grab a corndog. You can bet your deep-fried elephant ears that we’ll see more of this behavior as the point standings (and many team budgets) continue to tighten.
But is this not what going to a county fair means? Is this not the opportunity to see new sights and enjoy new experiences? As life becomes more predictable, isn’t it necessary to tramp through the dust, smell the grease, and look for attractions both noble and nutty from time-to-time? Such diversions do us good by reaffirming our humanity, by letting us see what’s new while restoring our ties to that which is old. For all of the excitement and controversy we’ve seen in NASCAR 2011 so far, the season resembles much of what we’ve come to know and love within the business of stock car racing.
We’ve seen the escalation of rivalries, something that’s vital to the highly-personal nature of the sport. We’ve also seen typical behaviors from teams that exist within a sport so closely tied to corporate interests. We’ve seen teams find victory lane, we’ve seen teams struggle to stay afloat, and we’ve seen “old” teams find new success through an infusion of new faces, new ideas, and new enthusiasm. Even though television ratings and event attendance struggle to find traction in this current era, the stories we’ve witnessed so far in 2011 have been the stuff of “old school” NASCAR, the sport as so many of us came to know it over the years.
Maybe that’s why the county fair analogy works so well here. A county fair lets us celebrate our past while acknowledging our present. It rewards accomplishments with ribbons and accolades, while entertaining us with spectacle and a glimpse into what our lives could be. For every blue ribbon-winning pie, for every new piece of farm equipment, and for every dancing chicken, there’s a touch of celebration and a bit of much-needed escape. Without such diversions, we’d be lesser people, less of a community, and less apt to step away from the pressures of our everyday lives. The present condition of NASCAR Nation 2011 looks pretty healthy, and we still have 22 weekends of fun yet to go.
Guess it’s time to grab another corndog….
©2000 - 2008 Mark Howell and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Gotta love those halcyon days Mark.
Those “good ol’ days” have taken on new meaning now that the memories are “good” and I’m getting “ol’”….