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 NASCAR’s traveling circus rolls into Northeastern Pennsylvania this week, the cars and stars of the Sprint Cup Series are facing an entirely new Pocono Raceway experience. First of all, the challenging 2.5-mile triangle is sporting a new coat of pavement – the first to be laid down in almost twenty years. Secondly, this weekend’s running of the Pocono 400 Presented by #NASCAR 400 (a name inspired by NASCAR’s newly-minted relationship with Twitter) will be 100 miles (or 40 laps) shorter than previous events. The same will be true when the Sprint Cup cars race there again in August. One hundred fewer miles – according to public opinion – means 100 fewer headaches for teams and fans alike, but it also shows the lengths to which the folks at Pocono Raceway are willing to go to better meet the demands of their audience.
Not that track administrators listen to all criticism and comments. If that were the case, Pocono Raceway likely would have been plowed under and returned to its original state as a piece of premium farmland (the track sits on the location of what was a spinach farm many years ago). Denny Hamlin – a multiple race winner at Pocono – and other Sprint Cup drivers have stated publicly that events at “The Tricky Triangle” have been some of the most boring in NASCAR and that races there should be reduced to only 200 miles. Such criticism matches the often-hushed comments heard among members of the media, many of whom skip Pocono events in favor of taking a much-needed weekend off.
Having grown up less than 40 miles from the speedway, and having spent many weekends at the track in a variety of capacities (as a fan, as part of the media, and as a pit crew member), I have a natural bias in favor of Pocono Raceway and all it has to offer. Getting to races there was easy since I could stay at home and drive quickly to-and-from the track. Lodging was never an issue – as it always seemed to be for teams and media folks – and neither was transportation. Even when I had to fly into the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Airport from Michigan, I could always count on getting a ride from my father to my childhood home. Renting a car was never a problem, nor was wrestling with that perpetual question of Pocono logistics: do I get a hotel room in Wilkes-Barre, Mount Pocono, or Stroudsburg? Events at Pocono Raceway for me have always been part work, part homecoming, and anticipated with great excitement.
The problem is that Pocono Raceway seems to be the Rodney Dangerfield of NASCAR; the unique triangle gets no respect from NASCAR Nation, nor has it ever been sincerely regarded as what it is: one of the sport’s most difficult and truly competitive facilities. The superspeedway that drives like a road course has been much-maligned for years, despite the heart and soul poured into it from its family of dedicated owners. Indeed, one of the late Dr. Joe Mattioli’s many strengths was his honest approach to racing and his willingness to change things around to better suit the needs of fans and competitors.
Pocono Raceway has always been central to meeting the needs of race fans in the major markets of New York City and Philadelphia. In fact, the track’s location enabled it to draw crowds from such other far-flung, regional cities as Boston, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. As such, Pocono Raceway was regarded as “the Indianapolis of the East,” especially during the years (from 1971 until 1978) when it hosted the Schaefer 500 for USAC Champ Cars. USAC stopped racing at Pocono in 1984, at which time CART took over as the sanctioning body. CART ran open-wheel races at Pocono until 1989, when the track was dropped from the Champ Car World Series schedule because it was considered too rough and possibly unsafe.
During those open-wheeled days of the 1970s, such legendary names as Mark Donohue, A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, and Al Unser all visited Victory Lane in Long Pond, a place of honor graced by other notables as Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Mario Andretti, and Danny Sullivan during the CART era at Pocono. Champ Car events held there were one-third of a Triple Crown of 500-mile races, joining the Indianapolis 500 and a similar event at Ontario Motor Speedway in California. Back when Champ Car racing was seen as the pinnacle of American motorsports, Pocono Raceway was regarded as an important part of the high-speed, high-profile racing division. As big-time, open-wheel competition imploded through various mergers, leadership changes, and team owner infighting (Wait! These aren’t this week’s headlines, are they?), Doc Mattioli and family looked to NASCAR for brighter days and bigger crowds.
NASCAR’s legacy at Pocono Raceway is a long and rich one, dating back to Richard Petty’s victory in the 1974 Pocono 500. Prior to that season, USAC stock cars competed on the triangular-shaped track, bridging the difference between the Schaefer 500 and the Grand National events yet to come. USAC brought famous hot shoes like Butch Hartman, Roger McCluskey, Paul Goldsmith, and A.J. Foyt (him again?) to eager racing fans in Northeastern Pennsylvania – including a little kid from the small town of Dallas who loved everything related to going fast and turning left (and who hasn’t changed much in the decades since, although he’s grown more cynical with age and experience).
Weekends at Pocono Raceway allowed me to watch IMSA races featuring drivers like Brian Redman and Paul Newman. Another celebrity driver who ran at Pocono was the musician John Oates (of the group Hall & Oates) who struggled mightily with a sweeping right-hander near the exit of Turn 3 that made his sports car look like a merry-go-round. Apart from IMSA and SCCA events, it was through hosting club races of all kinds that helped Pocono Raceway grow its audience; the layout of the infield was designed in such a way that multiple car clubs could use the track simultaneously on a single weekend when the big dogs (like NASCAR) weren’t in town.
Pocono Raceway’s relevance within the world of NASCAR is a blend of the tragic and the triumphant. For every driver who suffered injuries at the speedway, including Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Allison (whose career ended in a 1988 accident with Jocko Maggiacomo), there have been moments of greatness. Highlights include Bill Elliott’s sweep of both Cup races in 1985, Tim Richmond’s three consecutive wins between 1986 and 1987, and sweeps at Pocono by both Bobby Labonte and Denny Hamlin in 1999 and 2006, respectively.
NASCAR champions who have excelled on the Pennsylvania 2.5-miler include such past Cup drivers as Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, and Alan Kulwicki, as well as such present-day Cup drivers as Kurt Busch (once he’s able to race – and control his language – again), Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson. With all the recent success at Hendrick Motorsports, a trip north to the Pocono Mountains is most likely highly anticipated. Pocono Raceway was also the site of Brad Keselowski’s return to Victory Lane – just three days after being injured in a violent wreck during testing at Road Atlanta.
But despite its diverse history and significant position in the evolution of motorsports, Pocono Raceway has been relegated to something akin to also-ran status among other NASCAR tracks. Maybe this degradation is because the facility is neither owned nor operated by International Speedway Corporation or Speedway Motorsports, Incorporated. Because Pocono is still possessed by members of the Mattioli family (now in its third generation of track administrators) perhaps its role in the great scheme of “official” NASCAR speedways has been diminished.
Pocono Raceway does not have the high-speed banking of Talladega, nor does it have the posh suites and condominiums of Charlotte. Pocono isn’t as established in NASCAR history as a Darlington or a Martinsville, nor does it fill a unique niche on the annual schedule of races, as does Daytona, Watkins Glen, Indianapolis, or Homestead. As far as racetracks go, Pocono Raceway walks the rather fine line between socioeconomic classes; while the audience at Pocono has a definite blue collar and rural sensibility, it’s not unusual to find many fans of a decidedly urban nature. Being so close to large, multicultural and economically-diverse population centers often draws such a crowd. And if there’s one thing Pocono Raceway has endeavored to accomplish over the last 41 years, it’s to provide all fans with a memorable and meaningful racing experience.
Those efforts, however, go far beyond events on and/or around the track. Much has been said and written about the 25-acre Solar Farm at Pocono Raceway, but such attention to community needs (especially in a mostly-rural region seemingly so far removed from global industry and innovation) has given the facility newfound relevance. Not only does the track collect enough solar energy to power the entire speedway, but extra energy generated is used to supply around 1,000 nearby homes with clean, efficient electricity. This project may have nothing to do with NASCAR competition on the track, but it speaks volumes to the relationship between Pocono Raceway, its community, and its vision for the future. The distance of Cup races there may have been reduced, but Pocono’s overall impact on the region has increased greatly in recent years.
So, with all this success in mind, how is Pocono Raceway being presented to fans from NASCAR’s Sprint Cup stage this weekend? Prior to Kurt Busch’s one-race suspension for his actions at Dover last Saturday, the big news surrounding this week’s Pocono 400 Presented by #NASCAR was focused on three stories: 1) the new pavement, 2) the debut of NASCAR’s very public relationship with Twitter, and 3) the announcement that Vanilla Ice (yes, that Vanilla Ice) would be the “honorary pace car driver” for Sunday afternoon’s race.
It’s a brave new world at Pocono Raceway, is it not?
It’s not that having Vanilla Ice as an honorary pace car driver is horrible news, it’s just that if the intent is to feature an actor who’s appearing in Adam Sandler’s new movie (That’s My Boy – coming to a theater near you on June 15th), why not go with an actor in the film who has more direct ties to NASCAR? Also starring in this comedy (alongside Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, and Vanilla Ice – aka Robert Van Winkle) is the venerable James Caan, who plays a priest (huh?) in this forthcoming Sony Pictures release.
So how does James Caan trump Vanilla Ice as a more appropriate choice for an honorary pace car driver? Simple.
Back in 1965, James Caan starred as a NASCAR stock car driver in the motion picture Red Line 7000, which was directed by the legendary Howard Hawks and featured the No. 28 Holman and Moody Ford Galaxie driven by Fred Lorenzen (to whom Caan bore a slight resemblance). Does such attention to relevance matter? Apparently not, even though Caan’s appearance alongside Will Ferrell in the 2003 hit film/Christmas classic “Elf” returned him to pop culture prominence. Caan was later on hand as the Grand Marshal of the 2006 Daytona 500, issuing the command to start engines.
Maybe it’s not about what’s prominent, proper, or more appropriate? Perhaps it’s not all about being memorable and meaningful? If 40 fewer laps/100 fewer miles at Pocono Raceway are what race teams, race fans (and the media) want, then maybe they deserve having the field honorarily-paced by a rapper/actor whose true glory days were more than two decades ago. Maybe it has nothing at all to do with Pocono Raceway, its history, its improvements, and its importance… maybe it’s simply about filling a weekend on the Sprint Cup schedule. The situation could be worse, I guess; one of Pocono’s race dates could be given to another, “much more deserving” track.
There’s always next year…
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i used to enjoy the pocono race… as a matter of fact i used to enjoy most of the races… even michigan back in the day.
why vanilla ice? it’s simple.. he’s just the guy to attract that elusive demographic that nascar is always trying to reach. (either that or he’s paying for the ride.) now if they could only get someone like cher to do the national anthem and the teenage mutant ninja turtles to wave the green flag. now all they have to do is figure out who to be grand marshal…. let’s see.. some former star who is desperate for one last shot to reincarnate their career. john cusak?? maybe mr. whipple nope…dead.. the where’s the beef lady? nope dead too… the cross gender miss america contestant… hmmm maybe RINGO STARR!! that;s it!!!! that would send ratings through the roof. helton, get your team of marketers right on that.
come to think of it… the last time i enjoyed pocono was at the height of vanilla ice’s relevancy, which isn’t saying much i know. maybe there is something to this after all.
The doldrums of summer are upon us…
Pocono fast big boring
So for me, these next couple of months have about 4 interesting races. Have fun this summer, there’s six weekends where watching paint dry will probably be more interesting than cars going 180+ in a single file parade.
Vanilla Ice? ha ha. It’s obvious why he’s doing it. He’s a C-list “star”, a one hit wonder, a has been. He’d do anything to get in the limelight. Probably didn’t have anything better to do anyway. I can’t believe he’s still around at all.
You know, I never thought I would say this, but…
I used to hate Pocono and I used to hate road races, but with the lack of good filming and direction in the race broadcasts today, I think the Pocono Race and the Road Races actually appeal to me more. Because of the way they are run it seems the networks don’t do the flash from one view to another so fast you get seasick and they take wider shots so you actually get to see some racing! So I kind of look forward to these races. Especially the road races (never thought I’d see the day)!
Honorary pace car driver? Folks, that’s not even a real honor, expecially if Nilla Ice ends up driving a Chevy Volt or one of the other ridiculous vehicles that Nascar is prone to using these days. A more appropriate role for Robbie Van Winkle this weekend? Selling ice, ice, baby.
Nascars coffin builder just picked up another handful of nails. Only if we still had drivers like Fred and real cars to watch.
went to Dover this past weekend boooooorrrrrring,
Yeah, I know NASCAR tries hard to get out into the mainstream, but the choice of Vanilla Ice makes no sense on any level. Nice article!
Two things I remember & miss: how about shifting, was it in the tunnel turn? Remember Alan Kulwicki and many others doing that. And how about Mayfield nudging Earnhardt for the win, and the latter later saluting him with the ‘one up’ on the move. Ah the good old days. I liked the racing there – and a lot of others, before people kept fixing things until they were broken.
Count me as one that used to like Pocono. It was a unique track and not just because it only has 3 turns.
Of course this is back when the racing was good and the car on the track was capable of actual racing. Now its in the category of every other track over a mile and that is high speeds/ boring racing.