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.
Editor’s Note: For Part I of Matt’s look back at the 2009 Sprint Cup season, click here.
2009 Drivers: Pleasant Surprises
Mark Martin: I think Martin has either retired, semi-retired, or threatened to retire more times than Tommy Smothers. But this year, he was firmly committed to running a full season and even competing for that elusive championship at age 50. Martin did, in fact, win five races and made a valid and competitive drive for the title. In the process, he was so dang upbeat and positive, it was as if Winnie the Pooh’s friend Eeyore had suddenly appeared in a music video singing “Walking on Sunshine” dancing through a field of daffodils. In the end, the veteran’s Quixotic quest for the title came up just short — as it probably always will. But Martin was in full on Charlie Brown mode this year. He was going to try to kick that football this season even if fate, in the form of Lucy, was going to yank it away at the last second.
Still, even though everyone knew the ending, it was fun to watch — and a reminder that even if he lacks the hardware in his trophy case, Mark Martin is a champion. He’s one of the greatest racers this sport has ever seen, and a class individual to boot. Shine on brightly, you crazy old man…
Tony Stewart / Stewart-Haas Racing: I’ll admit it. When Stewart decided to leave the comfy confines of Joe Gibbs Racing to stake his fortune with Haas CNC, an outfit that struggled to be merely hapless as its eponymous leader served hard time in prison, I thought the venture was doomed to fail. In fact, I thought it would fail spectacularly, and probably wouldn’t survive the season. Umm… I was wrong. Big time wrong. Major league, yahoo, big time wrong. Whoops. In fact, I think I either said in print or predicted to friends that by this time this year, Tony Stewart would be dumpster diving for Thanksgiving dinner in a dumpster behind Burger King. (Well, maybe he did, given his fondness for Whoppers and his girth… but it wasn’t because he couldn’t afford a turkey or the trimmings.)
Well now, I’m left eating crow instead (Whatever; it ain’t that bad with a little A-1 and horseradish sauce.) Stewart, in fact, won four races this year, including the Firecracker 400, earned 23 top 10 finishes, and finished sixth in the points. What’s more, his teammate and employee Ryan Newman finished ninth in the standings after posting fifteen top 10 finishes. Now, how would this duo and Stewart-Haas Racing do if NASCAR clamped down on the incestuous relationship between the team and the Rick Hendrick sugar teat that feeds them? Well, on a brighter note, Burger King isn’t going to start locking their dumpsters anytime soon…
Juan Pablo Montoya: When Juan Pablo drifted into stock car racing after a tumultuous Formula One career, there was no doubt he brought a lot to a table. His fiery personality was the perfect antidote for fans who thought modern drivers like Gordon and Johnson are a bit too vanilla. On the track, his hard driving style endeared him to folks who still get a little misty-eyed every time they hear the number 3, and his Hispanic heritage gave some credence to NASCAR’s failed Drive for Diversity in a sport that is whiter than Wonder Bread.
The first two seasons for Montoya in Cup were a bit of an up-and-down affair; but 2009 was a whole different story, as he actually competed for race wins and led laps. In fact, his aborted chances at winning the Brickyard 400 after a pit road speeding penalty might qualify for the biggest heartbreak of the season for anyone who doesn’t have the number 88 tattooed somewhere on their body. After making the Chase (no small achievement for an EGR driver) Montoya started his championship drive hotter than an Alabama Fourth of July, scoring four top 5 finishes in the first four playoff races before it all started to come apart. He came up lame down the stretch, but this guy is going to be a player, mark my words.
Marcos Ambrose: Even if he isn’t your favorite driver, and even if you loathe Toyota’s involvement in NASCAR to half the degree I do, you can’t help but grin when Ambrose runs well. In a world of cartoon cutout drivers spewing sponsor mentions like a fat kid goes through Baby Ruth bars, Ambrose is big as life and twice as real. Yeah, he talks funny, but folks from Down Under tend to do that. (It’s like they learned English from a guy from England.) But four top 10 finishes and seven top 10s, with a resultant eighteenth place finish in the points, are nothing to sneeze at. Ambrose might have finished even better, too, if the wheels hadn’t fallen off his little red wagon after a third place finish at Bristol in August. Normally, I find people as upbeat as Ambrose downright annoying, but it’s hard not to like Marcos. If he doesn’t qualify for Mark Martin’s fossil status, Ambrose is 33 and in just his second year on the Cup circuit — the way God intended these things to play out.
2009 Drivers: Biggest Disappointments
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: This was supposed to be the year it all happened for Earnhardt. Heading into the second year of his pairing with HMS, it was the time he was finally going to start winning races and competing for titles after having had a year to adjust. Well, that didn’t work out so well, did it? Earnhardt not only missed the Chase but he finished 25th in the points, fending off advances from the Start and Parkers most weeks.
Junior wasn’t simply bad… he was horrid. Two top 5 finishes in 36 races? A total of five top 10s in those 36 races driving for the team that dominated the sport this season? Well, there’s no question which was the runt pup in Hendrick’s litter this year, was there? Some say that the declining interest in NASCAR racing is attributable to Junior’s lack of success. If that’s the case, put out the fire and call in the dogs, as things would have to be merely horrible to improve the fortunes of their lot. Some say Junior lacks focus; others are bolder and say he simply lacks talent. Whatever the case, the fan base Earnhardt inherited from his famous father is growing frustrated and suddenly lacking excuses as to why their boy is running like a three-legged lamb that’s been grazing in the Whacky Tobacky field. I’m guessing his former employer Teresa Earnhardt was sporting a wicked grin as she carved this year’s Thanksgiving turkey, thinking to herself, “OK, so it wasn’t my fault after all, huh, Junebug?”
Roush Racing: You’ve got Chevy fans. (A lot of them.) You’ve got Ford fans. (A lot of them.) Roush Racing is supposed to be the foil that keeps Hendrick Motorsports from dominating the way they did this year. Whether you think two, possibly three, superteams dominating the sport is good for the sport’s future, it beats watching a boxing match with only one fighter in the ring. But that’s what happened in 2009, as Chevy’s main competition came up surprisingly lame throughout the year.
Among the disappointments at RFR was former Cup champion Matt Kenseth, who failed to even make the Chase even after winning the first two events of the year including the Daytona “By Gawd“ 500. Carl Edwards, who led the league with nine victories last year, failed to win even a single Cup event this season. To compound things, he broke his foot playing…are you frickin’ kidding me…Frisbee. When did Cup drivers go from Men of Steel to China Dolls? Greg Biffle also failed to win a race, and while he made the Chase, he was such a minor asterisk in the actual competition that he’ll end up with his name as an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question if he keeps running like he did.
The back half of the Roush fleet wasn’t much better, either. Outgoing driver Jamie McMurray won Talladega for a small, late-season boost, but few folks noticed with so many cars on their roofs or set ablaze. David Ragan? Let’s just say UPS had its downs this year. But Jack Roush is a prideful man, and he’d clearly gone beyond simmering to a full boil by the end of 2009. My guess is the Roush teams will run better in 2010; otherwise, look to see Cup races broadcast on the Hungarian Cooking Channel after the next few years.
Kyle Busch: It’s hard to call Kyle Busch’s three-wide 2009 campaign a total failure with four Cup victories, nine in Nationwide (to go along with a title), and seven Truck Series wins. But Busch started out the season hot, winning at least one event every weekend as winter gave way to spring even here on the upper right coast. It actually seemed at times that Busch’s success faltered a short time later, when he made that ill-considered decision to smash the Sam Bass-designed guitar trophy at Nashville after winning the Nationwide race. The move proved unpopular, to say the least, and merited a lot more written words then it deserved. If you didn’t know Kyle Busch was a bunghole by then, you weren’t paying attention, but perhaps a little Karmic payback was in order — and it happened in the form of just enough bad luck to miss the playoffs by a scant seven points. The inconsistency on the Cup side proved an unsolvable problem, leading to the dismissal of crew chief Steve Addington and the promotion of Nationwide whiz kid Dave Rogers to man the ship in 2010.
Through it all, win or lose, Busch continued to be his petulant, self-aggrandizing self, with a chip on his shoulder that would crush the sidewalks in Manhattan to dust. But here’s the scary thing: this sport needs him to compete for titles, win races, and say truly loathsome things after he wins or loses. Kyle Busch is the perfect antidote to Jimmie Johnson. To have the polished and methodical Johnson lose a title to the mercurial and rambunctious Busch after several on-track incidents throughout the season would do more to increase interest in the sport than anything else other than Dale Earnhardt, Jr. running worth a damn. There’s just one driver that can keep Kyle Busch from winning a Cup title… and that driver is Kyle Busch.
Richard Childress Racing: This is the organization that invented Dale Earnhardt the Original. They won six titles together. Every week, they were there in the hunt, and people were either on their feet cheering or jeering. So how did the once proud RCR organization fail to win a single race this year, despite a roster of three talented drivers and Casey Mears? It boggles my mind — and my mind isn’t easily boggled after all these years in the saddle riding tramp. Clint Bowyer finished fifteenth in the points, Jeff Burton finished seventeenth, Kevin Harvick finished nineteenth, and Casey Mears finished 21st. Jezum Crow, Auntie Em, turn out the lights, I don’t want to see any more…Mama told me not to come, that ain’t no way to have fun, Son. At least there was a positive end to the story, as the RCR group showed marked improvement over the last few races of the season. That bodes well for 2010, although without sponsorship for Mears they may trim back down to three cars.
Joey Logano: OK, so he won Rookie of the Year honors. That’s like saying the United States somehow prevailed in the Invasion of Grenada. Meteorological nymphs allowed Logano to win at New Hampshire when all the fast cars had pitted and the rain began to fall, allowing him to put his name in the record books a second time as the youngest winning Cup driver in history. But that victory was one of just three top 5s that Logano earned this year, en-route to an average finish of 20th that left him 20th in the season standings. If I’m recalling correctly, and my brain is more calcified than my teeth lately, Tony Stewart (the former driver of the Home Depot car) and Denny Hamlin did quite a bit better than that in their rookie seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s been awhile since anyone has called Logano “Sliced Bread,” as in the greatest thing since sliced bread was invented. Maybe now he goes by “The Clapper” as in the greatest thing since the Clapper was invented.
Things NASCAR Fans Can Live Without in 2010
Little Digger: I’m told Little Digger has his fans. I’m also told that there’s on online petition to have Britney Spears inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame now that’s she’s not shooting up anymore. Such folks exist, and that scares me. But of all the issues that affect the sport, my readers at least are 100% united in their passionate loathing for that gopher and the animated pack of vermin that are his friends — along with Darrell Waltrip, who is slightly less animated but still annoying as Hell. In the face of declining ratings, FOX could make no move so simple as simply having Lumpy run over Little Digger on a zero-turn, ending the misery to prove they intend to quit with the lame comedy info-tainment and return to the respectful sports broadcasting this sport deserves in 2010. Leave comedy to Scrubs, please — and quit trying to sell plush stuffed toys to morons.
Start and Parkers: You can’t blame a guy for cashing in on an easy paycheck. It’s kept the Screen Actors guild in business for decades. But the notion of a certain amount of entrants fighting to qualify for the race though they don’t have a crew chief, a pit crew, or even a spare set of tires rubs a lot of fans the wrong way. What’s the harm, you might ask? Because they only focus on qualifying to make the show and cash in their checks, the start and parkers are depriving potential new teams a slot to make the race and perhaps grow into real contenders. If NASCAR has to reduce the fields to 35 potentially competitive cars rather than allowing the cynical freeloaders a spot in the show, I’m all for it. Washington, D.C. has the market cornered on corporate welfare anyway.
New dates for Kansas or Chicago: Yeah, Kansas added a casino and Chicago is a big TV market, but what this sport needs is less dates at cookie cutters and more races held at competitive venues. A return to Rockingham and a second date at Darlington would go a long way towards fixing what ails NASCAR and drives the fans away. And if there’s a God on Heaven, and I am convinced there is, I might live long enough to see Cup cars competing at North Wilkesboro annually before I start gumming Jell-O in the aging biker hippie home.
The Chase: Hot rodders live by the axiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well the Chase is broken, and 2009 offered ample evidence of that. By the end of another miserable year with this system, NASCAR officials conceded the Chase might need “tweaking.” Tweaking? That’s like a doctor prescribing aspirin for cancer. I say it’s high time to blow that mother up and start over. – or, just hand the Cup champion trophy to Jimmie Johnson this February and end the stupidity.
What To Watch For In 2010
The Drive For Five: Right now, it looks like there’s no team that can dethrone Johnson and the No. 48 bunch — but it once seemed no one could unseat Jeff Gordon, either. The same goes for Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, and Dale Earnhardt in their primes as well. Remember, the toughest thing about being the King of the Mountain is there’s nowhere to go but down… and it can be a hard tumble.
Roush Returneth?: Jack Roush doesn’t like being beat. He likes getting beat like a cheap drum for nine months even less … and he especially hates being beat by Rick Hendrick and that crew. So, you can bet the Thanksgiving turkey went cold on many plates, as Roush and his boys burnt the midnight oil that night looking for a way to beat HMS. There’s going to be a lot more oil burned and cold dinners during this offseason, too, as the team works to get themselves back in the game. Think of HMS and Roush as the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles… they don’t give a damn who wins the Super Bowl, as long as they beat each other.
Will Kyle Busch Outgrow Pre-pubesence and Grow a Pair?: Kyle Busch is the most dangerous driver in this sport. When he’s on his game, you’re not going to beat him. He’s going to beat himself, which he often does throwing a midrace tantrum that makes Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sound like a Smurf on the radio. But just imagine if Kyle Busch grows up over the offseason, finds a crew chief who can put up with his crap, and reaches his potential. Within a decade, people would be asking, “Jimmie Who?”
Just Gone, or Long Gone and Lonesome?: Can NASCAR win back their fans or even lure them back into buying tickets to the races again? The economy shows some signs of improving, and people have a pent-up need to be entertained. For some long-term fans, hope springs eternal each February. And America’s love affair with fast, loud cars dates back to the day when Henry Ford was browning his diapers. As it stands written in the Book of Bruce, “Man, the dope is there’s still hope.”
Detroit Medley: Chrysler is now owned by Fiat, and GM and their Chevy brand are off the ropes — but still bleeding heavily around swollen eyes swinging wildly trying to reach the next round. Is Detroit going to stay involved in sponsoring NASCAR teams and funding technical research, even while kept alive on government largesse? And with corporate sponsors leaving the sport in stampedes, can even the big teams survive without factory funding?
2010 to Be Considerably Safer: How could it not be? Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon are cutting back to part-time schedules! That will just leave Waltrip more time to injure motorcyclists off the track taking an illegal U-turn.
The Car of Yesterday?: Two primary goals of the Car of Tomorrow were to make passing easier and to eliminate the plates at Talladega and Daytona. Well, the new car has failed miserably on both counts. So is this the season that NASCAR finally admits this dog not only won’t hunt, it won’t even get out of the back of the SUV to enter the woods? Sooner or later, it’s got to happen. It’s just a matter of if there’s anyone who gives a flying fig when it does.
And, in closing … I wanted to send out best wishes for what will likely be a difficult Holiday season for David Poole’s family, as a great writer and a great man was silenced by a heart attack shortly after the spring Talladega race. I miss reading Poole’s comments, and the sport is poorer for the loss of his voice. As a fellow writer, Poole’s work has always inspired me to work harder and write better. We might have been diametrically opposed with our views on some issues, but I always respected and liked the guy. It’s fitting his final set of columns on that spring Talladega race were some of his best work ever. So RIP, Mr. Poole. I’ll see you down the road someday, and we can finish our arguments.
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
The fact that you can get away with this tripe and call it a “ column “ moves cashing in on an easy pay check to a whole new dimension .
Loved the part about Digger (I’ve got a shotgun and shells if you’ll kill that vermin and it’s originator), loved the part about S&PS (pathetic travesty and makes Nascar look stupid).
Now just a correction to your unzippered mouth column, which I love by the way. Sure Jr inherited some of Sr’s fans. There were a lot he didn’t inherit. Jr already had fans and continued to get fans because of his personality and driving. You’re too independently minded to soak up the media hype that Jr is popular because of his father. We are Jr fans because of Jr. His father has nothing to do with his popularity. Proof? How many times was his father MPD? Once…posthumously.
As far as Theresa is concerned..haha..she can take that turkey and shove it..well..you know where. And she can’t be laughing too hard. Look how far she’s come!!!
Another thing in the long line of things that need fixing in NASCAR if the stupid rule of the top 35 in points being locked in to a race. When a team qualifies in the top 15 out of 45 drivers and has to go home – it is soo wrong. In fact, there was a Talladega qualifying session a couple years ago that was almost done and there was going to be a car in the top ten not make the race. All of a sudden, someone threw a cup of water on the track and they called off qualifying and set the race by owners points. When they usually have 3 days to get in qualifying, why does one little shower give such a big advantage to the leading team. Get rid of ‘locked-in’ cars and do everything you can to get in qualifying. How much more exciting would the ‘chase’ have been if Johnson had spun during qualifying and missed a chase race. How much more exciting would the races be if all 43 teams had to work on qualifying AND race set up? More different drivers would have a chance and the fan base would expand. It sucks right now rooting for a underdog, knowing he has no chance of winning and the only time he gets mentioned is in driver intros. When you are watching and you see on the far corner on the TV screen a car turning into the pits and the announcers don’t even bother to stop their babbling to mention who it was or why they had to pit, we have a problem.
I’m certainly going to miss……
“Trouble, turn four.” “Waltrip into the wall.”
I frequently disagree with you, but today’s was a fine column not messed up with your usual bias. Thank you – and thank you for remembering David Poole, who, as a good a writer as he was, it seems to me was an even far better person. Happy Holidays.
I can’t imagine why the cars at the tail end of the field would bother you Matt , only a small handfull of cars are ever seen or mentioned . Does the fact that the s &t cars take prize money from NASCAR bother you ? Sure doesn’t bother me .
Tommy Smothers? Man is that showing your age!
Teresa sure did get the last laugh – as Smoke predicted the GarageMahal is now a museum.
I do not see why next year should be any better as long as Jr. is still at HMS…? RH has said 3 or 4 times before that he is going to “fix” Jr.‘s cars.
Last spring Nascar Now started reporting that Tony Jr. was making Jr.’s car with 2007 DEI spec cars. When he was removed, RH said that he was going to ‘fix’ Jr.’s cars. I believed him. During the week the crew chiefs were switched, Nascar Now reported that since Jr.’s cars sent to Dover were the old T. Jr. cars and that HMS sent a truck with 2 of the newer HMS chassis to switch out. Those cars never made it to Dover. Instead they made a big deal out of the ‘brains’ at HMS were working on Jr.’s car…the OLD chassis cars.
Michael, for the record comparing Dave Marcis to start and parkers is a bit of a stretch as Dave ran every lap he could. He never pulled off the track at lap ten due to “handling”. What you do point out though is what is wrong with start and park cars in that they don’t run the full run, even if it is less than full throttle. They do it for the check, Dave did it for his love for racing. Keep in mind that Dave’s shop only had a few full time employees compared to what we see now with these corporate race teams that have a staff of a 100 engineers and over 300 employees…that’s what is wrong with NASCAR today. And yes, the top-35 rule is just stupid..run wide open an get there faster than the rest and you should be in. If your slower than 43 other guys, load it up and try next week.
Margo, the only “money grubber” in the Earnhardt family is Theresa, and that little problem has been handled. Just look how fasr she’s come.
Ah, Carol Einarsson, world renowned expert on what makes cars go fast. Nothing to do with her unbridled Junior bias, as anyone who can read her columns without barfing is aware of.
Honestly Marybeth, some of you Junior devotees are unreal. It’s always the fault of the owner or crew chief du jour. Maybe your driver could practice things like, oh, pit stops, staying off the wall, you know, things drivers not named Earnhardt have to learn.