NASCAR Changes Qualifying Format
posted by Summer Bedgood
Tuesday March 11, 2014
Following safety concerns regarding NASCAR’s new qualifying format, the sanctioning body is introducing some changes in preparation for this weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. According to the Associated Press, NASCAR is banning teams from cool-down laps after their qualifying attempts, but will instead be allowed to hook up cool-down units to the engine through hood flaps.
Late Tuesday afternoon, a release from NASCAR fully detailed the changes. Teams will be allowed a single cool down unit to be connected through the right or left side hood flap, however the hood must remain closed. Additionally, two crew members will be allowed over the wall while cooling down.
“The qualifying is new to all of us and as we have said over the past several weeks, we are looking at it from all aspects,” said Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition and racing development. “Following discussions, both internally and with others in the garage area, we moved quickly to make a few revisions that will be effective starting with our two national series events at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. We believe this will only enhance and improve what has demonstrated to be an exciting form of qualifying for our fans, competitors and others involved with the sport. Moving forward we will continue to look at it and address anything else that we may need to as the season unfolds.”
The move comes after three weeks of NASCAR’s new knockout qualifying system, where multiple cars are allowed to make qualifying attempts at the same time instead of the traditional one-car-at-a-time procedure. Drivers and teams had complained that the new rules didn’t allow them to cool their engines down on pit road, and the cool-down laps caused a dangerous situation with slower cars staying on the track at the same time that other cars were running by them at much higher speeds.
The rule will begin this weekend in Bristol, a track that has a much narrower racing surface than Daytona, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
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
Monday March 3, 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!
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
And then, there were three. Three drivers: Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick arrive at Homestead this weekend with a shot at the 2010 Cup title. Right up there until the final fourteen laps at Phoenix, it looked like Hamlin was going to ride into Miami with the title his to lose; instead, Hamlin and team might have found a way to lose it right there at Phoenix.
Laying odds on sporting events is emptiness and chasing the wind. Despite the Hendrick car’s normally stellar record of reliability, Johnson’s No. 48 could blow an engine leaving pit road on the parade laps. Harvick or Hamlin could get caught up in a wreck driving through the first turn. Those of you who follow the International Six Days Endurance challenge (the Olympics of enduro competition in motorcycling) heard that the sixth and final day of the contest was canceled due to security concerns in the host country of Mexico. Anything can happen. But as you get older, as I have, you come to realize, “Anything can happen, but it probably won’t.”
There’s nothing new under the sun with this trio. So here’s my take on the three challengers, their strengths and potential weaknesses, going into the season finale. Lest anyone accuses me of bias, we’ll look at the three drivers in alphabetical order.
What he’s got going for him — As you will doubtlessly hear repeated over and over this weekend, Hamlin is the defending winner at Homestead. Of course, when he won there last year, there was no championship pressure, but only the need to go out there and score a victory to bring some happy memories into the offseason. I don’t think this Sunday the same devil may care attitude will prevail with the No. 11 team.
In addition to that win last year, Hamlin has also scored a pair of third-place finishes at Homestead for a total of three top-5 results in just five starts at Miami.
At Texas, he really made the world stand up and notice with a dominating performance that saw this driver seemingly able to pass and lead at will while the field floundered to keep up. The same Looney Tune was playing, Reel 2, at Phoenix prior to that one extra stop for fuel that dumped him to 12th in the final running order, a half dozen positions behind his grateful rivals.
This year, Hamlin has seemed like a man with a plan. He made the Chase easily and told the media the strategy was to remain in contention up to and through the Talladega wild card race, then to pull the trigger on both barrels. For 298 laps at Phoenix, that plan was flawlessly executed. Unfortunately, the race was 312 laps long.
He’ll have one final ace up his sleeve to draw on this weekend, though. Team owner Joe Gibbs has coached younger players in both the NFL and in the Cup series to play their best game and win a championship… might history repeat itself?
What he’s got to overcome — Throughout his career, after the ebullience of his rookie season, Hamlin has always come across as mercurial and moody. His quiet confidence entering Phoenix was shattered by a 12th-place finish, though he left the track still leading the points. After the race, the young driver seemed thoroughly irritated, shell-shocked, and near tears.
Perhaps we should give Hamlin the benefit of the doubt given his relatively young age. If you stay around this game long enough, there’s going to be afternoons a five cent lock washer fails, costing a driver a win in a race he’s dominated going away. Eventually, a driver will win a race over a dominant rival who had his number, but suffered similar outrageous misfortune. As no less an authority than Richard Petty once postulated, “It’s a humbling game. You don’t let the highs get too high and you don’t let the lows get too low.” But that’s not how the young driver of the No. 11 car plays things. After misfortune, he’s either accusingly angry or morosely dejected. And that’s not the mindset to bring into the toughest fight of your life.
That being said, I’m left among those wondering what the No. 11’s crew chief, Mike Ford was thinking late in the Phoenix race. His driver had a commanding lead and even a second-place finish behind Edwards would have been a major step forward towards clinching a title. Why wasn’t Hamlin told to back out of it a bit and conserve fuel over the last quarter of the race? Yes, statistically there should have been a late caution at Phoenix, but you know the three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies, and statistics. Ironically, it might have been Hamlin’s own harsh words directed at NASCAR (fifty grand’s worth, if I recall correctly) that kept the sanctioning body from throwing one of their infamous “debris” cautions to bunch the field up for one final sprint to the finish Sunday. You know what paybacks have in common with Lassie?
Finally, there’s his pit crew. While it’s the same team that brought him to the dance, last Sunday they seemed to choke a bit, posting stops routinely a half-second slower than their speedier rivals. They’ll need to do better than that this Sunday. Thirteen something second pit stops just won’t do.
What he’s got going for him — Forget the points standings you’re reading this week; Kevin Harvick has earned the most points in the Cup series. Under the old points system, he’d have actually clinched the title at Phoenix. Yes, that and a dime… but that’s how Petty and Dale Earnhardt earned their seven titles, and in my mind that’s still how a championship should be earned. Harvick’s winning statistics aren’t as gaudy as his rivals, but week in and week out he has been the most consistent driver on all sorts of tracks under all sorts of circumstances.
If the No. 29 bunch has never really been a player in a championship battle, RCR sure has. They’ve won six of them and lost quite a few as well. Childress himself understands how those big trophies are won. And, like Gibbs, he can share a few thoughts with a driver diving into uncharted waters.
Harvick’s personality, while occasionally grating and cocky, seems perfect going into this weekend. He refuses to accept he is very much the underdog. Instead, he sees this goal within reach while forming the attitude, “If they want it, they’re going to have to take it from me.”
Because of his points deficit, Harvick has only one legitimate strategy this weekend. He needs to go wide open for the win, and if he ruffles a few feathers making passes to get to the front, so be it. It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. He’s been doing pretty well at Homestead the last two seasons as well, with a second and third-place finish to his credit.
What he’s got to overcome — For better or worse, this year’s title isn’t going to be decided under the old points system (or a new and improved “old” system), but under the Chase format. Looking at the numbers, Harvick needs to make up 46 points to catch Hamlin and 31 to catch Johnson. (Well, one more point than that, actually, since the first tiebreaker is number of wins.) Harvick could win the race going away and lead the most laps, but still lose to either Hamlin or Johnson if they finish in the top 5. That’s problematic. It’s nice to have destiny in your own hands, instead of having to count on others to have trouble for you to succeed.
Throughout his career, one of Harvick’s biggest hindrances to his success has been himself. He’s not the most cerebral driver out there. In fact, he’s a bit of a hothead. Numerous times when he feels he’s been done dirty or even slighted on the track, Harvick refuses to realize it’s in his best interest to leave that battle for another day and move on. Slowing to resolve each conflict as he bullies his way forward Sunday isn’t a wise strategy.
What he’s got going for him — First and foremost, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have this Chase format figured out. They’ve won four of the damned things in a row! Johnson has made the Chase every year since the points system came into being, finished second in another one and fifth in the other. In 59 Chase races run to date, Johnson has won nineteen of them. In those same races, he’s finished outside the top 10 just fifteen times. Those are ludicrously good numbers.
Forget about trying to play mind games with this duo. Knaus seems particularly Zen-like in his ability to shrug off obstacles and challenges this time of year, as evidenced last weekend at Phoenix. He’s determined to get the job done, and isn’t above giving his superstar driver a little crap if he feels Johnson deserves it. My gut tells me if Knaus had left the No. 48 team somewhere during the last four-year period, Johnson would not have had four back-to-back titles… but Knaus as a crew chief almost certainly would have.
Driving for the best-funded and manned team on the circuit certainly won’t hurt the No. 48 bunch’s chances any. The Hendrick organization has won titles under the new format and under the old.
What he’s got to overcome — Homestead is one of those rare tracks that Johnson has never won at. In the last five years, he’s only managed one top-5 finish here. (But of course, he hasn’t had to get one. Usually, he’s so far ahead in the points by now he arrives at Homestead needing only a top-19 finish to claim the title.) In the nine Homestead races, interestingly enough none of Rick Hendrick’s drivers have ever won. Up until last year, Jack Roush’s Fords had been dominant on the new Homestead track layout.
If Johnson is losing a wink of sleep this week, and I doubt he is, it will be recalling the 2005 Homestead event. He arrived at the track that weekend a daunting but doable 52 points behind Tony Stewart. Rather than rising to the challenge, Johnson wrecked out of the event and finished 40th. That’s the last time J.J. has arrived at this track chasing the leader rather than leading the Chase.
Then, there’s that still hotly debated crew chief swap with the No. 24 team midrace at Texas. Yeah, Gordon’s bunch was nearly flawless in the pits for Johnson last Sunday, but the core of the now deposed No. 48 crew has been in the heat of the championship battle all those previous times. I doubt there’s anyone left on the No. 24 pit crew who was on the team back when Gordon won his last title in 2001. As anyone who works with engines long enough learns, even forged steel can crack, and it will usually do so at the least opportune time.
Finally, there’s the law of averages. Eventually Miss Fortune draws your card at the Dime-A-Dance Hall. Cale Yarborough didn’t win five straight titles. Nor did Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, or Richard Petty. (Petty came the closest to pulling the feat off, in 1971-75, but lost a cam in the 1973 season finale.) Johnson has been leading a charmed existence for awhile now, and all good things come to an end.
So no matter who wins the title this weekend, it is the last Cup rodeo of 2010 before the circuit packs up their horses and cleans up their bull**** for another year. My guess is even the guys who finish second and third in the Chase are going to be just as glad to finally have a weekend off.
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Great article, Matt.
As close as this points race is, teammmates could play a big part in determining the championship at Homestead. I don’t mean the deliberate wrecking of a championship contender (highly unlikely), but selective blocking, letting teammates lead laps… that kind of stuff would tarnish a championship in my opinion. This race has the potential to be one for the ages; I’d hate to see the outcome marred by “team orders”.
Looking forward to your recap on Monday.
Of course none of us were there for the Gibbs team’s Tuesday morning meeting, but I have to believe Joe probably spent a couple of hours alone with Denny getting his mind refocused. Joe is too seasoned of a coach to not do it.
Here’s a fun fact for you, I just went to a couple of sites to look up the odds on the race and championship.
Now, I will admit to not being much of a gambler. I work too hard for my money to just put it in someone else’s pockets, but those odds seem to say that the bookies are so confident of Denny winning that you would lose money just by betting on him.
Does EVERY comment that you make have to reinforce your stupidity? Is it a law? Is it just coincidence? I, and almost everybody else, would love to know.
You see, since Matt’s article was on “handicapping” the chances for the three contenders, I went to see what the professional handicappers say about the subject. Can you now understand how the topics relate?
I know that it is now your life’s goal to show me up, but you fail EVERY SINGLE TIME THAT YOU TRY.
I only gamble on the presidential election and how many times Lindsey Lohan will go back to rehab.
Harvick’s crew was changed up a few weeks back, and he’s been a bit petulant and mercurial this season too… That said, though, he is currently flying under the radar – which could work to his advantage.
Denny is young? Since when is a man 30 yrs old young in Nascar?
This should have been titled ‘Three Guys One Cup’. I apologize in advance for this comment.
Good one Michael! LOL
I think Harvick’s odds are very slim. It is really Denny and Jimmie that are battling. Harvick needs both to totally fall flat or the planets to line up in perfect order. It could happen, but I wouldn’t bet a dollar on it.
I really don’t think that Johnson/Knaus feel any pressure. They have won four titles in a row and dont need to prove anything to anyone…well to anyone who thinks, that is. Hamlin is the guy with the pressure..he’s had a great year and he’s so close to the title he can taste it. Last weeks race didnt help his state of mind. Harvick, I count out….probably my personal bias. Hes a good driver but doesnt strike me as a particularly pleasant human being given his constant berating of pit crews. I also agree with the comment about his cerebral capabilities.
Good read, Matt. That’s why your articles are a must read every week. Your summation of the top 3 was spot on. Harvick won the regular season championship. Now I would like to see him win the final 10 race segment. I hate the Chase but trying hard not to walk away from the sport I love.
I think it’s going to come down to a battle of focus and nerves between Denny and Jimmy, first one to slip finishes second. For Kevin to win, both Denny and Jimmy would need to be at least a lap down at the finish. It’s going to be an interesting race no doubt. Also I would advise everyone to mute the tv and listen to some music so you won’t have to hear the point updates every lap!