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!
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.
Traditionally I’ve always divided the (way too long) Cup season into esters. You have the Opening Drive of twelve races starting at Daytona where fans get to see who is running to be in contention for a title. Usually the cream rises to the top, but every year the Opening Drive offers up a few surprises. I call the second trimester of the season the Summer Stretch. As the temperatures heat up, the on-track action typically cools off. Legitimate title contenders try to solidify their positions as the Cup series visits some of the worst tracks that host events. There’s a reason TNT can only afford to host part of this section of the season. No other network wants it. Every year a couple drivers who seemed locked into playoff contention will falter and a couple who seemed hopelessly out of contention will rise to the occasion and grab a playoff berth. I’m not wild about the new points system, but the “Wild-Card” scenario for 11th and 12 place may see some talented drivers whose season’s have gotten off on the wrong foot rally to the challenge.
As hard as it might be to believe, the World 600 was the twelfth race of the season and we’re now 1/3 of the way done. A season that started in the brutal cold of February with seeming trice weekly snowstorms, at least in these parts, has given way to May and a brutally hot Memorial May weekend with temps in the 90s. Southeastern Pennsylvania was denied spring this year. We went from winter to summer and a Charlotte zip code on my business card is looking better every year.
This season has been chock full of surprises, but two of them stand out. First of course is Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 victory driving for the fabled Wood Brothers team in only his second Cup start. That was the kind of feel good story you normally need to turn to Hollywood to find. Unfortunately, not too long after there was less happy news. Young Master Bayne took ill and even the august Mayo Clinic can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong with him. That’s worrisome, bordering on frightening. The staff here at Frontstretch including myself wish Bayne a speedy and full recovery, but also hope that the people closest to him will not allow him to return to the track until he’s 100 percent. Bayne had too much promise and too many good years (no pun intended) ahead of him to risk long term health issues or injuries.
The second shocker came on the eve of Mother’s Day when Regan Smith won at Darlington. )I don’t’ care about the official name of the race. It ain’t going to be the Southern 500 again until they run it on the afternoon of Labor Day weekend.) Smith’s team, one of the smallest on the circuit and based out of Denver Co., is a hard working outfit but hardly a favorite with the odds-makers in Las Vegas every weekend. For just that one magical evening the old adage, “In any race, any team can win” proved true. It’s been a long, long, time since I believed it.
We’ve already had a bit of controversy this year. Ryan Newman and Juan Pablo Montoya had their little tiff. Anyone who was surprised hasn’t been paying attention. Newman and Montoya have been running into each other since JPM’s first Cup start. For whatever reason, as the old line goes, these two just piss each other off. What was a little more surprising is that Newman apparently got away with throwing a punch at his rival in the NASCAR trailer while series officials tried to mediate a truce between the two. Of course we’ll never know. The official NASCAR line is, “We don’t know if it happened, even if we watched it happen, so our official position is someone is going to have to tell us what we saw and no one else was there.” Last time I remember fists being thrown in a NASCAR trailer is when Junior punched Tony Stewart for talking bad about his momma in Denver after one year’s Busch race.
Then of course we had a little post-race altercation between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch after Darlington. Maybe Joey Logano was surprised it wasn’t Delana Harvick in her fire suit trying to land a haymaker on his younger rival, but I wasn’t. These two sons of bitches can’t seem to get along with anyone and have had numerous instances of ill behavior before. God bless ‘em for it. I’d rather watch Busch and Harvick duke it out than watch Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have a well mannered post-race discussion over who will pick up the tab for dinner. Busch had been trying hard to reform his sullied image, sounding quite reasonable and even humble in defeat or victory most of the year, but of course that all imploded when he got pulled over running at 128 miles per hour in a residential area. Sadly enough it was not far from where 1989 Busch series champ Robbie Moroso killed the driver of an oncoming car and himself speeding home from a bar. (Let me hasten to add that there wasn’t the slightest insinuation that Busch was intoxicated when pulled over. Some people need beer to be stupid…raising my hand here. Others are just born that way.)
Clearly one of the top stories in the opening part of the season has been Carl Edwards. He is after all leading the points and not by just a little. In fact the gap between Edwards and his pursuers is rapidly approaching a full race’s worth. Edwards has won one points race and the All-Star thingie. His Roush teammate Matt Kenseth has won two races this year. To put that in perspective in the entire 2007 and 2009 seasons Kenseth won just two races (each) all year. Last year he didn’t win any. In his 2003 championship season Kenseth scored just one win. (Which is apparently why we are now saddled with the Chase). David Ragan has been running notably better much of this season, including his unlikely second place finish in the 600 last weekend. Ragan already has more top 5 and top 10 finishes this season than he did all of last year. Greg Biffle has had a wildly uneven season and the stress is showing, but he’s still ranked 11th in points.
Yes, the new Ford FR9 engine is apparently coming into its own and restoring a little parity into NASCAR racing. This year Ford has won four races to date (plus the All-Star race if that amounts to a hill of beans). Last year it wasn’t until the 21st race of the season, Pocono in August that a Blue Oval rang the bell. While I am not privy to the numbers I am told in a recent NASCAR dyno comparison test the FR9 put up the best numbers, but not by a huge margin. The apparent difference is the new Ford engine runs cooler. That allows teams to run more tape on the front end, increasing front down force. That’s all important in the current Cup climate where front down force trumps newer tires, a topic I plan to expand on in the near future. Here’s a preview. It’s ruining racing.
The trickle down effect of the cool-running FR9 has been felt by the few other Ford teams outside of the Roush organization. Satellite organizations one and all. Roush apparently got tired of playing by the rules while the Hendrick organization and it’s Stewart-Haas partners and others met the letter but not the spirit of the law. Obviously Bayne won the Daytona 500. Almost as remarkably AJ Allmendinger in his Petty Motorsports Ford finds himself thirteenth in the points. RPM teammate Marcos Ambrose is 17th and perhaps a road course victory or two out of the title hunt. This is with a team that looked ready to flat-line late last season.
Kevin Harvick is second in the points and has won a series-leading three races this season. He’s off to yet another credible drive for the title. Paul Menard has been having his best season to date and discrediting folks like me who feel his Daddy’s big bucks bought him a ride. Clint Bowyer hasn’t been doing terribly. But he has just two top 5 finishes all year, less than Harvick has wins. Jeff Burton’s season can be considered nothing less than horrific. He’s still searching for his first top 10, much less top 5 finish. He’s averaging a 21st place finish, he’s mired 24th in the points and has led just 29 laps. I’ve been watching Burton race for a long time and consider him one of the most talented drivers in the garage area. Something is bad wrong here.
Jimmie Johnson is third in points and has won just one race. Already some folks are kicking up dust and saying JJ’s streak of five titles is over. Not so fast my friends. Winning races pays good. Winning championships pays way better. This is a team that has the Chase formula down. For 26 races you keep yourselves in contention near the top of the points, experiment with some new stuff, try various strategies etc. and then with ten to go you grind your competitors faces into the ground and take the top prize.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been running remarkably better this year. He’s ranked fourth in the points compared to 18th last season at this juncture. He had his heartbreaker at Charlotte last weekend. He’s finished second twice (and probably could have won at Martinsville with a tad more testosterone). Hey, NASCAR needs Junior to win. I’ll admit that. Maybe the day is getting closer. But like Danica and the IndyCars, it seems preposterous for the fortunes of a sport to hang on a single driver.
Jeff Gordon snapped a 66-race winless drought at Phoenix, a drought made remarkable only by the lofty standards Gordon himself set early in his career. As of late he’s been decidedly off song, with just one top 10 finish in the last six races. The No. 24 team’s new hallmark seems to be taking a car that’s competitive in the first part of the race and adjusting it into a state it’s hopeless. Wasn’t that the habit of the No. 88 team last year before the crew chief swap? Class, discuss.
One of the biggest disappointments of the season to date is Mark Martin. He’s 14th in the points having led a grand total of seven laps all season. Even weirder for the modern era’s most talented driver never to post a title. He had a stellar day at Dover to show he can still get the job done, but the weird part is that Martin, once considered the cleanest driver in the sport, is all of a sudden causing wrecks like he’s channeling Robby Gordon. It’s like Martin has decided to humiliate his legacy even worse than Darrell Waltrip did in the waning years of his career. As it stands written in the book of Bruce,
Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight
What’s going on at Joe Gibbs, Toyota’s primary invasionary force? Well looking at the schedule as a whole it’s hard to fault Kyle Busch’s performance to date. It’s gotten to the point when it’s a major surprise when Busch doesn’t win a truck or Nationwide race. It’s not good for either series but hey, he’s playing within the rules. On the Cup side Busch’s success has been a little less domineering with two wins at Martinsville and Richmond. He’s led a staggering 852 laps and posted a very impressive six top 5s in the season’s twelve points races to date. What remains troubling is despite Busch’s decided effort to comport himself better off the track so the world won’t think he’s the biggest bunghole in the world, just one of the top 10, when Busch gets frustrated he is prone to ruining his own chances. His patented move of sweeping from the top lane to the bottom after something goes wrong has triggered several major crashes this year in all three series. Then of course he had his high speed run-in with the law that once again cast him in a bad light. I’ll go on record as saying that Busch will win several Cup titles, maybe even an amazing amount of them, but not until he grows the Hell up.
Denny Hamlin has probably been the biggest disappointment to date this year. After leading the points going into the Homestead finale last year, Hamlin’s stats to date have been less than impressive. He has a single top 5 result, a second place finish at Richmond. By this point last year Hamlin had already won three times despite knee surgery early in the year. This Wild Card scenario could still play into Hamlin’s hands. I am confident he can still rip off a pair of consecutive wins at any juncture of the season, but the clock is ticking.
So much was expected of Joey “Sliced Bread” Logano when he began his Cup career that perhaps it’s unfair to say he never lived up to expectations. Still, a single top 5 and one additional top 10 result in twelve races while driving for Toyota’s top tier team has got to be considered disappointing. Logano has led all of two laps this season. Mired 23rd in the points maybe it’s time to change this kid’s nickname to “cold wormy crusts.” Maybe someday Logano and Casey Atwood will be shooting pool at a roadside bar listening to Mark Martin and Darrell Waltrip belt out their karaoke version of Glory Days. The big difference would be DW and Martin actually did have some Glory Days.
What’s become of Stewart-Haas Racing? They showed such promise in their debut year maybe Rick Hendrick is giving them the used stuff the No. 88 team used last year. I’ll be fair. Stewart looked like a contender at Vegas. But as of late he’s just been dodging the start and parkers to stay out of the way of the leaders. Stewart himself has labeled his teams performance lately “embarrassing.” But then Stewart has always been a slow starter who comes on as the weather gets hot so there’s still hope for the No. 14. Ryan Newman has struggled far less with four top 5 finishes but only one other top 10 all year.
This deep into the season most people may have forgotten that Kurt Busch opened the season with four straight top 10 finishes, the only driver to have done so. After that the wheels seemed to have fallen off of Penske South’s little red wagon. In increasingly profane and pointed terms Busch accused his team of providing him with uncompetitive mounts. Saturday night at Charlotte Busch stumbled into a fourth place finish but I doubt whatever is broken is truly fixed quite yet.
Busch’s teammate Brad Keselowski is floundering to date. Other than his third place finish at Darlington Bad Brad just hasn’t been running well all season. He’s led a total of 41 laps all season and is averaging a 21st place finish. That has him mired back 25th in the standings and in desperate need of a win that just doesn’t seem in the cards if he is to make the Chase.
It’s been an interesting start to the season, but now we have to endure the Summer Stretch, typically the most boring part of the Cup calendar. Some may rise, some may fall, (to get to Terrapin, right?) but it seems obvious right now at least the three favorites in the title Chase are Edwards, Harvick and Johnson. Will RCR or Roush finally be able to unseat the No. 48 team? Could a dark horse like Kenseth or Kyle Busch emerge from the pack to mount a serious title challenge? I don’t know. That’s why they run these races every weekend.
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
editor’s note: Kyle won Bristol and Richmond.
“It’s like Martin has decided to humiliate his legacy even worse than Darrell Waltrip did in the waning years of his career.”
Not a chance. I was in Charlotte in 2000 when Waltrip didn’t qualify for the 600 so he “bought” Carl Long’s car which had qualified for the race. He did this, he explained at the time, “for the fans”. No, DW did it to feed his own ego and everyone knew it.
Sorry, but I can’t believe Mark Martin would ever sink that low.
Matt, You should be cheering that this weekends race is the last for FOX. No more Pompous DW, Larry MacScreech, and stumble and bumble Hammond. After that TNT, and no more FOX to Beverly Hillbilly- up the telecasts. Good riddance FOX and your dumbing down the race broadcast. I’ll even BOOGITY to that !!
Matt, you should feel embarrassed to call yourself a writer if your going to compare Mark Martin in his 50’s to Darrell Waltrip in his 50’s. What a joke.
At least Mark Martin has not resorted to tin foil suits and unglasses at the “All Star Race” like DW did when he needed to get back in the spotlight.
Mark Martin finished 2nd just 2 races ago. Darrell Waltrip had exactly ZERO second place finishes in the last 8 years of his career.
Jr punched Stewart after a Busch (Nationwide .. whatever) race? What? Am I living under a rock? I don’t recall that happening …
Im gonna call BS on that one. I cant imagine that would never have made news no matter what series it happened in.
Pikes Peak, 1998. Google it. It happened. Stewart’s reply was that Earnhardt was a “no talent asshole”
I don’t make stuff up. I’ve just been watching this stuff a little longer than some of you.
I found this:
LONG POND, PA. — Suddenly some very curious things are happening in NASCAR country, a curious rash of controversies involving some of the sport’s biggest names.
First, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon have a celebrated run-in at Richmond. Then, moments later, Dale Jarrett and Terry Labonte have an angry run-in of their own, in a bump-and-run for the win.
Then at Michigan, Wallace and Dale Earnhardt, those two old protagonists, have a heated run-in. And Jeff Gordon makes some headlines after he doesn’t win, and series sponsor R.J. Reynolds is suddenly feeling some heat when Jimmy Spencer, the company’s driver, gets penciled in for suspicions.
And then, for those who didn’t realize the Busch tour was in Pikes Peak, Col., last weekend, NASCAR levied a $5,000 fine on Dale Earnhardt Jr. for fighting with Tony Stewart after a bruising battle on the track . . . a battle certain to heighten interest in the tour when action resumes next week at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Good work Matt! Although I still think you should be embarrased to compare Mark Martin’s final years to DW’s