The Frontstretch: Thinkin' Out Loud: Sprint Unlimited And Daytona 500 Qualifying by Mike Neff -- Monday February 18, 2013

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Editor’s Note: In 2013, Thinkin’ Out Loud will be written by Mike Neff for a majority of races, with a potpourri of Frontstretch writers filling in — even the legendary racing writer who penned the name! Matt McLaughlin will pop up a handful of times, including after this Sunday’s Daytona 500.

It was a family affair in Victory Lane Saturday night as Kevin Harvick celebrated his first win of 2013 with wife DeLana and son Keelan. Harvick led a race-high 40 of 75 laps in the Sprint Unlimited, including the last 13 to cruise to victory.

Key Moment — On lap 16, Tony Stewart attempted to change lanes and make a move on race leader Matt Kenseth. While he wasn’t cleared by his spotter, Stewart chose to shift down low which resulted in his left rear corner making contact with the right front of Marcos Ambrose. Stewart’s car got out of shape, made contact with the apron and sent a shower of sparks over several cars that were pursuing him. Jimmie Johnson checked up in the high line, which caused Denny Hamlin to make contact with the five-time champ, turning him down in front of the oncoming pack and ultimately taking out one-third of the field. The accident eliminated defending champion Kyle Busch, two-time Unlimited Champion Jeff Gordon, 2006 winner Denny Hamlin and 1999 winner Mark Martin. Just like that, the field was reduced by one-third, many contenders sat idle in the garage and the drafting – along with the racing – became a shell of its former self.

In a Nutshell — Post-wreck, passing in the draft became borderline impossible. With that knowledge in hand, Kevin Harvick started the last segment on the outside of the front row since he had the choice and simply didn’t make a mistake over the final 20 laps. Unlike recent years, where the tandem was able to make up ground on a pack, the key last night was having the line with the most cars. Harvick led the “top groove” for the entire final segment and only surrendered the lead to Matt Kenseth at the start/finish line one time for a brief moment. On the final lap, he threw a block on Greg Biffle that sealed the deal and tied him for second on the all-time Unlimited winners’ list with three.

Dramatic Moment — Heading down the back straight on the final lap, Greg Biffle had a run on the top as Harvick was blocking Joey Logano on the bottom. Harvick drove back up in front of Biffle, clearing him by inches, stopping his run and sealing the deal. With some camera angles, it looked like the two even made contact but the Demolition Derby-style wreck we saw last Fall at Talladega was avoided.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

The format for the Sprint Unlimited was in flux from the announcement until the middle of the race as fans voted on three different aspects. But while Sprint should be applauded for involving the fans on such an intimate level, they really needed to stop the voting the day before. Having NASCAR officials climbing the pit boxes, letting crew chiefs know how many tires they’re going to change 10 laps before their pit stop will happen is ridiculous.

You can put those “lame duck” driver conversations to bed for Kevin Harvick, at least for the next couple of weeks. Harvick pointed out that he and his team are all about winning; his status with the organization has nothing to do with how hard the team works now to accomplish that. Things could turn south as the end of the season, especially if they begin to struggle but, for now, a win to start the season will most certainly make it easier for them to all get along for the next few months.

BOWLES: CAN WE COUNT ON HARVICK TO KEEP THIS UP

Fortunately, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. did not qualify on the front row or the TMZ frenzy around the young lovebirds of NASCAR would have been more unbearable than “Harbowl 2013.” Still, the attention that Patrick and Stenhouse are receiving for their personal lives is annoying at best, pull your hair out at worst. Brad Keselowski probably had the best assessment of the situation I’ve seen during Speedweeks. “While they’re dating,” he said, “Nothing is going to be all that exciting. When they break up, assuming they will, it will get really interesting.”

Kyle Larson continues to make his mark on NASCAR at a rapid pace. Larson ran the ARCA race before the Sprint Unlimited and completed the entire event, crossing the line in second place. He ran in USAC at New Smyrna on Sunday and is competing in Late Models, Modifieds and K&N cars during the UNOH Battle at the Beach on Monday and Tuesday. Kerry Tharp, Senior Director of Competition Communications, has confirmed for Frontstretch that Larson has been approved to run the Nationwide race next Saturday. Darrell Wallace has also been approved to run the Camping World Truck Series race on Friday, setting these rookies up for what should be eye-opening performances.

Danica Patrick claims she’s more focused than ever heading into 2013, and it took her all but one race to prove it. She’s the first woman to ever win a pole for a Cup race, doing it for the biggest one of all: Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Danica Patrick laid down the fastest time in qualifying for this year’s 55th running of the Great American Race. She beat Jeff Gordon by .033 seconds to become the 11th consecutive different pole sitter for the Daytona 500. This accomplishment is also the first time in history that a woman has secured a pole position for a Cup Series race. No truth to the rumor that Patrick was mistakenly given the restrictor plate that was assigned to Dale Earnhardt, Jr… (Best finish for her in Cup to date: 17th at Phoenix last November. So for those thinking she’s going to win the Daytona 500… hope you’re enjoyin’ whatever you’ve been smokin’.)

Stewart-Haas Racing was the bigger push behind Danica’s record-setting run; they had all three of their cars register inside the top 5 during Sunday qualifying. I noticed Stewart go out of his way, time and again to thank sponsor Mobil 1 during interviews and sources tell me there’s a reason why. Garage insiders think SHR has mastered something with the engine lubricant to earn a little extra horsepower out of their Hendrick Motorsports engines. (Who also ran extremely well, by the way).

Feel-good story for the 500: Michael Waltrip is driving a car for Swan Racing with the number 26 on the side of it. The car is a tribute to the victims of the Newtown massacre, hoping to raise money for a fund that helps the community heal. It is a bit morbid, though, that the number 26 is in honor of the 20 children and six adults who lost their lives on that tragic day.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon obviously have fast cars for Daytona this year, as evidenced by practice and qualifying. But neither of them had an opportunity to show what they had thanks to being eliminated in the big wreck early on.

Keelan Harvick lost his shoe before the race when he was in his dad’s car. Unfortunately for him, dad won which means he’s probably going to have to sacrifice that shoe for the remainder of his life.

Kurt Busch tore up a car on Friday in practice and then lost another one in the Sprint Unlimited. Busch went through a pile of cars while he was driving for Phoenix Racing last year, including three in 2012 Speedweeks and is not starting this season off much better.

It was a tough day for all three of these drivers: Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Matt Kenseth all flashed speed at times but when paydirt came, they were nowhere to be found up front.

Matt Kenseth had the fastest car in the race, it seemed as he could jump to the front of the draft with ease. But in the second and final segments, his competitors sensed the advantage and shuffled him so far off the lead it was impossible for the No. 20 car to work its way up. It didn’t help both Joe Gibbs Racing teammates were sitting in the garage after that wreck, as Kenseth had to use former JGR employer Joey Logano (talk about a mismatch made in heaven — aren’t you glad those tandems are gone?) just to push his way up to fifth.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. appeared to be able to work the draft at will during the race’s middle segment. But when push came to shove, the No. 88 shoved its way backward with what appeared to be a malfunctioning engine in the closing laps. Apparently down a cylinder, it was all he could do to draft behind teammate Kasey Kahne and hold onto eighth place.

After qualifying Sunday, Tony Stewart made a comment that his team put in a ton of time once they had all of the requisite parts to put their cars together — perhaps more OT than any other team on the circuit. That means the guys with wives spent a lot of time away from them, the guys with girlfriends spent a lot of time away from them and the guys with wives and girlfriends spent a lot of time away from both.

Brian Keselowski has busted his butt to get a car to Daytona and try and make the 500. But all that effort, at least for now seems to be for naught. The car didn’t start when his number came up for qualifying; then, when he did get it running, he was 1.4 seconds slower than anyone else on the grid.

Terry Labonte’s career has devolved to a point where he is start-and-parking in non-points races now. Why?

The Seven Come for Eleven Award for Fine Fortune

Kevin Harvick works for an organization that realizes that the sport is about racing and not about petty politics. If his team was filled with whiny little peeps who cared about themselves instead of the big prize, his car would suck and he’d be moving on by the end of July. Last year, Brad Keselowski won a championship for a manufacturer that was leaving the sport. Maybe this year, Harvick can win a title as he’s leaving his team.

Joey Logano timed out his final move of the Unlimited knowing that he would most likely not win but he’d be able to finish quite a bit higher than he was running. Sometimes, you have to make the most of what you’re dealt and Logano threw a Hail Mary on the final lap to jump from seventh to third. In next Sunday’s race, he just might make the move to win if he’s willing to take that chance again.

Hendrick Motorsports, and their satellite team of Stewart-Haas Racing, laid a beatdown on the field in qualifying. SHR has three teams in the top five with Hendrick adding two more in the top six. The 500 can take some dramatic swings that can ruin a team’s day or make their season; but for qualifying day, it is SHR and Hendrick.

John Wes Townley has seldom been mentioned in the same breath as winners in stock car racing. “DUI,” “wreck,” and “rich kid” have been the more well-known labels. But Saturday, he was able to score the win in ARCA’s Lucas Oil 200. Townley is trying to reestablish his racing career and that victory has scored some brownie points for him in that direction.

Worth Noting

  • Kevin Harvick ties Dale Jarrett and Tony Stewart as three-time winners of the Unlimited. Dale Earnhardt is still the all-time winningest driver in the event with six victories.
  • Harvick has now made it to Victory Lane as much in 2013 as he did all of last season (once, Phoenix in November).
  • The top 10 in the Unlimited included five Chevys, three Fords and two Toyotas.
  • Danica Patrick’s pole speed is the third-fastest in restrictor plate history at Daytona and the fastest since 1990 (Ken Schrader).
  • Patrick is the first rookie to win the pole for the 500 since Jimmie Johnson in 2002.
  • This will be the fourth time that Jeff Gordon starts on the front row for the Daytona 500.
  • Chevrolet has half of the top 10 in qualifying for the Daytona 500. There are three Toyotas and two Fords.
  • 45 cars attempted to make the field on Sunday, the smallest amount here since 2004. Heck, there used to be a time when there were almost that many in a qualifying race.

What’s the Points?

There is no point. The Unlimited is a non-points race to start off the racing year and they don’t pay points for qualifying so…

Overall Rating (From one to six beers, with one being a stinker and a six-pack being the race of the year) — Try as you might to say there can be an exciting race with just two cars who put on a good show; in plate racing, the more the merrier. The 19-car starting field for the Sprint Unlimited didn’t bode well for an ultra-competitive event; unfortunately, it did nothing to exceed expectations. Kevin Harvick noted in his post-race press conference that a line with eight cars would outrun a line with four every time. All he had to do was side draft cars on the bottom line and he was able to stay in front. Add to that the tentative nature of the drivers who were unsure what to expect with the new cars, plus the fact they couldn’t really make anything happen, and you ended up with a mostly single-file parade that provided a limited amount of entertainment for the fans. On the plus side, there was a race with cars on the track, at speed after three months off so we’ll give them two cans of lukewarm Pabst to start off the season. Here’s hoping the Great American Race will provide a lot more excitement next Sunday.

Next Up — The Budweiser Duels will take place on Thursday to set the starting lineup for the Daytona 500. Sunday, February 24th will then be the 55th running of the Great American Race. Note that the Budweiser Duels will be televised on SPEED, as they happen while the Daytona 500 will be live on FOX.

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Ken
02/18/2013 07:03 AM
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If The Sprint Unlimited is any indication, the new Gen-6 car is a bust! That race was terrible. Hardly any passing, and everyone seemed to be tip-toeing around, like they were afraid to make any move. Well, except for Bonehead Tony! Bet Rick had a talk with him after the race!

As for qualifying, what a farce! I would have liked to witness the inspection of the Bimbo’s car! I smell a rat!

Obamalovesdanica
02/18/2013 07:33 AM
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I’m sure NASCAR took back what ever advange they gave Stewart-Hass racing to give Brian Farces “Greatest Driver Ever” her one and only poll.
Don’t worry folks she’ll wreck out half the field in her duel race and go to the back were she belongs.

Janice
02/18/2013 08:11 AM
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glad things are the same…..fell asleep during the segment 2 pit stop where positions would not change on track. thought the train of cars looked familiar to previous years.

so another week of princess sparkle pony all over the news. this time for the pole, not for her beau.

have a feeling the 500 will have some massive wrecks, as after a while the drivers grow tired of being polite on the track.

Jacklegged Nascar Expert
02/18/2013 10:24 AM
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Gen 6 car Dead On Arrival! What a LAME event. How about one of the Trip Bros saying the drivers were so athletic because “ they are driving and thinking at the same time”?

Carl D.
02/18/2013 10:36 AM
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I wonder if Tony Stewart realizes what a hypocrite he is. Had someone else made the move he did and taken him out along with a bunch of other drivers, he would have spent the rest of speedweeks talking about what an idiot they are and vowing eternal revenge. I vaguely remember having some respect for Stewart back in the day.

I believe we’d have had a better race if there weren’t only 12 drivers left to duke it out after Stewart’s bone-headed move in the first segment. With Johnson and Gordon out after the wreck, my guess is that Rick Hendrick will have a sit-down with Tony and remind him who the real boss of Stewart-Haas is.

GinaV24
02/18/2013 11:00 AM
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This race was in the category of “move along, folks, nothing to see here”. So glad I didn’t spend $ on a ticket, pay to travel to Daytona and see that disaster.

Agree that if they are going to have the fans vote on this stuff, they need to close it the day before.

kevin Harvick is the ONLY Sprint Unlimited winner, not a 3X winner, since the name of this race has changed since he won it last. I hate revisionist history!

Ho hum, Danica won the pole, whee. I’m so excited I can barely stand it. All the people going “look what a fine example she is for young women” need to take a 2nd look. I would NEVER want any young woman I know to use her as a role model – for what – semi-naked commercials?

janice
02/18/2013 11:06 AM
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carl….thought the same thing about stewart…wasn’t he the one who made the comment last fall about carnage at ‘dega?

gina – role model?! besides go-daddy soft-core porn….isn’t she still legally married? i thought she recently filed for divorce..when i think about that i wonder about ricky’s devout christian beliefs.

pfarmer58
02/18/2013 11:21 AM
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Wow, Danica wins the pole! Not much of a suprise there. I wonder when Brian is going to recruit Miley Cirus to drive so he can get Disney as a sponsor. NASCAR has lost all credibility as a true sport….Nascar is the automotive version of professional wrestling.

Kevin in SoCal
02/18/2013 12:30 PM
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What a surprise to see the two women here make nasty comments about the woman driver in the field. Jealousy is a b*tch, eh ladies? I’m no Danica fan, but with fans like these two I can see why NASCAR has always been a man’s sport.

Ed in GA
02/18/2013 12:47 PM
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I can just hear Mike Helton making his rounds in the Garage next Sunday….. “Now, I’m not telling you to let her win the race. I’m just saying don’t rough her up, or wreck her, if it looks like she might be able to win.” “Just think how good it will be for NASCAR if Danica wins the 500.”

Probably the same conversation he had the last time the Yellow and Blue Wrangler, #3, ran in a Busch race at Daytona. If you recall, that car, and driver, did “win”(?) that race.

“Just think how good it will be for NASCAR.”

Bad Wolf
02/18/2013 12:47 PM
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If I was a betting man I would be hitting Vegas today and putting my money on Danica. She got the call, and the script is already written. The tone of the Nascar season has been scripted and laid out in the offices at Daytona Beach, and it has been put together for maximum ratings from the casual non-race fan. The Danica call will assure that for the first couple of months the “Fans” will ignore the dreadful new car and focus on the new manufactured star.

ed busby
02/18/2013 12:56 PM
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Hear we go again,a full season of Danica haters.
She sure had a good day Sat and Sun but according to most of these fans it was Nascar giving her special treatment.When will they ever learn?

Bad Wolf
02/18/2013 01:48 PM
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How cute. We still have some who believe “Pro Wraceling” is pure unscripted sport where the tone is not laid out in the corporate offices in conjunction with the sponsors and the “announcers” do not schill the product from the booth.

DoninAjax
02/18/2013 01:59 PM
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Danica is in next year’s Clash. Imagine the hype.

janice
02/18/2013 02:32 PM
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no kevin i think not…..i disliked the woman when she raced irl….kind of like how i dislike kyle bush.

read earlier where the weight difference between her and the other drivers is already being debated.

princess sparkle pony is over-hyped like joey logano. until she has performance proofs, she’s another rookie. unfortunately she’s in a satellite hendrick organization, so the equipment will be there. she was in satellite hendrick orgnaization with jr motorsports and i don’t think she won a race last year.

i say bring on johanna long…..let her get into some good cars and see how she compares to princess sparkle pony.

unfortunately i have a feeling that the scripted ending is there,unless she gets caught up in a wreck, which i suspect will happen. but her getting pole position is just what money hungry na$car wants. if gordon and bowyer had been on first row, the “rivalry” would have been the pitch.

Mike
02/18/2013 04:09 PM
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Danica schmamica. Put Maryeve Dufault in that car and she would win. MUCH more talented than the little dwarf.

GinaV24
02/18/2013 04:31 PM
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Janice, “role model” was meant as sarcasm because I do not consider her a good role model for young women – certainly for some of the reasons you stated. Yeah, Stenhouse’s values don’t exactly stand up, do they?

Kevin, so I’m a b*tch because I call it like I see it? You, of course, are a male and therefore so much more unbiased toward a female driver?

hate to disappoint you, dude, but I would far rather prefer a racer like Johanna Long or Jennifer Jo Cobb to root for in Cup. If they had the same $ for sponsorship that DP does, maybe they’d be in cars as good.

Kevin in SoCal
02/18/2013 04:43 PM
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I didnt call you a b*tch, I said jealousy is a b*tch.

janice
02/18/2013 06:13 PM
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gina….knew what you meant! i should not had used the “?” mark…in my opinion she’s a role model like my big toe!

RG2
02/18/2013 09:38 PM
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Can’t wait for Randy Goldman’s peppering of “thinking out loud” articles. Remember when he took it to Matt? Bout time Matt retired!

john
02/19/2013 09:13 AM
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She’s a fine role model. She’s worked hard her entire career, never given up, persevered against obscene amounts of chauvinism and sexism, and made it to the upper echelon of two different motorsports.

In the process she became the first woman to ever win an Indycar race, led laps at the Indy 500 and almost won it in her rookie year before finishing 4th (best ever for a woman), consistently beat every teammate she had except Tony Kanaan, was the highest finishing non Penske or Ganassi driver in Indycar in one season.

Then she moved to NASCAR Nationwide, where she won a pole position, led laps, almost won Montreal before a track bar broke… Was running 4th with a couple of laps to go at Road America before Jacques Villeneuve spun her… Had somewhere in the area of 6-7 top 10s ruined by other drivers wrecking her just because she’s a woman… Had her first Sprint Cup top 10 taken away from her carelessly by Jeff Burton in the closing laps at Phoenix last year.

And through it all, does a good job of ignoring the haters and continuing her career. A sponsor’s dream, and not just godaddy, she had a long and successful partnership with PEAK Antifreeze, among others. Without starring in “sexy” commercials.

Oh, and she posed in a bikini for Sports Illustrated. Which apparently, for the average NASCAR fan (ie. middle-aged, religious, ultra conservative, boring, stuck-in-the-past BS) regardless of ALL of her accomplishments, is unacceptable and makes her a poor role model, because she happens to be attractive.

In which case, every other athlete that’s posed in various states of undress is also unacceptable and a poor role model. Including Carl Edwards, who was more naked than she ever was on the cover of ESPN Magazine.

I’m not a Danica fan, and I hate the EXTRA attention the media fawns over her with, but the sexist bigotry from the men and thinly-veiled jealously from the women in the online NASCAR community is MAKING me a fan of her.

Congrats to her on the pole position. Of course, pole position at Daytona is even more meaningless than pole at most other tracks, but she’s proven in Nationwide that she can drive the wheels off a stockcar—and if dudes in the field stop wrecking her, she’ll have a decent season.

Haters gonna hate.

GinaV24
02/19/2013 09:41 AM
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“for the average NASCAR fan (ie. middle-aged, religious, ultra conservative, boring, stuck-in-the-past BS)”, but then you’re not stereotyping NASCAR fans or being judgemental in your comments either, are you, John?

john
02/19/2013 10:16 AM
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I’m a NASCAR fan and I’m none of those things, so no, I’m not stereotyping. That’s why I used the word “average.” I am most CERTAINLY being judgmental, yes.

racinsince55
02/19/2013 11:30 AM
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For all of you who refer to those of us who are already tired of the Danica hype and the fact that she hasn’t yet performed to expections in spite of being put in the best equipment available, “Haters”. Be cautious how you use that term because each time you point a finger at one of us, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

indigo
02/19/2013 04:00 PM
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I’ll give NASCAR one more chance to fix this new Gen-6 machine…but if the 500 blows as bad as the Verizon…er…AT&T….er is it Sprint Unlimited….I will have no choice but to spend weekend race time this year with my wife instead. So NASCAR, you’d BETTER get this Gen-6 machine fixed!!!!!!!!!!!

Sporter
02/19/2013 04:05 PM
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Haters are going to Hate, Lovers are going to Love… This is true, but the fact remains, she has been in Top Notch equipment and has NOT performed. Yes she is sitting on the pole, but she said her self, 90% car 10% driver. Give it 15 laps in any Cup race with her sitting on the pole and see where she goes.. Can’t wait to see her at the Road Course. She is where she is because she sales herself and is a mediocre driver at best. Heck put Michael W back in a car and slap a two piece on him, he will find sponsorship
LOL

Mike
02/19/2013 08:39 PM
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pfarmer58 get current please. Brain Fart France will have the Kardasians racing next year. Miley is old news.

 

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