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.
Matt Stallknecht · Thursday June 13, 2013
Michigan International Speedway is the site of this weekend’s slate of NASCAR racing action, but that is the least of what anyone in the racing world is thinking about at the moment. Wednesday night at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey, longtime NASCAR veteran Jason Leffler was involved in a horrific Dirt Sprint Car accident that claimed his life. Oftentimes in this sport of racing, we think these drivers, these heroes that we watch in awe week after week, are invincible. In an era of SAFER barriers, HANS devices, and stiff space-age roll cages, we have been desensitized to just how morbidly dangerous this sport can be. Unfortunately, Jason Leffler’s accident was a sobering reminder that these drivers are not invincible, and that racing is one of the most dangerous endeavors that a human can undertake. We lost Jason far, far too soon, and his absence will be felt from the smallest dirt car facilities around the country all the way up to the high banks of Michigan International Speedway.
With heavy hearts, we push on with this week’s edition of Four Burning Questions.
1. Will anyone be able to pass at Michigan? Will the draft actually be a factor?
Last week in this column I praised Pocono Raceway for having done a good job with the repave of the track, and even predicted that the race would be fairly exciting. Well folks, I missed the mark a bit on that one. While the Gen 6 cars were pretty racy on the new pavement after restarts and late in the race, most of the event was a bit of a drag. Given that Michigan, the site of this week’s race, similarly laid down some new pavement in the past year and a half, there is understandable concern among fans that the race could be processional in the vein of Pocono.
One of the problems I have noticed with the Gen 6 car is that it has not taken well to repaved race tracks. On tracks that have any amount of age on them, the racing has improved drastically compared to the Gen 5 races on the same tracks. But on recently repaved and/or super smooth tracks such as Kansas, Charlotte, and Pocono (Daytona could probably be thrown in with that group as well, although the repave isn’t necessarily the biggest problem at that facility right now), the racing has been mostly a repeat of what we saw with the Gen 5 car. The Gen 6 races better in deep traffic on the repaves than the Gen 5 did (NASCAR loop data supports this), but clean air still yields untold amounts of speed for the leaders which is obviously a major problem. As such, can we expect more of the same at Michigan?
Yes and no. Unlike the other aforementioned repaved tracks, Michigan is long enough and banked high enough to allow some semblance of drafting to come into play down the straightaways. We saw a little bit of this in the races here last year, but with the added downforce and the massive spoiler native to the Gen 6 car, the draft should be an even bigger factor in 2013. At the similarly shaped Auto Club Speedway (which has less banking, more bumps, and less speed), we saw the draft be incredibly viable. Considering that Michigan has more banking, more speed, and far fewer bumps, the draft will undoubtedly be even more effective. Theoretically, this should ease the difficulty of passing a bit, and hopefully lead to more excitement. We’ll just have to see.
2. Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. defend his Michigan crown?
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s resurgence to prominence came to a crescendo on this weekend one year ago in the 2012 Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan. Earnhardt Jr. utterly dominated the race and established himself as a championship contender going forward. Of course, that championship contention never materialized for a variety of reasons, but no one knew that around the time that Junior pulled into Michigan’s victory lane. The winless streak was over, Junior was a title threat, and all was seemingly well among his legions and legions of fans.
But alas, here we are one year later, and the sailing has not been quite as smooth for Earnhardt Jr. since he last found victory lane. While he still was a solid performer in 2012 after his Michigan win, Earnhardt Jr.’s results dipped a bit, culminating in a disappointing Chase run that was marked by so-so finishes compared to the top contenders and a 2-race absence due to concussion. Those peaks and valleys have carried into 2013, characterized by a fast start to the season that was matched by a minor slump that lasted from Texas to Charlotte.
Luckily for Junior Nation, that slump appears to have ended, and Junior seems to once again be peaking heading into his best track on the schedule. He ran in the top 5 all race long on the similarly downforce-intensive Pocono track just one week ago, capping off the day with a solid 3rd place finish. His Hendrick-powered cars also appear to have the most speed of anyone at the moment now that JGR has been forced to deal with a newly detuned TRD engine. Perhaps most importantly, Earnhardt Jr.’s confidence appears to be intact, evidenced by a post-race interview last week that seemed to indicate that both he and his team are optimistic about their fortunes heading into the summer stretch that was so rewarding to them one year ago.
All told, the stars appear to once again be aligning for Dale Earnhardt Jr. heading into Michigan. The car is there, the team is strong once again, and his confidence appears to be high. This is Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s best shot at a win all season. We’ll see if he can pull it off.
3. Can Austin Dillon make some noise in another one-off Cup showing this weekend?
Last weekend’s Nationwide event at Iowa aside, 2013 has not been a kind season thus far to Austin Dillon on the Nationwide Series front. While he appears to be running better now than he did to start the season, many observers have noted that Dillon does not seem to be performing at the same level he performed at one year ago, and both I and a great many others have postulated that this tailing off in performance could be due to a sort of “disinterest” in the Nationwide Series. His non-chalant attitude after losing the lead to Trevor Bayne late in the going last Sunday is perhaps evidence of that. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Austin will be driving Cup cars full time for his granddad Richard Childress next season, so it’s not inconceivable to think that he is simply mailing it in on the Nationwide circuit at this point knowing he doesn’t have to really “prove” his way into the Cup ranks anymore.
Assuming Dillon does have his eye on the 2014 Cup Series, he would be wise to step up his performance in the Cup ranks, because he hasn’t been too terribly impressive in his limited Cup Series appearances thus far. Since 2011, Dillon has logged 6 starts in the Cup Series, with 4 of those starts coming in 2013. Half of those starts were made in top notch Childress equipment, and the other half were made in middle-of-the-road Phoenix Racing equipment. Either way, the results have been pretty disappointing. Dillon has a paltry average finish of 28.0 across his 6 Cup starts.
Now, granted, Dillon has next to no experience in these cars, and as such he can be forgiven for his relative lack of pace on the Cup side for the time being. Rome wasn’t built in day, right? Having said that, Dillon can’t just slog around in 27th in all of his pre-2014 Cup appearances and expect to be taken seriously when the time comes for him to make the full transition to Cup.
With that in mind, Austin Dillon ought to drive with perhaps a bit more purpose this Sunday in Michigan, as he is getting yet another chance to pilot top notch Richard Childress Racing equipment in his tune-up for 2014, all while not having to worry about points. Michigan is not exactly the most difficult track to drive either, if anything it’s probably the most forgiving track to drive for a rookie such as Dillon (outside of Daytona/Talladega, but the racing itself on those tracks is a unique challenge all on its own). A top 20 performance is expected, and if he can’t deliver on that, Papa Childress may have to rethink his decision to bring Dillon up to the Cup ranks so quickly.
4. In the wake of the Jason Leffler tragedy, will NASCAR step up and demand SAFER barriers for all of the tracks in the “NASCAR Hometracks” program?
I generally like to focus on issues that pertain specifically to the NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend at hand when I write this column every week, but given the gravity of the Jason Leffler tragedy that occurred a few nights ago, I feel as though I’d be remiss to not tackle this topic as I feel it is something that is relevant to every single rung on the NASCAR ladder, many of which will be racing this weekend. The biggest disgrace that stuck out to me when reading about the circumstances that led up to Jason Leffler’s death was the fact that Bridgeport Speedway did not have a SAFER Barrier. It’s impossible to really know if a SAFER Barrier could have saved Jason’s life on Wednesday night, but you can be damn sure he would have stood a better chance at surviving the incident had one been in place. Bearing that in mind, one can not help but be disgusted by the fact that Bridgeport was lacking a well-known and critical safety feature that more than likely would have saved a man’s life.
I get that SAFER Barriers are expensive to install. I really do. But guess what? You can’t put a price on the life of a human being. If a short track has to take a loss for the year in order to install a SAFER Barrier, then so be it, the value of a saved human life far outweights whatever cost a SAFER Barrier comes at. Every track in this country should have one, there really is no excuse. We know they save lives or, at the very least, lessen the risk of serious injury. A track without a SAFER Barrier in this day and age is tantamount to a race team running a car without a roll cage in order to “save money.” Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? The fact that all tracks don’t have one at this point is infuriating.
Of course, the prevailing question is…who could possibly enforce such a rule that all tracks must have these barriers? NASCAR, that’s who. While NASCAR obviously does not own/sanction all of the nation’s short tracks, they sanction enough of them via their NASCAR Hometracks program to at least be able to put a dent in the number of short tracks without SAFER Barriers. The rule would be simple: want to be a NASCAR sanctioned track? Install a SAFER Barrier, or else risk losing your NASCAR sanctioning and all of the perks and marketing power that come with it. Bridgeport Speedway unfortunately is not a NASCAR Hometrack, but who knows how many future lives could be saved if NASCAR at least mandated SAFER Barriers for all of the short tracks it sanctions around the country?
NASCAR claims that it’s some sort of pioneer in the world of safety, so let’s see them put their money where their mouth is. If NASCAR was truly safety-conscious, they would be formulating a new policy identical to the one I described above. We shall see if they decide to step up.
The sad reality of it all is that Jason Leffler should not have lost his life on Wednesday night. SAFER Barriers are a necessity in today’s world of racing, and you, the fan, should not stand for tracks to shy away from installing them any longer. It shouldn’t even be a discussion at this point, the bloodshed needs to stop. If you don’t have a SAFER Barrier, you shouldn’t be allowed to conduct races. Period.
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The problem is just that: The expense of safer barrier. I doubt running a small town track is very lucrative. The amount it costs to add the barrier may be the difference between staying open for business and shutting down. Where does the money come from?
SAFER barriers cost $500 per foot. That’s a minimum of three million dollars to do both sides of the 5/8 Bridgeport track. Spectators are unwilling to absorb those costs through ticket and concession prices.
Nearly thirteen people are killed in occupational accidents every day in the US. They’re not going to get the attention that Jason Leffler did. We should be looking at other areas before auto racing.
An average of 13 drivers get killed at racetracks in the United States every year. There are more than 1400 tracks in the US. So there’s a less than one percent chance that a given track will have a fatality in any given year. Three million is a lot to spend on those odds.
NASCAR has NEVER been a safety pioneer. They still use floor jacks and handheld gas cans in the pits. The SAFER barrier was developed for Indycars. All the major series mandated HANS at least a year before NASCAR. Roll bars were required in other series first.
Cup drivers are fond of complaining about various spots that lack SAFER barriers. I say let them pool their multi-million dollar salaries and split the cost of more barriers where they feel they are needed.
If you mandate safer barriers at short tracks, that will be the end of short track racing. They simply can’t afford it. There will always be risk associated with racing and some of it is unavoidable. If you were to do this, you might as well just cancel all WoO races and late model races and modified races because there would be no tracks left to race on.
Nascar a safety pioneer? Get serious. They react, they don’t lead. How long did it take them to mandate the Hans device or its equivalent? The problem with small local tracks though is exactly what Andy pointed out. They would have to shut down if safer barriers were mandated. Exactly what do we want?
It’s always hard to learn of the tragedy of losing a race car driver, especially thinking of his young son. However, as long as men are trying to go as fast as possible in cars, things like this will happen. Unfortunately, drivers know there is always a risk involved, as do fans. But isn’t that element of danger one of the very things that makes us admire them so much?
NASCAR needs to fund it then. They have plenty of money available to help some of these short tracks out.
And believe me guys, I know NASCAR is no safety pioneer. When I said they were a safety pioneer, I was saying it sarcastically.
Matt, you are dreaming if you think that NASCAR/the France family will lay money out of their pockets for safety innovations at these tracks. They let the Pit crew challenge die this year because no one else would fund it.
The France family is in it to use other people’s money for things, not their own.
Andy D has a good idea. Let the Cup drivers spend some of their big money to keep the short track racing going.
How many injuries have we had this year due to drives hitting cement sections of the wall this year in Sprint Cup? Nascar is too short-sighted to put it on every wall, they wont lift a finger to help a short track.
The truth is, safety is a token element of auto racing, but its worse in some series than others.
NASCAR being one of the worst. Still content to have lugnuts going everywhere in the pits, one just waiting to be turned into a projectile. They will not do a thing until it kills a child. And when that tragedy happens, they’ll roll out Larry Mac on Raceday and pay him to tell us how pro-active Nascar is about safety and how unforseen an accident it was.
Brian France, Helton, and all the Media tied into this sport disgust me.
Nascar wants your money to feed their egos that they can make it as busisnessmen, not carnival barkers. Safety is a nuisance for them up until they have something to crow about.