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.
Key Moment – Greg Biffle outdueled Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, and others on a restart with 27 laps to go. Jimmie Johnson got stuck with bad strategy, bad traffic, and ultimately a bad tire. That allowed Biffle to gain his second straight victory at Michigan International Speedway, perhaps earning his spot in the Chase.
In a Nutshell – The Hendrick Motorsports cars were clearly the class of the field all weekend and all race long. But due to an incredible array of bad luck, poor strategy calls and mechanical maladies, all four fell by the wayside. That opened the door for a variety of teams to capitalize, and it was Biffle’s No. 16 squad who best took advantage of a track position race late in the going, allowing them to cruise to a relatively easy win.
All told, Biffle’s victory was the 1,000th for Ford Motor Company in NASCAR, a huge deal considering that all of their most important executives were in attendance at the race.
Dramatic Moment – Midway through the event, Kasey Kahne was working a three-second+ lead and appeared to be the fastest man in Michigan. That all came to a crashing halt on Lap 104 when Kahne blew a tire in the middle of Turn 1, resulting in a fiery, single-car crash that undoubtedly ranked as one of the most vicious of the year. Kahne quickly got out of the car, unscathed, but you can bet your bottom dollar that he will be feeling that hit sometime tomorrow morning.
The restarts at Michigan, typically three and four-wide started to get that way late as the groove widened on the repaved racetrack. Slowly but surely, the asphalt is starting to wear in.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
Turns out the second year’s the charm for Michigan’s new pavement job… sort of. Overall, it was a fairly entertaining race, a combination of raw horsepower, difficult handling, and tire question marks keeping fans guessing start to finish. After last week’s snoozefest in the Pocono Mountains, NASCAR desperately needed an interesting event to drum up some momentum, and it got one. The race featured 22 lead changes among 13 leaders, the latter stat being close to a race record. The entertainment and drama of the event stemmed from unpredictability, more than passing as a mix of attrition and pit strategy shook up the field at seemingly every turn.
Unfortunately, for all the drama, it must be noted the race was entertaining in spite of the Gen-6 cars — not because of them. Much like last week at Pocono, having clean air on the nose was way, way, way too important, and only two cars, the Nos. 5 and 48, handled well enough in dirty air to pass at will. Virtually anyone could walk away from the field on Sunday provided they had that all-important aero advantage. We saw it early in the race when Jamie McMurray, who was objectively a 10th-to-15th place car, got to the front via pit strategy and was able to drive off to a massive lead. Clean air was stronger in this race than it has been all season, and had it not been for all of the unpredictable attrition and restarts, which spiced things up, this race could have taken a snoozer of a turn.
After a slow start to the year, Ford seems to have figured something out. The Blue Oval Brigade had perhaps its best showing in Michigan, as three of their ace drivers (Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, and Joey Logano) ran in the top 5-7 for the duration of the race and delivered top-10 finishes. Biffle was especially impressive, as he seemed to have one of the only cars that could make decisive passes in dirty air other than the Hendrick stalwarts. With three months remaining until the Chase, leaving plenty of time for fine tuning Ford has to be feeling pretty good about themselves.
Speaking of teams who have turned it around, add Stewart-Haas Racing to the list of groups who have officially turned the corner. Much has been made the past three or four weeks about their “resurgence;” up until Sunday, I wasn’t completely buying it. I wanted to see at least three straight weeks of high performance out of this squad before I declared they were “back;” sure enough, their results at Michigan have made me a believer. Tony Stewart, in particular has really turned up the wick. His fourth-place finish in Michigan was his third straight top-5 result, vaulting him all the way from 20th to 10th in points in the matter of a month. Even Danica Patrick is showing improvement, as she delivered one of the best Sprint Cup performances of her young career with a 13th-place result. Whatever was changed at SHR has worked, and they are officially on the road to relevance once again.
Did you happen to catch the Nationwide race on Saturday? If so, you missed one hell of an event. The series staged arguably it’s best competition of the season, with Regan Smith taking home the checkers after withstanding a hard charge from Kyle Larson. The slower speeds of the Nationwide cars, coupled with the grip of the new Michigan surface led to some incredible draft battles and great side-by-side racing throughout. If this event wasn’t evidence that slower speeds lead to better racing, I don’t know what is. Take a hint, NASCAR.
Undoubtedly, the loss of Jason Leffler was evident throughout the weekend. The tragedy that is Mr. Leffler’s death hit the Cup garage hard, causing the drivers and teams to honor the fallen 37-year-old’s life in a variety of fitting ways. Chief among them was the “LEFturn” decal that adorned the roofs of a myriad of cars. Joe Gibbs Racing even re-wrapped Denny Hamlin’s No. 11, FedEx Toyota to the scheme driven by Leffler in 2005 during his short stint at JGR. It was a touching tribute, albeit one that ended unceremoniously as Hamlin struggled for most of the race. However, the most poignant example of the love held for Leffler in the Cup garage came during Kasey Kahne’s post-accident interview. Instead of dwelling on how good his car was, or the misfortune of his cut tire, Kahne quickly shifted the discussion towards Leffler and how much he missed his fallen friend. It was undeniably touching, and served to highlight just how close the NASCAR community is.
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
While a number of drivers suffered misfortune on Sunday, none perhaps suffered worse than those of Hendrick Motorsports. HMS driver Kasey Kahne had perhaps one of the best cars he’s had all season long, only to see it lost on lap 104 after careening into the wall at upwards of 200 mph. All told, the wreck left Kahne with a 38th-place finish and a four-position drop in the series standings. Ouch.
Jeff Gordon was yet another Hendrick pilot whose day was ruined by a hard crash. Bobby Labonte (who, ironically, was driving a Hendrick-powered car) spun directly in front of Gordon, sending both hard into the Turn 2 wall. The No. 24 team managed to get the car repaired, following a lengthy stint in the garage but a 39th-place finish was not what the doctor ordered.
With Kahne and Gordon mired deep in the 30s, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were the last hopes for HMS. But Earnhardt Jr.’s day ended not long after Kahne’s, as the No. 88 car’s engine expired on lap 130 while Junior was in the lead. Johnson then appeared primed to battle for the win, despite a number of puzzling pit calls by crew chief Chad Knaus that left a fast No. 48 buried back in traffic. (Knaus actually apologized, on the radio to Johnson after the race as the team lost more than two dozen spots in the pits all day). Fighting hard just to get second, he was closing on Biffle until he, too cut a tire and wound up finishing 28th.
On the non-HMS front, the slumping continued for reigning champ Brad Keselowski. Michigan’s favorite son was running deep inside the top 10, late in the race, but due to a gamble made on an earlier caution, his No. 2 car ran out of gas roughly half-a-lap from the finish. That left Keselowski with a disappointing 12th-place result… and wondering what might have been.
Kurt Busch found another way to foul one up. His Furniture Row Chevrolet was one of the fastest cars all weekend, but any hope of victory for the small Denver-based outfit came undone when Busch backed the car into the wall, on his own early in the going. On a weekend in which he had an opportunity to score big points, Busch brought the car home to a heart-wrenching 35th-place finish.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Kevin Harvick captured yet another top 5 Sunday, and he did it in true Kevin Harvick fashion. Harvick quietly ran around the middle of the top 10 for most of the day, but due to some good pit calls and a quiet intensity on restarts, he found himself battling for the win with 20 laps to go. The W didn’t quite happen, but he delivered a solid second-place finish for a team that is slowly establishing itself as one of the most consistent in the garage area.
Clint Bowyer slammed into the back of Trevor Bayne on the first lap of the race, then was subjected to running in the deep 20s as his team tried to reshape the front end of his car on pit stops. Ultimately, his team came through for him, and he clawed his way back to seventh with a car that needed about 50 Hours of Energy to look somewhat drivable.
Austin Dillon surprised many on Sunday with his sterling 11th-place performance, myself included. I personally called out Dillon in my Four Burning Questions column this past Friday to step up his results in the Cup Series, and he did just that. His team was able to get track position early in the going, and Dillon did an admirable job of hanging with the leaders for most of the day.
Much like Dillon, Trevor Bayne had one of the best days of his Cup career as well. Making a rare appearance for the Wood Brothers, Bayne averted disaster with that Bowyer stackup, settled in and methodically worked his way up to 15th.
What’s the Points?
Jimmie Johnson is still your championship leader, but the 51-point advantage he enjoyed a week ago has shrunk to 31. Carl Edwards continues to plug along in second, ending Sunday’s race in eighth and it appears he and his team have finally shaken the demons haunting them since the 2011 Chase. Clint Bowyer is holding serve in third, 49 points out of the lead followed by Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth.
Sixth place in the standings belongs to a resurgent Kyle Busch, who has returned to a comfortable spot inside the top 10. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fell to seventh, after his engine failure, and he is now only 32 points ahead of the 10th-place postseason cutoff. Greg Biffle, on the other hand improved his Chase chances Sunday with a victory and now sits eighth, 28 points ahead of 10th. Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart (who is in the top 10 for the first time all season) round out the final two spots with 430 and 417 points apiece. As for the “wild cards,” Kasey Kahne (who is 12th in the standings) holds the first spot on the strength of his Bristol victory, while Paul Menard holds the second based on his 11th-place standing in points. Martin Truex, Jr., Joey Logano, and Aric Almirola are 13th, 14th, and 15th in the standings, and all are very much in the hunt.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic) – The race was full of drama and had plenty of exciting moments on the various restarts, but the pervasiveness of the clean air advantage held this one back from being a thriller. We’ll give this one three cans of ice cold Mountain Dew (no beer for me) and hope that teams clear up the aero issues by the time the series returns to the track in August.
Next Up — After months and months of “cookie cutter” sameness, the series will take a much-needed trip to a road course next week for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway. The Cup boys have become adept road racers over the past decade and, as such, the events on these tracks have been utterly fantastic. Expect lots of beating, banging, and close competition throughout for an event that starts on TNT or your local MRN radio affiliate Sunday at 3 ET.
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Empty seats anyone? Wow.
Happy for a Ford win.
REAL happy that the next race is Sonoma.
The restarts yesterday were the most exciting part of the race. There was some good racing behind the leader from time to time, but not too many battles for the lead. Still, for Michigan it was pretty entertaining.
When Bobby Labonte spun in the #51, I was so disappointed. Dead last. If I wasn’t fully convinced before, I’m pretty sure his career is done. So sad; I’ve been a Labonte fan since his first year in cup driving the #22 Maxwell House car for Bill Davis.
I loved Wally Dallenbach and Kyle Petty criticizing Rick Hendrick and Jack Roush for responsing to Keselowski’s claims of employee-snatching. They both agreed that it has been going on for as long as Nascar has been around, and Hendrick and Roush should have just let this one fly “under the radar”. I agree.
All-Star Danica Patrick got her third top-20 of the season. Her critics be damned; she truly is an all-star.
I did watch the Nationwide race and you’re right, it was a good one. And it was nice to see a battle for the win between two Nationwide regulars.
Thinking back, it was Hendrick and Joe Gibbs that responsed to BK’s accusations of employee-snatching, not Jack Roush, which of course makes a whole lot more sense. I stand self-corrected.
I’d call it an interesting race, rather than exciting. As you said, the fact that so many good cars had issues made it different than just the usual. However, the “clean air” aero deal for the Gen6 car is an issue. Until NASCAR can provide side by side racing and actual passing for the lead by someone other than the 48 or Matt Kenseth, I won’t be jumping up and down about the excitement about how great the racing is with the Gen6 car.
Should nascar give Hamlin his $25,000 back?…since Hamlin was right after all.
And both Jr. and Kyle B. have said the same thing since…
I have to disagree that the Gen6 is clean air
Of course, Bill B, Gordon was never going to be much of a factor in the race anyway, because his car is 2-3 MPH slower than his other HMS teammates, just like last year. Remember that he didn’t start to get more competitive with his teammates until NASCAR passed a rule regarding the suspension in the cars, limiting what they could do, which played right into the #24 team’s hands, because they didn’t run those suspension setups, mainly because their crew chief believed them to be illegal.
I also think there’s a major rift between the #24 team and the other HMS teams, and I think it goes back to comments that Alan Gustafson, Gordon’s crew chief, made regarding the legality of some of the cars, which was a direct shot across the bow of Chad Knaus. I think ever sine then, Gordon’s had the worst cars at HMS because nobody at HMS is giving them any help, and that may be a directive of Knaus, and in fact, the other HMS teams may actually be working against the #24 team in retribution for those comments.
But Gordon never would have been a factor yesterday, even if he had not gotten caught up in that crash. What I would consider doing if I was Gustafson, is working closer with the Stewart-Haas guys, because I’m pretty sure I’m not going o get any help from the other HMS teams.
Well Charles, I’m not sure where you are getting all your information but you seem to know more about it than anyone else. This is all news to me. Do you by chance work for the NSA?
Just to play devil’s advocate to the 48 conspiracy theories: if NASCAR is constantly favoring the 48, why didn’t they throw the caution right after he hit the wall? If they do, he probably stays on the lead lap and makes up some spots on the ensuing GWC—plus we get the excitement of a GWC finish. (Honestly, conspiracy theories aside, I was surprised that NASCAR didn’t throw the caution there.)
JER, I’m thinking that NASCAR should ask the 48 to divulge whatever it is they do that makes the car so much better in traffic than everyone else, and then apply that across the board to the Gen 6 cars. Yesterday was a good race even though it was tough to pass with the groove being so narrow. The Gen 6 has taken well to the 2-milers, and Michigan should only get better as it weathers and the groove widens; shame those tracks only hold 3 races.
didn’t watch much, once i saw 48 was at front or near front, turned of. turned back on just as 48 hit the wall (yeah)….was surprised we didn’t have a special ruling to stop the race so repairs could be made.
wonder how many of the people that were in the stands left after the 88 blew up? it was sparsely attended to start with.
Interesting thoughts, Charles. Zetona, NASCAR ask the 48 team what it is they do to make the car good in dirty air? Ha, pigs will fly if they would get an honest answer.
I understand innovation & dominance, but I, too, am bored with the 48 being able to squash the field all the time.
Doesn’t matter whether its Gen-6 or 26. The engineers optimize the aero package to run in “clean” air. So whoever gets in front has a huge advantage. After the final stop yesterday the #48, wasn’t going to catch the 16. Seems to me the races now are about who can get in front, via strategy and pits stops at the end. How many green flag passes for the lead have there been this year, other than team mates letting each other by?
Bill B, there was word last year about a rift between the 5 and 24 teams, so it wouldn’t be anything new, though all parties denied it. But if you watch the races, you would notice that Gordon is significantly off the pace of his teammates, especially at the high-speed tracks.
But as for the comments that Alan Gustafson made regarding the legality of his cars, especially in comparison to those of the #48 team, he made those comments on national TV last year, which would tell me that there’s another rift between the 24 and 48 teams, and we also know that Kenny Francis, Kasey Kahne’s crew chief, has never really shared information with the other teams anywhere else he’s worked, which was one reason for the downfall of the teams at Evernham Motorsports, which later became Richard Petty Motorsports, so I believe there may be a rift between the 5 and 24 teams.
It is for those reasons why I actually think the 24 team may actually get more information from Stewart-Haas than they will the other Hendrick teams. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Gordon would never have been a serious factor if he hadn’t crashed, because his car is 2-3 MPH slower than that of his teammates on that kind of track, which is no different than last year. It was also that way at Pocono. The other Hendrick cars contended (or would have contended, in the case of Kasey Kahne), but Gordon’s car there was also 2-3 MPH slower than his teammates there.
After the Waltrip foolishness, I’m just so happy to get TNT back. I actually watched the pre race show and enjoyed it, stopped watching FOX pre race a long time ago. I always muted the FOX audio and listened to MRN. Now I can listen to the TNT audio. Wally, to me is by far the best analyst. The right amount of humor, insight, etc, enjoy listening to the TNT guys. No over hype, DW trying to tell me it’s dramatic when I know better. I’m 63 years old and have been around racing longer than he has, I do have a clue. I guess that I’m so glad those Waldrip brothers are gone, I’m just enjoying the races.
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Actually, Jason Leffler finished 20th in his run at Michigan which is 10 spots better than Denny’s finish!
NA$CAR knows why the 48 is faster than everyone else and they don’t want to make Hendrick angry.
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Anytime the Hendrick (NASCAR)cars have problems is a 6 pack race
Did Mike get so disgusted with Danica finishing 13th that he couldn’t do the article this week?
I’m still asking myself what the difference is between this Gen 6 car and the old one. The Gen 6 was supposed to solve the aero and clean air issue. So what happened? Typical Nascar. All hype and no substance.