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
Tuesday March 4, 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.
Summer Bedgood · Tuesday September 13, 2011
Bristol WHO?! Following the race at Richmond, there is a new sheriff in town when it comes to beating and banging on the NASCAR circuit, and in front of a packed house no less. All week long, Richmond was hyped up as the end-of-the-line, exciting, down to the wire, Dale Jr. might be in the Chase extravaganza and for a while I thought it might not live up to expectations.
It did. While I had originally predicted that the 12 Chase drivers heading into Richmond would be the same 12 once the checkered flag flew—a prediction that would up being correct in the end—there were a few instances during the race where I held my breath and wondered if there may indeed be a tremendous upset. After all, the competitors who simply had to finish the race were spending extensive time in the pits, while those who had no choice but to win in order to be a contender were running in the top 5.
Eventually, though, it all sorted itself out and the original 12 were all standing and grinning (or gritting their teeth, depending on the driver) for their photo ops in Victory Lane.
This leads us into what is the weekly numbers game of Hot/Not, an analyzing of statistics and momentum that may be important now more than ever heading into a 10-race stretch that will eventually determine our champion.
Let us begin.
Carl Edwards – Fresh off a runner-up finish in Richmond where he surprisingly avoided the use of his bumper on the final lap (though he admitted post-race he would have used it had the opportunity presented itself), Edwards has been reset to fifth in the points after earning himself merely one victory over the course of 26 races. His 2,003 points leave him 9 points out of the lead heading into Chicagoland, and ready to again contend for a title.
Edwards certainly has momentum on his side this weekend, holding top 10 finishes in three of the last four races and 17 all season. Between the Kurt Busch meltdown on and off-track, Jeff Gordon winning his 85th race, and Kyle Busch continuing to, well, be Kyle, Edwards has been surprisingly absent from championship discussions. However, one can only imagine the Missouri native has been biding his time, and could very well return to form and inside Victory Lane this weekend in Chicago.
Jeff Gordon – Speaking of Gordon, he’s doing pretty well on the momentum side, too. Gordon followed up his win in Atlanta with a third-place run in Richmond, and his fourth consecutive finish inside the top 6.
In fact, Gordon has been on an impressive hot streak since the race at Kansas Speedway last June. In the last 14 races, only thrice has Gordon finished outside of the top 10 and only once was he worse than 15th. In addition, he’s led a total of 504 laps, including 409 in the last four races.
Talk about peaking at the right time! Gordon went from almost being an afterthought to one of Johnson’s biggest threats for the championship over the course of a few short weeks. And Gordon knows a thing or two about winning championships since he has four of them. The question is, how long can he maintain this hot streak and will it be enough to beat Johnson?
Honorable Mention: Kevin Harvick won in Richmond for his first victory since Memorial Day weekend, proving that whatever was wrong with the team for the last couple of months has been amended. Just in time.
Kyle Busch – A short span of double-digit finishes has left Busch with a steady amount of momentum, but not enough to put him with the likes of Gordon and Edwards just yet. Yes, Busch has the points lead, but the inconsistency of this team (and Busch’s attitude) is going to hurt them in the next 10 weeks if they aren’t able to fix the issue.
Consider Busch’s most recent 10-race stretch, from Daytona to Richmond. 7 finishes were inside of the top 10, with five of those ending in the top 5. That’s an impressive run, and one that would be worthyof a spot in the “hot” section if not for the other three finishes drawing some serious red flags.
It seems for the No. 18 team, when it rains it pours. The other three finishes are 36th, 14th, and 23rd, and in a points system where champions are determined not only on the good days, but on how well you handle the bad days, I highly doubt Busch will be able to win the title with those numbers. Though it could certainly be worse, any result outside of the top 20 could be, in essence, catastrophic. That is, unless, his closest competitors have the same issue.
Aside from the numbers, Busch’s attitude could also get in the way. If he runs with the same patience and veteran-like driving style he showcased in Richmond, he’s a serious threat. If he instead exerts an aggressive driving style similar to that of the Truck Series race at Bristol where he intentionally wrecked Elliott Sadler following contact between the two, he might as well start focusing on next year.
Tony Stewart – Again just in time for the Chase, Stewart is once again driving like a champion. Following top 10 finishes in three of the last four races, Stewart has secured himself a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs, even after at one point declaring that his own race team wasn’t deserving of a spot in the Chase.
Unfortunately, a few post-top 10 finishes in the last month or so are still enough to doubt Stewart’s ability to contend for this title, a sentiment that Stewart seems to share.“It’s definitely been a good two weeks for us,” Stewart said following a seventh-place run. “But we’ve got a long ten-week stretch ahead of us and we’ve got to be better than we’ve been the last 26 weeks.”
I doubt Stewart will be a huge threat come Homestead, which may be a good thing for him since he doesn’t enjoy answering questions from the media anyway.
Honorable Mention: Stewart’s teammate/employee Ryan Newman has somewhat of a better record, having finished inside of the top 20 in every race since the July race in Daytona, including a victory under his belt that might come in handy as the Chase winds down.
Greg Biffle – Biffle has just one bright spot on his record in the last several months: a dominant performance at Michigan International Speedway that saw him lead 86 total laps. Even then, Biffle got killed on tire strategy in the second half of the race and wound up finishing 20th.
A few top 10 finishes here and there might ease the blow somewhat, but missing the Chase has to be a huge morale-killer after such a strong showing the last three seasons. What’s strange is that all three of Biffle’s teammates are doing just fine. Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards are solidly in the Chase with three wins between the two of them, and even David Ragan was a force to be reckoned with in Richmond and had a shot at a Chase spot thanks in part to his win in Daytona. Biffle didn’t have a shot at all of getting in without a victory at Richmond, a scenario that clearly wasn’t going to happen even with six laps led during the event.
However, there always seems to be that one driver in a four car team that gets the short end of the stick, regardless of how strong the other three might be. Just ask Mark Martin.
Jamie McMurray – McMurray’s whole season has just been sad. Disappointing. Soul-crushing. Following a season that made even some of NASCAR’s most successful driver’s envious, McMurray entered 2011 with both high hopes and expectations and handled them with grace. Yes, there was some pressure in following up a season that saw him win three of NASCAR’s biggest races, but it was a good pressure. He would at least make the Chase, right?
Nope. In fact, McMurray was never even a Chase-hopeful. The only instance he was inside the top 20 all season was after the Daytona 500, and since then he’s been under the radar and out of the spotlight. With only four top 10s all year, the Chase was never even a viable option and that successful 2010 season seems like nothing more than a distant memory. McMurray’s relevancy this year has been sorely lacking, but hasn’t been noticed enough for anyone to really miss it.
On the bright side, those Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 trophies must look nice on a mantle, and those are two wins no one will ever take away from him regardless if he is ever as competitive again in his career.
Honorable Mention: McMurray’s teammate Juan Pablo Montoya is only relevant in the sense that he’s considered dangerous on the racetrack by his competitors and their fans. I’m sure Clint Bowyer could attest to that.
Clint Bowyer – Oh yeah! Bowyer! Almost forgot about him.
Well, not really, considering he’s been in the headlines for virtually the entire season, mostly because of his current contract situation. During pre-race press conferences in Richmond, Bowyer and even team owner Richard Childress said that it’s unlikely the two will be working together next year. That’s a shame for Childress, but Bowyer has some talent so I’d be surprised if he couldn’t find a ride elsewhere.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many good rides open and the team that’s had the loudest rumors—Richard Petty Motorsports—would be a step back for the Kansas native. However, his options are limited, since his most recent statistics (and the numbers both sponsors and team owners alike will be looking at) are underwhelming with only one top 10 result in the last 10 races.
What really sucks for Bowyer, to put it bluntly, is that Richmond could have been a very strong race for him. Following a spin early on in the race, Bowyer’s crew made repairs to the car and from then on he was one of the fastest cars on the racetrack. Pit strategy and an ill-handling racecar eventually bit the team, and he wound up 22nd. Still, though, I have to give them credit for attempting to capitalize on what seemed like an impossible feat. They just don’t have the finish to show for it.
Unlike the rest of the non-Chasers, though, Bowyer will remain in the spotlight until his contract negotiations have been resolved. Whether he re-signs or resigns, Bowyer will be the next domino to fall in this year’s Silly Season … and then he’ll be obsolete.
Marcos Ambrose – Did anyone actually believe Ambrose would somehow become relevant in this series after his win in Watkins Glen? While it was hard not to be happy for him, it really had little to no impact on the season, especially after Ambrose’s incident with Brian Vickers on Saturday night.
Sure it was possible for Ambrose to get in if he won the race, but it was also possible a meteor would strike the earth at the exact same time the green flag flew. And I’d probably have bet on the meteor before betting on Ambrose.
Maybe that’s why I’m not a gambler.
Honorable Mention: After winning the pole for Saturday night’s race, I’m sure David Reutimann enjoyed being in the spotlight without being on a set with team owner Michael Waltrip. Unfortunately, fans saw more of Reutimann during the commercial breaks than they did during the actual race. Reutimann hasn’t finished inside the top 15 since Kentucky back in June, so I guess that’s not really surprising.
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How is it that we know about Chicago before the race is run? Is there a script we don’t know about?