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.
Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday April 20, 2009
This is a story about two men’s historic rise and fall from grace.
As Mark Martin took the checkered flag Saturday night, the desert night lit up with thousands of smiling faces. Sentimentality was in the air again at Phoenix International Raceway, a mere two minutes after a 50-year-old won his first race since ‘05 and two years after Gordon tied the late, great Earnhardt name with his 76th career win. History has been no stranger to the desert as of late; but this time around, the fans stood respectful of Martin’s seniority rather than rueful for Gordon’s claim to historic fame. For that one, beer cans were thrown with perfect aim right at the No. 24 Chevy, a sign of fans’ loyalty to another would-be fifty-something that drove so many towards an interest in the sport.
Hundreds of feet away from the crowd, the son now charged with carrying that famous name’s tradition sat buried in the sand of a 31st place finish in the desert. There would be no celebration for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on this night, not for his worst finish here since blowing an engine in November 2007. Moments removed from bumping Casey Mears in frustration on the cooldown lap, Earnhardt was simply trying to keep his cool, pay his respects to Martin … and get the hell out.
Of course, Hendrick’s newest addition had no such plans to leave. Around him, the fans cheered wildly as he did a backwards Victory Lap in tribute to the fallen Alan Kulwicki, his friend killed in a horrifying plane crash in 1993. Unifying the crowd with his simple gesture, Martin had stolen the title of “Most Popular” from his teammate … if only for a fleeting second.
But that snapshot spoke volumes as to where each man was headed. Martin, through the course of a dominating performance, had turned back the clock. Earnhardt, left to watch, was left to imagine his season turning backwards at precisely the same speed at which his car wrecked into the wall – with the weight of a winless season attached.
It seemed appropriate on this night that Earnhardt and Martin were teammates out of the same shop; after all, isn’t one man’s rise another one’s road to ruin? In any organization, there’s a good, better, best scenario even when all the teams are running well; but with Martin’s signature victory, Earnhardt doesn’t even qualify for that top 3. Just 19th in the season standings, he’s the lone winless driver in a four-car organization and the only one yet to score a top 5 finish this season.
Phoenix was supposed to be the start of a turnaround, the first leg of a critical three-race swing for the No. 88. PIR, Talladega, and Richmond make up 10 of his 18 career victories, the perfect places to reroute a season that’s started so badly off track. Three solid finishes now, and everyone’s done debating Earnhardt’s Mental Mistake Tour 2009. But falter … and falling 100+ points outside the Chase is a much tougher hill to climb at places like Loudon, Pocono, and Sonoma where he’s historically weak.
By comparison, the desert has always seemed to bring out the best in NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, a place where he owns more wins than his old man (2 to 1) while fitting right in with the laid-back atmosphere of the West that defines his personality. Indeed, one of Earnhardt’s highlights of 2008 was becoming involved in a duel for the win here last April with none other than … Mark Martin. It was a far different scenario then for both, as pressure was merely a word applied to drivers other than themselves. Earnhardt was still fresh behind the ears working for Hendrick, exceeding expectations during a grace period that was expected to be a far rougher transition. In the meantime, Martin was enjoying the pleasure provided by the freedom of a part-time schedule. True, he was the driver tasked with the near-impossible assignment of keeping the Earnhardt name relevant in Dale Jr.’s former ride, the No. 8. But it’s far easier to face the music when you take the opportunity knowing those are shoes you’ll never fill.
Back then, Martin was fighting a good fight on one of the former DEI’s better days, taking second-tier equipment and giving it the bright shine of respectability. Fending off Earnhardt over the race’s final segment, Martin came within a hair’s breath of giving that old team a win before its former driver had visited Victory Lane in his new one. Poor fuel mileage was what robbed the team of a top finish that day, forcing both Martin and Earnhardt to make a last-minute stop while handing the win to Jimmie Johnson. It was a questionable call for Martin’s team to make at the time – why not go for the win with the championship a moot point? – but it was a choice never questioned by the veteran, at least in public.
“It is a privilege to drive for these guys,” he said back then, never letting frustration be the better part of valor. “I want them to keep their chins up, because we can win some of these races.”
They never did. But when’s the last time you heard that from Earnhardt?
One year later, it’s now his turn to suffer through a bad choice atop the pit box, the wrong decision by a crew chief struggling to get anything right these days. Earnhardt had already suffered through a pit stop problem, a loose lugnut necessitating an extra stop that mired him back around 30th for much of the race’s first 150 laps. So when a caution flag came out on Lap 167 – just 15 laps after Earnhardt’s last stop – crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. chose to keep the No. 88 out on the race track, giving them the lead while Martin and others dove down pit road for fresh rubber.
Initially, it looked like a brilliant move, showcasing above anything else Earnhardt hasn’t forgotten how to drive. Taking off on the ensuing restart, he built a four-and-a-half second lead on the field at one point. But a race filled with some early cautions suddenly took on a green-flag look, leaving Earnhardt forced to pit long before everyone else up front. Armed with older tires that hampered his handling, he dropped like a rock through the field over the final 75 laps of the race, going from the lead to 17th before Mears mercifully tapped him into the wall to all but end his night. Despite leading 63 laps, that tap proved the final insult on a night that could have easily led towards redemption.
“We were very loose at the end,” he said afterwards in his shortest set of post-race quotes in some time. “It felt good to lead some laps.”
But on this night, it was Martin’s turn to lead the final one, cycling back to the top with a win that had eluded him for so long. While both he and Earnhardt had strong cars, it was the veteran of the No. 5 who guessed correctly, every time, on the adjustments needed from day into night. It was the crew chief who calls working for Martin a dream job making all the right moves — rather than the one living a nightmare getting the chance to redeem himself. Indeed, Eury sits all alone now at HMS with the unpleasant stink of a season slump surrounding him. Of the two teams that endured a nightmarish start to the 2009 season, just one now remains left in an seemingly inescapable hole.
“I want to congratulate [Mark],” Earnhardt said before scurrying off to regroup. “That team was awesome tonight.”
He made no mention about his own.
And as Junior gave his quotes and settled into the background, leaving Martin to revel in victory, you couldn’t help but think of a certain number missing from the field this weekend. Earnhardt’s former ride, the No. 8, has been shut down until further notice after sponsorship never materialized for young rookie Aric Almirola. Gone with it is Earnhardt’s link to his past, the family name and team he will likely never own after a seemingly permanent rift with stepmother Theresa over the company. That divorce led to a nightmarish 2007 for Junior, one in which he missed the Chase and endured a winless season that forced him to look elsewhere in achieving his goal of winning a title.
But in hindsight, pursuit of those goals seems to have contradicted a firm emphasis on family and friends that’s defined Junior’s life. To make this choice, Earnhardt had to leave the comfort of familiarity behind, becoming a cog in the corporate wheel for a company with other superstars to share his spotlight. Somewhere along the way, he went from number one driver on the totem pole to number one on the list of underachievers, going from victim to perpetrator on a team that’s been similar in performance to his old one at DEI – only with ten times more pressure attached. It’s like a kid choosing to transfer to a better, private school far away from home, only to figure out in the middle of sophomore year both his grades and social life were better in the hometown he left behind.
Faced with a similar career choice – have fun with reduced expectations or tackle the pressure of top-tier equipment – Martin chose the tough road, too. Leaving DEI and hooking up with Hendrick for one last chance at a title, the pressure of holding an AARP card while competing against men half his age could have overwhelmed him. Instead, he’s taken it all in stride, never losing confidence in his team despite three problems in four races which nearly took them out of the top 35 in owner points. Most importantly, the smile has never quite left his face, a far cry from a look on Earnhardt’s that leaves you wondering if being at the track is as much fun for him as it used to be.
“I was really happy in 2008, and have been even more happy in 2009,” he exclaimed in a jubilant post-race press conference. “I didn’t think that was possible [considering] I am in a different league stress level compared to last year. But working with these guys puts so much more fun in the factor that it overcomes the stress level of measuring up to [the expectations I have for] myself.”
And so it goes; two men, two choices, two vastly different outcomes even though their cars are made five feet apart. But at this point, there’s no longer a question as to whether Martin made the right choice to come to HMS.
Now, we’re simply left to wonder whether Earnhardt made the wrong one.
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Have no fear! Junior will surely win at Talladega, and by Bristol, it will be Gordon, Johnson, Martin, and Junior 1-2-3-4 in the points as the Chase starts, and they will be 1-2-3-4 in the points at the end of the year!
I think Jr is in for a long season and Tony Jr. will end up taking the fall even though he is a bit player in the problem. Jr. would be lower than 19th place if it were not for the “lucky dog” that keeps putting him back on the lead lap. Tony’s pit strategy is the only thing that got him to the front and kept him from being lapped. It was just unfortunate for him that there was a long green flag run. I think we will see some poor decisions by Jr. as he stays mired well back in the field and the pressure rises.
You and I have some differences here and elsewhere but I have to commend you for a nicely written piece!
First of all, I think Jr. is struggling with adjusting to the COT like Gordon had done too. Second, they’ve had serious problems with the pit crew and crew chief. Every stop in just about every race this year, jr. has lost spots to other teams. You can’t lose these positions every stop and have to repass these cars and expect to contend for a win! So there is definitely a problem with his pit crew. And, as has been pointed out, these pit road mistakes-pitting outside of box, loose lug nuts, missing your pit road box have all been very costly. But, the biggest thing I see now is the inability for his crew chief to make the car better at the end of the race and keeping up with the car and changes in the track. These pit road errors whether Jr.‘s problem or his crew can be corrected. But, this crew chief thing doesn’t appear at this point to be correctable with the present crew chief. I know Jr. likes his crew chief but if he ever expects to content for a championship, then I think he is going to have to get a top tier crew chief because it seems very evident at this point that Eury is not the one to get them there. Also, you would think that these pit issues would be problems that the crew chief would correct but so far that doesn’t seem to be the case so that’s another reason Eury needs to be gone. I’m not talking about firing him from Hendrick, I’m sure there is a place for him there but as a crew chief I don’t believe he can get it done. Jr. may not be his father but two busch championships and eighteen cup wins proves that he is a good driver and with improvements in the pit stops, pit crew, and crew chief he should be able to become a much better team. I know Jr. says he doesn’t want another crew chief except Eury Jr. but if he is serious about winning and contending for a championship I don’t see how he and Hendrick can defend Eury much longer. This isn’t late models as Jr. said, this is serious, high dollar cup racing and you have to be successful or else sponsors will eventually go away especially in this day and time. Rick Hendrick needs to get this team’s problems fixed. There is no excuse for the pit road problems and losing spots on pit stops. The crew chief problem can be fixed too. It’s just up to someone to make the hard decisions to get these problems corrected. Again, two busch championships and eighteen cup wins proves that Jr. is a decent driver but the team needs major improvements now for him to get better. Someone said Eury is a bit player. I don’t think so, most of pit road problems can be put squarely on the shoulders of the Crew Chief. And, the handling of the car and adjustments to make it better during the race is mostly the crew chief too. Those things don’t make Eury a “bit” player!
Good Lord! You got Jr so buried in a hole it seems like the only solution for him is to put a pistol up to his temple. He’ll come around, just get off his case (week in and week out).
It used to be kind-of a joke to say that Jr. needed a new crew chief.
I remember when Junior’s problem was that he was getting inferior equipment. Now that he’s getting top notch equipment it’s because he’s got a lousy crew chief. Maybe Junior is a large part of the problem. How can Eury improve the car during the race based on Junior four-letter-word tantrums? He could learn a few lessons in communication from Gordon and Johnson, two of the best out there in interpreting the car and relaying back to the CC.
one question, i would like an answer to!why is #5 and #88, in one end of the building and #24 and #48, in the othe end of the building? why don“t they all be in the same building and share ? we, of course know the answer to that question!!
Jo, its because Hendrick has two different shops. He didnt have enough land to expand the original shop for 3 and 4 cars, so he was forced to purchase another shop nearby.
Looks like the #5 shop is doing OK. Besides, why make a pie with 3 good apples and one riddled with worms?
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