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.
Thomas Bowles · Tuesday August 3, 2010
We’re heading full steam toward the Dog Days of Summer, but there’s several Sprint Cup regulars barking up the wrong tree. As the Race for the Chase turns sharply into focus, there are just seventeen drivers left with a realistic shot at the playoffs. That leaves a number of superstars, from Juan Pablo Montoya to David Reutimann, licking their wounds, watching the season finale of _The Bachelorette in mourning while looking back at lost opportunities. Turning toward 2011 three months too soon, their bids long ago wilted in the summer heat through a series of ugly DNFs and CNCs – could not compete. But they’re not alone in holding multiple test sessions; men like Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, and even Denny Hamlin can pull some wild experiments along with them, their Chase bids all but assured while pursuing a “win ‘em, wreck ‘em, or ride around and smell the coffee” philosophy all the way until the points really count come September._
So as those drivers fade slowly into the background – one of the many downsides to NASCAR’s current Chase – the focus now shifts towards two different groups in particular. You’ve got a handful of wheelmen battling to simply make the 12-men playoff field, fighting side-by-side with pending free agents looking for a different type of trophy: a paycheck to still come in the mail each week. So with the regular season winding down and contracts running out, which drivers are in the best spot to heat up and accomplish their goals? Find out in the latest edition of Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in Sprint Cup.
Carl Edwards: After seven months of trailing their rivals, Roush Fenway Racing is suddenly a darkhorse contender to win both the battle and the war each week in Sprint Cup. Edwards is leading the way inside the four-car fleet, armed with four straight top-10 finishes for the first time in over a year while surging into the top 10 in points. NASCAR’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is walking with a bit of a spring in his step, unfazed by his mid-July penalty against Brad Keselowski while bouncing back at what used to be his bread and butter: intermediate tracks. Can the momentum continue this weekend in Watkins Glen? If it does, the Chase is all but a certainty as he looks to put the Cinderella slipper on his latest championship bid.
Tony Stewart: Where there’s Smoke, there’s fire – in more ways than one. Stewart received some criticism for half-joking comments Friday in front of reporters, claiming the one change he’d make to Pocono was simple: ban the media. Maybe that’s because he wasn’t all warm and fuzzy about Ryan Newman’s fine; he lied about his knowledge of the Talladega penalty and refused to discuss it further throughout the weekend.
So maybe he’s not the best off-track interview right now. But on it, there’s no question the No. 14 team has far more momentum than when they were leading the points this time last year. Seven top-10 finishes in eight races leave him eighth in the standings, comfortably inside the Chase and fully loaded with equipment and experience to contend. Every year, there’s someone who slips into the playoffs and then turns around to be a top-3 contender down the stretch. If Edwards can’t get the job done – and only six laps led is a major weak point for him – expect Stewart to become a surprise challenger this Fall.
Honorable Mention: Richard Childress Racing (from losing Kevin Harvick to 3-for-3 on the Chase and possibly even gaining a fourth team – with a permanent sponsor attached – for 2011. Who played the lottery there and didn’t tell us?), Kurt Busch’s temper (the Jimmie Johnson dartboard is working overtime this week), Kentucky Speedway (finally getting the Cup date they sought. It only took a sellout and a near-collapse of the industry…)
Greg Biffle: After Greg Biffle’s winning press conference, I had to run out into the garage to confirm a story I was working on. It took a good 20 minutes to get what I needed, meaning darkness was setting over Pocono Raceway by the time I did an about face and turned towards the media center. But as I was walking, I saw a bright light on the side of the building, so I made a detour to take a quick look.
What did I find? Biffle signing autographs for an excitable group of fans with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on his face, gladly staying late until every single one had gotten what they wanted. You don’t think it’s a sigh of relief to end these types of winless streaks? Well, then you needed to be standing right there with me. I still don’t think the No. 16 is the best team inside the Ford stable … far from it. But the emotional boost from giving hospitalized car owner Jack Roush – upgraded to fair condition Monday – a much-needed victory should carry the Biff from dropping out of the Chase to finishing well inside the top 12 come Richmond.
Mark Martin: Maybe Martin thrives from the pressure of rallying to make the Chase. Only twice in five years has the 51-year-old made it easy, feeding into a lifetime habit of giving fans heart attacks before ultimately coming through in the clutch. With five races left, he remains on the outside looking in but with a season that’s quickly turning into the same old scenario of peaking at the right time. A 15th, then an 11th, then a seventh these last three weeks have him pushing the questions of “Where?” “When?” and “How?” for 2011 aside, focused on winning the championship he came back to win with Hendrick Motorsports instead. Right now, that’s nothing more than a pipe dream this year, but a playoff bid would not be too shabby considering the three-month effort to drown out the media and keep them from tearing the No. 5 apart.
Honorable Mention: Clint Bowyer (a valiant drive back up to 15th after getting caught in Kurt and Jimmie’s squabble), NFL training camp (when that’s beating national NASCAR news each week, you know the sport is struggling), Sonoma losing a Sprint Cup date (hearing that from too many people to simply ignore it), Pennsylvania (much better than the 100-degree days we had last week)
Scott Speed: Red Bull may give you wings, but their race team is flying by the seat of their pants these days, weighed down with more questions than a full-fledged episode of Jeopardy!. But while Brian Vickers’ future is a long-term panic attack for another column, the short-term issue concerns whether or not the Austrian contingent will go “Ja” on another multi-year contract extension for their eccentric former F-1 sophomore. I’ve heard that deal is all but done, but it’s disconcerting to hear Jay Frye say over the weekend their driver has clearly regressed over the past few months. Runs of 30th, 25th, and 26th back up that theory, and it’s clear even if Speed does get another year with this group, he’s headed towards being a more exciting Sam Hornish, Jr. than the circuit’s next Juan Pablo Montoya at this point.
Matt Kenseth: While the rest of Roush Fenway has left the station, Kenseth stays stuck in neutral as the other drivers on the back half of the Chase bubble reel him in. Isn’t it hard to believe this guy was second in points, just one behind Kevin Harvick at Bristol in March? The crew chief swaps may have something to do with it, but somewhere in the midst of Kenseth calling the shots he seems to have lost some internal confidence in himself. Now nearly three months removed from the No. 17’s last top-5 finish, you still have to sit and wonder whether a Martinsville victory – taken away by Jeff Gordon’s bump-and-done – could have been the breaking point for a season quickly going sour. At this point, after falling to ninth if he falls outside the Chase, ala a repeat of 2009 at Richmond, I won’t be surprised.
Honorable Mention: Elliott Sadler (cool to win the Truck Race, even cooler he walked away from that crash… but when the smoke clears, his Cup career is still clearly on life support), Reed Sorenson (not exactly lighting his Red Bull ride on fire, either), Joey Logano (looked like he wanted to give up the firesuit in his family this Sunday), New York Mets (this happens to us every year)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: After a handful of lucky finishes kept him in playoff contention, NASCAR’s Most Popular driver is becoming the sport’s version of Anna Kournikova. Scoring three straight finishes outside the top 20, he’s dropping like a rock while struggling with equipment that’s putting Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon in position to lead laps and win races every week. Conspiracy theorists will tell you it’s not the same cars, but then why is shopmate Mark Martin suddenly clicking off top-11 finishes like clockwork? Now 129 points outside the top 12, perhaps a Chase berth was a bit ambitious one year after the worst season of Junior’s career. But it’s also an automatic expectation in Hendrick equipment, leading to a long three-month stretch of questions and another offseason full of restructuring unless the No. 88 team pulls off the miracle of miracles starting this Sunday.
Looking for hope, Junior fans? I’ll at least give you this much: Matt Kenseth did charge back from 168 points down at this point to make the Chase in 2005. Earnhardt does have Watkins Glen, Michigan, and Bristol dead ahead, three places where he could easily click off three top-5 finishes under the right circumstances.
Travis Kvapil: Front Row Motorsports’ season was borderline competitive at best before the infamous “bleeder” incident at Pocono crippled Kvapil. After a 22nd-place finish in that race, an illegal pressure-building valve in the tires sent suspensions, fines, and most importantly a 150-point penalty his way, knocking one of the Front Row teams outside the top 35 and making simply qualifying every Friday the top priority. It’s shown on the final results sheet ever since, with no top-20 finishes for FRM’s most experienced driver while often becoming the slowest of the non start-and-parkers each week. Tough to get sponsorship when you’re running two, three, or four laps down, and with owner Bob Jenkins funding these teams out of pocket, you have to wonder how much internal frustration is building up.
Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose forced himself into free agency last week, poo poo-ing a contract that ran through 2011 in favor of gambling on landing in a better situation elsewhere. But at this point, with a shortage of cash and career opportunities, you’d wonder if the best place for the Tasmanian native is back Down Under. If you hear some sizzling over on the grill, that’s not shrimp on the barbie but the sophomore’s season going up in flames. Now a “lame duck” driver in the No. 47, his eighth DNF on Sunday – yet another TRD engine self-destruction – is part of a post-Sonoma swoon that’s seen him run five consecutive times outside the top 10. Will he be able to salvage one last run at a victory in Watkins Glen? If he doesn’t cash in, you wonder if it’s the last best chance he’s got in this series before bolting the country – that is, if Mr. Petty and some Blue Oval execs can’t come up with the cash to keep him in America.
Honorable Mention: Robby Gordon Motorsports (38th, 36th, and 35th the last three races heading to the Glen), sponsorship searches (still without funding? Kahne, the No. 24, the No. 77, all of RPM … shall I go on?), Pocono’s safety record (better than you think, but skewed by an ugly crash at an ugly angle), Kevin Conway (the marketing tour inside a Sprint Cup car continues – and just think, you could be next! All you need is $4 million, a savvy idea, and a willingness to go just enough to meet minimum speed)
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For Jr to make the chase, the two or three guys in front of him have to have a meltdown. Doubt very,very much that will happen as long as Lance keeps putting him in those retred chassis pieces of junk that couldn’t crack the top 20’s when Jr drove them before. If you listened to his scanner, that was the chassis where he complained the whole weekends about the car having no speed. Can’t win without being able to keep up with the big boys, Lance. Personally, I am hoping for Carl Edwards having another attack of “roid” rage, wreck 1/2 the field and get sit down for a race or two. That is probably the only way JR would have a chance.
Ridiculous section on Biffle.. he is hands down the best driver behind the wheel of a Ford and his pit crew is arguably the best in the series. Take away his bad luck with wrecks and mechanical failures he’s sitting 4th or 5th in the chase
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