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 November 16, 2010
Thanksgiving may be next up on the Holiday Hit List, but don’t be fooled; I just heard Christmas music on the radio today for the first time (God help us all). That scary pop Holiday cover did get me to thinking, though … with you poor millions of fans about to be bombarded with 5,000,000 columns on the Big Three and who’s got the edge heading to Homestead, me included, it’s high time you got an early holiday present of one column in which the ”Oh My God! Best Chase in history ever let’s all bow down to the magic of the championship unfolding before us season finale!” wasn’t mentioned at all. So guess what? Here’s my Hot / Not gift from me to you, a guided tour away from all things Chase, Fed Ex, Lowe’s and Pennzoil into the world of other drivers whose seasons – and coverage – in the minds of many ended weeks ago. So sit back, enjoy, and take in some long overdue updates in the latest edition of Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR.
Todd Bodine: Kevin Harvick has a better story on the stats sheet. Jamie McMurray’s tall tale of zero to hero will tear at your heartstrings. But in the working class category for Comeback Driver of the Year sits the biggest underdog of all, a man whose Truck Series team in all reality should have been on the auction block by June. Running for an unsponsored program that patched together discount deals and had an owner fueled by out-of-pocket passion, this group won their second Truck title together on determination, consistency, and staying out of trouble while watching their main rivals literally crash around them. Clinching one week early at Phoenix, the battle may have been a snoozer but everyone’s now wide awake as to how the Truck Series has salvaged this once Cup-also ran’s career. Elliott Sadler, take note, as five years from now this could be you.
Reed Sorenson: Don’t look now, but the young Georgian everyone labeled the next Casey Atwood may actually be making the most of his second second chance. No, that’s not a misprint, as the now 24-year-old Sorenson went from Ganassi gold to Richard Petty Motorsports bronze, blew both the opportunities and got both medals stripped on his way to the other side of the tracks – the “young gun” unemployment line from which few return. He caught a break, though, when Brian Vickers needed someone to share his Nationwide ride at Braun, then broke down healthwise to the point Sorenson could finish the season. Even pulling a stint on the Cup side for Vickers, filling in at Red Bull, his resume has been most impressive on the second-tier level, riding a string of five straight top-10 finishes while establishing himself as the “A” driver within the new Braun-turned-Turner organization over Jason Leffler. Will that last once Justin Allgaier comes into the fold come 2011? Considering this guy’s the one with sponsorship, the answer is probably yes … which makes the man a darkhorse championship contender should NASCAR’s possible Cup-banning rules allow him the chance to compete for one. If the Cup Series could ever get some new owners and cars into the garage, he … forgive me, I’m dreaming. Like that’s ever going to happen…
Ford: The Blue Oval’s third victory on the Cup side this season was also their most important: Carl Edwards snapped a 70-race winless streak while reasserting himself as their youngest, brightest superstar who’s falling into favor with fans once again. Behind him with top-7 finishes were Greg Biffle (fourth) and Matt Kenseth (seventh), one of which ended a long victory drought of his own this summer while the other is simply knocking on the door. How appropriate would it be if Kenseth wins a race at Homestead exactly three years after his last win with Robbie Reiser, then turns around in the offseason and begs for him to come back? It’s all part of that “three strikes and you beg your ex” rule … but I digress. The bottom line is it seems Richard Petty Motorsports going bankrupt has actually taken a huge load off of Roush-Fenway, who no longer has to hold up a four-car organization beyond this season and is now Ford’s primary focus. I think over the long-term, Roush will realize he needed that “B” team more than he might think at the moment, but in the short-term I see major benefits, as in my SI.com prediction, I believe Edwards will lead the points in early Spring. We’ll see.
Honorable Mention: Joey Logano (7-6-5-4-3 finish means … I’m asking him to pick the my lottery ticket this weekend. Joey, you’ve been warned!); the movement to repave Phoenix with asphalt and a configuration where the competition won’t dry up like the desert; “Fire Chilly” and/or turn him into actual Chili with your bare hands columns (do people realize Brett Favre’s the one hobbling on a bad ankle, throwing all the interceptions?); making ridiculous, horrific changes to both the playoff system and Nationwide Series that make things worse, not better (let’s hope what I’m hearing never comes to pass … rumors I hope die on the vine for once)
Jamie McMurray: A finalist for my Driver of the Year without a Chase appearance to his credit, the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 winner is now adding a third, more personal trophy to his credit: The How To Handle Adversity Medal. After hitting the wall on Lap 70 and a weird incident where he threw out a water bottle onto the track not long thereafter, it looked like a 30th-place finish was a certainty at Phoenix. Even this Spring, this group struggled with these type of performances that kept them locked out of the Chase despite their victories. But hidden amongst the title hype was a gung-ho comeback that left them 10th by the checkered flag — fuel mileage combined with formidable driving reminds us all this team will be Chasing a title come 2011.
Johnny Sauter: Bodine won the title, but kudos to this once 30-something castoff who has resurrected his career over in Trucks. 13 top-5s and 15 top-10 finishes are career highs for him in any of the sport’s top three divisions, and this former Richard Childress Racing driver outperformed young Austin Dillon en route to third in the standings with his underdog team. Still fiery, the youngest of the racing Sauters has learned how to be reserved at the right times, easily one of your 2011 title favorites along with teammate Matt Crafton as he seems to have found a home for the long-term.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. / Brian Scott: The first half of this rookie duo shouldn’t even have a ride right now, while the other really didn’t have one a month ago. But both are overachieving late in what’s shaped up to be an outstanding rookie race between the two. My guess is that Stenhouse will win the battle, taking home the yearly award although Scott has clearly won the war: money and connections have Joe Gibbs Racing fielding a full-time robbery vehicle with which he can pillage his competitors next season. Stenhouse? Well, what an admirable comeback, but crashing the equivalent to an entire new car lot full of Lexuses (I.E. – Roush Nationwide cars) in the first half of the year may still prove his undoing.
Honorable Mention: Bobby Hamilton, Jr. (has four straight top-15s in the Truck Series, driving underfunded equipment … it’s the best kept secret of 2010); Mark Martin (still in the hunt for “best of the rest,” or at 51, “best of the geriatrics”); starting-and-parking … again (especially in the Nationwide Series); Miami compared to Philadelphia (can’t wait to board the plane)
David Reutimann: Is it possible to label someone a “two-hit wonder?” The Chicagoland victory was supposed to propel this team to the next level but instead has it stuck in reverse. The MWR veteran’s led just three times for 40 laps ever since, a total of 16 races in which he’s accumulated just two additional top-5 finishes. That’s not too bad if you’re a first-year driver, even a sophomore, but in year four the expectations are rising to one day take this program to the next level. Trust me, that contract extension through 2012 didn’t come with the thought he’d finish 18th in points every year, making next season a critical one to see if one of Toyota’s top programs can take charge on a consistent basis.
Ron Hornaday, Jr.: What the heck is going on with this guy? Check out the mind-boggling stat of the year: the reigning Truck champ had six DNFs total in the last five years running the Truck Series full-time. This year? He’s got six DNFs in all, each of them for wrecks that have decimated some of Kevin Harvick, Inc.’s top equipment. Longtime friends, Harvick and Hornaday agreed on a contract extension as of late but the program appeared so off this season you wonder if that might have been a move out of loyalty, not the reality that both might be better off starting a new chapter elsewhere. Not what you’d expect from the future first Hall of Famer from the Truck side…
Bobby Labonte: Here’s the good news: Labonte still hasn’t been fired from his 2011 ride at JTG Daugherty. But even after a solid 20th-place finish Sunday, this former NASCAR champ can’t get back into half-decent equipment soon enough. Barring a miracle, he’ll end the season without a top-10 or even top-15 finish for the first time since running his first two races in Cup back in 1991. Now 46 years old, you wonder if the best years have passed him by or it’s simply a case of bad timing, even worse equipment and terrible chemistry. Let’s hope for his sake, with Marcos Ambrose possibly in desperation mode and RPM’s future in doubt, there won’t be a sudden change of heart that leads to more bad timing: Labonte on the street.
Honorable Mention: The Washington Redskins with Donovan McNabb as their quarterback; Robby Gordon’s Sprint Cup future (does he have one?); America’s Racing Team (do they even still exist); inspecting the championship cars nearly two weeks before Homestead (does that really make anyone believe the NASCAR officials have more credibility?)
Brendan Gaughan: What a nightmare scenario. After six years, Gaughan finally gets a second chance at Cup, a one-race deal with a middling team (TRG) to show what he can do. Well, he sure put on a display Sunday afternoon: how to launch your car right into the wall. Just two laps into the race, the once-Penske driver’s day was done, the low point in an end-of-season slump that’s included just one top-10 finish in Nationwide during his last fourteen starts. Instead, there’s four DNFs to his credit for a Rusty Wallace, Inc. program limping to the finish line, wondering when or if it’ll ever live up to the full potential envisioned upon its creation four years ago. But hey, at least when all’s said and done this guy can hit up the slot machines for free at his dad’s own resort…
Brian Keselowski: For this struggling owner/driver, the start-and-park necessity combined with some ugly outings from Parker Kligerman running his number has turned disastrous. In the last seven races where his No. 26 has qualified, they’ve run a total of 14 – yes, 14 – laps. Oy yoy yoy. Where do you go with that? One of racing’s nice guys, it’s a blue collar story that wants to make it but doesn’t have any of the help or the sponsorship needed to do so. The independent story of success in the ‘80s is the one who today falls victim to the giant metal foot of Jack Roush, Roger Penske, yadda yadda yadda… you know the drill.
Danica Patrick / Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: With one race to go, racing’s first female remains without a top-20 finish on her ugly stock car resume. It’s not a matter of “how much worse can it get?” but “there’s nowhere to go but up.” And as for her car owner, a 14th-place finish Sunday at Phoenix can’t stop the impending freight train of offseason changes headed the No. 88 team’s way. Will it be enough to keep the Earnhardt-Hendrick partnership afloat past 2011? Future free agency will be one of the sport’s biggest stories if we see these types of struggles for either next season.
Honorable Mention: PRISM Motorsports (not even positioning themselves to start-and-park when they can’t qualify); Landon Cassill (worth so much more than the options he’s been given in the sport); Scott Speed (you know the drill); Sam Hornish, Jr. (ditto); North Dakota (buried in snow); Brett Favre (buried with the consequences of his own bad choices)
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WOW!!! I can’t believe you rated RPM as a “bronze.” At this point, a start and park ride is more desireable than an RPM contract.
However, it is nice to see somebody write an article about drivers other than Denny, Jimmie, and Kevin.
Or is it?
Dan Farkas in All Left Turns quotes Jr. saying, “I’ve got a lot of career left, and I’ll get back to where I want to be.”
It makes so much sense that NASCAR inspected the cars 2 weeks before the championship deciding race. Can you imagine the drama that would occur when these guys all finish in the top 5 and one or more of the cars was selected to go back to NASCAR for tech @ the shop. Then it comes out on tuesday that Denny Hamlin’s car was deemed illegal. What if he only wins the championship by 20 points over Johnson. NASCAR has already set the precedent. 150 championship points is the penalty for a car deemed to be illegal, but fans need to know who won the race, so Bowyer gets to keep the win. Seems to me that the controversy would be immeasureable. Because it stands to reason that if fans need to know who won the race when they leave the track, they also need to know who won the championship when they drive out of Miami!
Reconfiguring Phoenix would be a shame. Unique tracks shouldn’t be messed with.
If anything, we could probably use another flat track on the circuit just for variety’s sake.
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