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.
Did You Notice?… We’re a third of the way through NASCAR’s season? Next weekend, at Dover marks the halfway point of the regular season and so it seems as good a time as any to run through some report cards to date for the major teams. (Next week, I’ll go through the underdogs outside the top 25).
Jimmie Johnson: Two wins, including the prestigious Daytona 500, the points lead for ten of 12 weeks and a million-dollar bonus for taking the All-Star Race. What more do you want? Considering the No. 48 is already on cruise control, this early that means trouble for their top competitors entering the Chase. Grade: A+.
Kasey Kahne: Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, it’s not Bristol’s win but three second-place finishes on intermediates that define his season. Fifth in points, it’s clear this driver can be a contender on the “cookie cutters” and a pleasant surprise at short tracks like Bristol (his 2013 win). What’s not is whether, come crunch time, he’ll ever be able to rise above the No. 48 on the depth chart. Grade: A.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: The stats on paper tell you Junior’s having a solid year, on pace to have more top 10s (21) than he did a season ago. But just 48 laps led, 47 of them in one race (Phoenix, where track position was paramount) tell a bit of a different side story, one of a team still searching for some Victory Lane-type rhythm. Earnhardt’s shopmate has Gen-6 chassis that run rampant over the competition and the best the No. 88 can do is play the consistency game? With seven straight runs outside the top 5, plus an engine failure at Charlotte, NASCAR’s Most Popular Enigma remains too close for comfort with the postseason bubble. Grade: B+.
Jeff Gordon: If Gordon didn’t have bad luck, he’d have none at all; three DNFs are more than the rest of Hendrick Motorsports combined. Showing speed at all types of tracks on the schedule, you get the sense the No. 24 team is in far less trouble when it comes to making the postseason than a year ago. As long as the parts and pieces cooperate… Grade: B.
Joe Gibbs Racing
Matt Kenseth: Sometimes, it’s the quiet ones who do the most damage when you tick them off. Clearly on a mission to impress at Joe Gibbs Racing, after being unceremoniously dumped by Roush, the driver leads the series in laps led (893), has equaled his win total from a year ago and snagged two poles. On top of it all, there’s been an engine penalty virtually negated, an ability to hang with Johnson at Martinsville, of all places, and this aura of excellence we haven’t seen since Robbie Reiser was giving orders on top of the pit box. Guess 41 is the new 21 after all. Grade: A+.
Kyle Busch: Anyone remember the game show Press Your Luck? Seems like every time Busch races, he’s landing on Big Bucks + a spin…or the dreaded whammy. (Except in the Nationwide Series, where at this point they don’t bother with the spins and just award him the race trophy before it starts). The good is that every time out, on the Cup side it seems like the No. 18 car can win the race. The bad is that it only takes so many DNF whammies to knock you out of the game… or bring Busch’s kryptonite, those temper tantrums back into play. In his defense, when a nylon rope falls from the sky to cut your car… how would you feel? Grade: B+.
Denny Hamlin: With an average finish of 3.0, following his return from an L1 compression fracture this veteran is making a clear statement the Chase is still on his radar screen. But I fear his year, when all is said and done, will forever be defined by Turn 4, this March at Fontana. Grade: INC.
Brad Keselowski: Literally has had everything thrown at him but the kitchen sink, from a “reprimand” by NASCAR following a racy USA Today interview this February, to wrecks not of his making, to pit road penalties, to crew suspensions. Team Spunky, who won the title their own way has been reduced to Team Survival for these first three months. To their credit, they’ve fought hard, but that’s still left them 2-3 steps behind where they need to be. The real test will come this summer, once the dust settles and the No. 2 finally has some solid racetracks swing back their way. Grade: B.
Joey Logano: One thing we know for sure now: Sliced Bread will do what it takes to stand up for himself. You wonder, though, in hindsight, whether the whole spat with Denny Hamlin busted momentum in what otherwise would have been a Chase debut year. The 25-point penalty clearly doesn’t help, either but you get the sense things could have been far different here with a little extra dose of maturity. Grade: B-.
Richard Childress Racing
Paul Menard: People knock this guy for his lack of running up front, and there’s some truth to that. Since his gargantuan Indy upset, in 2011, Menard has just one top-5 finish in the Cup Series – and none this season. Still, heading to Dover he’s got something Tony Stewart, Gordon, and Logano would love to have – a Chase bid as of now – and that consistent 10th-to-15th-place performance, week in and week out has as good a chance as any to sneak through this year with so many veterans suffering through bad breaks. Grade: B.
Jeff Burton: The year’s biggest disappointment, for me. I really expected Luke Lambert, one of the top head wrenches in the business, to reestablish the chemistry he had with Burton back in late 2011. Instead, his driver’s looking old, the equipment’s looking sluggish, and a Chase bid is looking borderline laughable. Grade: C-.
Kevin Harvick: This “lame duck” still knows how to take advantage when the cards fall his way. He’s earned pocket aces twice in the first 12 events, but you still have to play the hand out and the No. 29 executed when needed. Their reward, for certain will be a postseason bid when their performance outside of those events would suggest otherwise. Grade: B.
Michael Waltrip Racing
Clint Bowyer: Has led all but one of his laps this season at Richmond, so it’s not like the No. 15 is running up front. At the same time, Bowyer – fourth in points – is running close enough for a guy who didn’t heat up last season until early summer. The question is how much speed they’re hiding, because Gibbs and Hendrick at this point seem a step above the fray. Grade: B+.
Mark Martin: At 54 years old, it’s an awful thing to say but the veteran appears to be feeling his age. Without a top-5 finish since Daytona, he struggled filling in for Denny Hamlin at Martinsville, has been the trigger for a number of on-track incidents and already announced he’s a “lame duck,” diminishing his status at MWR. Even the great Harry Gant hung it up at this time in his life; will Martin be soon to follow? Grade: C-.
Martin Truex, Jr.: Six races into 2013, without a top-5 finish and sitting 25th in Sprint Cup points, it would have been easy to write the NAPA Toyota team off. I certainly did. But since then, one of NASCAR’s quietest talents has shown a new knack for fending off adversity, pulling together six straight runs of no worse than 17th while leading nearly 200 laps. Now up to ninth in points, he’s the “wild card” in a battle for Chase position I expect to go right down to the wire. Grade: A-.
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Jamie McMurray: It only took three years, but McMurray is back knocking on the door of running up front once again. In fact, with three top-10 finishes, he’s already eclipsed the season total from 2012. Being threatened with a pink slip can work wonders these days, right? It’s going to be a very tough decision for Ganassi, going forward, if they can’t find sponsorship for Kyle Larson; Montoya has his heart, but McMurray’s making him use his head. Grade: B-.
Juan Pablo Montoya: Yes, Montoya had a win virtually stolen from under his nose with a late caution at Richmond. He’s led more laps this season than Harvick and Greg Biffle combined. Still, I get the sense that stock cars are never going to quite work out for him. If not now… when? We’re in year seven of this experiment, and at this point you’ve got to think Mr. Ganassi’s loyalty, with the Colombian sitting 23rd in points, is being severely tested. Still way too many bad situations created here for my taste. Grade: C.
Roush Fenway Racing
Carl Edwards: The Phoenix win provided the boost of morale this superstar so desperately needed. Jimmy Fennig on top of the pit box provides both consistency and trust. Now, he needs Ford to go back to the drawing board and find some speed. The Chase bid has already been secured; the summer will be all about fine-tuning. Expect Cousin Carl to dip under the radar, with the occasional bid for a win here and there but don’t forget about him. You’ll regret it later. Grade: B+.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.: Running a rather clean rookie campaign, no matter what Mr. Stewart has to say about his blocking techniques post-Charlotte. Could have won Kansas if the cautions fell the right way; other than that, he’s been just another freshman learning the ropes. As long as the car keeps coming back in one piece, or close to it, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for this long-term prospect. Grade: B.
Greg Biffle: Gave his best friend Kenseth lightning in a bottle, as a going away gift or so it seems. The problem is, poor Biff didn’t save any of that stuff for himself. With no laps led outside of Phoenix, an average finish of 27.0 the past five weeks and Fords a step behind the curve, you get the sense this season could have already slipped away. Grade: C+.
Ryan Newman: With a third of the sponsorship of his teammates, fighting with equipment behind the times Newman has somehow kept his head above water. The effort is there, and with six top-10 finishes he’s squeezed the most out of his situation. All you can do is put yourself in position; the summer stretch will likely make or break his career at SHR. Grade: B-.
Tony Stewart: The year’s big surprise disappointment. I was one of a few who expected Burton to succeed; in contrast, the world marked down Smoke as a Chase automatic, just two years removed from a title. What’s to blame for just two top-10 finishes, leaving him a distant 20th in points? Eldora distractions, Ms. Patrick, the Gen-6, Steve Addington, and perhaps a little bit of temper gone overboard. Ouch. After writing that sentence, I wonder if that’s too many things to correct in just 14-15 weeks. Grade: C-.
Danica Patrick: Daytona will obviously and forever be the highlight; unless, of course, you count her Jumbotron Richmond date appearance with boyfriend Stenhouse. Seriously…. could she have done more? Absolutely. Should we expect more? Absolutely not, considering the abysmal record in the Nationwide Series and the sharp learning curve expected. I’d look for slight improvement, an occasional top-20 finish outside the plate races but not much more as we hit the Dog Days of summer. Grade: D+.
Richard Petty Motorsports
Aric Almirola: One of the biggest, unexpected surprises to 2013 with a run of four straight top-10 finishes to wriggle his way into Chase contention. Will he make it? Nah; he’ll fade over the course of the summer. However, in a sport that needs new faces to shine you at least get the impression a win is possible at a place like, say, Michigan if all the chips fall his way. Shout-out to Todd Parrott, Dale Jarrett’s former championship crew chief who has taken this season to remind the world he still exists. Grade: B.
Marcos Ambrose: Virtually invisible for the first three months of the season, again. Bound to pop up when we head to the road courses, but me thinks the Australian superstar needs a little more success if we’re not going to lose him to Down Under come 2014. Grade: C-.
Furniture Row Racing
Kurt Busch: Another one of those drivers who has run far better than the finishes show. The big difference, though this year is Busch has persevered through the bad luck rather than used it to bash everyone around him. That’s important, considering the job opportunities open next season and a longshot to make the Chase if this team could ever get the breaks to fall their way. If the No. 78 team isn’t in Victory Lane by the next time we do these things, in August I’ll be shocked. Best bets: Sonoma, Michigan, Daytona in July and (believe it or not) Indianapolis. Grade: B+.
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Interesting grade card.
SHR can bring their grades up. Just git rid of Danica.
It’s not a matter of if Kurt Busch will win a race, but when.
Jimmie Johnson will win #6 this year.
Dale Earnhard Jr. ?
Jeff Gordon just need someone to piss him off.
Kyle Busch. Will win more races but not the cup.
Matt Kenseth. JJ’s only real challenger.
Mark Martin. Love him, but he needs to hang up his helmet.
Aric Almirola will get his breakthough win this year. His team mate will win one of the road course races.
Jeff Gordon needs to DRIVE like he’s pissed off. I’m not sure why bad luck has plagued him for several years now, but it has gotten annoying.
Agree that Mark Martin needs to hang it up. How many times has he “retired”?
Tony needs to quit running his mouth about blocking and start driving.
I really hope you are wrong about JJ getting #6 this year – I’m hoping that Kenseth spoils his party.
Thomas, I’m not sure what races you’ve been watching, but I would hardly call Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.‘s season “clean”. He’s caused wrecks in three of the last four races, including two with idiotic moves, including last week forcing his way under two cars that were both a lap ahead of him. Stenhouse tried to root Danica Patrick, and by extension since he was outside of Danica, Brad Keselowski, out of the way, despite the fact that he was two laps down and the two he was trying to force his way by were both one lap down, or one lap ahead of him. That’s just pure idiocy, or a lack of track sense, and with Stenhouse, you don’t know which it is.
And at Talladega, he tried to force his way by J.J. Yeley when there was obviously no room, and caused a big wreck there, as well. Stenhouse is a driver that, despite consecutive Nationwide Series titles, seems to lack race-craft, which is an essential part of racing, and he also seems to have very little technique, especially on tracks that actually require technique. He’s higher than I thought he would in points, but I would hardly call his season “clean”.
Also, you say that if Jeff Gordon didn’t have bad luck, he’d have none at all, and you also say that he should have an easier time making the Chase than he did last year. I disagree with that, and for one very big reason. His crew chief, Alan Gustafson, may be the biggest mismanager of races of any crew chief I’ve seen in the years I’ve been watching the sport, which is close to 25. Sunday night was a classic case in point. Having changed right sides on their previous stop, they came in just as a caution was coming out. Instead of changing four tires and getting a wave-around, since they were going a lap down anyway, Gustafson decided to change rights again. That mean Gordon was forced to come in again during he caution to get left side tires and forego the wave-around because they couldn’t risk going three consecutive runs on the same left side tires. And they ended up in a crash because of it later. Sure, some of what Gordon has gone through the last two years has been bad luck, but quite a bit of it also has to do with the fact that his crew chief continues to mismanage races on a fairly consistent basis.
Another case of this occurred last year at Sonoma wen Gustafson ran him out of fuel during the middle stages of the race. And Gustafson’s been is crew chief during this two-year run of bad luck, which I think is more than just a coincidence. A significant part of it is his mismanagement of races, which is why Gordon will not make the Chase and may not even be in the top 15 in points this year. He’s running well enough, but he has a terrible crew chief when it comes to managing races, because he mismanages them quite often.
@ Jersey Girl….
It’s the racing Gods.
They smiled on Jeff Gordon frequently early in his career. Now, they’re smiling on JJ.
Stenica is in over his head !!
@ Big Guy – you may be right about the racing gods, but I think Charles’ explanation makes a lot of sense.
Gordon’s post wreck comments at Charlotte was one of the few times since I’ve been following him that he has publicly criticized his team and he appeared to be biting back more words than he was saying.
Charles, I agree with your thoughts on Gustafson. I thought he’d be better than this and he may be good mechanically but he is NOT a good strategist.
I hope you’re wrong about Jeff making the chase, but I fear that you are right.
Logano showed some maturity? No we think Miss Hamlin who is 11 years older would be the more mature one..but he has not been. Logano has show more class and maturity that the other one. Joey has been doing good, engine problems and the involvement of OPM’s has not helped. As for Jeffy, he was blessed last year with a rain soaked win and I suspect the Nascar gods will see to it this year that he makes the gimmicky Chase.
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