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.
Thomas Bowles · Wednesday June 5, 2013
Did You Notice?… The small teams deserve an opportunity, too? Last week, we went through the grades of the 26 or so Sprint Cup teams with major funding and resource connections. But they’re not the only ones plugging along each week; the underdogs, largely out of the limelight do the best they can to survive with inferior equipment and long odds. It’s a battle amongst themselves to be the best, trying to position for better sponsorship deals and the two seconds of TV time that could make a difference.
Let’s take a look at how they’ve performed this season…
Front Row Motorsports
David Ragan: Outside of Talladega, Ragan has struggled with this program, posting an average finish (26.3) that’s only marginally better than the year before. But all sins, in the underdog world can be forgiven when you produce one of the biggest upset wins this century. His crafty push to the front at a plate race, producing the organization’s first ever triumph on the Cup level is enough to carry momentum through the rest of 2013 – the miracle these teams always hope for but so rarely receive. Grade: A.
David Gilliland: The word that comes to mind here is “loyal.” With FRM for four years now, he’s been a rock steady resource when it comes to feedback and development, inching this organization forward. His average finish reflects that: from 29.3 his first year to 27.2 now. But perhaps his biggest achievement, to date has been getting in line behind Ragan and pushing that car to victory rather than going after it himself. Winless in 235 career starts, making that move was the Adam and Eve temptation but it would have also cost the organization a likely victory; it’s that sacrifice that illustrates why he’ll be here for years to come. Grade: B.
Josh Wise: Poll 100 NASCAR fans and I bet 95 of them still don’t know who Wise even is, a fault of the coverage more than anything else. Yet this sophomore, who spent his rookie season start-and-parking has been a quiet surprise. No, you won’t see him in Victory Lane, and the chances of a top-10 finish are remote. But he’s started to rack up some top 25s, running competitively with this group after never really getting to even learn the racetracks last year. For a guy from whom not much was expected – Wise has just two top-5 results in 123 career starts in Nationwide and Trucks – he’s showing the potential is there. It’s whether this team will ever have the money to make him realize it. Grade: B-.
Travis Kvapil: One of the big disappointments on this side of the Cup garage. The lone driver retained by the organization, in their second season (Landon Cassill was fired) expectations were to improve on an average finish of 25.7 that included a lone top-10 result. But the team started off stumbling, barely making the Daytona 500 in 43rd spot and has remained an absolute mess. Horsepower is a major problem; four of their five DNFs have been for engine failures, and that’s not counting multiple extra trips to the garage for mechanical woes. If there’s a part out there, this team knows how to break it, limiting the opportunities for them to even compete. With a best run of just 22nd for Kvapil, leaving him a distant 35th in points it’s been nothing short of a nightmare – and with the horror stories told by Cassill, to the press you wonder if everyone’s even getting paid. Grade: D-.
David Reutimann: The two-time Cup winner, a last-minute addition to this ride prior to 2013 has struggled as well. Still without a top-15 finish, he hasn’t even cracked the top 20 since the Daytona 500 and crashed out in two straight races last month. With an average result of 29.5, combined with actual sponsorship funding from Burger King and the veteran experience of crew chief Pat Tryson I expected more. At least he’s not blowing up every week? Grade: C-.
Tommy Baldwin Racing
Dave Blaney: Baldwin’s loyalty to the Cup Series veteran deserves respect. Without his guidance behind the wheel, there’s no way this team builds up to the level of sponsorship support it has now. An average finish of 27.2, the highest since Blaney joined the team full-time in 2010 reflects that. But as a team that’s just transitioning to running the distance, as opposed to start-and-parking there are growing pains. Handling has been a major problem, causing Blaney to wreck out three times; it’s an uncharacteristic number for a driver known to protect equipment. The team also took a back seat at plate races, where they usually shine; could they have funneled their money elsewhere? If so, it’s a bit of a sacrifice as they’ve been mostly invisible on TV and off it throughout 2013. Grade: C.
J.J. Yeley: Before the season started, Baldwin said he’d run Yeley in just two-thirds of the season’s 36 events. But so far, they’ve found funding to run the No. 36 the distance every week. The pairing started off perfect, with a 10th-place finish in the Daytona 500 but it’s been tough sledding since; the team hasn’t even cracked the top 25. That may be a consequence of stretching the funding more than anything else; however, this car once would run circles around Front Row and some of the others on this list. Grade: C.
Bobby Labonte: Some wonder why the 2000 Cup champion, now a decade past his prime – and last victory – even still competes. Now 49 years old, there’s little left to prove and not much on-track to get excited about: a 15th, in the Daytona 500 is one of just three top-20 results. But Labonte, hoping for a possible teammate down the road minimizes expenses for JTG by always bringing the car home in one piece. Since the beginning of 2012, he’s only wrecked out once – last Fall at Kansas – and has his older brother’s talent of pushing equipment just as far as it will go. As long as this driver wants to compete – whether he should is a debate for another day – I feel like he’ll have a home at the No. 47 should sponsorship remain in place. Grade: C.
Trevor Bayne: When Bayne won the Daytona 500, his career looked ready to launch into the stratosphere. Instead? He’s been a blip on the radar, taking two years to find full-time sponsorship that would let him run anywhere (the Nationwide Series) and never living up to his expectations in Cup. Still without a top-5 finish since that fateful day, five starts in the No. 21 Ford this season have produced no run better than 16th. Just 10th in the Nationwide standings, winless with the former championship No. 6 team there’s disappointment to go around. Note from Derrike Cope, Trevor: top-tier teams will only let you survive as a one-hit wonder for so long. Grade: C-.
Circle Sport Racing
Landon Cassill: Finding a ride after a late divorce from BK Racing, the youngster has slowly steadied the ship with a Joe Falk program that couldn’t finish races last year. Armed with a best run of 22nd, at Talladega the team even picked up sponsorship from Bicycle Playing Cards the last two weeks. But as some time on the Dover radio revealed, there’s still a bit of “amateur hour” over here as the crew learns the ropes of running the distance. They struggled to accurately diagnose a tire rub, had major handling problems and squandered a possible top-20 run into a 32nd-place finish, 12 laps off the pace. Not exactly how you get sponsors to stay on board… but with an increased level of RCR support, and funding I expect things to get better here. Grade: C+.
James Finch / Phoenix Racing: An unbelievable story of a man who does so much with so little. Armed with two drivers that have much to prove, Regan Smith and AJ Allmendinger he’s cranked out seven top-20 results in the season’s first 13 races. With two top-10 finishes, both at Talladega they’re in position to easily outperform Kurt Busch when he was driving the car full-time. And if Austin Dillon hadn’t jumped in the seat, struggling mightily in his few races subbing in the No. 51 could be fighting for a top-12 spot in owner points. It’s a remarkable performance, especially considering the difficulty of a “driver merry-go-round” system. Grade: B+.
Casey Mears (Germain Racing): The second “feel good” story of this group, hidden until the very end of the grades. GEICO’s given them money to run full-time, and the additional funding shows on the racetrack; five times, Mears has been in the top 16 and that’s without the typical boost these guys get from good runs at Daytona & Talladega. With the tough year for Ford, where the equipment is a step behind it makes what crew chief Mears and “Bootie” Barker have done even more impressive. Watch out on the road courses and even a short track or two this summer; you might actually see this car on your TV screen – and not as a lapped traffic. Grade: B.
David Stremme: An intriguing case, with an owner who came in and spent a lot of money (Brandon Davis), hired some big names (Steve Hmiel, Tony Eury, Jr.) then watched them leave in frustration. The sponsorship here is filled with companies where you wonder how much money they really have; the team spent 2012 a start-and-parker. Yet Stremme has gone the distance each week, failed to finish only twice and does have a top-20 result outside the plate races (Bristol – March). Not a team you know about, quite yet but they’re holding their own better than most thought. Grade: C+.
Fas Lane (Timmy Hill / Terry Labonte / Ken Schrader): The team’s got the right idea, hiring Hill as a rookie and trying to build with him. I just don’t know, with the equipment as old as it is and the 20-year-old’s inexperience whether it’s capable of working out. When your best run, as a freshman is nine laps down that screams “more races needed in the Nationwide Series.” Grade: D+.
Joe Nemechek: The good: he’s running the distance every week. But it just appears the equipment is so far behind it’s impossible to run with even the underdog crowd. Consistently the worst car, if not one of the top 3 worst on speed each week; that’s not going to attract a sponsor, either. Grade: D.
Scott Speed: Has only finished the two restrictor plate races, with a top finish of ninth at Talladega. The start-and-parks do little to help their cause, but hey, some of these teams would kill for that one miracle effort. Grade: D+.
Michael McDowell: See: Speed. Only difference was his ninth-place finish came at the Daytona 500. Grade: D+.
Mike Bliss and Scott Riggs: Hard to gauge when you’re just there every week to collect a check and park it. Grade: F.
Did You Notice? … Some quick hits before we take off…
- I don’t blame NASCAR for failing to suspend Paul Wolfe, despite accruing an additional violation while on probation. What I blame them for is an inability to explain why to the fan base. Judges make these types of subjective decisions all the time; perhaps a chronic abuser has a brief relapse, while on probation for example and they choose to not enforce it. But NASCAR, in the case of this broken part has to go out there and do a better PR job, showcasing to the fans why this rule-breaking isn’t the same as what the No. 2 Ford supposedly tried to pull at Texas. Otherwise, you’re left eating crow as too many think you’re playing favorites behind the scenes.
- Crucial weekend for Denny Hamlin at Pocono. With the way this team is running, plus his past success there you have to think he has to take at least one of these two races. A repaving throws past notes out the window, but Hamlin knows how to drive this triangle. I view Sunday as something close to “must win” status.
- Best wishes to Lee White, leaving Toyota after 15 years on the job. His replacement is critical, both in timing and competence; they’re having their best NASCAR season since joining the circuit in 2007. In fact, they’re one engine fix away from a first possible championship with Matt Kenseth or Kyle Busch. So California, pick wisely; not disturbing momentum is key.
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