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.
43 – Jeff Green.
While the other half of the Petty contingent has fallen off after a strong start, Green has begun to show some improvement in his second full season behind the wheel of the Cheerios Dodge. After a slow start, six of Green’s last seven finishes have been within the Top 25, and his best finishes of the year have been in two of the last three races "" an 11th in the Charlotte demolition derby, and a respectable 15th at Pocono. While the focus at Petty Enterprises continues to be on Kyle’s improvement over 2004, Green has quietly begun putting some consistency together with crew chief Greg Steadman. While they’re still a good ways away from being contenders, it’ll be interesting to see how the team does at the end of this stretch when they beginning coming around to tracks for the second time. Grade #1: D+. Grade #2: C.
45 "" Kyle Petty.
On the other side of the Petty coin, after some early momentum to start 2005, the owner-driver of Petty Enterprises has seen his season go steadily south. A poor run from Phoenix was followed up by a nasty single-car wreck at Talladega to begin this stretch, and it just seems that the 45 team just hasn’t been able to build up any momentum since. Kyle is back to the old days of struggling mightily with the handling of the race car, dropping back quickly after the start of the race and falling into the clutches of even some of the underfunded teams. The tracks coming up don’t exactly favor Kyle, recently, either, including New Hampshire, a track that always pulls at the heartstrings every time Petty walks through the gates. But with Paul Andrews still leading this team, don’t count them out. Grade #1: B+. Grade #2: D.
48 "" Jimmie Johnson.
The point leader since Atlanta, Johnson continues to maintain the top spot fairly comfortably, but has come back down to earth a bit after a red-hot start. His streak of 13 straight Top 10 finishes (dating back to 2004) was snapped at Phoenix, and Johnson followed up that mediocre run with accidents at both Talladega and Richmond. Still, with the points lead Johnson had built up over that stretch he never lost the top spot, and was able to bounce back with a thrilling win at Charlotte and solid, consistent runs at Dover and Pocono. He still remains the series leader in Top 5s and Top 10s, and continues to always be there at the end no matter how rough the car is in the beginning, a true sign of a championship-caliber team. With Biffle the only one remaining within striking distance, Johnson would be shaping himself up for a two-man points race under the old points system; too bad he’s going to have at least eight other drivers breathing down his neck in September as well. Grade #1: A+. Grade #2: A-.
49 "" Ken Schrader.
Here’s a statement no one would have expected when this team first debuted on the circuit several years ago: BAM is the strongest single-car team in Nextel Cup racing right now. Yep, that’s right, I said it; better than the 0, better than the 21, better than any other single-car team you can throw at me. And to think, just seven races ago this team was struggling to the point where you thought it would do them some good to have a driver or crew chief replacement. All of a sudden, after a rocky 2005 start the chemistry between Schrader and crew chief David Hyder has just taken off. Schrader has two Top 10 finishes in the last seven races, and may have had several more Top 15s if not for bad luck: Schrader’s been in accidents in three of the last seven events, two of those not of his own making. And when’s the last time you’ve seen things like Ken Schrader second at Darlington with a handful of laps to go? While pit strategy may have determined that call, the point remains that you still have to be on the lead lap to do that type of stuff, and the 49 team should be commended for putting their driver in position to finish towards the top in a world where single-car teams just don’t get it done anymore. Grade #1: D. Grade #2: B.
66 "" Mike Garvey.
After a series of disappointing runs for Hermie Sadler with this team, the writing was clearly on the wall that the chemistry wasn’t working, and Sadler left the team after 13 races. The resume he left here wasn’t one to write home about; in fact, the team hadn’t finished a race since Texas. Which makes it all the more impressive that Mike Garvey, a relative unknown from the ASA series, comes in and in just one race gives the team its first lead-lap finish, best finish of the year, and first laps led in the Nextel Cup Series. Quite a performance for a rookie, huh? It’s going to be hard to follow that up week-in, week-out, but it’s a strong start to a surprising partnership. Too bad to see Hermie sitting on the sidelines though, now forced to watch a team that was all his just one year ago run full-time with sponsorship in Nextel Cup. Grade #1: INC. Grade #2: INC.
77 "" Travis Kvapil.
After replacing rookie Brendan Gaughan at the end of last year in part due to his ability to find DNFs, the fab shop must not be too happy with new rookie Travis Kvapil in 2005. Four accidents in the past seven races have this team scrambling once again to find the right cars and combinations for a driver still learning the Nextel Cup circuit. Kvapil is showing some degree of improvement, with twop Top 20 finishes in his last two races, but is still a far cry from gaining any serious momentum. Once thought to be a serious contender in a tight rookie battle with Kyle Busch, Kyle has the race all but won while Kvapil finds himself languishing in midpack; the question now becomes, will Penske have more patience with Kvapil then he did with Gaughan? Grade #1: C+. Grade #2: D+.
88 "" Dale Jarrett.
For people that questioned the move by Robert Yates to replace Mike Ford as Dale Jarrett’s crew chief, you need to look no further than at the laps led for Jarrett in 2005: just 1 in the first 14 races of the season. While Jarrett has been doing decently in the points, finishing solidly enough to stay in contention for the Chase for the Championship, he hasn’t been running up front, and a driver getting towards the end of his career wants to win races rather than get into the Chase by finishing 10th every week. So far, Billy Wilburn has done an admirable job as crew chief, starting off hot by helping Jarrett to an 8th-place performance at Charlotte before settling for midpack runs at both Dover and Pocono. Wilburn still doesn’t have the interim label off his title yet, so you might see further changes at the crew chief position; the next 7 races will tell that tale. Interesting to note though that you can’t count Jarrett out of the Chase, and if he hits it right and grabs a win at a place like Michigan, suddenly he’s got momentum and could be considered a Top 10 threat.
97 "" Kurt Busch.
It was all going just fine for the defending Nextel Cup champion. Last time we left him, at Texas, he was 4th in the points, and he came out the next week at Phoenix and absolutely dominated the event, scoring his first win of the season and moving up to 2nd in points. For a minute, people entertained thoughts of a Busch-Johnson championship duel, with Biffle falling to the wayside as a darkhorse contender. But then, simply put, the wheels just fell right off. There have been two accidents in the last six races, both of which have been accompanied by temper tantrums that remind you of the Kurt Busch of old, not the one who took the title in 2004. After berating a NASCAR official at Darlington over the radio and bowling over anyone and everyone in the Darlington garage area, NASCAR called his behavior "not befitting of a champion" and threatened fines and suspension for further outbursts. It’s true that the season has turned frustrating for Busch, who’s taken several hard hits in both NASCAR and IROC; he’s easily surpassed the number of wrecks he was involved in last season in just 14 races. But it looks like Busch needs to be babysat again, and you can’t help but wonder if that’s going to affect the 97’s performance. Now out of the Top 10, it’s not the time for Busch to be immature. Grade #1: A-. Grade #2: B-.
99 "" Carl Edwards.
From a guy acting immature to one acting far beyond his years of experience. For Carl Edwards, this season continues to defy expectations, and he’s enjoying the ride every step of the way. He’s taken his newfound fame in stride and kept his happy-go-lucky personality, all the while backing it up with on-track results that are letting everyone take notice that he’s a serious championship contender. Besides Sunday’s win at Pocono, a track Edwards had never seen before 2005, the 99 car has seen itself in contention in almost every event this year, with strong runs at Charlotte, Phoenix, and Darlington in this stretch. His enthusiasm on the track can still sometimes get the 99 in trouble (see: bump drafting Dale Jarrett on the backstretch at Charlotte) but he’s been driving the wheels off these things, and may be the only one besides Biffle capable of giving Johnson a serious championship challenge at this point in the year. Not only is Edwards still in contention for the Busch title despite missing a race, he’s in strong position to make the Chase as well "" and no one, of course, has ever captured the Busch and Cup title in the same year. Grade #1: B+. Grade #2: A.
01 "" Joe Nemechek.
When Nemechek looks back at race 27 and wonders how he missed the Chase, he’ll have to look at the first seven races of the season and shake his head. Since that debacle, the 01 has begun to get its act together: the team has five Top 20 finishes in this seven-race stretch, highlighted by last Sunday’s 3rd at Pocono, where he might have had something for Vickers and Edwards if the race went another lap and a half. Slowly, the team is beginning to get back to the form it showed at the end of 2004 through California, when a blown engine for Nemechek while leading knocked this team back far more than it should have. As evidenced by his Charlotte skirmish with Kevin Harvick, Nemechek still has the drive needed to get back to the front of the pack in his 40s, and with the way this team is slowly turning it around, could be a darkhorse contender at Michigan or Pocono in this stretch. But at 20th in points, time to kiss those hopes for the Chase goodbye. Grade #1: C-. Grade #2: B-.
07 "" Dave Blaney.
For a team that looked good early on in the year, the Jack Daniel’s team and Blaney has let the momentum slip away from them. Not only is 19th their best finish during this stretch, but they haven’t even sniffed the front (zero laps led), all while being plagued by a few accidents and mechanical failures. The worst thing about the accidents is Blaney’s been in all year is that he’s spun out on his own in most of them; it’s the worst for a driver when he was no one to blame for a wreck but himself. The really bad thing for Blaney is that we’ve passed by most of the tracks that appeal to his specialty: 1.5 to 2-mile intermediate track racing. Which means he’d better finish well at Michigan coming up and Chicagoland in July, otherwise it could be a continued rough stretch for a team looking for answers and finishes to send them in the right direction. Grade #1: C+. Grade #2: D.
©2000 - 2008 Thomas Bowles and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Recent articles from Tom Bowles:
Did You Notice? ... The Details Behind Busch Double-Duty And NASCAR Teams/Series Needing A Boost
If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.
Want even more Tom Bowles? Check out Tom's archive at SI.com.