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.
After one of the most economically brutal NASCAR off-seasons in recent history, it’s finally time to start focusing on performances on the stopwatch instead of on the balance sheet. This also spells good news for Professor Lumbis as I get to preview and critique this season’s rookies once again. The 2008 season was not kind to rookie drivers as only one, Sam Hornish Jr., still has a full time ride in 2009. That success rate, or lack thereof, may have owners changing the way they think about who will give them the best chance of success behind the wheel. Instead of reaching out to the open wheel talents of other series, general managers are instead opting for stock car veterans to pilot their machines. The result is a much smaller rookie class this season, as only two drivers will compete full time for the Rookie of the Year Award while a handful of others will make spot starts throughout the next several months.
No. 09/25 Brad Keselowski – Brad Keselowski’s life has never been the same since June 30, 2007. That was the day he filled in for the suspended Ted Musgrave in the No. 9 Germain Racing Toyota Tundra at the Memphis Motorsport Park. The Michigan native made the most of his that opportunity, putting his truck on the pole and then in the lead with only 10 laps remaining before being booted by Travis Kvapil. Keselowski did not win the race, but he did win over the confidence of the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Just a few weeks later, the then 23-year old was behind the wheel of the No. 88 U.S. Navy Chevy in the Nationwide Series. In 2008, Keselowski became a member of the Hendrick camp by default when his owner joined NASCAR’s most powerful team. The JR Motorsports Nationwide team and their driver would capture two victories en route to a third place finish in the NASCAR’s minor league series.
I believe Keselowski will surprise people in 2009. While continuing his duties in the No. 88 Chevy in the Nationwide Series, Keselowski is scheduled to make 17 starts on the Sprint Cup level in a rather unusual manner. Ten of those races will be with the No. 09 Pheonix Racing Chevy, which will supposedly have Hendrick engine support. The remaining seven will be in a fifth Hendrick entry, the No. 25 GoDaddy.com Impala. Keselowski finished a very respectable 19th and 23rd at Texas and Homestead last fall and I would not be surprised to see at least a top ten from this kid before the season is over.
No. 13 Max Papis – This year’s rookie field still has a bit of an open wheel flare to it as Max Papis and Germain Racing have teamed up once again in 2009, after two DNQs last year. This time, they plan to attempt 18 races with the No. 13 GEICO Toyota starting with the Las Vegas event in March. “Mad Max” certainly brings one of the most diversified backgrounds to NASCAR which includes experience in Grand-Am, Le Mans, IROC, IRL, CART, SCCA and even Formula One among others. Still, the Italian represents a rather odd choice for a driver for a team that has very little experience at this level. Papis, who turns 40 this year, has only 11 starts in NASCAR’s top three series, with his only top 10 coming as a road course ringer in Montreal in 2007 (3rd). It will be an interesting case study to see how he does this year, especially in light of the recent failures of open wheel converts in 2008.
No. 20 Joey Logano – It has been a long time since the NASCAR world has been so excited for an up and coming star as Logano, who has been garnering attention since before he could walk. Ok, maybe not that far back, but we’re all familiar with his story and how he caught the attention of Mark Martin before he even had a valid driver’s license. Then came the saga over Logano and his father’s change in alliance to Joe Gibbs Racing. Still, more drama was raised when NASCAR set the legal age limit for its series to 18 and then contemplated raising the age to 21, which had conspiracy theorist crying foul about a plot against Logano.
This February, all the speculation and drama finally comes to an end when Logano will become the youngest driver ever to enter the Daytona 500, as he embarks on his first full Sprint Cup Series season. The road to this point has gone a little different than most envisioned however. Logano lit the Nationwide Series on fire as he scored three poles and one win in his first three starts. However, later in 2008 the sensation could do no better than 32nd in his three Sprint Cup starts (two for Hall of Fame Racing; one for JGR), leading some to believe that the youngster needed more experience before competing at the top level.
Tony Stewart’s surprise departure from JGR would not allow for that however, and Logano was asked to step into one of the most coveted rides in NASCAR, the No. 20 Toyota Camry. from Perhaps never in the history of the sport has there been such a mismatch between team and driver experience. The result will surely include some mistakes mixed in with great performances and a lot of excitement through it all. One thing is for sure though, everyone will be paying attention to the Home Depot Camry in 2009.
No. 82 Scott Speed – After a stint in the Formula One series, the man with racing in his blood and a last name to match decided to switch gears and try the top form of racing in America. Learning from the mistakes of other open wheel converts, Team Red Bull decided that Scott Speed would benefit from gaining experience with the heavier stock cars by driving for Eddie Sharp Racing in the ARCA series. The result? Think back to the movie Talladega Nights where F1 veteran Jean Girard dominated the field while drinking coffee and reading a book. Yep, that is what Scott Speed seemed to do at times as he easily ran all over the ARCA field, only to lose the championship in a controversial ending.
Speed has said that losing that championship does not bother him as he is focused on bigger and better things, such as the Sprint Cup championship. The brazen 26-year old certainly has his sights on pulling off the upset over rookie rival Joey Logano for R.O.T.Y. and perhaps even more. The 2009 season will not be without it’s challenges, as Speed will be driving for a team that is still, for all intents and purposes, considered fairly new, entering its third year of competition. The California native got a glimpse of life at the top as he struggled out of the gate in his Sprint Cup debut, before showing signs of life at the season finale where he qualified second and finished 16th. However, Red Bull Racing certainly appeared to be on the upswing as an organization and with veteran crew chief Jimmy Elledge on top of the pit box for the No. 82 team, I certainly would not be surprised to see Speed make a formidable run at the rookie title, and perhaps even a race win.
Not quite Rookies, but not really sophomores either.
There really isn’t a well defined label for Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose, who ran too many races in 2008 to be considered a R.O.T.Y. candidate in 2009. However, neither of these drivers have a full year under their belt and they will still be true rookies at many tracks this season. Therefore, we will keep an eye on them as well this year as they try to break into the Sprint Cup Series on a full-time basis.
No. 8 Aric Almirola – If there was ever a driver who felt that the racing gods were working against him, it has to be Aric Almirola. We all remember in 2007 when he caught the national spotlight while leading a Nationwide event in Milwaukee before being forced to give up the seat to eventual winner Denny Hamlin. That was enough to catch the eye of Bobby Ginn however, who signed Almirola as the newest member of his organization. The thing was, Ginn really didn’t have the cash to sign another driver, or keep his current ones for that matter. His team was eventually swallowed up by DEI, but fortunately for Almirola, he was included in the team’s 2008 plans, which lead to a full-time gig for this season…almost. Once again, following more financial trouble and yet another merger, this time with Ganassi Racing, Almirola is fighting for his career.
In a case of deja vu, Almirola may be relegated to a part-time role if Earnhardt Ganassi Racing cannot find a full time sponsor for his No. 8 Chevy. However, if the money comes in, the 24 year-old could enjoy a solid season. The team, which struggled through an off year in ’08, has been injected with new resources from Ganassi racing and what will surely be a new management style from Chip himself. With veteran crew chief Doug Randolph calling the shots, Almirola has the talent he needs behind him to make his first full season in Sprint Cup a successful one.
No. 47 Marcos Ambrose – In 2008, Marcos Ambrose proved that he could bring much more to the race track than a cool accent. The Aussie enjoyed one of his best seasons in the Nationwide Series which included his first career victory at Watkins Glen in August. Ambrose also turned some heads on the Sprint Cup level while driving for the Wood Brothers when he ran in the top three at Sonoma before transmission problems ended his day; he finished third two months later at The Glen.
After being heavily rumored to become Ford’s newest team in 2009, JTG Daugherty Racing made the surprise announcement that they were forming an alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing and would run Toyotas instead. Ambrose got a head start on his first full time gig when he was asked to drive the final four events for the “new” team (essentially the #00 from MWR), and performed admirably with two top 21 finishes.
The advantage to this alliance is that the No. 47 team, which will operate out of the MWR shop, will not have to go through the growing pains of being a truly new organization. Furthermore, the recent shuffling in owner’s points, which has even the brightest M.I.T students stumped, somehow moved the team into the top 35, guaranteeing them a spot through the first five races. The table has been set for this popular 32 year old, so the question is: Can he take advantage of the opportunity that has been presented?
Next Up: The Great American Race is less than a week away and with the amount of new teams in this field, there is a very good chance that a driver may be in position to pull off an upset in this year’s running of the Daytona 500. In fact, don’t be surprised if one of this year’s rookies is one of them as a freshman driver has finished in the top 15 in the last three consecutive season openers. (2006: Clint Bowyer – 6th; 2007: David Ragan – 5th; and 2008: Sam Hornish, Jr. – 15th)
Tony’s Pick: Success at restrictor plate racing often comes down to being at the right place at the right time, making it very difficult to predict who will come out on top. While the No. 20 car has never gone to victory lane in this prestigious event, it has always been one of the most competitive cars in the field, which is good news for Joey Logano. Scott Speed certainly has no fear behind the wheel of his machine, an attitude which could just as easily put the No. 82 Camry up front as it can in the wall. However, you cannot ignore the strong runs James Finch’s cars have had at the plate tracks, which is why I’m going out on a limb and picking Brad Keselowski as the top finishing rookie this year in Daytona.
This year, I look forward to bringing you a full analysis of the rookie performance after every race in a slightly new format for 2009. Once again, you’ll still have the chance to go up against me in making race predictions. However, this year we’ll go beyond simply asking for the highest finishing rookie for some races. For now, we’ll start out in familiar territory. Who do you think will be the highest finishing rookie or almost rookie this Sunday, and as a “non points” question, who do you think will win the Rookie of the Year?
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