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.
Voice of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Wednesday July 15, 2009
With a much-needed off week prior to the 16th running of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis next Sunday, the Sprint Cup teams fighting for a spot in the Chase are gearing up for what will be a slugfest in the final seven races to determine who gets a shot at the championship following Richmond in September. With less than 200 points separating fifth from 13th in the standings, the margin for error for those competing for the title no longer exists. Each and every team has to be virtually flawless from here on out, executing excellence at each event to qualify for championship contention this Fall.
Yet while that is all well and good, making for good story fodder down the stretch, their efforts will prove a moot point altogether… because the 2009 Sprint Cup champion will come out of the Hendrick Motorsports stable.
Yep, it’s true. At the risk of sounding anti-climactic or a total fan-boy, it is all but a foregone conclusion at this point. All one has to do is take a cursory look at the standings these days to know that somebody should tell Chris Daughtry that it is, in fact, over.
Tony Stewart, in his Stewart-Haas No. 14 Chevy, while essentially the fifth stepchild of Hendrick Motorsports is leading the Sprint Cup standings and has scored two wins already this year – the first owner/driver to lead the points since the late Alan Kulwicki in 1992. While they are a separate team, SHR receives chassis, engines, and engineering support from Hendrick Motorsports – and even hired one of the key individuals of Jimmie Johnson’s streak of dominance the last three seasons in crew chief Darian Grubb.
Behind Smoke is Jeff Gordon, bad back and all, proving that the Drive for Five is still very much alive. He has one victory so far this season, but what is more impressive are his four second-place finishes, half of which could have very easily been wins. Gordon has been quiet yet steady, taking cars that are often top 10 at best and willing them to the front either by skill or brilliant race strategy atop the pit box by Steve Letarte, Gordon’s oft-maligned crew chief. The Rodney Dangerfield of the war wagon, Letarte has regained his form calling races and preparing cars much like those that produced Gordon’s eye-popping six wins, 21 top 5s, and 30 top 10s in 2007. If there is a team that appears to be building momentum, it is the No. 24, no doubt.
Lurking back in third is Gordon’s teammate, reigning three-time champ Jimmie Johnson. You never really know what to make of the No. 48 team at this point in the season. Are they lying low like the last few years, keeping pace with everybody until the Chase begins in earnest at Loudon in September? Or are they really having a dysfunctional 2005-type season where they win a lot of races, but when push comes to shove, go Barney Fife and blow their big toe off? Through 19 races this year, Johnson has a pair of wins with three second-place finishes; however, Johnson made an uncharacteristic slip late in the going at Chicago. He then started overdriving the car, making things worse for himself while bouncing off of Kurt Busch (and half the field) like a pinball in the closing laps of the LifeLock.com 400.
Despite that latest mistake, keep in mind this is also the same group that in their 2006 championship season had a string of five races in a row where they won or finished second, only to win four consecutive races during the Chase the next year to tie the modern-era record. Like a dancing bear at a circus, you never know when Johnson and Co. will suddenly stop the sideshow hi-jinks and go berserk on everybody, making a light snack of the competition.
Further back, sitting seventh in the standings is the other half of Stewart-Haas Racing, Smoke’s fellow Indiana native Ryan Newman. A driver who many had written off or simply forgotten about the last couple of years sans his 2008 Daytona 500 victory, newcomers to the sport might be thinking, Ryan who?
But rest assured, Tony Stewart knows who Ryan Newman is more than anyone. Much more than just corporate teammates, Newman and Stewart are the best of friends off the track as well. Of all of the components that combine to make team chemistry a happy mixture, the addition of Newman might just be the key cog in the machine that Stewart-Haas Racing has become. Sure, the Hendrick-sourced gear is what makes them fast, but what really allows the group to tick are two men who trust each other, communicate better than perhaps any pair in the garage, and genuinely like each other and help the other to succeed.
Newman is still trying to get that first win of 2009 and came agonizingly close at Loudon, his fuel cell running bone dry just as the track got soaking wet. His five top 5s and nine top 10s after what was a slow start to the season are sure to improve and deliver a win shortly, though — perhaps even as early as next weekend at Indy.
Those showings of Newman to date, while impressive, also happen to mirror those of the biggest surprise to some this season: the new pilot of the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet, Mark Martin.
There are precious few who thought that the No. 5 car would be leading the series in wins at this point in the year. Only the most die-hard, bitter Martin fans, those who still sport Valvoline T-Shirts with the backwards-leaning No. 6 or have faded Winn-Dixie Racing bumper stickers emblazoned on the cab of their pickup trucks would have considered the 50-year-old from Batesville, Arkansas a threat to win his first championship.
But as much as Martin tries to downplay it, the talk of a title will increase substantially should he maintain his 11th-place position in the points. That would leave him leading the standings by 10 if the Chase started today, courtesy of NASCAR’s seeding system that rewards victories obtained during the regular season. If you look at Martin’s four wins, it’s important to note that three entailed having to beat the No. 48 team in the process. Martin outdrove Johnson at Darlington, while Gustafson and Martin combined to save just enough fuel to outlast the Lowe’s team at Michigan. Last week, he capitalized on a rare mistake by Johnson at Chicago to secure yet another win. That meant Martin has gone from being the feel-good story of the year to being a prime threat to winning it all, having his best season in over a decade when he won seven races in 1998.
What about everyone else, you ask? For various reasons, the rest of the field seems to be a bit too much behind the curve at this point. When the 2009 season began, there were perhaps two teams that looked like they would be able to trip up the No. 48 bunch: The No. 99 team of Carl Edwards and the No. 18 of Kyle Busch. Edwards would have won the title last year under the “traditional” points system, while the mercurial Kyle Busch is picking up ’09 pretty much where ’08 left off – a picture of erratic performance and poor racing luck, hinting that NASCAR’s most exciting driver is still missing something that will allow him to run for the title in the series’ elite division. Meanwhile, Edwards has struggled along with the entire fleet of Ford Fusions, going winless in a season where Blue Ovals have failed to visit Victory Lane since California the end of February.
Looking through the rest of the top 10, there aren’t any real threats that outshine any of the five Hendrick – or Hendrick-themed – teams, even accidentally. Kurt Busch seems a perpetual eighth-place car, while Denny Hamlin shows flashes of brilliance, only to be undone by racing luck that pales in comparison only to that of his teammate Kyle Busch. Who knows what brand of car Kasey Kahne will be driving in a few weeks, and Juan Pablo Montoya could very well be 15th in points by the time the checkered flag falls on Richmond in a couple of months.
Might there be some flawed logic here on my part? After all, a dominant first half of the year does not guarantee results in the final 10 races. One only needs to look back to 2005, when Roush Racing had the deck stacked. Only 10 teams were eligible for title contention then, and they had a better than average shot at winning it all, as 50 percent of the Chase field bore Roush logos. Yet although three finished in the top 4 in points at the end of the year, no Roush pilot could outduel Stewart, who won not by dominating like Johnson in recent years but by finishing consistently and simply not beating himself.
To be sure, the Hendrick teams, while fast and smart, have shown a few chinks in the armor along the way this season, proving they are not infallible. But when those chinks still leave the top 3 drivers with a clear separation over the rest of the field … they’re not big enough dents for others to make serious headway.
That being said, this welcome off week is not really a week off for the Chase contenders, who will try as they might to close the gap while undergoing a little extra preparation for the second-biggest race of the year. It’s one that will be under the microscope like no other after the unmitigated disaster that was the 2008 Brickyard 400 – courtesy of the Goodyear tire debacle. All of those bugs have been ironed out according to those who have tested tires at the speedway (including the Stewart-Haas duo), so the race should go off without a hitch. Yet while that is good news for the 43 cars that will be competing, it could still spell trouble for the majority of the field. After all, the top three drivers currently in the point standings have won this race amongst themselves the past five years, so why should that change this year? More than likely, it won’t — just like the championship outcome.
Until someone can show me an organization that can outrun any of these men on a consistent basis, you might as well pencil one of the five Hendrick teams in as your 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
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I think you’re giving a little too much credit to HMS for Stewart Haas’ success there Vito . In fact , i’m not sure very much credit should be given to anyone other than SHS . First , look up how many teams have an engine lease program with HMS , not only this season , but lets say for the past 10 years . You’ll find a number of different teams have gotten engines from HMS . You’ll also find that not one of those teams ever ran anywhere near the front of the pack . Chassis ? HMS has sold and leased cars to many teams over the years , but again , none of them were particularly successfull . Haas racing has been supplied with the very same engine and chassis deal for years , do you remember them leading the points during that time ?
Well said Michael…
I’m tired of everyone giving HMS the credit for the success of the 14 and the 39.
If they were struggling (like everyone thought they would) do you think we would be having this same discussion. Hell, no… everyone would put the blame solely on Smoke and his overambition and not a mention would be made of HMS and their “role” in SHR.
The only thing that I somewhat disagree with you on is Grubb. He is turning out to be quite the Crew Chief; maybe even one of the best in the garage. His chemistry with Smoke is astounding and he has been making some pretty great calls. A little more Kudos should be given to him for putting the 14 at the top of the standings!
Not trying to attribute all of Stewart-Haas’ success to HMS – just trying to illustrate that if a champion is to be crowned this year, it is going to be someone from that group. Which in the case of Newman and Stewart, has considerable influence from HMS.
I think they would do well to get Gibson, Borland, and Hutchens out in front a little bit more if they wish to dispell the notion that they are a 5th and 6th team.
I agree that when push comes to shove in the chase, it will be a Hendrick chassis that will be in the Cup presentation. As has been pointed out, though, SHR has been the only Hendrick-equipped team to actually run at the front, meaning Tony’s buch is doing a heck of a lot more than just putting decals on the cars.
And if it weren’t for a load of bad luck, Ryan would be much further up in the standings than he already is!
You might as well call it “Hendrick Cup”. And as for Hendrick-Stewart Racing…..
Well, every year is Hendrick’s to lose isn’t it?
Doesn’t seem like the Chase has made much of a difference from the old points system. In fact, with the competition the way it is now we NEED the old points system brought back.
If Kurt and Denny can keep bangin’ on Jimmie that would be good.
Martin winning would be great for the sport. As would Tony. Gordon, well ok. Jr.? Forget about it.
But this sport desparately needs a different champion with a different owner.