Race Weekend Central

Going By the Numbers: Judging The 2014 Sprint Cup Rookie Class

In 2006, eight different drivers declared for Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, providing the sport with an exceedingly deep field of new drivers that could conceivably create a sort-of new guard within the circuit — an “out with the old, in with the new” mentality. In the eight years …

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Nuts for Nationwide: Forget the Circumstances, Underdog Wins Always Possible

When David Ragan crossed the finish line first during last weekend’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega in the Sprint Cup Series, I immediately thought of another race.

The date was June 17, 2006; the place, Kentucky Speedway. Most of the players are different, save for one. On that day, another David slayed the Goliaths of NASCAR, this time in the then-Busch Series. Piloting a low-budget, all-black No. 84 Chevrolet, David Gilliland defeated J.J. Yeley en route to his first win, shocking a sport that had become so used to the big guns on top.

One Chance At Success At Cup’s Once-Visited Tracks

Darlington Raceway is known for many things. It’s the supposed “Track Too Tough to Tame” and “The Lady in Black.” Its egg-shaped configuration is unique among Sprint Cup Series circuits, creating a driving experience tough to master for even the most talented competitors.

It’s also one of 10 racetracks on the Sprint Cup circuit that are visited just once during the season.

Davids Beating Goliaths: Plate Racing And The Great Equalizer

Daytona and Talladega have been considered major equalizers in NASCAR’s national series for many years. Sure, the guys who you’d expect to win tend to do so, but that’s not before a couple of underdogs who challenge for the victory in some capacity, either eventually scoring solid finishes or wrecking out trying to do it.

Sunday night didn’t change that trend forever, but it did throw a real wrench into the equation. Front Row Motorsports _won_ a NASCAR race.

Nationwide Breakdown: Aaron’s 312

It’s not often NASCAR races threaten to be called by sunset, especially with many tracks having installed lights. But when an afternoon event is delayed three hours due to rainy weather, these things tend to happen.

Not that Regan Smith probably minds. After NASCAR cut the race by ten laps Saturday, with looming darkness while a late crash by Joey Coulter dragged the event further into black skies, Smith made a daredevil move coming into the tri-oval on the final lap. As he dove to the inside, several cars wrecked behind him, but Smith pulled ahead right at the point of caution, winning the Aaron’s 312(ish).

Going By the Numbers: Plate Racing’s Best At Finishing In One Piece

The last time NASCAR’s national series visited a restrictor plate superspeedway, this column focused on the kings of the restrictor plate in NASCAR, and the drivers who should be called the best versus those that are popularly considered to be such.

This time, with Talladega in our sights, we’ll focus again on drivers who tend to finish well while plate racing. While it may be about the wins in the long run, it’s also rewarding to simply make it to the end of a restrictor plate race these days. With the introduction of tandem racing, the subsequent return of the pack and the always looming “Big One,” each turn is treacherous, every closing lap more harrowing than the last. Once it’s crunch time, you tend to see racers really going for broke.

Nationwide Series Breakdown: Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300

Kyle Busch celebrates after winning the Nationwide Series race on Saturday.

Despite his standing as a highly-touted prospect in the NASCAR ranks, Kyle Larson had a tough start to his rookie season in the Nationwide Series, crashing out of two races (one a spectacular launch into the Daytona catchfence that injured many spectators) and finishing a good-but-not-great 13th in his other event. Saturday at Bristol, Larson …

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Nuts for Nationwide: Time To Retire Those JWT Jokes

Three years ago, John Wes Townley got what has thus far been his only shot in great equipment at the upper levels of NASCAR. After a 2009 rookie season in the Nationwide Series during which he crashed out of many of the events he made, the much maligned driver hitched a ride with Richard Childress Racing via sponsor Zaxby's – his father's business. A practice crash at Phoenix nixed that almost immediately, and Townley disappeared from the circuit, reappeared with former team RAB Racing, disappeared again, got a DUI and competed full-time in the Camping World Truck Series in 2012 for RAB, with a few one-off Nationwide races. Along the way, his chronic crashing earned him quite a few detractors, who said he was only there on his dad's money. There were even comments of 'worst NASCAR driver ever.' Now, to 2013. JWT is entered in one of the biggest races of the ARCA season, the year-opening Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona. He's entered in a car owned by Venturini Motorsports, arguably the top team in the series. He's come close to victory at the track in the past. This time, he wins it, after Bobby Gerhart runs out of fuel. The Chicken Man triumphs! <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15383.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"184\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Jon Wes Townley and his frequent crashes were the butt of many jokes but now he's won in ARCA and started finishing races in NASCAR, making him…just another driver on the track. Which is actually an improvement.</p></div> Is it finally time to stop the jeers? The naysaying? The laughs at his expense? This weekend, Townley makes his first 2013 Nationwide Series start, driving a Venturini Toyota at Bristol. He's running a limited schedule for the team this year, marking the return to NASCAR for the longtime ARCA competitors. He also has a full-time gig in Red Horse Racing's No. 7 in the Camping World Truck Series. He won't light the racing world on fire at Bristol. He may never, unless he pulls a Montoya into a jet dryer. But it just might be time to take Townley more seriously – or, at least as seriously as you might take another so-so competitor in a given series. Granted, while a win is a win no matter how you look at it, JWT still won at a restrictor plate track, which are famous for evening the playing field and allowing unexpected victors. He did it for a team that's strong wherever it goes, not an organization like his former RAB team, which is solid but unspectacular the majority of the time. But it's not just that. The year off in 2011 seems to have done wonders for the guy. In 2012, he scored two top-10 finishes running in the trucks. More importantly, he did it with a mere two DNFs. What's more, he was either on or near the lead lap for most of the races. In a five-race Nationwide schedule? He didn't wreck out of any. Going forward, Townley may still wreck out of races – heck, expect it, because everyone does at some point. It may even happen this weekend at Bristol, if he can get his No. 25 in the show. But it's time to stop seeing John Wes Townley as a driver who can't hold a line without crashing. Instead, look at him as just another NASCAR driver. It's not a very flattering distinction, but it's certainly a step up. <b><u>Quick Hits</u></b> -Do people still have paper calendars? If Michael Annett does, chances are May 4 is circled on his. That's the date the Nationwide Series travels to Talladega, and it's the day Annett hopes to return to the series following the season-opening crash at Daytona that left him with a fractured and dislocated sternum. He had surgery Feb. 28, where doctors repaired the injury with screws and a metal plate. Annett actually hopes he can return a week earlier, at Richmond. Until then, Reed Sorenson is in the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. -NASCAR reinstated Jeremy Clements just in time for the Bristol race this weekend. According to NASCAR, Clements completed a program with Dr. Richard Lapchick at the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports in order to be reinstated. Said Clements in a statement: \"I would like to thank NASCAR for their support throughout this entire process. I would like to also thank Dr. Lapchick and his team for their time and the opportunity to help me grow. I have learned a lot and am looking ahead, to getting back in the car at Bristol and having a fresh start to the season. I am truly grateful to my sponsors who have stood by me, to my fans for their tremendous outpouring of support and to my family and team for their unwavering love and support.\" Ryan Sieg drove Clements's No. 51 during his absence. -Just a few days after the close of its last sponsored event, Sam's Town renewed its sponsorship of the March Nationwide race at Las Vegas. The agreement extends the sponsorship another four years. <b>Looking forward: Bristol</b> <b>Stats (entered drivers)</b> <b>Most wins:</b> Kevin Harvick (5) <b>Top average finish:</b> Kevin Harvick (7.8, 23 races), Austin Dillon (8.0, 2), Parker Kligerman (9.0, 2), Kyle Busch (9.9, 17), Brad Keselowski (11.6, 11) <b>Bristol Nationwide debuts:</b> Brad Sweet, Juan Carlos Blum, Chris Buescher, Kyle Larson, Hal Martin, Travis Pastrana, Dexter Stacey, Alex Bowman *Connect with Kevin!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/surfwax83\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://facebook.com/surfwaxamerica\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Kevin Rutherford\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37802/

Going By The Numbers: New Driver, New Team, Better NASCAR Results?

Jumping from one successful team to another is always a major decision and rarely anything but a risk. While opportunity could certainly exist at the end of the rainbow, misfortune could also lurk around the corner, rearing its ugly head at all possible occasions and causing one to wish they had stayed put.<div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"> <img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15530.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"184\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Matt Kenseth has been looking pretty racy in his new ride. Is that typical when a driver switches?</p></div> Three races into the 2013 season, I think Matt Kenseth is already fairly proud of his decision to shake things up. After a career spent at Roush Fenway Racing, ranging over a decade the 2003 NASCAR champion left the organization that gave him his first shot in favor of Joe Gibbs Racing and its No. 20 Toyota. The move wasn't exactly frowned upon, but it did cause discussion within the NASCAR ranks. After all, Kenseth wasn't struggling at Roush; in fact, his final season in the No. 17 Ford produced three wins and a seventh in the final point standings. Not a bad year. Turns out the 41-year-old is proving he has the foresight to make some fairly nice decisions. Along with last weekend's win at Las Vegas, Kenseth placed seventh at Phoenix and led 86 laps at Daytona before retiring with engine failure. It's as though a fire has been lit under this veteran, one that could threaten to smoke the rest of the competition in 2013. It's rare to see a competitor win another championship so many years after his last, but he's off to a good start. If Kenseth wants to score that title, though recent history actually isn't on his side. Since 2000, the highest points finish for a driver in a brand new ride is second, and that was literally only just accomplished – Clint Bowyer took the runner-up spot in 2012 after moving to Michael Waltrip Racing from Richard Childress Racing. In fact, the recent trend is much the opposite. Before Bowyer, ringing in one's new ride with some championship style results wasn't exactly too common. Kasey Kahne's debut season with Hendrick Motorsports saw him fourth last season, and Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman broke in the new organization with sixth- and ninth-place finishes in 2009, respectively while Mark Martin ran runner-up with Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle Busch scored 10th by 2008's end in his new Joe Gibbs Racing ride. But none of those drivers (even Martin, who ran light years behind Jimmie Johnson that year) were true contenders for the big title when it counted. The last person to finish with NASCAR's championship hardware, in their first season with a new team was Darrell Waltrip, driving for Junior Johnson in 1981. Actually, if there's anyone's season Kenseth wants his 2013 to follow, it might be Busch when he came over to Gibbs. Despite a modest showing in the points, he won eight races, finished in the top five 17 times and earned 21 top-10s. Let's go with the wins and accolades of Busch over the consistency and subsequent points finish of Bowyer. At the very least, chances are Kenseth – and Joey Logano, the other high profile defector in 2013 – will slightly improve on his 2012 season, which if you'll recall wasn't that bad to begin with. One of the only marked cases of a major step down in results after joining a new team is Kurt Busch, whose 2006 campaign with Penske Racing is one he'd probably soon forget – a win, seven top-fives and 12 top-10s after 3-9-18 in those stat categories the previous year while driving for Roush Fenway Racing. The same rings true for Jamie McMurray, who replaced Busch at Roush that year. He only managed three top-fives and seven top-10s, placing a lousy 25th in the overall standings. That's a major drop from his 12th the year before with Ganassi. A first year in the new digs is mostly thought of as a trial period, or an intro. You're not expected to go HAM on the season, but there's the expectation of major results in subsequent years. If anything, drivers want to see something better than what they had with the old organization, if they left on their own accord. Most guys haven't had a tough time besting prior results, and Matt Kenseth looks to be accomplishing more of the same, if the first three races are any indication. Heck, I'm more interested in seeing what Joey Logano can do in the No. 22 for Penske. While not a huge factor in 2012, he at least won a race. Now? No good results of which to speak of. Well, he _is_ with Penske, and if you'll recall Kurt Busch's \"meh\" results during his debut in the No. 2 a few paragraphs ago… maybe there's a trend? *Connect with Kevin!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/surfwax83\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://facebook.com/surfwaxamerica\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Kevin Rutherford\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37802/

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