After seeing how the No. 00 (now No. 47) chewed up and spat out Michael McDowell earlier this season, I was very skeptical about Marcos Ambrose taking the wheel of this ride full-time. But, three races into his tenure as the team’s full-time driver, Ambrose has raced his way into and finished all of his events; and frankly, he’s provided some of the most stable driving the team has seen since it opened the year with David Reutimann. Ambrose’s involvement in the lap 274 incident was entirely out of his control, and his ability to power home to a lead-lap finish was impressive. I’m still not convinced that Ambrose and the No. 47 team are ready to go Cup racing full-time in 2009, but their performance over the last three weeks has definitely not hurt the stock of NASCAR’s favorite Aussie.
It’s been yet another eventful month in the life of Scott Speed. Speed entered the ARCA series finale at Toledo with a sizable points lead, before a memorable altercation with his closest rival, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ended his chances of taking home the crown. The following week, the rookie made his much-anticipated Sprint Cup debut at the Martinsville Speedway in the No. 84 Red Bull Camry. Speed took a break out of his busy schedule to tell us why he wouldn’t tolerate Stenhouse’s on-track behavior, explain his early struggles at NASCAR’s top level and to enlighten us about his bull riding experience in the middle of it all.
From the drop of the green flag, it looked like it would be a long afternoon for Hornish. Yet again, his No. 77 team was forced to start from the rear of the pack after qualifying was rained out on Friday. Then, on lap 2, the rookie was involved in a wreck with veteran Bill Elliott and subsequently penalized a lap for pitting too early following the incident. But not all was lost for the driver of the Mobil 1 Dodge, as both he and crew chief Travis Geisler would continue working on the machine until it was good enough to make its way to the front. It may have taken most of the day to reach that point, but after running outside of the top 30, Hornish made a late-race charge that resulted in a 24th-place finish, two laps off the pace. It was the rookie’s first top-25 finish since Charlotte two weeks ago.
The television coverage of Chase race number six at Martinsville achieved approximately the same quality level as the other five Chase races. Unfortunately, the network team in front of and behind the camera has not made much progress in correcting ongoing mistakes and heeding to repeated suggestions. At the same time, the things throughout NASCAR on ABC/ESPN broadcasts that are done well continue to show impressively to viewers, giving the production some building blocks upon which to grow. However, the negatives always seem to be remembered more boldly than the positives as the season winds down.
Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR, and all our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members and the car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what a select few were thinking following the TUMS QuikPak 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
1. Talking About Times Getting Hard! – Johnny Benson took command of the Craftsman Truck Series championship points battle, at least temporarily, by winning the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Saturday afternoon. Benson, driver of the Bill Davis Racing No. 23 Toyota Tundra, left the track with a 65-point lead in the CTS drivers’ championship. He leapfrogged Ron Hornaday Jr., who finished 29th after running out of gas with three laps to go. For the first time this season, the series points leader had no primary sponsorship on his race truck. Geez… you would think that the series points lead and five wins on the season would get you some darn good sponsorship, wouldn’t you?
The rain on Friday worked in Aric Almirola’s favor when he inherited a 15th-place starting position by virtue of his team’s position in owner points. But while the U.S. Army Chevy faded a bit early, it would be pit strategy employed by crew chief Tony Gibson that would put Almirola back up front. After pitting during the first caution of the day, Gibson made the call to keep Almirola on the track after the day’s second yellow when Kasey Kahne’s Dodge came to a halt. The move gave Almirola the lead for his second consecutive start, and this time, the No. 8 car would lead a total of 53 circuits – a career-high for the rookie.
The race was decided in NASCAR’s control room almost a minute after the event itself ended. Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.” Apparently sometimes it’s not over even when it is over.
As most people know by now, I have been given the opportunity to drive in the Sprint Cup Series this year and I could not be more excited. I always knew that I was going to get the chance to race at the Cup level and I’m glad they’ve given me some time to get here. Actually, I will have to wait one more week before making my debut, as I am not yet approved by NASCAR to drive in a restrictor-plate race. I’m really not sure how that works and we could probably push it if we wanted to, but there are many other things to consider. So we’ll just wait an extra week until I get behind the wheel of the No. 82 Camry. Following that, I’ll be in the No. 84 car for the rest of the year.
After watching Greg Biffle put a hurtin’ on the field at both Loudon and Dover, that got me thinking: How has the top Chase finisher in each season’s first two playoff events fared in the final standings? It’s been widely reported since Biffle’s New Hampshire triumph that Kurt Busch, in 2004, is the only driver to win the first Chase race and go on to win the Cup. However, had any driver claimed top fives in the first two events (sans a win at Loudon, of course) and still gone on to take the big prize?