NASCAR – Dale Earnhardt Jr. Breaks The Drought and Wins in Michigan!

Dale Earnhardt Jr does a celebration burnout after his win in the Quicken Loans 400 at MIS ending his 4 year winless streak.

4 years ago almost to the day was the last time we saw Dale Earnhardt Jr in Victory lane.  4 long years of self doubt and frustration washed away as he dominated the race.  4 years of fans feeling as if they had to defend their driver, all erased.  A new slated has been drawn and Jr has found more confidence in his team.  As he stood in victory lane he announced to the world that he is a contender for the championship  and that no one should count him out just yet.

After setting the 2nd fastest time in first practice on Friday, Jr’s car was never outside the top 10 in speeds.  Qualifying only 17th however had the fans a little bit nervous.  Couple that with a Goodyear mandated tire change because of the newly paved surface causing possible racing issues, which threw off the balance of a lot of cars, Jr’s included and this could have been a recipe for disaster instead of a trip to victory lane.  Steve Letarte, known for being an excellent cheerleader, never lost focus, and never let Jr lose focus either.  They came in early on the first caution and made whole sale changes to the car to get it where Jr liked it.  There was an improvement as Jr restarted 37th and drover forward through the field, but it wasn’t perfect.  On the second caution Jr came in again and this time Letarte hit on something that made it work.  It was a whole new ball game as Jr drove his way from 14th all the way to the front of the field, allowing him to lead the most laps (95 laps lead) and win the race.

“I know you guys have been waiting on that one,” Earnhardt radioed to his crew after crossing the finish line. “I know I have.”

Jr was glowing in victory circle, but he gave all the praise to his team, his crew chief, and to his fans who have stuck with him through all of the ups and downs since his last win, which was also right here in Michigan.

Jr raises the trophy in Victory Circle after the Quicken Loans 400 at MIS

“Winning races is all you ever want,” Earnhardt said in Victory Lane. “You work real hard to get there, and I’ve got to thank [team owner] Rick Hendrick, the whole organization, really, for sticking with me.

“They could have picked another route, but they stuck with me, and we’re back in Victory Lane. I appreciate everybody’s support — Rick, the company, the fans, my team … everybody.”

“The worst feeling, riding around there with 15 laps to go,” Earnhardt admitted. “I kept wondering what was going to happen, how you were going to lose. Those last 15 laps couldn’t go by fast enough. … I was in there, just going crazy. I’m looking all around the race track, looking for debris around the next corner. I just knew I was going to come around the next corner and see a big piece of metal laying in the middle of the race track.

“I was just waiting for something to happen. That was terrifying, to be honest with you. I kept thinking of Steve and the team and about how hard all of us have worked, and about how we deserved to win and how we should win — and I was hoping it would happen for everybody.”

Teammate Jimmie Johnson had high praise for Jr after the race.

Jimmie Johnson climbs into his car before the start of the Quicken Loans 400

“This is so great. I’m just proud of Junior. He’s been chipping away at it for a while — especially this year,” Johnson said after congratulating Earnhardt in Victory Lane. “The communication and the camaraderie between he and Stevie and throughout our shop, I should say, has been amazing. Internally, we’ve seen this coming. I’m just happy for him to get this off his back now.

“That will shut anybody up who has had anything to say. There’s only one way you really want to win — and that’s by kicking everybody’s ass. And that’s what he did today.”

And so did Jeff Gordon, another Hendrick Teammate.

“It’s amazing for the sport,” Gordon said. “You know it’s going to be everywhere. It’s going to be headlines and it’s going to get a lot of attention — as it should. I mean, he won. He did a great job, and he deserves all the credit in the world for it.”

Second place finisher, Tony Stewart, who is known for his sarcastic remarks and comments was obviously tired of answering question about Jr breaking the drought hd this to say.

“It’s no different than anybody else that does it — it’s not a national holiday, guys,” Stewart said. “This morning they were celebrating the fourth anniversary of his last win, so I guess we’re all in a state of mourning now, ’cause he’s broke that string now, so I wonder what we’re all supposed to think.”

Matt Kenseth prepares to enter his car before the race.

Matt Kenseth, who finished third and remains 1st in points by 4 over Earnhardt Jr, was much more gracious in his comments about his long time friend and racing adversary.

“This year you could see it going to be a matter of time,” Kenseth said. “They’ve really been the guys — that No. 88 has had a ton of speed. They haven’t always gotten the finishes [because of] circumstances, but they’ve been battling up there in the top five each and every week. They’ve finished every lap.

“I’m really happy for him to get that win. The championship part, I think they’re definitely a contender. They’ve been right up there in the mix each and every race, no matter what size or shape the race track. I think they’re definitely, at this point in the season, one of the favorites.”

Whatever you may think about Dale Earnhardt Jr, anyone can see that he has held grace under pressure the entire time since his last win.  Rarely did he show his frustrations, and when he did it was obvious that he was doing his best to hold it all in.  That is why his fans have stuck with him and never doubted that this day would arrive.

Next week we head to Sonoma California for the first road course of the season.  Expect a different result for sure as Marcos Ambrose, after feeling his fame for being the fastest man in NASCAR after taking the pole in Michigan, returns to his element with his new found confidence.

 

NASCAR – Ambrose Sets a Record Pace In Michigan – Tire Issues May Cause Problems

Marcos Ambrose crosses the finish line at 203.241mph making him the Fastest man in NASCAR since 1987, and setting a record breaking pace that no one else could catch.

They knew it was going to be a record breaking day.  Everyone had seen the speeds in practice and all of the predictions were that the record would fall, repeatedly, until a new record was set.  Marcos Ambrose was not the first driver to go faster than the previous record qualifying lap in Michigan yesterday, but he was definitely the last.  Heading out under the bright sunshine, Ambrose went out and set a blistering pace of 203.241 mph (35.426 seconds) making him the fastest man in NASCAR since 1987 when Bill Elliot hit 203.827 mph at Talladega and put him on the pole for the Quicken Loans 400.  Ambrose then had to sit patiently on pit road waiting as 16 other cars qualified after him, trying to knock him off the top.

Kevin Harvick has set the previous fastest speed of 202.037 mph, before Ambrose came on to the track, which was still good enough for the outside of row 1 in second place.

Greg Biffle has been the fastest car in practice and looked to have the best shot at it, but with a little wiggle through turn 3 Biffle lost some speed and brought his lap speed to 201.816 mph, which was good enough for third.

Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman, the previous MIS record holder, round out the top 5.

With all of the grip in the asphalt because of the repave the cars were setting record speeds throughout testing on Thursday and both practices on Friday.  Drivers were not complaining about the speeds however, they were enjoying it.  Many stated that the 200+mph speeds felt no different than running at 180mph because of the smooth track surface.  The grip however was creating havoc with the tires.  Goodyear noticed during testing and practice that the tires were blistering and tearing apart under track conditions and the speeds that were being reached.

Kevin Harvick climbing out of his car after his qualifying run.

“Our biggest concern right now is we’ve seen several of those situations through the garage,” Kevin Harvick said. “I don’t know that many people ran enough laps to really get to the blistering point. It’s either going to come down to the race track getting more rubber on it and the speeds slowing down, or it’s just going to come down to you slowing down and managing the pace to keep the tires on the car.”

Greg Stucker, competition director for Goodyear gave their reasoning behind the decision.

“We ran about 36.4 [seconds] in our test [in April],” Stucker said. “That was the fastest lap, and obviously, we’re running significantly faster than that now. We knew it would be faster but not quite as fast as it is.

“The blistering is definitely heat-related. It’s aggravated by particular setups. That’s why we’re seeing it predominately on some people and not at all on others.”

NASCAR mandated an extra practice session after the Nationwide race on Saturday night to give the teams a chance to test the new tire brought to the track and adjust their setups accordingly.  The 1200 new tires were shipped from Charlotte and did not arrive at the track until Saturday afternoon leaving very little time to get in another testing session.

Some of the drivers were glad that Goodyear had made the call that they did citing the safety of the drivers.  Carl Edwards feels that the decision was the right one and that everything will be just fine.

“I’m forecasting that we’ll be just fine and won’t have any issues. … What’s been done here is that we took a track and a tire that was very simple to drive, straightforward with tons of grip, and they took some of that grip away and put it in the drivers and crew chiefs’ hands and made the cars a little harder to drive.”

Other drivers such as Pole sitter Marcose Ambrose and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. seemed to disagree.

“This ain’t cool,” Earnhardt said.

Ambrose added a bit more detail to his reasoning saying, “We were out there trying to save miles on the engine, so we never really busted off a good run. The tire is very different. It hasn’t got much grip. You are loose in, shake in the middle and then on the gas [you] spin yourself out. It feels unbalanced and a little bit wobbly — and you don’t want to be wobbly at 200 miles per hour. You want to feel like the car is underneath you.”

The new tires brought to the track were manufactured in 2006 when Goodyear had concerns about grip with the repave in Charlotte that season.  The harder compound will reduce grip and therefor reduce speeds as well.  This was proven in the final practice session last night.  Greg Biffle set the top speed at 195.684mph.

As is usual with changes like these there have been mixed reviews about the decision with drivers and team owners falling on both sides of the discussion.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. thinks the decision to switch the tires “would be debated for a long time.”.

 

NASCAR – Joey Logano is the Fastest of the Record Breakers and Takes the Pole in Pocono

Joey Logano set the pace that 36 other drivers after him could not break. Setting a new record at Pocono that has stood since 2004.

36 different drivers were fast enough to break the record for the fastest qualifying lap at Pocono yesterday afternoon.  Kasey Kahne held the previous record of 172.533 mph at the track back in 2004, but when the 10th driver out smashed the record by a full 7 miles an hour everyone stood up and took note.  Joey Logano was the man who did it, and then waited as 36 more drivers went out to beat his time. Even though he had just broken the qualifying record for the Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR, Joey felt as if he had left some speed out on the track when he slid it on some speedy dry through turn 1.

“The track was dirty,” Logano said. “When I went out there and got to that trouble spot, I got loose a little bit and didn’t get to the bottom as well as I wanted to. So I felt like I left a tenth and a half [of a second] or so right there, but I felt like I nailed [Turns] 2 and 3 pretty well.

“I was hoping it would be in the top five, and it ended up being good enough.

Carl Edwards will start in second on the outside of row 1

Carl Edwards will start on the outside of row one in second place.  He was asked about his feelings about the speed out there on the track.  The day had started overcast and cloudy and finished in the sunshine, and most thought that the speeds would have improved throughout the afternoon.  Edwards was at a loss for an explanation.

“I think it’s really hard to determine what makes this track faster right now,” Edwards said. “I don’t know if being a little warmer makes it faster. I thought, as we went on and that speedy-dry and the groove got cleaned off, that people would go a lot faster, so it’s a surprise to me.”

Paul Menard will be starting in the 3rd spot and the Joe Gibbs teammates of Logano round out the top 5 with Kyle Busch in 4th and Denny Hamlin in 5th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is having his best season in points in the past 10 years qualified in 8th after having the 3rd fastest car in first practice.  His speeds had fallen off in the second practice but when push came to shove he went out and left everything on the track with a speed of 177.939 MPH.

Tony Stewart sounded up beat about his chances despite a 22nd place qualifying effort.

Tony Stewart, NASCAR’s current reigning Sprint Cup Champion has had some troubles on the track after getting off to his best season start ever.  Winning 2 of the first 6 races Stewart has been inconsistent since then.  His results in practice had him sounding up beat despite his 22nd place qualifying effort.

“Yeah, not bad so far,” he said after his No. 14 Chevrolet was eighth of 44 race cars. “We didn’t do any qualifying runs [in testing Thursday], so I’m pretty happy with the way that the day started here. I think our race pace is fairly reasonable. We’re still trying to figure out things to do to keep it good for a long run. But for the most part, we’re pretty happy with it so far.”

 

NASCAR – 54 Career Poles for 53 Year Old Mark Martin at Dover

Mark Martin grabs the pole for the 54th time in his career.

Mark Martin proves every time he comes to the track, that you are never too old to go out and play with the boys.  At 53 years old Martin is the oldest full time driver in the NASCAR garage but you would never know it to talk to him.  His workout schedule is one that many of the younger drivers have a hard time keeping up with, and no matter what he’s always got a smile on his face.  The biggest kid on the block will lead the field to the green flag, in his 840th start, for today’s FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway.

With conditions being very slick and getting worse as each driver ran their qualifying runs, Mark Martin knew it would be a challenge to remain the fastest car on the track as he was during the first round of practice.  After watching Jimmie Johnson get a little loose on his provisional run that had Johnson sitting on the pole as Martin began his run, he knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

“I’ll never do that again,” quipped Martin after his run. “I anticipated the car being loose, but I didn’t ask [crew chief] Rodney [Childers] if he tightened it up. I knew the conditions were looser than they were in our mock qualifying run [Friday], and I didn’t want to ask him because I didn’t want to be concerned.

“I knew that I only had to make it one mile without wrecking, and I was going to drive to the limit and slightly beyond, and I felt like I did that. I wouldn’t want to do that again. But I couldn’t sit on these poles without the fastest race car, and MWR [Michael Waltrip Racing] and Rodney Childers in particular and the guys on our team are doing that.”

Jonson knew he had set an excellent time, but he also felt that he had left a little bit of speed out there when he wiggled loose out of turns 2 and 4 and felt he just did not get all the power to thee ground.

“The lap was pretty strong,” Johnson said of his second-place run. “I knew off the corner, off [Turns] 2 and 4, I just couldn’t get the power down, being loose, and I left a little on the table. I felt it was more like a 10th [of a second], 10th and a half that I left out there, and Mark found five thousandths …

“Qualifying’s never been my strong suit, but I’ve been second a lot. But it is what it is. On the track, I’ll just have to take care of it and do a little better job there.”

The Hendrick cars in general made vast improvements over their speeds from the first practice session into the second.  At the end of the second round of practice the Hendrick cars of Gordon, Earnhardt Jr, and Jimmie Johnson sat 2,3,4 on the time sheets respectively.  Johnson will start on the outside of row 1 while Gordon and Jr will start 14th and 17th respectively.  Watch for these cars to make moves early and make their way to the front of the pack with the speeds they have shown they are capable of.

Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth round out the rest of the top 5 for the start of today’s race.

Notable names not near the front of the pack are Tony Stewart who struggled in practice and will start the race back from the 29th position.  A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose who have been running and qualifying well of late will start back in the 23rd and 21st positions respectively.

 

NASCAR – Kahne Takes The Checkered Flag in Charlotte For His First Win in the #5

Kasey Kahne takes a celebration drink after winning the Coca~Cola 600 at Charlotte Motorspeedway

600 grueling miles in almost 90 degree heat, saving equipment until the end, making changes to keep up with the track as the sun goes down, and strategy to gain track position at just the right time. Kasey Kahne had all that working for him. Kenny Francis made all the right changes to his car and stayed ahead of the track, while Kasey took care of his car, keeping it off the wall, saving his brakes, and finding the speed he needed right at the best time to find it, in the final 25 laps.

After a rough start to the 2012 season Kahne has had a solid run for the last 6 weeks finishing top 10.  He never gave up despite the string of DNF’s early on, he kept any complaints he may have had to himself, and forged on.  The end result of that patience it seems is a win at one of NASCAR’s marquee races.

“I never doubted myself,” said Kahne.  “I was upset at some of the things that may have happened. I made a huge mistake at Phoenix and hit the wall there, but other than that, we were solid — we were fast.

“It was just a matter of getting past those [six] weeks and moving on and putting some solid races together.”

“I think the biggest thing for myself was just to figure out the cars, figure out how they drove,” Kahne said. “It’s been a little bit different for me. We’ve had speed. Even the last five, six races, we’ve been in the top 10, but not near as fast as Jimmie Johnson or a couple of those guys who have been winning races.”I just knew for myself, I needed to step up. Our team is solid. Our car is solid. Mr. Hendrick gives us everything we need to win races and run up front. [Sunday] night we were able to put it all together.”

Denny Hamlin did everything he could to chase down Kahne, even coming to within a second of him after the final restart, but Kahne could not be caught as he just kept pulling away right up to the checkered flag.

“As the track cooled off, it freed up for us — the car got better,” Hamlin said. “Ultimately, it gave us a shot to win. … The first 10 laps of the last run, we got to them [Kahne], but we wore our front tires trying to get around them.

“Everything was executed great [Sunday], the pit calls, getting on and off pit road, the pit crew themselves. We had a very, very solid day.”

Greg Biffle had been the dominant car all day, leading 204 laps, and looking like the car to beat, until Kahne got by and never looked back.

“It’s so frustrating,” Biffle said of his fourth place finish after having the event’s dominant car. “You’re driving your heart out, you’re wondering, ‘Am I doing something wrong? Come on, come on.’ You’re doing all you can do, but the car won’t do what you want it to do. You just take what it gives you, otherwise you wreck it. And I just about wrecked it a half a dozen times trying to get forward.”

Other notable finishers were Carl Edwards who charged from the back of the field towards the front gaining more than 20 positions to finish in in the top ten in 9th place.  Dale Earnhardt Jr also did well, running in the top 15 for most of the race and climbing to as high as second on a call by his Crew Chief, Steve Latarte, to stay out on 12 lap tires when the leaders came in to the pits.  The gained track position was what he needed to stay inside the top 10 to finish in 6th place.  Good enough to stay within 18 points of the points leader Greg Biffle in 4th place overall.

 

NASCAR – Aric Almirola Leads the Field for NASCAR’s Longest Race of the Year.

Aric Almirola accepting the Coor Light Pole award for setting the pace at the Coca ~ Cola 600 in Charlotte.

It’s a grueling 600 miles of racing.  A marathon of endurance that starts in the heat of the day and finishes under the lights at night.  A true test of both driver and crew chief as the driver holds on to his car, that hopefully his crew chief has made the right changes on throughout the day to keep it under him, and that together they have kept it together to be in the right place at the end.

Aric Almirola will lead the field to start the Coca~Cola 600 this afternoon in Charlotte North Carolina.  This is the first time the #43 car has held the pole in Charlotte since Richard Petty drove it there himself, 46 years ago.  That fact however does not put a damper on the spirit or the smile of “The King”.

The fame of the #43 car is not lost on the young Almirola.  He knows how iconic this car and number are in the sport.

“It’s been a huge honor for me from Day 1 to be able to come to this organization,” Almirola said. “I’m not just driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. I’m driving the 43 car, probably the most iconic car in the history of our sport.

“For him [Petty] to allow me to do that, for him to ask me to do that, it’s just really special, and it’s a big honor to put that 43 car back on top of the board. To see it over there in Victory Lane and get our picture taken and all that stuff is really cool. I know it’s only qualifying — we want to be able to do that after the race — but it’s a start.”

“We’re happy with our car,” Almirola said. “Our [Ford] is pretty fast. I’m happy with the balance of our car, and it’s so hot right now that I don’t know that we’ll learn a whole lot, so we worked on some things trying to maximize getting on and off pit road and getting ready for [Sunday] night.”

“I think the speed in our cars has always been there, it’s just about executing, and that’s the one thing Mike has really focused on is just execution — trying to get all of the little parts and pieces and things,” he said. “He’s said it from day one that he’s gotten [here] that it’s about executing. Everybody is so good, and our competition is so tough, that if you don’t execute all the little small things, they’ll jump up and bite you. So I feel like as far as speed has gone, we’ve had really fast race cars, it’s just about executing all the little things.”

Marcos Ambrose will start 2nd in todays race.

To make things even better for the RPM team, Almirola’s teammate, Aussie Marcos Ambrose will start beside him on the front row in the #9 Dewalt Tools Ford. Ambrose was asked about where he sits for the start of the race after Saturday’s practice in the 90 degree temperatures.  Although by race time the temperatures will be different and the track will be a completely different animal Ambrose seemed to be confident that he will perform well.

“We’re not proving anything, and we’re not going to race in these conditions,” Ambrose said. “This place always feels the worst in the heat of the day. We had a really good Saturday night [in the All-Star Race] and we had a good qualifying session and good first practice [Saturday] morning, so we don’t need to be getting ourselves off base. It would be nice to feel like you’re at the top of the time sheet going into [Sunday] night’s race, but I think if you’re on top of [Saturday's] sheet, you’re probably not going to be that good when the sun goes down.”

Richard Petty was tickled pink that his #43 car was on the pole again, and that his team swept the front row for the start of the Coca ~ Cola 600.

Team Owner Richard Petty could not be more proud of the accomplishments of his driver, and feels that they will easily prove themselves on the track in more than just the way they qualified.

“Even though it’s just qualifying,” the seven-time champion said, “it’s still a big deal for us.”

“If everything lines up, then you can wind up being a winner,” Petty said. “The best thing to do is be up front all the time, and eventually you’re going to win some races. Our problem from time to time has not been how good we run, it’s how good we finish. We have not been as consistent as what we’re supposed to be. If we were more consistent, then we would be up front a lot more.”

 

NASCAR – Jimmie Johnson Takes Home Hendrick’s 200th Win in Darlington

Jimmie Johnson took home to trophy for the Southern 500 from Darlington, and the 200th win for the Hendrick's stable.

200 wins. Now there’s a lifetime achievement to be proud of. But in typical Rick Hendrick fashion, while the mile stone is great, he is already looking towards the next one.

”That guy’s something,” Johnson said about the owner. ”He said, `We won 200. Let’s get 250.”

Jimmie Johnson could not have been more proud as he beamed his trademark smile around everywhere after the race.  Johnson presented his owner with a helmet signed by the 15 drivers who ran for Hendrick since he began his operation. ”Thanks, buddy,”  Rick Hendrick said with a smile. ”This will definitely be the centerpiece of the mancave.”

The win brings Johnson’s personal total up to 56 wins, and he is the 8th different winner out of 11 races so far this season.

Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart each did their best trying to postpone the 200th victory celebration but we’re simply unable to run down Johnson in the late stages of the race.

Tony Stewart did everything he could to postpone the 200th Hendrick win, but lost fuel pressure and held on for a 3rd place finish.

“I was trying to postpone [No. 200] for another week by trying to get to Jimmie, but I just couldn’t do it,” said Tony Stewart. “The closer I got to him, the tighter I got. That was one of the best runs we’d had, but still I wasn’t strong enough.

“He had plenty of car left. He was just riding, trying to save fuel. They won it in dominating fashion. To win a 200th race, you don’t want to back into it. They dominated and took it the way they should.”

“I think it’s phenomenal, especially with the competition over here getting tougher and tougher,” said Stewart, who lost second position to Hamlin when his car temporarily lost fuel pressure coming to the final restart. “It’s getting harder and harder to win these races.

“Especially for it to happen in the Southern 500 — it’s such a historic race. It’s a pretty cool milestone.”

When asked how he felt about bringing home a third place finish at a track where he still has yet to mark a W in the win column, Stewart said he was happy with the way things worked out for him and his #14 Office Depot team.

“You know, considering the hurdles of the day, I’m pretty happy with a third-place run,” Stewart said.

“We kind of struggled there the first half of the race,” Stewart said. “We fought loose in [Turn] 1 and 2, really tight in 3 and 4. So it’s really hard to fix the balance of the race car when it’s doing two different things on two different ends.

“Really proud of [crew chief] Steve Addington. He just kept throwing things at it to try to get a direction.”

“It’s why we won a championship last year,” he said. “We never give up.”

Johnson was a bit worried when he saw the grille of the 14 car in his rear view mirror.

“I still was really nervous with the 14 behind me,” Johnson said. “He’s been the guy week after week that can go the distance. I was trying to pace myself off of him. It worked out.”

It was fuel pressure however that, in the end, cost Stewart the position on the track and the chance to really give Jimmie a run for his money.

“We ran out of fuel coming off of [Turn] 4,” Stewart said. “It didn’t run all the way out of fuel, but it laid down enough that it didn’t run a 100 percent going down into Turn 1. Once we got into 1, we got the fuel to the pickup, and we just lost our spot doing it.”

NASCAR – Biffle Sets the Pace and Attempts to Tame the Lady in Black

Greg Biffle has the pole for the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

It was beginning to look like an all Hendrick front row with Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne ready to lead the field to the green flag, until Greg Biffle showed up.  Jimmie Johnson had taken the provisional pole from his teammate Kasey Kahne but was worried that he had not done his best, that he had left some speed out there on the track.  That speed was found by Greg Biffle as he grabbed the pole for the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

“This is what a race car driver looks forward to, showing up every weekend and having a really fast car to drive,” said Biffle, the Sprint Cup Series leader. “They’re making me look good so far.

“It was a pretty uneventful lap. The car just had a ton of grip — it stuck to the race track really, really well. I felt like I was a little bit light down in Turns 1 and 2 — I should have been a little bit quicker down there — but I got a lot out of it in 3 and 4, so it was a great lap.”

”I feel that special season already. I certainly think that we’re going to be tough in competition all year,” said Biffle.

Johnson seemed to know that more speed could be found… just not who was going to find it.

Jimmie Johnson felt he left some speed out on the track. Greg Biffle found it.

”I left a little speed out there and Greg certainly found it,” Johnson said. ”It would’ve been nice to have a Hendrick front row. But it was a very productive day.”

Jimmie Johnson is looking to get the 200th win for team owner Rick Hendrick this weekend.  He has help at the front with his teammate Kasey Kahne, but Kahne is also hungry for a win.  And let us not forget the 9 time fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. who has been Mr Hendrick’s most consistent performer all season long, and is coming into Darlington with a 6 race top 10 streak under his belt.

“It certainly weighs on the team,” Johnson said before Friday’s practice at Darlington Raceway. “I’m not frustrated yet. I don’t want to see opportunities slip away. I certainly want to get 200 behind us as does everyone at Hendrick Motorsports because it’s lingering around.”

Johnson and Kahne will be starting 2nde and 3rd respectively.  Dale Jr looks to have his work cut out for him if he wants to break his streak and obtain the 200th win for his team.  Starting back in 24th Jr has not shown a lot of speed this weekend.  Running 19th in first practice and 18th in the second, the 88 car looks like it will need a lot of adjustments on the fly to get it where he wants it to be during the race.

Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch will round out the top 5 for the start of the race.

Danica Patrick makes her return to the Sprint Cup Schedule.  It seems her team owner Tony Stewart used his well known sarcastic sense of humor as he chose which track Danica would be driving at this season.  However you never really learn if you take the easy road, and Danica seems up to the challenge.  The experience she gains at the tougher tracks in the schedule should translate to better finishes at the easier tracks in the long run.

“This is a tough place and everything they said about it is true,” Patrick said between practices. “This Lady in Black is very intimidating. I’m just trying to get comfortable with what the car needs me to do — where to brake, how heavy to brake and those kinds of things. I’ve got my Darlington stripes, officially. It’s all the way down the right side of the car. We got that one over with.

“I’ve got everything in my corner, I just need time. I just need to get comfortable. It’s definitely not going to be an easy, breezy night. Like Tony (Stewart) said, I’m probably going to hate him by the end of the weekend. Come the future, I’m going to be glad for it.”

Team Owner tony Stewart agrees.

“She understands the value of why we picked this as one of the races,” Stewart said. “I think she’s keeping the big picture in mind. I think she’s doing a really good job of taking it all in stride, not letting her position on the time sheet get her down, realizing that the whole weekend is a learning experience and trying to just get at that time.

“I want her just to run as many laps as possible. The more time she can spend on track, the more experience that she’s going to get. So the good thing is, running both divisions, she’s getting a ton of track time.”

That may be true, but there is a huge difference between the Nationwide cars and the Cup cars when it comes right down to it.

“When you get to about half-throttle in the Cup car, that’s what a Nationwide car feels like,”Jimmie Johnson said with a laugh. “There’s a lot left from that point down in a Cup car. As far as tracks go, this track in my opinion has the highest sensation of speed over any other track we go to. And it’s due to it being so narrow. But it will be an eye-opening experience. Fortunately, she’s been real fast in other cars so hopefully it doesn’t affect her too much. But we’ve all looked at this race on her schedule and know it’s going to be tough for her. And it certainly will. This is not an easy race track to get around, but she’s going to do it and we’ll see how it goes.”

 

 

 

NASCAR – Kesolowski Makes All The Right Moves to Win at Talladega

Brad Kesolowski celebrates with a burnout after getting his second win of the season in the #2 Miller Lite Dodge.

Talladega has always had the danger, the excitement, and the reputation for the “Big One” with the potential for disaster.  43 cars entered the arena ready to do battle with the high temperatures Mother Nature provided and the other gladiators vying for a win.  Everyone chose their dancing partners but for the first 3/4 of the race, chose to battle their own cars instead of those around them.  Doing their best to keep the engines cool and their equipment ready for the final push at the end of the race.  Those who tried and failed are amongst NASCAR elite.  Jimmie Johnson lost his oil pump as did Ryan Newman.  Jeff Gordon succumbed to over heating issues late in the race, only to be caught up in the first of 3 wrecks in the final stages of the race.

But in the end it was Brad Kesolowski who made a move that no one expected.  He kept his engine cool, he stayed out of the carnage, and he made it look easy pulling away from Kyle Busch, the car that was pushing him to the lead, with a move that broke the momentum of the push and allowed the lead car to win the race instead of the slingshot pass we’ve become so accustomed to.  Riding up the track to the outside of turn 3 and diving down towards the infield, Kesolowski broke the 2 car draft leaving Kyle Busch with a wall of air to slow him down, as the #2 Miller Lite Blue Deuce pulled away by what looked to be at least 3 car lengths.  With the 5 previous races having been won by the car in second position after passing the car they were pushing, everyone was expecting a different outcome, but Brad had a plan.

”I had this whole plan if I ever got in that situation where I was leading; I thought about it and thought about it, dreamed about what to do, and sure enough, going into (Turn) 3, it was just me and Kyle,” Keselowski said. ”I knew the move I wanted to pull. It worked because the guy running second should have the advantage, but I had this move all worked up in my mind.”

”That allowed me to drive untouched to the checkered flag,” Keselowski said. ”It wasn’t easy to convince myself to do that, but it was the right move.”

”Two wins, with the wild card and all, that almost makes you immune to missing the Chase,” Keselowski said. ”This team is going to be strong come Chase time. The best is yet to come.”

Kyle Busch was caught flat footed by Brad Kesolowski's finshing move at the end of the Aaron's 400 at Talladega.

The move caught Kyle Busch completely off guard, even thinking he had screwed something up himself when Brad broke loose and ran away from him.

”I must have screwed something up, because we got to Turn 3 and came unhooked,” said Busch. ”Just gave the win away over there. Not sure exactly what happened. We definitely need to go back and figure out what it was.”

“I’m not sure he did anything,” Busch said. “If he did, he’s pretty smart. But I think our stuff just came unplugged.”

”If you’re leading, being pushed, plan on finishing second. That’s all there is to it. He’s no dummy, that’s for sure,” said Busch in post race interviews.

Matt Kenseth was still trying to figure out how his car, which had been the fastest all day and had led the most laps, was unable to close at the end.  On the final restart his teammate Greg Biffle was pushing him from the line, but his car was too fast for Biffle to get up behind and push.  The gap between the 2 Fords allowed Kesolowski and Busch to fly by and race themselves to the finish.

”I think we had the winning car, really just didn’t have the winning driver,” Kenseth said. ”I looked forward for a second, when I looked back, Greg and I were separated, those guys were already outside of him. With me not paying attention, keeping us hooked up, just cost us a shot at the win, cost Greg a shot at the win.”

”I wasn’t too fast. I was just too stupid I guess at the end to keep a win.”

Matt Kenseth led the most laps for the day but was unable to capitalize at the end.

“It’s hard to whine about leading most of the day and finishing third,” Kenseth said. “It’s just disappointing on the last restart when I had control over keeping Greg with me and I did a poor job of managing that. We got separated and got beat.”

“It probably didn’t help that we had a piece of the body break off on the B-post and had the fender tracked in a little bit,” Kenseth said. “That was my fault because I ran into [Mears] with the right front. It didn’t help us, but we had a fast car.”

“It was my fault,” Kenseth said. “I needed to drag the brake more and get off the gas more to make sure he stays attached. But honestly at Daytona, we came unattached and they couldn’t get a run back on me. When we did come apart, there really was no bottom lane. He lost all his speed.”

No for all the fans who have been complaining about boring long green flag runs, Talladega had a few of those, but the excitement of the last 40 laps made all the boredom fade.  The fact that no one was injured as a quarter of the field was taken out of the race and all but 19 cars fell off the lead lap is a testament to the safety developments that NASCAR has been implementing over the past 10 years.  Cars completely torn up and drivers walk away uninjured.  It may be expensive for the owners, but the fans like to see the action, as long as no one is injured.  The “Big One” is always a game changer as no one knows when it will happen, or who it will take out.

Take Jeff Gordon for example.  He is having one of the most bizarre seasons of his career.  Having won the Pole for the race, he faded back early.  He showed signs of being able to get back to the front when he wanted to, but you can’t get to the front it you drive it into the wall.

“This is just one of the most bizarre years that this Dupont Chevrolet and Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet has ever gone through,” Gordon said. “I mean, it’s almost comical at this point.

“That was not fun. I didn’t like hitting the wall, but gosh, I thought I was clear. I was just kind of cruising by on the inside. It looked to me like somebody came down and got Martin [Truex Jr.], and that turned him into me. That’s just the way our season’s been going.”

Tony Stewart was his usual sarcastic self when talking about the wrecks in the final laps of the Aaron's 499.

In typical Tony Stewart fashion his sarcasm was in excellent form as he talked to reporters after the race.  For those of you that missed it, earlier in the week Stewart lashed out at a reporter for asking if the lack of wrecks was costing NASCAR their fan base.  After yesterdays race he had this to say.

“Sorry we couldn’t crash more cars today,” Stewart said. “We didn’t fill the quota for the day for Talladega.

“Honestly, I think if we haven’t crashed 50 percent of the field by the end of the race, we need to extend the race until we at least crash 50 percent of the cars. ‘Cause it’s not fair to these fans for them to not see any more wrecks than that. We still had over half the cars running. It shouldn’t be that way.”

“I’m upset that we didn’t crash more cars,” he said. “I feel like that’s what we’re here for. I feel bad if I don’t spend at least $150,000 in tore-up race cars going back to the shop so we definitely got to do a better job with that. …

“I had a blast. It would have been a lot more fun if I could have got caught up in one more wreck. If I could have done that, it would have been perfect.”

 

 

NASCAR – Talledega Heat Doesn’t Effect Gordon’s Speed as he Takes The Pole for the Aaron’s 499.

Jeff Gordon set the fastest time around the biggest track in NASCAR to take the pole for the Aaron's 499 at Talledega.

The early spring Alabama heat wave has had people talking all week about how the heat was going to effect the cars at Talledega this weekend.  How will they keep the engines cool?  Will the drivers be able to handle the temps inside the cars?  Will the heat cause engine issues in the pack or when they break to a 2 car push?  Jeff Gordon had concerns about engine management, and how much tape there was on his front grille, but all of his worrying paid off in the end with him setting the fastest lap around NASCAR’s biggest and fastest racetrack in the circuit. With a time of 49.973 seconds at a speed of 191.623 mph posted the only sub 50 second lap time of the day, taking his 71st pole (third most of all time), and marking 20 straight seasons with at least one pole tying the record set by David Pearson.

“The temperatures are being managed from the moment that car goes on the track [Friday] till the end of that race,” Gordon said. “So even in qualifying we’re trying to manage ‘em and not get ‘em too hot. We chose to do that bottom lane, because we feel like it saves about three seconds of time, which is how much longer the engine’s running, building temperature.

“Plus, I feel like this track is big enough that you don’t have to run up high, like Daytona.”

With temperatures hovering around 86F during qualifying and expected temperatures predicted to be even higher for today’s race, keeping cool, both under the hood and under the collar, will definitely be a challenge.

“It’s so warm out, that I think most of the cars down pit road had to leave open a little bit of tape [on the grille], because they were going to push water too much,” said A.J. Allmendinger, whom Gordon knocked off the pole with his fastest lap. “I didn’t see if [Gordon] was fully taped up, or how much tape he had, but I think that’s kind of the idea that he had, that if you can fully tape up, you’re going to get a little bit of an advantage on everybody, and the only way you can do that is run low the whole time.

“It’s definitely a new strategy, but those guys are fast no matter what, so it’s not like they snuck up on us. We knew that was going to be one of the cars to beat there at the end. But it’s something to think about the next time we’re here.”

Is Talledega really Dale Jr's best shot for a win this year?

When it comes to restrictor plate tracks the names of the usual suspects begin to get tossed around.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. hears it every time he comes here.  Is this your best place to try and break the streak Jr?  Is it your best chance?

“I never really took anything for granted. A lot of people have said that this weekend at the race track, but I don’t pay much attention to it,” Earnhardt said. “I know how this sport can be brutal and great all at the same time. You just hope you’re prepared and try to run a smart race. Hopefully then you can make the right moves and beat the odds and win the race.”

“This is probably one of our better shots,” Earnhardt said. “How the drafting and everything was changed before Daytona [this year], that suits me better. And it’s hotter, and I think that leans toward favoring pack racing over tandem racing, too. That’s kind of in my favor, so I’m looking forward to the race. I just don’t think our odds have necessarily increased because I’ve run so well this year.”

“I feel like I’m in the best equipment that’s out there, and that gives you a lot of confidence. I feel like I know what I’m doing when I come here,” Earnhardt said. “I feel like if I could create the best scenario for me to come to Talladega and win a race, this is it. I’ve got the best car and I know how to get around the race track.”

The other drivers seem to agree for the most part that Jr. knows his way around this track and will definitely be a contender at the end of the race.

Opponents like Denny Hamlin recognize the potential. “I think he’s obviously got a ton of experience and a ton of wins on this track. When you look at this schedule and you look at opportunities to win, I would say that this is one of his best shots to do it.”

Jimmie Johnson seemed to be in the minority with his opinion.  He feels that while Jr may be really good at Talledega, his chances here have too many factors to be wary of.

“I think his best chance to win is on non-plate tracks, to be honest with you,” Johnson said. “Here, there are so many circumstances to deal with. We don’t know if you’re going to overheat, get the push at the right time, whatever it may be. What I’ve seen out of him, if you just look at this year alone and where he is in points and how fast his cars have been and how great he’s been driving, I put this lower on the list of where I would expect him to win.”

But when it comes right down to it, the driver who is going to win this race will be the one who has the best equipment at the end of the race, and a partner who can push them away from the pack where timing will be everything.

“I think the chemistry Junior and I both have, that our shop has, it was just another example of how strong that chemistry is and how much it continues to grow,” Johnson said. “I’m very happy to see how fast the No. 88 car has been week in and week out. Naturally, you think of him as a favorite here at this race track — but that No. 88 has been pretty strong everywhere. He is rising to be a favorite everywhere we go.”

Earnhardt Jr. tends to agree with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

“I maybe feel the same way because when you come to Daytona and Talladega, the cars are so equal,” Earnhardt said. “And even though pack racing definitely puts more in your hands and you definitely control your own destiny more when you’re just dealing with yourself and looking for No. 1 and being greedy and selfish, there still are so many things that can happen.

“Somebody could get the right push and do the right thing at the right time and win the race, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s a lottery, really. I’ve said that before, but it really is when you come to Daytona and Talladega, trying to win these races.