NASCAR – Busch Finds The Front in Loudon – Stewart Haas Are Counting on Success

Kyle Busch edged Kasey Kahne and teammate Denny Hamlin for the Pole by a mere .003 and .004 of a second.

Kyle Busch came out of the hauler as the fastest car on the track, and he backed it up by taking the pole for today’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301 from New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  After setting the pace in the first practice, Busch was the last of 44 drivers to run his qualifying lap. Edging Kasey Kahne by .003 seconds and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin by .004, Busch won the pole for today’s race with a lap at 133.417 mph. It was a lucky Friday the 13th for Busch as he was the 13th driver to set the pole time and also the last.  Just happy that he kept it off the wall, Busch had this to say about his run.

“I got in the throttle really early in [Turns] 3 and 4, trying to make speed and was able to finish it,” Busch said. “But the car slipped right at the last second when you get to that older asphalt — it seems like this tire [new from Goodyear for this race] is different from the older tire, where you lose just a pinch of grip — it slid out right to the cushion point, I guess you’d say. But, no, there’s no mark on the car, so it’s a good day.”

Hamlin thought he lost the pole coming to the green on his first qualifying lap.

“Yeah, I thought maybe I could have gotten to the green a little bit better,” Hamlin said. “You know your first lap’s going to be the money lap, so I typically run into Turn 1 — really at all race tracks — a little bit easier and try to make up the ground as I go.

“But with qualifying as tight as it is, you’ve got to maximize everything to get poles, and obviously that was the difference.”

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Stewart Haas Racing loves coming to Loudon.  Ryan Newman won this race in the spring with a 1 – 2 start and a 1 – 2 finish for Stewart Haas racing, then team owner Tony Stewart came back and won the fall race as the team continued to assert their dominance in New Hampshire. With Newman starting 6th and Stewart starting 10th the team is looking like they know which direction they need to go to make their way back to victory lane here in Loudon.

“We’re decent, I think,” said Stewart, the owner-driver of the No. 14 Chevrolet. “We were pretty good here for both races last year, so I’m pretty excited about coming back here.”

Asked why he thinks the SHR teams are so good at New Hampshire, Stewart said: “I wish I knew, but it seems like where we were last year it’s continuing on so far — even though it sounds like we’ve got a little bit of a different tire. I’m pretty happy with it. I mean the car right off the first lap felt like it had really good balance to it. We’ve just got to keep working with it and see if we can keep making it better all weekend.”

Newman said he thought he had a better idea about why he and his boss are tough to contend with at New Hampshire.

“I think our cars are good, there’s no doubt,” Newman said. “I think the Hendrick engines [are strong], and everything’s clicking. I like the track because I think you have to feel the tires and be on the edge.

“I was thinking about it last week. I think it kind of reminds us of our old IRP [Indianapolis Raceway Park] days. This kind of drives like that kind of race track where your car is on top of the race track, and you get everything that you can. There is nothing to really make it go any faster. It’s not like you’re pushing the car on the banking to make it grip better. There’s none of that really to speak of here. I think just a little bit of our past, a little bit of us as far as the way we drive race cars, is what helps us here.”

“It was awesome for us here last year,” Newman said. “It was a time when Stewart was struggling a little bit, too, so to have the one-two start and one-two finish, that was awesome. Then for him to back it up — for us to win the spring race, and him to win the fall race — it was an amazing place for us here, for Stewart-Haas, this race track here in Loudon. We’ll try to do it again. There is no reason that we can’t.”

When asked about the 6 point penalty assessed by NASCAR for the cooling hose violation, Stewart id not even seemed concerned as he weighed it against the possibilities for this weekend.

“It was a mistake on our team’s part and we deserve the penalty for it,” Stewart said. “Luckily it was in qualifying, so it wasn’t something that made us win the race. We didn’t win the race because of that. Like I said, it was just a mistake on our part and we’ve just got to make sure we don’t overlook that again.”

NASCAR – Jimmie Johnson Sets the Pace in Kentucky – A Bumpy Track and a Heat Wave Predicted to be a Factor

Through scorching heat and violent wind storms, Jimmie Johnson showed them all how it was done when he qualified in Kentucky on Friday afternoon. After 42 cars had run their laps Jimmie Johnson waited in the wings to get his run in. Ripping around the 1.5-mile speedway in 29.700 seconds (181.818 mph) was good enough to win the pole for Sunday’s Quaker State 400.

“It was a good lap — qualifying has not been our strong suit in the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “I’m very happy to get this pole today. My Chevy’s bad fast, and I’m looking forward to going racing.

“I’ve had a lot of crashes here over the years. We used to test here a lot back in the day, and Turns 3 and 4 have taken quite a few [No.] 48 race cars from us. To run well last year (third at Kentucky) was really good for me. I came back with a lot of confidence. Conditions earlier today were so slick that it took a while to get the feeling I was looking for, but I think we’re on the right track now.”

Kyle Busch (181.421 mph) qualified second, followed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammateDenny Hamlin (181.147 mph).Kevin Harvick will start fourth after a lap at 180.367 mph, one spot ahead ofRyan Newman (180.337 mph).

Kentucky is best know for the traffic hassles that plagued the race last year but official say they have everything under control this time around.  But no one can do anything about the scorching temperatures.  The only bright side to the heat, is that it will be cooler at race time as the sun goes down into the evening.  Couple the heat with a bumpy race track and there is a volatile mix for frustration and anger to make things even more interesting out on the track.

Kesolowski and Montoya already had issues with each other only 5 minutes into Happy Hour.  Kesolowski’s team decided to go to a back up car while Montoya opted to repair the original car.  After their on track bump and grind session with each other Kesolowski volunteered to go to the Hauler to discuss the situation.

“The bumps are very difficult to navigate here at Kentucky,” said Brad Keselowski. “It produces a race track that, by its very nature, is hard to be consistent to drive because it’s hard to hit the same bump twice, even in a race car as a supposedly professional driver.

“We can’t hit the same bumps twice, whether it’s passing traffic or tire fall-off that changes the way our car enters the corner. … Each bump you hit changes the way the car drives. So it’s hard to really predict, as a driver, what the car is going to do until it does it when you’re on a bumpy surface. That’s very challenging and requires a more disciplined skill set to drive. It rewards some and obviously doesn’t reward others. It requires a little bit more feel, so I think it rewards some of the more talented drivers, as well.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr was 7th in practice and qualified in 7th as well.  His take on the bumps is very simple, engineers need to listen to the drivers input carefully.

Earnhardt says it’s a fine line drivers face in racing on the bumps at Kentucky.

“With our cars, you’ve got to get them close to the ground to get the best aero platform and downforce that you can get. But, you can’t be on the ground too hard and the bumps really make that a challenge for the engineers,” Earnhardt said. “With a bumpy track the splitter is always banging on the ground, so you have to listen to the driver really when it comes to the bumpy tracks. He’ll tell you the splitter is bothering the car and making it tight. It’s kind of tough. That’s really a challenge.”

The high temperature for Sparta on Saturday is expected to be 100 degrees, and it won’t be much cooler at the race’s scheduled 7:45 p.m. ET start time. During Happy Hour on Friday, an excessive heat warning was in effect. It was 95 degrees when the session began, with an on-track temperature of 139 degrees. It is believed to be the highest temperature for an on-track event at Kentucky, topping the old mark of 130 degrees set in an IRL event in 2005.

“Yeah, it is definitely toasty and I am glad it is a night race and not a day race,”Matt Kenseth said. “Hopefully when the sun gets down and cools off a little it will be nicer not just for us but the fans and crews working down there. Getting rid of the sun will help a little bit but it is going to be the hottest race all year, for sure.”

Michael Waltrip said he hadn’t run at a track like this in a couple of years and the hot temperatures made for a cautious driver.

“I picked a heck of a day to come out of retirement,” quipped Waltrip, who hasn’t made a start on a 1.5-mile track since Homestead in the 2009 season finale. “I was just really careful … didn’t want to make a mistake. It was a struggle, but we tested here in the winter when you had more grip and now it’s hotter than it’s ever been and it’s slippery.”

 

 

 

NASCAR – Ambrose Out to Prove He Is The Fastest Man in Nascar, Takes The Pole in Sonoma

Marcos Ambrose sit on the pole in Sonoma for the Toyota/SaveMart 350

Fastest man in NASCAR since 1987 in Michigan.  Fastest man on the track in Sonoma.  Marcos Ambrose is a man on fire.  While he is well known for his prowess on the road courses and is always expected to run well, Ambrose always steps it up to show his skills earned from his years of running the Aussie V8′s.  ”I don’t know if I got it all, but I got a lot of it,” Ambrose said after his lap, which averaged 95.262 mph.

”We put a lot of effort into this road-course program,” said Ambrose, whose only cup win to date was  last year on the road course at Watkins Glen. ”I’m thrilled for my team and it takes a whole team to qualify on pole two weeks in a row.”

Ambrose knocked Jimmie Johnson off the provisional pole to take the tops spot and then had to wait out the final 6 drivers to see if his time would hold.  Jeff Gordon, who had run the fastest in first practice, was his biggest concern.

Jeff Gordon will Start second in Sonoma today.

”I thought it was a really good lap,” Gordon said. ”Hey, you’ve got to credit where credit is due: Marcos laid down a heck of a lap and we came up just a little bit short. We knew that was going to be a tough lap to beat.”

Gordon will start on the outside of row 1 as his best efforts ended with a second fastest time.

Jimmie Johnson, who starts in third after seeing his time knocked down by Ambrose, feels that he has been struggling with the car all weekend.

Jimmie Johnson's time held for a third place starting position

”We’ve been really struggling on comfort in the car since we unloaded,” Johnson said. ”Clearly the speed is in the car, but the comfort is not quite there. We just worked on qualifying trim and it was on edge the whole lap. I hope that we can get some rear grip in the car and get things to calm down for the race, because I don’t want (to) drive 110 laps the way it drove today.”

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.”