NASCAR – Tony Stewart Wins and Asks “Who Says it Never Rains in California?”

Tony Stewart wins for the second time in his career at Auto Club Speedway, the second time this season, and his 46th win overall, tying him for 14th on the all time wins list.

There are many ways to win a race in NASCAR, but the best way to do it is to be out front, in the right place, at the right time. Matt Kenseth won his first Daytona 500 that way, and now Tony Stewart found himself there in California, the land of sunshine and surf, where it almost never rains. Mother Nature showed us her feelings at Daytona earlier this year about NASCAR, now it seems she is really a Tony Stewart fan after all.

As raindrops slowed the race on Lap 124, Stewart, the race leader, faked a move toward pit road but stayed on the track. That move made many wonder if he actually caught Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson off guard.

“I don’t think that I faked him out,” Stewart said of Hamlin. “I’m sure he had made his decision already — looked good, though.”

In a race that only had a single caution, which only flew because of the rain, Stewart played the game well and was definitely in the right place at the right time. However, Stewart was quick to give the credit to his new Crew Chief, Steve Addington, for the calls made on pit row, and his crew for performing without error. And when asked what the secret was for him to win 2 races this early in the season, a feat he has not accomplished in his 14 seasons in NASCAR, Stewart kept pointing to his team and all their hard work.

“I don’t know, but I like it,” he said. “I’m really proud of [crew chief] Steve Addington and all of our guys. This Office Depot Chevy was bad fast.”

Kyle Busch followed Stewart lead and stayed out on the caution flag just before the rain, landing him a 2nd place finish in the Auto Club 400.

Kyle Busch decided to stay out and play follow the leader on Tony Stewart, which turned out to be an excellent choice, landing him in 2nd place on the grid.  While he hasn’t had the best finishes so far this season, a second place still doesn’t feel like a win for one of NASCAR’s winningest active drivers.  The timing of the finish was actually good for Busch who had rubbed the wall just before the caution came out, and was losing momentum and speed on the track.

“I wish we would have been able to race the whole thing, on the one hand,” he said, “but, on the other hand, I’m kind of glad we’re not, because we have a little bit of damage that slowed us down there.”

“Trying to run back with Stewart’s lap times, that’s when I was trying too hard, too close to the fence, got myself in trouble there — caught the right-side a little bit.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr continuds to show his Hendrick teammates how to be consistent.  Staying out on the caution netted him a 3rd place finish on the grid.  That finish,  has him sitting in third place in the points overall, as consistently strong runs by NASCAR’s most popular driver have made him the class of what has long been NASCAR’s best organization.

Dale Jr finished 3rd thanks to the rain shortened race. He has also been the most consistent in his finishes of all the cars in the Hendrick stables this season.

“We drove the car up to fifth before the weather came. We had been watching the weather all day. We felt certain if it started to rain, it wasn’t going to stop,” Earnhardt said. “We made the right choice by staying out and building ourselves into the top three.”

Dale Jr finished 3rd thanks to the rain shortened race. He has also been the most consistent in his finishes of all the cars in the Hendrick stables this season.

“I’m really happy,” he said. “I’m performing better. Most of the credit has to go to Steve and the team. Those guys did a great job today on pit road. We had some really good stops. Steve is doing an amazing job. He deserves most of the credit for how well we’re running. He’s giving me really good cars, cars that are fun to drive, relatively easy to drive.”

“Compared to the last several years,” he added, “they’ve gotten easier.”

The rain was also a godsend for Jimmie Johnson and his #48 Lowe’s machine.  He had already committed to coming in on the caution flag as he had starting smoking from the engine area during the final caution laps.  Somehow an oil line fitting had come loose and oil was spraying on the block, under the hood.  Had the race gone back to green Johnson would have either blown up, or lost a ton of laps while they fixed the car behind the wall.

“I really don’t know what had happened,” Johnson said during the red flag. “I was just idling along and my friends pulled up alongside of me and were pointing. They said, ‘You’re smoking.’ I heard it over the radio and I could obviously see and smell it, but I don’t know what really caused it yet. It’s just a wild change of events, because when I came to pit road and took four tires, I wanted it to dry up real quick. Now I’m sitting here praying for rain.”

And that’s exactly what he got. “If we did go back to green-flag racing, we would be multiple laps down,” crew chief Chad Knaus said. “We don’t really know what happened to the car just yet. We’ve got to get it in here and take a look at it.”

Next week takes us to Martinsville, a track where Stewart dominated in the fall race.  Can he do it again and maintain the momentum from his championship run?  Only time, and the racetrack, can tell.

 

NASCAR – Hamlin Takes the Pole For California – Knaus Still Penalized But Johnson’s Points Restored

Danny Hamlin captures the pole for the second time at Fontana and the 10th of his Career.

Denny Hamlin watched his teammates Joey Logano and Kyle Busch each take the provisional pole ahead of him, studied the line they took around the track, and opted to go his own way.  Watching his teammates and most of the field take the high line, he took the low line after thinking that the wind may cause him some speed loss.  Opting for the bottom line proved to be the best decision he could have made getting him around the 2 mile track in just 38.626 seconds (186.403 mph) to claim his second Coors Light pole award at Fontana and the 10th of his career.

“Everyone had a different way of doing it,” Hamlin said. “It seemed like there were some guys who were five lanes up and some who just worked their way down. We were one of the few cars that ran all the way on the bottom.”

“That’s where we practiced, and I didn’t want to change that. I’d done all my qualifying runs early in the day and practiced race runs on the bottom. Really, I think I would have been less efficient running the top, even though it might have been faster. My safest route was to take the bottom, and I just took what it gave us.”

Mark Martin will start 3rd on the grid after tying Kyle Busch in speed. The tie was decided by points position from the 2011 season.

Kyle Busch and Mark Martin tied for the next position with a speed of 185.534 mph, with Kyle Busch getting the advantage because of his higher points finish from the 2011 season.

“I’ve never run 1 and 2 up in the third lane like that,” Busch said. “I think Joey kind of started the trend there, and a lot of people picked up it and started running some really good times. And lo, and behold, one of the only guys that runs the bottom — Denny — beats you.”

Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne also tied for 4th spot  (185.510 mph) with Biffle getting the same advantage for points position from the 2011 season.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Kevin harvick comes into Fontana as the defending champion at this track.  Sitting second in points and having finished 11th or better in the first 4 races, Harvick sees this as a chance to show that his team is also still able to contend for a Championship this year.

Crew Chief Shane Wilson plans to use this weekend to work out the kinks.

“We just have to work out some kinks,” crew chief Shane Wilson said. “You’re trying to perform at the highest level, so you’re always going to nitpick yourself and try to do it better than the 99 [car of Carl Edwards] or the 14 [car of Tony Stewart]. You’re always driving to be better. That never stops.”

Kevin Harvick hopes to turn his season around at Auto Club Speedway

“Our deal is, we’re not new together,” Wilson said. “We’ve raced together in the past, and we’re friends, and we work for the same company. It’s not like we’re coming in from a different company. You had meetings and know what the other people are thinking. I feel like that’s one of the reasons they did it, because there wasn’t going to be a long period like that. We’re more working on our notebook with Kevin … and getting used to a few little things with his car here. All in all, that’s already right where it needs to be.”

“That was our goal coming into the year, to get our car speed up,” Wilson said. “Calling the races and me and him working together is gong to come pretty quick, because me and him have worked together in the past. Him and Gil obviously had a good thing going, but we’ve done what we wanted to do so far as far as getting our cars faster, where we’re competitive and can race with the guys we’re going to need to at the end of the year. It’s a long season, but we’re still trying to accomplish that goal of getting our cars faster, and we feel like we’re hitting on it so far. We’ve got to keep it up.”

Harvick agrees.

“I think all the guys on the team would say we aren’t really crisp, I guess you would say, as far as the first four weeks,” Harvick said. “I haven’t done everything right from the driver’s seat. We’ve made some mistakes in all areas, I would say. Once we feel like we’re in a rhythm, and have all the bugs and kinks worked out of everything, I think it will be even better. The good thing about it is the speed has been in the car at every race track we’ve been to, and that’s really what we were looking for. Speed in the race cars. We can fix and tweak the small things outside of that. It’s been pretty comfortable so far, and hopefully we can keep it rolling and make it better every week.”

————————————————————————————————————

Jimmie Johnson had his points penalty from the Daytona 500 reversed this week. Chad Knaus fine of $100 000 still remains but he will not be suspended from the pit box.

Jimmie Johnson breathed a huge sigh of relief this week when a NASCAR appointed arbitrator overturned some of the penalties levied after Crew Chief Chad Knaus was caught bringing illegal equipment to the track.  The C-Posts in question were removed from the car before the car was set to the templates and that has been the main reason for the appeal, and the reason which allowed for the overturning of the driver and owner points.

“I don’t feel vindicated, because I feel like everything should have been overturned,” Johnson said Friday. “I’m pleased that things went away, but I don’t feel vindicated.”

NASCAR however, feels that their process has still been vindicated with the fines issues to Knaus still remaining.

“When we chose John Middlebrook as our Chief Appellate Officer, we chose him based on our experiences with him for several years, and his pragmatic approach to business, and his relationships with race teams and with NASCAR,” Helton said. “The reasons that we chose the current Chief Appellate Officer haven’t changed. Our opinion and our belief in our Chief Appellate Officer haven’t changed.”

“I think the decision made this week upholds what’s right and wrong when it comes to the inspection process and the things of the car,” Helton said, “because there were elements of the penalty that were upheld relative to parts of the car that did not conform to the rules.”

“The elements of the penalty that were upheld indicate that the inspection process, or the inspectors, did their job correctly,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said Friday at Auto Club Speedway. “I think the debate over the decision this week was more about the decision after that point and how we reacted to it, and that’s as much a bureaucratic decision as it is a competition decision. So we believe very strongly in our inspection process, and are very proud of it, so the inspection process is status quo as we go forward.”

NASCAR – And Then There Was Juan

Race #5 in the 2011 Sprint cup season in Fontana California at Auto Club Speedway. Juan Montoya who has had a rough start to the season this year when it comes to qualifying,  has found his way to the front of the field in Sunny California.  Maybe it was the sunshine, maybe it was the cool mountain air, or maybe it was Montoya’s will to succeed in Sprint cup, but whatever his motivation it seems to be working.  Montoyas average starting position so far this year has been a disappointing 23.5 so winning the Coors Light Pole Award for this Sunday’s race was a marked improvement for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup race at the 2-mile track.

With a lap time of 38.992 seconds (184.653 mph) Montoya was the only driver to turn a sub 39 second lap in time trials.  Denny Hamlin will be sitting beside him on the front row with his qualifying speed of 184.270 mph. [Read more...]