NASCAR – Mark Martin Takes The Pole for the Pure Michigan 400- Late Practice Troubles for Hendrick Cars

Mark Martin signs autographs as he walks the red carpet at MIS before the June race

At 5’6″ and 135 lbs Mark Martin does not strike an imposing figure.  But when you listen to the drivers in the garage talk about him you would think he was 8 feet tall and had wings.  With the years of experience behind him, the reverence you see in the eyes of the drivers when they talk about him is well earned.  Mark Martin may be the oldest active driver on the track, but yesterday he was also the fastest.  Carl Edwards said that he thought he had left maybe a little bit of speed out there, well he did, and Mark Martin found it.

“The one thing that you’ll get from me is every ounce that I can find,” Martin said. “You get that no matter what the result may be.”

It’s the experience that counts, and Martin has earned more than anyone else in the garage.

“Gosh, I’ve had a few years of practice,” Martin said. “I don’t need a whole bunch of practice. I just need a race car like what I drove [Friday]. I need fast race cars, and that’s what [crew chief] Rodney Childers is giving me.

“All it is is driving the car — I’ve been doing that since I was 15.”

With a speed of 199.706 MPH Martin came close to breaking the 200mph mark that was seen here at MIS back in June.

“It was obscene. It was crazy,” he said. “To be able to get that lap is a nice thing [but] the fastest car does not always win the race.”

“I believe this race team is up to the challenge of contending and winning a race somewhere along the way,” he says. “I can’t know if it could possibly be this one. All I know is we’re probably not going to have to take a middle-of-the-pack race car and try to win with it. That is a feather in our cap.”

Carl Edwards will start on the outside of Martin in the 2nd position with his qualifying effort of 198.626 MPH.  Edwards was all smiles as he talked about seeing his time fall to Martin right at the end of the knockout qualifying session.

“There are generations of people who have all had little Mark Martin toys,” Edwards said. “Who knows? My kids some day might be racing against the guy. … And they will probably be just as frustrated.”

“He is living the dream,” Edwards said. “He has had a successful career and [now] he’s able to pick and choose which races he’s going to run — and he performs well at them. I think that is pretty amazing, especially at his age. … He can probably bench press more than all of us.”

 

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Dale Earnhardt return to the track where he earned his last 2 wins, 4 years apart.  In June he dominated here and although he had handling issues in the early stages of the race he made his way to the front and led the field to the checkered flag with ease.  He may have a little bit more of a struggle this time.  The car he won with in June was what he was prepared to run until a late crash in the 3rd and final practice.  Although the backup car he will be using has never turned a racing lap at MIS it has been here before for testing.

Carl Edwards, Dale Jr., and Matt Kenseth answer questions in a Q&A session Friday after qualifying.

“We tested it here when we first came, so we know a lot about the car here at this particular track, where in most cases you don’t,” said Earnhardt. “We have that going for us. We have a lot of information, and I feel like we should be able to put a car out there that’s relatively in the ballpark. … Other than just starting at the back, I don’t think it’s hurt our chances too much. I mean, you hate to wreck the primary car, but the consequences and the situation really couldn’t be more favorable with the backup than it is here for us.”

“We were making some changes on the car, and got the car too loose, and it just came out from under me in the corner,” he said. “A little bit of being too free, and probably running harder than I should have been in practice.”

Jr. is confident that chances can be taken early in the race to move forward, and if not he is prepared to drive his way to the front.

“We can take no tires, two tires, whatever, and gain a lot of track position throughout the first part of the race if we get the opportunity under yellows,” he said. “If we don’t have yellows, we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”

“When we won here in [June], we fell all the way to the back having some trouble with the balance of the car, and made some changes. So we’ve come out of a hole before here and won the race, so I feel pretty good about our chances still. We’ve just got to make sure we do all our homework up in the front of the hauler here, and when they put it out on the starting grid, it’s close. It needs to be close. We don’t want to have to deal with the car being way off balance-wise at the start of the race. Because that could make it tough for us to finish well.”

Jr. will not be alone starting from the rear of the field as his teammate Jimmie Johnson replaced an engine Saturday, a change which requires vacating his 3rd place qualifying position on the grid and move to the rear of the field.

NASCAR – Hamlin Scores The Pole For Indy – Edwards Finds His Stride – Allmendinger Accepts His Fate

Denny Hamlin Set The Pace for the Brickyard.

Toyota is always looking to do something they have not done yet, and Denny Hamlin gave them something just like that this weekend.  Taking his first ever pole at the Brickyard, also a first for Toyota, Hamlin set a pace to take his 11th career pole at 49.244 seconds (182.763 mph) that no one even came close to.  Toyota has still not won a race at the Brickyard so Denny still has some work to do to complete the wish list for NASCAR’s newest manufacturer.

“I think, if you put me out front on the last run, no one’s going to get around me,” Hamlin said. “So it’s all going to be about maintaining track position and maintaining the balance of your race car. I’ve been good here before and not been able to pass.

“There’s always been about two cars, in every single race here, that’s been capable of passing. Everyone else just kind of runs where they’re at. All you can do is hope that you’ve got a fast enough car to be one of those two, where, if you do get set back, you can be one of the cars that can get back to the front.

“One thing about it is having the No. 1 pit stall now. That’s going to be an advantage on pit road. I think it’s hard to point to the outfield right now, but we’ve got the bat halfway raised.”

Carl Edwards looked competitive for the first time in a long time out on the track.  Taking the second position along side Hamlin for the start of the race, Edwards is in a position to get a much needed win if he hopes to keep his chase hopes alive.  With changes happening this season with his team and undisclosed health issues for his crew chief Bob Osbourne, Edwards team has been struggling since the start of the season.  Uncertainty seems to remain in the Roush stables about what will happen with the make up of this team, but they remain strong willed and are taking things as they come, and standing strong together.

“Everybody knows that what we’re trying to do right now is make the team better, and to fix any issues we might have,” Edwards said. “… If we don’t do any better here, and Bob’s up to it, we’ll probably put Bob right back in as soon as he’s able. But if this goes well — if Bob’s doing well in his new role and that’s the best thing for him, and Chad’s doing great — we’ll move forward doing this. Nothing is in stone right now. It could be a whole different scenario next week. Everybody knows that. We’re just doing all that we can right now to be as good as we can right now.”

A.J. Allmendinger has been dealing with his own personal scandal now like he faces everything on the track, with determination and confidence.  After both of his test samples came back positive for an illegal substance under NASCAR’s drug and Alcohol policy, Allmendinger will enter a recovery program, while he works with an independent lab to determine how exactly he gave a positive result.  Allmendinger still claims that he at no time knowingly took any drug that is on NASCAR’s list, he is determined to get back to racing whatever the cost.  By entering the recovery program he is taking the correct track in getting back to racing.

Everyone appears to be in Allmendingers corner here as he enters the program and continues to try to clear his name.

“We’re very pleased that A.J. Allmendinger has chosen to participate in the NASCAR Road to Recovery program,” NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said. “It’s designed, as proven, to provide a road map leading to a return to competition, and we wish him the best of luck. As we have with other competitors, we look forward to the day when the program administrator recommends him for reinstatement.”

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 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 – 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 – 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.

 

 

NASCAR – Mark Martin Leads the Field, Drivers Playing it Safe, Dale Jr Fastest in Practice

Mark Martin has the pole for tonight's race in Richmond

Mark Martin is the oldest kid in the NASCAR sandbox, and yesterday he proved that he can still be the fastest.  Turning the second fastest lap on his first run around the track there was nowhere to go but up.  On his second time around the 3/4 mile D shaped oval he topped the speed set by Carl Edwards just minutes earlier to take the pole for tonight’s Capitol City 400 presented by Virginia is For Lovers.  Setting the pace at 128.327 mph was enough for the 53 year old to take the coveted pole position.  So how does the oldest kid on the block feel about taking his 5th pole in Richmond?

”As far as I’m concerned, this is just as big a deal,” he said.

After running his laps Martin showed his trademark humility about how his talent and experience kept him out front.

”I was very close to skinning the car up, especially off of four [on] the second lap,” Martin said. ”I’m driving it as hard as I can go, and at the very limits of my talent.”

“I did not ask Rodney [Childers] what he put under the car,” said Martin. “We made some improvements to the car in happy Hour [final practice] in race setup right at the end.

“If it would have been me, I probably would have incorporated those changes into the qualifying setup, and I didn’t want to ask Rodney if he did or not, or what he did to the car. All I want to do is roll out on the race track with no preconceived notion and drive it as fast as it’d go and rely on him and his judgment.”

“I was really hoping that he [Childers] would call me [on the radio] on the first lap and tell me to shut it down — I told him to tell me to shut it down if we happened to get the pole on the first lap. When he didn’t, I was afraid, ‘Oh, no, we’re 15th-fastest. That wasn’t near fast enough, and I’ve really got to get up on the wheel.’

“I was very close to skinning the car up, especially off of [Turn] 4 on the second lap, and that was my concern. That was my concern in practice, as well. Both the qualifying runs I made in practice, I almost skinned it up, too. So I was driving as hard as I can go — at the very limit of my talent, for sure — and if I keep pushing the limits, I’m going to run out of talent here, one of these days.”

Carl Edwards will sit on the outside of row 1 beside Mark Martin.

Carl Edwards will be sitting on the outside of row 1 beside Martin when the green flag drops tonight.  Edwards’ top lap at 128.290 had hung on through 17 drivers, but when Martin moved to second on the scoring tower with his first lap, Edwards paid much closer attention.

”I thought we had him, and then he shot up to the top of the scoreboard,” he said.

Edwards was asked how he feels his 2012 season is playing out and what he feels about the fans concerns about the log green flags in the previous races causing a drop in the ratings from fans looking for more excitement in the form of wrecks and/or tempers flaring on and off the track.

“We are [11th] in points and don’t have a win,” Edwards said of his status. “It is not like we are tied for first right now. We have to be very cautious with our points. Let’s say we know some things. Let’s assume some things that are true. Right now we don’t have the fastest car on the race track every week so we can say, ‘Alright for the next 16 or 18 races we might still not have the fastest car.’

“Under the old points system we would say, ‘Damn, we are already ninth and not running that great, let’s just go for it here. Let’s do some crazy stuff and get a win or two and have some fun.’ But we can’t do that now because we say that we have to make it into the top 10. We cannot give up any points.

“What we are banking on, what we hope comes is that we hope in those last 10 races that we are good enough then to go shoot for the championship.”

“If you were in my position you would never be able to forgive yourself if you were ninth in points here in Richmond and they drop the green flag on the last restart and you have a great race car and you go for some banzai run and wreck the thing and don’t make the Chase.

“Let’s say those last 10 races we have a hell of a run and would have won the thing if we would have made it. I would be a moron to give it up right here at Richmond. I don’t know if that is right or wrong but that is why it ends up this way because guys start to think, ‘OK, just gather all your troops here, focus, work everything out, make the Chase and then go get ‘em.’ That wasn’t intended by NASCAR I am sure but that is the way we feel.”

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Dale Jr talks about his newly returned confidence and the firestorm he caused by saying he is"the best driver" in the Hendrick stable.

Last week some comments by Dale Earnhardt Jr caused a bit of a firestorm in the garage when he stated that he felt he was the best driver at Hendrick Motorsports, maybe even the best in the entire garage.   In Friday’s interview session at Richmond International Raceway he reconfirmed his opinion and then in final practice for Saturday’s Capital City 400, put an exclamation point on it by outrunning 44 other drivers.

“That is a healthy debate, that is healthy among race fans as far as who is the best driver,” Earnhardt said. “All the drivers in the garage feel like they are the best, individually, and they should. That is kind of the way you have to approach it.

“I figured that was definitely debatable and the race fans are going to voice their opinion and that’s good. I certainly don’t like to rock any boats, but you have to answer the question honestly.”

Jr lays a lot of his confidence at the feet of Steve Letarte for giving him the best equipment he can, and for being the best cheerleader in the business.  Keeping his mind in the game when frustration might normally take over, and keeping him focused on the race are just a few of the things Jr credits his crew chief for.

“He’s definitely made me more accountable, would be a way to explain it for the words I choose to use and how I choose to describe the car to him,” Earnhardt said of Letarte. “He’s not going to put up with me verbally abusing him or the equipment. I wouldn’t expect anything less than him being a professional, as well.”

“I think we have a good in-race relationship. He does a really good job of providing me with information and calming me that we are going to fix any issues we have. I feel confident that he has fixed enough issues and improved the car during enough races that I don’t really get as worried about it when something isn’t quite right. I know that the chances of it getting improved and fixed are really good.

“I’ve got great confidence in him and his abilities to orchestrate the weekend as good as I would expect. We get along really good because of that confidence between each other. I think there is good trust there, too.”

That confident attitude send waves through his team and pit crew as well.

“I learned a long time ago that if you don’t have confidence in your car that can be problematic for you,” Earnhardt said. “If you don’t have confidence in your crew chief then that can be problematic for you and if you don’t have the same confidence in yourself it’s not conducive to being successful.

“You have to feel like you’re here and you’re the best and that is the way you should feel. In any profession, you have to have that kind of confidence.”

So off we go to Richmond tonight, under the lights, for what some drivers call a race on the ultimate short track.  Get those helmet straps and set belts tightened folks, it’s looking like a good race tonight.

NASCAR – Allmendinger Wins the Pole At Kansas, Engine Trouble for Logano Moves Him to the Back of the Field

A.J. Allmendinger gets his first pole driving for Penske Racing and his first since Phoenix in 2010.

A.J. Allmendinger has been here before, leading the field to the green flag, but this is his first in his new ride with Penske in the number 22 AAA sponsored ride.  This is the 97th all time pole for Penske racing and after waching almost the entire field qualify before him, Allmendinger edged Kevin Harvick (175.747 mph) by .043 seconds at the 1.5-mile intermediate speedway to take the poole position at Kansas Motor Speedway.  How does Allmendinger deal with the pressure of being new to a team who us used to success on the race track?

“More than anything, I put so much pressure on my shoulders to go out there and perform,” Allmendinger said. “They [his Penske team] are used to winning, running up front, getting poles. It’s good just to build momentum.

“So, hopefully, we have a solid 400 miles. It’s good, but we know the bigger picture’s on Sunday, and I’m happy to be part of the team.”

Kevin Harvick will sit on the outside of Allmendinger after qualifying second for the STP 400 in Kansas

Kevin Harvick will start beside him on the outside in position 2.  Harvick had an excellent lap in the making but got “a little excited” as he entered the final 2 corners and lost a little bit of ground.

“That might have cost us the pole, but overall it’s been a great year for us qualifying-wise so far,” Harvick said. “The cars have been fast every week, and as soon as we put together a whole weekend without me making a mistake or things not going exactly right, I think everything’s going to come together nicely.

“So I’m pretty happy with the way everything’s gone so far this year.”

So what about the other big names in NASCAR?  Teams that carry the big names in the sport, Roush and Hendrick have been the power houses in the sport for the past few seasons, and yet that strength hasn’t really been shown on the track so far this season.

Greg Biffle, the current points leader and last weeks winner in Texas, was asked about the pecking order of the team.  After delivering his first win in 49 starts last weekened, who is the #1 driver in the Roush Stables?  Carl Edwards did sign a multi million dollar contract to re-up with Roush for the next 4 season, and his team finished second in points in 2011 by being consistant, but only marked one win fo the season.  So far this season Edwards has yet to lead a lap.  But if he were to choose one racetrack this year to get that win and break his 40 race losing streak, Kansas would be where he wants it most.

Biffle is leading in the points and Edwards has yet to score a win in over 40 races. So who is at the top of the pecking order in the Roush Stables?

“There would be no bigger win on the circuit,” Edwards said. “If I had to choose between winning one race throughout the year, that would be the one I would pick. The amount of pride that I would have — winning that close to home and in front of so many people that are friends of mine and people that have helped me — that would be huge.”

But who is the number one driver in the Roush stables as they see it?  Who is getting the better deal when it comes to equipment?  Both Edwards and Biffle were very coy with their response to that question.

“No, I still think the No. 99 [Edwards] is the number one team at Roush,” Biffle said Friday, allowing the smile to play at the corners of his mouth. “I’m the underdog.”

Edwards disagrees. Based on current performance, he says it’s easy to identify the top team at Roush.

“Right now, Greg is the No. 1 team — the No. 16 team is — because they’re leading the points and winning races,” Edwards said.

Dale Jr feels that right now, he is the best driver in the Hendrick Stable, and he very confident about that feeling.

So what about the most consistant driver in the Hendrick stables ths season, Dale Earnhardt Jr.?  Is there a pecking order at Hendrick Motorsports that decides who get the best equipment?  How does he feel about his chances in the 2012 season?

Asked whether he thought Johnson was a better driver, Earnhardt was emphatic in his response.

“No, he’s a hell of a race car driver, but I feel like I’m the best,” Earnhardt said. “I think that’s the way you have to feel. I feel like I’m smarter than everybody, and I can drive better than everybody, and I know a lot of people ain’t going to agree with that, but I feel pretty strong about it.”

“There is a bit of a pecking order, and it really comes down to what you’ve done lately,” Earnhardt said Friday at Kansas. “I think that Jimmie and Jeff will always carry a certain role in that company that I will probably never achieve, just due to them being there that long and having that trust built up with Rick [Hendrick] and all the employees there — and their accomplishments, obviously.”

So on to the track we go in Kansas for the STP 400 to decide the winner, and who has done the most lately in the pecking order for both of these power house teams.

 

 

 

NASCAR – Martin Truex Sets The Pace in Texas for the Samsung Mobile 500

 

Martin Truex sets the pace for the 2012 Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

For the second time in his racing career Martin Truex Jr will lead the field to the green flag at Texas Motor Speedway.  He will be watching his rear view mirror closely however, as the defending race champion Matt Kenseth will be close on his tail starting from his best start ever in Texas, second.  Truex in his No. 56 Toyota posted a lap at 190.369 mph (28.366 seconds) to edge defending race winner Matt Kenseth (190.148 mph) for the top starting spot.

Truex, who is tied for third in the Cup standings with Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, is looking to get his first win since Dover in 2007.

“That’s our main goal. This team’s good enough. We can get to Victory Lane. We’re going to do it soon. I feel good about this team. I’m just having so much fun coming to the race track and driving these cars.”

“We’re going to make them proud here pretty quick.”

Tony Stewart will be one to watch as he tries to move forward from his 29th place starting position.

Tony Stewart, who has won four of the past six races on 1.5-mile tracks, including the past three (he’s a two-time winner at Texas, most recently this past November)  will be one to watch tonight as he makes his way forward from his 29th place starting position.  Stewart brushed the wall in practice before qualifying and opted to go with his back up car.  Suprisingly, the back up car seemed to respond to changes better than the primary car was.

With the pole secure, Truex will try to win his first race since June 2007, when he claimed his only Cup victory at Dover.

“That’s our main goal,” said Truex, who is tied for third in the Cup standings with Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and  Tony Stewart. “This team’s good enough. We can get to Victory Lane. We’re going to do it soon. I feel good about this team. I’m just having so much fun coming to the race track and driving these cars.

“We’re going to make them proud here pretty quick.”

Stewart qualified 29th in a backup car after scraping the outside wall during the second lap of Friday’s 90-minute practice session. The accident may have been a blessing in disguise for the Stewart, who found the backup No. 14 Chevrolet more responsive to adjustments than his primary car.

“I just got loose and didn’t have enough race track to get it gathered up,” Stewart said of the brush with the wall. “We haven’t got a lot of laps on this one [the backup car], but I think we feel better with this one so far.

“It’s doing everything that we were trying to get the other one to do … The top-tier teams, their backup cars are just as good as their primary cars, so definitely no concerns.”

Dale Jr feels like hs is on the cusp of returning to his winning ways.

Dale Earnhardt Jr is looking good with his refound confidence that his fans remember.  Sitting second in points over all and making it look easy, Jr says he is ready to win, and hopes it will be in Texas where he got his first ever Sprint Cup win.

“We’re getting closer. I feel like we’re getting closer,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t really know what the measuring stick is, but hopefully it’s real close. I’m ready to win. I’m ready to go to Victory Lane. I’ve been working with these guys, and they’re working so hard. They’re giving me really, really good cars. They deserve to win races. I think the team deserves it. Ready to make that happen. We’re just going to keep trying. We’re getting closer, though. That’s the bright spot.”

But don’t count out the Roushketeers either.  Matt Kenseth comes to Texas as the defending race champion, and Gerg Biffle is leading the overall points battle.  Carl Edwards sits just outside the top 10 in eleventh position, and is still chomping at the bit after losing the championship to Tony Stewart after tying in points.

The three current Roushketeers were not only among the most consistent drivers last year, they were the strongest. All three swept the top five and all of them finished the AAA Texas 500 within three spots of their spring effort. Just as important, the group carried that momentum over from previous seasons, which gives them a balance of recent momentum and career strength.

Kenseth may very well be the strongest of the three at Texas. His victory in this race last year was the second on this track during his career, but the first since 2002. He wasn’t simply logging laps in the intervening years, however; the driver of the No. 17 earned four runner-up finishes from 2006 through 2010, as well as another two third-place results. In his last 13 attempts, he has amassed nine top-fives and finished worse than 12th only once. Moreover, he’s earned these results despite a variety of circumstances that include green-white-checkered finishes, fuel mileage races and rain-delayed events.