NASCAR – Biffle Takes the Checkered and the Points Lead at MIS – Hendrick Motor Failures Cause Concern

Greg Biffle performs his celebration burnout at MIS after winning the Pure Michigan 400

Ford has not seen the checkered flag at MIS in 7 consecutive races.  In real life terms that means 3 and a half years.  The last time a Ford had been to winners circle was back in 2008, in the Michigan race after Dale Jr. started his winless streak.  Greg Biffle decided that it was time for change.  Running int he top 10 for most of the day the #16 Roush Ford car looked strong.  As the final laps wore down it was beginning to look like another good day for the Chevy crowd.  Then on lap 195 Jimmie Johnson lost his engine in spectacular fashion in a cloud of smoke.  The restart had a Dodge (Kesolowski) , 2 Chevy’s (Dale Jr and Kasey Kahne) and a lone Ford filling the front 2 rows.  All 4 cars had been fast all day, Kahne had recovered from an early spin in the Mark Martin wreck and everyone was itching for the win.  When the checkered flag dropped and the cars roared across the line, the crowd actually fell silent for a moment as they waited for the outcome.  It was the Ford of Biffle that took off into the clean air and no one could catch him.  Biffle may not have led the most laps throughout the day, but he led the one that means the most as he crossed the line taking the checkered flag in the Pure Michigan 400, and ending the drought for Ford in their own back yard.

Biffle credits the jump he got on the restart to Dale Earnhardt Jr who started behind him in row 2 on the final restart that allowed him to earn his 18th career win.

“Junior gave me a huge push for that win,” Biffle said. “I have to thank him for that. I saw Brad laying back [on the restart] like always, and he got a little jump on me.”

“We’re going to make a run at the title,” Biffle promised. “I know they don’t talk about us a lot, but they will when we get to Vegas.”

Brad Kesolowski gave it everything he had but just could not catch the 16, especially since he was in a heated battle for 2nd with a hard charging Kasey Kahne.  Finishing .417 seconds behind the leader Kesolowski was disappointed with his result at his home track.

“This is my home track,” said Keselowski, who has finished second in two consecutive Cup races. “I want to win here just as bad as I want to win a race in the Chase — probably more. There was a stretch where I felt like we were going to win it. I had some goosebumps going on.

“But it wasn’t meant to be, and I’m still very proud of the effort. … I just want to get that one more spot. I want to win races, and we’ve been running solid — and I’m proud of that — but we want that one more spot, too.”

Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top 5.

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Jimmie Johnson looking concerned after his engine failure in the final laps of the Pure Michigan 400

Hendrick Motorsport engine builders will be doing a lot of head scratching this week as they try to figure out how they lost 4 engines over the weekend.  Two of those engines belonged to Jimmie Johnson in the #48.  Having issues on Saturday they opted to swap their engine out and start from the rear of the field for Sunday’s start.  They looked fast as they moved through the field and were in the top 10 by lap 97.

Then early in the race the #14 Stewart Haas entry driven by Tony Stewart started sounding rough, later to be determined that he lost a cylinder due to a valve spring breaking.  With 4 of the Hendrick engine builders looking at the engine they patched it up and sent him back out for points but he was no longer a contender.

45 laps later it was the #24 car that suffered the same issue ending Jeff Gordon’s chances for a win and continuing the 4 time champion’s streak of bad luck that has been following him around throughout the season.

The last and final straw was right at the end of the race as the #48 lost their second engine of the weekend with only 5 laps to go in the race.  In a cloud of smoke the 48 fell back through the field before pulling behind the wall in a rare DNF for their team.

“[I was] just running along there and, all of a sudden, dropped a cylinder,” Gordon said. “The No. 14 [Stewart] had that same issue. This is a tough place on engines. We rarely have these issues. … When you come to Michigan and you turn these kinds of sustained RPMs on this fast of a track, it’s always of concern here.”

“It’s just a bad day, not the norm, for sure,” said Stewart, who radioed that it felt like his car was running on seven cylinders early in the race. “We have the best engine department in the world, in my opinion. We had three engine tuners down there [in the garage] trying to get it fixed for us. [Sunday’s result] wasn’t for lack of effort.”

The failures were also a cause for concern in the 88 camp of Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Crew chief Steve Letarte waited patiently for word on what the cause of the failure was as he watched his driver moving forward through the field.

“Without a doubt [I was worried],” Letarte said. “One doesn’t bother you. That’s part of racing. But when the 24 had their issue, the concern went up.

“I’m disappointed for the motor guys. I know they work tremendously hard. This is one of those places where, as fast as we’re running, it’s just hard on equipment. We’ll get back to the shop, look into them all, and I’m sure we’ll have good direction coming to the Chase.”

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 – Gordon Wins and Hendrick Scores With All 4 Cars in Rain Shortened Pennsylvania 400 from Pocono

After the season he has had so far this year, Jeff Gordon will take a win anyway he can get it.  Having everything that could possibly go wrong already happen to him so far this season, a little bit of good luck was bound to finally blow his way.  And blow it did, as a major weather system blew in dumping torrential rain in Pocono, effectively ending the Pennsylvania 400 62 laps short of a full race, only 18 laps past the halfway mark, making it a complete race in the books.  Not only was this a win for Gordon on the track, the points race looks a whole lot better from his perspective with this win.  Moving into 13th in points + the win puts him in place for the wild card spot to get into the chase for the 2012 Sprint Cup, a spot he knew he needed a win to get to.

“It’s nice to know that things can still go our way,” Gordon said. “The way our year has gone, we’ll definitely take it like this. I tell you what, with all the things that have gone wrong for us this year, I’m hoping that this is the one that makes up for it all.”

Gordon took the lead when his teammate Jimmie Johnson got loose on the final restart of the race, sliding up the track into Matt Kenseth causing them both to slide back on the track and taking out Denny Hamlin’s #11 car as well.

“I’ve never seen the seas part like that,” said Gordon. “I got a good restart, so I really got up to fifth as we were getting into the braking zone going into 1. I don’t know what happened to the 48. I just saw he got loose, and when he got loose, it took everybody that was in front of us up the race track or into the wall.

“I just made it right to the bottom, stood in the gas and drove out … and we were leading.”

Hendrick teammate Kasey Kahne also got the benefit of the wreck moving up into the 2nd spot on the track and as the caution came out they realized that his left rear tie was flat and would need changing should the race go back to green, which of course never happened.

And to make the rain soaked miracle even better, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had been knocked back to 32nd because of a blown transmission and was looking at a loss of 3 positions in the points, retained the top spot as Matt Kenseth slid backwards in the wreck with the 48.  Greg Biffle was also moved backwards allowing Johnson to finish well enough to retain his 4th place standings in the points as well.  All 4 Hendrick teams are now in contention to make the chase because of Jimmie Johnson’s accident.  Funny how things work out like that.

Dale Jr had what looked to be the fastest car on the track.  Johnson had just taken the lead away from him when his transmission issue happened.

“We had a good run going,” he said. “This Chevrolet was pretty fast. Jimmie [Johnson had] the quickest car out there. But we felt like we might be able to work on ours and get a little better.”

“We put it in [Saturday] and during qualifying it was fine,” said Earnhardt. “When we restarted [on Lap 23], it was kind of aggressive, and then [we experienced] a bit of a vibration. The car was just really out of time, and it just kind of started missing some shifts and [was] difficult to get in gear.

“Finally, in third and fourth [gear] coming out of the tunnel, it didn’t have any fourth. Then I didn’t have third.”

After Jr. lost his transmission, Kahne started feeling vibrations in his gear box as well.  At first he was worried, but his fears were laid to rest when his crew chief talked with Letarte and they advised Kahne it was not the same issue.

“I don’t think I really had much of a problem,” Kahne said. ” I think I was worried because Junior broke one or broke something with the transmission, I’m not sure what. I was struggling with mine a little bit when that happened … so I just quit shifting for a while, and I was a lot slower.

“[Earnhardt’s crew chief] Steve Letarte said it wasn’t a big deal. What happened with them was not what I feel was going on with mine. So from that point on, I focused on shifting again and didn’t even have an issue. Once I quit worrying about it, we were flying.”

So it appears that Mother Nature is indeed a fan of racing, and her team of choice is none other than Hendrick Motorsports.  Why else would all of the bad luck the Gordon has experienced all season be wiped out by a single rainstorm just when the timing was perfect?

 

 

NASCAR – And The Pole Winner For Pocono is.. Montoya? – Earnhardt Has The Points Lead – Allmendinger Released From Penske

Juan Montoya has the pole for todays race in Pocono Pennsylvania

Although he has been most well known for fireworks off the track in incidents with other drivers, and for a firey crash at Daytona to start the year, Montoya has been pretty quiet so far this year.  Not having won a pole since Richmond in April of 2011, he surprised even himself with the pole in Pocono for the Pennsylvania 400.  With his last win in NASCAR coming at a road course, Watkins Glen in 2008, Montoya has been working to achieve more consistant results, and being patient for that next win, or any win on an oval, to show that he is more than just an aggressive road course driver.

“We know we’re working in the right direction, we know we’re working hard, we feel the cars are getting a little better,” Montoya said, “but to go out there and get a pole … I just went through the hauler and all the engineers, they’re all happy and laughing. I’m used to long faces, a lot of long faces, a lot of stressful faces. We needed something like this as a company. This is big for us.”

“I think we’re quite a ways away from as a company where we want to get to,” he said. “We want to be able to come every weekend knowing you can beat a Hendrick, beat a Gibbs. That’s our goal.”

Montoya knows he was as unlikely as any driver to win the pole.

“If you told me this morning I was going to be sitting on the pole, I’d say, `pfff,'” he said. “I thought we were going to be OK. I thought we’d be 12-15. And we’re sitting on the pole.”

“I know tomorrow is going to be a reality check,” Montoya said. “I’m really open-minded about tomorrow. But let’s enjoy today.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will Start 8th today and has the points lead for the first time since 2004.

Following on of his most consistent season of his career so far, Dale Earnhardt Jr is atop the leader board this weekend after taking the points lead at the Brickyard.  Running well for the entire race, his points position drastically improved when a late race incident with the 17 of Matt Kenseth ended with a 36 place finish, while Jr. finished in 4th allowing for a 32 point gain and the top of the board.

“I think a lot of people downplay it,” Earnhardt said of being the points leader. “I think it means the same to the other drivers, probably, but they downplay it obviously because the guys that are saying that may find themselves in the points lead or battling for it more often than I have been. It’s been a long time since I was in the points lead. It’s been forever — I can’t even recall the last time we were in the conversation for the championship. These things are really validating the effort and the work we’ve done.”

After dealing with the pressure of a long drought, Jr finally got the monkey off his back in the June race in Michigan, and he has been showing even more confidence each week since then.  His relationship with Steve Letarte has been under constant watch by the fans who were unsure that it would bring results, but moving forward, Jr has been more consistent than at any other point in his career.

“We worked hard, and we found some speed,” he said. “We’ve been having those type of deals all year long where we’re working hard, and there are some gains that are made. I’ve worked my tail off most of my career for little gains — or, at times, no gains. So this year it’s been awesome to go to the race track on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, and work with Steve, and come away really happy with what happened. … The points lead is sort of the symbolic piece to all that effort. The points lead recognizes all that hard work, for me.”

Knowing that the points lead with shuffle when the chase begins a mere 6 races after this weekend, Jr knows he needs to get at least one more win to take some pressure off his championship hopes for this year.

“We’re running well, but we need to win more races. We need to show up and be the fastest car more often,” he said. “We’ve been quick, but in my opinion we’ve been the fastest guy only once or twice this year, and I don’t know if that’s good enough. I’m going to say it’s not good enough. I know our team would like to win more races, and to be able to contend for the championship, our team needs another 10-15 percent.”

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A.J. Allmendinger will be without a ride after being released by Penske Racing earlier this week.

Finally, after weeks of drama, A.J. Allmendinger was released from Penske racing earlier in the week.  After failing a random drug test administered by NASCAR, and having his B-test fail as well, Allmendinger has entered the road to recovery program provided by NASCAR in hopes of returning to the track as soon as possible.  After his apology to fans and to his sponsors, Roger Penske released him form his contract and has put Sam Hornish Jr in the number 22 for the forseeable future.

“Penske Racing fully supports NASCAR’s substance abuse policy, and we are disappointed with AJ’s positive drug test results,” Roger Penske said. “AJ is a terrific driver, a good person and it is very unfortunate that we have to separate at this time. We have invested greatly in AJ and we were confident in his success with our team. The decision to dismiss him is consistent with how we would treat any other Penske Racing team member under similar circumstances. As AJ begins NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program, we wish him the best and look forward to seeing him compete again in NASCAR.”

A.J. himself made a statement that echo’s the sentiment of his former team.

“Effective today, I have been released from Penske Racing as driver of the No. 22 Dodge Charger,” Allmendinger said in a statement. “I wish to thank Mr. Penske, Penske Racing, their sponsors, and especially all the of the No. 22 team for the opportunity they provided me and for their support in this difficult time. I also, again, would like to thank all the fans that really have been awesome through this. I apologize for the distraction, embarrassment, and difficulties that my current suspension from NASCAR has provided. As I stated last week, I have begun NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program and look forward to using those resources and its completion to compete again in NASCAR in the near future.”

It is going to be interesting to see if Allmendinger is able to return to NASCAR.  While everyone likes a comback story, in this sponsor driven world where image is everything, it may be hard for A.J. to find a ride of the caliber of the one he just lost, which was also the best of his career so far.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Owner tony Stewart agrees.

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

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

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

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