Have at it boys!

Few sports are as hotly contested as auto racing, which means that when things don’t go someone’s way, there is always a chance for fisticuffs to break out. Of course the roundy round racers have more of a history of “takin’ it outside” than most other series. The NASCAR circus kept true to that history yesterday when Jeff Gordon got into Clint Bowyer on the last lap of the 3 to last race of the season at Phoenix.

For those of you, who like me, didn’t get to see the race, I’ve got the action for you below.

What do you think: with the absence of the NHL, should the NASCAR boys keep fighting like hockey players?

[Read more...]

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.

———————————————————————————————————————

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 – Kesolowski Makes All The Right Moves to Win at Talladega

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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 – Biffle Wins in Texas After Passing Johnson During the Longest Green Flag Run Ever

Greg Biffle took the checkered flag in Texas to win the Samsung Mobile 500

Saving equipment and saving fuel while trying to run down the leader sounds like an impossible task with impossible odds, but that is exactly what Greg Biffle had to do in order to take the checkered flag in Texas last night for the Samsung Mobile 500.  Johnson had led a total of 156 laps when Biffle finally passed him with only 34 laps to go, taking advantage of the only mistake Johnson had made all night when he brushed the wall and lost momentum after the pass to extend his lead to where Johnson could not catch him.

“I just dug deep,” Biffle said. “I knew I had to do it and kept trying and trying and trying. I knew the team would forgive me if I wrecked it trying to beat him, so I gave it all I had.”

This is Biffle first win since Oct 3, 2010 at Kansas breaking a 49 race winless streak, and the first win with crew chief Matt Puccia.

“I could say it’s about time,” said Biffle, “But I’m just thankful to be able to drive these cars, as fast as they are. We knew it was a matter of time that we were going to win one soon — we’ve been running so good.”

“I was a little short on fuel, so I kind of lifted a little early and let the car roll down through the corners.  When he started catching a little bit of traffic, that’s when I started going.”

“I just pushed as hard as I could, and I was driving the thing sideways around the corner trying to catch him. I could tell I was catching him, and he had a little trouble with traffic.”

In fact Jimmie Johnson, who took his 5th runner up finish of his career in Texas, was taking offense to the way the cars who were laps down were racing him near the end.

Jimmie Johns ran for his 5th second place finish in Texas after leading the most laps for the day with 156.

 

“Man, second sucks — I wish we could have won,” Johnson said. “I’m definitely disappointed but we had a great race car and there’s a lot to be proud of here. Our pit stops were just amazing all night long. We had a very, very fast race car and a little bit more respect through some lapped traffic … it could’ve been a little different.”

“When I caught lapped traffic, some guys that were multiple laps down didn’t show much respect for myself, the leader,” said Johnson. “Before I knew it, the No. 16 [Biffle] was there inside of me and got by.

“We ran with him for the next eight or 10 laps, and then I made a mistake into [Turn] 3 and hit the fence. At that point, I just needed to make sure I brought it home. A great night, all in all. I certainly wish we could be in Victory Lane, but we’ll try again next week.”

“We’ve been really close over the last five or six months,” said Johnson. “You look through last year, even through different points, leading a lot of races and didn’t execute at the end for whatever reason.

“It’s nice to be running well. It’s nice to be in this position. But I want to get back to our winning ways really soon.”

Johnson led Team Hendrick with the best finish but all 4 Hendrick cars finished inside the top 10.  Gordon finished 4th, Kasey Kahne finished 7th and Dale Jr, who has been the most consistent Hendrick driver this season, finished in 10th and tied for 2nd place in overall points now with Matt Kenseth.

Kasey Kahne had his best finish of the season so far in 7th, and inside the top 10 with all of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates.

Kasey Kahne was sure that the 48 car was going to get the 200th win for Handrick Motorsports but is just was not in the cards.

“I thought Jimmie had it [Saturday] night,” Kahne said. “I wasn’t worried about it, I thought it was over. Every time I looked up there the No. 48 was leading. Then, I guess 15 [laps] to go I looked up and the No. 16 was leading. Then I thought ‘well maybe not.’

“Those guys have been working hard since before I got here. They’ve been trying to get that 200th. It would be great to get it soon. Any one of the four, we need to get it done and get past that.”

Jeff Gordon is also feeling the pressure for wanting to be the driver who scores that win for Rick Hendrick.

“I’m thinking about it all of the time, and Rick reminds us all the time that it would be nice to get that out of the way,” Jimmie Johnson said. “Man, we’ve been all around it and had a lot of shots at it, and unfortunately just haven’t been able to pull it off.”

Jeff Gordon is feeling the pressure of getting the 200th win for the Hendrick Motorsports team.

“It’s on all of our minds. It’s pressure. We know that Rick doesn’t come to every single race, and right now he’s coming to every race, because he doesn’t want to miss that 200th, and none of us want him to,” Gordon said.

“We’ll keep digging, we’ll keep trying. And we know it’s going to happen — I mean, our teams are just too good, and we’re running too good. We know it’s going to happen, it’s just when. It would be nice to kind of get that one out of the way, because it is somewhat becoming this heavy load that we’re carrying.”

Next week takes us to Kansas for the STP 400, starting at 12:30 pm on Sunday.  Coverage will still be carried by Fox.

 

 

NASCAR – Newman Snatches the Win From Gordon’s Dominance at Martinsville

Ryan Newman (seen here on the track at Las Vegas) came from a lap down to win the race in Martinsville.

326 laps lead.  Fastest car on the track all day.  Dominance on every restart.  Then came the first attempt at a Green White Checkered finish.   Jeff Gordon was sure he had it won, but on the first attempt to finish under green, both Gordon and Johnson had slow restarts allowing Clint Bowyer to get under them and make a pass attempt, which erupted into chaos as Gordon was pushed up the track into Johnson causing all 3 cars to wreck, and allowing Ryan Newman to pass in the melee along with A.J. Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt Jr.  In what has become the typical Martinsville finish, the final pass to win the race came with under 4 laps to go.

Newman had been running inside the top 10 during the early stages of the race, but had fallen off the lead lap due to a pit road speeding penalty.  As the race worn down to the final laps however Newman earned a free pass to get back on to the lead lap.  A little bit of pit strategy and he was back in contention, running inside the top 10 again.  Then as the first GWC restart happened Newman found himself in 5th position on the grid, and as it turned out, sitting in the cat bird seat when the fireworks started.  As Bowyer slid up into Gordon, pushing Gordon into Johnson, Newman took advantage and passed them all on the bottom of the track bringing A.J. Allmendinger and Dale Jr. along with him through the mess.

“I felt like I wasn’t racing AJ on that restart — I felt like I was racing Junior behind me,” said Newman. “It was really important to me to not spin my tires and get a good start and race AJ and try to eliminate the No. 88 [Earnhardt] from the race for the win.”

Allmendinger raced Newman and Earnhardt Jr clean at the end resulting in a second place finish for the #22 Penske Dodge.

Allmendinger, Earnhardt Jr., and Newman raced each other clean to the end.

“He ran me really clean,” Allmendinger said. “He didn’t shove me up the race track like he could have. He gave me the opportunity to beat him on the outside there. We were just not turning good enough in the center [of the corners] there on the restart.

“But we had a shot at it. That’s all you can ask for.”

Allmendinger had decided to play by the unwritten racing Golden Rule…’Race teh other driver the way he is racing you’.  Running clean and racing to the finish instead of forcing the issue and driving dirty for the win.

“That’s not the way I want to win a race,” Allmendinger said.

“[Newman] did everything clean on the restart. He could have drove me off the race track, and if he would have done that then it’s kind of like, ‘OK, it’s game on.’ But he gave me all the chances that I could to go beat him.”

“We came off the white [flag] side by side and he rolled [Turns] 1 and 2 really good, and that was it,” Allmendinger said. “You race people how they race you. And if he would have just drove into the corner, [run into the] left side of me and got me out of the way, then I would have probably run into him. He didn’t do that and he didn’t deserve to get wrecked.”

“For the way we ran all weekend even if the yellow wouldn’t have come out, we would have finished eighth where we were running — I was going to be happy because we were a top 10 car all day,” Allmendinger said. “We worked our way up there and did all the right things. From 27th on, from where we started, we didn’t have any fender damage. We were clean. I was going to be happy with that. At the end, you get a little bit lucky on a restart and you have a chance.”

Dale Jr had a great car all day long, staying inside the top 10 for most of the day, ending the day with a 3rd on the track and second overall in points.

Dale Earnhardt Jr looked good throughout the race, never really falling back too far and staying in the mix for the top 10 all day long.

“Yeah I’m really happy with our finish.  We worked really hard all day, all weekend really, we worked hard to obviously get the best finish that we could.  This is our first race with AMP on the hood so I’m real proud to get a good finish for those guys.  Really, the race, the car was good on the long runs, we obviously drove up there and passed Jeff for the lead, and then at the end of the race we overcome a bad pitstop and drove back into the top three.  So the car was really good on the long run speeds, we didn’t have enough short run speed to run with a lot of people in the first 20 laps or so but after lap 45 or more the car was really great, really comfortable and would do whatever I wanted it to do.  It was a really fun racecar and this is a really fun race track, and I was enjoying how everything was playing out there, right up until the end.  We tore both sides of the car there at the end and that felt really unnecessary.”

“Now that I think about it, the leaders had old tires, more than a 100 laps on them, the guys behind them had new tires at least on one side of their cars.  Well all took of and ran into the backs of the leaders, all of us.  Clint went to the inside and that was his perogative man, he was going for the win.  I thought it was a good move, but there just wasn’t enough room for the three of them down there in the corner and all of them got together.”

“It’s disappointing for us to run as well as we did and not finish up there, I know Jeff is especially disappointed because of the way his season is going so far.  Jimmie is trying to climb back into it, and they both had winning cars all day.”

With the third place finish at Martinsville, Jr. finds himself in second in points now only 6 points out of first.  Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are tied in points for the third position which will of course be adjusted by the number of wins and last season’s points position to give us the current positioning.

Next weekend brings us to the first race break of the season for the Easter holiday festivities.  The next race on teh schedule will take us to Texas for the first Saturday Night under the lights race of the 2012 season.

NASCAR – Biffle Holds the Points Lead and Takes The Pole Heading Into Bristol

Greg Biffle out paced the field to take the Pole for Sunday's Food City 500

Greg Biffle has been the most consistent driver so far in the 2012 season.  Having finished 3rd in each of the first three races, the Roush Ford #16 car and driver have been showing their potential for a win each and every time they head out onto the race track.  Biffle posted a lap at 125.215 mph (15.324 seconds) in Friday’s time trials and was forced to watch as the 10 drivers who  followed him in the qualifying order, each tried to knock him out of the top spot. AJ Allmendinger came the closest but fell .001 seconds short, as Biffle claimed the 10th pole award of his career and his first here at Bristol.

“I’ve got to pinch myself right now — I think I’m dreaming,” said Biffle.

What was it that gave Biffle the advantage?  He credits some last minute changes made by crew chief Matt Puccia.

“We were just going back and forth on some front geometry,” Biffle said. “We were switching a few things back and forth for a little more turn versus a little less turn. We were adjusting that balance so that the car front-to-rear grip was equal.”

Those changes gave Biffle a 15-second ride he would be hard pressed to duplicate.

“I got in the gas fairly early [through Turns 1 and 2] and was a little worried about making the rest of the corner,” Biffle said. “It got loose up off of both ends because I went in the gas so early in the middle of the corner, just pushing the envelope as much as I could.

“If you asked me to do it again, I probably can’t. I was on the edge, and like I said, one one-thousandth of a second over the No. 22 car [Allmendinger] — that’s not a lot.”

A.J Allmendinger will start in the second spot on the grid after qualifying a mere .001 sec behind the pace set by Greg Biffle

A.J. Allmendinger came the closest to knocking Biffle out of the top spot falling only .001 of a second behind Biffle’s time.  Allmendinger’s season start so far has been a far cry from the consistency that Biffle has shown.  The driver of the #22 Penske Dodge has had a rough start in the first 3 races, finishing back in the field leaving him sitting in 29th in points.

“As soon as we got back from Vegas on Monday morning, they were working hard on it,” Allmendinger said. “They figured out the problem, and they went to Nashville [for testing] with [driver] Parker Kligerman and just ran miles after miles, making sure we didn’t have any problems with it brought that here to Bristol.

“I guess we’ll find out after Sunday if it’s completely solved, but I have confidence that it is.”

Starting in the third spot on the grid is Ryan Newman followed by Jeff Gordon and Brad Kesolowski to round out the top 5.  Kesolowski’s 5th place start means that both of the Penske cars are starting in the top 5, the best qualifying effort by the team so far.

Jeff Gordon hopes that the changes made with the timing loops on pit road will benefit everyone equally.

NASCAR has also made some changes to the timing loops in the pits after seeing how drivers, Brad Kesolowski being the most obvious offender, managed to bypass the pit road speeds by racing from timing line to timing line without incurring a speeding penalty.  The result was that while some drivers took advantage and others did not, there was a disparity that NASCAR felt needed to be addressed.  Jeff Gordon agrees.

“You think back to the August race,” Gordon said Friday, “and how, just coming off pit road, if we were a couple of positions ahead of where we were what the outcome may have been.”

“It needed to be done,” he said. “There is no track that we should go to this day and age that there should be that big of an advantage in certain pit stalls. We all know track position is important, qualifying is important, and it still will be. We’re going to put a lot of effort into that. But it’s nice to know that no matter where we qualify, at least on pit road we should be able to have a much fairer pit stall location. We had such a great car here last time, and it truly was just lost coming off of pit road, and at no fault of my pit crew.”

“There’s nothing better than being captured on live television, and the announcers going ‘What is going on with pit road?’” Gordon said. “If I looked at Twitter and basically social media and every racing publication, every one of them was focused on it. I’m just surprised it took that long. It’s been happening here for a while. It’s just a shame it took that long. I’m glad that they finally did address it.”

Other drivers feel that it will address a safety issue that need to be fixed.  When drivers are racing down pit road at twice the allowed speed limit, there is the potential for danger to

Denny Hamlin feels that the pit road timing fix will make things safer for everyone on pit road.

the pit crews of all the other teams.  Denny Hamlin voiced his opinion on this issue.

“I think that there were a handful of boxes that had humungous advantages over others, and I think that that’s going to change that quite a bit,” Hamlin said. “I do think it is needed, because if you have a pit road speed — and Martinsville is another track where they need to add some lines — that speed is set at that mile-per-hour because that’s where they feel safe with those cars driving through pit road. Well, if we’re able to cheat it by 10 miles an hour, that’s cheating it 30-something percent. That’s beyond where they felt initially it was safe, so they need to keep us at that mile-per-hour they want us at and to do that, you need timing lines all over the place so people can’t cheat the line.”

Other names of note will be starting deep in the field.  Dale Jr will start from the 18th position, Jimmie Johnson 22nd while Tony Stewart will start in 23rd.

NASCAR – Kasey Kahne Gambles on a Different Line and Takes the Pole in Vegas – Juan Hits the Wall in Practice

Kasey Kahne setting the pace during qualifying in Las Vegas

On a day that saw 15 different drivers break the speed record set by Matt Kenseth in 2011 of of 188.884 mph, Kasey Kahne led the field with a lap at 190.456 mph (28.353 seconds) to take the pole position for Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motorspeedway.  After watching his teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. run their lines in practice, Kahne went to the tapes from last year to review where Kenseth ran when he set the previous record and gambled that it would take him to the front.  A gamble that paid off in spades putting him at the front of the grid with a speed of 190.040 mph.

“I didn’t talk to those guys about it, but I watched Dale and also Jimmie in practice and saw where they were running — they were a little bit faster than I was,” Kahne said. “And then, right before qualifying, I did it a little different in the Great Clips car [during Nationwide Series practice].

“I wanted to check on some things, so I had [team engineer] Keith [Rodden] check back on last year. We wanted to see where Matt Kenseth ran, and he ran right around the top [in Turns 1 and 2], just basically like I did, and right around the bottom in [Turns] 3 and 4. When I saw that, I was like, ‘That’s the spot; I’m going to try to make it work.’ ”

Kahne’s 2012 season has been off to a rough start so far after wrecking out of the Daytona 500 and finishing in 29th, and then taking what looked like the fastest car on the track in Phoenix and riding the wall early in the race, putting him out of contention for the win.  Kahne remains positive that his team can turn it around and regain points positions this early in the season.

“I feel good about our speed,” Kahne said. “At Daytona, so many things happen there, and you’re not in control of a lot of that stuff — I got caught up in other people’s messes at times. Last weekend, we had as good a car as anybody at Phoenix. I qualified well, was really good in practice — the best car in practice — and then in the race, we just needed to do things right and be there at the end.

“I made a mistake, and we lost a lot of points because of that. We had a rough day because of a mistake I made. You add all that up, and we haven’t started off very good, but our cars have been fast … I feel like I’m in a really good spot. The way to dig out [of the deficit] is to qualify well, run well and not make mistakes — and I feel like we can do that.”

The trip to Vegas has been good for the Hendrick’s team.  Earnhardt Jr. had the fastest car in the first practice session on Saturday morning at 184.957 mph, followed closely by Kahne at 184.754 mph while Johnson (4th) and Gordon (9th) well scoring top 10 speeds.

Juan Pablo Montoya running in his backup car during first practice for the Kobalt Tools 400, Saturday morning.

Fridays practice was marred by an early accident when Juan Pablo Montoya got tight  in turn and broke loose hitting the wall and spilling parts on the track, one of which ended up punching a hole in the left front valance of Kyle Busch’s #18 forcing both both drivers to the rear of the field for the start of the Kobalt Tools 400 on Sunday.   Montoya had to break out his backup car while Kyle Busch had to replace the engine.

“It felt really good in [Turns] 3 and 4,” Montoya said. “I went into [Turn] 1 and got a little tight over the bumps. So I got on the gas and it just stepped out on me. I thought, ‘My God,’ and I was in the fence.”

Montoya returned to the track in time to make only 5 laps in the session, but felt good about the setup on the back up car.

“I thought we made a lot of gains,” Montoya said. “The car looked very promising, but it’s still early in the week.”

Marcos Ambrose spins through the grass during practice for the Kobalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas

Kyle Busch’s bad luck continued in the second practice on Saturday when he slid his car into the wall in turn 4, early in the session, bringing out the first of 2 red flags in session two.  The second red flag was brought out when Marcos Ambrose also broke loose in turn 4.  Ambrose managed to keep it off the wall and slid through the grass, saving both his car and his starting position.

Finally, Chad Knaus’ penalty appeal hearing will be held on Tuesday bringing an end to the latest saga for the #48 Crew Chief.  He will be atop the pit box for Jimmie Johnson this weekend but depending on the results of the appeal may be taking in the races from home for the next 6 races if the ruling stands.  NASCAR fiend Knaus 25 driver points and $100,000 after finding that the C-Pillars at the read windscreen were outside regulations.  Many are saying that the ruling should be overturned as the car was never set to template before they were told to remove the offending parts.

 

NASCAR – Denny Hamlin Wins at Phoenix, Johnson Climbs Out Of The Hole, EFI Causes Trouble For Stewart

Denny Hamlin had enough fuel to make it, Kevin Harvick did not.  With 1 lap to go and as the white flag flew Kevin Harvick ran the tank dry, giving it everything he had trying to catch Hamlin, until he coasted into second place.  This was the first win for the pairing of Hamlin and Darian Grubb, formerly of Stewart Haas Racing, and from their practice speeds no one thought they would be in contention.  Darian Grubb worked the same magic he had at the end of the 2011 chase, and somehow managed to bring the car to life under Hamlin’s piloting.

“I don’t know where this came from,” Hamlin said. “We were solidly off in practice. We were off, but we kept getting it better and closer and closer to being competitive, but I had no idea that we were going to fire off like we did today.”

This marks the first win for Hamlin at Phoenix in 14 starts, after finishing 3rd here 4 times before and never marking a win, it takes one more track off his to do list.

Greg Biffle managed a 3rd place finish for the second race in a row.  In this sport we all know that consistency makes all the difference, this is an excellent start for Biffle and his 2012 season.  Biffle credits his success so far to his new crew chief Matt Puccia.

“I’ve got all new guys. I’ve got guys working really hard on the car … and a guy that’s really, really smart paying attention to all the fine details, and that’s Matt Puccia,” Biffle said. “The reason why we got two third-place finishes is because of his leadership and his decision-making on pit road on what to do to the car. He makes the decisions he wants, and that’s why we’re sitting here now.”

“We fought the car really bad at the beginning of this race,” Biffle said. “Matt never gave up on the car. He kept adjusting on it and I never thought it would get that good. I thought I was in trouble. I was ready to write that thing off for a 15th- or 20th-place finish.

“I am excited about how they got the car going.”

Jimmie Johnson started the race 23 points in the hole, 71 points behind the leader.  A position that “Five Time” has not found himself in before, and not one he enjoyed in the least.  Yesterdays 4th place finish was enough to pull him out of the deficit and put his points total back in the black.  Leading the Hendrick team with the highest finish in phoenix, there was certainly a lot more optimism for the team after losing 8 cars in Daytona.

“We’ll take it,” Johnson said. “I’m not really satisfied. I really felt like we had a car to win the race with. Unfortunately things didn’t work out there. We had a little hiccup early in the race, but we still rebounded back and got a very strong finish.

“So I’m proud of the fight this team has and the race car we brought to the track, and I passed a lot of race cars on a track that’s tough to pass and still got back to fourth.”

Tony Stewart ran up in the front of the pack all day long, until with 61 laps to go and trying to save a little fuel, he shut the engine down and it failed to restart.  None of the procedures to get the EFI system to reboot or to get the car to restart were working so he rolled it onto pit lane and the crew managed to get it to restart shortly after switching the battery box switch to position 2 .  Falling 2 laps behind and back into 22nd place on the grid, Stewart moved from a challenger to an also ran.  You can bet there will be a long discussion in the Stewart Hass shop this morning about how to prevent that issue from rearing it’s head again this season.

Next week it is on to Las Vegas and another place where there’s sure to be a ton of gambling, both on and off the track.