NASCAR – Mark Martin Takes The Pole For Phoenix – Hendrick’s Teams Look For Big Rebound

In only his second start in the #55 MWR Toyota, Mark Martin led the field for speed during yesterday’s qualifying in Phoenix with a time of 26.313 seconds at a speed of 136.815 mph.

“I’m sure this makes (MWR partner) Rob Kauffman and Michael Waltrip, who stuck their necks out to hire an old guy, feel a little bit better about it,” said Martin, “Makes me feel better about it, too.”

Martin, who has driven for Hendrick, Roush and now MWR, credits the equipment he has had the opportunity to drive over the years, for his success with winning races and poles.

“I’ve driven really good stuff, ever since 1988,” Martin said. “I did drive a couple of slugs back in the early ‘80s, but since then … you can’t do that without superior effort and equipment—but effort on top of that. It’s more than equipment that does that.

“I think all of you know that I do work real hard at it, and I know that I have to work harder at it than the guys that are 20 years younger than me. I’m willing to do that to be able to continue to compete. But make no mistake—MWR and [crew chief] Rodney Childers have good stuff.”

Martin will be followed on the grid by Tony Stewart, Regan Smith, Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya rounding out the top 5.

I am willing to bet right now that Mark Martin is also glad that he was not a part of the Hendrick carnage last weekend.  During Speed weeks Hendrick lost 8 cars amongst all of their drivers.  Dale Earnhart Jr. was the only one who managed  to keep his cars intact through both the Shootout and the Daytona 500, resulting in a second place finish in each race.  The trouble started for the Hendrick’s teams with Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 was collected in an accident in practice for the Bud Shootout. One day later, Gordon’s car ended up getting flipped in a horrific accident in the Shootout itself.

The Hendrick troubles only got worse from there. Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy also suffered damage during the Shootout and Kasey Kahne finished three laps down in that race because of damage to his No. 5 Chevy. Then Kahne wrecked during a Daytona 500 practice session, killing another car.

Then during the 500 Johnson wrecked out on lap one, and Jeff Gordon blew his engine on lap 81.  Kahne got caught up in an accident on Lap 189 that completed the carnage and brought the final total of damaged or totally ruined Hendrick race cars to eight for all of Speedweeks, Leaving the #88 of Dale Jr to represent the organization, a feat he accomplished well by fighting hard for a win, and finishing second place.

Amidst all of this carnage was the specter of punishment yet to be handed out for the C-Posts in the #48 car before inspection.  Chad Knaus was issued a $100 000 fine and the 48 team was handed a 25 point penalty.  Couple that with the early finish for the 48 car in the Daytona 500 and we see Jimmie Johnson heading into today’s race at Phoenix with a -23 point deficit.

“I’ve never seen so much equipment torn up as what we saw this last week at Daytona. It was incredible,” Gordon said. “That’s just the tight racing, competitiveness, how easy it is to make a little mistake and cause a lot of carnage and take you out of a race.”

“You always know that Junior is going to be strong at Daytona, so it was great to see him finish [second],” Gordon said. “It was unfortunate that it was him up against the two Roush [Fenway Racing] Fords there because he didn’t have a lot of support there to have a chance at beating those guys at the end.

“I think really even as strong as [those Fords] were, I think that our cars were strong enough to battle with those guys. It would have been nice to be up there to give him some more support and be able to work together to try to win that race. It was still a great effort by him.”

“I think that obviously being as popular as he is and the attention being on him win or lose, when he wins it’s a positive for the sport,” Gordon said. “But I don’t see his attitude being any different than any other year. He comes into every season pumped up and excited and optimistic just like everyone else.

“I think that their finish at Daytona definitely adds a little to that, so his confidence I think is good and strong right now — especially after coming off of a decent year last year. I think right now if you look at what happened last year with the Chase and the championship and all the excitement that happened in Daytona — Junior finishing second and the great battle, Danica [Patrick], the great ball of flames, it all got a lot of attention. There’s a lot of momentum with the sport right now. Whatever is going to keep that momentum going, I’m all for it. I hope it’s a win from the 24 car that can keep it going, but if it’s the 88 and 24 then OK, I’ll take that, too.”

Earnhardt himself felt that the Hendrick’s team was shorted on showing just how strong they are by the results of Speedweeks.

“Yeah, Daytona really doesn’t show what we’re capable of,” said Earnhardt, whose seventh-place finish in the final point standings last year was his highest since 2006. “We ran good and that’s good for our confidence. But we’ll see how we can make that work for us the next couple of weeks. I’d like to win here. I’ve won some races here at Phoenix.”

Chad Knaus met with the media before practice sessions at Phoenix for the first time since his suspension was announced, and addressed his feelings on the situation.

“Obviously I’m deeply saddened, of course,” Knaus said. “We didn’t expect this.”

Knaus will remain on the pit box due to the appeal launched by the Hendrick’s organization.  If they should lose the appeal then Johnson will be without his crew chief for 6 weeks.  No announcements have been made as to whom might fill the seat if that happens.

“We’re very fortunate to have the ability to go through this appeals process that NASCAR put in place a long time ago. I’m glad they did,” Knaus said. “It’s unfortunate that I have to keep taking advantage of the process from time to time, but it’s good that it’s there. We’ve seen some things changed or reversed or even maximized through that process.”

“When we know more details, we’ll maybe talk about it more at that point,” Knaus said. “NASCAR does a good job. They have a good set of structure, a good set of standards, that provide for a wide set of scenarios.

“I really didn’t expect any of this, to be quite honest with you. We do everything we can to build the best possible race cars we can to bring to the race track. That’s what we do, and unfortunately they didn’t like something and they addressed that. But it definitely was unfortunate and not something we expected at all.”

NASCAR – Smoke Holds Off Edwards For the Race and Championship Win At Miami Homestead Putting Bookends on Johnson’s Reign

Tony Stewart celebrates his second win of the chase with his team in Loudon New Hampshire - Image courtesy of JDTImages

The last man to win a championship who was not named Jimmie Johnson was Tony Stewart.  Now Stewart is also the first man to win a Championship in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series since Johnson’s reign of 5 consecutive championships.  Winning an amazing 5 out of 10 chase races and making every lap count, especially the last lap at Homestead Miami Speedway, Tony Stewart proved that he was the one to beat all along.  With the points ending in a tie between Edwards and Stewart, it was the wins that made a difference.  When NASCAR polled their fans to ask them what they wanted to see, the number one answer was for wins to make a bigger difference in the end result.  Well you can’t make wins any more important than they were yesterday.  If either Stewart or Edwards won the Ford 400, they would win the championship, regardless of what happened with the other guy.  Stewart won them both, while Edwards finished second in both the race, and the championship.

“We said all week, we just go out and win the race, we didn’t have to worry about what he did — and that’s what we did,” Stewart said in Victory Lane, as the skies opened up once again. “If this doesn’t go down as one of the greatest championship battles in history, I don’t know what will.”

Stewart had been relentless with his trash talk for the last 3 weeks, giving Edwards as much to think about as he could, but he was courteous in the end as he spoke about his competitor in Victory Lane.

“Great guy, and we’ve been giving him a rough time this week, but it was all in an effort to do what we did and that’s to win this championship,” Stewart said. “But it shows how classy a guy he is. He was the first one to me over there [to offer congratulations], and he just said, ‘Promise me one thing: You’ll enjoy this, and I hope you and I are in this position again next year.’

“So much class. A great guy.”

Even though Edwards had led the most laps and looked to have the dominant car all day, Stewart overcame his own on track troubles and took the lead with 37 to go, and never looked back.  Edwards, the ever gracious competitor, summed it up with his comments.

Carl Edwards during a Q&A session before the race in Loudon New Hampshire - Image courtesy of JDTImages

“They beat us fair and square,” said Carl.

“That was all I had at the end. My guys did a really good job. We led the most laps, and Tony still managed, him and (crew chief) Darian (Grubb), to do a good job with their strategy.

“That’s all I got at the end. That’s as hard as I can drive.”

“It was just so unbelievable, it’s like a movie,” allowed Edwards, whose runner-up finish was good enough to give NASCAR its first championship tie. . . . but not good enough to overcome the tiebreaker — Stewart’s five wins to Edwards’ one.

“I was very, very impressed with Tony,” Edwards said. “For all the talk and chest-pounding he did, I could see that he was nervous about this, too.”

“They had to perform at a very high level and I honestly thought there was a good chance they would make a mistake, of him overdriving, trying too hard. And they showed a lot of mental toughness to be able to watch us go lead the first half of the race essentially and not panic and not make mistakes.”

“This was a race, and it came down to strategy on the pit stops and restarts and everything it should come down to. I’m not going to lie, I was hoping he’d run out of fuel there at the end. But he didn’t. I’m sure that he’s going to enjoy this championship — and I’m hoping we’re going to be back in this position again next year. I learned a ton.”

“I told my wife, if I can’t win this thing I’ll be the best loser.”

“It was fun. I plan on winning about the next 10 of these. That’s how I feel right now. I’d like to start right now again and do it every day for as long as I live. That’s how much fun it was.”

“I just wanted to make sure that Bob knew that I believe he’s the best crew chief here, and that he will be my crew chief for as long as he wants to be, and that I’m behind him and his decision 100 percent,” Edwards said.

Stewart became the first Owner/Driver to win a championship since Alan Kulwicki did it back in 1992 and joins a very short and elite list, with the only other name on it being Richard Petty.

Struggling through on track issues early in the race, the Stewart-Haas team put their Office Deport Chevy back together and overcame having the front

Tony Stewart during Driver intros at Loudon New Hampshire - Image courtesy of JDTImages

end punched in through the rad, numerous pit road issues, some bad pit stops, and in the end made a fuel mileage gamble that put Stewart in a great position on the final restart of the race.

“One thing I learned about this team is that everybody dug deep and never gave up,” Stewart said. “I’ve got the best team in the business. We said all week we had to go out and win the race; it didn’t matter what he [Edwards] did. After the way those first 109 laps went today, I told my guys it was going to make these guys mad when we come back twice and still kick their butt.”

“Man, I feel like I passed half the state of Florida today — 118 cars is a lot of cars to pass in one race and to do it under the circumstances and pressure we had today, I’m very proud of that,” said Stewart.

“I would have to say this is one of the greatest races of my life.”

A few other back stories that seemed to get lost in the Championship battle were the moving of Kasey Kahne to Hendrick Motorsports, the drastic improvement of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s performance under the tutiledge of Steve Letarte, and the fact that Darian Grubb, Tony Stewart’s crew chief, has no idea where his future lies.

Darian Grubb announced in the media center just before Stewart himself arrived for Q&A, that 10 weeks ago before the race at Chicagoland, he had been told that after the season they would be discussing the direction the team would be taking, and that he may not be included in that direction.  Despite knowing for the past 10 weeks that he may be out of a job, Grubb performed at the top of his game and  gave Stewart everything he needed to win 5 out of the last 10 races, and put the team in championship form.

Kasey Kahne pulled of his first win in a RedBull car with only 2 races left with that team.  Kasey will be moving to Hendrick Motorsports and driving the #5 car replacing out going driver Mark Martin.  Kahne will be sharing a garage with Jeff Gordon and will have the all powerful Hendrick equipment under him as he starts the 2012 season.  Other rumors in the garage around Hendrick is that Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson may be splitting up.  Although only rumor and conjecture at this point, Rick Hendrick did make a ton of significant changes at the end of the 2010 season, which resulted in varying performance improvements in his drivers through out the 2011 season.

The most obvious of those improvements was the performance of Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally making the chase after missing it twice in the seasons before.Jr. looked to b4e a much more confident driver through out 2011, more the man his fans remembered before the tragic loss of Earnhardt Sr. 10 years ago.  With Steve LeTarte being the biggest cheer leader in Jr.’s corner, Jr. looked to be gaining in confidence all season long and although they stumbled early in the chase and fell back to 9th in the standings, he rallied with his team behind him to finish 7th over all, his best placing since coming to drive for Hendrick.  Fans are hoping for more improvements in the seasons to come, especially the breaking of his winless streak sometime in the 2012 season.

NASCAR – Homestead Miami, Edwards, Stewart, There Can Be Only One

Edwards and Stewart will face off for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship today at Homestead Miami Speedway

Carl Edwards is driven, determined, and ready to race.  If he wanted to send a message to the only other man who has a chance at winning the championship, he has definitely started off in the right direction.   Running the fastest laps in second practice, and setting the fastest lap during qualifying and taking the pole with an average speed of 175.467 mph Edwards plans on leading the field to the green, and hops to stay there for the checkered.

“Awesome, guys, that is the way to come and perform!” Edwards radioed to his crew after his qualifying laps. “Good work today.”

“It was hard to tell from practice how big a battle you’re going to have,” Edwards said. “Our car was balanced well, qualifying trim was balanced well, so no hiccups yet, so that’s nice.”

It’s easy to see how a run like that has built up his confidence but Edwards still has a reserved outlook on today’s race.

“We still have to go out and win the race,” Edwards said. “I know how tough those guys can be, so I’m not counting anything yet. We’re just gonna keep our heads down and work hard and go get the best we can.

“If anything, this is just good for our morale and for everybody to go sleep easy tonight and know we’re gonna have a good day on pit road, know we’ll hopefully be able to run out front and not get caught up in anything. But, truly, I understand that we still have to go run this race, and anything can happen.”

“This is going really well so far, and hopefully this helps us all race,” Edwards said. “We didn’t need to qualify poorly here, [get] a poor pit stall, have some little thorn in our side the whole race. So hopefully this helps us through the whole event.”

Edwards had a tire issue at the beginning of the second practice round, cutting the tire as he headed out for his first run.  This led to him making fewer laps than Stewart, but didn’t slow him down on the track.

“We ran the first practice completely in race trim, and we felt that was the best strategy for us,” Edwards said. “We actually had a cut in the right rear tire after the first run in the second practice. So we had two sets of sticker [new] tires, which we would normally run three or four runs total — a couple on the first set and one final sticker run — but once we looked at that tire, we realized we couldn’t use it again.

“In a way, it probably helped us from tuning the [car] out of contention.”

Stewart however tells us not to etch that trophy with Edwards name on it just yet.

“You [media] need to look at the time sheets — [Edwards] put up a fast lap,” Stewart said. “His lap times fell off pretty hard, in the one long run that he did. And looking at that, that’s why I’m still really confident that what we did [Saturday] was the right thing. Our times don’t fall off as hard as his did.

“Whether they’ve got something figured out for [Sunday] that they didn’t show — who knows? After looking at the time sheet I felt a lot better about what I was seeing. But to look at that sheet it doesn’t tell the story of the [final] session [because] I felt like the two best cars were [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] and [Kasey Kahne]. They were 22nd and 26th and we were sitting there 24th.

“The guys I think we’re going to watch for the race win [Sunday] are the guys that were back there in the same general vicinity where I was at, looking at the times that were consistently the best in that second session. I don’t think looking at the time sheets tell the accurate story of what’s coming up [Sunday].”

“We didn’t have a pole-winning car today, but our No. 14 Chevrolet is pretty good in race trim,” said Stewart, who ran 52 laps in Saturday’s second practice session, focusing on race runs.

“I’ve won 13 poles in 13 years, and I’ve won [43] races now, proving that you don’t have to do it from the pole, for sure,” Stewart said. “It’s definitely a luxury for him at this point, but don’t start etching his name on the trophy yet.”

So how are the sports analysts playing this one out?

Stewart seemed to have the edge coming into Phoenix, with his previous experience as a championship winner, and the momentum he has gained by winning 4 out of the last 9 races since the beginning of the chase.

Looking at the all time stats for Miami Homestead between these two drivers gives us an interesting feel for how this may play out. 6 Top-10 finishes at Homestead for both Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. The similarities pretty much end there, however: Edwards has six consecutive top-10s, the longest current streak; he has two wins during that span. Stewart only has two top-10s in the past six races; he also had his two worst finishes during that span.

However as we look at the stats for Homestead Miami the edge seems to shift to Edwards.  Since the reconfiguration of this track Edwards earned his 2 wins and 441 laps led, and in 3 of the races in that time span he also led the moist laps.

And even more intriguing is the fact that no driver has won Homestead and the championship in the same year. Jimmie Johnson finished second last year at HMS.  The last driver to win the championship at the final race was Jeff Gordon, but that was in Atlanta in 1998.

Most of the media that I listen to and give weight to their comments, are putting Carl Edwards on top for the final race….  but we all know that in NASCAR, it’s not over ’till the checkered flag is waving.

Stewart has commented that he would “wreck his own mother to win a National Championship”, so how will Edwards deal with that type of aggression is it comes down to it?

“Now that I know how he feels about it, I guess that’s pretty easy for me to decide,” Edwards said. “I think it was neat to hear Tony talk about it. It is a national championship. This is a huge deal. This is a big race.”

“Let me put it this way: I would only do it if I thought the other guys would do it to me. That’s that.”

Here is a list of all the possible outcomes could play out, thanks to the researchers at NASCAR.com.

• If Edwards finishes ahead of Stewart, Edwards win the championship.
• If Stewart wins the race, he wins the championship.
• If Stewart ties Edwards, Stewart wins the championship.
• If Edwards leads a lap, Stewart needs to finish four spots ahead of him if Stewart doesn’t lead a lap.
• If Edwards leads the most laps, Stewart needs to finish five spots ahead of him if Stewart doesn’t lead a lap.
• If Stewart leads a lap, he needs to finish two spots ahead of Edwards if Edwards doesn’t lead a lap.
• If Stewart leads the most laps, he needs to finish one spot ahead of Edwards if Edwards doesn’t lead a lap.
• If both Stewart and Edwards lead a lap, Stewart needs to finish three spots ahead of Edwards.
• If both Stewart and Edwards lead the most laps, Stewart needs to finish three spots ahead of Edwards.
• If Stewart leads the most laps and Edwards leads a lap, Stewart needs to finish two spots ahead of Edwards.
• If neither Edwards or Stewart lead a lap, Stewart must finish three spots ahead of Edwards.

NASCAR – Matt Kenseth Sets the Pace in Phoenix, Stewart Keeps Up the Trash Talk, Edwards Keeping Cool

Matt Kenseth - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Marcos Ambrose said the slick track was “pretty sketchy”. A.J. Allmendinger said his lap ”was insane.” Jeff Gordon, who won the last race here in February before the repave, called the surface ”treacherous” after qualifying 23rd.  After watching the Nationwide race followed by the K&N West series race yesterday, it looks like we should be prepared for a wreck fest with a chance of a game changer.

Matt Kenseth set the fastest lap to win the pole but qualifying was not without Drama.  Since being on the bottom line is so important, qualifying position means more than just who takes the green.  Tony Stewart was sitting in 7th with Edwards behind him in 8th until Kenseth ran his lap.  As Kenseth completed his lap and set the fastest time for the day, Edwards moved back on spot to 9th giving him the inside row on the start of the race with Stewart being moved back to the outside.  It is only for the first start of the race and there is 300 miles of racing between there and the finish line, but every little advantage has to be counted on a track where no one can predict the outcome.

”That was my plan. I thought, `Man, if we can sit on the pole, that will really help him,’” Kenseth laughed.

”I planned that. I am that good,” Kenseth claimed. ”The bottom is probably going to be an advantage to get started, but it is still 300 miles and I think at some point in the race every car is going to be in the top groove for a little bit.”

A.J Allmendinger - Image courtesy of JDTImages.

A.J Allmendinnger had the second fastest time of the day and he was amazed at how much the track conditions had changed from Fridays practice sessions, to Saturday’s qualifying runs.

“It was definitely a huge surprise,” he said. “Obviously, the sun is out and it’s warmer, but for as much grip as the track had [Friday], you would think maybe it would be [just] a little slower. At night last night I think the quick time was like a 25.50 by Carl, so to be almost a second slower was a huge surprise.

“I was in the hauler watching the first 10 or 15 cars run, and you see Jimmie [Johnson] go sailing off and almost get in the wall. Every car seemed to get looser and looser. At that point you have what you have. We tightened it up from [Friday]. Marcos put up a good lap and fed back what the track was like, so I went in there with an expectation, and my first lap was worse than even I expected. It was definitely a lot different than [Friday].”

The 2 drivers that everyone has marked as the “true contenders” for this years chase have been heard tossing comments back and forth.  Stewart’s trash talk has been keeping his face on camera and and reporters guessing about what he is going to say next.  For example, while still in Vistory lane last week in Texas he quipped “It’s theirs to lose now” when asked about his chances and how strongly he feels about them.

Then on Friday he stated in a news conference that being a former championship winner gives him an advantage, but was very vague about his meaning.

Tony Stewart - Image courtesy of JDTImages

“It’s definitely an advantage. But I’m not going to tell you why ’cause that’s what I’m going to take to the next two weeks with me. We win this thing, I’ll tell you what the advantage is and why. But there’s an advantage.”

When asked directly about their rivalry however they each seem to have their focus where it needs to be.  On themselves, their team, and on what it is that THEY can do, and not so much about what the other guy is going to do.

“I guess it’s a friendly rivalry, if you even want to call it a rivalry,” Stewart said at Phoenix International Raceway. “I don’t know what the true definition of rivalry is, but he’s a good guy to be in a point battle with, for sure. I respect him a lot as a driver and as a person.”

“We get along with each other at the race track,” Stewart said. “We’ve got the dirt racing that we’ve done together at Eldora, and stuff that we like. We talk about that stuff a lot.”

“I feel like we are [in control], to be honest. I think we showed that last week,” Stewart said, referring to his victory at Texas, and Edwards second place finish. “We’re not racing worrying about where they’re at and what they’re doing each day. We’re worrying about our car, what we’ve got to do to be fast, what we’ve got to do to win races and I think we’ve responded to that with our actions on the race track and what we’ve done. So I would like to say we are right now. We’ve been able to battle back from a couple of really bad races in this Chase to be where we are at.”

Carl Edwards - Image courtesy ofJDTImages

Edwards seems calm and collected, not bothered by Stewart’s comments and focused on the task at hand, finishing better than Stewart.

“I think Tony is a guy I have looked up to a lot. He has done a lot of the things as a racer that racers all over the country can look up to,” said Edwards, who at 31 is nine years younger than Stewart.

“I’ve learned a lot about Tony over the last couple years, and have come to respect him as a person. I would say we have a good, competitive relationship. For us, it is pretty neat to be holding off a two-time champ having the best Chase he has ever had. It is neat to be battling with him. If we can continue and hold him off and win this thing, if it truly comes down to the end like I believe it will, [and] I truly believe it will come down to the last lap at Homestead, that is going to feel good that it is Tony. It will feel good that it is a guy that has that many achievements in the garage, in racing.”

“I feel that they have obviously had flashes of great speed, and have won four races, and we haven’t. But the job that we have done, I am very proud of. We don’t have trophies lined up, but the recoveries we have made and consistency we have shown and the ability to come back from really tough days, I wouldn’t have been able to do it a year or two years ago. I am pretty proud of that. At the end of the day we are still leading the points. They have to overtake us and beat us.”

Now who does the rest of the garage think is going to be the winner?  Once again the field is divided so it depends on who you ask.  Either way it’s going to be a nail biter in Phoenix today and the unknown element of the track rears it’s head.  Personally I am giving the advantage to Stewart today because of how much we all know he likes a slick race track.  It suits his style of racing, and no on can handle a sideways car like he can.  Edwards is also good on a slick track, but he does not have the years of experience behind him that Stewart does from driving on dirt tracks across the country, and wining races while doing it.

So where to the rest of the chasers chances lie mathematically?

Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman were mathematically eliminated at Texas. This week, it’s Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and even Johnson who find themselves in a situation where they cannot control their destiny.

If Carl Edwards finishes 34th or better — or Tony Stewart winds up 31st or better — Kurt Busch will be eliminated, even if he wins and receives the maximum number of points. If Carl Edwards finishes 28th or better — or Tony Stewart winds up 25st or better — Gordon is out, too.

Edwards can add Earnhardt to the elimination list with a 26th-place finish, or Stewart can do the same by finishing 23rd. And five-time champion Johnson could win Sunday but be eliminated from contention if Edwards winds up second.

The elimination scenarios for Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick are more complicated, and involve multiple variables too complicated to explain here.

Finally, there is a very slim chance Edwards could make the season finale a coronation. If he wins and Stewart finishes 43rd — and Keselowski, Kenseth and Harvick are all subsequently mathematically eliminated — Edwards would clinch the championship at Phoenix.

 

 

NASCAR – Martinsville Qualifying Gets Cancelled by Rain Putting all the Chasers Together at the Front – Edwards Gets the Pole By Points

Carl Edwards waves to the crowd - Image courtesy of JDTImages

It seems that Martinsville has become a place for the Good the Wet and the Ugly this weekend.  The good comes in the form of NASCAR making a good decision.  Canceling qualifying because of the wet conditions in favor of a practice session is a smart move.  Sending the cars out to race without a practice would simply have been a dangerous choice.  We now know that the drivers have had time to get at least a feel for the car and that the crew chiefs will have had some time to analyze the data and have some idea of what changes to make in the early stages of the race.  It is safer for all of the drivers involved and anything to keep the drivers safe is a good call in my mind.  Because of the rain out the drivers starting positions will be determined by the points they have earned up to this point in the season.  This means that Points Leader Carl Edwards will start from the pole beside his teammate Matt Kenseth.  How does Edwards feel about being awarded the pole?

“Qualifying, I think, is one of the most important parts of this race, and it’s no secret that’s been a tough thing for me and Matt as well,” Edwards said after the cancellation was announced. “So I think it’s a best case for us that we get to start on the front row, and even better is the pit stall selection.

“I think that’s going to last all day. No matter how much we have to work on the car or things we have to do, that first pit stall will be great. This is my first time having it, I believe, so it’s the best qualifying we could have hoped for.”

“Practice didn’t go as well as qualifying went for us, that’s for sure,” Edwards said. “But we got the car better. I think the last run for us went pretty well. I’m glad we got that practice in now because in the beginning we weren’t very good. I think it would have been a pretty big struggle to start like that. Now we go do our real homework and try to figure out by gathering information from the other cars we’re going to see if we can’t make this thing faster but make it faster for longer periods of time.

“We’ve got everything going for us right now. We’re leading the points. We’re starting up front. We got a great pit stall. We just need to make the car such that I can drive it and (crew chief) Bob (Osborne) can adjust it all day and we’ll be fine.”

Matt Kenseth with the Coors Light spokesmodel in Chicago ealier this year - Image courtesy of JDTImages

The Wet – Well that one is kind of obvious.  Rained out practices and qualifying means reduced time on the track, a green race track  (the only rubber on the track is from yesterdays truck race) should definitely make for an even more unpredictable Martinsville race than we are used to.  Drivers patience will wear thin quite easily if the handle of their cars is not figured out in the early stages.

Matt Kenseth who is starting on the front row beside his teammate agrees that the starting position is crucial, but mentions the downside of limited practice time as well.

“This is one of those places where your car is a lot different on a 30-lap run than what it is on a 100-lap run,” Kenseth said. “You’ll see some guys that are real fast taking off and their cars turn really good and it seems like they end up getting really loose. And then there are guys that maybe start a little slower, but are really fast at the end of the run.

“Certainly it’s easier when you can start up front. The only aggravating part about it is you don’t have anywhere to go except backwards, so it gets aggravating if your car is not real fast and you’re losing positions.”

Greg Biffle - Image courtesy of JDTImages

And the Ugly – Drivers patience is already showing to be wearing thin before the race has even started.  An on track incident between Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle has made headlines after the 2 touched bumpers near the end of the one and only practice session of the weekend.

Harvick, who had ignition box issues earlier in the practice, bobbled coming out of Turn 4 and was hit and pushed across the start/finish line by Biffle.

That didn’t appear to sit well with the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet, who then tapped Biffle’s left-rear fender when the two cars entered Turn 1. Both drivers stopped their cars side-by-side on the backstretch. And when they eventually returned to the garage, Biffle’s No. 16 Ford appeared to bump the back bumper of Harvick’s car while being pushed by their respective crews.

Biffle climbed from his car and hustled over to Harvick’s stall, where the two drivers appeared to have an animated discussion while being surrounded by NASCAR officials and crew members.

Biffle told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper that the incident began with Jeff Gordon “in the middle of the corner” before the initial contact on the frontstretch.

“Harvick stopped beside Jeff and kind of pulled down on him,” Biffle told the newspaper’s website. “I think he was upset because Jeff had pulled out on the track in front of him on new tires. So, I’m coming at full speed. Kevin took off right when I got there, so then I was on Harvick’s bumper coming down the frontstretch and he lifted early and you can’t blame me for that. Shoot, I didn’t know he was coming out of the gas like that. I don’t know what his agenda was.

“I, naturally, bumped him and actually I kind of wiggled him because when he came out of the gas, I shot to the top to try go (by) because I wasn’t sure if he was coming out of the gas to come into the garage. Normally, you do that off of  2.”

Harvick was not available for immediate comment but from the perspective of crew chief Gil Martin, “Biffle ran into us.”

Kevin Harvick - Image courtesy of JDTImages

“Kevin stopped on the straightaway because we weren’t going to get our car tore up,” Martin said. “Then he brought his big brothers with him down to our stall to confront (Harvick) like it was some sort of home invasion.

“I don’t think it was intentional. It was just practice. We’ll be all right. The car was pretty good in practice, but the track is going to change so much. You just have to be ready for what‘s going to happen.”

Biffle’s crew chief, Matt Puccia, who accompanied his driver down to the No. 29 stall, described the on-track incident as “wrong place, wrong time.” As far as the exchange in the garage, Puccia said Biffle just wanted to clear the air.

“I think Harvick might have taken (the bump) the wrong way,” Puccia said. “Tempers got a little heated and, unfortunately, we got in the middle of it. Greg went down there just to tell him it wasn’t intentional.”

 

 

 

 

NASCAR – Mark Martin Takes the Pole for Talladega Proving You Are Never Too Old to Go Fast

Mark Martin - Image courtesy of JDTImages

For the second time this year this season, and for the 51st time in his career, Mark Martin tops the field and shows us that experience and hard work can get you there.  This pole puts Martin in 8th on the all time poles list.  Not only did he set the fastest pace on the track but by doing so he beat his fellow teammates as well, a competition inside the company for bragging rights each and every week.  Martin paced four Hendrick cars in the top six starting spots, posting a lap of 181.367 mph (52.799 seconds) to win the pole.

“I really want to make sure that I give 100 percent of the credit to, first, the organization of Hendrick Motorsports for the incredible work that they do on restrictor-plate racing cars,” Martin said. “But also [crew chief] Lance McGrew and the GoDaddy.com team took the same parts and pieces that the three teammates had and managed to put down just a little bit quicker lap.

“It is a competition. Someone asked me [Friday] about the pole, and I said, ‘Yes, sir, we’re going for it.’ It’s a competition, too, and we try to win every single competition there is, no matter what it is. Of course, the race is a bigger, more important competition, but this is still for pride — and I’m proud of my team for the great work they have done.”

Jimmie Johnson - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Jimmie Johnson, Ol’ Five Time, will be starting from the second position and feels that , even with last weeks wreck and subsequent 34th place finish, that he still has a chance to make it 6.   A quick look back at the stats from 2006 will show you that a come back by anyone is possible from this point to the end, but it will all depend on team work.

“It is possible, and I’m expecting we need to do that as a race team,” Johnson said Friday at NASCAR’s biggest race track. “Fortune can come and go for any of the drivers at any of the tracks. There’s a lot of focus on this weekend’s race, but Martinsville has its things, then we go to Phoenix at some point, and we’re all not sure what to expect in Phoenix, so things will develop over the next five races. But myself and this team are looking at it that we need to be on fire at these next five to give ourselves a chance to win this thing.”

Trevor Bayne - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Trevor Bayne will be the only Non Chevy in the top 7 with his #21 Wood Brothers Ford starting 4th on the grid.  The Daytona 500 winner sounds elated to be running the car in another restrictor plate track.

“I think that shows how much work the 21 guys put into these cars, and they do a great job on the Superspeedways, and the work shows up here,” Bayne said. “It’s all about speed, and our car has it.”

Other drivers who have not had a great qualifying season have also found their way forward and will be starting closer to the front than their average starts would suggest.  Most notably would be Dale Earnhardt Jr starting from the 6th position beside teammate Jeff Gordon who starts in 5th.  Neither of these 2 have had a great average start thus far, but both have shown the ability to get to the front.  Hopefully their luck holds out and they can use the more forward positions to their advantage.  Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s massive fan base will definitely be cheering from all over the NASCAR world in hopes that this is the one where Johnson pays him back for the push to the win the last time we were racing here, and where Jr gets the monkey off his back by getting a win and breaking his winless streak.

Today’s Good Sam Club 500 at Talladega Superspeedway is the 4th and final Superspeedway of the year and the last time this year we get to watch the 2 car push running around the track.  NASCAR felt it necessary to clarify the rule about pushing another car around the track after last weeks showed us Austin Dillon helped teammate Kevin Harvick conserve fuel by pushing him around the track under caution.

The bottom line? A driver can push a disabled car to pit road but may not push another car to assist the driver in saving fuel, or in maintaining caution pace while saving fuel on the race track.

As always, no assistance of any kind is allowed on the final lap.

In NASCAR’s view, helping a driver save fuel by pushing his car provides a competitive advantage that may not be available to drivers without teammates. There also is the possibility that such assistance could skew the results of the Chase.

“You can still push a car that’s disabled or out of power to pit road,” NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp said.

What happens when one car pushes another past the entrance to pit road?

“That’s when we would react,” Tharp said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr - Image courtesy of JDTImages

NASCAR also mandated changes to the cooling system and the restrictor plates in an attempt to break apart the 2 car push while still maintaining a fast paced race on the track.  The changes made will allow for more horsepower and should allow for more pack racing, and lowering the pressure in the cooling system so that it will over heat sooner if the cars are pushing for too long.  What do the drivers think about these changes?  Dale Jr. seems to sum up what everyone is feeling the best.

“If we are going to push each other around the race track, we are going to have to swap more often,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “… Say you are working with your partner out there, and you’ve got to change more often. That is when it is going to get crazy, because you lose a lot of speed and the guys that are not changing that are behind you come flying up on you really quick, and if they do not have a lot of room and everybody doesn’t know what is going on, bad things can happen.”

“The change in the radiator to make us change more often, I don’t really see what we are trying to accomplish there and how that can bring about any good. I think that will just put us all in difficult situations more often, because when you make a swap, it is a difficult situation for the other drivers that aren’t swapping that have to dodge you, and hope they know where you are going and what you and your teammate are trying to do, because you lose so much speed in the process of making that swap. Everyone is sort of making a lot of calculated guesses out there if that is happening more often. That is a little bit troublesome, but I don’t think it will be that big of a deal. But I just don’t know what that change was really for other than to make us swap more.”

Here is the starting lineup for the top 10 spots on the grid.

POS CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR SPEED TIME
1 5 Mark Martin Chevrolet GoDaddy.com 181.367 52.799
2 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet MyLowe’s 181.360 52.801
3 33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet Chevy 100 Years 181.243 52.835
4 21 Trevor Bayne Ford Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center 181.010 52.903
5 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger 180.918 52.930
6 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Diet Mountain Dew “Paint the 88″ / National Guard 180.904 52.934
7 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Serta / Menards 180.655 53.007
8 6 David Ragan Ford UPS My Choice 180.608 53.021
9 99 Carl Edwards Ford Subway 180.210 53.138
10 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet U.S. Army 180.203 53.140

NASCAR – Stewart Makes it 2 For 2 in Championship Chase and Takes the Points Lead in the Standings

Tony Stewart catching a mouthful of the celebration spray from his crew after winning the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Image courtesy of JDTImages

It’s not how many laps you lead in the race, but which laps you lead that determines the winner.  Tony Stewart led only 2 laps to win the Sylvania 300 in on Sunday and proved that the only important lap to lead is the last one.  This was the fewest laps Stewart has ever led while winning a race, his previous low score was 6.  Running the last 71 laps on a single tank of fuel also showed that Stewart is becoming the master of fuel mileage in the current Sprint Cup cars.  With a fuel mileage win in Chicago just 6 days prior to this win, Stewart is making it look easy making his car go fast, and saving on fuel at the same time.

The reversal of fortune over last years Chase race in New Hampshire where Stewart ran out of gas and Clint Bowyer passed for the win was not lost on Tony and crew chief Darian Grubb.

“If that’s not a flip-flop from last year, I don’t know what is,” Stewart radioed to crew chief Darian Grubb after crossing the finish line.

“Man, what a way to win it.  Such an irony from last year where we ran out gas coming to the white.  You hate to see anybody lose that way, but you’ll take a win any way you can get it right now.”

“I saw (Bowyer) slow down the back stretch and thought ‘Oh no, You’re kidding me’  I know exactly how he feels right now.”

“I planned it for some 280 laps” Stewart joked.  “I knew he was going to run out of fuel right at that moment.”

“Clint was one of the first guys on pit road to get to me and congratulate me.  He’s thinking the same thing – just how ironic it was that the roles were reversed.”

Clint Bowyer ended up finishing a disappointing 26th.

Brad Kesolowski during driver introductions at the Sylvania 300 - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Brad Kesolowski’s momentum and wild card entry into the chase are not showing any signs of slowing down.  10 weeks ago when NASCAR left this track Kesolowski was 23rd in points and not looking like he had any shot of getting into the chase, a point that is not lost on the 27 year old driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge.

“It’s funny, because 10 races ago, we left Loudon here 23rd in points,” Keselowski said. “Who’d have ever thought we’d be third in 10 weeks? It’s been a good road to travel down the last few weeks, and today was no exception.”

“We weren’t the fastest car — I’d be lying if I tried to tell you we were — but we made good adjustments to our car, got it to where it was a good, solid top-10 car and drove up to fourth or fifth there with 100 to go, 80 to go, whatever that was. … All in all, I felt like we earned the majority of our good fortune.”

The third place finisher, Greg Biffle, made a hard fought effort to get there.  After tangling with 5 time champion Jimmie Johnson earlier in the race, Biffle continued his hard charge right to the end of the race.  Not having a chance to win the championship has put a different kind of motivation in the forefront of Biffle’s mind.

“My role being a non-Chase guy is to try to win the last eight (races) that are left,” Biffle said.

Dale Earnhardt during driver introductions at NHMS - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had some of the bad luck he experienced mid season return to him in Loudon.  Although NHMS is not a track where he has done particularly well in the past, Earnhardt was frustrated that he and his team did not get the position he felt they all deserved.

“I had an awesome car all day,” Earnhardt said. “Just pretty frustrating. I want to win here. We’ve been so good here in a lot of races and would like to win. But you’ve got to get up front, and we really couldn’t accomplish that all day long. We had a good, quick car and I am proud of how we worked on it. Happy about what my guys did. The car they brought and how they worked on the car, everything was seemingly going as planned until we got caught a lap down with Landon’s flat tire then we had a couple flats ourselves that cost us a couple more spots there. It’s frustrating, but I was happy with how the car was driving. As a driver, we haven’t had that all year.”

“We’ll take it right now. It could be worse,” Earnhardt said. “We could be sitting in Victory Lane, but we could be out of the Chase all together. I think having two flat tires, we got pretty lucky today to get home in the top 20.”

Ryan Newman during the Chase Racers introduction - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Jr was not the only chaser who’s luck ran out in Loudon.  Ryan Newman, who started the race from the pole, also had late race tire issues that scuttled his shot at a decent finish.  After winning the race here in July and setting the pace for the field on the green flag drop, Newman was looking at a top 10 finish when he had a tire go down in the ;ate stages of the race.

“We just had a tough day,” Newman said. “We had a couple of slow pit stops, and then we had a tire go down at the end. It was just a disappointing day for us. We just didn’t capitalize on what we could have, and today was a good day to do that, and we didn’t do it. Our team, we know we can do it. We’ve done it before. Going to Dover, we need to improve from where we were in the spring, and I think we can do that.”

Denny Hamlin, who was 12th in points entering the race, looked like he was going out for redemption from his 31st place finish in Chicago.  He was running in 6th when he was forced to pit for fuel with only 3 laps to go.  The stop ended up costing him 23 positions on the track giving his a 29th place finish, the lowest position finish of all the chasers for the second week in a row.

Denny Hamlin comes down the stairs during driver intros at NHMS - Image courtesy of JDTImages

“We thought we were good, and that’s just strategy racing nowadays,” Hamlin said. “We just came up short right there. The only thing I can think of is we were on a little bit of a cleaner racetrack that last run, but that was the worst fuel mileage we got all day, and I was backing my corner up quite a bit.”

“Either we weren’t getting the fuel mileage we thought or we didn’t get it full or I just used too much. We’ve got to work through it. Another tough day for us, but we’re just figuring out what we need to do to be a little bit more competitive.”

 

 

NASCAR – Gordon Gets His 85th Career Win in Atlanta – Reutimann Takes the Pole for Richmond – Chasers Get Ready

Tropical Storm Lee made more headlines than NASCAR this week after postponing the race in Atlanta until Tuesday and hanging around and threatening to cause havok in Virginia this weekend as well. Fortunately for race fans the storm has moved North and the remnants of the storm, but we keep the victims of the storm that caused carnage from the Gulf coast right up through Maine and into the Maritimes in our collective thoughts and prayers.

Jeff Gordon - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Jeff Gordon refused to let a little rain stop him in Atlanta.  After dominating the race for most of the day Gordon proved that perseverance pays off.  After waiting 2 extra days to run the race, the driver of the #24 car felt it was definitely worth the wait.  It was 4 time (champion) vs. 5 time (champion) as Gordon and Johnson played cat and mouse at the head of the field in the final laps of the race.  Johnson closed the gap chasing down Gordon and reducing his 2 second lead to nothing in the final 20 laps of the race but it was Gordon who held on to the lead at the end taking the checkered flag in the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“Hell yeah! That’s what I’m talking about boys!”  Gordon yelled after crossing the finish line ahead of Johnson.

“That was fun. I was slipping, he was slipping,” Gordon said. “There were a couple of times I thought he had me.

“This team is on a roll.”

This win was the 85th of Gordon’s career putting him in sole possession of third place on the all time winners list behind Richard Petty (200 wins) and David Pearson (105) and ahead of Darrel Waltrip and Bobby Allison (both with 84 wins).

Johnson was also elated with his second place finish and with the battle with his teammate in the final laps of the race.

Jimmie Johnson - Image courtesy of JDTImages

“I’m so glad I grew up racing in the dirt,” said Johnson, who ventured into stock cars after an off-road racing career. “I think I would have spun out four or five times there at the end.

“We started the race really bad … [then] the car came to life. I just couldn’t get past [him].”

“The last couple of weeks, we’ve been able to send a … message to all our competitors of how strong this team is and how good our race cars are.

“I love the fact that at Bristol, I felt like we had a car that could win there and then we come to a big mile-and-half track and we do win.”

But it was Tony Stewart who provided the most excitement in the race as he drove from 11th to 3rd in the final 81 laps under the green flag.  His car came to him like a freight train and he gained 8 seconds on the leaders as he chased them down trying for the win.

“Man, we had an awesome car at the end,” Stewart said. “[We were] gaining eight and a half seconds on the leader there, definitely an awesome run. And we had a lot of guys we got back in those last 10 laps.”

“More so than anywhere we go to, you actually have to take care of your tires and budget them for your run. And that’s what makes it fun here because guys overdrive their cars, run too hard on the front [end of a run] and then they fall off the last half.”

Richmond Virginia

David Reutimann - Image courtesy of JDTImages

David Reutimann had a surprise for everyone this week in qualifying.  That surprise was a really fast race car.  Running 7th in the first practice and then dropping to 42nd fastest in the second round of practice, Reutimann looked like he would be running with the start and parkers at the back of the field.  Once his qualifying run started however his car came to life as he blazed around the track setting the pace at 127.383 mph around the 3/4 mile “D” shaped oval short track.

“This is our first pole here and the first pole in a while for the Aaron’s Dream Machine,” said Reutimann, who had not won a pole since May 2009 at Dover. “It’s been a dry spell for us, so it feels good.

“Things haven’t gone quite the way we wanted them to this year, but we’re working hard to get things turned around, and I think what you’re seeing is a direct result of some of the stuff that we’re doing different.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr - Image courtesy of JDTImages

In contrast to Reutimann’s efforts in qualifying, other teams who had better practice times did not make as good an effort during qualifying.

Dale Earnhardt Jr had the 3rd fastest practice times during second practice yet he qualified 27th.  Jr knows how hard it is getting around this racetrack but with this being the final race before the chase his fans expect him to get to the front no matter what.  Maybe this will light the fire in him that his fans have been saying has been missing since the early part of the season.  Only time will tell.

Tony Stewart - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Tony Stewart unloaded a 30th place car and even after 2nd practice has only advanced to 27th in time.  Coming off his 3rd place finish in Atlanta Stewart seems optimistic of his chances in Richmond.

“I don’t remember what it’s like to qualify in the top four here,” Stewart said. “It’s definitely a lot harder. In the spring race here we qualified in the back and got a lap down early and never could recover from it.

“But I think we’ve got a car that runs well. It seems like after about 10 laps our car is as good as anybody else’s and maybe a tick better after 20 laps on. Hopefully, we’ll get a lot of long, green-flag runs.”

Chase Hopefuls

Denny Hamlin and Brad Kesolowski sit on the edge of getting into the chase.  Thanks to the wild card slot that NASCAR added this year, both drivers are sitting pretty with enough wins to move into the chase taking up the final 2 spots in the 12 chaser field if they hold those positions after the end of the race in Richmond.  They could however also be the spoilers for 2 of the series biggest starts.

Dale Earnhardt Jr and Tony Stewart sit 2 points apart in 9th and 10th place in the standings.  Kesolowski would be mathematically able to knock either of them out by finishing 23 positions ahead of Stewart and 25 points ahead of Jr, which would knock either of them back a position or 2 depending on how the other finished.  The whole make up of the bottom 2 spots and the Wild Card spots would change as neither Stewart or Earnhardt have a win yet this season so far.

NASCAR – Brad Kesolowski Grabs Third Win of the Season at Bristol, Danica Patrick Makes it Official

Brad Kesolowski in the "Blue Deuce" #2 Miller Lite Dodge - Image Courtesy of JDTImages

Broken ankle and all Brad Kesolowski is on a tear.  Winning his third race of the season, and the second since he broke his ankle, Kesolowski raced his way to the winners circle in Bristol last Saturday night.  He used every trick in his arsenal to get there too.  By taking advantage of the timing loops on pit road Brad was able to pass several cars every pit stop by drag racing from his pit up to 60 mph and then slowing before the timing loop back to the pit road speed of 35 mph therefore not incurring any speeding penalties on pit road.

A quick look at the standings from only 4 weeks ago showed Kesolowski in 21st with a single win and definitely not looking good to make the chase.  Yet here we are with only 2 races to go before the Chase and Brad Kesolowski has gained  10 positions up to 11th and 2 wins to bring his season total to 3, all of which put him in contention for a wild card, and if he keeps this level of performance up, and good chance to drive his way into the chase and knock Tony Stewart out of the running.

”An awesome car, an awesome team!” he yelled. ”Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt won this race. It’s a race of champions. There are races that pay more, that are races that might have a little more prestige, but this is the coolest damn one of them all.”

Asked what the secret of his turnaround is, he had this to say:

”A team that just starts to click and believes in each other,” Keselowski said. ”We’ve just made good adjustments to our cars over the last few months. We made good adjustments to our car today and we find ourselves in Victory Lane. I can’t believe it, I really can’t.”

Martin Truex Jr - Image coutesy og JDTImages

Martin Truex Jr. battled his way up to a second place finish showing that he still has the desire to go out there and get the win, right up to the end.

“It was back in ’07 — the last time I run second or won, you know?” Truex said. “It’s a helluva good feeling when you can see the leader at the end of one of these things. You know you’re in the ballpark and you got something for ‘em.

“It feels good to be finishing up front — it’s been a while. We’ve had some good races here lately — fourth at [Watkins] Glen — so trying to build a little bit of momentum here towards the end of the year.

“The guys on the NAPA Toyota have been working really, really hard — all the buys at the shop, working hard on our stuff and just got to thank them for sticking with it and working hard.”

Jeff Gordon however led the most laps of the night (206) and was seemingly the dominant car on the track, but things just did not go his way at the end resulting in a third place finish at Bristol.  Crew Chief Alan Gustafson feels like they have been robbed of a win a few times this season now.

Jeff Gordon - Image courtesy of JDTImages

“Robbed at Indy, and robbed here. Yeah, I’m tired of it,” Gustafson said after Gordon led 206 laps but finished third in an event won by Brad Keselowski. “They did what they had to do to win. Our pit box, guys held us up, and guys would gas it up and pass us. It’s frustrating. But we’ve got the performance, and this team can perform at a high level, and the breaks are going to go their way for only so long. And the day it doesn’t, well be OK.”

Gordon himself felt taht the drag racing style of pit road action was the biggest cause of lost position in the pits.

“To me, the whole purpose of having timing lines and pit road speed is to make it as equal and fair for everybody as you possibly can. And they’ve got some work to do at this pit road. The race track is awesome, but the pit road is terrible. When a guy can run 60 miles an hour down pit road and the pit road speed is, what, 35, then something is wrong with the system,” Gordon said.

“We were able to do something similar to that on the back straightaway, so I don’t really feel like that’s what cost us [Saturday night]. I did have a couple cars coming down pit road that were going slow when I left my pit stall that held me up a little bit, but we qualified good, so we had one of those stalls. But even when you have one and you see the other guys have one, it’s a joke that somebody can leave pit road and run that fast down pit road and then slam on the brakes. [Matt] Kenseth drove by four cars, and so did [Keselowski] when he left his pit stall. I just don’t understand it. But that is the way that it is here, and it puts a huge premium on the pit stall and qualifying up front.”

“It’s been a while, man — it’s been a while,” Gordon said. “But I just love having a race car like we had [Saturday] night. We had so much fun, but we just needed not to be in fifth on that last restart. We needed to either be in the outside lane or a little bit further forward, and we had something for anybody.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Tony Stewart are still the last men standing in chase contention without a win this season.  Sitting 9th and 10th in points respectively they are still on the bubble for chase contention.  Stewart was rather vocal about his chances of making the chase after last weeks race in Michigan saying that his team was just taking up space for a team that could actually make a run at the championship, while his equipment just isn’t good enough right now to get him there.  Earnhardt Jr, however managed to stay up in the field, finishing 16th and thanks to Stewart (28th) and Bowyer’s (26th) poor results at Bristol has padded his lead on them and has a firm grip on 9th place in the standings.

Danica Patrick during a new conference at the Toronto Honda Indy 2010 - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Danica Patrick made it official this weekend that she will be moving to NASCAR full time in for the 2012 season.  Running a full schedule for Jr. Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. as well as a limited schedule in the Sprint Cup side for Stewart-Haas racing, owned by Tony Stewart.  Her performance this year shows a drastic improvement over her limited run in 2010, now that she seems to have shaken off the fact that these cars can touch, and often do, unlike the open wheelers she has driven for most of her career.

“If it was about money, I’d have gone a long time ago,” Patrick said from GoDaddy’s offices in north Scottsdale. “I just go where my heart tells me, where my gut tells me to go, where I’m enjoying my life the most, where I feel like I can have the most success. I’ve truly enjoyed my experience in NASCAR, to the point that I want to do it full-time.”

Brian France also seems pleased that Danica is making the move to NASCAR.

“We are pleased Danica Patrick has chosen to race full time in NASCAR in 2012,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said in a statement. “She has demonstrated a strong desire to compete and NASCAR provides the best opportunity to race against the top drivers in the world with the largest and most loyal fan base in motorsports on a week-to-week basis. Danica has shown solid improvement in NASCAR and we believe her decision to run full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, with additional races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will be exciting for our fans and a great challenge for her.”

What does her leaving Indy Cars mean to the declining ratings for that series?  Only time will tell.  But for now she sill belong to NASCAR, and her marketing machine will do wonders in the world of circle racing.

 

 

NASCAR – Marcos Ambrose Takes the Win at The Glen, Avoids the Massive Wreck Fest Behind him

Marcose Ambrose giving the tumbs up earlier this year - Image courtesy of JDTImages

Wow what a finish!  With a bunch of wrecks tearing up the fields behind him, Marcos Ambrose stayed composed and passed both Brad Kesolowski and Kyle Busch in the same corner and drove off with a smile on his face so big you could see it through the in car camera.  Ambrose, a 4 time Aussie V8 champion, finally scores his first win after 4 seasons in NASCAR racing a full schedule in the Sprint Cup series.  This makes Marcos Ambrose the 5th first time winner this season, and the 15th different winner this season.

Marcos was a very happy man in victory lane.

“Man I’ve sacrificed so much to get here and finally win on in the Cup series is a dream come true.  I flew my kids home yesterday, the little one’s first day at school and I really wanted to be there, but this certainly makes up for it.  I’ve just gotta thank the Richard Petty Motorsports team,  Stanley,  Dewalt and everybody involved.  Mrs petty isn’t doing so well at home we wish her the best, so this win’s for her and the whole Petty family.  To Ricard and everyone else who gave me the chance, just thank you very much.  But winning in the cup series for Stanley is an incredible feeling and I ‘m very,very proud.”

Having qualified now for the Million Dollar win in Atlanta, Ambrose sounded as excited as the fan that will win the $Million.

“I’ll win a Million Bucks for anyone, I don’t care.  I just want to be in victory lane again, it’s a dream come true.  The fans out there that supported the Richard Petty and his whole team through all the turmoil last year.  Got it back to victory lane and it’s just gonna go onwards and upwards from here.  Just a proud day.  No one realizes how much work goes into getting to victory lane and when it actually happens it’s almost a surreal moment.”

Brad Kesolowski finished in 2nd followed by Kyle Busch for the top 3.  Martin Truex Jr and Joey Logano rounded out the top 5.

While the race for first was happening out front, wrecks were in the mix behind the field on the white flag lap.

The first involved the 51 of Boris Said, the 6 of Ragan, and the 00 of David Reutimann.  Said was trying not to get passed by Ragan as the race wound down and managed to squeak ahead of him, but in doing so forced the nose of Ragan out of shape, putting him hard into the wall.  The resulting “bounce” put Ragan square into Reutimann who barrel rolled once landing back on his wheels.

Seconds after that wreck Tony Stewart got involved in another wreck  at the inner loop (bus stop) as he got into the turn too fast and slid through the grass.  He managed to miss everyone on his slide through, but others needed to check up to avoid him, allowing cars further behind to make passes at a crucial moment.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was one of the drivers who managed to capitalize on the spin and moved from 19th to 15th on the track.  This has put him in a much better spot going into the final 4 races before the start of the chase as he has managed to gain a spot to 9th over Tony Stewart in the standings.

The top of the standings also had a shuffle as Kyle Busch leaves The Glen in 1st place overall by one point over Carl Edwards.  Gaining 2 positions from 3rd to 1st knocking both Edwards (now in 2nd) and Jimmie Johnson (now in 3rd) back a position each.  Kurt Busch’s ended up costing him 2 points in the standings as both Harvick and Kenseth move up a position ahead of the now 6th place Busch.