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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

NASCAR – Jimmie Johnson Sets the Pace in Kentucky – A Bumpy Track and a Heat Wave Predicted to be a Factor

Through scorching heat and violent wind storms, Jimmie Johnson showed them all how it was done when he qualified in Kentucky on Friday afternoon. After 42 cars had run their laps Jimmie Johnson waited in the wings to get his run in. Ripping around the 1.5-mile speedway in 29.700 seconds (181.818 mph) was good enough to win the pole for Sunday’s Quaker State 400.

“It was a good lap — qualifying has not been our strong suit in the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “I’m very happy to get this pole today. My Chevy’s bad fast, and I’m looking forward to going racing.

“I’ve had a lot of crashes here over the years. We used to test here a lot back in the day, and Turns 3 and 4 have taken quite a few [No.] 48 race cars from us. To run well last year (third at Kentucky) was really good for me. I came back with a lot of confidence. Conditions earlier today were so slick that it took a while to get the feeling I was looking for, but I think we’re on the right track now.”

Kyle Busch (181.421 mph) qualified second, followed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammateDenny Hamlin (181.147 mph).Kevin Harvick will start fourth after a lap at 180.367 mph, one spot ahead ofRyan Newman (180.337 mph).

Kentucky is best know for the traffic hassles that plagued the race last year but official say they have everything under control this time around.  But no one can do anything about the scorching temperatures.  The only bright side to the heat, is that it will be cooler at race time as the sun goes down into the evening.  Couple the heat with a bumpy race track and there is a volatile mix for frustration and anger to make things even more interesting out on the track.

Kesolowski and Montoya already had issues with each other only 5 minutes into Happy Hour.  Kesolowski’s team decided to go to a back up car while Montoya opted to repair the original car.  After their on track bump and grind session with each other Kesolowski volunteered to go to the Hauler to discuss the situation.

“The bumps are very difficult to navigate here at Kentucky,” said Brad Keselowski. “It produces a race track that, by its very nature, is hard to be consistent to drive because it’s hard to hit the same bump twice, even in a race car as a supposedly professional driver.

“We can’t hit the same bumps twice, whether it’s passing traffic or tire fall-off that changes the way our car enters the corner. … Each bump you hit changes the way the car drives. So it’s hard to really predict, as a driver, what the car is going to do until it does it when you’re on a bumpy surface. That’s very challenging and requires a more disciplined skill set to drive. It rewards some and obviously doesn’t reward others. It requires a little bit more feel, so I think it rewards some of the more talented drivers, as well.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr was 7th in practice and qualified in 7th as well.  His take on the bumps is very simple, engineers need to listen to the drivers input carefully.

Earnhardt says it’s a fine line drivers face in racing on the bumps at Kentucky.

“With our cars, you’ve got to get them close to the ground to get the best aero platform and downforce that you can get. But, you can’t be on the ground too hard and the bumps really make that a challenge for the engineers,” Earnhardt said. “With a bumpy track the splitter is always banging on the ground, so you have to listen to the driver really when it comes to the bumpy tracks. He’ll tell you the splitter is bothering the car and making it tight. It’s kind of tough. That’s really a challenge.”

The high temperature for Sparta on Saturday is expected to be 100 degrees, and it won’t be much cooler at the race’s scheduled 7:45 p.m. ET start time. During Happy Hour on Friday, an excessive heat warning was in effect. It was 95 degrees when the session began, with an on-track temperature of 139 degrees. It is believed to be the highest temperature for an on-track event at Kentucky, topping the old mark of 130 degrees set in an IRL event in 2005.

“Yeah, it is definitely toasty and I am glad it is a night race and not a day race,”Matt Kenseth said. “Hopefully when the sun gets down and cools off a little it will be nicer not just for us but the fans and crews working down there. Getting rid of the sun will help a little bit but it is going to be the hottest race all year, for sure.”

Michael Waltrip said he hadn’t run at a track like this in a couple of years and the hot temperatures made for a cautious driver.

“I picked a heck of a day to come out of retirement,” quipped Waltrip, who hasn’t made a start on a 1.5-mile track since Homestead in the 2009 season finale. “I was just really careful … didn’t want to make a mistake. It was a struggle, but we tested here in the winter when you had more grip and now it’s hotter than it’s ever been and it’s slippery.”

 

 

 

NASCAR – Kahne Takes The Checkered Flag in Charlotte For His First Win in the #5

Kasey Kahne takes a celebration drink after winning the Coca~Cola 600 at Charlotte Motorspeedway

600 grueling miles in almost 90 degree heat, saving equipment until the end, making changes to keep up with the track as the sun goes down, and strategy to gain track position at just the right time. Kasey Kahne had all that working for him. Kenny Francis made all the right changes to his car and stayed ahead of the track, while Kasey took care of his car, keeping it off the wall, saving his brakes, and finding the speed he needed right at the best time to find it, in the final 25 laps.

After a rough start to the 2012 season Kahne has had a solid run for the last 6 weeks finishing top 10.  He never gave up despite the string of DNF’s early on, he kept any complaints he may have had to himself, and forged on.  The end result of that patience it seems is a win at one of NASCAR’s marquee races.

“I never doubted myself,” said Kahne.  “I was upset at some of the things that may have happened. I made a huge mistake at Phoenix and hit the wall there, but other than that, we were solid — we were fast.

“It was just a matter of getting past those [six] weeks and moving on and putting some solid races together.”

“I think the biggest thing for myself was just to figure out the cars, figure out how they drove,” Kahne said. “It’s been a little bit different for me. We’ve had speed. Even the last five, six races, we’ve been in the top 10, but not near as fast as Jimmie Johnson or a couple of those guys who have been winning races.”I just knew for myself, I needed to step up. Our team is solid. Our car is solid. Mr. Hendrick gives us everything we need to win races and run up front. [Sunday] night we were able to put it all together.”

Denny Hamlin did everything he could to chase down Kahne, even coming to within a second of him after the final restart, but Kahne could not be caught as he just kept pulling away right up to the checkered flag.

“As the track cooled off, it freed up for us — the car got better,” Hamlin said. “Ultimately, it gave us a shot to win. … The first 10 laps of the last run, we got to them [Kahne], but we wore our front tires trying to get around them.

“Everything was executed great [Sunday], the pit calls, getting on and off pit road, the pit crew themselves. We had a very, very solid day.”

Greg Biffle had been the dominant car all day, leading 204 laps, and looking like the car to beat, until Kahne got by and never looked back.

“It’s so frustrating,” Biffle said of his fourth place finish after having the event’s dominant car. “You’re driving your heart out, you’re wondering, ‘Am I doing something wrong? Come on, come on.’ You’re doing all you can do, but the car won’t do what you want it to do. You just take what it gives you, otherwise you wreck it. And I just about wrecked it a half a dozen times trying to get forward.”

Other notable finishers were Carl Edwards who charged from the back of the field towards the front gaining more than 20 positions to finish in in the top ten in 9th place.  Dale Earnhardt Jr also did well, running in the top 15 for most of the race and climbing to as high as second on a call by his Crew Chief, Steve Latarte, to stay out on 12 lap tires when the leaders came in to the pits.  The gained track position was what he needed to stay inside the top 10 to finish in 6th place.  Good enough to stay within 18 points of the points leader Greg Biffle in 4th place overall.

 

NASCAR – Jimmie Johnson Takes Home Hendrick’s 200th Win in Darlington

Jimmie Johnson took home to trophy for the Southern 500 from Darlington, and the 200th win for the Hendrick's stable.

200 wins. Now there’s a lifetime achievement to be proud of. But in typical Rick Hendrick fashion, while the mile stone is great, he is already looking towards the next one.

”That guy’s something,” Johnson said about the owner. ”He said, `We won 200. Let’s get 250.”

Jimmie Johnson could not have been more proud as he beamed his trademark smile around everywhere after the race.  Johnson presented his owner with a helmet signed by the 15 drivers who ran for Hendrick since he began his operation. ”Thanks, buddy,”  Rick Hendrick said with a smile. ”This will definitely be the centerpiece of the mancave.”

The win brings Johnson’s personal total up to 56 wins, and he is the 8th different winner out of 11 races so far this season.

Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart each did their best trying to postpone the 200th victory celebration but we’re simply unable to run down Johnson in the late stages of the race.

Tony Stewart did everything he could to postpone the 200th Hendrick win, but lost fuel pressure and held on for a 3rd place finish.

“I was trying to postpone [No. 200] for another week by trying to get to Jimmie, but I just couldn’t do it,” said Tony Stewart. “The closer I got to him, the tighter I got. That was one of the best runs we’d had, but still I wasn’t strong enough.

“He had plenty of car left. He was just riding, trying to save fuel. They won it in dominating fashion. To win a 200th race, you don’t want to back into it. They dominated and took it the way they should.”

“I think it’s phenomenal, especially with the competition over here getting tougher and tougher,” said Stewart, who lost second position to Hamlin when his car temporarily lost fuel pressure coming to the final restart. “It’s getting harder and harder to win these races.

“Especially for it to happen in the Southern 500 — it’s such a historic race. It’s a pretty cool milestone.”

When asked how he felt about bringing home a third place finish at a track where he still has yet to mark a W in the win column, Stewart said he was happy with the way things worked out for him and his #14 Office Depot team.

“You know, considering the hurdles of the day, I’m pretty happy with a third-place run,” Stewart said.

“We kind of struggled there the first half of the race,” Stewart said. “We fought loose in [Turn] 1 and 2, really tight in 3 and 4. So it’s really hard to fix the balance of the race car when it’s doing two different things on two different ends.

“Really proud of [crew chief] Steve Addington. He just kept throwing things at it to try to get a direction.”

“It’s why we won a championship last year,” he said. “We never give up.”

Johnson was a bit worried when he saw the grille of the 14 car in his rear view mirror.

“I still was really nervous with the 14 behind me,” Johnson said. “He’s been the guy week after week that can go the distance. I was trying to pace myself off of him. It worked out.”

It was fuel pressure however that, in the end, cost Stewart the position on the track and the chance to really give Jimmie a run for his money.

“We ran out of fuel coming off of [Turn] 4,” Stewart said. “It didn’t run all the way out of fuel, but it laid down enough that it didn’t run a 100 percent going down into Turn 1. Once we got into 1, we got the fuel to the pickup, and we just lost our spot doing it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Owner tony Stewart agrees.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.