Blogs > Nascar: Beyond the Track

Find out what's really going on in NASCAR. Look here to find out why your driver really lost his ride, or the real reason those two drivers can't stand each other. Learn about the hidden motives and reasons for the things that happen in NASCAR, from the drivers to the team owners.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A look inside the driver intro music at Bristol; the good, bad and ugly

OK. Bristol's racing may be less exciting lately, but at least we get cool driver introductions ... with the drivers picking their intro music.

Some make sense, some are silly, and some are just strange.
And, in true superstar fashion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is keeping his pick a secret until he walks down the ramp.

Here's my favorites, and some commentary, on the ones we do know.

Carl Edwards -- "Run This Town" by Jay Z
Gotta love the hip-hop presence this year ... A little Jay-Z and Kanye never hurt anyone.

Jimmie Johnson -- "Don't Mess Around With Jim" by Jim Croce
They've been trying to mess with you for five years, Jim. It ain't worked so far.

Jeff Gordon -- "E.I." by Nelly
There's probably a secret tape somewhere of JG getting down to this song on the dance floor sometime in the 1990s.

Jeff Burton -- A combination of "Coal Keeps The Lights On" by Dolly Parton and "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns 'n' Roses
Um ... I'm pretty sure these two things have never been combined before. I'll go out on a limb and say that.

Paul Menard -- "Gypsy Road"
Nothing like a little old-school Cinderella to kick off the night ... I wonder if Menard ever had their horrible hairdos back in the day.

Greg Biffle -- The Sanford and Son theme song
This choice alone makes Greg Biffle a man of awesomely distinguished taste. He probably called his old crew chief "you big dummy" before the change ... and on a side note, David Pearson once wore a Sanford and Son T-shirt on a TV interview, making him even cooler than he already was.

Kurt Busch -- "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix A Lot
Kind of confusing, since he only dates skinny blondes, but whatever.

David Reutimann -- "Pretty Fly For A White Guy" by The Offspring
I agree David ... you're pretty fly; but your silly Aaron's commercials aren't

J.J. Yeley -- "I'm Sexy And I Know It" by LMFAO
Well, there's some confidence J.J. (oh wait, you didn't even qualify ... that's not too sexy)

As far as what Jr. should come out to, I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure he should avoid "All I Do is Win"

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bristol Motor Speedway: By the Numbers

— Groundbreaking for Bristol International Speedway, as Bristol Motor Speedway was originally known, took place in 1960. The track was an exact half-mile.
— First NASCAR Sprint Cup race was July 30, 1961.
— In the fall of 1969, the track was reshaped and re-measured to .533-miles.
— The name changed to Bristol International Raceway in 1978.
— The first night race was held in the fall of 1978.
— The surface was changed from asphalt to concrete in 1992.
— The name changed to Bristol Motor Speedway in May 1996.
— The track was resurfaced between races in 2007.

— There have been 101 NASCAR Sprint Cup races since the first race there in 1961, two races each season.
— All races have been scheduled for 500 laps, except for both races in 1976 and the second in 1977, which were 400 laps.
— Fred Lorenzen won the first pole.
— The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was won by Jack Smith (with relief from Johnny Allen).
— There have been 44 different pole winners, led by Cale Yarborough and Mark Martin (nine). Martin swept both poles at Bristol in 2009.
— 38 different drivers have won, led by Darrell Waltrip (12).
— Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon each have five wins, most among active drivers.
— The race winner has started from the pole 22 times, the most productive starting position. The last driver to win from the pole was Carl Edwards, in the night race of 2008.
— 80 of 101 races have been won from a top-10 starting position, including 52 from the first four spots.
— The deepest in the field that a race winner has started is 38th, by Elliott Sadler in 2001.
— The 2009 night race had a margin of victory of .098 seconds, the second-closest MOV at Bristol since the advent of electronic scoring in May of 1993.
— The last five Bristol races had a margin of victory under one second.

NASCAR in Tennessee
— There have been 162 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Tennessee.
— 101 drivers all-time in NASCAR’s three national series have their home state recorded as Tennessee.
— There have been 12 race winners from Tennessee in NASCAR’s three national series.
Darrell Waltrip
Sterling Marlin
Bobby Hamilton
Joe Lee Johnson
Paul Lewis
Trevor Bayne
Bobby Hamilton Jr.
Jeff Purvis
L.D. Ottinger
Mike Alexander
Casey Atwood
Brad Teague

Track Size: .533 miles
Race Length: 500 laps/266.5 miles
Banking/Corners: 26 to 30 degrees
Banking/Straights: 4 to 9 degrees

Qualifying/Race Data
2010 pole winner: Jimmie Johnson, 123.475 mph, 15.540 seconds
2010 race winner: Kyle Busch, 99.071 mph, 8-21-10
Track qualifying record: Ryan Newman (128.709 mph, 14.908 seconds, 3-21-03)
Track race record: Charlie Glotzbach (101.074 mph, 7-11-71)

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Brad Keselowski continues his hot streak; Kyle Busch establishes himself as season's best driver

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- On Friday, many of the big stars of NASCAR admitted that Brad Keselowski was now a regular threat and could challenge for the title if he makes the Chase.
Sure enough, he lived up to the hype on Sunday, moving up to 12th in points after finishing third at MIS, just a stone’s throw from his hometown of Rochester Hills. This follows a 2nd place run at the Glen, and a win the week before at Pocono – just days after he broke his ankle during testing at Road Atlanta. Not too shabby, and this is from a guy who not too long away was sitting 23rd in points and hoping he could just get to the top 20 and contend for a wild card..

Asked about his incredible run, Brad said: “I wish I could bottle it up”.
I don’t think he has to worry though. With the team clicking like this, he should be able to put on a decent show in the Chase. Heck, if he keeps getting top-5 runs, he might even make the top 10 and not need to use a wild card to get into the Chase.
Brad has a very positive attitude about the whole thing, which is key to success. He’s not stressing whether he wins the title, which could be key to him possibly winning it.
“I don’t think I’ll be hearing any voices. The voices that I heard early in my career were, ‘You’re never going to make it’. Everything from here on out, you know, is peaches. It’s good,” Keselowski said Sunday following his third-place run.

Déjà vu – Biffle dominates, then fades
Just like in the June race, Greg Biffle dominated early, but he couldn’t come home with a win. It was an all too familiar story, and Biffle seemed confused as to why he fell all the way to 20th – a far too common occurrence for this team that has struggled in 2011.
“I don’t know what happened. I am not sure. I have a feeling we kinda got a bum set of tires and then we got off on our adjustments,” Biffle said. “ It was really really tight and we adjusted on it and then I think I was too loose the rest of the day but I really don’t know what happened to be honest with you. I really don’t know right now.”

His teammate Matt Kenseth also was up front most of the day, but he stayed up in the top 10, finishing 10th.
“We ran okay. Most of the day we had really good track position but we didn’t have the balance or the grip that we had here in June and we weren’t a threat to win which is disappointing. Overall we stayed up front most of the day, except the last lap,” Kenseth said.

Kyle wins, establishes himself as best driver so far this season
Up until now, I have said there is no dominant driver in NASCAR this season … with so many winners I’ve lost count.
By winning his fourth race of the year and clinching a spot in the Chase before anyone else, Kyle Busch is taking the lead in that category, and could establish himself as the man to beat if things continue this way in the next few races leading up to the Chase.
Kyle stopped short of proclaiming himself a title favorite, but said he’s happy with the team’s progress.
“We feel pretty good with where our program is heading. What Dave has been doing has been awesome. All the guys have pulled through and done a really nice job,” Kyle said. “Our intention is to win every single one of them.”

Tony not happy
Count Tony Stewart in the group of people not happy with their performance lately. He’s still in the Chase, but not contending like he wants to, so it doesn’t really mean much to him at this point.
"We just...I don’t' know what we have to do one balanced for a day but we can't. We haven't figured it out you. We were on both sides of the coin all day long. Just back and forth between tight and loose. We'll just take what we can get I guess,” Stewart said. "I will be perfectly honest, at this point of the deal, if we are going to run this bad, it really doesn't matter whether we make the Chase or not because we are going to be occupying a spot in the Chase that somebody else that actually can run for a championship is going to be trying take because our stuff is so bad right now, we're wasting one of those top-12 spots right now."

Martin happy to run fast
Mark Martin has struggled this year in comparison with his Hendrick teammates, but he had a good day at MIS – finishing fourth.
“It is an incredible privilege to drive stuff like that. Thanks to Hendrick Motorsports. Great race car and a tremendous engine,” Martin said.” They really had a fast race car all weekend. It is just a privilege to get to race at Michigan International and drive fast stuff. Had a fast truck on Saturday and a really fast car today. We were right there. Could see the lead. Anytime you can see the lead, you've got a crack at it. I feel very fortunate.”

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Toyotas sweep season at Michigan Speedway for first time; Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin fall flat

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- With Kyle Busch’s victory at MIS, Joe Gibbs has now swept the season in Brooklyn … and more importantly, Toyota has swept the season, for the first time ever.
NASCAR was once dominated by the Detroit 3 automakers, but Toyota has made itself a force in the top three NASCAR series over the past decade or so, much to the chagrin of many who favor good old American horsepower.
I fully recognize this sentiment isn’t as strong as it once was, and people nowadays do focus more on drivers than car makes, but at the same time I have to imagine the powers-that-be at Ford, Chrysler and GM aren’t too happy that their home track victories went to the overseas competition.

Carl, Denny tank it
Carl Edwards came into MIS tied for the points lead, but he dropped to fourth in the points when he finished 36th due to a failing racecar.
“I don’t know what was wrong with it. It was running on seven cylinders, it felt like it was running on seven cylinders. We changed a bunch of stuff and then it was fixed. It wasn’t something mechanical, it was probably something with some electrical connection or a coil or something,” Edwards said. “We weren’t expecting a failure like that.”

Denny Hamlin, the June winner who is clinging to a Chase spot, also struggled mightily, coming home 35th.
There was some tense talk between Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford … (at one point, when Ford asked Denny to go to the garage, Denny said “No. Fix the f----- car.”)
After the race, a frustrated Denny admitted his hopes to make the Chase likely depend now on maintaining the wild card spot, and hoping others don’t get more wins and pass him.
“More than likely, that’s the odds for us, a wild card position. But I can’t worry about those other guys. We have to – to me , it’s not worth making the Chase if I’m not going to be effective in the Chase and right now we need to right out ship.”

Jimmie: The championship is wide open still
Jimmie Johnson had his best ever run at MIS – but he still hasn’t won – This is the only track on the NASCAR circuit where two races are run each year that Jimmie has yet to win at … an amazing statistic.
Jimmie was happy with how things ended up for the #48 car, despite not taking the checkered.
“Great finish for the Lowe's team. Very proud of the effort and can't thank the employees of Lowe's enough for their support and sticking by this race team over the years. We had a tough start to the race on pit road and on the race track but we got that stuff ironed out and had great stops from then on and got the car underneath me. It was just really loose at the start of the race and I drove up through the field and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) made a great call to get me to pit road before that caution came out,” Jimmie said. “It gave us the shot at the win but once I was up front in the clean air the balance of the car was a bit too loose. I got away from Kyle but I was loose and I knew he was going to come at some point and he showed up. Disappointed that i didn't win but a very good effort for the Lowe's team especially when you look at where we started the race and where we finished."

He also said that once Chase time comes, it’s anybody’s game.
“The guys that make the Chase, they are all very capable of winning the championship,” said the man who has taken the crown the past five seasons. “I think it’s the hardest one to predict. It’s going to be a close one. I don’t know who to make the favorite.”

Gordon falls short of big to break wins tie with DW/Allison
For a minute, Jeff Gordon was the best car out on the track, and it looked like he might take the win and break his tie with DW and Bobby Allison in wins total. He ended up falling back to sixth in the end and remaining tied with the two legends.
“We were really good in clean air and when we got our front we were able to show that. I think Kyle (Busch) was the best car and he won the race but I felt like we were the second-best car and when we got the lead we could really show that. I just didn't get clear of the No. 17 and then the No. 2 got in there and when that happened, it just killed us. We got real, real tight behind those guys and we got a bunch of debris on the grill that started messing with us and the temperature going up and we got loose, but hey all in all a solid day for our DuPont Chevrolet,” Gordon said. “You know I love the effort and what kind of race cars we are bringing to the race track right now. It's a lot of fun out there and you know I thought we were going to be a little bit better than that and at time we were but right there at the end I think we just needed a little bit better track position so I guess I didn't do a good job on the restart."
On a somewhat related note, Bobby Allison is still very connected to the NASCAR community, and was at MIS Sunday morning signing autographs for fans. He’s a class act, and I’m glad to see him still be involved. Too few people know about the great things he and others of his era did in this sport before it got big.

Jr. frustrating, but hanging on
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who still dominates in number of fans despite not winning in over three years, was not happy after the race, when he ran decent all day but ended up 14th in the final running order.
"We had a good car. We had a couple of bad sets, well, I don't know whether they are bad sets of tires, but I put them on my car and they drive like crap. Then I put on another set and it will drive good. I don't know how to explain that,” Jr. said. “I've been doing that all my life. I ain't got an explanation for it yet. I had some awesome runs where the car was really fast, then I'd put on some tires and couldn't drive the car. So, you tell me. I don't know."
“Racing is frustrating as a whole. That's a part of this sport,” he continued. “At least we run good when we had our opportunities. We had a pretty good car. We had some bad stuff happen on pit road. We got back up to 10th or ninth, drove it up there. Then, we probably shouldn't have pitted there at the end. I don't know. We took two tires like a lot of guys and just didn't have the good fortune at the end on that last green-white-checkered. We were on the bottom behind the No. 00 (David Reutimann) and some other people that were as slow as hell and just couldn't go nowhere."
Relax Jr., you’re still in the Chase. And if you get through Bristol you should be safe … maybe. (A win might make you breather easier, though.)

Lake Orion-Built Sonic paces field at MIS
A Michigan-built Chevy Sonic LTZ was the pace car for the Pure Michigan 400 Sunday at MIS.
“In keeping with the spirit of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the Pure Michigan 400, the pace car is a vehicle that was built right here in Michigan – in Lake Orion,” said Jeff Chew, Marketing Manager, Chevy Racing. “The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ is a fun-to-drive, 1.4-liter turbo 5-door with a 6-speed manual transmission.”
The 2012 Chevy Sonic, the only small car built in the United States, launches in October.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Roush drivers sweep front row in MIS qualifying – Edwards struggles

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- On one hand, it’s not strange that two Roush drivers swept the front row at MIS, and a third will start 7th.

On the other hand, it is strange, because Carl Edwards is not among those three drivers. He, the fourth Roush driver, will start 22nd.

This doesn’t mean he won’t do well in the race, which is often decided by fuel mileage and other issues unrelated to how strong you are on Friday.

But if I were Carl, I’d talk to my teammates and see what they’re doing. After all, he is the one who is supposed to be contending for a title. Bad days won’t cut it at this stage of the game.

Maybe that trip to Montreal isn’t such a good idea Carl? (I’m kidding, sorta, but Billy Johnson is fully capable of running that race if Carl needs to stick around in Michigan to improve things.)

Biffle, whose year hasn’t been the greatest, said he was happy to help Roush sweep the front row.
“I don’t think that could have gone any better. I tell you what. This team has needed it. We have great cars and I can’t say enough for Matt Puccia and this 16 team. They work really hard and I am proud of them,” Biffle said. “I am just so proud of my guys because they have been working so hard. Matt Puccia is a great crew chief and he is really focused on these cars. I can’t wait for Sunday.”

Brad Keselowski will start sixth at his home track, and he outqualified his teammate Kurt Busch by seven positions. Roger Penske, another Michigan fixture is starting to see some success again at the track he formerly owned.

-- Three Cup drivers (Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Mark Martin) will compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race at MIS, which starts at 12:30 p.m.
-- Kyle Busch’s truck will carry the name and picture of 7-year-old Brady Reuter, of Hudson, Michigan, who won the “Riding Shotgun with Kyle Busch Motorsports” essay contest in early August.
-- A concert featuring rock band “Rev Theory” will take place Saturday in Lot 10 after the Truck race on Saturday … previous bands who have performed include Sugarland, Montgomery Gentry, 3 Doors Down, Saving Abel and Sick Puppies
-- Jimmie Johnson still hasn’t won at MIS, in 19 starts … it’s just one of the four tracks he hasn’t won at yet in his successful career.
-- If a Jack Roush wins the race Sunday, he will become the winningest car owner of all time at MIS, breaking his tie with the Wood Brothers. He has won with Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Greg Biffle
-- Brad Keselowski Racing’s Truck Series driver Parker Kligerman is a former winner at Michigan, in the ARCA series. Justin Lofton, also in the Truck race, also won an ARCA race at MIS.

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NASCAR's top stars know Brad Keselowski is a threat

Fresh off a win and a second place finish, Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski arrived at his hometrack with a good bit of wind behind his sails, as his recent boost puts in the lead in the Chase wild card standings.
Brad’s always been regarded as a talent, but he was also was seen as a brat by some who wasn’t mature enough to really succeed.
That’s all changed now, and the sport’s greatest stars are now speaking highly of Michigan’s favorite NASCAR son.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was impressed by how Brad drove, with a broken ankle, to a win at Pocono, and gave a nod to the Keselowski family.
“I thought he was pretty tough. His old man was tough and they come from -- he doesn’t have nothing on a silver spoon when he was young. He made his own way. Obviously he was born into a racing family, but everything that he -- to get to where he got, he had to make it there and he knows how hard it was to get there,” Jr. said. “He wasn’t going to give that opportunity to anyone else that day by having a relief driver or having someone else even race the car. He loves racing. He’s passionate and a competitor. I was happy for him and thought it was really cool, but I wasn’t surprised that he was doing whatever it took.”

Jr. went on to say that Brad has gained respect even from those who once had beef with him.
“I don’t know any rookie that’s ever come in here and not ruffled some feathers. That’s just part of the process. He earned a lot of respect I’m sure from guys,” Jr. said. ”What he did was cool and I think it was good in the eyes of the sport and to the fans and endeared him to a lot of people because of his stamina and his determination, which is good for the sport. The sport needs to see, the fans need to see that we have characters like that in the sport and that there are still guys that race -- I think all the drivers are like this, but it’s not popular opinion that we are all that gritty. You don’t really get the evidence of that too often in this day and age.”

Even 5-time himself, Jimmie Johnson, was a Brad booster Friday at MIS.
“I have a lot of respect for what his part is in the growth and the speed that Penske Racing has along with Paul Wolf and (Steve) Addington. Those guys have done an awesome job as a group taking their cars from where they were to where they are now,” Johnson said. “My perspective for Brad has been more of over the course of the year rather than just the last two races. Those last two races didn’t hurt by any means, but, you can’t argue with the success they have started since late spring and early summer and they’ve been rolling.”

And 4-time champ Jeff Gordon was equally nice in his assessment of Brad.
“I think I’ve always felt like Brad’s a really good race car driver. He’s proven that in the Nationwide Series. He’s had some success in the Cup Series and now you look at Brad and you go, ‘Okay, their performance is better.’ He’s a lot tougher than I thought he was. I think that he’s definitely got -- and that can build your confidence and momentum. Your confidence as a driver, your momentum as a team and they’ve got that right now. He told me prior to the race Monday, but he told me this I think on qualifying day. He said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it through this weekend, it’s really hurting.’ I don’t know if that extra day helped him or what, but he made it through and he was really strong. I think Penske has really got their act together. I don’t know what they found, but they definitely went down the right path and they’ve gotten it together. I think Brad is really being recognized now as a driver that we all thought he was when he came into the Cup Series because of his Nationwide performance and now he’s backing that up.”

Kyle Busch hasn’t always been friendly with Brad, but he brought up the #2 car when asked who could surprise everyone in the Chase.
"I think we've seen that here the last couple weeks and that's the 2 (Brad Keselowski) car. He come out of nowhere,
winning that race at Pocono and surprising us all and getting two wins on the year and now getting himself as a wild card
berth and then backing it up with a strong run this past week. He's certainly had some flashes of brilliance this year where
he's run well. He can be a guy that if he comes out here and runs well again this weekend, he's going to be a guy that's
probably going to be on everybody's mind."

So what does Keselowski think about all this adulation and his prospects of making the Chase and threatening for a title? Well, he says he’s not thinking about it, and is just focusing on winning.
“I’m thinking a lot about how we can win at Michigan. When you win, you don’t have to worry about all that other stuff. It takes care of itself. That’s where our thoughts are.”

And that’s probably the best approach to take. No need to get caught up in all the fuss; just go out and perform like you've been doing.

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Danica moving to NASCAR full-time is big boost for sport, big pressure on her shoulders

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- She’s coming. For real. Unofficially.

ESPN is the latest to report that sources have revealed Danica Patrick will be announcing her move to full-time NASCAR racing in 2012 … driving the #7 for JR Motorsports all season.

ESPN’s story gets specific, saying that the announcement will take place in Phoenix, and that the deal will include some Cup races with Stewart-Haas, the team that would presumably provide her ride in Cup for 2013 and beyond.
Of course, the JR Motorsports and Danica both deny it’s official, but any sane person knows it’s going to happen. The Indycar series is a mess, and she’s not doing anything great there anyway. Plus, the biggest thing: She can make a lot more money in NASCAR.

Jr. didn't confirm the move, but he did say that Danica has already been successful, by his measure.
“I think what she’s accomplished already has been success in my opinion. She obviously would want to continue to improve and compete for wins and win races. It’s tough to learn new cars, to learn a new vehicle and be able to drive it well and do well in it and adapt to it. I think she’s done that. She’s awesome about it and she’s really done a great job. I think that we look forward to the future races the rest of this season to be able to work with her,” Jr. said.

Assuming this move by Danica goes as suspected, what are the implications? … well, there are many.
1. Indycar takes a big hit; with her gone, their TV audience and attendance will continue to dwindle because she is a major draw for that series – and there aren’t many others in the field that people really care about.
2. NASCAR is a big winner here … they get another huge star, and even better she’s driving full-time for the sport’s biggest star, Dale Earnhardt Jr. They’re going to get more new fans because of Danica, ratings will rise and attendance will rise. They have to be giddy about this development.
3. This is a big test for Danica. She has been getting better in stock cars during her part-time experiment. Now she’ll have to continue that improvement. No one is expecting her to start being a dominant car right off the bat, but she can’t flounder because she will be in some of the best equipment on the track. All these years many people have doubted her ability and said she just got where she was due to marketing.

This is her chance to prove those people wrong, but there’s no guarantee that she will succeed. If she wants to move up to Cup, she has to show she can first succeed in Nationwide, or the doubters will have more of a case against her.

Whatever happens, get prepared, because unless everyone is getting bad information, DanicaMania is coming at you full steam in 2012. Enjoy the ride.

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Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin taking different engine paths at Joe Gibbs Racing

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- An interesting storyline is developing at Joe Gibbs Racing, where two different paths are being taken in the engine department.
After it was announced last week that Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota Racing Development will join forces in a single engine program to build NASCAR Toyota units in 2012, Denny Hamlin announced he would immediately move to a TRD engine, and is racing one at MIS this week.
Friday at MIS, Kyle Busch said his team is sticking with JGR engines this year, and have had only one blown engine this year. He said the merger of the engine shops is more about the fact that JGR has done no research on fuel injection, which is coming in next season, and TRD has. So it just made sense to stay with JGR engines this year.
What happens now will be interesting.
If Kyle continues to run well and Denny’s TRD engines do not perform well, what will that mean heading into 2012?
If the reverse happens (something Kyle obviously doesn’t want to happen), there will likely be more optimism heading into 2012.
This two-prong approach in the engine department at JGR is definitely unique in the sport, and I’m curious to see how it all plays out.
If one works better than the other, I’m guessing all the Gibbs teams will get on the same page before the season comes to an end, especially if engines affect how Kyle or Denny are performing in the Chase.

No more Kimis plan for Kyle
Kyle Busch said Friday that Formula 1 champ Kimi Raikonnen, who drove his truck earlier this year, has no current plans to return, though he is welcome back if he wants to do more races with Kyle’s truck team.
“There no plan for the future with Kimi” … haven’t heard from his people,” Kyle said. “We’d love to have Kimi back. If we wanted to come back and run a few races, we’d certainly put him in the right situation”

Menard not surprised by success
Many people have been surprised by the success of Paul Menard this year, but don’t count Menard in that group.
“No, I haven’t surprised myself. I’ve been racing for a long time and I know what I am capable of. I’ve just struggled being in the right situation and I feel really comfortable where I am at right now,” Menard said Friday at MIS. “I am surrounded by great people. They definitely pick me up when I am down.”

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Denny Hamlin looks to repeat at MIS; Danica Patrick goes NASCAR road racing

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Denny Hamlin pulled into Victory Lane at MIS in June, and has plans to do the same this weekend at MIS.

"We do, and at this point if we would've won (at Pocono), then I'd be real optimistic but it's so unpredictable. Some of our
best race tracks we've had the biggest amount of issues at. So, it's so tough to say what's going to be our strong suit
nowadays,” Hamlin said. “Michigan has been a good track. I don't think we've finished any worse than second over the last three races, so we need to go there and we need to perform well. The track changes quite a bit obviously in those few months -- gets a little bit warmer and it loses a small amount of grip. The setups we've run over the last few years have been pretty similar from the first race to the second."

Desmond Howard will be MIS Grand Marshall
Former Wolverine Desmond Howard will be the Grand Marshall for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400. The current ESPN college football analyst celebrates an anniversary, as does ESPN NASCAR analyst Dale Jarrett. Their careers intertwine in a way – with Joe Gibbs as the common thread. Howard is celebrating the 20th anniversary of winning the Heisman Trophy for the University of Michigan. It’s also the 20th anniversary of Jarrett’s first career NSCS victory in 1991 for the Wood Brothers at Michigan. There’s the ESPN connection between the two, but there’s also this: Howard was selected by Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins in the 1992 NFL Draft and played for Gibbs in the final season of his first stint as Redskins coach. Gibbs and Jarrett would team up in 1993 for a Daytona 500 win.

Danica goes NASCAR road racing
Alert the media. Danica is back, and she’s turning right. Danica Patrick will be making her stock-car debut on a road course this weekend in Montreal. In her last start, she finished 10th in the Daytona Nationwide race.
Also, Scott Speed will make his first series start since 2009, driving the No. 33 Chevrolet for Kevin Harvick Inc.

-- There are 14 Fords participating in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
-- As a manufacturer, Ford has taken the checkered flag 31 times at Michigan, the most of any manufacturer.
-- The most recent Ford win at MIS came in 2008 when Carl Edwards grabbed the checkered flag at the fall race.
-- Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are all two-time winners at MIS.
-- A pair of Ford owners, the Wood Brothers and Jack Roush, are tied for the most owner wins at MIS with 11 apiece.
-- Hall of Famer David Pearson piloted his Wood Brothers Mercury to the most wins in MIS track history with nine and the most poles with 10.
-- The No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford of Trevor Bayne is running a special paint scheme designed by seven-year-old Katie Hahn of Omaha, Neb., winner of the fourth-annual “JDRF Race Car Design Contest,” hosted by the Ford Customer Service Division (FCSD) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

Trevor Bayne, driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, will drive a specially designed tie-dyed No. 21 car designed by seven-year-old Katie Hahn of Omaha, Neb. Katie was winner of the fourth-annual “JDRF Race Car Design Contest,” hosted by the Ford Customer Service Division (FCSD) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Bayne unveiled the car Thursday at Ford World Headquarters and talked about the scheme and the upcoming weekend at MIS.

“I am really excited about the weekend, mainly because of the partnership with JDRF and Motorcraft and Quick Lane. They have done a great job of putting the program together and this paint scheme on my car looks awesome and Katie, our contest winner, did a great job of designing this crazy, colorful car with tie-dye on it. I know the Wood Brothers are excited for it and so am I. We are excited to get on the track with it.,” Bayne said.

Bayne said he enjoys racing at MIS.
“I like Michigan. You can always move around there. You aren’t boxed in and you can run the top, bottom or middle. You want your car to drive good everywhere, but you can make passes here and I am pumped about that. We ran pretty decent here last time, finished 16th, but we are looking for a top-15 or top-10 finish this time around. The Woods have always run pretty well here, so hopefully we can bring this car home to a top-10.”

Roush notes
-- Carl Edwards & Trevor Bayne will do double duty between Michigan & Montreal this weekend. Both drivers will fly to Montreal Saturday morning after Cup practice.
-- Michigan International Speedway is team owner Jack Roush’s ‘home track.’ Located about an hour’s drive away from Roush Industries in Livonia, MIS has been the most successful Sprint Cup track on the circuit for Roush Fenway Racing.
-- Roush Fenway has led over 2000 laps in Sprint Cup action at Michigan and has led over 3,000 in combined NASCAR action at MIS.-- Roush Fenway’s 21 total NASCAR wins at Michigan are the most at any track for the team. Carl Edwards earned Roush Fenway’s 21st NASCAR win at Michigan, via the NNS this spring.
-- In addition to the impressive 11 Sprint Cup Series wins at MIS, Roush Fenway has won four times in the Nationwide Series and five times in the Truck Series at Michigan. Overall Roush Fenway has collected 21 wins,82 top fives and 129 top 10s in NASCAR action at Michigan.
-- Nine different drivers have driven into victory lane at NASCAR races at MIS for Roush Fenway. Five in the Sprint Cup Series (Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards), three in the Nationwide Series (Martin, Jeff Burton and Edwards) and four in the Trucks (Biffle, Travis Kvapil, Erik Darnell and Colin Braun).

Ambrose is only fourth international winner in NASCAR
When he won Monday at Watkins Glen, Marcos Ambrose added his name to a very short list – foreign-born winners in NASCAR.
The Australian joins Italy’s Mario Andretti, Canada’s Earl Ross and Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya as the only drivers born outside of the United States to have won a Cup race.

-- Mario Andretti, a native of Italy and future Indianapolis 500 and Formula One World Champion, won the 1967 Daytona 500 in dominant fashion, leading 112 of 200 laps in a Ford out of the famed Holman-Moody stable. Andretti drove the race in a style previously unseen at the 2.5-mile superspeedway: His racing line used all the track, diving down to an apex and letting the car slide, tail out, up the banking on the exit of the corners.Andretti won under caution, leading teammate Fred Lorenzen by a half lap before the yellow waved with two laps remaining.
-- Canadian Earl Ross, a short track competitor, hardly carried the credentials of an Andretti. In fact, Ross in 1974 effectively bought a seat in a Chevrolet owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson thanks to sponsorship of Canada’s Carling Brewery. No matter; Ross became one of just five winners during the season, joining these legends: Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Bobby Allison. He also became just the second rookie of the year to win in NASCAR’s premier series.
Ross won Martinsville Speedway’s Old Dominion 500, leading the final 79 laps after teammate and NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Cale Yarborough’s engine expired. He won by more than a lap over Buddy Baker in a 30-car field that included NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty and Richard Childress. Unfortunately for Ross, sponsorship dried up and the Prince Edward Island native returned to Canada where he continued to race into the 1990s.
-- Juan Pablo Montoya of Bogota, Colombia, came to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after winning the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and seven Formula One races. His first victory came at Infineon Raceway in 2007 driving for his current owner Chip Ganassi. Montoya started 32nd in the race and led just the final seven laps around the 1.99-mile road course. He enjoyed a 4.07-second margin of victory over Kevin Harvick. Montoya completed the career sweep of NASCAR Sprint Cup road courses, winning at Watkins Glen International in 2010.

Dodge Montreal notes
-- Maryeve Default will be making her first career Nationwide start this weekend driving the No. 81 Dodge Challenger.
-- Robby Gordon is making his first Nationwide start since Montreal last year. He led 17 laps and finished 14th.
-- Quebec natives Alex Tagliani and Jacques Villeneuve will be piloting Dodge Challengers prepared by Penske Racing. Villeneuve is making his second NNS start this season in No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge Challenger. He finished third at Road America.

“I'm looking forward to the NAPA Auto Parts 200 - it's always an exciting race but in addition, it obviously has special meaning for me because the Circuit (Gilles Villeneuve) holds my father's name and I'll be racing in my hometown,” Villeneuve said. “After our good showing at Elkhart Lake, I know the No. 22 Discount Tire/Ruby Tuesday Dodge will be competitive and together with the Penske team, we'll definitely be turning up with the goal of winning."

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tons of first-time winners in 2011: But are they future stars or flashes in the pan?

There have been five first-time winners in 2011: Sometimes that leads to a legendary career (Petty, Pearson), and other times it's one and done (Johnny Benson, Jerry Nadeau, Greg Sacks, Lake Speed, and many others -- though to be fair, Bill Rexford only won 1 race, and he still was able to earn the Cup championship in 1950).

Many years bring little to no first-time winners, so what does this big crop in 2011 mean? Do we have a bunch of future title contenders and regular winners in the field? Let's look at it case by case.

David Ragan
Ragan's career started out terrible, as he wasn't quite ready for Cup and was a wrecking ball all over the track. But Jack Roush stuck by his young driver, despite many calls to replace him, and the results are starting to pay off. He showed potential to make the Chase a couple years back, slipped backward a year ago, but has resurged this year and finally got his breakthough win at Daytona (and probably should have won the Daytona 500 too.)

Unlike some drivers, though, he's not a one-trick restrictor-plate pony, and has threatened elsewhere.

My prediction: Ragan might never win a championship, but he'll win a good number of races in his career, probably cracking double digits in win total. He'll make some Chases, and might even contend with the best in a few years.

Marco Ambrose
There's no doubt Marcos is a tremendous racing talent. He's arguably the best road racer in a series with at least a handful of truly talented road racers. He won his first race at the Glen, and could rattle off a string of road course wins like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Mark Martin have done in the past.
Ambrose's problem is ovals. Until he starts to perform better in that arena, which makes up 90 percent of the races, he will never be a serious contender overall.

My prediction: A handful of road course wins, maybe one or two oval wins. No serious title runs, though.

Regan Smith
I like Regan Smith and know he's a great racing talent, but unless he gets into better equipment, he may fall into the one-and-done category. His win at Darlington was a great feel good story and everyone was happy, but he's struggled since and isn't looking like he'll contend for the Chase. If he gets in a better car, he'll win more. If not, this might be it for him as far as wins go.

My prediction: Just the 1 win unless a bigger, better team picks him up.

Paul Menard
He's running up front a lot, something many people thought would never happen. And now he's a Brickyard 400 winner (a rare club) and a legitimate Chase contender. Does the future hold great things for Menard.
Maybe, if he applies himself and continues to improve as a driver. His team, Richard Childress Racing, has the equipment to compete, as evidenced by Kevin Harvick's runs for the title, so a great career for Menard that is full of wins is not impossible to imagine.

My prediction: 7 or 8 career wins, and at least a couple Chase berths in the near future.

Trevor Bayne
This kid is the great unknown ... His win at Daytona showed just how masterful he was at the new 2-by-2 style of racing, and he will always be a threat to win there and should reach Victory Lane in Daytona again in his career.
But outside of there, he is hit or miss. Last year he was on fire when driving for Michael Waltrip's team, so it was a steal when Jack Roush picked him up after he got out of his Waltrip contract.

This year, though, he has had health issues, and even beyond that his on-track performance has fallen back severely from last year. This kid is young, tremendously talented and has a HUGE amount of potential. He will undoubtedly get a full-time Cup ride very soon, and have a long career in the sport due to his ability and marketability (he's seriously the most polite and media-friendly kid I've ever seen in the sport).

Will he win a bunch of races though?

My prediction: Trevor Bayne will become the most successful of this year's first-time winners, topping the 20-victory mark and contending for several titles. This won't happen instantly, but give him five years or so and the wins will start to pile up rapidly. (Not everyone can be like Kyle Busch and just win-win-win straight out the gate).


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Boris Said is the man; too bad he's not around every week

In a day full of highlights at Watkins Glen on Monday, perhaps the most interesting was the almost fight between Greg Biffle and Boris Said, and the war of words afterward.

I freely admit that I've always been a big Boris Said fan. He's a great racer, a great personality, and well, he has really cool hair.

Anyway, Said dropped some jewels after the race, threatening to go to Biffle's house and give him "a freaking whooping" on Wednesday (though I'm not sure why Tuesday wasn't chosen, but that's beside the point.) He also called Biffle a scaredy cat, which is a word I haven't heard used since I was 10, and that made me laugh even more.

Luckily, Mrs. Biffle didn't have to call the police, as the two men spoke this week and hashed out their differences ... kind of. At the very least, there won't be any skirmishes this week.
"We had a long talk and I think we're okay. Maybe now we'll be lovers, not fighters," Said said.

But Said insisted he wasn't joking; unlike some other driver threats, he was honestly ready to put a whoopin on the Biff.
"If I could have gotten to him (after the race), I'd have beat his ass. It's a good thing I didn't get to him. I had a bunch of people text me his address, and I would probably have been over there if he hadn't called me."

That's why I like Boris ... we need that kind of attitude and spirit in Cup. He wants to do well and isn't going to take any crap from other drivers. Too bad he's never really made it too far outside of road courses, as I'd love to see him around every week.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Special Fan Event Joins NASCAR Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR announced today the addition of a new fan-friendly event – the NASCAR Preview 2012, Presented by Sprint – that will follow January’s 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

“NASCAR Acceleration Weekend,” scheduled for Jan. 20-22 in Charlotte, N.C., gives race fans an unprecedented, festival-like experience with a combination of events and activities featuring the legends of the sport and stars of today.

“The NASCAR Acceleration Weekend will be an unforgettable start of a special tradition centered on the NASCAR Hall of Fame,” said NASCAR President Mike Helton. “Putting the 2012 Induction Ceremony together with the NASCAR Preview 2012 makes this a must-visit event weekend for racing fans across the country.”

Kicking off the inaugural NASCAR Acceleration Weekend on Friday, Jan. 20 is the induction of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 – Richie Evans, Dale Inman, Darrell Waltrip, Glen Wood, and Cale Yarborough – at a dinner and ceremony located in the Charlotte Convention Center, which adjoins the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This revered group, comprised of three drivers, a crew chief and a team owner, marks the third class to be inducted into the Hall. Exhibits of the five-member class will be unveiled inside the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Sunday, Jan. 22.

Following the Induction Ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 21 is the NASCAR Preview 2012, Presented by Sprint, a new addition to the annual calendar reminiscent of popular season preview events of the past. The fan-focused, all-day event located inside the Charlotte Convention Center will feature driver and show car appearances, simulators, games, prizes and a host of other fan-friendly and interactive activities. The highlight of the day for many fans will be autograph and on-stage Q&A sessions with drivers from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, plus four of the five new NASCAR Hall of Fame members inducted the previous night.

The NASCAR Preview 2012, Presented by Sprint now joins the NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest at Daytona International Speedway, held the previous week, as the two premier events for fans to meet their favorite drivers and get revved up for the start of the season at the 54th annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 26.

“Accessibility to the stars of the sport is what sets NASCAR apart from other professional sports,” said Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “Giving fans an opportunity to honor legends of the sport one day and then meet future Hall of Famers the next day is the kind of fan-focused activities that the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte is uniquely positioned to deliver.”

Tickets for the 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and the NASCAR Preview 2012, Presented by Sprint go on sale Sept. 20. Fans can enter their e-mail address at to receive updates and to receive a promo code for pre-sale opportunities.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Keselowski’s four-leaf clover wears off on teammate Kurt Busch

Brad Keselowski must have found the golden horseshoe and be sharing it in the Penske garage. Kurt Busch jumped into Brad’s Nationwide ride Saturday and pulled off a Nationwide win at the Glen, holding off a bevy of talented road racers in the process.
Brad was excited to see Kurt do well in his usual Nationwide ride.

“This is great. This deal with Kurt didn’t come together until Tuesday. We left our driver debrief and talked about the Cup weekend at Pocono, I walked up to Kurt and said, ‘Hey Kurt, I think it would be cool if you drove my car this weekend. I just don’t think that I can pull it off.’ He was like a kid in a candy store,” Keselowski said. “His face lit up and I knew that he wanted to drive this car. I knew how bad he wanted to win and I’m glad to see his hard work and passion for the team pay off with a victory.”

Brad also pointed out that this month has brought a steady stream of championship-caliber talent to the driver’s seat of the #22 Nationwide car.
“We’ve had four championship drivers in that car over a four week span with Sam Hornish Jr., Jacques Villeneuve, Kurt, and myself. It’s going to be really cool to watch Jacques next week in Montreal.”

Roush duo enjoys Grand-Am debut
David Ragan and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 12th at the Glen in their rand-Am debut, driving the No. 11 TRN Racing/Blackforest Ford Mustang in the GT Class.

“I’ve had a great time. This is probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a road course, so thanks to Jack, Ford Racing and UPS for allowing me to do this,” Ragan said. “It was great to get seat time and another couple hours of running that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to go along with our best qualifying effort up here. It definitely helps a little bit. I know the cars are completely different, but just getting the mindset of turning left and turning right and getting my reactions better, it was a lot of fun.”

Stenhouse said he was pretty happy with the result of their efforts.
“I don’t know what was expected, but I feel like we did alright. David ran some really good laps, consistent laps. He was more consistent than I was and ran really strong, so when I got in it took me awhile to get going after running our Nationwide car today. Once we got going, I felt like I could run some consistent laps.”

Jimmie and Kurt banter continues
After last week’s race, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson were not so friendly, and apparently that hasn’t changed.

“Bottom line, he just started running his mouth. If you look at over the years and what his mouth has done for him, it got my biggest fan Jimmie Spencer to punch him in the face. It’s led to issues with NASCAR officials on pit road,” Johnson said. “I think we all tune in weekly and wonder what’s he going to say to his crew guys. You look at what he said to Roger Penske, his car owner. So, that aspect is the part that really got me mad. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let him run his mouth at me. That is just kind of how it is.”

Kurt played it cool, saying he’s glad Jimmie is thinking about him.
“It’s great. It means that I’m in his head and if I’m in his head, he’s got to worry about us running through this Chase,” Busch said.

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hanging on in the Chase; Joey Logano's day ruined by tire

After a reasonably good day, finishing 9th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains 10th in points, and is one of only two drivers in the top 10 without a win. If he falls out of the top 10, he’s basically out of luck, since he has no wins and wouldn’t get a wild card.

Still, he didn’t sound too concerned after the race Sunday.
“I don’t know where we’re at (in points). I haven’t seen it. I’m comfortable though, trust me,” he said with a laugh. “I’d rather be second or first or third, whatever, but I’m good with how things are working out.”

There is a good cushion between Jr. and 11th place Denny Hamlin (23 points), but one bad day can erase that, so he needs to stay on his toes, or preferably get a win, to ensure a spot and be able to run for the title this fall.

Watkins Glen will be a big test for him, and if he can get through that without much points damage he’ll be able to breathe a lot easier.

Tire ruins Logano’s day
It was also quite a week for Joey Logano. He could breathe a little easier after Carl Edwards was staying with Roush and not moving to the Gibbs team and the 20 car as rumored. Logano responded by winning the pole, leading a lot of laps and being up front when the rain came. His luck changed once the race restarted, as he ended up 26th after a cut tire forced him to pit late in the race.

Crew chief Greg Zipadelli said there was no reason to hang his head, and that kind of stuff happens some times.
"I'm going to get on a plane and go home and get up at 4:45 tomorrow morning and go to work like I do the other 355 days a
year. What can you do? We did all we could. We sat on the pole, we led a bunch of laps, we had a very respectful top-five
car. I think one of our better performances in the last two and a half years so I'm not going to hang my head and be
miserable over something on the race track. I can't control that. If it was something that we did and made a bad call it would
be different than that. Right now, we learn and the last thing I want to do is walk out of here with a bad attitude and kill the
momentum that we've had in the last six to eight weeks."

Fans Can Enter Chevy’s “Drive It Like You Won It” contest; winner will get Silverado truck and meet Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin

Win it. Drive it. And meet Team Chevy racing legends Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin at Texas Motor Speedway later this year.
Race fans can enter Chevrolet’s “Drive It Like You Won It” by registering at now through September 16, 2011. One Grand Prize Winner will receive a new Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew Cab LTZ 4x4, and an expenses-paid race weekend trip for two to Texas Motor Speedway in November to meet with racing legends Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin.

Roush happy to have Carl stay in the fold

As expected, Jack Roush is quite happy with Carl Edwards’ decision to stay at the Roush team, and he said Carl wanted some questions answered before deciding to stay.
“Words can’t describe how happy all of Roush Fenway is to be sitting here with Carl in this circumstance and having him agree for 2012 and beyond to extend his association with us. I consider it as a positive indication for the analysis that Carl did, a positive indication for
all of the personnel and the process that we have at Roush Fenway to build our cars, to build our engines and to organize ourselves and train our pit crew and do the rest of it. Carl’s evaluation and his questions were most exhaustive and certainly the most in-depth of any
that I’ve had in my 24 years and I’m glad we made it through that and he came to this determination. I can’t say how much I look forward to working with Carl in the foreseeable future and our Fords to make him a champion in the Cup Series and multiple championships hopefully and to win a lot of races.”

Watkins Glens International, by the numbers

-- After several events were held on the streets of Watkins Glen, a permanent facility was opened in 1956.
-- The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was in 1957, won by Buck Baker.
-- After a six-year absence, NASCAR returned to The Glen in 1964 and 1965.
-- After a 21-year absence, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returned to The Glen, and has run one race a year there since 1986. This weekend’s race will be the 26th running since its return in 1986.

-- There have been 28 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Watkins Glen International since the first race there in 1957.
-- Buck Baker won the first pole and race.
-- Tim Richmond won the first pole and race upon the series’ return in 1986.
-- There have been 16 different pole winners.
-- The race winner has started first in nine of 28 races. The last race winner to start from the pole was Kyle Busch in 2008.
-- Mark Martin leads all drivers with wins from the pole with three in a row between 1993, 1994 and 1995.
-- 18 of the 28 races at Watkins Glen have been won from a top-five starting position.
-- 20 of the 28 races at Watkins Glen have been won from a top-10 starting position.
-- The deepest in the field that a Watkins Glen race winner has started was 18th by Steve Park in 2000.
-- 17 different drivers have won races, led by Tony Stewart, with five.
-- Jeff Gordon set the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup record for road-course victories with his victory in 2001, his seventh on a road course. He has since won two more (both at Infineon Raceway), for a career total of nine.
-- Three active drivers with more than one start have an average finish in the top 10: Marcos Ambrose (2.6 in three starts), Tony Stewart (5.4 in 12 starts), Carl Edwards (8.1 in six starts), Mark Martin (8.2 in 21 starts) and AJ Allmendinger (9.3 in three starts).

Watkins Glen International Data
Race #: 22 of 36 (8-14-11)
Track Size: 2.45 miles
Race Length: 90 laps/220.5 miles

Driver Rating at Watkins Glen
Tony Stewart -- 129.6
Juan P. Montoya -- 113.5
Marcos Ambrose -- 113.5
Kyle Busch -- 102.1
Kurt Busch -- 101.9
Jimmie Johnson -- 100.0
Denny Hamlin -- 99.9
Carl Edwards -- 94.9
AJ Allmendinger -- 91.9
Kevin Harvick -- 89.6
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2010 races (6 total) at Watkins Glen.

Qualifying/Race Data
2010 pole winner: Carl Edwards
(124.432 mph, 70.882 seconds)
2010 race winner: Juan P. Montoya, (90.96 mph, 08-08-10)
Track qualifying record: Jeff Gordon (124.580 mph, 70.798 seconds, 8-8-03)
Track race record: Mark Martin (103.300 mph, 8-13-95)

NASCAR in New York
-- There have been 66 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in New York:
-- 179 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as New York.
-- There have been 14 race winners from New York

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Brad Keselowski’s gutsy win sends a strong message to competition

If I would have told you mid-week that Brad Keselowski would win at Pocono, claiming his 2nd win of 2011 and vaulting his way into the lead in the hunt for the 2 Wild Card spots in the Chase, you would have called me crazy.

He had just been in a serious accident during testing at Road Atlanta, severely damaging his ankle (he even tweeted pics of the injury, and trust me it wasn’t pretty.)

So the first thought in my head when I saw the news of his injury was: “Well, Brad needed to win another race to have a legitimate shot at the Chase, so he’s pretty much done for at this point.”

So when I saw him win on Sunday, I realized I had underestimated him. Often, when up against an injury, athletes will come through in extraordinary ways – I recall Denny Hamlin’s win fresh off his return from surgery last year, and Dale Earnhardt’s pole run at Watkins Glen despite being severely injured in a crash two weeks earlier at Talladega.

Despite his impressive win, Keselowski remained humble -- and brought up the tragedy in Afghanistan this weekend to remind us that there are much bigger heroes in the world.
“It’s not me, it’s good people. It’s having a crew chief and a team that digs. There are so many people to thank for being in victory lane. I’m no hero. The heroes are the guys that died in Afghanistan this weekend and I want to spend time thinking about them. They were my inspiration for this weekend and the things that those guys do. I’m glad that we could win today, but those are the heroes. I just drive race cars for a living.”

A lot of people talk like that because it sounds good in the media, but in my experience with Brad he’s always been a straight shooter who spoke from the heart. (and I echo his sentiments on the troop tragedy this weekend; I’ll be very happy when we finally get out troops out of that country; 10 years is enough in my book.)

Getting back to racing, I’ll admit that when Brad made the announcement he was going to Penske, I doubted he would be able to succeed on a level that might be possible if there had been a spot for him at Hendrick (and you know Rick wanted to keep a talent like Brad.) I envisioned Brad would struggle some at Penske, then probably go back to Hendrick when Jeff Gordon retires.

Now, I’m not so sure. Roger Penske and Brad Keselowski, a couple of guys with major Michigan ties, are working out quite well for each other, and the #2 team has racked up 2 wins so far in 2011 and is very likely to make the Chase if they can just stay in the top 20, due to the new wild card rule – which I really thing has spiced up the competition.

While I always respected Brad’s talent, I didn’t think he had this in him in 2011, and he is impressing the hell out of me. Last year at this point, he had zero top-10s; so the team has caught fire with its impressive run in 2011, and crew chief Paul Wolfe and the pit crew deserve their share of the credit too.

And as for the Hendrick comparison – Hendrick Motorsports has three wins this year (2-Gordon, 1-Johnson) and Penske has three wins (1-Busch, 2-Keselowski). I’d say that’s pretty impressive considering how Hendrick has dominated the sport for most of the past 15+ years.

Who knows, maybe if Hendrick ever does calling back for Brad in the future, he might have to tell Mr. H … “No thanks. I’m good where I’m at”

From the time he entered the sport, I’ve watched Brad grow from a young truck driver, to a Nationwide competitor, to a Nationwide champion, to a surprise Cup winner, and now into a legitimate contender any given week in the Cup series. His family is a line of great racers, and he might just be the best of them.

Now, as he begins to rack up wins driving for Roger Penske, the whole world is finally seeing what Brad can do, and there’s no way they can write him off as a fluke. With his gutsy win this weekend, Brad put the NASCAR world on notice, and unless he stumbles badly this month, expect him to make the Chase and perhaps spice it up with his Wild Card entry.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Edwards makes wise move to stay at Roush, can now focus on winning Chase

The whole concept didn’t sit right with me.

How could Carl Edwards, Mr. Ford, even think about going to join Joe Gibbs Racing and leave the team that made him a superstar? And while he’s standing on top of the points standings too?

Every week he was asked what he was doing, and every week he had no information, fueling speculation he would announce a move right before starting the Chase that he is more likely to win than an in his career to this point, causing potential chaos at his Roush team.

Then, of course, the money numbers started to leak. Edwards was going to, rumor had it, get $8 million salary for next year, plus a $10 million dollar signing bonus to go to Gibbs – that’s Peyton Manning type money, and would draw anyone’s attention.

If those numbers were accurate, Edwards definitely had a tough decision to make. Unless, of course, Jack Roush matched them, and that was what convinced him to stay
No one knows what went on in the negotiation rooms between Carl Edwards and his suitors over these past month, but in the end it worked out as I predicted in the beginning – Edwards stayed where he belongs, with Roush.

Just imagining Edwards getting out of his car and saying, “This was a great Camry today. I’d like to thatnk Toyota” is hard to imagine. And when you switch car makes and teams, there’s no guarantee of continued winning (just ask Dale Earnhardt Jr.)

Looking at the facts, there are just too many unknowns that would go along with a big move like this, and the decision to stay with Roush, where he may not end up staying for the rest of his career, makes far too much sense for Carl to have done anything else.

Put simply, he is top dog there. Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan have good runs, but they don’t do what Carl does. Matt’s won his title, and is at best a sleeper to contend this year. Biffle is too inconsistent, and Ragan is just starting his ascent in the sport. Carl will get the best equipment at Roush and will contend for the title year after year.

Compare that to Gibbs, where he would be heads up against Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and
Joey Logano. Good luck with that, and dealing with all the egos in the room in addition to trying to keep up on the track.

No. Roush is Carl’s home, and whether it was money or loyalty that kept him there, his career is better off in the wake of this move. While this whole debacle went on far too long for my taste and did cause distractions for the 99 team, Carl can rest easy tonight, and will be fully focused for the Chase where he (or anyone for that matter) can hopefully take away the title from five-time and breathe some freshness into the NASCAR championship battle.

And Gibbs fans can only dream of what possibly could have been if he had made the switch.

Keselowski on the mend
Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski has pulled out of the Nationwide race this weekend due to a testing wreck at Road Atlanta, but he will compete in the Pocono Cup race. All is well, though. Despite being airlifted to the hospital, he was not seriously injured and even tweeted a photo of his swollen ankle.

That kind of interaction with fans and sense of humor is what makes so many people like Brad, and I wish him well in his recovery.

In his absence, Sam Hornish Jr. will race in the Nationwide race, with Parker Kligerman practicing the car.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Brickyard win shows Paul Menard is more than just his daddy's money

A name can mean a lot in life.
Sometimes it can bring you success you do not deserve, other times it can take away success you might have achieved.
And in the sports world, including NASCAR – a name often comes with expectations. Kyle Petty was inevitably going to be compared to King Richard, which I would argue is unfair. Same for Dale Jr.
Then there is the curious case of Paul Menard. His dad was not a 7-time Cup champ … No, he is just a billionaire. One of the richest men on the entire planet, which isn’t easy to do.
A side effect of being so rich is that you can pursue your dreams, and your children can be a part of those dreams. For John Menard, those dreams are racing glory, at Indy and elsewhere.
For many years, John’s son Paul Menard has been trying to become a Cup star, but had little success to show for it.
In the process, he has had to endure a reputation that he must have resented … as many people thought of him as someone unworthy of a ride in the Cup series, who was there only because his daddy had money.
I will admit that I made this very comment many times as he struggled throughout his Cup career, and wondered whether he could make the leap to competitive driving in the top level of NASCAR.

Move to Childress
I remember last year when Menard first announced his move to Richard Childress Racing, as the fourth team, of course bringing his father’s sponsorship money along with him.
At the press conference, many of the questions were of a nature that questioned the decision by RCR. Was Menard worthy of a ride with a top NASCAR team? Was the deal all about his dad’s money?, etc.
You could tell Menard was a little annoyed answering the same questions he’s heard for years, but at the same time he seemed eager to prove everyone wrong

Winner at last
As the early part of the season wore on, people started to notice Menard. He put together some good runs, in part because he was finally in equipment that finally could compete, and in part because he had matured as a driver over the past handful of years. People started to mention him as a possible winner, something that had never really been said about him in the past.
And that win finally came Sunday at the Brickyard – the second biggest stage on the NASCAR circuit. The win was even more special due to the fact that John Menard had tried so long to sponsor a winning driver in the Indy 500, and the Brickyard success he had so long hoped for finally came via his son and NASCAR.
Of course, the rce came down to fuel mileage, a point of contention that some fans will use to continue saying that Menard is not yet a proven winner. But the thing about fuel mileage racing is that in order to win one, you have to be up front to begin with. In his past years, Menard would have been running in 25th, not the top 10, and wouldn’t have a shot at winning, even in a fuel mileage situation. So the doubters on this point are off base I my opinion.
And beyond that, a simple look at Menard’s numbers for the year tell the tale. In 20 races so far, he has 4 top 5s and 6 top 10s, which shows he has been competitive moreso than he ever has been in his career. In 147 races prior to 2011, he had 2 top 5s and 8 top 10s. (and most of that came in 2010, with just 1 top 5 and 1 top 10 prior to last year).

Chase contender
Paul Menard, at this moment, would make the Chase. This is something almost no one would have predicted at the start of the year. I’m not saying he’s going to win a bunch more races and contend for a title, but there is no denying he is now a presence in the sport. All those who questioned whether he was worthy of a Childress ride … including myself at times … are now being shown that he is.
And good for him. Like I said, a name can mean a lot, and for Paul Menard his name has meant a lot of doubt about his worthinesss as a competitor in NASCAR. To see him succeed on such a big stage, with the promise for a bright career in the future, is something that the entire garage seems happy about, as many of his competitors have known for years that he had the potential to do very well in the right equipment.
Now, if Menard is running up front in future weeks, we won’t think it’s a fluke or a strange occurrence, and we’ll actually believe he can win.
I still doubt he’ll become a superstar and win tons of races or compete for titles with Jimmie Johnson and the like, but one thing is for sure now in my mind: Paul Menard is not just in a racecar because of his daddy’s money. The boy knows what he’s doing on the track, and everyone should recognize that by now.

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