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.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The NASCAR free agent market is crazy!! Actually, no, it's all hype

Talk exploded this week about free agency and big moves for some drivers in 2012. Clint Bowyer had really wanted to go to Red Bull, some said. Carl Edwards may go to Gibbs, replacing Logano or as a fourth car. … etc., etc. etc.

I hate to be a buzzkill, but I’m going to say it right now: Don’t expect much, if anything, of note to happen in free agency this offseason.
Let’s go case by case.

-- For starters, Carl Edwards is NOT leaving Roush for Gibbs. And you can quote me on that. I understand that Gibbs would love that (I mean, who out there is hotter as a driver than Edwards right now; any team would love to have him.).
But that doesn’t mean Edwards will take the offers coming his way. Think about it. Right now, he is the king of the Ford heap. He is a great spokesman for the Ford brand and all the sponsors that he is so quick to recite. They all love him. And because they all love him, he knows they’ll do whatever is necessary to keep him, and he knows it.

Carl Edwards is smart, and he knows that by not signing right away and letting the media speculate that he is interested in leaving, that he will get yet another swiss bank account full of money thrown his way. The longer he holds out, the richer he gets. Ford is too smart to let their star get away, as it is likely he will win a title, or many titles, for them in the future. The guy is a talent they can not afford to lose. When he says “we’re working on the contract,” he means “I’m holding out for more money”.

So mark my words, he’ll get that money, and spend the rest of his career in a Ford.

-- While we’re on the topic of drives not leaving their current rides, let’s talk about Clint Bowyer. Maybe there was some truth to the Red Bull rumor, but with that out of the mix now, where could he go that’s a better ride than Childress?

The answer is nowhere, which is why he is staying put. I don’t see Bowyer as a champion driver, and he’s probably running about as good as he ever will in these RCR cars, so going to a weaker team now would only make the end of his career come sooner. I don’t see Bowyer going anywhere else, and if he does it’s a mistake on his part, as Childress is the best fit for him and the place he can prosper the most.
-- Others: Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman are both free agents, but there are no signs they will be leaving their respective teams (Earnhardt-Ganassi and Stewart-Haas), so they’ll be staying put.

-- Finally, don’t expect a fourth Gibbs car … that’s been hyped for years and never happened. We would have seen more movement in that direction if that was going to happen (i.e. … running a fourth car in select races in 2011, to see how it went). The only guy that would make sense to add a fourth team for is Edwards, and as I’ve established, he’s not going to be driving anything but a Ford for Jack Roush.

While we’re talking about Gibbs, let me clarify that Joey Logano will NOT be let go by the team. No way, no how. Gibbs found this kid at 15 years old, he’s dedicated to him, and Logano is still VERY young. His future is still bright, he is not a bust as some people believe, and trust me he will be a championship contender in the next handful of years. Gibbs is smart enough to know this and is not about to dump his potential golden goose.

So what does it all add up to?: A lot of talk about big moves in free agency, and little to no actual action in that area. You heard it here first.

Gibbs penalty
Penalties were handed out to the Gibbs team for “oil pan gate” … with $50K fines for all three Cup crew chiefs (which I am sure the coach will pick up), and probation until year end for the crew chiefs, car chiefs and team VP JD Gibbs.
I know the money is no big deal, but JGR needs to stop this silliness with the magnets and funny oil pans. There are ways to get better that do not put the team at risk of potentially damaging points penalties (though points luckily were not deducted this time). And on top of that, you do not want to be known as a cheating team in NASCAR.

I hope the coach lets all his people know this is unacceptable, as NASCAR will likely come down harder if the team continues to break the rules.

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Red Bull exiting NASCAR won’t have a major impact

In a busy news week in the NASCAR world, one of the top headlines is that Red Bull is pulling out of the sport starting next year. They will no longer field a team in NASCAR, and do not have plans to remain on as a car sponsor either.

Team manager Jay Frye told media this week that he is working on investors and hopes some sort of a team can be salvaged, but it would not be a Red Bull team regardless of what he does.

My thoughts on the whole deal?
-- First, I am not surprised at all by the departure. Red Bull has their name on almost every form of motorsport in some fashion, and eventually the money has to run out, especially considering they not only owned the team but also sponsored the cars. This is not a good business model by any means. And despite all the investment they did in NASCAR, they never really took off as a team, other than a few really good runs by Brian Vickers. If you have to pull out of one motorsport, it might as well be the one that is not doing so hot for you (NASCAR) and not the ones where you are excelling (Formula 1, for example, where Sebastian Vettel is emerging as the next Michael Schumacher). Eventually, you have to choose your priorities, and NASCAR is nowhere near the top of the list for Red Bull. There are no current or future champions in the Red Bull pipeline on the NASCAR end (though Cole Whitt is a good talent who could be successful on some level).

-- Even if Frye can get the team new investors, it will essentially be a brand new team, and the Red Bull era is over. This new team will likely be a minor player now, which it kind of already was anyway as Red Bull, and I do not expect any big-name drivers would want to get a job there.

-- Perhaps the biggest impact is on the driver end, as this pretty much kills the idea I and others had that Mark Martin and Kahne would swap rides for 2012. So now the questions become: Where does Martin end up? What about Brian Vickers? It should be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

The bottom line, though, is that while there is an initial shock from the Red Bull announcement, in the grand scheme of NASCAR it will not have a huge impact, other than on some free agent drivers.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. blasts Mark Martin … and then they make up

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- NASCAR is all about feuds lately, especially Kyle Busch vs. Kevin Harvick. That particular feud did not have any presence in the MIS race, but another emerged – albeit briefly – after the MIS race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in a huff after the race and blasted Mark Martin in an interview, saying that Martin had been “careless” and pinched Jr. up into the wall.

“The defining moment probably was getting run into the wall by Mark (Martin). We had fixed the car, we were moving forward and we were doing pretty well at that point, but, you can’t do nothing about getting run over or getting run into the wall,” Jr. said. “I try really hard to take care of people and try not to be careless and I don't like putting up with carelessness and that really pissed me off what happened out there."

Jr. implied that had the situations been reversed, he would have been more polite to his teammate.

“I perceived that he didn’t know I was on outside. He come up there, he knew I was up there, but, he was just running hard. If they tables were turned, I would have been smarter and give him plenty of room than he did me. He is older me, been racing forever and knows a lot more than I’ll ever get or he has forgot more stuff than I’ll never know. Still, I take better care of people than that,” Jr. continued. “I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know. I just do a better job; I take better care of people than that. Hopefully, now that I know what to expect in a situation like that. I will still drive on the outside of him and hopefully he won’t run me in the wall.”
Martin was taken aback by Jr.’s comments and said he’s not a careless racer.

“I don’t have a history of having problems. I don’t think I have one now. I think we will get it sorted out. I feel like I give everybody on the race track respect. I made a mistake,” Martin said.

And then, as is to be expected, the two spoke, and Jr. accepted Mark’s version of what happened (that he was out of gas and lost control of the car due to air off Jr.’s car), and all is well in the Hendrick camp.

Except that 108-race winless streak for Jr., but that’s a whole ‘nother topic

Kyle Busch aching during race
Kyle Busch told the media after the race that he had “chest pain” during the race. After the race, though, it was clarified that it most likely just indigestion, so fear not KB fans. His health is not in danger.

Carl complains: Too much downforce, too hard to pass

You would think a guy who is still leading the points would be happy with the way the cars are designed, but apparently that’s not the case with Carl Edwards.

“ This is a great race track and track position is so important. Sadly, down force is such a big factor in these cars and I am really hoping that NASCAR will take the opportunity in 2013 to take down force away so the fans can see the guys race race cars and not race down force. That would be cool,” Edwards said after finishing 5th.
“All the cars are very close. So let’s say all of the cars are a tenth apart and you are behind two or three cars, your car is two-tenths of a second slow. You can’t make up. I am not whining. Denny earned this win and those are the rules we are under. Track position was huge and I just wish it wasn’t like that.”

First Carl, you are complaining, and second, I doubt many teams want to have less downforce.

But I’m not an engineer, so maybe I’m wrong. I’d be curious to hear what more mechanically inclined people would have to say about how these changes that Carl suggests would affect the cars. Or perhaps there are other ways to make track position less important and allow for more racing.

The delicate balance of creating speed and allowing for the best racing is something that should be talked about, so maybe Carl did a good thing by bringing this up. But I also think the fact that he didn’t win plays a part in his complaining.

Bayne back after illness
Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne returned to the Sprint Cup for the first time since his mystery illness, and he finished 16th in the Wood Brothers ride.

“I feel fine, so I’m ready and I’m back and it was good to finally get back in this Cup car. It wasn’t too bad for our first run back there, 16th-place finish. This team is doing a really great job this year. We struggled on pit road there for a little while, but we finally got that figured out at the end of the race, so that helped us. Then, the car was really tight into the center and loose off, so we fought that all day long up until the very last lap,” Bayne said.

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No Roush rout at Michigan this time

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Often, when NASCAR makes its trips to the Irish Hills, Jack Roush and his Fords dominate.

And for a little while, that looked like it would happen again. Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth ran great early and were swapping the lead. Carl Edwards was top-5 much of the day, and another Ford – A.J. Allmendinger – also ran well most of the day.

But in the end, Toyota won the battle, with Denny Hamlin emerging as the victor.
Matt Kenseth said that despite being strong all day, he just didn’t get a good run on the final restart and Denny took advantage, leaving Kenseth in 2nd.

“I just couldn’t quite get Denny. After restarts we were kind of slow and tight in the middle which isn’t a good thing to be in a short shootout. We had a great car in the long run though. I tried what I could to get around him but I slipped on the restart. I just needed more laps to get it going.”

Still, Kenseth was happy with the car overall, and moved up a spot to 6th in the points.
Another Ford driver who was not as happy was David Ragan, who finished 20th.

“Right from the get-go, nothing was really going our way. Our UPS Ford was a top-10 car, but after our first trip into the pits, the No. 88 and No. 51 got together and ran us up the race track and we had to come back in and fix our fender,” Ragan said. “We went back out on track in the high 30s and drove back towards the front and we had the speed, but we didn't catch the cautions right. We tried short pitting to get back on the lead lap and it just didn't work out. I think we had a top 10 or top-five car; we could just never seem to get up there. It's just very disappointing. Everything that could go wrong did and we'll just have to regroup.”

Bad day for Jimmie
MIS is one of the tracks Jimmie Johnson had yet to win at coming into Sunday, and that’s still the case.

His day got off to a bad start, and didn’t improve – finishing 27th mostly dropping three spots to 5th in points.

“Yeah, tough day. We got turned around early and ground the sway bar off the right front and we lost a couple laps from that and we were just kind of in a hole at that point and couldn’t get caught back up. It’s just part of it.”

Don't get too excited, though. I'm pretty sure he'll still make the Chase and battle for the title as usual. It is nice, though, to see that he and the #48 team are human.

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Brad Keselowski struggles in his home track's Cup race

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski’s weekend started with a poor qualifying effort, and raceday was not much better After a rough day that included a scrape with the wall, Keselowski could only manage a 25th place finish at his home track.
Still he focused on the positive side of his day.\

“Once the green flag flew, our Miller Lite Dodge was a rocket. We were able to make our way up the field and raced as high as 18th. I was just trying to move around on the race track, trying to get us to where we needed to be. I just pushed too hard and hit the wall and that led to a flat tire that totally changed our day. From there, our day went downhill and we just had to battle,” Brad said. “Later in the day, we started to make our car right and had an opportunity to make a good run out of it and get a good finish, but had some engine issues on the restart. It’s tough. This track and race means so much to me. I really wanted to have good run and we just didn’t make it happen today. It was just one of those days where it didn’t matter what we did, we were going to have a bad day. We’ll just keep working at it.”

As far as Brad’s efforts to make the Chase, he is still a couple spots and 12 points out of 20th in the points, but if he can get there he could qualify due to his win in Kansas.

Kurt Busch voices his opinion again
Kurt Busch is known for letting his feelings be known on the racetrack, and Sunday was no exception. Despite coming off his third straight pole position, his car was not to his liking during Sunday’s race at MIS.

At one point, Busch said: “I'm so pissed off right now I can't see straight" and he sounded like he meant it.

All is well at the Penske team, though, as Busch ended up 11th and had a solid points day, and the team is no doubt used to his outbursts, and takes them far less seriously than the media.

“A really up and down day for us. It’s always tough when you earn a pole position and can’t take advantage of it during the race. Our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger was just too inconsistent today to contend for a race win. We were a solid top-10 race car, but just couldn’t get (it) dialed in enough to run with the leaders. We ran 198 laps inside the top 10, finished 11th after getting nudged out on that last restart,” Busch said. “It seemed like our car would be good for the first five laps of a green flag run, and then once the track would rubber-in, we would run tight. Our first lap was awesome; the last 199 were a challenge. You have to be rock-solid on these two-mile race tracks. You need a good race car, solid pit stops and good changes to keep up with the track and we just were too inconsistent today. A solid points day for us and that’s important in the big picture.”

Surprising runs

Several drivers ran well Sunday that don’t normally make the headlines.

Paul Menard ended up in 4th, his first top-5 at Michigan and his best run in 2011.

He said it’s welcomed after a rough few weeks coming into the MIS race.
"We've had a rough month, no doubt about that. My guys needed a good run. We've had a fast car for the most part, just been struggling to put together a ful race. Wasn't really sure what we had in practice,” Menard said. “The car drove good, it seemed like we lacked a little bit of speed. Qualified in the top 10 and that's so important at these intermediate tracks, track position. Slugger made a good call to take two tires at the end. Kind of went back and forth, two verses four. A lot of people took two, we did. A little too tight at the end but the (car) was just a really solid weekend and that's what we needed."

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the 12th place run by young Landon Cassill, who took advantage of a late race caution and a solid pit call to get the best run of his career.
“It was great and we were really fast at some parts of the race and we kept getting the balance on one side or the other and we had a little bit of racer luck there that put us in position to put us on four tires there at the end and that is what made it for us and that was awesome. Great call on Nick Harris’s part,” Cassill said.
For a young driver like Cassill, who recently had to do some start-and-park races, good finishes like this are a sign that those days should be behind him and he can focus on a fully dedicated race effort and not just showing up.

Finally, A.J. Allmendinger had a decent run in 13th, but his Ford ran great early and was a top-5 car for much of the race.
He credited his run to the manufacturer and shared information from other Ford teams.
“That run was a credit to the Ford team in general. We struggled really bad. We were okay Friday and started struggling at the end of the day and we were really bad in qualifying. We looked at some notes and went off the other Ford cars, a different direction than we had been before and the car was great all day.”

When asked about points, A.J. was very honest though – he doesn’t think the team is capable of making the Chase right now, unless things start to improve very quickly.
“Points don’t matter right now. We have to get better. We aren’t a Chase team right now. Points to me, obviously you want to score every point you can but we need to be better before we worry about making the Chase. Today was a big step. We were never really good here and we were a top-five car all day. Thirteenth sucks in the end compared to what we had, but I am proud of what we did today.”

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Scenes from Michigan Speedway on raceday

Some scenes from Michigan International Speedway on the day of the race:

Can Kurt Busch convert pole to win? Or is this Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s day?

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Kurt Busch made news Saturday by winning his third straight pole position, so that means he will be a factor for the win, right?

Probably, but his last two attempts to win from the pole have come up short, with finishes of 2nd and 9th the past two weeks.

The Penske horsepower will have to be in full effect today if Busch hopes to beat the Ford brigade, which is looking very strong and coming off a Carl Edwards-Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 1-2 finish in the Nationwide race Saturday.

My pick to win – Matt Kenseth, who will have a powerful FR9 engine under the hood of his Roush machine and usually runs very well at Michigan.

Is this Jr.’s day?

Three years is a long time for a driver like Dale Jr. – who was used to winning – to not win a race, especially considering he is driving top shelf Hendrick equipment.

Still, he said he doesn’t worry about it – which is probably the best attitude when you are knocking on the door of a win like he has been recently.

“I don’t dwell on it at all really. I can’t do nothing about not winning races other than just going out every week and trying to run hard and trying to do the best you can and I was a long ways – I felt like that I wasn’t – I felt like that last year and the year before that, I wasn’t competitive enough to even worry about it. I was more concerned about trying to get right and trying to get better and trying to be more competitive even. Wasn’t even thinking about winning races. We were struggling so bad that we had so much other things to worry about.,” Jr. said. “Now this year we’re running good and I can think about wins, I can think about opportunities and missed opportunities that we’ve had a little bit more. They don’t bother me and it doesn’t upset me. I’m excited that somebody was asking me if I was upset that I hadn’t won, but I’m thrilled to be having such a good year that it’s hard to be upset. It would be nice to win a race, but I don’t know who to thank or tell me who to thank for what’s happening to me this year because I’m appreciative as hell to have this opportunity and to be running as well as I am.”

Losing streaks can be broken – drivers such as Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon have broken long streaks in recent years.

Harvick said he knows what Jr. is going through.

“I think when you’re running as good as those guys are running, I think you start to get a little bit antsy because you know that the win is right around the corner. You just want it to go away, honestly. And even though your car is running good every week, there is still something to be said about putting all that talk to bed because you just get tired of talking about it. And you get frustrated with not being able to just get it over with. But when you’re running that good, it gives you a lot of confidence in knowing that you’re competitive and then you can put it all into perspective. 2009 was a terrible year for us. I know he’s been through a year or two of stuff that wasn’t that much fun. So you can kind of balance the not-winning part of it when you’re running good with the running good part of it just for the fact that you’re competitive week-in and week-out and you’re in position to win races. And when you’re not in position to win and you don’t have a chance to do anything right and you’re tearing stuff up and you’re running in the middle of the pack, it’s just miserable. So you can balance the not-winning part of it somewhat, with being competitive every week.”

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Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and others reflect on Father's Day

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Matt Kenseth is one father with a lot to be proud of this year. He spoke this weekend about his son Ross’s progress in both racing and education.
“Yeah, he has been doing really well and having a great season. He has won quite a few races this season and is leading the Midwest Tour points right now. He is actually racing Berlin next Tuesday,” Kenseth said. “He has had a heck of a year and I am pretty proud of him that he got in Clemson and yes it made me feel old going to freshman orientation with him on Thursday. qI got to go check that out and that was a little different. I wasn’t smart enough to go to college. It is crazy to think that he is doing all of that.”

Kyle Busch had kind words for his fathe Tom and the role his did played in his career?
"My dad was a big inspiration in both my brother’s and my career. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him and his passion for
motorsports and racing and him doing everything he did possible for us to have the opportunity to have race cars to go to the
race track with, and to buy tires and to buy fuel and to buy everything it took. And, then for him and mom to both make that
sacrifice for us."

Denny Hamlin said his dad is here at MIS to watch the race this weekend, which is not a common thing.

"It's awesome. He doesn't get to travel to a whole lot of races. He has an old dog that he prefers to stay with on
the weekends than fight the hustle and bustle of the races. For him to come out, it's very obviously special for me. He
made a ton of sacrifices for myself through my career. He sacrificed a lot of vacations and a lot of his savings to get me to
this point. You pretty much owe everything to your parents who helped get you to this point and I'm no different in that sense."

Congrats to Ty Dillon
At the end of an ARCA race Friday that seemed neverending, with a long stream of crashes and debris cautions, it was Ty Dillon, Richard Childress’ young grandson and brother of Truck series driver Austin Dillon, who took the checkered flag at MIS. Both of these brothers seem to have what it takes, so you can expect them to make their way through the NASCAR ranks in the coming years, mostly likely with continued support from the guy they call “pop pop”.

The mystery pit crew scenario
Heading into this year, Jimmie Johnson’s team began a scenario where team members compete to make the pit crew that goes to the track this week. This means that driver Johnson doesn’t even know who will be executing the pit stops each week.

“I have an idea, but the situation Chad (Knaus, crew chief) created is that he’s really trying not to have a first string, second string. You earn your position during the week in practices and prove that you’re the fastest guy that week and can do the best job that week going over the wall. I know every guy on the team; I train with them now and am in there on Tuesday’s working out with them so that we can form a tighter bond together. I see a lot of good things happening and I know that they’re working very hard for that coveted position to go over the wall and change or carry or jack the car.”
Interesting scenario, but I wonder if this will be the best plan come Chase time. I would think that a stable crew of the best people all year would be the best bet when the title is on the line.
But hey, I’m not supergenius crew chief Chad Knaus, so maybe he knows something I don’t.

Ryan Newman visits GM proving grounds
Prior to the race weekend, Ryan Newman – who has an engineering background -- paid a visit to the GM Proving Grounds in Milford to see the latest breakthroughs in the field.

He said he enjoyed the experience and was impressed with the facility.
It was pretty neat from a technical standpoint to see where GM is at their proving grounds. Number one – their proving grounds in Milford was amazing. The size of it and the mileage of testing tracks and courses and surfaces that they have working on ride control and stability and braking and things like that was pretty amazing. Then to get to drive the Camaro – the super-charged Camaro was pretty wild out on their skid pad. They’ve got a 67-acre skid pad and half of it has been repaved. We got to work on the grippy half so talking about the race track, I guess it’s kind of similar. We got to race on the new Michigan yesterday at the skid pad and the old Michigan was getting repaved. The way they work with their computers and the technology aspect of it to work on their stability control and they’re antilock braking and things like that. I was driving a Camaro and the engineer had a computer in the right side and he could manipulate the car and work on the traction control and things like that. It’s pretty neat to see their facilities for the first time and understand that they’re a big part of what has been very successful in the NASCAR Chevrolet program.”

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Fords continue resurgence at MIS; Hamlin weighs in on oil pan issue

Oakland Press photo/MATT MYFTIU
Driver A.J. Allmendinger and the #43 Ford have a legitimate shot to win the pole for Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway.


BROOKLYN, Mich. -- A year ago, the Ford camp was in trouble. Everyone wondered why they simply were not competitive.

Well, that’s no longer a problem, and their success had Carl Edwards in the points lead, and David Ragan and A.J. Allmendinger put up the fastest two laps in the first Friday practice at MIS in their Fords.

Even the competition is taking notice, including a guy they call “5-time”
“When we go even back to last year’s Chase, we knew and I made comments then and at the start of the season that Carl (Edwards) was going to be the guy to really focus on and he has lived up to that. We saw them even stronger and better and I admired Carl and Bob’s (Osborne, crew chief) mentality, at least from what I saw in the garage area and how they worked through a tough time. They handled themselves about as good as you could. I know from experience that when you work through a tough time and haven’t killed each other and you come out on the other side with success, you’re a very strong race team at that point. Roush as a whole has done a very good job to turn things around so I look at the other teams that are out there – I think that Roush has kind of set the mark. The other teams have been knocking on the door and trying to get stronger.”

Roush driver Matt kenseth said that while many people are focusing on the FR9 engine’s role in the Ford resurgence, it’s much more than that.

“It is the entire package. The engines certainly improved over the winter and the cars are greatly improved from last year. I think we still have some work to do but we have been very competitive this season showing up to the track and being pretty fast every week which makes it a lot more fun to come to the track.”

Ragan said his car is fast at MIS this weekend and he expectes to compete for his first victory.

“Our UPS Ford is fast. We expect it to be fast when we come here to Michigan,” he said.

Hamlin weighs in on oil pan issue
After the oil pan-gate broke Friday at MIS, Denny Hamlin weighed in, saying:
"I don't know a whole lot about it to be honest with you. We continue to evolve our cars and things like that through the course of a season. It's just, all teams do. And usually when you have something new -- a new part -- sometimes you submit it and sometimes you don't and I feel like this is probably one of the parts NASCAR wants you to submit. That's probably the biggest issue they had with it is that you showed up at the prom with a different date."

He said it seemed to him that nothing illegal was done on purpose by the Gibbs team.
"I think that's more of a kind of a thing that the crew chiefs and the engineers for the team they talk to NASCAR throughout the weeks and things like that. When they have something new, I believe that really they sometimes submit it and it's fine and sometimes they don't submit it and it's fine. It's just one of those instances where they were just kind of caught off guard I think."

A NASCAR legend weighs in on current affairs
NASCAR Hall of Famer Bud Moore was in attendance at MIS on Friday, and he offered a take on his time in the military and the country’s current military conflicts.

I’ll let his words speak for themself.

“When I was in the Army and going through what I did in World War II, I was with General Patton the whole time I was over there and when we fought the war over there, we sort of knew who we were fighting and who we didn’t. I know the young men now are going to Afghanistan and Iraq and all over there now, they don’t know who they’re fighting or anything else on this part. That’s what makes it real bad – a guy can be two or three standing there and a guy walks up and blows himself up and kill three or four of them and they don’t even know this is going to happen. What we did in World War II – we killed everything that moved. If it was a cow or a bird or dog or what – it didn’t make any difference. These guys have to do a little different situation and I feel for them because I wouldn’t want to be over there going through what they’re going through and not knowing just who we’re fighting and who we’re not and who’s going to walk up and who’s going to shoot you and who’s not. It’s real bad and you have to give them boys a big honor right now because for them to go over there and do what they’re doing and the job they’ve been doing and they’ve done a heck of a job over there and I’m looking forward to seeing them bringing them home, which they should do right now. I don’t think we have all that much business to be over there because what are we going to gain so we need to bring them guys home and let them start doing a little something else.”

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Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch still haven't kissed and made up

Oakland Press photo/MATT MYFTIU
Driver Kevin Harvick speaks to the media Friday at MIS about his feud with Kyle Busch and other topics.


BROOKLYN, Mich. -- In case you haven’t heard, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch don’t like each other.

And just in time for the Michigan race, they are both off probation for their recent on-track and pit road battles.

So that’s a recipe for more action, right?
Well, that depends on who you ask.

For his part, Kyle Busch is claiming he’s over it, and doesn’t care whether he is on probation, and that the change will have “zero” effect on his driving style.
"It didn't matter being on it or being off of it. I try to race the best I can each and every week, as hard as I can and as clean as I can. Sure, sometimes there's a time where you get into somebody or you get loose and you get into them and you spin them and they're mad at you. It wasn't intentional. There's no malicious intent involved in it. It's just a product of racing. Hopefully we can keep racing that way," Kyle said in deadpan style.

"I'm not expecting (retribution), but that doesn't mean that it won't happen. It's fine with me. It's not my problem. I race my race car and he drives his. You saw how I raced."

Now, we all know he isn’t completely innocent, but it’s clear Harvick is the aggressor here. After a rough go at Busch by Harvick vat Pocono, Harvick did not back down at MIS.

When asked whether Busch still has one coming, Harvick said: “A lot of these things, you go out on the race track and things happen and you do what you think is right at the right time.”
To translate that to English, he’s not done getting back at Busch.

Harvick said getting off probation is a bonus for when you need to race hard on track.
“You know obviously the probation ties your hands a little bit on certain things, but you have to go out and you still go out and you race as hard as you can and do the things that you need to do. And I’m going to just keep doing most of the same things that we’ve been doing and just keep racing hard,” Kevin said.
Looking back at the Pocono battle between the two, Kyle had harsh words for Kevin, and referenced a previous battle the two had at Homestead.

"Yeah, when you're getting pushed down the front straightaway all the way to the bottom of the race track you're trying to get away from the situation. It wasn't happening. He (Kevin Harvick) kept following me so I backed off and waited for my
next opportunity to pass him and then when I did pass him, he then pushed me all the way down the frontstretch. At first, it brought back a memory of what he said after Homestead and how he was racing me like a clown all day and then he parked me. So, it seems like there was a different side there."

Busch said, though, that if the race was on the line, he might not be so gentlemanly.

How hard is it to stay patient in a situation like last week at Pocono?
"It's a lot easier to do earlier in the race than it is at the end of the race. If it was for a win, it would certainly be a heck of a lot harder to do than if it's for a fifth or sixth or a something like that.

And in case you were wondering, no they have not talked since their incident, which is probably a good thing.

And will this end? Of course it will, at some point, but I’m guessing Harvick will try to get in another shot before that happens.

Harvick knows though, that retaliating against Busch is not his main goal – that would be the Sprint Cup title.
“I think for us, our main focus is racing for the championship. You have to do what’s right for your race team and sometimes it works that way and sometimes it doesn’t. So it’s all in what’s right for my team at that particular moment to try to put ourselves in the best position to try to be competitive for the championship."

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Michigan International Speedway repave not the most popular decision among drivers

Oakland Press photo/MATT MYFTIU
The grandstands are shown Friday at Michigan International Speedway. The track announced Friday it will repave during the offseason, and finish work before the 2012 races.


BROOKLYN, Mich. -- It was announced Friday morning at Michigan International Speedway that the speedway will be repaved after the August race (for the fourth time in its history), meaning a brand new racing surface in 2012. Pit road will actually be repaved between the June and August races at MIS. The track was built in 1968 and repaved in 1977, 1986 and 1995.

While time will tell how that affects the track, traditionally that has been bad news for multi-groove racing, so a lot of drivers were naturally taken back by the news.

Kyle Busch said he hadn’t been told of the repave, but he hopes they get some driver input so the repave doesn’t “ruin” the racing at MIS.

"I haven't been one of the ones that they've talked to about it. I hope they talked to somebody at least and got some ideas on maybe how to make sure that they can repave this place. And, I don't mean to be disrespectful, but not ruin it – you know what I mean. When you repave a place or when you pave one to begin with like a Kansas or a Chicago or a California a few years ago when they did that place. It was always one groove right around the bottom of the race track. Homestead, I feel like did the best at it when they repaved it. You could go right to the race track and you could run the bottom, you could move to the middle, you could go to the top. It was a race track that you could move all over the place instead of just being stuck to one lane. So, hopefully they can take a little bit of information from Homestead and do that here -- progressively bank it here -- in order to help drivers out."

Clint Bowyer said that unfortunately these things have to done from time to time, and he’s not as worried as Busch.
“The sad thing is that it’s time to repave a few of them and it’s just come due. It’s the only thing you can do when its time……..its time. You have got to repave it. These tracks do age well and as they age the racing gets better and better and Goodyear does a good job of bringing tires that create a good racing environment on the surface whichever the case may be whether it’s got a lot of grip and its brand new and fresh or slippery and slimy. But like I said, it’s been a good race track over the years and it’s been a lot of fun to race on and it’s going to provide good racing no matter what the surface is.”

Then there was Dale Jr., who was quite blunt in his response: “The track’s awesome. I don’t know why it needs new asphalt. They ought to send that asphalt over to Pocono.”

Kevin Harvick said: “I’m not a big fan of repaving anywhere, to be honest with you. But I understand that obviously you get to a point with the asphalt where it becomes kind of a safety concern.”

Ryan Newman said that after a repave, “character comes with time,” but that means that, unfortunately, 2012 might not be the best year in the history of MIS racing.

But hey, I hope I’m wrong. We’ll find out in 2012.

Milestone starts at MIS
David Reutimann will be making his 150th series start and #30-David Stremme will attempt to make his 125th series start at Michigan International Speedway.

General admission seats sold out at MIS
But reserved tickets starting at $39, with kids 17 and under half price, are still available for Sunday’s race.

Lloyd Carr to serve as MIS grand marshal
Lloyd Carr, the former University of Michigan football coach and recent College Football Hall of Fame inductee, will serve as the Grand Marshal for the Father's Day Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday. In his 13 years (1995-2007) as head coach of Michigan football, Carr compiled a 122-40 record.

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Once again, Joe Gibbs team facing likely penalties after Michigan Speedway inspection issue

Oakland Press photo/MATT MYFTIU
Kyle Busch's #18 car, and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates' cars, may face penalties related to unapproved oil pans discovered on all three cars Friday at Michigan International Speedway.


BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Michigan International Speedway and Joe Gibbs Racing have some unlucky, or some would say dishonest, history.

A couple years ago, there was the infamous "magnet" incident, in which the team had tried to alter the result of a dyno test to mask horsepower.

Heading into this week's race at MIS, the Gibbs team is coming off a 6-point penalty at Pocono for Kyle Busch's car being too low. (For the record, Busch said it was a front spring issue and the lowering happened during the race).

And now, this morning at MIS, it was announced that JGR will likely face penalties for unapproved oil pans. All three JGR cars had to change the oil pans prior the first Cup practice in order to have their times counted, and a non-points penalty is likely. The oil pans, apparently, had not been submitted for approval.

For a team as A-list as Joe Gibbs Racing, it seems a lot of these tech issues are coming up. While the oil pan issue isn't a big deal, it just lends support to the views of anyone who might want to question the team's honesty.

And since Joe Gibbs is a very religious man who does his best to run an honest organization, I would hope Gibbs will make it a point to stress to his team that these errors in judgment, whether on purpose or accidental, will not be tolerated in an A-level Cup organization like his.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Brad Keselowski hopes to find Victory Lane again at MIS this weekend

Fresh off a recent win in Sprint Cup, Brad Keselowski -- a native of Rochester Hills, Michigan -- returns to Michigan International Speedway, where he won a dominating victory last summer in his home state.

Keselowski said he is looking forward to trying to make it three in a row at his home track in the Nationwide Series.

“It felt really good to dominate the way we did at Michigan last year with the new Discount Tire Dodge Challenger. As a driver, you dream about having cars that drive like that one did. That win helped validate the win from 2009 because I heard a lot about that race being given to me. All you can do is put yourself in position for wins and that’s what I felt I did in that race. Last year, there was no doubt who had the best car. We definitely need a win in 2011 and I can’t think of a better track to pick one up than Michigan. We should have a pretty strong notes package from last year that should help us roll right off the truck with speed. It would be pretty sweet to get three in a row at my home track.”

And, of course, he wouldn't mind winning the Cup race on top of that. Though that will likely be a little more difficult, as I anticipate the Roush drivers and their strong Ford engines will be the ones to beat on Sunday.

Did you know?
Brad Keselowski and father Bob are two of eight drivers from Michigan who have won an event in one of NASCAR’s three touring series (Brad – 2 Sprint Cup, 12 Nationwide and Bob – 1 Camping World Truck).

MIS, by the numbers
0 - fewest cautions (three times, most recent 6/13/99)
1 - fewest laps led by race winner (Mark Martin, 6/14/09)
2 - fewest cars on lead lap at finish (five times, most recent 6/15/75)
5 - fewest leaders (five times, most recent 8/12/84)
6 - races won from outside a top-20 starting position
6 - wins by Dodge at MIS since manufacturer's return to NASCAR in 2001
7 - fewest lead changes (8/12/84)
8 - number of jet dryers available for track drying this weekend at MIS
9 - most wins (David Pearson)
10 - most poles (David Pearson)
10 - most cautions (8/20/06)
11 - wins by car owner (Wood Brothers, Jack Roush)
14 - fewest cars running at finish (6/16/74)
15 - most leaders (6/20/82)
18 - drivers with more than one win
20 - drivers with more than one pole at MIS
24 - wins from the front row; 16 from the pole
32 - worst starting position for race winner (Mark Martin, 2009)
33 - different race winners
37 - most cars on lead lap at finish (6/18/06)
40 - different pole winners
41 - most cars running at finish (five times, most recent 6/17/07)
63 - most caution laps (8/24/75)
65 - most lead changes (8/16/81)
120 minutes - approximate amount of time it takes to dry the 2.0-mile track
162 - laps led by race winner (Rusty Wallace, 8/20/89)

Verizon boosts wireless network at MIS

BROOKLYN — Verizon Wireless has activated a temporary cell site to improve its voice and data network around the Michigan International Speedway (MIS) in Brooklyn and to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of NASCAR fans attending races and related events at the speedway this summer.

The company has deployed a COLT (Cell on Light Truck) to boost capacity in the area surrounding the racetrack. A COLT is a fully functional, generator-powered mobile cell site that enhances wireless capacity in a specific location—and works especially well in dense areas with large crowds.

Additionally, Verizon Wireless has upgraded equipment on its existing cell sites in the area that provide coverage in and around MIS. The company’s upgrades and the COLT will boost voice capacity by 200% and data capacity by 1,000%.

“Ensuring our customers can count on their wireless devices for communication, news and more at major sporting events, like the races held at MIS is part of our ongoing commitment to network reliability,” said John Granby, president–Michigan/Indiana/Kentucky Region, Verizon Wireless. “We look at how our customers’ usage patterns are changing at events like these and we use this information to make sure we stay well ahead of their demand.”

Like father like son
As Father’s Day is celebrated on Sunday, Baldwin and Blaney will celebrate participating in the sport they love. Both Baldwin and Blaney owe their passion of racing to their racer dads, and both continue to pass that passion down to the next generation. Baldwin’s father, Tom Baldwin, was a well-known Modified racer in the Northeast. Baldwin’s oldest son, Tommy Baldwin III, is following in his father’s footsteps working in the TBR shop. Blaney grew up watching his father, Lou Blaney, race the dirt tracks of the northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania for four decades. Blaney’s son, Ryan, got behind the wheel at a young age and recently made his NASCAR debut in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

Busch-Harvick continue war of words, on-track battles
One of the few highlights of a boring Pocono race was the tight battle early in the race between sworn enemies Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, with Harvick being the aggressor.

Busch said after Pocono that Harvick's actions say a lot about him.

"I'm not really sure to be honest with you. I was running my own race. It was another car I had to pass. Seemed like he (Kevin Harvick) was trying to make it awfully difficult on me. There's a couple times where I just had to back off and wait,
got back to him and tried to pass him again. Maybe kind of shows his character and who he is, how he feels he needs to race on the race track. But it's not my fight. He's trying to turn it into one."

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cooler heads prevail ... Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough among latest NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees

There was some rumblings heading into this round of Hall of Fame voting that a movement against NASCAR legends Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip was afoot.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and these two all-time greats with three Cups and 80+ wins were allowed their rightful place in the Hall of Fame.

Overall, the voters did a great job this year. Waltrip and Yarborough arguably should have gone in ahead of Bobby Allison, who only has one title but got in last year. Apparently, some people don't like DW (understandable, he's always been a bit polarizing) and many say Cale won't show for any NASCAR event without a paycheck promised.

But the fact remains that they are among the sport's all-time greats, and excluding them would have been silly, and DW especially would have been devastated.

In addition, legendary crew chief Dale Inman is rightfully the first pit boss voted in, and he is deserving after leading Richard Petty to 7 titles and Terry Labonte to 1 Cup.

Modified series legend Ritchie Evans was a sentimental favorite among those close to the sport, though he is less well-known than the others, and Glen Wood helped create the Wood Brothers team -- one of the greatest teams in NASCAR history, which still runs today and six decades and won the Daytona 500 in 2011 with Trevor Bayne.

Yarborough led with 85 percent of the vote, followed by Waltrip (82%), Inman (78%), Evans (50%) and Wood (44%). Also receiving votes were Jerry Cook, Cotton Owens, Raymond Parks and Herb Thomas.

The fans’ five picks, in alphabetical order, were Richard Childress, Benny Parsons, Fireball Roberts, Waltrip and Yarborough. The five inductees came from a group of 25 nominees for induction into the 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame class that included:
Buck Baker, Red Byron, Richard Childress, Jerry Cook, H. Clay Earles, Richie Evans, Tim Flock, Rick Hendrick, Jack Ingram, Bobby Isaac, Dale Inman, Fred Lorenzen, Cotton Owens, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons, Les Richter, Fireball Roberts, T. Wayne Robertson, Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, Darrell Waltrip, Joe Weatherly, Glen Wood, Leonard Wood and Cale Yarborough.

Great picks all around I say, and here are full bios of the inductees.

Cale Yarborough
William Caleb Yarborough was the first driver to win three consecutive NASCAR premier series championships, from 1976-78. During his three-year dominance, Yarborough won 28 races – nine in 1976, nine in ’77 and 10 in ’78. His final championship points margin in those three years was never fewer than 195 points and was as much as 474 in 1978. Yarborough totaled 83 victories in his 31-year career, which ranks sixth all-time. His 69 poles rank fourth all-time. He also won the Daytona 500 four times (1968, ’77, ’83-84), a mark that ranks second only to Richard Petty’s seven. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

Darrell Waltrip
A three-time NASCAR premier series champion (1981-82, ’85), Waltrip won all three with legendary driver/owner Junior Johnson. Waltrip is tied with Bobby Allison and Jeff Gordon for third all-time in series victories with 84. His 59 poles rank fifth all-time in NASCAR premier series history. He competed from 1972-2000, which included a 1989 Daytona 500 victory in a Rick Hendrick-owned Chevrolet. He currently is a commentator on FOX’s NASCAR broadcasts. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

Dale Inman
Dale Inman, NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty’s crew chief at Petty Enterprises for nearly three decades, set records for most wins (193) and championships (eight) by a crew chief. Inman won seven of those championships with Petty (1964, ’67, ’71, ’72, ’74, ’75 and ’79), and a final one in 1984 with Terry Labonte.

Richie Evans
The recognized “king” of Modified racing, Evans captured nine NASCAR Modified titles in a 13-year span, including eight in a row from 1978-85. In the first year of the current NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour format in 1985, Evans won 12 races, including a sweep of all four events at Thompson, Conn. Evans ranked No. 1 in the 2003 voting of the NASCAR All-Time Modified Top 10 Drivers, and he was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

Glen Wood
Glen Wood laid the foundation for the famed Wood Brothers racing team as a driver in NASCAR’s premier series. Competing on a semi-regular basis, mostly at tracks close to his southern Virginia home, Wood won four times – all at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. Wood, of course, is best known for his collaboration with brothers Leonard and Delano in Wood Brothers Racing. The Stuart, Va.-based team, which dates to 1950 and remains active, has amassed 98 victories.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Some smack talk continues, but Richard Childress-Kyle Busch drama is likely over for now

So it appears the RCR-Kyle Busch incident is over … for now, at least. Childress issued the following statement at Pocono:

“Here is the deal. I am going to make one statement on this deal. I appreciate everyone’s patience during the last week when I couldn’t talk to everyone. The main thing is I take all the responsibility for my actions last week. I am very passionate about this sport. I am passionate about my race teams, our fans and I let my emotions get…come in front of my passion. But that is behind us. I guess the next thing is the fine that was levied against me, I’m going to pay it personal. I agree that NASCAR should have done something with me. I don’t agree that they didn’t handle the situation that happened on the cool-down lap.

“With that said, we had a lot of fans to send in donations last week toward our fine, I am going to pay it personally. All that money that has been sent in, that is still coming in, we’re going to take and donate to the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma. At least in every bad situation, something good will come out of it.

“Hopefully Kyle (Busch) and myself will both end up learning something from this. Thank you all very much. Talk to you later. That’s it.”
You’ll notice there’s no apology in there, as Childress probably doesn’t feel too bad about what happened.

Harvick continued to fan the flames a bit, though. When asked what fellow drivers though of Kyle, he quickly said: “I think that is pretty self explanatory.”

One of his teammates, Clint Bowyer, was a little more respectful in his reply, saying:
“Truth be told Kyle Busch is one of the best drivers in the sport. Everybody knows that and everybody has pretty much a uniform opinion about his personality. It’s the same for everybody I think. What you see is what you get. That’s what is great about this sport. You guys do a good job of covering it and people get wonderful opportunities to see and understand what a driver is like. We have fans ask me all the time what’s Kyle Busch really like, what’s Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon, what are these guys really like and that’s the answer I give them all the time. We cover this sport well and what you see is what you get. There is enough opportunity there, both sides, whatever side of that person is going to come out.”

And Carl Edwards said he has made peace with his often foe on the racetrack.

“I don’t know about the general perception because I try not to talk with other people about someone else. My perception though of Kyle is that he is a very hard racer and we have gotten into it before as you guys all know. We had our deal at Phoenix this year and I felt that he really was trying hard to set things straight after that. Even last weekend he raced me extremely clean there at Kansas. He is just a hard racer and we have a very good working relationship on the race track I think, other than that deal at Phoenix which he came over and apologized for. To me, we are fine and we race hard and it is fun to race him.”

In case you’re wondering, Kyle said that if other drivers don’t like him, they should tell him to his face.

"As far as needing respect in the garage area - certainly it makes your day a little bit easier. Makes your job a little bit easier. I've been able to have good conversations and talk to people outside the race car or at driver intros or stuff like that. Whether it's the case that they're not being true to my face -- I don't know, I can't read that. I'm not in people's minds. If you're mad at me, you'll have to tell me," he said Friday.

And for those wondering why Busch had a beef with RCR driver Joey Coulter in the first place, he explained the last lap incident in detail.

“I will say that if I didn't roll out of the throttle, we both would have crashed off of turn four. The kid did what he was supposed to do on the last lap there. We raced each other for 18 laps and I was having fun with him trying to keep him back and I thought I had it done and then he got on my inside down the backstretch there and pulled a slide job through three and four and kind of squeezed me up there. I had two options -- lift and let him beat me, which is fine, no problem. We're racing for fifth in the Truck Series -- wasn't for a win. Or crash the both of us. It wasn't necessary for any of that."

In terms of Childress’ reaction, Harvick said “kinder and gentler is boring” and he was proud that Childress came to the team’s defense

“Richard is one of those guys who has driven race cars and understands what comes with being inside the car and the frustrations. A lot of times Richard sides with the drivers, more times than not, in our competition meetings, on the race track, off the race track and always has our backs. We’ve all got his back. As you can tell, he’s always got ours. It is fun to drive for a guy that has got the passion and the desire to do what you have to do to be a part of this sport. He is a great guy and I love being on his team.”

Is this whole Childress team vs. Busch battle over then? Somehow, I doubt it it's permanently done, but it should cool off for a while.

Jr. weighs in
In addition to being NACAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt. Jr. is also a team owner, and he has been in the middle of these types of incidents before.

“I’d get mad. Heck yeah,” he said. “When Denny and Brad were being idiots at Charlotte that one race and banging into each other’s fenders and stuff it really upset me. I was in another car and I went up there and ran into Denny.”

He even said there is a current situation that still has him annoyed.

“That happens all the time and yeah you get mad. That damn Beuscher kid wrecked Danica in California for no freaking reason at all so he’s on the list. He’s got his coming one day.”

Who knew a Dale Jr. – James Beuscher rivalry was in the making? (not really, that just sounds silly)

Pit crews too quick?
In a twist that once seemed improbable, many drivers are coming short on fuel because … their pit stops are too fast?

That’s the contention of Greg Biffle, who blames the new fueling system and has had a lot of fuel issues this year.

“The issue is that the teams are faster than you can fill the car with gas. It is that simple. The pit crews have gotten so good and the guys have gotten so good and trained and worked so hard that they can get the tires on the race car faster than you can get the car full of gas. Congrats to them for how hard they have worked and what they have accomplished. With the new fuel connection or whatever you want to call it, has slowed up the fueling of the car enough to where you can literally change tires faster than you can fuel.

He said it’s a minor difference, but it still has an effect.

“Not by much, but it doesn’t take much. You know, when you are filling 18 gallons in 12 seconds, one second, you do the math on how much fuel that is. It is over a gallon a second. So if you are two-tenths of a second off then you are talking about almost a half a gallon of fuel or probably over that. It is very important. The thing doesn’t flow very well when the can gets low, which makes it worse. You know as well as I do that when you start dumping something out that has a lot of fuel it it, it has a lot of pressure. When it gets lower, it doesn’t want to flow as fast.”

So if the alternatives are improving the fuel delivery system or slowing down pit stops, I’m guessing the first option is a better option to explore. And this is a testament to how awesome pit crews have gotten. It really is a science to do what they do so fast.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Don’t believe the hype; NASCAR’s Richard Childress punishment was on target; no suspension was needed

In life, nothing is black and white; nothing is absolute.

This, of course, applies to NASCAR -- and in the wake of the Richard Childress punishment announcement following his attack on Kyle Busch, a lot of hyperbole is being thrown around.
Some people wrote that the $150K fine and yearlong probation, and the lack of any sort of suspension or ban from the track, was letting him off easy and encouraged NASCAR drivers and owners to be violent in the future.

That, my friends, is a bunch of hogwash. The fine was appropriate, in line with past NASCAR punishments, and perfectly in the line with the “Boys, have at it” mindset.
Here are some key bullet points to remember.

-- Those who are offended by the lack of a Childress suspension need to look at the history of the sport and when suspensions are handed out … it’s pretty rare. Robby Gordon and Kevin Harvick have been parked for a Cup race, but that was only for directly disobeying NASCAR in Gordon’s case and announcing the intention to wreck another driver in a Truck race and then doing it in Harvick’s case. Jimmy Spencer was suspended when he punched Kurt Busch in the face at Michigan Speedway, but that was many years before “boys have at it” was introduced. Beyond that, while lots of physical confrontations have taken place on track and in the garage area, there are few suspensions to be found in recent years.
Suspending a team owner for putting Busch in a headlock and throwing a couple punches would not have been consistent with past decisions.

-- This is a “Boys have at it” era, so even those past punishments should be put in that perspective. The way I see it, only intentional dangerous acts – such as violent reaction on-track that could hurt a driver, or a violent physical attack outside the car that goes far beyond what Childress did – should lead to a suspension. Childress didn’t try to break Busch’s arms or anything “violent” like is being portrayed. He was angry at a guy who keeps disrespecting his equipment in multiple series, and wanted to send a message via an old-fashioned headlock and some fists flying. You may not agree with his methods, but it’s not fair to characterize it like Childress was hoping to send Busch to the hospital. He was letting the kid know that enough is enough, and now his pocketbook is a little lighter as a result.

-- It was a fight between two owners, and people forget that. People tend to look at this as a team owner attacking a driver, but really it was an owner-on-owner attack. So it should be treated no different than the driver confrontations of the past, which almost never lead to suspensions.

-- This isn’t table tennis or synchronized swimming. This is NASCAR. People are supposed to get mad at each other, and sometimes there will be confrontations. It adds to the drama surrounding the sport, and we all love that drama. For fans to get upset because there is a little friction and fisticuffs surrounding a NASCAR race is just silly in my humble opinion. How this sport went from one where we let Cale Yarborough and the Allisons battle it out after the Daytona 500, into one where we get all upset and worried because Kyle got a couple bruises, is beyond me.

-- A suspension might have been nice symbolically, but in practicalilty it would have meant little. Childress can pass on information even if he is not at the track – there’s technology for that and I’m sure he would have been kept in the loop via phone. The $150K fine is actually more impactful. Sure, Childress is a millionaire many times over, but you can bet he would much rather have spent that $150K on his race team, or something else, and not donated it to NASCAR.

The bottom line: While Childress was out of line and I don’t want the garage to turn into the Wild West with people assaulting each other all the time, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. People are going to fight when they want to fight, and this incident doesn’t change that. Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, Carl Edwards and many other big names in NASCAR have gotten into scuffles in the garage area and nobody was suspended. This kind of drama is not an invitation for mayhem, and if fact it just adds more allure to the sport – which is much more about emotions and drama than it is about left turns.

Those who get upset about Childress not being suspended miss the point – the RCR organization and Kyle Busch have been at each other’s throats for months, if not years, and this was just the incident where it all came to a head. Busch did something stupid and unnecessary on track after the race because he was mad someone passed him by hard racing, and Childress decided that little love tap was the final straw. End of story. There’s no need to dramatize it more than that and suggest that this will lead to chaos and violence at every corner of the garage.

Tweet of the week
My favorite tweet about the whole incident came Sunday from Childress’ grandson, Truck series driver Austin Dillon.
“I wonder if Pop Pop will get a senior citizen discount on his fine?”

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Keselowski win in Kansas shows importance of gambling to win under new Chase system

The most unique aspect of NASCAR’s offseason rules tweaking is the 2 Wild Card spots to get into the Chase.

And after Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski parlayed a fuel gamble into a win Sunday at Kansas City, one thing is clear. That gambling might get you into the Chase.

After what hasn’t been a stellar start to the season so far, Brad is now 21st in points and has one win. In order to earn a Chase Wild Card spot, he needs to be between 11th and 20th in points and be among the top drivers in that span with the most wins. While not likely, it’s possible that one win will be enough, though 2 is probably a safer number to have.

So to lay out the scenario, if Brad has a mediocre season, finishes in the top 20 each won, and can eke out one more race win – by fuel mileage or good old-fashioned speed – he will be able to make the Chase without being a dominant car all year.

This changes the game, as more drivers outside the top-10 will be willing to gamble as they know it will be their only chance to make the Chase. Regan Smith is 29th in points, but he could improve enough to make the Chase too, similar to the keselowski scenario.

Some would say this is gimmickry and they don’t like it. … I say hogwash, the rules are the same for everyone, so no driver has a basis for complaint. It’s simple: If you win a couple races, you’ll probably make the Chase. If you don’t you won’t unless you’re in the top 10.
Sounds good to me. Winning is what it should be about, and this is one more way to emphasize it.

Congrats to Brad, who continues to make Michigan proud as his star ascends in NASCAR, as he drives for Roger Penske – another big name in Michigan.
And I’m willing to bet that the final few races leading up to the Chase are going to be even crazier than usual with everyone battling for those wild card spots … should be fun to watch.

Another letdown for Jr.
Two weeks – two possible wins by Dale Earnhardt Jr. on fuel mileage … I swear I’m not making this up.
Dale Jr., NASCAR’s favorite son, nearly won again, falling just short to a kid he brought to the big leagues not too long ago named Keselowski.

Jr. had a healthy attitude about the whole situation after the race, despite the disappointment.

“We've had some runs where we drove ourselves into the positions where we finished. We finished well by running well and by getting lucky. And that's what championship teams do. And you always scratch your head when Jimmie and them guys look like they're out of it and next thing you turn around at the end of the race and they're right there in the middle of it. And you're like: How in the world? So now I guess I'm on that side of the fence. I see some of it and I see why it happens. But it's just rolling the dice, man, that's what it was. You know how the dice is, sometimes it works for you and sometimes it don't.”

And as a bonus we got not-so-scientifically based tips from Jr. on how to recover physically from such a hot race.

“I want to lay by the pool and drink some vodka or whatever. I'll probably chug a lot of water tonight so I'm hydrated for tomorrow. I heard drinking pickle juice is good for you or Pedialyte. I'll give it a shot.”

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Impressive returns to the track for Danica Patrick, Trevor Bayne

Saturday’s Nationwide race at Chicago was unique for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it was actually won by a Nationwide Series regular, as Justin Allgaier came through in the end when the leader fell short on fuel. That’s the second time that has happened this year, fresh off a win by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – who is in the middle of an amazing career turnaround at the Roush team he was nearly booted off a year ago.

In addition to Allgaier’s win, there was the little matter of a couple big stars’ returns. A lady named Danica got back behind the wheel of a stock car, and she did an impressive job … recording a 10th-place finish that was pretty worthy of the equipment she was driving. The days of her not knowing what to do in a stock car are starting to fade, and she will face higher expectations every time she can pull off a good run like this. With all indications that she will come full-time to this Nationwide series in 2012, it’s perfect timing for her to start doing better in 2011.

Then there was Trevor Bayne, who started out the season with a miraculous Daytona 500 win, then got a mysterious illness that was causing double vision and sidelined him for months. As I expected, Bayne didn’t miss a beat and came back with a near-win in the Chicagoland race Saturday. It goes to prove that no matter how long the layoff, a great racecar driver is still a great racecar driver. Look for Bayne to start winning races soon and shake off whatever was ailing him.

His return is good for the sport, and I’m sure NASCAR and lots of fans are glad to see him back – myself included.

Iron Man
Kudos to Chris Showalter, who this weekend marked his participation in ALL 400 Truck series, from the very first race in 1995 to this weekend, in various roles on various teams.

Currently, he is Travis Kvapil’s crew chief at Randy Moss Motorsports, but he has the distinction of being the only person to take part in every single series race so far, and he won a titie as crew chief for Travis Kvapil in 2003, and as truck chief in 2002 for champion Mike Bliss. He has also served as spooter and tire changer at times.

“I think it says a lot that the series is so strong that we are celebrating 400 starts and that I have not had the desire to go do anything else,” said Showalter. “The truck series kind of reminded me of our Saturday night down-home racing that I grew up doing. It’s grassroots. We ran the shorter tracks in the beginning and it just seemed like a home for me.”

Top Truck moments
Over the last month, NASCAR media members have voted on their top-10 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series moments with the 2003 three-truck photo finish at Daytona International Speedway taking the top honors.

Here’s the top 10:

1. Race No. 193 (Feb. 14, 2003): Rick Crawford breaks a 120-race winless streak in a three-wide photo finish with Travis Kvapil and Robert Pressley to open the 2003 season at Daytona.

2. Race No. 11 (July 15, 1995): First photo finish is recorded at Colorado National Speedway on July 15, 1995. Television replays were used to determine that Butch Miller beat Mike Skinner by the depth of the paint on his front bumper cover. The race pre-dated the use of electronic scoring, so no official margin of victory was available.

3. Race No. 1 (Feb. 5, 1995): First race, first finish of less than a 10th of a second – 0.09 – by Mike Skinner over Terry Labonte.

4. Race No. 352-356 (June 20-July 24, 2009): Ron Hornaday Jr. wins a series-record five-consecutive races – only third NASCAR national series driver to do so – between June 20 and July 24, 2009 at Milwaukee, Memphis, Kentucky, Indianapolis and Nashville.

5. Race No. 389 (Oct. 30, 2010): Kyle Busch beats Aric Almirola and Johnny Sauter by .002 seconds in a three-wide battle to the finish line producing the closest finish in series history since the introduction of electronic timing and scoring.

6. Race No. 366 (Nov. 13, 2009): A fourth-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway gives Ron Hornaday Jr. a 215-point advantage over Matt Crafton and a record-breaking fourth series title.

7. Race No. 342 (Nov. 14, 2008): Johnny Benson finishes seventh at season ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Ron Hornaday Jr. in eighth. Benson wins the championship over Hornaday by a mere seven points.

8. Race No. 123 (Feb. 18, 2000): Daytona International Speedway is added to the series schedule in 2000. The race produces several spectacular accidents, 31 lead changes and Mike Wallace’s slingshot pass of Andy Houston on the final lap to seal the victory.

9. Race No. 217 (Nov. 14, 2003): Carl Edwards lands a seat in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford and won twice to capture the 2003 Rookie of the Year honors.

10. Race No. 243 (Feb. 18, 2005): The 2005 season begins with Jimmy Spencer in Victory Lane at Daytona – only to be replaced by Bobby Hamilton, who drafts past Spencer a split-second before the race was ended under caution.

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Is Childress a grumpy old man? Or did Kyle Busch deserve a beatdown?

There are two schools of thought about the incident that happened this weekend at Kansas City between Richard Childress and Kyle Busch.

On one side, which I would guess is the majority view, Kyle Busch had this coming. He’s had so many incidents with so many people over the years, it was inevitable that someone would end up punching him in the face – and that fact that it was a senior citizen team owner is just a matter of details. Kyle’s headlock beatdown was a deserved payback for all his past misdeeds.

Then there are the Kyle Busch fans, who say Childress was way out of line. They would point out that Childress drivers have wrecked plenty of other drivers over the years, and Richard getting personally aggressive because one of his team’s vehicles was tapped by Kyle after a Truck race is a pathetic move that is the equivalent of the crazy old neighbor yelling “Get off my lawn!” to the local kids.
When asked how Childress should be punished, Busch said that it’s not his decision to make.

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"That's not my decision. That's NASCAR's decision. Whatever they feel best to protect their sport and to protect what we have going on here is to their best discretion. I'm all for whatever they decide to do."

Busch won’t be punished, and he probably did the right thing by not engaging a response to Childress. No one wants to be known as the kid who punched a senior citizen.

The truth, as usual, is somewhere inbetween.

First off, let’s be honest … as much as everyone respects Kyle Busch’s talent, it’s pretty obvious that he does do and say things that would make people want to punch him. I even thought during the race, when Busch uncharacteristically was being passed by other vehicles including the RCR truck of Joey Coulter, that Busch would have a childish reaction to the situation after the race … because he is so used to dominating, doesn’t like to lose and gets made when he doesn’t get his way.

Do I advocate the rival team owner grabbing him in a headlock and punching away? No, that has to be kept in check before things get too out of control. While everyone reminisces about 1979 and the Allisons/Yarborough fistfight, nobody wants the garage to be the scene of a weekly boxing match. While an occasional fight is good for hype of the sport, you don’t want to get that sort of permanent reputation; it should be about the racing.

I will just say this; both sides in this battle acted immaturely. Kyle showed his true self (the “old Kyle Busch” attitude) when he couldn’t just accept that Coulter beat him fair and square … there was no need to go banging on the RCR truck after the race; and Kyle needs to accept that he’s not going to win every race or battle.

But Childress should have known better than to go all 1970s on the Shrub. While I’m sure he made a lot of new fans doing it, I agree it did have a little bit of the crazy old man vibe to it. If anything, let Coulter or Kevin Harvick do the fighting … I’d rather see the drivers settle things than the owners stepping in.
Regardless, the incident happened, and all parties should learn from it.

What I’ve learned is the following: Richard Childress may be old, but he’ll still whoop your butt; Kyle Busch needs to get the entitlement chip off his shoulder and realize he’s going to get passed sometimes; and the RCR team and Kyle Busch really, really, really don’t like each other.

This, my friends, is a recipe for a lot more fun and excitement out of these camps as the season unfolds. I just hope more of it unfolds on track than in the garage, so we can actually see the drama.