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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

With his cheating past, Chad Knaus deserves extreme scrutiny from NASCAR; Latest punishment worsens his reputation

One one hand, Chad Knaus is a brilliant crew chief who is in large part responsible for Jimmie Johnson's five championships.

On the other hand, he may very well be the biggest cheater in NASCAR.

No stranger to being suspended (it's happened twice before), he faces yet another one after Jimmie Johnson's Daytona car failed inspection on day one.

The team and Johnson, who only had 2 points after finishing 42nd at Daytona, will lose 25 points, putting him at negative 23 points. The team will appeal, of course, but I doubt they will win.

The ruling and punishment was as follows:
"The No. 48 car was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the rule book or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event); and 20-2.1E (if in the judgment of NASCAR officials, any part or component of the car not previously approved by NASCAR that has been installed or modified to enhance aerodynamic performance will not be permitted – unapproved car body modifications).

Knaus and car chief Ron Malec have been suspended from the next six (6) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship events, suspended from NASCAR until April 18 and placed on NASCAR probation until May 9. Additionally, Knaus has been fined $100,000."

Some people are defending Knaus, saying the car fit the templates and the penalty is unfair. But I'm going to have to side with NASCAR on this one, as I doubt they're out there just grabbing parts and handing out fines all willy-nilly. They obvious saw something that wasn't kosher that would've given Jimmie an advantage vs. the other drivers, and had to do something about it.

Chad Knaus has shown in the past he is willing to push boundaries and try to find gray areas in an effort to find speed. He would have fit in well back in the Smokey Yunick days -- when that kind of stuff was accepted.

No more though Chad. These days you have to stick to NASCAR's rules down to the third decimal point. If you venture out of those rules, you're screwed. Just ask poor Carl Long, who had his entire career basically ruined over one engine because it was few cubic inches oversized.

In the past, Chad, you have pushed the limits and gotten burned, but apparently you did not learn your lesson. Well, here you are again, and I'm sure you'll play the victim. Don't, as nobody will feel sorry for you.

If you were a first-time offender, nobody would make a huge deal of this. But it's all about your past, Chad, and that past has come back to haunt you. Between your past infractions, and your little comment to Jimmie last fall to crash the back of the car if he won, NASCAR is eyeing you like a hawk -- rightfully so.

While what you did at Daytona might not be the biggest thing in the world, because of what you have done in the past it's being viewed as bigger. That's your fault though Chad; you made your bed, now lie in it.

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Danica Patrick helps ESPN topple Nationwide ratings record

An average of 4.4 million people watched Saturday's ESPN’s broadcast of the Nationwide Series season race at Daytona. This is a record as the most-viewed race ever on cable television for the series. The race averaged 4,433,249 viewers in 3,304,012 households, breaking the record of 4,271,365 viewers in 3,170,109 households set for ESPN’s telecast of the Daytona race in 2010.

“We’ve seen two consecutive years of ratings increases with the Nationwide Series on our networks and NASCAR carried some strong momentum and storylines into this year,” said Julie Sobieski, ESPN vice president, programming & acquisitions. “This certainly represents a great start to the season.”

I have one explanation for this -- and her name is Danica. She may be overexposed, but she's bringing a lot of new eyes to the sport, which is good for everyone involved, and for those who want to try to attract sponsors for their teams.

All 33 races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series season will air on either ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC. The next race at Phoenix is Saturday, March 3, at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Kenseth is the man
Matt Kenseth now has two Daytona 500 victories, putting him in elite company.
Only eight other drivers have multiple wins, and three of them are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame — Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison.

My guess is Kenseth will join them in there one day in the future.

Roush hits 300 mark
Jack Roush and Roush Fenway have posted their 300th win in a NASCAR national series victory No. 300. The number is a record for wins in NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck series. Roush first won in 1989 with Mark Martin, and Roush has won championships in all three national series.

Comeback kids
If you're way back in the standings now, don't fret: Here' s the scoop.
Four drivers who finished 27th or worse in the 2011 Daytona 500 – Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kenseth and Kevin Harvick – qualified for the 2011 Chase.
And only three drivers who finished among the top 10 in the 2011 Daytona 500 made the Chase.

Translastion: Daytona don't mean much in the long haul in terms of how you finish the year.

Drug suspension
Keith Wolfe, a crew member in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, has been indefinitely suspended from NASCAR as a result of violations discovered Feb. 24 at Daytona International Speedway. Wolfe violated sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 2-11 (failure to notify of felony and/or substance abuse related law violations); and 19 (violation of the NASCAR Substance Abuse Policy) of the 2012 NASCAR rule book.

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Keselowski will make appearance this August at Michigan track, have race named in his honor

Auto City Speedway and Miller Lite have announced that on Wednesday, Aug. 15 -- days before the Sprint Cup race at Michigan Speedway -- Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski will appear at Auto City Speedway in Clio, Michigan.

Racing that night are the JEGS/CRA All Star Tour Series combined with the Lafontaine Performance Center Super Stocks, in a race to be called the “BRAD 100”.

Watch for more details as Brad will be signing autographs, pacing the “BRAD 100” in the Auto City Pace Car, and waving the green flag.

Keselowski has plenty of Michigan roots, having been raised working at his family's race shop. His father, Bob Keselowski, was a 1997 race winner in the Camping World Truck Series. His uncle, Ron Keselowski, competed at the Cup Series level in the early 1970's.

At the age of 14, Keselowski made the transition from turning wrenches for his family-owned team, K Automotive Motorsports, to racing. And the rest is history. Local fans will have a chance to welcome him home this August.

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Phoenix International Raceway -- by the numbers

The Cup series shifts to Phoenix this week. Here's everything you need to know about the track and its history

— Construction was completed in January 1964. The facility consisted of a one-mile oval and a 2.5-mile road

Alan Kulwicki won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix on Nov. 6, 1988.
The first spring race was held on April 23, 2005 and also the first night race, which was won by Kurt Busch.
The track underwent its first repave last year. The construction began in March and concluded in September of 2011.
The following changes were made during the construction period (March – Sept., 2011):
Widened the frontstretch from 52 to 62 feet
Reconfigured pit road with the installation of concrete pit stalls
Pushed the dog-leg curve between Turn 2 and Turn 3 out 95 feet
Tightened the turn radius of the dog-leg from 800 to 500 feet
Implemented variable banking to ensure the immediate use of two racing grooves, including 10-11 degree banking between Turn 1 and Turn 2; 10-11 degree banking in the apex of the dog-leg; and 8-9 degree banking in Turn 4
There have been 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Phoenix International Raceway, one per season from 1988-2004 and two each season since.
Geoffrey Bodine won the first pole in 1988.
There have been 19 different pole winners, led by Ryan Newman with four.
Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards are the only drivers to win consecutive poles. Newman won three straight (2002-04), while Gordon won the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007, and Edwards won the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011.
There have been 22 different race winners, led by Jimmie Johnson, with four.
The race has been won from the pole four times: Jeff Gordon (spring 2007), Jimmie Johnson (fall 2008), Mark Martin (spring 2009) and Carl Edwards (fall 2010).
The race has been won from a top-10 starting position in 16 of 31 events.
Denny Hamlin (November, 2005) and AJ Allmendinger (April, 2010) won their first career poles at Phoenix International Raceway.
Ricky Rudd won the 1995 race from the 29th-place starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.
Matt Kenseth won the 2002 race from the 28th-place starting position, the furthest back an active race winner has started.
Mark Martin has 12 top-five finishes, more than any other driver. Martin (9.0 average finish) is one of two active drivers who average a top-10 finish. Jimmie Johnson (5.3) is the other.
Jeff Gordon has the lowest average start amongst active drivers with a 10.4; followed by AJ Allmendinger (10.5) and Carl Edwards (10.8).
Two perfect Driver Ratings of 150.0 have been recorded at Phoenix. Kurt Busch did it with his win in April of 2005, and Kevin Harvick did it in November of 2006.
Five drivers have won consecutive races at Phoenix: Davey Allison (1991,1992); Jeff Burton (2000, 2001); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2003, 2004); Kevin Harvick (swept 2006); Jimmie Johnson is the only one of the five to win three consecutive races (fall 2007, swept 2008).
Youngest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Phoenix International Raceway winner: Kyle Busch (11/13/2005 – 20 years, 6 months, 11 days)
Oldest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Phoenix International Raceway winner: Mark Martin (04/18/2009 – 50 years, 3 months, 9 days)
Of the seven drivers with multiple wins at Phoenix International Raceway, Mark Martin is the only driver to win in two different manufacturers: Ford (1993) and Chevrolet (2009).
Phoenix International Raceway Data
Race: 2 of 36 (3-4-12)
Track Size: 1 mile
Banking/1 and 2: 10 - 11 degrees
Banking/3 and 4: 8 - 9 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 3 degrees
Banking/Backstretch:9 degrees
Frontstretch: 1,179 feet
Backstretch: 1,551 feet
Driver Rating at Phoenix  
Jimmie Johnson 118.6
Carl Edwards 101.3
Tony Stewart100.9
Kurt Busch 100.4
Jeff Gordon99.8
Mark Martin 97.8
Denny Hamlin 96.3
Kyle Busch 95.5
Kevin Harvick 94.8
Greg Biffle 93.1
Ryan Newman 90.1
Martin Truex Jr. 88.9
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2011 races (14 total) at Phoenix.
Qualifying/Race Data
2011 pole winner: Carl Edwards (137.279 mph, 26.244 seconds)
2011 race winner: Jeff Gordon
(102.961 mph, 2-27-11)
Track qualifying record: Carl Edwards (137.279 mph, 26.244 seconds, 2-26-11)
Track race record: Tony Stewart (118.132 mph, 11-7-99

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

NASCAR wise not to fine Brad Keselowski over tweeting from car

Associated Press photo
Brad Keselowski walks on the track at Daytona during Monday night's red flag, carrying the phone he used to Tweet from his car.


The rumor Tuesday was that NASCAR might fine Brad Keselowski, who famously tweeted pics from the track via his iPhone while the fire from the jet dryer crash red-flagged the race.

The immediate effect was that Brad got a ton of new Twitter followers, more than 100,000 new ones in fact, but in the aftermath there was talk NASCAR might fine Keselowski, as his phone being in the car might have been in violation of some technical rules, mainly because it could in theory be used as a recording device or to communicate via channels other than the headset.

Well, we all know Brad didn't mean to do any of that, and was just having fun tweeting -- which he does all the time and has for a long time.

So I was glad to see NASCAR issue this statement today:
"NASCAR will not penalize #2-Brad Keselowski for his use of Twitter during last night's Daytona 500. Nothing we've seen from Keselowski violates any current rules pertaining to the use of social media during races. As such, he won't be penalized. We encourage our drivers to use social media to express themselves as long as they do so without risking their safety or that of others."

This is the right way to think. Social media is a great thing for the sport, and it may have found its ambassador in Keselowski. He's a trendsetter here, and should be celebrated, not fined. A fine would've made NASCAR look foolish, and I'm glad they realized that.

As long as he's not trying to take pics with the phone while driving at 200 mph (and honestly, I don't think that would be even possible), I'm cool with Brad tweeting from the car. And NASCAR should be too.

Don't judge Danica on Daytona
People are often quick to judge. In the case of Danica Patrick, with her huge media spotlight, this is especially true.

So when she wrecked in the Twins, Nationwide and the 500, many NASCAR fans are quick to judge, saying she's not ready for NASCAR.

But hold the phone.

We all know Daytona is a crapshoot due to pack racing. If someone wrecks ahead of you, you are pretty much out of luck, and she was in that situation. The only way to avoid the carnage is to be up front all night like Matt Kenseth was on Monday.

No, I won't judge Danica on her Daytona wrecks. She was just a passenger in most of that carnage, and the restrictor plate races are not a good benchmark for any driver, including her.

The next race for Danica is Darlington, where it's all about the driver. That's when we should start to judge her performance and how much she's improved since starting in NASCAR a couple years back.

Mayfield indicted
In case you care, and I' m sure most people don't anymore at this point, former NASCAR winner Jeremy Mayfield has been indicted on several counts of felony larceny, as he alleged was in possession of stolen property. The new charges came Monday and are in addition to other possession of stolen charges that came last week.

However this ends, Mayfield's descent from a winning NASCAR driver to a reputed drug user who is facing larceny charges is a sad, cautionary tale. It's a testament to the fact that no matter where you are in your life, there's always a chance it will all go away if you don't live your life properly.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

No Cinderella part 2 for Trevor Bayne in 2012 Daytona 500; Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon also have rough start to year

Trevor Bayne was not Cinderella two years in a row. No, he got turned into a pumpkin this year, on lap No. 2, when he got caught up in a wreck that was started when Elliott Sadler's #33 car got Jimmie Johnson sideways.

“I have no idea what happened. You spend a couple days waiting in the rain and something happen on lap one, so what do you do? I tried to get as low as I could. I couldn’t see what was going on," Bayne said.

He felt bad for his team especially.
"Man, this is tough. The guys worked so hard for this race. We were looking forward to it. I hate that we’re sitting here in the garage, but they’re trying their best to get back out here. We’re doing everything we can. I thought it would be minor damage and we could get out there faster, but it looks like we’ll be in the garage for awhile.”

He was not sure why everyone decided to get so "antsy".
“I’m not sure what happened or why they got so antsy. It just stinks to sit around to wait for that long. I just told my guys on the radio that we were sitting in a good spot and as soon as I let off the button they started wrecking in front of me. I got out of the way the best that I could, but we still got in it. I hate this for my Ford Racing team, but we’ll be back.”

It was a rough first outing for David Ragan in the #38 car for Front Row Motorsports, as he smashed hard into Johnson.
“It is disappointing. I was just trying to see the monitor to see who I can be mad at. It is ridiculous to sit around this long for the Daytona 500 and on the very first lap for someone to be driving as reckless as whoever caused that, someone had to cause it. It is just a shame for it to be that early in the biggest race, the first race of the year. We just got caught up in it. We were content on riding in the beginning and minding our P’s and Q’s. They started wrecking in front of us and we just couldn’t get out of the way quick enough. It is very disappointing for our Front Row Motorsports team. We will have to pick up and move on. I can’t wait to see who was the bonehead that did that.”

And fresh off losing the 2011 title after five straight Cups, Johnson's 2012 got off to a terrible start with his wreck on lap 2. As you can expect, Jimmie was not happy.

"I'm ok. That side hit was hard. We were all just trying to make our lane work. A lot of energy in the lane. I was kind of pushing the No. 78 (Regan Smith) a little bit. I could feel some help from behind. Just turned me around. Sent me down to the inside lane and back up to the outside lane. When I was l sitting in the middle of the race track, I knew at some point someone was going to come along unfortunately. David Ragan had nowhere to go. I unfortunately got drilled by him pretty hard.
I'm just really, really bummed to start the season this way. For all the hard work that has gone into getting this Lowe's Chevrolet ready for tonight; we didn't get to complete two-and-a-half miles of green flag racing. So, I’m pretty bummed. I’m just really bummed-out for this whole Lowe's team."

It was a tough day for another multiple champ from the Hendrick, as Jeff Gordon had mechanical issues in the 500, completing a rough Speedweeks for him -- as he also ended up upside down in the Duels.

In terms of his 500 finish, he wasn't sure exactly what caused him to be sidelined.

"My temps were looking good. Temps are such an issue here right now at Daytona. But all the temps looked good. All the gauges looked good. Just kind of came out of nowhere. First it popped and then it went up in a big ball of flames. So, you know that is down in the bottom end, and that is never good. So, I knew our night was done
Gosh, I am just so disappointed. It's not the way we wanted to start this season or the Daytona 500, and it is a shame to be out like this."

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Montoya comments on jet dryer crash that has halted Daytona 500 -- WITH VIDEO

Yes folks, this is officially the the craziest Speedweeks ever.

First John King wins the Truck race .. John who?

Then James Buescher wins the Nationwide race after the 10 cars in front of him all crash in the last turn of the race.

Now, the Daytona 500 might be over because Juan Pablo Montoya has crashed into a jet dryer.

Oh, and Dave Blaney might win.

I'm not sure how much weirder things can get at this point.

Here's what Montoya had to say after the scary wreck.

Is he OK?
"I'm ok. My foot hurt, but I'm ok. For as big of a hit that way; I'm pretty good to be honest."

What happened?
"Something fell in the rear of the car and the car just spun into the jet dryer. I felt a vibration and came in. They looked at everything and everything was ok and I still told them 'I think there is something broke' and I was coming back into the pits and the car just spun by itself."

Is the truck driver OK?
"He came with me (in the ambulance). He was pretty scared, but he looked ok."

Was there a vibration?
"I told them when I left the pits something wasn't right and I felt a weird vibration when we were with the pack. Every time I got on the gas, it vibrated. So, I came back in and they checked all the rear-end and they said it was ok. I was going down the back straightaway, and I was going in fourth gear, but, we weren't even going that fast. Every time I got on the gas I could feel the rear really squeezing. I got on the brakes to travel up and while I was telling the spotter to have a look on how the rear was moving, the car just turned right."

He's ready to move on:
“To be honest with you, it is tough. We were running a really smart race. Everyone on the Target Chevy really did a good job today. Just move on to Phoenix."

Did he hear the explosion?
“Oh yeah, it burned the helmet and everything. It’s not where you want to finish the Daytona 500. Everybody on the Target team, with this great Chevy car, did an amazing job today. We didn’t bump anybody, nobody bumped us, and we only had 40 laps to go. I thought we had a great car. I thought we were in the right place. Everything was working well and go through that, it sucks.”

First time for everything:
“I have hit a lot of things, but a jet dryer? I mean, no.”

Could you feel the heat?
“I saw the flames. My helmet got a little burned and everything, but move on.”

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mitt Romney's visit to Daytona 500 was shameless politics invading NASCAR

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, walks with driver Brian Vickers, left, Sunday at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Above right, crew members work on the car of driver Tony Raines that is sponsored by Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum during practice for the Daytona 500 Saturday (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

To quote Sammy Kershaw, we’re not supposed to talk about “politics, religion and her”

But I’m gonna break that first rule here, and talk about the politics surrounding the Daytona 500.

First, Rick Santorum has decided to get his name out further by having “Rick Santorum for President” sponsoring the #26 car of Tony Raines, which raced its way into the Daytona 500 via the Duels.

And while I definitely don’t agree with Santorum’s politics on many levels (specifically, I want my religion and my politics separate, and he likes to jumble them up: going against the very basic beliefs of the Founding Fathers), sponsoring a car like he did is the best way to go about involving politics in the NASCAR realm. Other candidates have put their name on a car before (I vaguely remember Brad Keselowski with a Heath Shuler for Congress car back in his early days), and Santorum is buying sponsorship just like any other brand or company would. I have no issues with that approach, regardless of my opinions of him as a candidate.

What’s funny to me, though, is what happened after the Santorum car was announced. Mitt Romney ended up taking a last-minute trip to Daytona to make an appearance on what he thought would be the day of the race.

Here’s how I envision the meeting that led to Romney visiting Daytona:
Adviser: Sir, we have a development. Santorum is sponsoring a car in the Daytona 500, which will get him a lot of exposure to that crowd.

Mitt Romney: Damn, why didn’t we think of that?

Adviser: Sorry, sir. But it’s too late for us to do that now. The race is Sunday.

Mitt Romney: Well, I guess I have to go down there on the day of the race.

Adviser: But sir, you already have a lot of plans today with the Michigan primary coming Tuesday.

Mitt Romney: Hey, we’ll have to squeeze it in. I have to have that NASCAR vote over Satorum!

Adviser: Sure thing, sir. We’ll book the trip ASAP.

Bottom line: I don’t like politicians using appearances at the racetrack to boost their campaigns, and it just makes Romney look phony. If Santorum hadn’t sponsored the car, no way the Romney trip happens.

Campaigns are full of phony sound bites. Here are the ones that came out of Daytona:

"NASCAR and the Daytona 500 are about as American as you can get – and it's great to have my campaign represented by one of these incredible machines," Santorum said. "The race weekend is a wonderful tradition that we're excited to be a part of as we spread our message. I like how Tony Raines turned some heads last weekend with his qualifying run and we'd like to keep turning heads, too. I think we're both looking for a win in the end."

Romney spent a few hours at the track Sunday morning, was introduced at the drivers' meeting and had some words to say to the drivers – which sounded equally as canned as Santorum’s quotes.

"This combines a couple of things I like best, cars and sports," Romney told the group. "I appreciate the spirit of the men and women that are driving today. This is a chance to really look at some of the determination and great qualities of the human spirit. This is quintessentially American. I love what you're doing, happy to be here today, wish you all the very best and God bless this great nation of ours."

He also made similar remarks to the fans, who were no doubt mostly annoyed by the campaign making its way to the racetrack.

This is just another side effect of this political season, and it’s kind of annoying to me that it has to infiltrate my sport.

I recognize that Romney has a right to say what he wants where he wants, but I also have a right to say what I want. And I say his appearance at Daytona was shameless politics. Santorum did it the right way with his sponsorship; Mitt did it the wrong way with his appearance.

That’s all I have to say on the matter.

Lots of Truck rookies

Back to racing,

While there are basically no Cup rookies this year (I believe Timmy Hill may win it by default even if he doesn’t do anything of note), that’s not the case in the truck series – where a ton of new drivers are battling for the ROTY title.

ARCA champ Ty Dillion, 2012 K&N Pro Series East champion Max Gresham, Pro Series standout Paulie Harraka, Dakoda Armstrong, Cale Gale, Ward’s son Jeb Burton, Ross Chastain, Dusty Davis, Daytona winner John King and Bryan Silas are among the contenders. Should be a tight battle, but I’m guessing Dillon wins it by a good margin, considering he’s in the same great equipment his brother did so well in last year.

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