Monday, August 21, 2017

Travel Tips: Road America – Aug. 25-27, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
The Xfinity Series has a stand-alone race this weekend, Friday through Sunday, Aug. 25-27, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Joining the Xfinity Series for the Johnsonville 180 weekend are the SCCA Pro Trans Am Series and the ARCA Racing Series.

The annual Hauler Parade to Road America takes place Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT. The parade departs from Plymouth High School, travels north on Highway 67 and ends at the track. The free event begins at 2:30 p.m. CT with Family Fun activities.

Fans looking for something to do throughout the weekend can check out public karting, zip lining and disc golf at Road America. Fans 14 and older (parent/guardian must be present if under 18) can participate in karting at the Road America Motorplex, in the infield over the Johnsonville Bridge, in karts that reach speeds up to 40 mph. Fans age 6 and over (70-275 lbs., with a parent/guardian if under 18) can fly on the dual racing zip lines at the Landing Tower near Turn 14. There is also disc golf for all ages located across from the Gearbox concession stands in the paddock (front nine) and west of the Sargento Bridge (back nine); rental discs are available in the Paddock Shop.

Key on-track event times:

Friday, Aug. 25
  • Trans Am testing – 8 and 10:30 a.m. CT
  • ARCA Racing Series optional test session – 9:40 a.m. and 12:10 p.m. CT
  • Trans Am practice – 1:50 p.m. CT
Saturday, Aug. 26 –
  • ARCA Racing Series practice – 8:50 and 11:05 a.m. CT
  • Trans Am practice – 9:50 a.m. and 4:10 p.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series practice – 1 and 3 p.m. CT
  • Trans Am qualifying – 4 p.m. CT
  • ARCA Racing Series qualifying – 5:10 p.m. CT
Sunday, Aug. 27 –
  • Trans Am Race No. 1 (TA, TA3, TA4) – 8:05 a.m. CT
  • Trans Am Race No. 2 (TA2) – 9:20 a.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 10:45 a.m. CT
  • ARCA Racing Series race (timed) – noon CT
  • Xfinity Series Johnsonville 180– 2:14 p.m. CT
Find out more about the track and purchase tickets for the weekend at www.roadamerica.com

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race Winning Crew Chief, Adam Stevens

by Stacey Owens

Only two races remain until the 2017 playoffs for the Monster Energy Series Cup championship begin, and Kyle Busch is just now hitting his stride. Busch may only have two wins this season, but they couldn't have come at a better time.

With Busch doing well, his crew chief, Adam Stevens, is also feeling pretty confident. Stevens talked about the team's perceived struggles earlier this season.

"Traditionally as a team, I feel like we come out of the box strong each year, are able to chip away a couple wins early. We had the speed to do it earlier this year. But dag-gone it, we just couldn't capitalize. ... 
           
"Still showed the speed here through the summer stretch. But we're starting to be able to put some races together, and that feels really good," Stevens said.

The closer teams get to the playoffs, the more some drivers change their focus. Busch, for instance, is calm and laser-focused as he approaches the 10 races that could lead him to a second championship, but he's also willing to try anything that Stevens suggests in the car.

"... you know, as the races go on and we get closer and closer to the Chase, he seems to find another level of focus. I think we saw a little bit of that tonight.
           
"This is a big deal to him. Winning the race is a big deal. He definitely was focused and had his eyes on the prize," Stevens explained.

As focused as his driver is, Stevens talked a bit about how his crew needs to make some adjustments prior to the start of the playoffs since it seemed that the pit stops were a bit "off" on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"... the car pit fine. I mean, pit ability-wise. We keep up with that, check it at the shop, check it again on the track. Everybody was happy with how it drew out, how the tires came out. We just missed a little something on pit road. One time we had an issue on the front, one time on the back. You know, I feel like we're about half a step off there and we're going to have to clean that up heading into the Chase, for sure," Stevens explained.
Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images

The win on Saturday night was just another win for Busch. It capped off a sweep of the Bristol weekend. Stevens discussed how the attempt at the sweep affected Busch's approach of the race.

"You know, that's something you worry about when you have an extra layer on top of a normal race.  As a crew chief, you need to keep him focused, make sure that he's not elevating his risk level too much, making mistakes.
           
"I think he did a really good job of being aggressive, but really mitigating the risk. There was [sic]times that he could have pushed, and he may have given somebody an inch.
           
"So he really did a great job of keeping the big picture in mind," Stevens said.

If Busch is laser-focused on the playoffs, what will be Stevens' strategy for the final 10 races?

"We've had good speed and prepared good cars. Like Coach says, everybody back at the shop doing all the right things. And we're just starting to put the whole race together. Kyle is doing a great job behind the wheel, really focusing on the finish of the race, making sure we have what we need with our adjustments, all the fenders on the car, all the brakes on the car that we can go out there and run hard at the end. The pit crew didn't start off that great, but they were able to shake it off and rebound from that. I think that bodes well for us heading into the Chase," Stevens explained.

Busch and Stevens will ride their momentum into Darlington Raceway on September 3 following a short break before drivers finish out the season in mid-November. So Busch is going to have a couple of weeks to rest before hitting the track in Darlington? Whew. I'm glad I'm not a driver. 

------------------------------------------
Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.




Friday, August 18, 2017

Troubling: Five Questions for Bristol

(Photo by Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images)
By Kristen Schneider

This week was full of emotions; from fear to joy to worry, people experienced a rollercoaster ride that left a lot of people drained. It was a troubling time.

NASCAR wasn’t immune to these feelings, yet that’s not a bad thing in my eyes. Rather, it helps us better understand everything that’s going on.

Sugar packets, closing doors, and political chatter infiltrated our racing world over the past seven days. How does this all fit together?

Let’s talk about that in this week’s Five Questions.

That’s a crazy story? Our favorite wild child Kenny Wallace avoided an insane Interstate accident this week. On Wednesday, he tweeted a video of himself at a Ruby Tuesday, using sugar packets (actually sugar substitutes, but the effect was the same) to describe the accident. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. responded with his own video reply; he took a nice swig of a beverage (I’m guessing Blue Moon because of the color) and quipped, “That’s a crazy story.” Landon Cassill mimicked Earnhardt’s video with his own drink. Thus, a trend was born, leading to multiple replies and two Twitter moments. I couldn’t stop laughing at the different takes, from Nascarcasm chugging some pickle juice to a race fan guzzling strawberry syrup. Who knew Twitter could be a fun place?

Does BKR’s departure signify a bigger problem? Thursday brought some troubling news for a team vital to the Camping World Truck Series. Brad Keselowski announced his decision to not field Brad Keselowski Racing in the series next year, which sucks a monumental amount. Still, this isn’t a huge shock; Red Horse Racing closed its doors earlier this season, and this news further proves that the system is flawed. The ROI is low in Trucks, meaning the incoming revenue usually fails to exceed the cost, much generate profit. Long story short, that isn’t a sustainable business model. Keselowski’s team regularly gave chances to up-and-coming racers and crew members, something the sport needs. The team closing eliminates two young, capable talents. In addition, this basically removes Ford from Truck competition altogether. Nothing breaks race fans’ hearts more than seeing organizations shut their doors. Something needs to be done to counteract this downward trend. I just can’t tell you what. I’m wishing Keselowski’s drivers Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric a successful rest of 2017 as they both race for a championship—and future rides.

Can Hemric build upon his runner-up finish? As predicted, Sam Hornish, Jr. mastered the Xfinity’s visit to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course—but who came in second was a usual suspect. Daniel Hemric piloted his No. 2 Richard Childress Racing machine to a runner-up finish. His first season in the series has been quite successful; the young driver earned three top-fives and nine top-10s in 21 races. These are fantastic stats in a series that has been dominated by William Byron and Cup drivers. Hemric’s only experience with Bristol comes from this season’s earlier Xfinity race and his prior Truck starts. His 2017 Spring start led to a fifth-place finish. Truck-wise, he holds third- and fourth-place finishes. Hemric might be a dark-horse pick for Friday night’s race. 

Where oh where will KuBusch go? Another Silly Season domino fell, and it’s the most recent Daytona 500 winner. Lines got crossed when Kurt Busch said he and Stewart-Haas Racing wouldn’t be working together next season, but the organization suggested otherwise. The latest word is that they’re looking for a co-primary sponsor. How will this play out? I think Busch re-signs with SHR; I can’t see a Daytona 500 champion not having a ride, and the team will pull some strings. However, him being in this position is a bit crazy to me. It speaks to the weirdness of the entire 2017 season; a former series champion and a continually successful driver wouldn’t be searching for a ride any other time, but this year is just special. KuBusch stays put, but that doesn’t make the scenario any less mystifying.


Let’s get…political? Before Earnhardt created a fun Twitter trend, he spoke out after the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. His tweet, in response to a fan, says, “Hatred, bigotry, & racism should have no place in this great country. Spread love.” Earnhardt was the only driver to touch upon this topic at the time. The other person to discuss this is Jeff Gluck, who caught flack for asking people to unfollow him if they disagreed that “People of all races and religions deserve love and should never be afraid to be themselves in the USA.” Gluck responded to a disparaging remark by clarifying that the statement wasn’t political or personal—“It’s a simple statement about basic human dignity.” Let me remind you that readers/donations fund Gluck’s ability to travel and cover races, so this is a risky thing to do (except Gluck also said he doesn’t want the money of those who disagree with his statement on humanity, so go him!). I respect both these men for speaking out and highlighting what’s going on in our world. Angry fans aren’t “peeved”—they’re uncomfortable. The beauty of sports is that it allows you to unwind and shut out the world. It becomes a safe space, which is why people are so mad when political talk infiltrates their sports feeds. This is where “Stick to sports!” comes from, of course. The fact of the matter is when your guard is down is the best time to listen. I understand the purpose of sports is to get away from it all and that having ideologies "fed" to you can be troubling, but to get angry when the real world comes in? When other human beings express how they wish others would spread love? The term "escapism" can only explain so much. If you get upset when an athlete “gets political,” you should ask yourself why it displeases you so much. Earnhardt’s tweets should create a productive discussion within the sport and about its fans. Put things aside and open your mind. Politics and racing can work as long as we all respect each other’s right to have differing opinions. I love a good debate about racing, politics, journalism, whatever—I just like hearing other people’s viewpoints and understanding why they think the way they do. Let’s do a little more of that.

Editor's note: Daniel Hemric finished seventh in Friday night's Xfinity Series Food Series 300. Kyle Busch swept all three stages and is a threat to sweep the weekend after his win Wednesday in the Camping World Truck Series. 

An Open Letter to Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick's recent comments about Dale Earnhardt Jr. created a stir. Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Hello Kevin,

You don’t know me, but I’ve always had respect for you. The comments you made about Dale Earnhardt Jr. really upset me. Not as a ”crazy” Jr fan, but as someone with a deeper level of understanding and admiration of  Earnhardt Jr.

I wasn’t a fan of his because of his dad. In fact, I disliked Jr. I hated that bleached blonde hair he had going on. At the time, I was 8 or 9. Dale Sr. was my hero. He was the whole reason I liked the sport of NASCAR.

I grew up in a Jeff Gordon house; I was the lone wolf, the oddball for liking Dale Earnhardt. My first NASCAR race was the 1998 Daytona 500. Watching Dale Earnhardt win his first Daytona 500 was magical for me. From that day on, Dale Earnhardt was my favorite, despite my family being Gordon fans.

In 2001, when he died I refused to ever watch a single NASCAR race again. I didn’t watch no matter how hard my family tried to get me to root for Earnhardt Jr. I refused. I didn’t want to get attached or call another driver my hero.

Flash forward to 2007. I was 14, getting ready for high school and being a normal teen, when my dad died. That tore me up inside; the pain I felt losing my dad was terrible. I was lost in the world. I didn’t know what to do. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Someone very close to me gave me the book “Driver #8." They told me to read it to see what I felt. Reading that book changed my life. Reading that book made me an Earnhardt Jr. fan.

Learning about rookie Dale Jr. was deep; it made me like him on a different level. My all-time favorite moment in the book was the epilogue, when Jr. talks about his win at Daytona six months after the death of his father and how he felt he was there. From time to time, I'll crack open "Driver #8" just to read that part.

Reading that book didn’t get me over my father’s death, but it sure helped me to cope and become a person again.

You know what else happened? I started watching NASCAR again, and yes, I became a huge Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan to the max. I was happy again. Sundays had purpose again.

Your comments that Dale Jr. has stunted the sport's growth - that he isn’t the most successful - hurt. It upset me because for me, success isn't always measured by wins. While he may not have won the championships that everyone expected, he has had a monumental impact on thousands of fans, myself included. 

You want to know my honest opinion on why Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver in NASCAR? His heart. He has the biggest heart, and his actions on and off the track prove why he is a fan favorite. He could have turned his fame into a whole different direction, but instead he’s stayed humble.

Being a Jr. fan has never been easy. You had good days and you had bad days. But those bad days didn’t matter because you had a driver that never gave up. You had a driver who would race his heart out.

While I’m still sad that he’s retiring, I’ll always be a fan.

Even though you said some hurtful things about my driver, I'll always respect you, and who knows what next season will bring. Maybe I'll get me some Harvick gear. Only time can tell, right?

Sincerely,

A Passionate NASCAR fan

TV Schedule: Aug. 18-19

Bristol Motor Speedway. Credit: Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
By Rebecca Kivak

NASCAR heads to the concrete coliseum: Bristol Motor Speedway, where close quarters breed short tempers.

The Camping World Truck Series took the track Wednesday. The XFINITY Series goes under the lights Friday, and the Monster Energy Cup Series takes the spotlight Saturday.

The following is a handy guide to track events and TV coverage at Bristol. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Aug. 18:
10 a.m. Monster Energy Cup Series practice, NBC Sports App (Canada: TSN GO)
12:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series final practice, NBCSN (Canada: TSN 2)
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN (Canada: TSN GO)
5:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN (Canada: TSN 2)
7 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
7:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Food City 300 at Bristol, NBCSN (Canada: TSN 2)

Saturday, Aug. 19:
7 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBC
7:30 p.m., Monster Energy Cup Series Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol, NBC (Canada: TSN 3, 5)
11 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series post-race show, NBCSN

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Trackin' Trucks: Kyle Busch earns Truck Series victory at Bristol

Kyle Busch celebrates in Victory Lane at Bristol.
Credit: Brian Lawdermilk

 By Courtney Horn 

Kyle Busch overcame a late-race speeding penalty for his third Camping World Truck Series victory this season Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch and his teammate, Noah Gragson, started in the rear of the field after each received a speeding penalty at the end of Stage 2. Busch took advantage of the top of the racetrack and was back into the top 10 within 20 laps.

"I knew once I got that penalty that I had to go somewhere, other than where everyone else was," said Busch. "I just started grooming the top and it took about 15 laps for it to come in and then it started going, it was pretty fast."

Busch regained the lead with 33 laps to go and held it until a caution for Austin Wayne Self and Justin Haley allowed for one final restart.

No one was able to get around Busch and he earned his fifth NCWTS victory at the half-mile oval.

Matt Crafton finished second after leading 90 of the 203 laps. Crafton made contact with the No. 19 of Austin Cindric early in the race, but was able to take the lead until Busch made a pass around the ThorSport Racing driver just before the end of Stage 1.

Busch also took Stage 2 of the UNOH 200 ahead of Crafton, Cindric, Ben Rhodes and Christopher Bell.

Bell remained out of contention most of the night, but quietly earned a seventh-place finish for his 13th top-10 this season.

A look ahead

The Camping World Truck Series takes a one-week break before heading to the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Ontario, Canada, where John Hunter Nemechek earned his second career win in a wild finish.

Nemechek sits eighth in the points standings after finishing third at Bristol. Nemechek has two wins this season to secure his way into this year’s playoffs. Will he defend his 2016 victory or will someone else punch their ticket with just two races to go in the regular season?

Rhodes sits in fifth place in the standings and has been close to his first career NCWTS victory many times. A crash took the young star out of contention a year ago. Rhodes needs to avoid trouble to better his chances of securing his way into the playoffs for the first time in his career.

Don’t miss Nemechek, Rhodes and the rest of the CWTS stars on Sunday, Sept. 3, at 2:30 p.m ET on Fox Sports 1.

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol

By Carol D'Agostino
Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Joey Logano -5
Jimmie Johnson - 4
Both with 3 - Denny Hamlin and Paul Menard

By Track
Joey Logano - 6
Both with 5 - Jimmie Johnson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
All with 4 - Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and
Matt Kenseth

Recent Pole Winners: 
2016 Carl Edwards
2015 Denny Hamlin
2014 Kevin Harvick

Last Year's Race Winner: Kevin Harvick

The Likely Suspects: This weekend race fans will be treated to a night race at Bristol. Look for these drivers to run well: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick is Denny Hamlin. My next choices are Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher. I will complete my team with Erik Jones and Ty Dillon.

My Final Four: Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon.

Points to Ponder:
  • 89 of the 113 (78.7%) MENCS races at Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) have been won from a top-10 starting position.
  • 12 different drivers have posted consecutive poles at Bristol Motor Speedway. Denny Hamlin is the only active driver to have done so (fall 2013, spring 2014).
  • Roger Penske leads the series among active car owners with the most wins at Bristol with 12; followed by Jack Roush and Rick Hendrick with 11 each.
  • Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman lead all active drivers in Coors Light poles at BMS with three each.
  • Kevin Harvick leads all active drivers in the series in runner-up finishes at Bristol with five; followed by Kyle Busch with three. Harvick also leads all active drivers in the series in top-three finishes at Bristol with nine. 
  • Matt Kenseth leads all active drivers in the series in top-five finishes at Bristol with 14; followed by Kevin Harvick with 12. Kenseth also leads all active drivers in the series in top-10 finishes at Bristol with 21; followed by Jimmie Johnson (18).
Remember, if you're playing Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing, your pick deadline is Friday, Aug. 18, at 5 a.m. EDT.

Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fast Track Facts: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

credit: NASCAR Media
Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada’s Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is one of the newest circuits on the NASCAR schedule, having just added a Camping World Truck Series race in Sept. 2013. Learn more about this historic Canadian road course in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Originally known as Mosport Park and later Mosport International Raceway, CTMP is a multi-track facility featuring a 2.459-mile, 10-turn road course, two driver development courses and a karting course. The land was selected by the British Empire Motor Club in 1958, with design completed and construction underway by 1960; the 10-turn course was ready for racing in May 1961.
  • The name “Mosport” is a contraction of the term Motor Sport – the term served as the name of the business enterprise in charge of the facility.
  • In 2011, the facility was purchased by Canadian Motorsport Ventures Ltd., a group that included Canadian racer and former “road course ringer” Ron Fellows.
  • CTMP has hosted numerous open-wheel and motorcycle events over the years, including Formula One (the Canadian Grand Prix), USAC Champ Car, FIM Road Racing World Championship and FIM World Superbike Championship. The track currently hosts the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, NASCAR’s Pinty’s Series and the Truck Series.
  • The qualifying record for the Camping World Truck Series was set by Alex Tagliani in Aug. 2015 (110.539 mph/1:20.084). There have been four different winners in the first four years of the event: Chase Elliott (2013), Ryan Blaney (2014), Erik Jones (2015) and John Hunter Nemechek (2016).
  • Find out more about Canadian Tire Motorsport Park at canadiantiremotorsportpark.com

Monday, August 14, 2017

Travel Tips: Bristol Motor Speedway – Aug. 16-19, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
NASCAR’s top three national series – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series – and the Whelen Modified Tour head to “Thunder Valley” – Bristol Motor Speedway, the quintessential Saturday night short track – for the four-day Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race event, Wednesday through Saturday, Aug. 16-19.

There is plenty going on away from the track as well over the four days at Bristol, including plenty of live music throughout the event, “Young Guns” autograph sessions on Wednesday and the Fitzgerald Peterbilt Transporter Parade and Food City Race Night on Thursday. Find out more about these and other activities here.

Key on-track times:

Wednesday, Aug. 16
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 9 and 11 a.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour practice –12:30 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour qualifying – 3:15 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 4:35 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour Bush’s Beans 150– 6:05 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 – 8:30 p.m. ET
Thursday, Aug. 17
  • Xfinity Series practice – 1 and 3 p.m. ET
  • Transporter Parade – 9-10 p.m. ET
Friday, Aug. 18
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 3:40 p.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 5:45 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series Food City 300 – 7:30 p.m. ET
Saturday, Aug. 19 –
  • Pre-race concert with Cody Jinks – 5:45 p.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race – 7:30 p.m. ET
Find a full weekend schedule, including scheduled driver appearances, here.

Get tickets and more information about this week’s races at www.bristolmotorspeedway.com.


Right Sides Only: Notes from the Pure Michigan 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Johnston

by Stacey Owens

When you're in your 20s, it's fairly easy to work all day, stay up most of the night, and be fresh enough to get up and do it all over the next day. Just ask Kyle Larson who competed in the Knoxville Nationals on Saturday night and returned to the Michigan track at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday before winning the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday afternoon. Not bad for a weekend, huh?

Larson's crew chief, Chad Johnston, was on hand to help make the car better throughout the afternoon so that Larson could wheel it through traffic.

"We didn't have the best car, and obviously most of the time the best car doesn't win. We just tried to stick with it. We said coming in here, we kind of drew a line in the sand and we hadn't got the performance or the finishes the last three weeks that we felt like the car had speed-wise. We made some changes coming into this race aerodynamically to try to help the car, which I believe hurt it pretty bad in traffic, but it's hard to tell unless you bring it to the track.
           
"We know where we missed it on that, and we just tried to keep ourselves in position and keep focused and try to keep him [Larson] in the best situation that we could on tires compared to the guys around him. We put four on, and the cautions fell like we needed them to, and we were able to get two restarts on the outside.
           
"He drove his butt off there at the end. We had a pretty bad start to -- the first start of the race was probably the worst restart he's had all year, but I definitely would say that the one at the end was probably the best one he's had. When it all counted and the cards were on the table, we were able to execute and come out of here with a finish better than what the car was capable of running, and you're going to win championships that way.
           
"You know, it was a line in the sand, and we'll start over again and go into Bristol, which is going to be a really good track for us, and just start executing races before the last 10 start," Johnston said.

Johnston and his crew set up his car and executed great pit stops, which meant that the rest was up to Larson, especially when it came to the final restart when Larson decided to make it four-wide for a second or two.

"It was just business as normal. We leave it up to him. He's obviously the guy behind the wheel. He's more than capable of making those decisions of what the best move is going to be, way more capable than I am. We just told him that he was on the best tires of everybody in front of him. We tried to give him information that's going to at least make him feel like he's at an advantage, but at the end of the day, that's all him. I mean, we didn't play a part in that. We just put him in position, and he was able to make the restart and put the 78 in a bad spot, and we had fresher tires. I mean, it was pretty straightforward," Johnston explained.

Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Now that the No. 42 team has all but clinched their spot in the playoffs, how will Johnston keep the team focused on the final few races of the regular season before transitioning their focus to the playoff races?

"We've got a great group of guys, and we go into each week trying to win the race, so that's what we're going to do. We're going to celebrate this tonight, and then Monday we're going to re-rack and work on our Bristol stuff, and we're going to go there guns a-blazing, and we're usually pretty fast there and can lead some laps, and I think we learned a lot on how to adjust the car as the race goes, and we're going to try to put three more wins together and see if we can't gain some bonus points and close that gap to the 78 car," Johnston said.

This was the third consecutive Michigan fall race that Larson has won. If the car hadn't been up to par when they unloaded, would Johnston have consulted his notes from previous Michigan races?

"... the sport and the cars evolved so quickly that if you brought back what you won with the previous time here, you'd be lucky to run fifth or sixth with it. You're always constantly trying to make your cars better. Yeah, definitely the good thing about it is there's only a few things that we change, so it's pretty easy to backtrack on where we missed it. But you can rely on your notes from the last time, but you've got to bring something better each and every time that you come or you're not going to be able to compete with the guys that you want to compete with," Johnston explained.

Whether they could have given Larson the best car possible is almost irrelevant.

"To me he's the best talent out there, and if we can put him in position, I think you're going to get that outcome 99 percent of the time. The thing for us is just to give him a car that's fast enough that he can go out there and do what we all know that he can do. I'm sure everybody realized the talent that he has way before that, but that definitely proves that you can never count him out, and he stuck with it and he kept his head, and we were able to steal a victory, but nonetheless, it's still a victory," Johnston said.

You can bet that Johnston will continue to provide Larson with cars that the driver will try to get to Victory Lane before moving on to the playoffs.


------------------------------------------
Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.