Friday, June 22, 2018

Five Questions before Gateway and Sonoma

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
by Lisa Janine Cloud

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winds its way around the road course in the wine country of Sonoma, California, while the Camping World Truck Series returns to the Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis, Missouri. Okay, so the racetrack is really in Madison, Illinois, but that’s just a technicality. The 1.25-mile oval sits just about five miles east of the famous Gateway Arch, which rises 630 feet above the west bank of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, only a short distance from the home of Anheuser-Busch, aka the King of Beers.

Credit: Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images

West Coast vs. Midwest. Wine vs. beer. Road course vs. oval track. Race trucks vs. race cars. Saturday night under the lights vs. Sunday afternoon in the sunshine. NASCAR fans are set for what is truly a weekend of contrasts.  

Will age and treachery ... er, skill ... prevail over youth and vitality in the Truck race?
Last week at Iowa, only three drivers in the top 10 were over 30: Johnny Sauter (40), David Gilliland (42), and Stuart Friesen (34). Winner Brett Moffitt is 25 and defending race winner John Hunter Nemechek just turned 21 a couple of weeks ago. Yet the veteran, Sauter, holds the series lead in points, while Friesen and 33-year-old Grant Enfinger sit in fourth and fifth respectively. Sauter does have the most top-five finishes at Gateway, and Matt Crafton (42) has the most top 10s, but not since Kevin Harvick took the checkers in 2010 has a driver over 30 scored a win there. 

Who will the crowd at the "Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200 presented by CK Power" race at Gateway cheer for louder? 
Local driver Kevin Donahue of Chesterfield, Missouri, piloting the No. 63 Mittler Bros. Machine & Tool/Extreme Oil Chevy for local team Mittler Brothers Racing, or Jordan Anderson of Forest Acres, South Carolina, whose No. 3 Chevy carries local sponsorship from the Bommarito Auto Group alongside Lucas Oil? The Mittler Brothers have been in the Truck Series since 1995, while the Bommarito Auto Group put beaucoup sponsorship dollars into Anderson’s team and racing at Gateway in general. Regardless, the real winners are the fans who get to see some great racing at a track that is working hard to establish itself as a top-tier facility.

Will there be a new winner at Sonoma in the Toyota/Save-Mart 350?
Only six drivers have visited Victory Lane in 2018. Oddly enough, four of them are among the seven active drivers who have won at the track formerly known as Sears Point (Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Clint Bowyer). Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Kasey Kahne have all taken home the wine-bottle trophy, too.
The only repeat winner among active drivers, Kyle Busch, will have his hands full with defending race winner Harvick, defending series champion Truex Jr., and most recent race winner, Bowyer. Who out of the rest of the field can keep up? We’ll see on Sunday.

Can Jimmie Johnson find his golden horseshoe? 
Or his mojo? Or even lead another lap? For a driver who has led between 9000-10,000 laps a season since his rookie year, it’s painful to look at the stats and see Seven-Time with the number “2” under laps led for the season. Matt DiBenedetto has led three times as many laps as Johnson so far in 2018! 
We’re 15 races in, and not only has Johnson not won, he’s only gotten within sniffing distance twice with top-five finishes at Bristol and Charlotte. However, the No. 48 team is heading in the right direction point-wise. Having started the year in 36th, Johnson and his guys sit 12th, so maybe being in his home state will bring him some luck.

At the risk of repeating myself, can youth win over experience on the twists and turns of the season’s first road course?
Young drivers such as Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones have gotten a lot of publicity this season, but so far, the race winners have all been over 25. Joey Logano and Austin Dillon are both 28; Logano is the younger of the two by about a month, but he’s a 10-year veteran. Dillon is in his fifth full season like Larson is, but he’s three years older.

By comparison, Harvick has five wins in 2018 and appears to be in his prime at 42. Bowyer’s 39 and Truex is 38, each with 13 full seasons and two wins this year. A four-time winner so far in 2018, Kyle Busch is only 33 but has 14 full Cup seasons under his belt. 

What difference does all that make? 

To me, it seems like the hype around the hot young drivers has provided ample motivation for the more seasoned competitors to show everyone that to be the man, you have to beat the man.

Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio for the Camping World Truck Series and at 3 p.m. ET on FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: At Sonoma

By Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race and Track
All with 4 - Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer
Jimmie Johnson - 3  

Top 5 Driver Ratings (Based on Last 13 races at Sonoma Raceway) SOURCE: NASCAR Media
Kurt Busch
17
1
1
7
9
0
14.1
107.5
Jimmie Johnson
16
0
1
4
9
1
12.5
99.6
Kevin Harvick
17
0
1
5
8
0
13.8
91.3
Kyle Busch
13
0
2
3
5
0
17.1
90.7
Clint Bowyer
12
0
1
7
9
1
10.7
90.1
Recent Pole Winners:
2017 Kyle Larson
2016 Carl Edwards

2016 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick

The Likely Suspects: In some ways road-racing fantasy picks are easy. Go with Cup drivers with open wheel experience and don't over-think it. These are my focus drivers: Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch.

My 2 Cents: Remember Carol's big road-racing no-no: don't put road-racing ringers on your fantasy team. Sorry Tomy Drissi. Just because you have experience making lefts and rights doesn't mean you can beat a Cup driver. My no-brainer pick this week is Kevin Harvick. My next picks are Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray. I'm rounding out my team with Alex Bowman and Michael McDowell.

My Final Four: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Michael McDowell.

Second-Look Driver: Okay, so if you are itching to pick a road-racing ringer this week despite my warnings take a second-look at A.J. Allmendinger. He has extensive experience in IndyCar and sports car racing prior to his full-time move to stock cars. The Dinger has a win at Watkins Glen, but hasn't won yet at Sonoma. Maybe this week? Our last second-look driver two weeks ago at Michigan was Aric Almirola. Aric had a so-so race, finishing in 11th place after starting in sixth.

Points to Ponder:
  • The Busch Pole position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more wins (five) than any other starting position at Sonoma Raceway.   
  • Jamie McMurray leads all active drivers in Busch poles at Sonoma with three.
  • Seven active Monster Energy Series drivers have wins at Sonoma; led by Kyle Busch with two victories (2008 and 2015).
  • Busch is the only active driver with multiple wins; Kasey Kahne (2009), Jimmie Johnson (2010), Kurt Busch (2011) Clint Bowyer (2012), Martin Truex Jr. (2013) and Kevin Harvick (2017) each have one win.    
  • Five active drivers are tied for the most runner-up finishes at Sonoma: Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman each have one MENCS runner-up finish on the famous road course.
  • Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer lead all active drivers in top-five finishes at Sonoma with seven each.  
  • Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson lead all active drivers in top 10s at Sonoma with nine each.
    Remember, if you're playing Driver Group Game, make your picks by 8 a.m. EDT on Saturday, June 23rd and your final picks by 3 p.m. EDT on race day Sunday, June 24th.

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

    Monday, June 18, 2018

    Travel Tips: Sonoma Raceway – June 22-24, 2018

    credit: NASCAR Media

    The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and K&N Pro Series West visit Sonoma, California, for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 weekend at Sonoma Raceway this Friday through Sunday, June 22-24. Sonoma is the first of two road course races on the Cup Series schedule for 2018.

    On Thursday, June 21, the annual NASCAR Hauler Parade races through Sacramento, making its way from the State Capital to the track beginning at noon PT. Find the parade route and more information about the event here.

    Key on-track event times:

    Friday, June 22 –
    • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 11:40 a.m. and 2:40 p.m. PT
    • K&N Pro Series West practice –1:05 p.m. PT
    Saturday, June 23
    • K&N Pro Series West qualifying – 10:15 a.m. PT
    • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 11:45 a.m. PT
    • K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 – 1:30 p.m. PT
    Sunday, June 24 –
    • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 – noon PT
    Find a complete weekend schedule, including driver appearances and entertainment, here.

    Get tickets and more information about the race weekend at www.sonomaraceway.com.

    Travel Tips: Gateway Motorsports Park – June 22-23, 2018

    credit: NASCAR Media

    Race fans in the St. Louis area can head to Gateway Motorsports Park for the ARCA Racing Series and Camping World Truck Series events on Friday and Saturday, June 22-23.

    Key on-track event times:

    Friday, June 22
    • ARCA Racing Series practice – noon and 1:30 p.m. CT
    • Camping World Truck Series practice – 2:35, 4:35 and 6:35 p.m. CT
    • ARCA Racing Series qualifying – 5:30 p.m. CT
    • ARCA Racing Series Papa Nicholas 150 – 8 p.m. CT
    Saturday, June 23
    • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 4:45 p.m. CT
    • Camping World Truck Series Villa Lighting delivers the Eaton 200 presented by CK Power – 7:30 p.m. CT
    Find track guidelines here, and find out about Gateway Kartplex here.

    Find out more about the race and the track, and purchase tickets for the events, at www.gatewaymsp.com.

    Trackin’ Trucks: Brett Moffitt Wins at Iowa


    Brett Moffitt celebrates his win at Iowa with a burnout.
    Credit: Robert Labege

    by Courtney Horn

    Iowa native Brett Moffitt earned his second Camping World Truck Series victory of the season on Saturday night during the M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

    Moffitt led 76 laps before holding off a charging Noah Gragson on the last lap. Gragson attempted to pass Moffitt with a slide pass, but the Kyle Busch Motorsports star smacked the wall as a result.

    “This is everything,” Moffitt said. “Being in my home state on Father’s Day weekend — my dad has done everything for me in my career and been my rock my whole life.”

    Gragson held on to his No. 18 Toyota to finish second for his fourth top five of the 2018 season.

    Polesitter Harrison Burton overcame adversity shortly after the conclusion of Stage 1 to finish third. Burton had to start in the back after pitting for a throttle issue.

    Cody Coughlin earned his fifth top-10 finish of the season after being involved in an early crash on Lap 31. Coughlin was in the middle of a three-wide battle with Myatt Snider and Jesse Little as the No. 46 of Christian Eckes spun.

    A second multi-truck accident occurred with about 65 laps to go when Matt Crafton suffered a blown tire in Turn 2. Crafton collected Stage 1 winner John Hunter Nemechek and Stage 2 winner Stewart Friesen, as well as contenders Ben Rhodes and Dalton Sargeant.

    Moffitt soared to his third career CWTS victory from there, despite Gragson and Burton closing the gap before running out of time.

    A Look Ahead

    The Camping World Truck Series is scheduled for the Gateway Motorsports Park on Saturday, June 23, 2018.

    John Hunter Nemechek held off Chase Briscoe one year ago for the victory, while Crafton finished fourth.

    Can Crafton rebound to earn his first win of the season? Or will another young gun win?

    Find out on Saturday, June 23rd at 8:30 p.m ET on Fox Sports 1.

    Tuesday, June 12, 2018

    Fast Facts: 2018 NASCAR Next class

    The nine drivers of the 2018 NASCAR Next class
    credits: Scott Hunter/NASCAR

    The 2018 NASCAR Next class is a diverse group of drivers coming from varying racing backgrounds. These nine young drivers – selected with input from industry executives, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drivers Council and media members – range in age from 16 to 23 and will compete throughout NASCAR’s numerous series. Learn a little more about these drivers in this week’s Fast Facts.
    • Anthony Alfredo – This 19-year-old Connecticut native is competing in the K&N Pro Series East for MDM Motorsports this season as well as attending UNC-Charlotte.
    • Hailie Deegan – The 16-year-old Californian is in her second season in the Next program and will drive for Bill McAnally Racing in K&N Pro Series West competition.
    • Riley Herbst – The 19-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing development driver from Las Vegas is competing in the ARCA Racing Series full-time for JGR after winning the series’ Rookie of the Year award in 2017.
    • Derek Kraus – The 16-year-old from Wisconsin won the K&N Pro Series West Rookie of the Year award in 2017 and will drive full-time in the series for Bill McAnally Racing.
    • Chase Purdy – The 18-year-old is a second-year Next member and was the K&N Pro Series East Rookie of the Year for 2017. He will compete full-time in the ARCA Racing Series for MDM Motorsports.
    • Will Rodgers – This 23-year-old from Hawaii made two K&N Pro Series East starts in 2017 and won both races; he also finished fifth in the K&N Pro Series West standings last year.
    • Zane Smith – The 18-year-old second-year Next member is competing in the ARCA Racing Series in 2018 after finishing ninth in the standings last season.
    • Tanner Thorson – The 22-year-old former USAC Midget champ from Nevada will run in a variety of series this season, including the Camping World Truck Series.
    • Ryan Vargas – The 18-year-old Drive for Diversity member from California will be competing full-time in the K&N Pro Series East for REV Racing in 2018.
    Learn more about the program and the drivers at www.nascar.com/Next.



    Monday, June 11, 2018

    Travel Tips: Iowa Speedway – June 16-17, 2018

    credit: NASCAR Media

    NASCAR’s Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series visit Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa, for this weekend’s racing action. The Truck Series M&Ms 200 hits the track on Saturday, June 16, while the Xfinity Series Iowa 250 goes green on Sunday, June 17.

    Both series have autograph sessions scheduled during the weekend: the Truck Series on Saturday at 2 p.m. CT and the Xfinity Series on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. CT.

    Following Saturday’s Truck Series race, rock band Survivor hits the stage as part of the NAPA Auto Parts Concert Series. Find a complete schedule of the weekend’s events here.

    Key on-track times:

    Saturday, June 16 –
    • Camping World Truck Series practice – 8:35 and 10:05 a.m. CT
    • Xfinity Series practice – 2:05 and 4:40 p.m. CT
    • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 3:30 p.m. CT
    • Camping World Truck Series M&Ms 200 presented by Casey’s General Stores – 6 p.m. CT
    • Post-race concert – Survivor
    Sunday, June 17 –
    • Xfinity Series qualifying – 1:35 p.m. CT
    • Xfinity Series American Iowa 250 presented by Enogen – 4 p.m. CT
    Visit www.iowaspeedway.com for more information on the weekend and to purchase tickets.

    Right Sides Only: Notes from the FireKeepers Casino 400 Winning Crew Chief, Mike Bugarewicz

    by Stacey Owens

    Crew chiefs wear several different hats: decision maker, mechanic, cheerleader, friend. At Michigan International Speedway, crew chief Mike Bugarewicz had to find his meteorologist hat during the final stage of the race. 

    With the uncertainty of whether the rain that had delayed the start of the race would return before the checkers flew, Bugarewicz made a decision to get Clint Bowyer to front of the pack if the race had to be stopped.

    "Well, I would say everything prior to four laps to go we were watching the weather.  Most of it hung around that 16, 17 miles out, mostly to the southwest, or the west in general.  It just kind of would build, then break up, build and break up.  Never really got any closer.        

    "For the longest time I was thinking, We're going to run pretty far if not the whole thing in that third segment, probably going to need four tires at the end of the second stage.             
    "All of a sudden with four to go, to the northeast the cell popped up. It didn't look like a real heavy cell, looked like a mist. Exactly what showed up.  I was thinking, Man, probably a lot of these leaders are going to do two to keep the track position. They got to be seeing it, too.    
    "When we were coming on pit road, I was 100% sure two tires was the right call. We got about three quarters of the way down pit road, I was about 70% sure. When he slid into the pit box, I was about 50% sure. By then, we were leaving. It was too late.

    "Clint asked, 'Are we the only one with two?'  

    "Yeah, we're the only one with two.

    "He did a great job on that restart, holding up one of the best, Kevin. Obviously six wins this year, one of the best in our sport right now. I can't say enough about the great job that Clint did holding him off there. Just as much as important as making that two tire call for sure," Bugarewicz said.
    Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

    Fans of other teams may chalk up the win to a little bit of luck, especially since many rain-shortened races are won by a driver who doesn't necessarily lead a lot of laps. Was there a bit of luck involved in Bowyer's win or was Bugarewicz just right in making the call from the second position?

    "Yeah, I mean, we qualified 12th. I think we really started around that 10th place position, 8th place position. Kind of worked our way up there into the top three, top four early in the first stage. We kind of hung around that second to third place for the rest of the deal until we were getting to the close of that second stage, finishing second.

    "At that point I felt like we had enough speed, we were running comparable lap times to the leader, and most of the time faster than third and fourth.

    "It's just a track position game at that point, right? You always see the first two cars are the fastest in the field. I felt like if we could get the lead, we had a chance to hold them off. Seemed like it worked out," Bugarewicz explained.

    At the end of the day, both the weather and track position weighed heavily on the crew chief's final call. Bugarewicz talked about what ultimately drove his decision.

    "I would say for most of the race, once we got started, the weather wasn't too much of a concern.  Just like I said at the end of that second stage where the cell popped up to the northeast of us is kind of when you're looking at it thinking, This could close in on us and end the race. Up to that point, you're kind of watching it creep in from the southwest. It was getting closer. Like I said kind of stalled out around that 17 miles away.

    "I think it's Michigan. At the end of the day, it's track position. If you lose that track position, it's a fight to try and get back up there. You look at the restarts. You restart eighth to 10th place spot; it's brutal. Those guys are four-wide, gauging, trying to get every spot they can. If you're going to gain spots, that's where you're going to gain the majority of them. Throughout the fuel run, you might gain one or two. Keeping the track position I think is key all day long," Bugarewicz explained.

    Yes, track position is key, especially if you're in the position to win, and this win marks the seventh win in 15 races for Stewart-Haas Racing this season. Their entire organization has figured out how to get into the position to win, and their fans have to be excited about the post-season, even if those final 10 races are still several months away.
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    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... as long as she allows him to obsess over college football every fall.

    Thursday, June 7, 2018

    NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Michigan

    By Carol D'Agostino

    Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
    By Race
    Joey Logano -5
    All with 3 - Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray 

    By Track
    Joey Logano - 9
    Kevin Harvick - 7
    Brad Keselowski - 6
    All with 5-  Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray

    Recent Pole Winners:
    2017 Kyle Larson
    2016 Joey Logano

    Last Year's Race Winner: Kyle Larson

    The Likely Suspects: My Michigan elite drivers are: Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.  

    My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick this week is Kyle Larson. My next picks are Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard. I will complete my team with Alex Bowman and William Byron.

    Second-Look Driver: This week's second-look driver is Aric Almirola. The No. 10 team has been making gains every week. Over the last six races at Michigan he earned a 12th- and 14th-place finish with the other four finishes in the low 20s. Last week's second-look driver, Denny Hamlin, had a bad day at Pocono, finishing 35th after a late-race wreck with Alex Bowman on Lap 146.

    My Final Four: Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.

    Points to Ponder
    • Roush Fenway Racing has the most wins at Michigan in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with 13.
    • About one-fifth (20 of the 97) MENCS races at Michigan have been won from the Busch pole, most recently Kyle Larson in June 2017.
    • The first starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (21) than any other starting spot at Michigan International Speedway. 
    • Chase Elliott leads all active drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in average starting position at Michigan with a 7.500 in four starts.
    • Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano lead all active drivers in poles at Michigan with three each.
    • Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth lead all active MENCS drivers with three wins each. 
    • Ryan Newman (2003-2004) and Kyle Larson (2016-2017 sweep) are the only two active drivers to win consecutive series races at Michigan.
    Remember, if you're playing Driver Group Game, make your picks by 8 a.m. EDT on Friday, June 8, and pick your starters by 2 p.m. EDT on race day, Sunday, June 10.

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