Friday, March 27, 2015

Paving over Mistakes: Five Questions for Martinsville

(Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Mistakes are what make life worth living.

There’s nothing exciting about going through the same motions every day. Get up, go to work, go home, sleep and repeat. Where’s the fun in that? What one sees as a misstep might become a slight detour onto a greater path. You buy the wrong type of sauce at the store, you go back, and you run into an attractive man with fantastic eyes. Suddenly, the mistake isn’t a big deal.

Everything happens for a reason, yet we tend to forget that mantra. Even when the situation gets worse, it just means good things are ahead. We all need to remember that.

With NASCAR, it’s the same deal.

In this week’s Five Questions, I discuss Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and much more. Let’s prepare for Martinsville.

Will Elliott flourish or flounder in Cup debut? It’s finally here; the reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion is making his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start. He’ll race a Hendrick Motorsports-affiliated machine Sunday and various other races to gain vital experience. To predict how he’ll perform, we’ll look at his starts from his Truck starts. Although he ran two races at “The Paperclip,” Elliott started in the top 12 both times and finished sixth once. If we think about the competitiveness of the field, he’ll probably have a learning day and finish in the top 15. The kid is impressive, but it’s doubtful he’ll do better than that.

Can Decker dazzle? Another young face is starting fresh in one of NASCAR’s premier series. Paige Decker, a member of the sports Drive for Diversity, is in a Mike Harmon Racing truck this weekend. She’s the first female to have media attention since Kenzie Ruston’s success last season. Of course, many people are going to ask, “Is she the next Danica Patrick?” Personally, I would hope she strives to be better than that. Decker will have some struggles, but the best thing for her is to be open to failure. She’s not going to win the race in her first attempt, but it will be a great learning experience, like Sunday will be for Elliott.

As Trucks return, can drivers return to winning ways? Speaking of Trucks, they’re finally back! Many know that I absolutely hate the gaps in their schedule, so I’m thrilled to see them return Saturday. In case you forgot, Tyler Reddick is leading the points, with Matt Crafton behind by two. Anything can happen with it being so early in the season. Meanwhile, Crafton won the last race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Can he do it again? This would be the place to do it; the Thorsport Racing driver has one win, six top fives and 14 top 10s in 26 races. If I gambled, I’d put my money on him.

Who will halt Harvick’s streak? Oh, that dang Kevin Harvick, winning again and again. The 2015 NSCS champion already has two wins under his belt and is riding a streak of top-two finishes. TOP TWO. If that’s not jaw dropping enough, guess what his stats for Martinsville look like? He has one win here, along with three top fives and 12 top 10s. That’s not mind-blowingly good, but that hasn’t stopped him before. Since he’s apparently in possession of a golden horseshoe, it’s fitting that one of his top competitors here is the original golden horseshoe holder. It’s no secret Jimmie Johnson is phenomenal at the half-mile venue. His eight wins prove it. He’s been riding an up-and-down rollercoaster over the past few races, but he’ll be strong in Virginia. If he can’t take down Harvick, then maybe his retiring teammate can. Fellow HMS driver Jeff Gordon has nothing to lose and eight wins. Harvick better watch his back, or his streak will be over sooner than he would prefer.

How can NASCAR redeem itself from Sunday’s snafu? The biggest issue with the race at Auto Club Speedway was the ending. Harvick and Kurt Busch were putting on a great show until a slew of cautions caused a Green-White-Checkered finish. The first time didn’t take, but the second one is where things got iffy. A crash occurred on the frontstretch, and it was unsure whether NASCAR was going to throw the caution. In the end, it went green, and Brad Keselowski slipped past. There are two issues here: the debris cautions and lack of yellow flag at the end. Debris cautions don’t settle well with fans due to their fleeting nature; one minute, the spring is there in the groove, but it rolls into the infield once the camera finally finds it. Or a car hits the obstruction and moves it out of the way. The TV can’t show everything, and at-home spectators need to understand that. On the other hand, the inconsistent cautions near the end of the event are the kicker. It impacts the quality of racing. That’s an issue with race control that I can’t begin to touch upon. In the end, NASCAR is facing much scrutiny from fans. How can the sport repay them? Martinsville will pave over those mistakes by producing great racing and a perfect mix of cautions and green flag runs. By letting this race play out on its own accord, the authenticity will become apparent to the sport’s biggest critics.

TV Schedule: March 27-29

Martinsville Speedway. Credit: Robert Laberge / NASCAR via Getty Images
After its West Coast swing, NASCAR returns to its Southern roots. The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series head to the oldest track on the schedule, Martinsville Speedway, for some short track racing.

The XFINITY Series is on a break and will return to action April 10 at Texas Motor Speedway.

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

Friday, March 27:
10 a.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
Noon Sprint Cup Series practice, FS1
1:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
3 p.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1
4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, FS1

Saturday, March 28:
8:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), FS1
10 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, FS1
11:30 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
1 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, FS1
2 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Setup, FS1
2:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: Kroger 250, FS1

Sunday, March 29:
3 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 (re-air), FS1
10 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), FS1
11:30 a.m. NASCAR Race Day, FS1
1 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: STP 500, FS1

Thursday, March 26, 2015

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Martinsville Racing at the Paper Clip


Track Classification: Short Track
Similar Tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway • Dover International Speedway 
Phoenix International Raceway • Richmond International Raceway
Distance: 0.526 Mile

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Clint Bowyer - 5
All with 3 - Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth

By Track
Clint Bowyer - 7
Both with 6 - Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Both with 5 - Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth

Recent Pole Winners: 
2014 Kyle Busch
2013 Jimmie Johnson

2013 Flashback
Don't forgot to factor in 2013 statistics at Martinsville when selecting your fantasy picks this week. This year's rules package makes the 2014 statistics less significant and the 2013 numbers much more meaningful.

Top 15 Finishers at Martinsville Speedway on April 7, 2013
  1.  Jimmie Johnson  
  2.  Clint Bowyer  
  3.  Jeff Gordon  
  4.  Kasey Kahne  
  5.  Kyle Busch  
  6.  Brad Keselowski  
  7.  Jamie McMurray
  8.  Marcos Ambrose  
  9.  Greg Biffle
  10.  Mark Martin  
  11.  Brian Vickers   
  12.  Danica Patrick  
  13.  Kevin Harvick  
  14.  Matt Kenseth  
  15.  Carl Edwards  

The Likely Suspects:
 Martinsville Speedway is famous for two things: great racing and those darn hot dogs. Look for some heated moments and these drivers running toward the front this weekend: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jamie McMurray.
      
My 2 Cents: The key to scoring big this weekend is to earn as many qualifying and laps led bonus points --  just in case your driver gets caught up in havoc on the track which is bound to happen.  My no-brainer pick this week is Jimmie Johnson. He is followed closely by Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray who have good odds in qualifying well, which means extra points.

My next picks are: Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and A.J. Allmendinger. I will complete my team with Danica Patrick and David Ragan. 

My final four: Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer and David Ragan.

Interesting statistics for consideration:

  • The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting spot in the field at Martinsville, producing more wins (21) than any other starting position.
  • Twenty-four drivers have multiple wins at Martinsville Speedway, but only five active drivers have multiple wins: Jimmie Johnson (8), Jeff Gordon (8), Denny Hamlin (4), Tony Stewart (3) and Kurt Busch (2).
  • Three active drivers have a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series average finish in the top 10 at Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson (6.231), Jeff Gordon (6.841) and Denny Hamlin (8.722).
  • Chevrolet leads the series in wins at Martinsville Speedway with 54 victories – including the last eight consecutive races.

 Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or email me at ssfantasyracing@skirtsandscuffs.com 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

JGR President J.D. Gibbs Undergoing Treatment for Symptoms Impacting Areas of Brain Function

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs  
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (March 25, 2015) -- Joe Gibbs Racing announces today that J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, is starting treatment for symptoms impacting areas of brain function.

Gibbs has undergone a series of tests after experiencing a gradual onset of symptoms that includes speech and processing issues. Gibbs’ doctors believe the complications he has experienced were triggered by head injuries likely suffered earlier in life, but no specific injury was referenced or identified. Gibbs has always enjoyed an active life participating in several sports including mountain biking, snowboarding, football, racing, and other extreme-type sports.

Gibbs will be undergoing more testing and receiving treatments to help manage the symptoms. During that time, it is expected that his presence at the race track will be limited; however, he will continue many of his day-to-day responsibilities at JGR’s headquarters in Huntersville, NC as well as involvement with his various ministry endeavors.           

Source: Joe Gibbs Racing

Rookie Stripe: Navigating Pit Road

 


Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
In NASCAR, there’s no doubt they drive on Sundays, but there are no leisurely Sunday drivers. Not even on pit road. 

Pit road is one of NASCAR’s maelstroms; a single stretch of pavement that sits adjacent to the racetrack and garage but right smack in the middle of the action. If you picture a typical oval-shaped NASCAR track, pit road is located in the infield by the garage area, with entry and exit areas to the track. It serves as the hub and workstation where teams perform critical maintenance and repair work during pit stops. Drivers and their crews are assigned a pit stall along the road, based on qualifying results, and each has a corresponding hanging sign to mark the stall.

Pit road can be a dangerous place. It reverberates with the tense pace of a race, and the vehicles themselves are possibly one of the biggest dangers of all. With stock cars, people (pit crew and officials), equipment and lots of moving parts, even the speed limit does little to diminish the frenetic atmosphere.

The actual length and layout of pit road varies from track to track. According to NASCAR.com, pit road at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway is just an extra-long straight line of pavement. But at the paper-clip shaped oval Martinsville Speedway, the comparably winding pit road begins at Turn 3, winds around across the frontstretch, then exits at Turn 2.

Before the race starts, pit road looks more like a chaotic stage of NASCAR pageantry. Pit crews are busy setting up pit boxes as fans with infield passes mill about, cameras in hand, hoping to spot their favorite drivers or the occasional celebrity. It also may play a role in opening ceremonies and driver introductions. But with the drop of the green flag, that lone driving strip becomes the backbone of a race and is a place of work.

One perpetual similarity of all pit roads? Rules, and a lot of them. So many in fact, there is a whole section in the NASCAR rule book on them… but as rookies we prefer to stick with the basics.

General Things to Know About Pit Road

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
  • Each track sets its own pit road speed. Typically you’ll find speed limits between 30-55 mph, with most closer to 55 mph. Speed limits on pit road are for aforementioned safety reasons. Crew move quickly, just inches from moving vehicles, and even a car traveling at that slower pace can seriously injure a person.
  • A cinder block wall standing approximately two feet high by 10 inches wide separates the pit stall from pit road. Crews jump the wall to work during a pit stop, or go “over the wall”.
  • Teams pit a number of times during a race. A typical stop will include changing the tires and refueling, but race cars will inevitably encounter a number of maintenance issues during a race requiring immediate attention.
  • Each car has its own pit crew at the stall throughout a race. These crews work for the team and normally pit for the same driver. Teams can have six crew members over the wall during a pit stop including two tire changers, two tire carriers, a jackman and a gas man. Sometimes a seventh crew member is allowed to work on the windshield. We’ll talk more about pit crews and their role in a future post.
  • Strategy in the pit is extremely important and believe it or not, math is even a big factor. The velocity of a traveling stock car, coupled with a pit stop that can last anywhere from 10-15 seconds (or longer if there are issues), can make or break track position for a car. 
NASCAR’s updates for Pit Road rules in 2015 can be found here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Fast Facts Redux: Trevor Bayne

credit: Getty Images/Brian Lawdermilk
It’s hard to believe it’s already been four years since Trevor Bayne, driver of the #6 Ford Fusion for Roush Fenway Racing in the Sprint Cup Series, surprised everyone with his win in the 2011 Daytona 500. His life, on and off the track, has changed greatly in that time – here are the updated Fast Facts on the young driver, who was originally profiled here in Feb. 2011.
  • Trevor Bayne was born Feb. 19, 1991 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He began racing at age 5, and has over 300 career wins and 22 titles – three of which are World Karting Association championships. In 2004 and 2005 he raced in the Allison Legacy Series, earning Rookie of the Year in 2004 and the championship in 2005. In 2006 he moved to the USAR Pro Cup Series Southern Division and won Rookie of the Year.
  • In 2008, Bayne moved to Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East; he finished second in the Toyota All-Star Showdown in January 2009.
  • In 2009, Bayne began his first NASCAR Nationwide Series (now Xfinity Series) season with Means Racing in the #52, finishing the season with CJM Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, where he continued to race for the first 28 races of the 2010 season. In Sept. 2010, he left Waltrip and signed with Roush Fenway Racing; in November 2010, he made his first Sprint Cup Series start at Texas for the Wood Brothers, finishing 17th.
  • In 2011, plans were to have Bayne race a limited number of Cup races for the Wood Brothers and compete for the Nationwide Series title in Roush-Fenway’s #16 Ford Mustang in all 36 races. On Feb. 20, one day after his 20th birthday, Bayne won the Daytona 500, becoming the youngest winner in race history; his first win came in his second-ever start.
  • Bayne spent the rest of 2011 as well as the next three seasons racing on a limited schedule for the Wood Brothers while attempting to compete in the Nationwide Series full-time, vying for the championship. His 2011 title hopes were derailed when he suffered an “inflammatory condition” after receiving what was initially thought to be a spider bite on his arm in April; he later revealed that he was treated for Lyme Disease. In Nov. 2013, Bayne revealed he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
  • Off the track, Bayne is a devout Christian who has completed a number of mission trips to Mexico. He and the former Ashton Clapp were engaged in Dec. 2012 and married June 4, 2013.
  • Learn more about Bayne at www.trevorbayne.com and www.roushfenway.com


Monday, March 23, 2015

Right Sides Only: Auto Club Speedway Winning Crew Chief, Paul Wolfe

There may have been another team in the Auto Club Speedway garage with a broom, but the No. 2 team led by crew chief Paul Wolfe and driver Brad Keselowski were the ones who swept their way into Victory Circle by winning the Auto Club 400.

Many race fans thought that either polesitter, Kurt Busch, or current Sprint Cup champion, Kevin Harvick, were the ones to watch as the field arrived in California. After all, Busch won the pole, was the fastest in every practice and led a race-high 65 laps. Keselowski may have only led a single lap, but it was the last one — the only one that counted.

The win punches the team's ticket into The Chase. What does this victory mean for Wolfe?

"Obviously it was a big win for us today. I think as you look at the new format, how you win, you're into the Chase, that was partly on my mind when I made the call today. 

"It's a great day. Means a lot to us. We've been off a little bit on speed this year. We know we need to be better. To get this win this early is huge for us.
            
"Now it gives us a little opportunity to maybe do some things out of our comfort zone and see if we can find a little more speed, you know, be able to lead more laps and run up front like we want to do."

The final laps of the race may have fans, pundits and conspiracy theorists talking until the green flag drops at Martinsville next week. At Lap 200, NASCAR called a caution for debris. When asked about the debris, Keselowski talked about his thought process at the time.

"When the yellow comes out in these races, as a driver, you can't sit and fret about what the yellow's for. You got to make a real-time decision that's going to really dictate your fate to win or lose a race.  So, I'm sorry, I don't waste brain space on trying to figure that out because it kind of is what it is. I honestly don't remember."

Credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts and Scuffs
Did Wolfe know anything about the debris?

"We heard them talking about it on the radio. But I personally didn't see it. Don't know. They call it on the scanners. We can hear guys looking for debris. I didn't see it." 

Debris aside, Wolfe says that the No. 2 team can begin to strategize a bit differently going forward, knowing that they're a lock for The Chase.

"As you look at history, we always keep a good log of different setups or things we've done in the past at different tracks. That's kind of how we base how we unload each weekend and work from there from a setup standpoint.
            
"There's times when you feel like you may have tried something in practice that may be faster. But you know you need to have just a good, solid day. So you're afraid sometimes to maybe veer off from your comfort zone to try a setup or something like that that may be, you know, different for you.
            
"So with that being said, there's less risk, I guess, with trying something like that from a setup standpoint. Then even from the engine side, I know Roush-Yates is working very hard to continue to push to find us more power and things like that.
            
"Obviously we don't want to have engine troubles or drop out of a race because of it. If that happens because we're trying to be better and make our stuff better so when it gets down to the Chase, where it really counts, we're willing to take that risk.
            
"We'll continue to push. Like I said, getting this win early will allow us to do some of those things maybe we wouldn't have done if we didn't get that today." 

One of the things Wolfe is glad he did was call for four tires on the final caution.

"The surface here I think was repaved in '97 or something is what I saw. So it's one of the oldest surfaces on the circuit right now.
            
"Once you get one heat cycle on the tires, one lap, new tires are worth quite a bit.  I knew at that point, had like 10 laps on the tires, which is quite a ways, a quarter of a way through a run here at this track.
            
"The other part that goes into the decision to take four is just knowing how many lanes and how much of the racetrack you can use. It's one thing if it's a narrow track and there's not multiple lanes to move from 18th or wherever we were to sixth in one lap shows that.
            
"All those things went into, you know, the decision that was made to do four, as well as not being afraid to do something different than what the rest of the field is.
            
"Tires are worth a lot here. Once you've put one lap or one heat cycle on them, you're pretty much looking to put new tires on and pick up quite a bit of grip."

Thanks to his quick thinking from the atop the war wagon, Wolfe has a tight grip on a spot in the 2015 Chase for the Championship.

Travel Tips: Martinsville Speedway – March 27-29, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series visit “The Paperclip,” Martinsville Speedway, Friday through Sunday, March 27-29 for the STP 500 Cup Series race and the Kroger 250 Truck Series race. The 0.526-mile track was on the very first NASCAR season schedule – the only track currently used with such a distinction.

Upgrade your Sunday ticket to include the Green Flag Experience for just $30. The Experience includes photo opportunities, the opportunity to walk on the frontstretch of the track on race morning, music, prizes and a continental breakfast, plus appearances by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Richard Petty, Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Danny “Chocolate” Myers, Miss Sprint Cup and Martinsville President Clay Campbell (subject to change). Find out more here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, March 27
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 10 a.m., 1:30 and 3 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – noon ET
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 4:45 p.m. ET

Saturday, March 28
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 11:15 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Kroger 250 – 2:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, March 29
  • Sprint Cup Series STP 500 – 1 p.m. ET

Check out the track’s carry-in policy here, and the fan guide here

Get more information on the schedule and purchase tickets at http://www.martinsvillespeedway.com/ 

Friday, March 20, 2015

House of Cards: Five Questions for Fontana

(Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
The racing world is like a house of cards. The structure needs to be flawless to reach the desired product, a stable pyramid. Interestingly enough, the pyramid isn’t that stable at all. It’s quite flimsy.

All it takes is one mishap, and then it’s gone.

Every part matters, from the car to the crew to the driver and his mentality. If any part of that is weakened, then it can’t work.

The cards come crashing down.

Ahead of this weekend’s events at Auto Club Speedway, I discuss Erik Jones, Stewart-Haas Racing and much more. Here are Five Questions for Fontana.

Will hot dogs end the world as we know it? Stop the presses. An era in NASCAR is ending, and it doesn’t involve Jeff Gordon this time. Martinsville Speedway is changing the brand of its infamous hot dogs. As villages burn and riots incite, we can take solace in that the “Famous Martinsville Speedway Hot Dog” isn’t disappearing from the menu. Track President Clay Campbell states the new hot dog will taste the same and cost the same price. As Valleydale Hot Dogs takes over where Jesse Jones Southern Style Hot Dogs left off, we can heal and move forward.

Can Jones build on solid NXS finish? Although Erik Jones is the talk of the town, it’s surprising to learn that his top-five finish at Phoenix International Raceway was his first in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. This kid doesn’t back down from anything, which is why he’s doing so well. Excelling in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the young gun has earned respect and praise from notable people, including Kyle Busch. It can only go up from here for the talented Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who will race at Auto Club Speedway in the No. 20 car. Go get'em, Jones.

How can smaller tracks be saved? Wednesday afternoon brought news I didn’t want to hear. Mansfield Motorsports Park, the long forgotten racetrack near my hometown, won’t be returning to the racing scene anytime soon. The business deal to bring events back to the track was ended due to racist Facebook remarks. Mansfield’s track was a hotbed for NCWTS (formerly known as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series) races, among other motorsports events. This is a case of same story, different track. Various small tracks have lost their glitz and fallen to the wayside. Nazareth, North Wilkesboro, the list goes on and on. History and big names are created at these hometown venues, and they’re ceasing to exist. I want to know how we can prevent this from happening. If anyone has ideas, put them in the comments.

Is Keselowski’s blog saying what fans should think? In a recent blog post, the former champion expressed some poignant thoughts on the injured Kyle Busch. Brad Keselowski explained that, though he and Busch definitely aren’t the best of friends, he misses seeing and racing against his competitor on the track. This echoes the thoughts we all should be thinking. Busch is not a fan favorite by any means. Many believe he is harsh, rude and greedy. They loathe him and his success. Keselowski doesn’t see it that way, and neither do I. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver added an element to racing, and that is passion. The guy is more talented than three-fourths of the field, and he won’t let anything stand between himself and a trophy. An athlete who values competition isn’t simply a competitor. He is also a winner. We all need to embrace his absence and take it as a lesson. Though his style is unorthodox, it is elegant in its own way. Thanks, Keselowski, for making us think.

What’s going on with the rest of Stewart-Haas Racing? I remember asking this exact question late last year, yet it still holds true this season. Kevin Harvick is off to a strong start this year, backing up his 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship with two victories. The rest of the organization is struggling, and it’s raising eyebrows everywhere. We can’t address Kurt Busch’s performance due to only racing once this season, so Tony Stewart is the next talking point. Ever since the incident in New York, the three-time NSCS champion hasn’t been the same. Can you truly blame him? The accident pushed Stewart away from his true love — sprint car racing. It served as a necessary release for him, and taking that tactic away created more problems. There are larger issues here than just bad equipment and they need to be addressed. On the flip side, Danica Patrick isn’t doing any better. There isn’t a bigger problem in this case; she simply isn’t getting good finishes. It’s time for a drastic change in that camp. If Patrick wants to succeed, she’ll push for important changes. Taking charge is what needs to happen, and in doing so, she will show that she truly cares about her performances. Both she and boss man Stewart should grab their problems by the horns and show them what’s what — before the house of cards crumbles.

TV Schedule: March 20-22

Auto Club Speedway. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / NASCAR via Getty Images
NASCAR wraps up its West Side Story at Auto Club Speedway. The Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series converge on Fontana.

The Camping World Truck Series is on a break and will return March 28 at Martinsville Speedway.

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

Friday, March 20:
3 p.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, FS1
4:30 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, FS1
6 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, FS1
7:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, FS1

Saturday, March 21:
3 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice (re-air), FS1
4:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying (re-air), FS1
9 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying (re-air), FS1
11:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, FS2
12:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, FS1
2:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. NASCAR Race Day: XFINITY Series, FS1
4 p.m. XFINITY Series: Drive4Clots.com 300, FS1

Sunday, March 22:
2 p.m. NASCAR Race Day, FS1
3 p.m. NASCAR Race Day: Auto Club, FOX
3:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Auto Club 400, FOX
10 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1

Thursday, March 19, 2015

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Auto Club 400 at Fontana


Track Classification: Superspeedway
Similar Tracks: Daytona International Speedway • Indianapolis Motor Speedway 
Michigan International Speedway • Pocono Raceway • Talladega Superspeedway
Distance: 2 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s :
By Race
All with 4 - Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch
All with 3 - Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman

By Track
Both with 4 - Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards
All with 3 -  Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman

Recent Pole Winners: 
2014 Matt Kenseth
2013 Denny Hamlin

2013 Flashback
The new rules package setup -- aka my "squirrelly car" theory --  is holding up except of course for the case of Kevin Harvick. Apparently Happy Harvick's statistics are the exception to every rule this year. However, my theory is that the drivability of this year's car better suits those whose driving was subpar last year, therefore, you need to factor in performances from 2013 as opposed to 2014 for your fantasy picks.

Top 15 Finishers at Auto Cub Speedway on Sunday, March 24, 2013  
  1. Kyle Busch           
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.           
  3.  Joey Logano           
  4. Carl Edwards           
  5. Kurt Busch           
  6. Greg Biffle           
  7. Matt Kenseth           
  8. Paul Menard           
  9. Kasey Kahne           
  10. Ryan Newman           
  11.  Jeff Gordon           
  12. Jimmie Johnson           
  13.  Kevin Harvick           
  14. Aric Almirola           
  15. Casey Mears
The Likely Suspects: Superspeedway racing is all about the speed. So far Kevin Harvick seems to be the driver who definitely has it while others like Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart are struggling. I'm not as concerned about Tony Stewart yet, but if Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards find themselves finishing mid-pack this week, then there may be some issues in their garages.

These drivers love running at Fontana and should be competitive: Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson.

My 2 Cents:  My no-brainer pick this week is Matt Kenneth My next choices are Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and "Mr. Hugging the High Line" Kyle Larson.  I will complete my team with David Ragan, who will be driving the exact car that Kyle Busch won in last year, and Danica Patrick. 

My final four is shaping up to be: Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and David Ragan.

Bits of knowledge to help you finalize your picks:
  • Nine of the 25 (36%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Auto Club Speedway have been won from a top-five starting position.
  • Thirteen of the 25 (52%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Auto Club Speedway have been won from a top-10 starting position.
  • Think Michigan. If you are struggling with making your final picks take a look at past performance at Michigan International Speedway. MIS is the most similar superspeedway to this track.
Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or email me at ssfantasyracing@skirtsandscuffs.com 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Faith on the Frontstretch: Desert Race Brings Difficulties for Drivers

Dale Earnhardt Jr. after blowing a tire at Phoenix International Raceway, March 15, 2015.
Credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images     
“ ... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” ~ Hebrews 12:1b

If you’re a Kevin Harvick fan, you probably love the revamped west coast swing so far. With back-to-back wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix and seven consecutive finishes in the top-two spots, Harvick and the No. 4 team are rolling faster than tumbleweeds in a sandstorm.

On the other hand, Sunday’s race left other drivers and fans high and dry in the desert. Tony Stewart was working his way to the top 10 when contact with the No. 51 sent him into the wall off Turn 4. The mended No. 14 car was tough to handle, and Stewart blew a tire and smacked the wall again, ending his day. Unfortunately, he ricocheted back into Sam Hornish Jr., who had to leave the track for repairs, but was able to finish the race.

Dale Jr. fans felt snakebit in Phoenix, too, after his right rear tire exploded, leaving the wheel engulfed in flames and ending his day. Brian Vickers also had a hard time, slamming the wall hard enough to break his front suspension, but he was able to complete the event after repairs.

Stewart, Hornish Jr., Vickers and Earnhardt Jr. finished 39th, 40th, 41st and 43rd, respectively.

Drivers don’t enjoy getting caught up in on-track scuffles, whether it’s with the wall or other drivers. But sometimes they learn something that benefits them the next time around.

As much as we detest them, difficulties in the race of life can change us for the better, too. There are countless ways trials can mold us, but let’s look at two of them.

Persevering through difficulties strengthens our faith. When we’re in a tailspin and cry out to God for help, we realize how dependent we are on Him. Each time He comforts us and carries us through the fire, it shores up our trust that He’s there for us. That trust is the key to having a strong faith.

Just like careening around the track provides more opportunities for accidents, the race of life rushes on and other problems pop up. Because our trust in God was strengthened in the last trial or two, we meet the next set of troubles with a heavy-duty, tested faith.

Bad times prepare us for helping others down the line. There’s stuff we learn at the back of the pack – lapped, dented and covered in Bear Bond – that we‘d never discern at the front. Troubled times leave us with wisdom and insights we can share to help others.

For instance, Denny Hamlin texts to talk shop with teammate Kyle Busch, who is recovering at home with both legs in casts. Hamlin, who sat out for a month in 2013 with a fractured vertebra, knows what it’s like to be sidelined while bones mend.

When you’ve “been there, done that,” you can support someone else during his or her tough time in the desert.

Difficulties will come in your race of life. With God’s help, you can meet them head on and use them for good -- to fortify your faith and to empathize with others in similar circumstances.

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)
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“Faith on the Frontstretch” explores the role of faith in motorsports and runs every 1st & 3rd Wednesday of the NASCAR season. Follow Beth on twitter at @bbreinke.

Want more racing devotions? When you donate $25 to Skirts and Scuffs, we’ll send you a complimentary copy of Beth’s book, Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a month-long, pocket-sized devotional book for NASCAR fans. Or you can purchase the book in paperback & ebook here.