Monday, August 31, 2015

Travel Tips: Darlington Raceway – Sept. 4-6, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
The Sprint Cup Series visits the “Track Too Tough to Tame,” Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, as the Bojangles Southern 500 returns to its rightful place on the schedule, Labor Day weekend, Sunday, Sept. 6.

The Xfinity Series is also on the schedule, running the VFW Sports Clips Help a Hero 200 on Saturday, Sept. 5.

Festivities kick off on Thursday, Sept. 3, with the Florence Race Festival and the 11th annual Darlington Car Hauler Parade. The Festival begins at 4 p.m. ET at the Florence Civic Center, featuring a KidsZone, show cars, an appearance by Darth Vader’s 501st Legion and more. The Hauler Parade leaves the Civic Center at 7 p.m. ET; it makes its way through Darlington Square before ending at the “Track Too Tough to Tame.”  Find more information and the parade route here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Sept. 4
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series practice – 1 and 3 p.m. ET

Saturday, Sept. 5
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 11:45 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 1:45 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series VFW Sports Clips Help a Hero 200

Sunday, Sept. 6
  • Grand Funk Railroad pre-race concert – 5:25 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series Bojangles Southern 500 – 7 p.m. ET

Fans attending the race weekend can check out FAQs here, and take a look at some of the retro paint schemes drivers will be in here.

Find out more about the event and purchase tickets at www.darlingtonraceway.com

Friday, August 28, 2015

Godspeed, Justin Wilson

IndyCar driver Justin Wilson. Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs
These are the hardest pieces to write. Unfortunately, this is the second one I’ve posted this year.

Monday night, the racing world lost a kind and genuine man, Justin Wilson. During the Verizon IndyCar Series event at Pocono Raceway, a piece of debris hit Wilson’s helmet and knocked him unconscious. He succumbed to his injuries the next day. He was 37 years old and survived by his wife and two daughters.

Everyone will tell you that Justin was a sweet man. They are all right. If you were meeting him for the first time, he’d smile and talk to you like a lifelong friend. He was always happy, always content, even when he was out of a ride. No matter the circumstance, he made the most of it. His part-time stint this season was no exception; the opportunity to race for Andretti Autosport on a limited schedule was a blessing, and he treated it as such. He raced his heart out every weekend, his highest finish being second at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

As many of you know, Mid-Ohio is my home track, and that’s where I met Justin. My first IndyCar and media experience was in July 2012. Justin’s PR contacted me about doing a piece on his helmet design contest. Dyslexic children submitted their designs and the winner’s drawing appeared on his helmet. After Mid-Ohio, he planned on auctioning it off and donating money to a dyslexia foundation.

I had to cram for the interview. Being new to on-site reporting and IndyCar, and I didn’t want to sound like an idiot. It was also my first sit-down interview. With nothing written down, we sat and talked and in an instant, I felt relaxed. We chatted about the helmet contest, the one-year anniversary of breaking his back, and his brother in the Indy Lights Series. When the conversation ended, we shook hands.

I thanked him for going easy on me. He smiled and told me I did great.

I never wrote that interview, and can’t remember why, but I always regretted it. I regret it even more now that he’s gone.

This is the most difficult side of racing, yet it brings the entire racing community together. These are the times when these racers amaze me. When the unfathomable comes to life, it’s hard to think about continuing on and racing again. Although that does enter the minds of drivers, wives and fans, competing is the best way to honor their brother.

There's no doubt in my mind that Justin would want his friends to finish out the IndyCar season as planned. That’s exactly what they’re doing.

Many will talk about safety and what needs to be done, and I agree that reform is quite necessary. However, I can’t get past how sudden everything happened. Here and gone in a matter of one day. Things like this remind me to live life to the fullest. That’s what Justin did.

Godspeed, Justin. We miss you already.

If you would like to help the Wilson family, please send donations to:

Wilson Children’s Fund
c/o Forum Credit Union
P.O. Box 50738
Indianapolis, IN 46250-0738

TV Schedule: Aug. 28-30

Road America. Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images
While the Sprint Cup Series is away, the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series will play.

XFINITY and trucks go road coarse racing this weekend while Cup takes a breather. The XFINITY Series descends on Road America while the trucks go north at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

The following is a handy guide to track events and television coverage at Road America and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Aug. 28:
2:30 p.m. NASCAR XFINITY Series practice, NBCSN
4:30 p.m. NASCAR XFINITY Series final practice, NBCSN
7 p.m. NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, NBCSN

Saturday, Aug. 29:
9:30 a.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
11:30 a.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1
12:15 p.m. NASCAR XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN
2:30 p.m. NASCAR XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
3 p.m. NASCAR XFINITY Series Road America, NBCSN
5:30 p.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, Fs2
3 a.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice (re-air), FS1
4:30 a.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Qualifying (re-air),FS1

Sunday, Aug. 30:
1 p.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Setup, FS1
1:30 p.m. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Chevrolet Silverado 250, FS1
11 p.m. NASCAR K&N Pro Series West: Colorado National (re-air), NBCSN

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Rookie Stripe: Why Drivers Risk Their Lives to Race -- a Rookie’s Perspective

Credit: IndyCar.com
I had another topic planned for the Rookie Stripe column this week, but when the news of Indy Car driver Justin Wilson’s death broke on Twitter, it took a back seat to a more timely post. To see any dedicated athlete succumb to injury takes your breath away, but to see such a talented man taken too early breaks open the painful scars of tragic racing accidents past.

Justin Wilson was a professional open-wheel racing driver from Great Britain; a part-timer in the IndyCar Series driving the No. 25 Honda for Andretti Autosport. Married with two daughters, he passed away on August 24, 2015, the day after being hit by debris from rookie Sage Karam's car at Pocono Raceway. Unlike NASCAR, IndyCar vehicles have open cockpits, meaning a significantly higher risk of head injuries, even with helmets.

Whether it’s NASCAR, IndyCar, sprint cars or any other form of racing, there’s no question it’s a dangerous sport. When you’re pitting humans against each other driving machines at high speeds, danger is inherent. From NASCAR’s Fireball Roberts in 1964 to Adam Petty in 2000 to Dale Earnhardt in 2001, then Dan Wheldon in 2011 and Jason Leffler in 2013, among others, racing accidents happen, including fatal ones. Over the years, safety has improved, including technology, speed limits, car technology, SAFER barriers and other series-mandated specifications. But there will always be the chance of peril.

Most people, especially those who don’t follow racing, ask why? Why do they race, when it is so dangerous? Why do they risk it?

To people on the outside it’s dubiously confusing, and I have to admit I’m kind of still in the crosshairs of being an outsider and a full-fledged fan. I’ve been around NASCAR for a year and a half. I may not be the most tenderfooted of rookies anymore, but accidents make me take pause. It doesn’t help that I’m the type who internalizes tragedies and lets them become unnecessary mental manifestations.

But as I’ve come to know NASCAR, I better understand.

To be a race car driver takes a special person, one who puts up with the mental and physical demands of being in the car and a grueling season, but also the unceasing pressure to perform. In my opinion, what sets race car drivers apart from other professional athletes is a gritty, natural-born love for what they do to the point that for many of them, it’s all they do. Whether it’s Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin or Kasey Kahne racing Xfinity and National Camping World Truck Series races on their off nights or Tony Stewart showing up at a dirt track, their mettle is just a little bit different from those in other sports.

It's a love like no other.

There is a discernible, fiery, yet often unspoken passion in racing that seems to intoxicate us. It’s a feeling that’s spliced throughout racing, from fans to pit crews to drivers and everyone in between. We thrive on the speed, and when drivers get heated with each other, it gets our pulses racing. The action and danger is part of what makes motorsports so exhilarating.

Our drivers are our daredevils and our heroes. They put their lives on the line at track after track, week after week. They do it for the glory of the sport, but more so they do it for us, the fans. And in our heart of hearts, we love that they do that.

Yet even with the ruthless nature of the sport, racers are a family. They’re competitors on the track, but they understand each other because they’re of the same breed. They support one another through thick and thin. Week after week, year after year, they come back to compete simply because they love racing, love the excitement and love their fans.

Thank you for taking the time to read my perspective in a more-somber-than-usual Rookie Stripe column. For further insights, here's an in-depth read from someone who knew Wilson well.

Race in peace, Justin Wilson.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fast Facts Redux: Paul Menard

credit: NASCAR Media
Richard Childress Racing driver Paul Menard just celebrated his 35th birthday, but he’s been racing for more than 25 of those years. Here’s an updated look at Menard’s career, originally published in July 2011.
  • Paul Menard was born Aug. 21, 1980 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the son of Menard’s home improvement stores founder John Menard Jr. He started racing karts at age eight and won the Briggs Junior Karting Class Championship; at age 15 began ice racing – Menard won 10 International Ice Racing Association events. He also raced Legends and Late Models on his way through the stock car racing ranks.
  • After a few years driving in various series around the country, Menard signed with Andy Petree Racing to race in NASCAR’s top three series as well as the ARCA Racing Series in 2003. He moved up to the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series, joining Dale Earnhardt Inc. midway through 2004, then put together an impress 2005 Nationwide season, finishing sixth in points; he repeated the showing in 2006 while also driving part-time in the Cup Series. He went full-time in the Cup Series in 2007.
  • Menard drove for Yates Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports before moving to RCR in the No. 27 Menard’s Chevrolet in 2011. That year, he won his first Cup Series race, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Menard spent much of his youth around the historic speedway because of his father’s interest in and sponsorship of IndyCar racing.
  • Menard and his wife Jennifer are parents to a daughter born March 18, 2014.
  • Find out more about Menard at www.menardsracing.com


Monday, August 24, 2015

Travel Tips: Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – Aug. 28-30, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series heads north of the border this weekend, Friday through Sunday, Aug. 28-30, for the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmansville, Ontario, Canada. The Truck Series will be joined by the Canadian Touring Car Championship, the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada and the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

There will be some special activities for fans at the track, including Movie Night on Saturday at 8:40 p.m. ET, featuring a showing of "Furious 7," a Telescope Party for the viewing of the Supermoon on Saturday at 8:45 p.m. ET, and the Canadian Tire Family Action Zone, featuring games, vendors, live music and more. Find all the details here.

Key on-track times (NASCAR times only):

Saturday, Aug. 29:
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 9:30 and 11:35 a.m.ET
  • Canadian Tire Series practice – 10:40 a.m. and 1:10 p.m. ET
  • Canadian Tire Series qualifying – 4:40 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 5:45 p.m. ET

Sunday, Aug. 30:
  • Canadian Tire Series race – 10:05 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 – 1:30 p.m. ET

Find out more about the weekend and purchase tickets at canadiantiremotorsportpark.com

Travel Tips: Road America – Aug. 27-29, 2015


credit: NASCAR Media
The Xfinity Series has a stand-alone race this weekend, Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 27-29, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI. Joining the Xfinity Series for the Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville weekend are the Mazda MX-5 Cup Series and the SCCA Pro Trans Am Series.

The annual Hauler Parade to Road America takes place Thursday at 5:30 p.m. CT. The parade departs from Times Printing in Random Lake and ends at Gate 6. Find out more here in the schedule.

Fans looking for something to do throughout the weekend can check out public karting and zip lining 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. Cost is $20 per session or $250 for an unlimited weekend pass. The track will be open Thursday from noon to 6 p.m. CT, Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. CT and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT.

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. Cost is $20 for first ride and $10 for second consecutive ride. Hours are Thursday from noon to 6 p.m. CT, Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. CT and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT.

Key on-track event times (Xfinity Series only):

Friday, Aug. 28 –
  • Xfinity Series practice – 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. CT

Saturday, Aug. 29 –
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 11:15 a.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville – 2 p.m. CT

Find out more about the track and purchase tickets for the weekend at http://www.roadamerica.com/.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Right Sides Only: Irwin Tools Night Race Winning Crew Chief, Todd Gordon

Apparently, the nighttime is the right time for Team Penske. Led by crew chief, Todd Gordon, and driver, Joey Logano, the No. 22 team picked up their second consecutive night race win at Bristol Motor Speedway when they picked up the checkered flag at the Irwin Tools Night Race on Saturday.

There are certain tracks where drivers excel, especially after they've previously conquered there. Thunder Valley is one of those places for Gordon and Logano.


Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
"This is one of those racetracks that once a driver and a team figures out what they need to be successful, you can focus on that, and in practice we weren't necessarily the fastest car here, but we had pretty good speed, and we had the right balance, and that's something that we build off of and felt like in happy hour we really hit on something. We didn't qualify on the pole but we had a flat tire in our first session, so I thought that was a really good recovery for the guys -- have a right rear going down and figure out how to get through the round to get another tire on -- and a fifth-place qualifying effort was an accomplishment for the team and what they did. Pretty proud of everybody there and pretty proud of the execution tonight. 

"To be successful here takes the complete package, and there's several opportunities to make mistakes, and if you execute, you can be successful," Gordon said.

Part of that complete package is working well with teammates, and the Penske pair of Logano and Keselowski does that part exceedingly well.

"Both of our drivers challenge each other. I think when you look at our setups, we build off each other.  I think to the point of it is Team Penske. We share a lot of information between the two teams, and when you've got two teams attacking it and two drivers like we've got, Brad and Joey are both phenomenal race car drivers, and they challenge each other but constructively. I think that's a key to our success, and here it's something we all work together for a common goal. Last year we were 1-2, and tonight we were 1-2 for a while. Didn't end up being that way. But we all work together, we understand what it takes to be successful here, and we work on it," Gordon explained.

Logano, just 25, has matured as a driver, and with this win, his third of the season, is becoming a driver who's now recognized for his long-term potential. Does Gordon believe that Saturday night's performance was the best win of Logano's career to-date?

"He performed flawlessly. Best race he's ever driven? I don't know, Daytona was pretty phenomenal. But it was a typical Joey Logano performance. As I said in Victory Lane, I'll put the analogy to basketball, but there's only certain a handful of guys that want to have the ball in their hands with three seconds left on the shot clock, and Joey is that guy. When it comes down to the time to make it happen, he elevates, doesn't make mistakes. I think Kevin challenged us pretty formidably, and Joey never folded, never made a mistake and did what he had to do and executed, and that's a Joey Logano performance. I don't know that I'd call it his best performance. He's had a bunch of really good ones," Gordon said.

Despite the team's affinity for Bristol, the track still has some traits that make driving a flawless race next to impossible.

"This place itself is rough on wheels. It's just a place that you've got so much lateral load in the car and there's so much drive and brake, it's 500 laps, of a lot of load on especially the rear wheels, so you'll see -- if you're going to have a weakness, if you're borderline on having wheels torqued every week, it's going to show up here. You've got a lot of gear in the car and you've got a lot of acceleration, a lot of deceleration, a lot of lateral load.  It's a really, really high lateral load place with all of the banking that's in the corners and running right up there in the grip strip up there at the wall.
            
Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
"I'm sure that the lug nut rule has a slight impact on that, but I'd say there's a bigger impact of this racetrack is just rough on rear wheels," Gordon explained.
 
Throughout the race, some drivers had more solid long runs than short runs and vice versa. Since every driver basically had similar, if not the same, tire compounds, what was Gordon's insight for how well different drivers performed?
 
"I think it's air pressure and tires, it's camber settings and tires as to what you're doing making short-run speed versus long-run speed. I think how your splitter is off the racetrack. When you see tires build up through -- you look at these cars and the rotors are glowing in them, and glowing rotors are 1,300 - 1,400 degrees, so there's a big heat source in the middle of it, which builds the tire pressure up a bunch. As the tires build up, then the whole ride height of the car comes up, and if the splitter is on the racetrack, it makes them tight. So there may be guys that early in the run they're on the splitter and they just can't turn the way they need to make speed, but as the tires build up from the rotor heat and just from the grip heat, that splitter comes up and gets to a happy spot and then their car works. You'll see that. That's stuff we all work on as race teams as to how we feel the race strategy will play out to long runs and short runs of whether you want to be good in the short run or good in the long run. I felt like the Gibbs cars were a little quicker than we were firing off, but about 50 laps in we could run them back down, and we just -- I feel like there's several pieces there we had different philosophies on," Gordon revealed.
 
With both Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing having performed so well over the past several weeks, their drivers are poised for incredible match-ups in the weeks to come. Hang on tight, fans. It's gonna be a wild ride.

----------------------------

   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.
    Her other interests include country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.

Friday, August 21, 2015

TV Schedule: Aug. 21-23

Bristol Motor Speedway. Credit: Sarah Glenn / NASCAR via Getty Images
NASCAR goes short-track racing at the Last Great Coliseum - Bristol. After the Camping World Truck Series ran the concrete bullring Wednesday, the XFINITY Series takes to the track Friday night and the Sprint Cup Series gets on track Saturday night.

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

Friday, Aug. 21:
9:30 a.m. XFINITY Series final practice, NBCSN
11:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, NBCSN
2:30 p.m. K&N Series West: Evergreen Speedway (tape), NBCSN
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, NBCSN
5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, NBCSN
7 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
7:30 p.m. XFINITY Series: Food City 300, NBCSN

Saturday, Aug. 22:
4:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay: Bristol, FS2
4:30 p.m. K&N Series West: Evergreen (re-air), NBCSN
7 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Countdown to Green, NBCSN
7:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Irwin Tools Night Race, NBCSN
11 p.m. NASCAR Post-Race Show, NBCSN
Midnight NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1

Sunday, Aug. 23:
2:30 a.m. NASCAR Victory Lane (re-air), FS1
11 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN

Ch-ch-changes: Five Questions for Bristol

(Credit: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)
There’s nothing more liberating—and terrifying—than making a life-altering decision.

When you’re faced with two roads to travel, it’s hard to choose. Would it be better to go with the familiar? Or is diving into the unknown worth it?

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. It’s time to start living.

I discuss changes in this week’s Five Questions, along with silly season predictions and Joe Gibbs Racing. I also answer Twitter questions from two awesome followers. It’s Bristol weekend, baby!

What does 2016 hold for Bowyer and Ragan? News broke in the NASCAR world Wednesday morning. After Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman bought into Chip Ganassi Racing, Waltrip announced that his team won’t run full-time in 2016. It’s never a good thing when an organization leaves the sport. Waltrip advised driver Clint Bowyer to seek another ride for next season, and David Ragan’s been searching already due to his contract being a one-year deal. Where will they end up? For Ragan, it’s hard to tell. He’s a great spokesman for any brand, and he knows how to bring cars home. There aren’t many competitive rides open at the moment. He might need to be patient and wait for something to open up. In the meantime, he could head to a smaller team and help build them up.

Bowyer’s future could be a bit clearer due to some garage chatter. The rumor is that after next season, Tony Stewart will retire and focus on himself and owning Stewart-Haas Racing. Both Jenna Fryer and Jeff Gluck have talked about this move. If that happens, then Bowyer could slip into the No. 14 in 2017. That leaves next year open, so he’d be searching for a temporary home, much like Kasey Kahne did with now-defunct Red Bull Racing before heading to Hendrick Motorsports. Despite all the possibilities and talk, one thing holds true—NASCAR will miss MWR.

Could NCWTS and NXS survive without support from NSCS regulars? The top three series in NASCAR invade Bristol this weekend, meaning that some drivers will attempt the sweep. This is something many fans complain about, claiming the Sprint Cup Series drivers ruin it. @AaronBearden93 wondered on Twitter if the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series could self-sustain without those big names filling the field. As much as people hate to admit it, the Cup guys need to be in the field. It draws more viewers; ratings go up when Kyle Busch is racing against the up-and-comers. Another positive is that it gets the older drivers interested in funding some of these youngsters. Think about Kyle Busch Motorsports or Brad Keselowski Racing. Look at all the talent they’ve supported. Those Cup drivers wouldn’t be owners in the Trucks series if it weren’t for their avid participation. Some may think they take a lot of wins away, but they also give back. That’s why it’s important they run these races.

Can Joe Gibbs Racing continue their dominance at Bristol? There’s a new sheriff in town, and it goes by the initials JGR. The Toyota-powered team is going strong, dethroning HMS and SHR as the ones to watch. However, Bristol is the place where positive trends go to die. This place can screw up everything a driver has built up. Will these four drivers fall victim to that? My gut says no; Busch, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards all have previous victories at “The Last Great Colosseum,” and they know how to survive here. Kenseth, Hamlin and Edwards need to do just that, considering they’re all locked into the Chase. Things are different for Busch because of his points standing. He has to maintain a spot in the top 30 to qualify for the 16-car playoff field. Bristol can either help or hinder him. The good news is that he’s fantastic there. For the time being, it’s safe to say JGR can continue their streak … unless another team comes to life. Their biggest threats are the teams previously mentioned, Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing. These Chevrolet organizations may find their respective strides as quickly as they lost them. This is when everyone needs to stay on their toes and keep their heads in the game.

Who can prevail from the other side of the looking glass? With only three races until the Chase begins, the pressure is more than on—it’s cranked up to 50. Teams are scrambling to make the 16-car field. Who can make it? Looking at the last few tracks—Bristol, Darlington Raceway and Richmond International Raceway—gives us a rough idea. Those trying to get in are Kahne, Greg Biffle, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon, who finish out the top 20. After his stunning performance at Michigan International Speedway, Dillon is keeping himself in talks. The major obstacle is his 60-point deficit behind Almirola. The others are at most 45 points behind with Larson bringing up the rear. It comes down to Biffle and Kahne. Both have done it before, yet the two drivers aren’t having the best seasons. I’m going with Kahne on this one due to how out-of-touch Roush-Fenway Racing is. Hendrick Motorsports is known for its ability to contend. They could come back from this semi-slump they’re in and push the No. 5 into the Chase field. Shoutout to @knotts_jeff for the awesome question!

Is Danica Patrick’s new sponsor a step in the right direction? Patrick and SHR announced a new primary sponsor for the No. 10 next season—Nature’s Bakery, a food company that produces fig bars in various flavors. There are a few races open on her car, but the sponsorship is currently around $18 million. That’s huge for both the brand and the driver. There are several big takeaways from the announcement.

First, this is a sign that new brands are interested in the sport and want their names on cars. We’ve had a few standby sponsors for the past 10 years, and that’s great. However, the sport can’t move forward without new money flow. This is a sign that NASCAR isn’t dead on the business front—and cue the large sigh of relief. This also benefits Patrick in a way bigger than imaginable. Since she entered the sport of racing, people have dragged her down. They use her gender, her GoDaddy ads, anything they can use against her. Adding this sponsor shows she’s ready to go in a new direction with her image and career. She’s now a woman who promotes a health bar, which compliments her yoga- and healthy food-oriented Instagram. This marks a new era for the driver, and that can positively affect her performance on the track.

Finally, this sponsor is a fantastic contrast to the fast food restaurants and beer names we see every weekend. Obesity is a growing problem in America, and many know this—they just don’t take action against it. People joked that NASCAR fans don’t eat fig bars. This may be true, but it’s also the point. If people switch out their mid-afternoon Doritos binges with Nature’s Bakery bars, that’s a great move to integrate healthier habits into their routines. After that, they might buy a box and join a Zumba class. This is a domino effect that signals good things for NASCAR, Patrick, Nature’s Bakery and the fans.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol



Track Classification: Short Track
Similar Tracks: Dover International Speedway • Phoenix International Raceway 
Martinsville Speedway • Richmond International Raceway
Distance: .533 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Matt Kenseth - 4
All with 3 - Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson

By Track
All with 6 - Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard
Both with 5 - Brian Vickers and Jeff Gordon
All with 4 - Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards

Recent Pole Winners: 
2014 Kevin Harvick
2013 Denny Hamlin

The Likely Suspects: There will be three categories of racers when we go short-tracking at Bristol Saturday night: the wildly wicked, the incredibly patient and the desperate for a win. This combination is sure to make the race extra exciting. You'll want to consider these drivers as you build your fantasy team this week: Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick is the threesome of Matt Kenneth, Kyle Busch and Paul Menard. I will round out my team with Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Blaney and Justin Allgaier. Keep in mind that Clint Bowyer is on a mission this week to prove he deserves a ride in 2016. Since Bowyer ran well here in the past, this extra motivation may make him worthy of consideration for your fantasy team.

My final four: Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray and Justin Allgaier.

Points to ponder:
  • A third (36 of the 109) of the races at Bristol have been won from the front row: Pole position, 23 wins; second place, 13 wins.
  • The race winner has started from the pole 23 times (21.1%) - the most productive starting position. The last driver to win from the pole was Matt Kenseth earlier this season.
  • Eighty-seven of the 109 (79.8%) races have been won from a top-10 starting position, including 54 from the first four spots.
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leads active drivers in average finishing position at Bristol with an 9.200.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Faith on the Frontstretch: Sitting on the Chase Bubble Looking for Success

Jeff Gordon at Pocono Raceway, July 31, 2015.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs  

“ ... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” ~ Hebrews 12:1b

Being one of the Chase "bubble” drivers isn’t much fun for Jeff Gordon. After losing three Chase spots in the past two weeks, Gordon is understandably frustrated. He just wants to win a race and secure his spot in the Chase, but it didn’t happen Sunday at Michigan, where he finished 17th.

“Our day didn’t end the way I was hoping. We were able to hover around the top 12, which I was extremely happy with. Unfortunately that is not where we ended up. Just couldn’t get going on the restarts, which is no surprise. It happens to us every weekend,” he said.

Even though he’s winless so far in 2015 – which has happened only four seasons in his 24 years in the Cup series -- Gordon has racked up three poles and a dozen top-10 finishes. But for a four-time champ, those stats don’t cut it. He wants to pick up a few more good finishes or a win in the next few races to clinch a Chase spot.

“We can’t be finishing 30th and 40th,” Gordon said before the Michigan race. “It’s not like we have to win. We want to win and we’re working hard to do that, but we know that top 10s are plenty good enough. But there are no guarantees in this sport. And even if you have a car that’s capable of finishing in the top 10, it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to finish there. So, right now, we’re just trying to get some positive momentum and good things going for us.”

If the Chase began today, Gordon’s current 13th-place standing would mean he’s in. But if he doesn’t earn his way into the Chase, will he be less of a success? Is he losing a chance at more success because he’s retiring?

That depends on how you measure success. If you measure it in race wins, then yeah, he’s giving something up. But one of the reasons Gordon is trading his helmet for a broadcaster’s microphone is to spend more time with the family he loves. So if you gauge success in terms of how often he’ll get to tuck in his children at bedtime, he’ll be more accomplished than ever before.

Our tendency is to measure success by race wins or the square footage of our houses or the digits in our salaries. But as human beings, we’re deeper than that. Please don’t buy into that shallow, worldly way of valuation.

Your real success isn’t based on a stack of stuff or accumulated achievements. According to God’s gauge, success is measured by how well you love. Jesus said the most important mandates in life are loving God and loving others.

If you feel like you’re “on the bubble,” hovering between success and failure in some aspect of your life, take heart, my friend. Even if that bubble pops, and what you’re hoping for doesn’t happen, you can still be a winner in God’s eyes. Though race wins and other worldly accomplishments are nice, they aren't what truly define you.

Love does.

How much love you give is what matters. When you leave this life and slip into eternity, your trophies or mutual funds or diploma may or may not be remembered. But the love you showed to others will remain, lingering in their hearts.

Love is not only a God-given gift, it is the best measure of a successful person. Love makes you a winner. Let love bubble up from within your soul and seep into everything you do.

Who can you show God’s love today?

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”   ~ Matthew 22:37-39
----------------------------------

“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.