Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fast Facts: Martinsville Speedway

Kurt Busch wins at Martinsville in March 2014
credit: Getty Images/Chris Graythen
“The Paperclip,” Martinsville Speedway, holds a few NASCAR distinctions – learn what they are and more about the history of this short track in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Martinsville Speedway is older than NASCAR itself: the 0.526-mile track opened in 1947 with seating for 750 spectators – over 6,000 showed up for the first race. NASCAR was formed in 1948, and in 1949 Martinsville Speedway hosted its first race in the series; it has been on the schedule every year since.
  • In addition to being a charter NASCAR track, Martinsville is also the shortest track on the schedule. The track surface itself is a unique hybrid of asphalt straightaways and concrete corners. Until 1999, Martinsville had two pit roads, similar to Bristol Motor Speedway; the pit area was reconfigured to have pit road begin at the entrance of Turn 3 and end in the exit of Turn 2, allowing for a garage to be built in the infield.
  • Another distinction Martinsville holds is its unique trophy: a longcase grandfather clock, chosen by track architect and owner H. Clay Earles to represent the Martinsville area. The clocks are made by an area company, Ridgeway Clocks, and are valued (circa 2009) at approximately $10,000.
  • Richard Petty holds the records for most wins (15), most starts (67) and most laps completed (27,891) at Martinsville. Joey Logano currently holds the Sprint Cup Series qualifying record at the track: 100.201 mph (18.898 seconds).
  • Current Speedway president Clay Campbell is Earles’ grandson. He has competed in the ARCA Racing Series and K&N Pro Series East in recent years, earning a career-best third-place finish in the ARCA Series race at Daytona in February 2014, driving for NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader.
  • Learn more about Martinsville Speedway at its website, www.martinsvillespeedway.com.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Travel Tips: Martinsville Speedway – Oct. 24-26, 2014

credit: NASCAR Media

The first race of the Eliminator Round in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup is the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway. The race goes green on Sunday, Oct. 26, while the Camping World Truck Series races in the Kroger 200 on Saturday, Oct. 25.

credit: NASCAR Media
On Sunday before the race, fans can check out the Green Flag Experience, which includes pre-race admission to the frontstretch for driver introductions and driver question-and-answer sessions featuring Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, David Ragan, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Green Flag Experience costs $30 per person, and also includes continental breakfast items, simulators and a photo opportunity at the flag stand – find out more here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Oct. 24 –
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – noon ET
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 1:40 and 3 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 4:40 p.m. ET

Saturday, Oct. 25
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 9 a.m. and noon ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 10:10 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 – 1:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Oct. 26
  • Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 – 1:30 p.m. ET

Find the Martinsville Speedway fan guide here.

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wild Card Talladega shuffles the Chase deck in qualifying

Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images
Four will be done in 'Dega.
It's time to prepare for glory, or defeat. ~ NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup commercial 

Brian Vickers grabbed the pole for the GEICO 500 at Talladaga Superspeedway Saturday, perhaps as much because of what other drivers didn't do as because of what he did.

"I don't deserve any credit." said Vickers after the final segment. "I just tried not to wreck."

Jimmie Johnson starts second for much the same reason. "I'm not sure what happened there, but it worked out." said Johnson, who's in danger of being eliminated from Chase contention if he doesn't win today's race.

In September, NASCAR announced changes to the qualifying format for Talladega that included a first round divided into two groups by a random draw, with each group getting five minutes on track to make their runs. After a 10-minute break, the 24 drivers with the fastest laps in either round advanced to an intermediate round also five minutes long. From that round 12 advanced to determine their starting positions based on their fastest lap in that five-minute segment.

At the time the changes were announced, Robin Pemberton, NASCAR senior vice president of competition and racing development, said the changes, "Should be more exciting for our fans. It will feature a more accelerated pace, provide greater opportunity for team strategy to come into play and it should more closely resemble actual racing conditions.”

"Strategy" resulted in five Chase contenders relying on owner's points to make the show. For the first time in his Cup career, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. failed to qualify. Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Allgaier also didn't make the race. Joe Nemechek's car failed post-qualifying inspection, so Reed Sorenson got a reprieve and starts in 36th position.

Jeff Gordon qualified 43rd.  Only four times has Gordon earned starting spots of 40th or worse, but for the first time in his career, his lap time put him dead last in the field. The four-time champion made the race by only .127 seconds.

"I just mistimed getting to the line." said Gordon. "The whole group was going so slow I knew I had to have a gap and when I came across the line I thought I had enough (time) to be able to complete that lap and get one more, which was the only way we were going to make it. But we came up short."

Gordon leads active drivers in wins at the 2.66 mile superspeedway with six to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s five victories.

Tony Stewart had to use a past-champion's provisional to make the field.

On the other side of the equation, the beneficiaries of "strategy" were names not usually seen in at the top of the field in qualifying. AJ Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney, who's running the No. 12 Penske entry, line up on the second row. Michael McDowell qualified sixth, Travis Kvapil seventh, and Michael Annett tenth, while Terry Labonte earned a ninth-place start in his final Cup race.

The Dogecoin-funded entry of Josh Wise also made the field, qualifying 36th.

Matt Kenseth starts in the back because of a precautionary engine change. Also dropping to the back: Brad Keselowski, who may discover just how many enemies he made with his actions last week at Charlotte.

Here are the full qualifying results. Tune in at 2:00 pm ET on ESPN to see whose nation falls the hardest.

Rank Driver Time Speed
1   Brian Vickers 48.825   196.129  
2   Jimmie Johnson 48.924   195.732  
3   A.J. Allmendinger 48.983   195.496  
4   Ryan Blaney 49.357   194.015  
5   Brad Keselowski 49.359   194.007  
6   Michael McDowell 49.439   193.693  
7   Travis Kvapil 49.462   193.603  
8   Kasey Kahne 49.489   193.498  
9   Terry Labonte 49.506   193.431  
10   Michael Annett 49.575   193.162  
11   Ryan Newman 50.057   191.302  
12   Martin Truex, Jr. 50.141   190.981  
13   Matt Kenseth 49.510   193.415  
14   Alex Bowman 49.520   193.376  
15   Carl Edwards 49.542   193.291  
16   Trevor Bayne 49.771   192.401  
17   Aric Almirola 49.803   192.278  
18   Kurt Busch 49.850   192.096  
19   Casey Mears 49.899   191.908  
20   Paul Menard 49.934   191.773  
21   David Gilliland 50.140   190.985  
22   Cole Whitt 50.144   190.970  
23   Mike Wallace 51.838   184.729  
24   Greg Biffle 49.985   191.577  
25   David Ragan 50.026   191.420  
26   Marcos Ambrose 50.080   191.214  
27   Danica Patrick 50.097   191.149  
28   Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 50.101   191.134  
29   Landon Cassill 50.102   191.130  
30   Austin Dillon 50.129   191.027  
31   Jamie McMurray 50.184   190.818  
32   J.J. Yeley 50.218   190.689  
33   Clint Bowyer 50.220   190.681  
34   Michael Waltrip 50.245   190.586  
35   Josh Wise 50.266   190.507  
36   Reed Sorenson 50.585   189.305  
37   Tony Stewart 50.590   189.286   OP
38   Denny Hamlin 50.863   188.270   OP
39   Kevin Harvick 51.110   187.361   OP
40   Joey Logano 53.980   177.399   OP
41   Kyle Busch 54.065   177.120   OP
42   Kyle Larson 54.163   176.800   OP
43   Jeff Gordon 54.245   176.532   OP
44   Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 54.118   176.947   DNQ
45   Justin Allgaier 54.166   176.790   DNQ
46   Joe Nemechek .000   DQ 

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Day When Everything Goes Cray: Five Questions for Talladega

(Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Hide your wife, hide your kids, because Talladega’s fixing to get crazy up in here.

We all wanted this day to come, and it has finally arrived: the cut-off of the second round. Talladega Superspeedway’s date. The Day When Everything Goes Cray.

There’s so much to discuss, so I’ll skip the rambling and get on with it. Five questions, five responses from yours truly. Fairness, retaliation and goodbyes are all discussed in this week’s column.

Will we see Charlotte-related retaliation? In case you’ve been living under a rock, Charlotte Motor Speedway ended in a melee between Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth. There was even tackling! It was a great example of the emotions the new Chase format conjures. Denny Hamlin was also involved in a scuffle with Keselowski, and there was a slight tiff between Joey Logano and Danica Patrick. Will we see any responsive actions this weekend? Not only is the answer "no," but it’s "heck no." It would be preposterous to attempt payback at Talladega. The carnage will garner enough entertainment itself. If you’re looking for payback, tune in a week from Sunday; Martinsville Speedway is the perfect place for some rumbling.

What was the reasoning behind Stewart’s penalty? There was another thing that came out of Charlotte: penalties! NASCAR announced Tuesday that Keselowski received a $50,000 fine for his actions, and Tony Stewart’s fine clocked in at $25,000. Both are also on a four-race probation. Many fans are confused on why Stewart was dragged into this mess and what the mainstream media would take away. As expected, news outlets exploited the fine and tied it back to the fatal incident with Kevin Ward Jr. What exactly was NASCAR thinking? Well, they approached it as they would any other driver; they specified that the driver of the No. 14’s actions on pit road resulted in the monetary punishment. The fact of the matter is, he backed into Keselowski around other drivers that had their belts and HANS devices off. This happened after Keselowski sideswiped Kenseth, and the latter driver was mad because he felt endangered. I feel that NASCAR took that into consideration when they divvied out the penalties.

Can an underdog do the thing again? "Do the thing" obviously means winning. Drivers such as David Ragan are great at restrictor plate tracks and have the ability to steal a win. Anything can happen, so don’t count the small teams out. Two others I’m focusing on are Casey Mears and Landon Cassill. Mears knows how to work the draft well; Jimmie Johnson has used him as a dance partner many times. That’s a pretty big seal of approval. Cassill is an enigma to me because he is on the cusp of doing great things. If he had the chance to run for a high-end team, I have no doubt he could do a solid job. This could be the weekend he highlights his skills, which are phenomenal at plate tracks. A spoiler might be in the near future.

If Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t make the Chase, is NASCAR at a disadvantage? Earlier this week, I read an article that talk about the backlash if Johnson made it into the next round. I’ll save you a click: fans wouldn’t be happy. Why? Because that means Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be out of the picture. Look, I understand some people would be disinterested, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The ratings would probably dip more, yet there’s much more excitement to be had in the final four races. However, this isn’t applicable until Junior officially misses the cut-off. No pressure!

Is it fair that Talladega is the cut-off race? This is a question many have been asking since the format was revealed. So many scenarios could kill title hopes. What if a huge wreck happens, and all these drivers get caught up in it? I’m going to be honest: it’s a bit off-putting. Despite that, we also need to remember that LIFE IS NOT FAIR. If these drivers wanted to be locked in and have it easy, they should’ve won one of the past two races. Also, driving like an idiot would increase their chances of not getting eliminated. Drive aggressively, but don’t overdo it, guys. 

TV Schedule: Oct. 17-19

Talladega Superspeedway. Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images
After a wild melee at Charlotte, NASCAR heads to the most volatile track on the circuit. Halfway into the Chase, the Contender Round will end at Talladega Superspeedway. The eight Sprint Cup drivers who survive the unpredictable 2.66-mile track will advance to the Eliminator Round.

After a two-break, the Camping World Truck Series gets back on track at Dega.

Now the Nationwide Series goes on a two-week hiatus and will return Nov. 1 at Texas.

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

Friday, Oct. 17: 
1:30 p.m. NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race at All American (tape-delayed), FS1
2:30 p.m. NSCS Practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
4:30 p.m. NSCS Final Practice, FS1
5:30 p.m. NCWTS Qualifying, FS1
7 p.m. NASCAR Race Hub Special, FS1
10 p.m. NSCS Final Practice (re-air), FS2

Saturday, Oct. 18:
5 a.m. NSCS Final Practice (re-air), FS1
10 a.m. NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race at All American (re-air), FS1
11 a.m. NSCS Final Practice (re-air), FS1
12:30 p.m. NCWTS SetUp, FOX
1 p.m. NCWTS: Fred's 250 Powered by Coca-Cola, FOX. Green flag: 1:22 p.m.
4:30 p.m. NSCS Qualifying, ESPNEWS

Sunday, Oct. 19:
Noon NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
1 p.m. NSCS Countdown, ESPN
2 p.m. NSCS: Geico 500, ESPN. Green flag: 2:20 p.m. Re-airs at 1 a.m. Monday on ESPN2.
12:30 a.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1

Thursday, October 16, 2014

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: The great 8 at Talladega

Track Classification: Superspeedway
Similar Tracks: Daytona International Speedway •  Auto Club Speedway (Fontana) •
Indianapolis Motor Speedway • Michigan International Speedway • Pocono Raceway
Distance: 2.66 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Brad Keselowski - 4 
Both with 3 - Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.

By Track
Clint Bowyer - 7
David Ragan - 5
All with 4 -  Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski

Recent Pole Winners:  
2013 Rained Out
2012 Kasey Kahne

The Likely Suspects: Talladega racing always equals chaos, but as the closing race in the second round of this new Chase format, we may be seeing some pretty crazy racing. Picture last week's race times three. Interestingly enough, some of the players from last week should play a key role this week.

Look for these Dega stars to run well this week: Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. Oh, and as a restrictor-plate race you better throw in Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick this week would be last week's bad boy Brad Keselowski. Since I don't have any Brad starts left, I will be going with the "almost always mild-mannered" Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as my no-brainer twins. My next picks are Brian Vickers, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. I will complete my team with Danica Patrick and Trevor Bayne.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Faith on the Frontstretch: Fighting Cancer Gets Personal for NASCAR Community

Danica Patrick's No. 10 is one of many racecars sporting breast cancer awareness paint schemes this October.  
“ ... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” ~ Hebrews 12:1b

The last thing anyone wants to hear from a doctor is, “You have cancer” or “Your cancer is back.” But every day, people just like us hear those shocking words, including folks from the NASCAR family. As Sherry Pollex and former driver Shawna Robinson undergo chemotherapy, broadcaster Steve Byrnes must re-enter his battle with the disease and begin chemo next week.

Numerous drivers support cancer patients through their own foundations or other charities. Just this week, Kyle and Samantha Busch celebrated helping the “Pretty in Pink” Foundation raise money to pay medical bills, in full, for 16 breast cancer patients. And online, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s eBay auction of his race-worn teal driving gloves is raising money for an ovarian cancer research charity of Sherry Pollex’s choice.

Michael McDowell's "Pieter's Pals" car at CMS on Oct. 11, 2014
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
It’s especially heartbreaking when cancer affects kids. For Sprint Cup driver Michael McDowell, his family’s personal loss was displayed with the words “Pieter’s Pals” on the hood of the No. 95 K-Love car. Pieter, a classmate of McDowell’s 5-year-old son, lost his battle with childhood cancer last month. Imagine trying to explain cancer to your kindergartener whose friend won’t be coming to school anymore.

Cancer is a hard topic for adults to wrap our heads around, too. The medical aspect is the easy part to grasp: The disease occurs when cells in the body behave in uncontrolled ways contrary to God’s design. But the emotional and spiritual facets of dealing with cancer are unbelievably tough.

Some people cope by trying to find a reason for the disease, something to blame, like chemicals in the environment. As shocking and heartless as it sounds, others suspect it’s the cancer victims’ own fault they have it. Thankfully, Jesus nixed that judgmental line of thinking when He talked with His disciples about a blind man:

The disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
(John 9:1-3)

God allowed the affliction for a reason: so that Jesus could heal the man’s eyes. As a result, everyone in town who knew this guy -- as a blind beggar -- experienced the miracle of his receiving his sight. Through miracles, God draws people to Himself and increases their faith.

Another way people cope with cancer is by blaming God for causing it. But that mindset shows a lack of understanding about God’s character.

Cancer is pure evil, bent on destruction. That kind of stuff can’t originate from God. God is good. He’s our healer and protector.

Those of us who have walked through the dark valley of cancer know one thing. It’s a time when we look to God for strength for our broken bodies and faith to get through the fear -- day-by-day, even minute-by-minute. To a person battling cancer, knowing other people are praying brings enormous comfort.

Our hearts go out to all the folks in NASCAR nation – Shawna, Sherry and Steve, as well as fellow fans and our own family members – who are affected by cancer. If you know someone facing this burden, lift them to God in prayer, then jot them a note to tell them you’ll be praying.

The cancer journey is a marathon, not a sprint. So let’s settle in for the long haul, to continue praying and keep encouraging these precious people, even after the pink paint schemes disappear.

Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.    ~ Psalm 143:1

“Faith on the Frontstretch” appears every 1st & 3rd Wednesday and explores the role of faith in motorsports. Follow 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.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Penalty Tuesday: Did NASCAR Get the Penalties Following Charlotte Melee Right?

Brad Keselowski drives the No. 2 Ford during the Bank of America 500.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs  

The checkered flag flew over Kevin Harvick's No. 4 Chevrolet Saturday night, but the drama was far from over. As Harvick burned down his tires on the Charlotte Motor Speedway frontstretch, drivers and crews waged a war on pit road.

The target was Brad Keselowski.

In-race scuffles and battles for position, as well as incidents on pit road left fellow drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth displeased with Keselowski's behavior.

Keselowski hit Kenseth's No. 20 on pit road, at a speed of approximately 50 m.p.h., all while Kenseth had already unbuckled his safety belts and HANS Device. Then Keselowski, (who says he was pushed by the No. 20 of Kenseth), rammed into the rear end of the No. 14 driven by Tony Stewart, which caused Smoke to throw his car in reverse, and ram the front end of Keselowski.

As if that weren't enough, Keselowski and Hamlin chased through the garage area in their cars following the race, causing many to have to duck out of the way. The No. 2 of Keselowski even left tire marks in the garage.

Hamlin had to be physically restrained by his crew as he exited his car, parked near Keselowski's. When asked what he was upset about, he pointed out the last restart, when he was boxed in by the No. 2, and not given the room he needed to advance spots on the track, which resulted in a ninth-place finish, moving Hamlin two spots down in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Standings.

Keselowski had begun to walk to his team hauler, with cameramen from ESPN following, when out of nowhere he was jumped from behind by none other than Kenseth, known widely in the garage for his cool head and calm temper. He held Keselowski in a headlock/chokehold for a few moments as crews and officials rushed to the scene to break up the skirmish.

Later asked why he was upset at Keselowski, Kenseth pointed to a restart where he was clearly faster than the No. 2, but run up the track and into the wall. Again, a case of the No. 2 not giving way to a faster car, causing damage to the No. 20, and costing them precious spots in the Chase as well. Kenseth finished a disappointing 19th.

What upset Kenseth the most though, was the hit to his car in the garage area after the race. He pointed out to reporters that he was already unbuckled, and could have been seriously injured at the rate of speed at which he was hit.

Fast forward to Penalty Tuesday, if you will, the day which NASCAR hands down penalties for any rules infractions from the previous weekend's race. At 4 p.m. ET, officials announced that Keselowski had been fined $50,000 and placed on probation for the next four races. Stewart, who was barely involved, received a $25,000 fine and also placed on probation for the next four races. Hamlin and Kenseth were not penalized. The penalties were for actions detrimental to stock car racing and what NASCAR describes as a behavioral penalty- being involved in an incident after the race.

Do the penalties fit the crimes here?

In my opinion, no. I absolutely agree that Keselowski should have been fined for his actions, but placing anyone in NASCAR on probation is a joke, at best. If officials wanted to send a real message they should have docked points from the driver, hitting him where it hurts: in the Championship standings. Stewart simply reacted to being hit by Keselowski's car and should not have been penalized at all.

It makes absolutely no sense to me to fine a driver that makes millions of dollars a year $50,000 and $25,000 respectively. If the sanctioning body wants to be taken seriously, they need to start handing out harsher penalties for dangerous actions on track and in the garage. Dock points, suspend drivers, whatever it takes to send the message that unsafe behavior will NOT be tolerated. The last time NASCAR parked a driver was in 2011, when Kyle Busch intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday under yellow during a truck race in Texas. Since then, we have seen a calmer side of the sometimes unpredictable younger Busch brother, and he will admit that NASCAR parking him made him think twice about what he was doing.

Until the sanctioning body gets serious about handing down penalties, drivers will continue to act the way they do on the track and off. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a good battle, but when people's safety comes into play, that's where it needs to end.

So in this instance, no, NASCAR did not get it right. Multi-millionaires being fined a day's salary, and having no points taken away or races to sit out does nothing for the advancement of the sport, and with NASCAR already suffering from lower race attendance and viewership, we need all the advancement we can get.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Travel Tips: Talladega Superspeedway – Oct. 17-19, 2014

credit: NASCAR Media
Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama hosts the final race in the Contender Round in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, the GEICO 500, on Sunday, Oct. 19. Also on the schedule for the weekend at Talladega: the Camping World Truck Series’ fred’s 250 powered by Coca Cola on Saturday, Oct. 18.

credit: NASCAR Media
While you’re there, visit the International  Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum, located adjacent to the speedway. Extended hours for race week are Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. CT, Thursday 7 a.m.-4 p.m. CT, Friday 8 a.m.-7 p.m. CT, Saturday 7 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m.-2 p.m. CT.

There will be a Camping World Truck Series autograph session on Friday at 2:30 p.m. CT in the Concourse Area behind OV Hill South Grandstand Section D & E. Wristbands for the session can be picked up at the main Guest Services office at OV Hill South Section L.

On Saturday after the Truck Series race, country singer Thomas Rhett takes the stage at 9 p.m. CT. The concert is free to all infield guests and any fan presenting a Sunday race ticket.

Find a complete schedule of off-track events here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Oct. 17 –
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 8:30 a.m. CT
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. CT
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 4:30 p.m. CT

Saturday, Oct. 18 –
  • Camping World Truck Series fred’s 250 – noon CT
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 3:30 p.m. CT

Sunday, Oct. 19
  • Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 – 1 p.m. CT

Get more information and purchase tickets for this weekend’s race at www.talladegasuperspeedway.com.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Drivers pleased, furious after Harvick's win at Charlotte

Kevin Harvick finally sealed the deal Saturday night, claiming a long-awaited victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “The Closer” had recently struggled to live up to his nickname, but he managed to overcome the bad luck and punch his ticket.

In his first win since this season’s race at Darlington Raceway, the driver of the No. 4 battled a charging Jeff Gordon and stubborn Kyle Busch all night long. He began to feel phantom issues, such as a loose wheel. In the end, the car was perfect, and it gave him a cushion for the cut off race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Runner-up Jeff Gordon was eighth in points coming in, barely in the transfer group. Now, he’s pleased with his team’s efforts.

“We had a great start to the racewe stuck with it and finally got something out of it at the end. We couldn’t get close enough to [Harvick]….really, really strong finish there to come back to second.”

It was also an impressive night for rookie Kyle Larson, who finished sixth. He led for a small portion of the event and almost played spoiler. “I got myself into the wall a bit, and I’m really disappointed in that,” he said about running the high side.

Third-place finisher and fellow Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray was happy for Larson, saying, “It’s always good when were both doing well, and it’s nice to see the 42 up there. We had a great race as well.”

The drama definitely ramped up after the checkered flag flew. Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski scuffled in the final turn, resulting in the No. 2 spinning. The 2012 Sprint Cup Champion also upset Tony Stewart on pit road after the event, hitting him in the rear. It seemed over when Keselowski walked away, but it was far from it. A previous on-track incident with the No. 2 displeased Matt Kenseth, and Kenseth jumped Keselowski between the haulers.

If there was doubt the new format was working, it's erased now.

“There’s going to be even more intensity as [The Chase] goes on,” Gordon commented.

That is an understatement.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Charlotte provides keen opportunity for the Faltering Four

The wind blows through the garage Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway
The Charlotte night race marks the halfway point of the Chase. However, it has a sense of urgency for four drivers who are trying to salvage their championship chances.

Multiple issues plagued Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson at Kansas Speedway. There’s one sure-fire way to repent: win at Charlotte. Easier said than done, but it isn’t a longshot for these drivers.

Earnhardt Jr. called his shot Friday at CMS
Kahne is the personification of wishy-washy; he’s a streaky guy. No. 5 fans are put through this rollercoaster every year. What they don’t have to worry about are his chances at this 1.5-miler. He thrives on this track layout, and Charlotte is the jelly to his peanut butter. If anyone has a “Hail Mary” chance at punching his ticket, it’s this Hendrick Motorsports driver.

As a former Sprint Cup champion, Keselowski knows how to handle pressure. The 2012 champion has dealt with scrutiny from NASCAR, other drivers, and hundreds of fans. Despite this, he’s always held his head high. Kansas was a huge misstep for this half of Team Penske, but that shouldn’t mask over the tango he and Joey Logano have laid down. Their 1.5-mile program has dominated the scene and shouldn't be underestimated at the North Carolina staple. He’ll give the field heck trying to make up for lost time.

In a bold move, Earnhardt called his shot Friday afternoon, claiming that he was going to win Saturday night’s brawl. “Ballsy” doesn’t even describe this move. Has the 40-year-old ever done something like this? No, he hasn’t. That gives everyone a glimpse of what’s going to happen. He’s got the confidence. Sometimes, that’s all you need to propel you to a win.

Finally, Johnson is deeper in the hole than the others. He must face the difficulty of leapfrogging the aforementioned drivers. After a somewhat-sluggish year, is it possible for the No. 48 to shoot into the Elite Eight? Oh, definitely! Can the Johnson/Knaus duo ever be truly out of it? He’s won six championships for a reason.

It ain’t over until the fat lady sings, and her warmup isn’t scheduled until before the race at Talladega Superspeedway. These four are trying to scramble in before those first few notes chime.

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's Far From Over For Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr's. crew works hard during the Kansas race. Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s season started with winning his second Daytona 500, and then back-to-back second-place finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas. The No. 88 team ended their season last year on a high note, and it appeared they were picking up right where they left off. Earnhardt Jr. even managed to sweep both Pocono races, which only added more fuel to the championship talk.

As of late, Earnhardt Jr. hasn't shown the same racing prowess as earlier in the season. In four Chase races he's only earned one top-10 finish. Has something changed or is the 88 still a contender for the Sprint Cup?

Last weekend at Kansas, Earnhardt Jr. wheeled the same chassis that earned the wins at Pocono and, after weeks of lackluster performances, finally had competitive speed.

When he took the lead on Lap 77, Earnhardt Jr. outran Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick in a dicey three-wide battle. It was the first laps he had led since Michigan in August. Earnhardt Jr. looked to have found the speed he was lacking.

But while still leading on Lap 122, a flat right front caused Earnhardt Jr. to suddenly slam into the wall and retire to the garage. With 80 laps remaining, Earnhardt Jr. returned to the track many laps
Earnhardt Jr. wins at Pocono. Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images
down, ending his day 39th.

Earnhardt Jr. also encountered calamity early in the 2013 Chase. He had an engine failure in the Chase kickoff race at Chicagoland Speedway. This dropped him to 12th in the Chase. But Earnhardt Jr. bounced back over the next few races. From being last in the points standings, he managed to finish a career-high fifth.

With that in mind, could it be that maybe Earnhardt Jr. works better under pressure? Comparing last year with this year, maybe the No. 88 performs better when all the cards are on the line. With only two races left before the next elimination, it's go or go home time.

The next race for Earnhardt Jr. is Charlotte, where he has five top fives and 11 top 10s. This is Earnhardt Jr’s. home track; a win here could really get that No. 88 back on track to contending for the championship.

On the other hand, Talladega is the dreaded wild card race. Earnhardt Jr. has five wins here and finished second last fall. This is one of Earnhardt Jr’s. best tracks, but it can also be his worst. Depending on where you run during the race, you better hope you avoid “the big one.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Earnhardt Jr. will make the Chase cut and survive another round. Based on what I see from both driver and crew chief Steve Letarte, they know it’s not over. In addition to finding speed, the team is hitting upon the right changes during pit stops to improve the car. But they need to build on their progress and stave off the bad luck.

With two races left in this round, anything can happen. Don’t count out the No. 88 yet.