Monday, October 31, 2011

Rick and Linda Hendrick involved in plane crash and taken to hospital

CONCORD, N.C. (Oct. 31, 2011) – Early Monday evening, a Gulfstream G150 aircraft operated by Hendrick Motorsports ran off the runway after experiencing braking issues upon landing at Key West International Airport in Key West, Fla.
There were no serious injuries to any of the four people on board, including two pilots, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick and his wife, Linda Hendrick. All four were taken to a local hospital for evaluation.
Hendrick Motorsports is gathering additional information on the incident.

Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: Tony Stewart emerging as a title contender

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR
The short track of Martinsville threw many of the Chase contenders into a tailspin - the beating and banging is akin to racing at 200 mph with bumper cars. A total of 18 cautions slowed the action, though many of the cautions involved several Chase contenders.

Walking away from Martinsville disappointed: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch. Though Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman also were involved in accidents, they were all able to collect themselves and rebound for strong finishes and more importantly, maintain their points positions.

Tony Stewart got his third win of the Chase and has issued a warning to points leader Carl Edwards for the final three races. Only three tracks remain, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, and the Chase is still an open battle.

1. Carl Edwards – Still atop the board with 3 to go – By Melissa Wright

Carl Edwards went into Martinsville determined to stay on top of the points lead even though that track just isn't very fair to the Roush Fenway organization. Edwards and his team fought quite the battle in the TUMS Fast Relief 500. The weekend started off on the wrong foot, with rain that allowed them only one practice session and qualifying was canceled. The advantage Edwards had at this point was his starting position on the pole, per NASCAR's rulebook. Throughout the race, he had some issues with his car being too tight and snug in the center. Then at one point he stated that his car after adjustments on a pit stop was more competitive than the last run.

In a heated battle for position with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Edwards came over the radio and said, “That 88 needs to lay off a little bit or he's going to get wrecked!” He paused and then asked his spotter Jason Hedlesky, “Did you tell the 88 what I said?” Hedlesky responded, “Not yet.” Edwards went on to say, "Just asking for a little relief on that curb.” Evidently an unhappy Earnhardt Jr. commented on his radio and told his crew, “That damn 99 wore the left side out.”

When at Martinsville there are a few key things that you need to remember. One is to keep your fenders on, two is to manage the right side of your car and three, accept being bumped. You'll use up your equipment real quick. Among 17 cautions, Edwards didn't pit every time but on one stop, Lap 198, he pitted for four tires and an air pressure adjustment. It was a slow stop after a lug nut went behind the wheel on the left rear. Edwards told his crew to brush it off; it was just bad luck. He restarted in 26th position. This was the furthest back in the pack he had been all day. Not much longer after that he was lapped by leader Kevin Harvick. He quickly gained his lap back after a spin by Hermie Sadler. Edwards restarted as the lucky dog in 23rd.

He commented about hanging around in the back of the pack as if he were drafting at Talladega. Edwards said, “Last week we were trying to ride around the back, this week we're not. Just trying to catch a break.” As the field was settling up once again, Edwards was instructed by NASCAR to pull up not once but twice, “You’ve got to pass the 31.” Edwards drove around the outside of Burton right as the green was coming out. NASCAR black-flagged him for what appeared to be a jump on the restart. Edwards was beyond irritated. He shouts over his radio, “They told us twice to pull up! They better review that!” After review, NASCAR rescinded the penalty.

Down to the final 19 laps of the race, Edwards was up to 13th after being lapped not once but on two different occasions. It wasn't long before he finally cracked back into the top 10. His front rotors were glowing more than they had all day. Edwards was told to just be smart and that some of the guys were simply losing their heads out there. As Edwards crossed the finish line, he got on the radio and asked what position he was in. He was told they finished in 9th and he replied, “That's a good day, a really, really good day.” Not only that, he's still the points leader by eight points over race winner Tony Stewart.

Edwards said after the race, “That’s just a gift to have finished in ninth and have the day we had.  Did Tony have to come in and pit? I saw on a replay it’s like he cut a tire or something and had to pit and came back through the field somehow. That was our strategy. We were gonna do the same thing we did last week and just cruise around the back and wait for everything to work out. It was a lot of work. We did not deserve to finish ninth. I’m just proud of my guys for sticking with it. Bob did a good job of keeping me calm and now we go to Texas. I’m really excited about Texas.”

2. Tony Stewart (-8) Three wins in the Chase and sights set on Edwards – By Amanda Ebersole

Headed into Martinsville, Tony Stewart was fourth in points and 19 points behind the leader. Now with another win under his hat, Stewart has jumped to second and just 8 behind. Eight points and three races ... that equals a wild finish to the 2011 Chase to the Sprint Cup.

Stewart pulled off the win with an amazing last-lap pass on Jimmie Johnson, a move not just any driver would be able to complete. Looking back, Stewart seemed surprised he was able to pull it off. “I don’t know because I don’t think anybody has ever passed Jimmie Johnson on the outside so, just determination, I don’t think we had the best racecar today by any means, but we had the most determined pit crew to get it as good as they can get it. I was pretty mad all day, but I was the only guy who didn’t get in a wreck with somebody, so I was kind of proud of that. Just this Office Depot/ Mobil 1 Chevy, Hendrick engines and chassis and Darin Grubb and all these guys at Stewart-Haas racing, just an awesome group of people.”

After the race, Stewart said of the fight ahead, “Carl Edwards had better be real worried. That’s all I’ve got to say. He’s not going to sleep for the next three weeks.”

As the series heads to Texas, Stewart looks to gain some ground on Edwards, but the match-up is about dead even.

3. Kevin Harvick (-21) A hard-fought battle for 4th - By Amanda Ebersole

After a difficult start to the weekend, Kevin Harvick rebounded with a top-10 finish at Martinsville.

Battling with a loose car throughout Sunday's race, Harvick steered clear of the numerous cautions and brought home a fourth-place finish, leaving him in the title hunt.

“It was definitely a battle. Everybody was driving hard. That is what you are supposed to do here at Martinsville. I know the guys did a good job making the cars better and we got good track position. The No. 31 (Jeff Burton) helped us on that last restart there to get down, I really appreciate that. Just the top was tough for me to get going on the restarts. The No. 14 (Tony Stewart, race winner) was really the only one that could make any ground on the restarts and that is what won him the race. All-in-all, everybody on our Budweiser Chevy did a good job.”

4. Brad Keselowski (-27) A lap short but still in the battle - By Holly Machuga 

Martinsville has always proven to be a rough track for Brad Keselowski, and it was unrelenting this past weekend. After qualifying well (3rd), the team finished a disappointing 17th. Keselowski was spun on the final lap and the caution flag didn’t fly.

"That's racing on these short tracks," Keselowski said, "It will come back around for [our] team. We got some good racing in the middle section of the race, got good lanes that we needed, but at the end we just didn't catch a break. That's just this style of racing. You can't control your own fate. The car came to us, the track came to us. The guys had a good plan. Our [car] was a top-10 car. We came up a few laps short."

5. Matt Kenseth (-36) –Leaving Martinsville a bit battered - By Lindi Bess

Matt Kenseth was recently asked if he has given himself the chance to think about becoming the 2011 Sprint Cup champion. Kenseth’s response was, "You can't help but think about it a little when you are asked about it. You realize you are in the Chase and running good but I honestly don't spend much time thinking about it at all. I am glad we are in the mix but ... there is a ton of racing to do and it really doesn't matter until we get to Homestead where we are."

When the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion pulled into Victory Lane back in Charlotte, things were looking up for Matt Kenseth and his team. Even finishing 18th the following weekend at Talladega, Kenseth still held onto his second-place spot in the 2011 Chase. With a little push and a lot of support, Kenseth took the first lap at Martinsville from his starting position on the outside pole. The No. 17 seemed to be on his way to a strong finish as he held on, remaining in the top 10 through the first 400+ laps. Involved in the normal "bumping and grinding" throughout the race, things were looking pretty good for the Crown Royal Ford Fusion. On Lap 464, Kenseth was involved in a wreck with Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch, bringing out a caution. Kenseth’s car was destroyed with only 34 laps to go. 

With a broken traction bar, brake issues and body damage, the team headed to the garage with the hopes of at least getting back out and finishing the race. The No. 17 Ford Fusion team pieced Humpty Dumpty back together again and Kenseth returned to the track 23 laps down with five laps to go. Kenseth finished in 31st.

After the race, Kenseth was asked to talk about his team repairing the car and being able to get him back out on track. "It's disappointing. I obviously did a poor job today,” said Kenseth. “We were really bad on used tires if we had a restart like we were in practice and we kept getting the outside every time.  That's such a disadvantage on the outside, unless you have a real fast car, which we really didn't. It was a struggle all day.  Obviously, I didn't make good decisions and we ended up in a bad spot. I wish I could do some things over and try again, but we can't do that. We raced hard all day. I thought we had pretty good track position at times and just couldn't capitalize on it."

The Roush Fenway Royal Crown Ford Fusion lost three positions in the standings after Martinsville, but will finish the season with three strong tracks for Kenseth. Remaining are Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, which are all tracks where Kenseth has previously won. Although 36 points out of first, Kenseth is not out of the Chase yet. His RFR teammate Carl Edwards is barely holding onto first place after a ninth-place finish. Jack Roush still may have a chance of snatching that trophy from Hendrick Motorsports.

6. Jimmie Johnson (-43) - Racing like a true champion until the end - By Unique Hiram

Jimmie Johnson was content with his second-place finish at the conclusion of the TUMS Fast Relief 500 in Martinsville. Due to a gutsy call by No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus, he was able to be in the lead on the final restart; however, Tony Stewart was able to pass him on the outside to take the lead from him. Johnson wanted to race “Smoke” clean to the checkered flag, especially because of where the No. 14 was sitting in the points standings.  

“We had a great race car all day long. Chad made a great call. I thought it was going to bite us, staying out like we did; and with all the cautions that gave us an opportunity to win the race. And Tony hung on tough on the outside there and I just couldn’t bring myself to leaning on him and moving him out of the way with where he is in the points. I just kind of race him clean and then he got around on the outside and got in front of us.”

The five-time Sprint Cup champion is feeling very confident about the remaining tracks left in the season schedule and will maintain his fighting spirit until the checkered flag waves at Homestead. Johnson had this to say in that regard: “Yeah, definitely, we are really happy with all the tracks left on the schedule, so that we have a chance to win quite a few races that are left, certainly need to in the position we are in, in points, there is no telling what is going to happen in front of us, but we are going to fight as hard as we can for every race win, every point, and just see where we end up. Of course we want to win the championship but if that door closes on us, we want to finish as high as we possibly can in the points and certainly win as many races as we can. Looking forward to great tracks and ready to get going.”

He has moved up from the seventh to sixth position in the standings, 43 points behind leader Carl Edwards.

7. Kyle Busch (-57) - Busch was merely collateral damage - By LJ Cloud

Kyle Busch followed in his older brother's footsteps ... er ... tire tracks ... by having a tire leave his car during a Chase race. He did not, however, have his brother's good fortune to have that wheel roll back onto the car (seriously, how DID that happen?), and ended up with a 27th-place finish in the mayhem that was Martinsville.

Busch started in sixth place and led four times for 126 laps total. The No. 18 M&Ms Chevrolet ran well and Busch seemed poised to contend for the win. However, when Matt Kenseth locked up his brakes on Lap 464, Busch got caught up the ensuing crash. The pit stop that followed will likely haunt the No. 18 team until Daytona next season. Concerned with losing a lap, the jack dropped before the front tire changer got all the lug nuts tightened. As Busch was getting back on the track, the left front tire came off, bounced into the wall and back onto the track, forcing Busch to limp back to the pits.

Dropping from 6th to 7th in driver's points, Busch sits 57 points behind leader Carl Edwards with only three races to go in the Chase. It would take an epic and highly unlikely combination of events for him to win the championship at this point. 

8. Kurt Busch (-58)  – “It was a wash” – By Lacy Keyser

Kurt Busch had an eventful day at Martinsville. He started off the race battling hard with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for position. Earnhardt Jr. ended up hitting the curb and bounced up and hit Busch, causing both to spin out. However, while Earnhardt would be sent to the back, Busch received no damage and kept his position in the front. Busch seemed to have an OK car when on Lap 427 Paul Menard got into him, causing Busch to spin out and hit Jeff Burton in the process. Busch’s chances of winning the race were over.

Busch finished 14th and sits 8th in the points as they stand.

Busch said of his bad luck, "We had a little bit of everything today with our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge. We struggled a little bit during the middle part of the race and lost a lap, but we took the wave around, caught a caution and made it up. I really hate I got into Jeff Burton, but the 39 got into me and I got into Jeff. Paul Menard got into us and I spun out. The car was fine, but nobody would let you get to the inside. We decided to go for it on that last caution and got tires. We came in 14th and finished 14th, so it was a wash. We’ll try to make up some points next week at Texas.”

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-73) – A man on a mission at Martinville – By Katy Lindamood

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. exited his No. 88 Chevy early Sunday evening, it was evident that he had enjoyed the race. Although he didn't have anything for the 14, 48, and 24 in the closing laps, Earnhardt Jr. was satisfied that his team had been able to rebound from two early race incidents to finish within the top 10. His Diet Mountain Dew Paint the 88 ride showed battle scars, but it could have been a lot worse given the multitude of cautions seen during the 500-lap race.

After qualifying was rained out on Friday, Earnhardt Jr. was slated to start in the ninth position alongside teammate Jeff Gordon. From the green flag it was a slugfest, with drivers beating and banging within the confines of the shortest track on the circuit. The first caution of the night came out on Lap 9 when, while battling Kurt Busch for position, Earnhardt Jr. hopped the curb and went for a spin. Although his car was not damaged during the initial accident, the No. 88 stopped in the middle of the track. There was nowhere for Jeff Gordon to go and the two made brief contact. Gordon's car fared much worse and made several pit stops in an effort to fix the damage. The Earnhardt Jr. team was able to stay on the lead lap and exited pit road in the 31st position, though the team was forced to the rear for pitting before pit road had opened.

From that point forward, Earnhardt Jr. acted like a man on a mission, making his way through the field. Ruffling a few feathers along the way, Earnhardt Jr. was enjoying the race and at one point on his radio he told his team that if there were more short tracks on the circuit, he might just earn a bad reputation. The team found themselves in the middle of another yellow flag on Lap 151 when hard racing between the driver and Joey Logano caused the No. 20 to spin. Earnhardt would later comment that he may have been a little too amped up at the beginning of the event.

Although he was involved in two cautions and caused his share of ire from other drivers, Earnhardt Jr. finished the TUMS Fast Relief 500 in the seventh position. He failed to lead any laps or make up any positions in the Chase, but his comments after the race told a story of a man who had fun and counts himself fortunate to have finished well in both Martinsville races in 2011. “You just know what you are going to get when you show up here," Earnhardt Jr. said. "You know what is going to happen and there is no real surprises and for a long, long time I have been coming here and able to drive really good cars. I haven’t come here and run like crap all weekend and struggled in the race. I have been really lucky to drive some really good cars the last 10 years and that makes it a lot of fun too.”

10. Jeff Gordon (-76) – Gordon rebounds from early damage to finish 3rd – By Amanda Ebersole

Short-track racing results in damage, but Jeff Gordon found it early in the first laps of Sunday's TUMS Relief 500 as a result of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. hitting the curbing. Gordon sustained damage to his brake duct area, but was fortunate that it was relatively minor.

“Yeah, I got caught up in that incident early on. It looked like Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. got into the curb a little bit getting into (Turn) 1 and we just had nowhere to go. I probably should have went low, but I chose to get out of the way of the guys behind me and I center-punched him. We’re pretty lucky. That right-front brake duct was tore up pretty good and at this place, cooling those brakes is pretty important. And I beat it up. I ran it as hard as I possibly could to get our Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet back to the front. It was pretty fun coming up through there and getting up to the front and leading. It just seemed like the last couple of runs just didn’t quite go our way. So we came home third. It was a nice top five for us.”

Overcoming his early challenges, Gordon went onto to contend for the win and bring home a 3rd place finish.

11. Denny Hamlin (-80) – A strong weekend for Hamlin at his home track – By Genevieve Cadorette

Denny Hamlin won Saturday night's truck race in Martinsville, which gave him a little inspiration for Sunday's Cup race. Because of rain, the Cup qualifying was canceled and Hamlin started the race in the 11th position.
Hamlin was involved in a slight altercation early on when Dale Earnhardt Jr. bounced off Turn 1 to send Kurt Busch spinning. Hamlin got caught up in the incident and was stopped on the track. He pitted on Lap 17 but was then penalized for pitting too soon.

Although Hamlin ran as low as 34th, he finally found himself leading by the 63rd lap; he led the leaders to pit road on Lap 68 and got track bar and air pressure adjustments. He lost the lead but stayed within the top 5.

Hamlin battled with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon for third position and eventually got around Johnson for third. He found the leader's spot again by Lap 320 and held onto it even through a pit stop after a caution brought out by David Gilliland. Hamlin brought the field to the green until the next turn of events, when Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman had contact and brought out the caution on Lap 414.

Hamlin battled for position with Hendrick Motorsports drivers Johnson and Gordon. He fell back to the eighth position but flew past seventh and sixth with 10 laps to go. In the end, he finished fifth. 

Hamlin and the No. 11 team are still in 11th position, trailing 80 points behind points leader Carl Edwards.

12. Ryan Newman (-89) Top-10 finish after a topsy-turvy day – By Rebecca Kivak

In my preview for Ryan Newman, I predicted the driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet would leave Martinsville Speedway with a top-10 finish if he could avoid mechanical failures and take care of his brakes. Newman did that and more, rallying back from a late-race spin to finish 10th in Sunday’s TUMS Relief 500.

Newman had a topsy-turvy day at the Virginia short track. The Stewart-Haas driver started 12th by virtue of owner points after Sprint Cup qualifying was rained out. Once the green flag dropped Sunday, Newman spent much of the first 50 laps in the top 10. When the fourth caution came out on Lap 65, crew chief Tony Gibson made the call for the No. 39 to stay out, giving Newman the race lead. Newman led twice Sunday for 41 laps.

After a promising start, however, the No. 39’s handling changed for the worse. Newman battled a tight condition throughout the second half of the race, falling outside the top 10. While running 14th on Lap 475, Newman spun out after making contact with fellow Chase contender Kurt Busch, bringing out the race’s 17th caution. Newman was forced to restart 20th with only 22 laps to go. But Newman, a driver with a reputation for racing hard, fought his way back up through the field. In the last 10 laps, he drove from 14th to finish 10th.

The hard-fought finish was Newman’s third top 10 in the Chase, but the driver of the No. 39 failed to gain any ground in the standings. He remains at the bottom of the points in the 12th spot, 89 points behind leader Carl Edwards.

Newman’s crew chief Gibson said after the race, “We got spun there. We had fresh tires and got spun out there and had to go to the back and drove back up to the top 10. I don’t know what else you can do, you know. We led laps. Disappointing, that’s all.”

As the series packs up their boots and heads towards Texas, will Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart be the drivers to watch? Stay tuned to Skirts and Scuffs on Friday morning as we preview the Chase drivers headed into TMS.

NASCAR By the Numbers: Tempers flared at Martinsville

The shortest track on the NASCAR circuit means the shortest fuses among the drivers, I kid, sort of. Tempers flared during both the NCWTS and Sprint Cup races this weekend as drivers went head to head on the short track at Martinsville Speedway. We saw teammates battle (Papis and Bodine) to Chase contenders hopes spin out (Kenseth) and so much in between. How did the points fare after all that, well lets take a look.

NASCAR CWTS Kroger 200:
While the focus is on the Chase battle in the Cup Series, the NCWTS knows how to throw down! The battle between series young guns Austin Dillon and James Buescher is intense. With just 11 points between the two drivers and two races to go, this will go down until the last lap at Homestead. 
Austin Dillon donned his cowbody last time in Texas, maybe
this time he can be in Victory Lane with the six shooters?
NCWTS Standings after the Kroger 200 
Austin Dillon

James Buescher
Ron Hornaday Jr.
Johnny Sauter
Timothy Peters
Todd Bodine
Matt Crafton
Joey Coulter
Cole Whitt
Parker Kligerman
Brendan Gaughan
Nelson Piquet Jr.
David Starr
Justin Lofton
Jason White

Biggest Loss: Cole Whitt -2

Up next: Pack up your saddles, we are headed to Texas Motor Speedway for the WinStar World Casino 350k. Tune in on Friday night at 8pm est on SPEED to see who dons the 6 gallon cowboy hat in victory lane.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TUMS Fast Relief 500:

Tony Stewart wins his third race of the Chase and makes gains in the points standings, jumping to second. That cannot be said for all the Chase contenders, some of whom took a hard hit in their efforts towards winning the Sprint Cup.

 NSCS Standings after the TUMS Fast Relief 500 
1. Carl Edwards

2. Tony Stewart
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Brad Keselowski
5. Matt Kenseth
6. Jimmie Johnson
7. Kyle Busch
8. Kurt Busch
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. Jeff Gordon
11. Denny Hamlin
12. Ryan Newman
13. Clint Bowyer
14. Greg Biffle
Biggest Movers: Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick +2
Biggest Loss: Matt Kenseth -3

Up next: Don't forgot your cowboy boots cause it is Texas time! The AAA Texas 500 is sure to pack a lot of action on Sunday at 3pm est on ESPN.

Also: After a short break the NASCAR Nationwide Series returns to action at TMS for a triple header deluxe weekend. Tune into that on Saturday at 12:45 on ESPN2 to see if Ricky Stenhouse Jr will further his lead or if Elliott Sadler can make a comeback.

Why I Love NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson

With only three races left to the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase, the reasons I love NASCAR become more and more acute. I began the Chase figuring I’d do the drivers in no particular order, in a haphazardly way that suits my thought process. Little did I realize that Tony Stewart would win the week I did his post.  Even more so, I didn’t realize Carl Edwards would still have the lead this late in the Chase or I would have consciously left him toward the end. The names that are left for me to write about are all possible Cup contenders with a good shot, all except one. Five-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson is this week’s topic.

Jimmie Johnson entered NASCAR Sprint Cup competition before I returned from my self-imposed hiatus. My husband, a consistent and ardent fan of NASCAR Cup since 1990, mentioned Jimmie Johnson from time to time, but I paid little attention as he was usually complaining about the guy. The one thing I knew was that Jeff Gordon was a team owner for Jimmie Johnson’s team and that intrigued me. I couldn’t, and still don’t, fully understand how one could field a car as a team owner when already in a different car running as a viable opponent. But I liked Jeff Gordon a lot so I didn’t hate Jimmie Johnson.  

When I returned to NASCAR Cup as a fan the year was 2007. Jimmie Johnson was on a tear racking up ten wins, 4 poles, his second Cup in a row, and Driver of the Year honors for his second consecutive year.  In the years that followed Jimmie Johnson continued to set more records, dominate the field, amass the Cups, and forever change the NASCAR history books. Still, with all of these feats I was stuck feeling bored by this man. The historian in me defended the driver for his place in the sport’s history. The fan of the sport of NASCAR in me explained he exemplified a true racecar driver. But the spectator in me was left feeling apathetic about the whole process. “Another Jimmie Show” and the television would blip off at the conclusion of the race. Five seasons in a row of championship wins and I felt little for Jimmie Johnson.

There were sparks of likability. When Lowe’s produced the Jimmie Johnson “fix it” commercials that featured Johnson using his tools purchased at Lowe’s and Chad Knaus tracking his driver down resulting in the lines, “What are you doing, Jimmie?” which Johnson responded in a slightly smart-aleck tone, “Welding, Chad,” I did laugh… every time.  And, the mother in me was tickled when he and wife Chandra were expecting a baby in 2010 and their little darling girl arrived in July of that year. But I can honestly say I have never rooted for Jimmie Johnson nor have I been enthusiastic for the Chase when Jimmie wins year after year after year after year after year.

The 2011 Season was billed as several previous ones had been, “It’s Jimmie Johnson’s to lose”. But more and more competitors stepped up to the plate as serious contenders for the Cup. Once the Chase began I was still doubtful that a new driver could or would be crowned and now I see a possibility, nay, a probability that Jimmie Johnson’s stranglehold on the NASCAR Sprint Cup may well indeed be coming to an end. But this is when Jimmie Johnson is finally becoming interesting to me. This is when I look back to recent history to see how his team No. 48 digs deeply to stay afloat and win. Whether the Cup is won by them or not, the team will put out their best which far surpasses any other team any day of the week and twice on Sunday! When their team has a “bad day” they still make the Top 10! Of course, not every time as Talladega indicates, but often enough to string together five consecutive championships. But the fact Jimmie Johnson is struggling this season may be the boon for his career he’s needed. Americans do love to tear down successful people only to build them up again when they are seen as underdogs. From his rookie season forward Jimmie Johnson has been nothing but successful in NASCAR. By not winning this season he could turn the tide in his image and start being construed as that all-important underdog. Maybe then more people would think he had ‘paid his dues” and deserve the right to go for seven plus championships to either tie him with or surpass Dale Earnhardt’s and Richard Petty’s titles.

Frankly I see having Jimmie Johnson in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series as a win win scenario. If he continues his domination I feel it is a fascinating chapter in NASCAR and Sports history that I am witness to. My children and grandchildren will question me on this time period and what we all felt about it. If Jimmie Johnson falls off his pedestal, I get to enjoy his climb back to greatness, one that I’m sure he could muster with ease. Either way the situation plays out I can state without hesitation that Jimmie Johnson is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stewart claims his third win of the Chase

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR

The clock struck time for Tony Stewart, time to win that is. Stewart, who now has three wins the season all within the Chase races now jumps to second in the Chase standings just 8 points behind Carl Edwards. After the race Stewart issued a warning to Edwards saying, "He better be worried. That's all I've got to say. He isn't going to have an easy three weeks." 

The race itself was not as smooth for everyone else, with a total of 18 cautions for a total of 108 laps run under yellow flag conditions. Involved in accidents were several Chase contenders including Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Ryan Newman.

In a bizarre incident, Kyle Busch was involved in a wreck at lap 465 after tangling with Matt Kenseth. After pitting to repair damage, he returned to track only to loose his tire, lugnuts were left off the No. 18 car and the tire took off rolling down the track.

Race results:

  1. Tony Stewart
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Jeff Gordon
  4. Kevin Harvick
  5. Denny Hamlin
  6. Jeff Burton
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  8. Martin Truex Jr.
  9. Carl Edwards
  10. Ryan Newman
  11. A J Allmendinger
  12. Casey Mears
  13. Regan Smith
  14. Kurt Busch
  15. Greg Biffle
  16. Travis Kvapil
  17. Brad Keselowski
  18. Joey Logano
  19. Clint Bowyer
  20. David Reutimann
  21. Ken Schrader
  22. Juan Pablo Montoya
  23. Dave Blaney
  24. Paul Menard
  25. Kasey Kahne
  26. Hermie Sadler
  27. Kyle Busch
  28. Mark Martin
  29. Marcos Ambrose
  30. Brian Vickers
  31. Matt Kenseth
  32. Bobby Labonte
  33. David Ragan
  34. David Gilliland
  35. Jamie McMurray
  36. Reed Sorenson
  37. Scott Speed
  38. David Stremme
  39. Michael McDowell
  40. J J Yeley
  41. Joe Nemechek
  42. Landon Cassill 
  43. Mike Skinner

Russ Wallace, patriarch of the Wallace family, passes away

Rusty, Mike and Kenny Wallace - the proud sons of "Big Russ" Wallace.
Russ Wallace, patriarch of the Wallace racing dynasty that includes sons Rusty, Mike, Kenny and numerous grandchildren, passed away yesterday after suffering from heart failure. “Big Russ” was 77 years old.

Long before his sons were racing, Russ himself took to the track racing over 200 dirt features in a four-year span.

Mike Wallace once said that even though racing was a hobby to his father, "it was a professional hobby."

Kenny Wallace said recently that he and his brothers owed theirs careers to their father, who taught them their tireless work ethic and that style of driving that is both respected and feared by their competitors - who knew Russ Wallace would bump them out of the way if he thought it was the only way he could get by them on the track.

Fans of the Wallace family have been rallying all week, lending their virtually support via twitter and Facebook, sending their thoughts and prayers to the family.

Today came the news from Kenny himself via Twitter, "Today was the Hardest day of my life because my Dad "Russ" is gone, He molded me and my brothers to be race car drivers."

Skirts and Scuffs would like to send our condolences to the Wallace family.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

One and only practice at Martinsville

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
Rain put a damper on qualifying for the TUMS Fast Relief 500, but did not fully cancel on track activities Saturday. Sprint Cup cars hit the track for their first and only practice of the weekend, trying to dial in their cars prior to the green flag on Sunday.

Starting by points, the twelve Chase contenders will be up front and hope that will be an added advantage. "Qualifying, I think, is one of the most important parts of this race and it's no secret that's been a tough thing for me and Matt, as well," Edwards said. "So I think it's best-case for us that we get to start on the front row. ... No matter how much we have to work on the car or things we have to do, that first pit stall will be great."

Happy Hour was not very happy for Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle, who made contact on and off track. Initially, Biffle ran into the back of Harvick’s car and later Harvick hit the back of Biffle. Spilling over into the garage, Harvick pulled alongside of Biffle, then pulled ahead of Biffle to block his access to the his garage stall.

After Biffle emerged from his car, he headed towards Harvick’s garage stall where a crowd of gawkers gathered. The drivers spoke – but will the air be cleared when they hit the short track tomorrow? Harvick sits 5th in points and is just -26 points behind Carl Edwards, Biffle’s Roush Fenway racing teammate.

This was not the only problem for Harvick, his car also had ignition box issues earlier in practice, forcing the No. 29 to the garage for changes. 

Topping the leaderboard for practice, Michael McDowell and the No. 66 Victory Junction Toyota. McDowell will start in the 40th position on Sunday.

Happy Hour results:
  1. Michael McDowell
  2. Clint Bowyer
  3. Jimmie Johnson
  4. Jamie McMurray
  5. Scott Speed
  6. Paul Menard
  7. David Stremme
  8. Juan Pablo Montoya
  9. Jeff Gordon
  10.  Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  11. Kurt Busch
  12. David Reutimann
  13. A J Allmendinger
  14.  Denny Hamlin
  15. Kyle Busch
  16.  Joey Logano
  17. Martin Truex Jr.
  18. David Ragan
  19. Marcos Ambrose
  20. Greg Biffle
  21. Bobby Labonte
  22. Kasey Kahne
  23. Ryan Newman
  24. Matt Kenseth
  25. Kevin Harvick
  26. Jeff Burton
  27. Regan Smith
  28. Brad Keselowski
  29. Carl Edwards
  30. Mark Martin
  31. Brian Vickers
  32. Tony Stewart
  33. Casey Mears
  34. Landon Cassill
  35. Reed Sorenson
  36. J J Yeley
  37. Dave Blaney
  38. Mike Skinner
  39. Ken Schrader
  40. David Gilliland
  41. Travis Kvapil
  42. Joe Nemechek
  43. Hermie Sadler

Caption this: Dr. Jerry Punch sees something intriguing

This sights on pit road can be very captivating, but something has Dr. Jerry Punch quite intrigued. So, join us in playing caption this.

What are Dr. Punch and company watching on their screen? 


Hamlin wins first career Camping World Truck Series race, tempers flare at Martinsville

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR

For the first time in his successful career, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Denny Hamlin invaded the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway and won his very first series race. Hamlin, driving the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, drove to victory in front of a hometown crowd, leading 68 of 200 laps - more than any other driver - and becoming the 13th different driver to earn a win in all three of NASCAR’s national series.

Truck Series championship contender Ron Hornaday Jr. finished second after leading 31 laps and moved himself up to third in the points standings, as he now sits 15th points out of the lead with two races remaining.

Points leader Austin Dillon finished third after leading 45 laps and has an 11 point lead over second-place James Buescher. Johnny Sauter and Joey Coulter rounded out the top 5.

Saturday afternoon’s race was filled with tempers and torn-up trucks after nine cautions over the 200-lap race slowed the field, not to mention several other incidents in which NASCAR elected not to call the caution. After the checkered flag flew, several drivers expressed their displeasure on the cool-down lap with much of the anger being directed towards Todd Bodine.

Bodine and Germain Racing teammate Max Papis went back-and-forth on the racetrack several times before Bodine spun Papis on the backstretch. The two exchanged words in the garage area post-race and away from television cameras. While Papis elected not to speak with the media, Bodine had plenty to say about the incident.

“We had plenty of problems,” said Bodine. “It started off on pit road when Max—I was gonna hit that pit crew! I don’t know what he was thinking literally turning into the side of me off the corner and getting off the gas and he wasn’t going anywhere. Finally I just turned him around and got rid of him.”

Papis finished 18th.

In addition, championship contender Buescher and Bodine were angry with each other as well. After Buescher moved Bodine out of the way for position on the final lap, Bodine ran Buescher into two other trucks up ahead of him on the cool-down lap and severely damaged the front end of Buescher’s car.  Afterwards, Buescher intentionally spun Bodine into the infield wall right at the entrance to the garage area on the backstretch. Buescher finished one spot ahead of Bodine in 10th.

Meanwhile, Timothy Peters and Brendan Gaughan also had their own issues to sort through post-race. Gaughan, unhappy with the way Peters raced him in the waning few laps of the event, tapped Peters’ bumper on the cool-down lap and suffered damage of his own when Bodine pushed Buescher into Gaughan’s truck. Peters and Buescher also exchanged words after the race, both expressing frustration and pointing fingers.

 Peters finished eighth, with Gaughan right behind him in ninth.

The series heads to Texas Motor Speedway next weekend for the semi-final race of the season. The WinStar World Casino 350k will be broadcast live on SPEED Friday, November 4th, at 8PM ET on SPEED. 

Carl Edwards on pole for Martinsville after Cup qualifying rained out

The No. 99 team of Carl Edwards rolls the Aflac Ford back into the garage on Saturday after Sprint Cup qualifying was rained out at Martinsville Speedway. Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR
Due to inclement weather, Sprint Cup Series qualifying at Martinsville Speedway was canceled Saturday. Per the NASCAR rulebook, the field for Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 will be set by owner points.

This means the Chase contenders will start up front, with points leader Carl Edwards on the pole and Roush Fenway teammate Matt Kenseth starting second. The rain worked in the Roushkateers' favor: Edwards' previous best qualifying effort at the 0.526-mile short track was seventh, while Kenseth's was 14th.

Once the track was dry, the Sprint Cup Series was able to get in final practice at noon, which was postponed from 8:30 a.m. this morning.

The TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville will be broadcast on ESPN at 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

The following is the starting lineup for Sunday's race:

1. Carl Edwards
2. Matt Kenseth
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Tony Stewart
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Kyle Busch
7. Jimmie Johnson
8. Kurt Busch
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. Jeff Gordon
11. Denny Hamlin
12. Ryan Newman
13. Clint Bowyer
14. Kasey Kahne
15. Greg Biffle
16. A.J. Allmendinger
17. Marcos Ambrose
18. David Ragan
19. Mark Martin
20. Juan Montoya
21. Paul Menard
22. Joey Logano
23. Jeff Burton
24. Martin Truex Jr.
25. Brian Vickers
26. Regan Smith
27. Jamie McMurray
28. David Reutimann
29. Bobby Labonte
30. Landon Cassill
31. David Gilliland
32. Dave Blaney
33. Casey Mears
34. Ken Schrader
35. Travis Kvapil
36. Hermie Sadler
37. Reed Sorenson
38. Mike Skinner
39. Scott Speed
40. Michael McDowell
41. Joe Nemechek
42. David Stremme
43. J.J. Yeley

Did Not Qualify:
Dennis Setzer
Derrike Cope

NCWTS Pole Report: Crafton sets new track record at Martinsville

Matt Crafton won the pole award for the Kroger 200 and set a new track record with a lap of19.653 seconds (96.352mph), breaking Jack Sprague's record of 96.327 mph held since 2008. Crafton will be joined by Ron Hornaday Jr. on the front row 
when the green flag drops today at 2pm est on SPEED.

Startling lineup:

  1. Matt Crafton
  2. Ron Hornaday Jr.
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Johnny Sauter
  5. James Buescher
  6. Kevin Harvick
  7. Todd Bodine
  8. Justin Lofton
  9. Timothy Peters
  10. Austin Dillon
  11. Miguel Paludo
  12. Joey Coulter
  13. Cale Gale
  14. Elliott Sadler
  15. Max Papis
  16. Parker Kligerman
  17. Ryan Sieg
  18. Nelson Piquet Jr.
  19. Cole Whitt
  20. Clay Rogers
  21. Jeff Agnew
  22. David Starr
  23. Ricky Carmichael
  24. Max Gresham
  25. Josh Richards
  26. Jason White
  27. Matt Lofton 
  28. Brendan Gaughan
  29. Grant Enfinger
  30. Johanna Long
  31. Tyler Tanner
  32. TJ Duke
  33. Norm Benning
  34. Blake Feese
  35. Mike Garvey
  36. Bryan Silas
Failing to qualify: Jennifer Jo Cobb and Charlie Vest 

Tune into the race setup today at 1:30 pm est and the racing gets underway at 2pm est. 
Who will be taking home the Ridgeway grandfather's clock, time will tell. 

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Conjuring up picks at Martinsville

Picking fantasy drivers this week is bound to be ugly. Sort of like a snow storm in October, but I digress ... The Sprint Cup cars had just one practice and no qualifying due to the weather. Your best bet is to combine past performance, where they will be starting (set by the standings) and how fast they ran in the one practice session.

The five fastest drivers were:
1. Michael McDowell – 95.893 mph
2. Clint Bowyer – 95.781 mph
3. Jimmie Johnson – 95.752 mph
4. Jamie McMurray – 95.709 mph
5. Scott Speed – 95.670 mph

Fastest in 10-lap averages were:
1. Jimmie Johnson – 95.322 mph
2. Jamie McMurray – 95.234 mph
3. Jeff Gordon – 95.174 mph
4. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 95.065 mph
5. Marcos Ambrose – 94.898 mph

The front of the pack for the race:
1 Carl Edwards
2 Matt Kenseth
3 Brad Keselowski
4 Tony Stewart
5 Kevin Harvick
6 Kyle Busch
7 Jimmie Johnson
8 Kurt Busch
9 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10 Jeff Gordon
11 Denny Hamlin
12 Ryan Newman
13 Clint Bowyer
14 Kasey Kahne
15 Greg Biffle

Note: Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch experienced engine problems (ignition boxes) during practice, and Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick had a couple "disagreements" on the track.

Analyzing this info I would avoid Harvick and choose Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin or Jeff Gordon. I'm personally leaning toward Hamlin so I can save my last Johnson start for Phoenix. If you have a Clint Bowyer start left I'd go with him, as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr. I would then choose between Brad Keselowski, Juan Pablo Montoya or Jamie McMurray (a little risky, but he runs well here). I'm going with Keselowski and Montoya because I'm out of Bowyer and Earnhardt, and topping off my team with Bobby Labonte in that last spot.

Remember don't beat yourself over your final picks this week. You have very little to go on. If you're lucky you'll get some laps bonus points early to cushion any issues that may happen later.

Enjoy the race. Feel free to leave your comments here or email me at

Friday, October 28, 2011

Talkin’ Trucks with Jason White

Welcome to my new column, Talkin’ Trucks. As you may have seen this year, I took an interest in the Truck series and have interviewed many of its stars. Talkin’ Trucks will bring you these interviews and much more. 

Jason White is a veteran of NASCAR who has now driven in all three of NASCAR’s top touring series, but the 2011 season brought big changes for White. White was tagged to drive for the newly formed Joe Denette Motorsports; Denette took the leap into NASCAR team ownership after winning the Mega Millions lottery. White and Denette have been working hard this year to get the No. 23 (Denette won the lottery after purchasing 23 tickets) truck into contention for wins and are having some great success though the numbers can be a bit deceiving.

White’s season high finish of 5th came at both Kentucky and Talladega while he led 44 laps at Bristol and finished in 16th.

Being a single truck team, to pull off a 5th place finish at Talladega was astonishing. Did White has a plan on attack headed into the race? Why of course he did, that would be silly not to. “Well pretty much I did have a plan,” said White. “I paired up with Kyle (Busch), James Buescher, and Todd Bodine and had all their frequencies in my radio. Basically we just sat around and rode 6-7th the whole time until it was time to go with 7-8 laps to go. I came on Todd’s radio and said you gotta push me and he did. It worked out good and if we had one more lap to go, we would have won the race, I really believe that.”

For White, racing is nothing new; it has been his life story since he was a child growing up in Virginia. He grew up racing go-karts against Denny Hamlin and developed a rivalry that lasted for many years as the two went head-to-head each week. “Now we have become pretty good, almost best friends, so it is pretty cool," said White of his archrival turned friend and supporter. That was evident when Hamlin was the first to reach out to White when he claimed his first career pole at Daytona in 2010. “It is pretty cool to start in the go-kart ranks together and to keep moving our way up, it’s just pretty neat,” said White.

Racing since such a young age White knew that was his destiny. As he said, he told his fifth grade teacher that he was going to be a racecar driver and she though he was crazy. Again the same thing happened when he was a senior in high school, that teacher told him it would never happen and to focus on something else. “I told them, I have no other dream other than being a racecar driver, that is what I want to be and that is what I want to do! It has now happened and it’s pretty cool to look back at that,” said White as he reflected back on his naysayers. My suggestion to White, which made him chuckle, send those teachers an autograph.

With White’s Sprint Cup debut at Pocono earlier this year (White drove the No. 32 car for Frank Stoddard Racing), he said “that was awesome and a dream come true, I hope to do more. It just takes a ton of money, a ride opened up and I was able to take it for that race. We finished 33rd, which was good for that team, it was a great deal and I finished all the laps. It was a great debut and hopefully I get to do more in the future." 

Hitting the high banks of 'Dega.
Credit: Joe Denette Motorsports

With White and Joe Denette Motorsports being in the inaugural season together, a strong foundation is being laid for 2012. White has had strong runs and been up front at numerous races, able to contend for wins. When not in the battle, consistency has been key for the team.

“Joe is a great guy; he won the lottery and is a huge NASCAR fan. To drive for him is great and to have a startup team and do what we do is pretty amazing. Obviously we want more but to do what we do is awesome and we look forward to next year," White said speaking of Denette and their season as a new team.

Headed into Martinsville, White and Denette both are racing on their hometrack with a lot of pride on the line. As White said, “I would love a grandfather’s clock. Here is the deal, we finished 4th last year at this race and had the chance to win it with 2 to go, we were three wide for the win and I ended up fourth. At the end of the day, I am excited about it because I feel like we have a shot to win; this is a good track for me. “The goal for White and the team is to go out and win this race and to bring home the grandfather’s clock for Joe Denette Motorsports.

When asked if he can grade his season a success, being 16th in the points taking into consideration they are a startup team, White’s answer surprised me a bit. “We need a win to grade it a success,” he said. “This is not where I want to be in points, I want to at least be top-10 or top-five, that is what our goal was for this year. We have to win this weekend or one of these remaining races to say that it was a successful season.” I know the racers mentality is wins equals success and 16th is not a success for White, but I have to credit a lot to being a new team, onto bigger and better things for 2012.

White is all set for next season, he returns to Joe Denette Motorsports with long-time sponsor In fact, has followed White for six years now after White approached them with a sales pitch, pitching himself to their company. Six years later, the company has been with White through several teams but has always remained loyal to their driver. As White said, “They have been loyal to me, I have been loyal to them and in NASCAR it’s unheard of for a company to stick behind you. It’s a good marriage between us.”

White and his team will hit the the track this weekend and do whatever it takes to bring home that grandfather’s clock for their team. Tune into the NCWTS race from Martinsville on SPEED, Saturday afternoon at 2:00 pm est to see of the No. 23 truck can hit the jackpot once again for Joe Denette.

NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two weekly columns with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also expanded her area of coverage to include exclusive interviews, brought straight to the readers of Skirts and Scuffs. To read her past columns and interviews click here. Feel free to follow and contact Amanda via Twitter.