Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Race Fan’s Book Shelf: ‘Racing to Win,’ an Inside Look at Gibbs

Photo: Paula Thompson/Skirts & Scuffs
As a life-long resident of the Buffalo, New York area, I shouldn’t like Joe Gibbs – after all, as coach of the Washington Redskins, he was responsible for the demise of the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. Thankfully, I’m not a football fan – but I am a fan of Gibbs.

Joe Gibbs is a Pro Football Hall of Famer, three-time Super Bowl championship coach, three-time NASCAR Cup Series championship team owner and two-time NHRA championship team owner. He’s also a devout Christian and motivational person who is not afraid to share his views on life, sports and religion – something he does in his 2003 book Racing to Win and two other books he had a hand in writing, Joe Gibbs: Fourth and One (1992) and Game Plan for Life (2009).

Racing to Win is not an autobiography or a memoir, but rather a collection of stories from Gibbs’ life used as lessons to help one devise a “game plan for life.” Gibbs breaks down the book into six sections – career, finance, team building, relationships, moral choices and health – and weaves his life tales throughout, along with tales of how he grew with Christ thanks to his problems and his choices, and how he put together a strong network of people over the years.

Racing to Win may not be for everyone, considering the religious tones throughout the book, but there are principles at the end of each section that make sense whether you have a strong religious foundation or not. I learned much about Gibbs and his background – both professional and personal – by reading the book, and thank him for teaching the rest of us through his honesty.

If you are interested in learning more about Gibbs’ motivational mission, visit his website, http://www.gameplanforlife.com/.

Racing to Win and other books reviewed as part of Race Fan’s Book Shelf can be purchased through Amazon.com.

Fast Facts: Michael Annett

Photo: Debbie Ross/Skirts & Scuffs
Michael Annett, driver of the No. 43 Pilot Flying J Ford Mustang in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, is in a position most young drivers could only dream of being in: driving for “The King,” Richard Petty, at Richard Petty Motorsports. Here are a few “Fast Facts” about the driver and his interesting sports background.
  • Michael Annett was born June 23, 1986 in Des Moines, Iowa. His family has a long history in auto racing: for many years, they served as the owner and main sponsor for World of Outlaws champ Sammy Swindell. Annett attended his first auto race, the prestigious Knoxville Nationals, only a few days after his birth.
  • Annett’s sport of choice for many years was ice hockey. At age 16, he helped the Team Illinois AAA team to the 2002 Calgary Mac’s AAA Hockey Tournament Championship. He later moved up to the United States Hockey League (USHL), playing for the Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks and was named the Most Improved Player in the league in 2004.
  • After another successful season with the Black Hawks, Annett hung up his skates in favor of a steering wheel in 2005. Annett competed in the America Speed Association and the ARCA Racing Series in 2007, winning his first ARCA race at Talladega in October of that year; in February 2008, he followed that up with a win at Daytona in the series.
  • Annett made his NASCAR debut in the Camping World Truck Series in 2008, and moved up to the Nationwide Series with Germain Racing in 2009 and 2010. He spent 2011 with Rusty Wallace Racing, then signed on with RPM for 2012 after Wallace’s team shut down.
  • Find out more about Annett at michaelannett.com.

Gibbs Garage Special Edition: Joey Logano hopes for Pocono sweep

Logano leads at Pocono in June 2012
Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
Just past the halfway mark of the season, Joey Logano feels less like just ”a third guy” in the Gibbs garage and more like an equal. He was flattered during today’s teleconference when told about recent compliments from teammate Denny Hamlin. Logano feels his new confidence comes from his improved performance and the chemistry among his teammates.

“It seems like we are definitely all working together very well,” Logano said. “I think Kyle and Denny and myself are able to definitely transfer notes better. We are able to relate about some things that are going on with our cars, and try to grow the team as one, better.”

Logano’s record for 2012 includes one win, two top fives, seven top tens and one pole. “I think this year, I have a lot more confidence in myself and my abilities in what we are doing out there. You know, the results show on the racetrack.”

Logano sits 17th in the Sprint Cup points standings in the fourth wild card spot, making another win crucial to his Chase hopes. But because so many drivers have one win, or could get one, he knows points are critical as well. 

“If there's three people with two wins, which I think there's a good chance that could happen, you're going to have to be the guy that is up there with the points, too,” Logano said. “Points are super close and it's going to come down to probably the last lap at Richmond.”

Logano celebrates in Victory Lane
Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images
He tries not to think about it too much, but instead puts his energy into being competitive on the track. “I think that's one thing I've done this year is be more aggressive than I've been in the past,” he said. “You've got to risk it to get the biscuit. You've got to go for it and you have to be aggressive on restarts and pass cars if that's your shot.”

Being aggressive at Pocono paid off in the past for Logano. He won this year’s June race plus earned the pole for the last two races, both before and after the repave. 

“It's a little bit trickier place to qualify, because you have one more turn to either get it right or screw up real fast.”

Teammate Denny Hamlin has an impressive record at Pocono with a four Sprint Cup wins, eight top fives, two poles and an average finish of ninth place. Logano believes sharing information has helped all the JGR teams, even after the repave.

“It’s definitely a track that's a lot different than what it used to be, but it's still Pocono. So a lot of the things that you did before to make the car go faster are still the same. Setups could be way, way, way different but Denny has definitely helped both Kyle and I out there a lot.”

Pocono June 10, 2012
Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images 
When thinking back on childhood, some drivers remember a clear moment in time when they decided to make racing their career, but Logano doesn’t.

“I think it was always the game plan from the get go for me,” he said. “I had a little go-kart ... and I drove the thing all around the yard all afternoon and had a blast. It was just always that way, that's what I wanted to do, and I was going to do whatever it takes.”

The driver of the No. 20 car heads into this weekend at Pocono with that same do-whatever-it-takes attitude, hoping for a sweep. 

“To win anywhere means a lot ... but to be able to sweep two races in a season like that at one racetrack, definitely extra cool.”

Beth Bence Reinke writes "Gibbs Garage," Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup team recaps, for the 2012 season. Her Skirts and Scuffs column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports. Beth is the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow Beth on Twitter at @bbreinke or reach her at bbreinke@skirtsandScuffs.com

Sean Corr, Empire Racing, LLC, and Pocono Raceway to Honor Fallen Hero

(MOORESVILLE, NC) July 29, 2012 - Sean Corr, of Goshen, NY, and officials at Empire Racing announced today that they will partner with Pocono Raceway in paying tribute to a fallen hero, Staff Sgt. Justin R. Whiting, who lost his life during his third tour of duty. The Pennsylvania Mountains 125 on August 4th will mark Sean’s debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

“It is an honor to be able to do something to say thank you to Staff Sgt. Justin Whiting, his family, and our members of the military who have sacrificed for our country. It is a small gesture to make sure that we remember our heroes. We tested at Nashville in preparation for this coming weekend’s Pocono race, and feel confident in the set- up of the truck and the Roush-Yates Engine. We are looking forward to our NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at Pocono” stated Corr.

Staff Sgt. Justin R. Whiting, 27, was killed in action January 19, 2008 on his third tour of duty in Iraq when his vehicle was struck by an IED while conducting combat operations. A Green Beret, he was a Special Forces medical sergeant assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group Airborne. A highly decorated soldier, Whiting’s awards and decorations include two Bronze Star medals, the Meritorious Service medal, two Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, two Army Good Conduct Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, two Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbons, Army Service Ribbon, Combat Medical Badge, Parachutist Badge, and Special Forces Tab.

Along with American Heroes Racing, Corr and Empire Racing will host 8 members of Whiting’s unit from Ft. Campbell, and Pocono Raceway will be including them as part of their pre-race activities for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pennsylvania Mountains 125. The team will also be hosting a large number of Whiting’s family and friends from the Hancock, NY area as they honor one of America’s fallen heroes.

Long time marketing partner, Leonard Bus Sales, will continue their support at the Pennsylvania Mountains 125. Leonard Bus Sales, Inc. is a third-generation family-owned bus distributor of IC Bus, Trans Tech Bus, Champion Bus, and General Coach America products. Since 1965, LBS has provided bus sales, service, and parts to clients in upstate New York. Headquartered in Deposit, N.Y., LBS has full-service facilities in Deposit, Saratoga Springs, Rome, and Bergen. For more information, visit www.leonardbus.com.

Marketing partnerships with Sean and Empire Racing are available for the remainder of the 2012 season. Please contact Team Manager John Bellesfield, at jbellesfield@gmail.com or by phone at 704.914.7110 for more information.

Follow the action of the 125 mile (50 lap) race on August 4th. The Pennsylvania Mountains 125 will be broadcast live on SPEED with pre-race coverage beginning at 12:30 pm (ET), and race coverage beginning at 1:00 pm. Radio coverage of the race will be available on the Motor Racing Network (MRN) and SiriusXM Satellite NASCAR Channel 90.

In The Hunt with RCR: The Brickyard

For the RCR crew, Sunday's 19th running of the Brickyard 400 (now saddled with the cumbersome title of Crown Royal Presents The Curtiss Shaver 400 At The Brickyard Powered By Big Machine Records) seemed almost anticlimactic considering the excitement and controversy surrounding the Nationwide Series debut at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, not to mention Elliott Sadler's emotional victory last week at Chicagoland. Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard had solid runs, but didn't have a prayer of catching the Hendrick Chevys. Jeff Burton had worked his way up through the field, but tire troubles sent his hopes of a good finish up in flames.

Nationwide and Trucks: Chicagoland
While the Cup drivers enjoyed their last free weekend of the season, the NCWTS and NNS provided plenty of good racing at Chicagoland. Brendan Gaughan jumped in the No. 2 South Point Hotel & Casino Silverado and charged to a second-place finish after leading 83 laps. Ty Dillon in the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops ride led for 17 laps but handling issues kept him from being able to stay up front.

In the Nationwide race at the Joliet, Il. track, Elliott Sadler earned his third win of the season and $100,000 in the Dash 4 Cash. He emerged from the car exhausted from being sick all week, but jubilant over the victory. Austin Dillon couldn't quite overcome being caught on pit road when the final caution came out and finished sixth. Brendan Gaughan in the No. 33 Rheem/Menards Chevy almost made it back from pit woes but was knocked out of the top ten when he was forced into the wall, ending his race five laps early. 

Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR
Nationwide: Indianapolis

Saturday the Nationwide Series ran at the Brickyard for the first time, and the RCR teams featured prominently in the inaugural race at the Speedway, providing radio and television broadcasts with plenty of material for discussion. Ty Dillon drove the No. 51 WESCO Chevrolet to a third-place finish in only his second Nationwide Series start. Brother Austin Dillon finished fifth in the No. 3 Advocare Chevy, pushing teammate Elliott Sadler to the lead on the final restart. That push garnered plenty of attention when Sadler was black-flagged for crossing the starting line in front of the leader. Crew chief Luke Lambert argued the case with race officials but to no avail; Sadler served his pass-through penalty with only 11 laps to go, rejoining the field in 24th position. The No. 2 OneMain Financial car was fast but ran out of time, finishing 15th and Sadler holds on to the points lead over Dillon by a single point.

Sprint Cup

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet
Start - 27
Finish -13
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 6
Points Finish - 6

Somehow Kevin Harvick managed to improve his starting position by 14 spots even though the No 29 suffered handling issues. By now Harvick fans should be able to recite the litany of complaints by memory. Tight handling. Loose handling. Tight in, loose off.  The car not only ran badly but handled badly. Still, the team didn't give up and Harvick systematically worked his way up to 10th with 18 laps to go. He couldn't hold the position though, the car was too tight and he finished 13th.

"We were junk all weekend, " Harvick said. "No matter if we were turning left or going straight. That pretty much summed up today."

Paul Menard, No. 27  NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet 
Start - 8
Finish - 14
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 15
Points Finish - 15

The defending race champion, Paul Menard went into the weekend with high hopes. Starting in eight position, Menard quickly discovered that the No. 27 car also suffered from the dreaded "tight condition" and Slugger Labbe started making adjustments from the first pit stop. By Lap 70 Menard was running his best laps of the day, but the curse of the tightness returned. Then on the final restart, while running ninth, the No. 27 made contact with the car in front of it and incurred front end damage that appeared to be minor but adversely affected the handling of the car and Menard was only able to salvage a 14th place.

“There were certainly a lot of great memories from last year's win on everyone's mind this weekend and it was great to be back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but we had one focus and that was to win again," Menard explained. "The NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet was solid all weekend, but started off really tight in today's race. The No. 27 team was great in the pits all day and the handling was better until that last restart. We made contact with the car in front of us and were just really tight until the end. We had a top-10 finish until then."

Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Rain-X Chevrolet  
Start - 21
Finish - 32
Laps Led - 0
Points Start - 19
Points Finish -20

Jeff Burton sported the paint scheme of new sponsor Rain-X in his 19th start at the Brickyard, a track at which he's not had much luck over those years. With only one top five and five top tens at the Speedway, Burton's experiences at the Speedway haven't been the best, but he was running in the top fifteen when a problem with left front wheel forced him to pit. By the time the No. 31 hit pit road the tire burst into flames. Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer diagnosed a broken brake rotor and sent Burton to the garage for repairs. Upon returning to the track, the car kept pace with the top 15. Unfortunately time ran out and the No. 31 came home in 32nd, nine laps down.

"It was a tough day for the No. 31 Rain-X Chevrolet team. We were hanging around the top 15 when the brake rotor broke and sent us to the garage area for repairs." Burton said. "I'm not sure what happened, but proud of the team for getting me back out there to gain some spots in the end. This team never gives up. We showed some speed once again during the race and had very productive practice sessions all weekend. We just need to stay positive and look forward to Pocono Raceway next weekend."

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hendrick Garage: Jimmie Johnson kisses the bricks once again

The No. 48 team lines up to kiss the bricks at Indy.
Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images for NASCAR
After an off weekend, the Sprint Cup Series returned to racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A historic track where everyone wants to have the honor of doing one thing - kissing the bricks. Would one of the Hendrick drivers get to continue that tradition?

Kasey Kahne, No. 5

Kasey Kahne was the talk of the weekend. After leading first practice and running 4th in final practice, everyone had him picked as the winner for Sunday’s Brickyard 400. Kahne also ran in the Nationwide race, taking the pole position for the series' inaugural trip to the Brickyard. Kahne looked to be getting his weekend off on the right foot.

Kahne spent his day mid-pack; his car just couldn’t get that speed like his teammates had. He finished his day in 12th, but with two wins he has secured a wild-card spot in the Chase.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24

Returning to the track where he has won four times, Jeff Gordon was hoping to make it five wins. Besides, if Gordon wants any hope of making the Chase, he needs to win races. The No. 24 looked great all day; he stayed in the top five and even tried battling his teammate Jimmie Johnson for the lead. On Lap 72 during green flag stops Gordon led one lap before hitting pit road.

Even though Gordon didn't win, he had a great finish of fifth. Even with that finish, the outlook is very bleak for his chances on making the Chase. Gordon did gain two positions and is up to 15th in the points standings.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48

Jimmie Johnson has been lucky enough to kiss these bricks three times. Returning to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Johnson showed his hunger to kiss them again and tie Jeff Gordon as the only NASCAR driver with four wins at the Brickyard."

From the drop of the green flag Johnson had his eyes set on the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin and on Lap 29 after challenging him, Johnson finally got the lead. From then on, Johnson dominated the race and was well on his way to a victory.  Leading a total of 99 laps, Johnson's No.48 was on a mission and that mission was to win the race. Once he took the lead on Lap 132 Johnson said goodbye to the field and drove off.

Jimmie Johnson and daughter Genevieve bow down to kiss the bricks.
Credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Johnson now has not one, not two... but four wins at the Brickyard! A moment he got to share with his daughter Genevieve.  

Is "Mr. Five-Time" on his way to another championship? In my opinion, he’s looking strong and hungry for more wins. Fourth in points, he’s looking to be a huge factor as we near closer to the Chase.

"Wow, man that victory lap to go around the track is something special," Johnson said on the memorable victory lap. "A big thank you to all the fans out there cheering, it lets it really soak in. To come here and win is a huge honor, then to have four wins - I’m at a loss for words. I can tell you this, I’m so proud of my team. I’m so proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, Lowe’s, KOBALT Tools and Chevrolet. Chad Knaus gave me one heck of a race car today and pit road was awesome too. It was a total team effort and we put it on them today. That was nice."

Credit: Jerry Markland, Getty Images for NASCAR
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88

One thing is for certain: Dale Earnhardt Jr. is having a comeback season. The only driver to compete every lap so far, Earnhardt Jr. is looking to be a championship contender.

Starting 20th should have been a long day for the No. 88 team; however, by Lap 40 he was already up to 10th  position. From then on, Earnhardt Jr’s. day was uneventful and was spent racing his way to the top 10, where he quietly stayed.

As a late-race accident took out Matt Kenseth Earnhardt Jr. took over the points lead, something he hasn’t held since 2004 and something JR Nation can celebrate. Finishing fourth just solidified his lead. Now the question remains: Can Earnhardt Jr. keep his momentum and maybe, just maybe, win the championship?

Brett Moffitt to Make NASCAR Nationwide Series Debut with RAB Racing at Iowa Speedway

CONCORD, N.C. (July 30, 2012) - RAB Racing with Brack Maggard will partner with current NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points leader Brett Moffitt when he makes his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut this weekend at Iowa Speedway.

The Grimes, Iowa native is currently in his fourth full season of NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competition. He has compiled nine wins, 27 top-five and 32 top-10 finishes in 42 series starts, and holds a 22-point advantage in the driver standings with nine of 14 events completed on the 2012 schedule.

"Brett has done a fantastic job in the K&N Series, so we're looking forward to having him behind the wheel of our Toyota Camry this weekend at Iowa Speedway," said Robby Benton, owner of RAB Racing with Brack Maggard. "He's been a part of Michael Waltrip Racing's driver development program, and through our relationship with them, this opportunity to help him move up the ladder came about."

"I am very excited to make my Nationwide Series debut in the No. 99 RAB Racing Toyota Camry this weekend at Iowa Speedway," said Moffitt. "Not only is it my first Nationwide race, but it will be at my home track. I love Iowa Speedway and it will be nice to have my fans and family out at the track supporting me. I hope to put on a good show for all of them this weekend.

"It's going to be a busy weekend with running both the K&N Series race Friday night, and the Nationwide Series race the following day. Though it will be in a different car with different competitors, hopefully I can draw on some of my past experience to overcome the learning curve and keep the No. 99 Toyota up front."

- Courtesy of RAB Racing

Roush Fenway Rewind: Biffle the lone survivor at the Brickyard

Heading into Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jack Roush and Roush Fenway Racing have yet to kiss the bricks of the hallowed grounds though they have finished second four times. Kissing the bricks was not in the cards this year either - only one driver walked away with a top finish while the other two were left ...well, disgusted.

Credit: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR
Greg Biffle, No. 16 3M
Started: 5th
Finished: 3rd 
Points: 3rd (-22)

Greg Biffle was Jack Roush's one and only shot at kissing the bricks on Sunday and boy, he came close.

Battling loose conditions throughout the race, you would never know it by the way Biffle was racing. In the top 5 for much of the race, the race was a bit of a handful for "The Biff," as crew chief Matt Puccia worked to adjust the handling on the No. 16.

The final pit stop of the day came under caution at Lap 124 and the Biffle/Puccia duo debated to take 2 or 4 tires but opted for track position, taking 2 tires. Leaving pit road the leader, the call hurt them in the long road as everyone else took 4 and another caution came out to reset the field. In the end, Biffle couldn't hold off the dominant Jimmie Johnson, settling for a 3rd-place finish. Biffle remains third in the points, just 22 behind new leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"We did two tires there at the end, and I thought a lot of people would do two tires, and it turned out most everybody did four. That hurt us a little bit, but still, we ended up third. Kind of flattened off," Biffle said in his post-race media conference. "That caution right there probably helped us, probably helped the tires equalize, and when we fired off there again we were able to maintain."

An innocent bystander, Kenseth's day ended after being hit by
Joey Logano. Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Fifth Third Bank
Started: 10th 
Finished: 35th
Points: 2nd (-14)

Heading into Indy the points leader, Matt Kenseth had a lot to lose in the Curtis Shaver 400 and he did just that, none of it his own making.

Running in the top 10 for much of the race, Kenseth was involved in an accident with less then 30 laps to go and received his first since 2011.

At Lap 134 Joey Logano got loose in Turn 1 and lost control of his car, sliding into Trevor Bayne and starting a chain reaction accident. Bobby Labonte got hit as Logano dropped low and then he shot back up the track, collecting Kenseth. The No. 17 burst into flames, Kenseth exited safely and with a look of evident disgust and disappointment on his face.

"The farther that we went back, the dumber people drove," Kenseth said after being treated and released from the infield care center. "You could see it was just a matter of time before the wreck happened and somehow I was hoping I wasn't going to be in it," Kenseth said to the waiting media.

"Yeah, it is frustrating," Kenseth said in reference to getting caught up in Logano's accident. "I got hung out on the restart which is one thing. I was trying to get through there and the 14 wiped the whole side off my car in the straightaway for no reason and that kind of made me mad. I was in front of the 9 and saw he had a run so I went down to block and he went across the grass and shot me up out of the groove there. It is crazy there at the end. You could see the wreck happening and I was just hoping I wasn’t going to be in it."

 Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images North America
Carl Edwards, No. 99 Fastenal
Started: 2nd
Finished: 29th
Points: 12th (-149)

Since we last raced, there have been huge changes in the Carl Edwards camp at Roush Fenway Racing. Longtime crew chief Bob Osborne stepped down from his position due to an undisclosed medical condition and Chad Norris was tapped to replace him. A Twitter phenomena emerged: #ChadNorrisFacts had everyone involved and rolling with laughter. Just for a laugh: RT @dcaraviello Chad Norris has a grizzly bear rug in his living room. The bear isn't dead. It's just afraid to move. #ChadNorrisFacts

Norris and Edwards were off to a great start, qualifying for the Brickyard in second place, seeming to have a smooth transition but mechanical issues plagued their start. At Lap 13, while in third place, Edwards dropped off pace with an unknown engine issue. After heading to pit road, Norris and the team concluded that spark plugs would need to be replaced. With already being two laps down, they ran on track until a caution came out and headed to pit road to replace spark plugs and the ECU. Whatever the issue was, Edwards returned to track and was running better, though 4 laps down. A non-factor the rest of the race, the 99 team finished in 29th and dropped to 12th in the points.

"We know it's some issue. We think it's some issue with the ECU. We changed that, along with the sparkplugs, and the engine started running better," Edwards said on the engine problem. "But the biggest thing is our strategy. I don't think we are points racing anymore. I think we are officially racing only for wins, so we have been kind of going over things that are fresh in our minds to determine the best strategy. We had one thing, and that was a very fast race car. Greg (Biffle) finished third in his car, and I felt that ours was as good as his. We want to make one thing for sure: We do not quit. We keep going. We put our best effort forth, and if it's (making Chase) meant to be, then it's meant to be."

MWR Weekly Wrap-Up: Hitting the bricks and walking away with top-15 finishes

Walking away from Indianapolis, Michael Waltrip Racing can be assured of two things. One, at least one of their drivers will be in the Chase this season (if not two) and two, their team sure knows how to battle back from any issue.

Early in the race, it looked as though MWR was in for a bad day but to my surprise the team pulled out all top 20s and yes, that is an accomplishment on such a difficult track.

Credit: Michael Waltrip Racing
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 5-hour ENERGY
Started: 33rd
Finished: 15th
Points: 10th (-88) 

Clint Bowyer and the No. 15 team showed why they belong in the Chase after they battled back to a 15th-place finish in the Brickyard 400.

Starting in 33rd, Bowyer made steady gains to about 20th when contact with Juan Pablo Montoya cut down Bowyer's left front tire. As the tire went down, he spun into the infield with minor damage to the car. After repairs, Bowyer headed back onto the track in 31st position.

Thankfully there was plenty of time to work his way back up and through the remainder of the race, Bowyer steadily did just that. As the checkered flag fell, Bowyer came home 15th and dropped to 10th in points. With a 55-point cushion over 11th, the No. 15 team has six weeks to guarantee they are locked into the Chase.

“Just was racing and got on that outside -- them outsides on the restarts, you’re in no man’s land. You try to get to the bottom as quick and efficiently as possible, but the 31 (Jeff Burton) got to the inside of the 42 (Juan Pablo Montoya) and I realized that I was three-wide on the outside and tried to get out of there and just barely caught in the left-front and cut my tire down, spun out. Anytime you spin out on a track like this, you usually end up crashing in the infield. Just thankfully everything worked out and we ended up with a top 15. Not what we wanted, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse,” Bowyer said of his accident with Montoya.

Credit: Michael Waltrip Racing
Mark Martin, No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine
Started: 19th
Finished: 11th
Points: 27th (-357) and 12th in Owner Points

Welcome back Mark Martin, you were missed! Nothing against Brian Vickers or even Michael Waltrip but seeing the No. 55 without you just seems odd.

Martin returned to Indy looking for a win. He has been close before but again he'd fall short. The numbers don't lie about Martin's skill at the Brickyard: 19 races with 6 top 5s and 11 top 10s. The only thing missing is a win.

After running about 13th for much of the race, the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota came to life in the late stages and ran as high as eighth until  the final restart cost Martin positions. He was shuffled from the high groove and dropped four positions. Battling back for one of those lost spots to finish in 11th, Mark Martin posted a top-11 finish in eight consecutive races at Indianapolis. (Remember that statistic for fantasy racing next year; Mark Martin is consistently good at IMS)

"The finish is a little disappointing since we were getting up in the top-10 and then we got caught in a losing shuffle there on that last restart," Martin said on his race. "We had a solid top-five car there and I was really proud of it -- proud of our Toyota engine, it was so strong. We need to get a little bit better. We didn’t have a top-five car, but we did have a top-10 and it was a great team effort by our guys. We’ll keep working on it and try to get it a little faster. This car was good on restarts. The outside on that last restart just wasn’t the place to be. I wasn’t able to get a hole and I lost a bunch of spots."

Crew chief Rodney Childers took to Twitter after the race, saying "@55MarkMartin did a great job all day and the pitcrew was awesome like always. Found something late in the race that got it going good. (cont.) Restarts are just so tough on the outside at this place. Just in the wrong position when the caution flew. That's racing though."

Martin Truex Jr. in Turn 3.
Credit: Michael Waltrip Racing
Martin Truex Jr., No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS
Started: 17th
Finished: 8th
Points: 7th (-78) 

After a mid-pack start, Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota quickly moved to the front, heading into the top 10 by lap 10. Fighting a tight condition, crew chief Chad Johnston dialed in the car throughout the race and in the end, the race came down to track position on the final restart.

Truex restarted in 11th and gained several spots in some wild racing over the final laps to record the team's 10th top-10 of the season. The results moves Truex to a tie for sixth place in points and he appears destined for the Chase barring any problems in the next few weeks. Truex's last Chase appearance was back in 2007 when he was seeded 7th and finished 11th.

“To have the speed we had today was really awesome. We really fought track position -- starting 17th and then had a little bit of trouble on a couple of our stops and we lost a few spots. Every single restart, but the last one I was on the outside. It’s just so tough on the outside so the last one I got on the bottom and gained some spots. Overall, it was good. It was a good day, the guys did an awesome job. Our new TRD (Toyota Racing Development) motor was awesome -- best motor I’ve ever had so I want to thank those guys. The NAPA car was good -- we were just missing a little bit. We were a little too tight all day long and could just never fix it.”

Why I Love NASCAR: Pocono Raceway Part II by Chief 187™

The NASCAR Sprint Cup action returns to Pennsylvania at Pocono Raceway this weekend. I had the great pleasure not only to write about the track earlier this season but attend the facility again since then. Now I am packing my bags and sharpening my proverbial pencil to take in the sights, sounds, and action as I am attending Pocono with a media pass courtesy of Michele Rahal and my team at MotorsportsUnplugged.com for the very first time in my career. Although I won't be doing live coverage for Skirts and Scuffs I will be gathering information to use for future articles at this site.

Just a scant few weeks ago I had the opportunity to return to Pocono Raceway with the Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA) where my husband is an active member. He, in fact, was the chair of the event held at the track. With only twenty-five entrants for the post-Independence Day weekend our club had the run of the facility and were treated as VIPs.

While there our club met and worked closely with Cars on Course, a professional group of flaggers hired to be the corner workers for the weekend. Our contact, Pat Leone, further demonstrated how Pocono offers top-notch services and experiences. He and his staff were the ultimate professionals on the track and great people off as well.

The repave at Pocono Raceway was exquisite. The NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers had already broken in the track the month before, but it was still quite new and far better than the previous years our club had raced there.

On the eve of the Pennsylvania 400 I am filled with awe, excitement, a tinge of trepidation, and a great deal of wonder of what watching a race from the media center will be like. How do I get around the garage and pit areas gleaning information without getting in the way? And mostly, how do I capture every sight and sound to relay to my readership?

What is so amazingly special and unique about Pocono Raceway is the family-fun atmosphere that exists. NASCAR tracks all have something to offer their patrons but Pocono seems to go above and beyond at all points to foster the feeling of safety and comfort while providing stellar entertainment for the fans.

In addition to traversing the site with my media pass, venturing from location to location to immerse myself in the NASCAR culture that springs up for the weekend, I am camping for the very first time.

Camping is yet another experience I have yet to have but one that I will cross off my list. I was told that to fully take in Pocono camping was a must. So, I have the few amenities I cannot live without – a friend said to leave the curling iron at home but I’m finding that so terribly difficult – and will try my hand at this for the sake of NASCAR and the full Pocono experience.

To round out my experiences at Pocono Raceway in this new position, I’m anxiously and nervously trying to attend a Tweet Up. It is my great pleasure to meet the readers and listeners who peruse my work, listen intently, and tweet me. Let me know, are you willing to extend a hand at a meet and greet?! I sure hope so! Please reach out to me and give me a new topic to write for this column – Why I Love NASCAR: The Tweet Up by Chief 187™.

Clearly I effervesce a lot about Pocono, but as I’ve stated before, it is my home track and a place I’ve been to a lot in my lifetime. Attending Pocono for the Pennsylvania 400 as a member of the media and surrounding myself with incredible people from all over in every capacity is yet another bunch of reasons why I love NASCAR.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gibbs Garage: Brickyard bites Logano while teammates Busch and Hamlin finish up front

Denny Hamlin leads the field to the green flag at Indy
Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Although they didn't get to kiss the bricks after Sunday's Cup race, two-thirds of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable ended the Brickyard with satisfying finishes and smiling faces.

Polesitter Denny Hamlin led the first 26 laps of the race, then lost the lead to Jimmie Johnson after the first green flag pit stops. He ran second until the second caution when lack of grip on the restart shuffled him back into the teens.

When asked about that restart after the race, Hamlin said, “... basically I think what happened is it dug the nose into the ground and took the front tires off the ground. I couldn’t steer it into the corner and I did it again on the last restart.”

The restart after the third caution with 60 to go was better though, when Hamlin began in ninth and quickly moved up to fourth. Except for dropping to fifth for a few laps when passed by Biffle, Hamlin held the fourth spot for about the next 20 laps.

The No. 11 FedEx Toyota slipped to sixth after restarting on the outside line with 19 to go. Overall, a great weekend for Hamlin, who finished 4th in the inaugural NNS race on Saturday and 6th in the Brickyard 400.

Hamlin’s post-race thoughts: “We had about a fourth, fifth, sixth-place car and that’s kind of where we ended up. Once I got back there, I was able to maintain and make up a little ground, but I wasn’t going to go any further forward than where I was.”

The No. 18 car on pit road
Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Kyle Busch rolled off seventh and picked up spots quickly, making it to third place by lap six. He led two laps as green flag stops began, then resumed running in third after they cycled through. On the first caution, Busch had troubles on pit road when his car stalled as he exited, dropping him back to 13th. But the No. 18 M&M’s Camry recovered quickly, getting back into the top ten. Busch continued his forward momentum and broke into the top five around Lap 60.

With about 20 to go, Busch passed Biffle to take second. Busch’s car was fast and with about ten to go ran a lap 0.1 second faster than the leader, Jimmie Johnson. But as the final laps wound down, the No. 48 steadily pulled ahead to a 6-second lead and won the race. Busch’s runner-up finish was his first top-five finish in eight races, since his string of four top fives from Richmond (where he won) to Charlotte.

A smiling Busch reflected on the race: “We’ve had a lot of frustrating days here - we’ve had the last eight frustrating weeks. It’s been really hard on us and hard on our team. This is a great run for us and I really appreciate all these guys - Dave Rogers (crew chief) and all these guys on this M&M’s Camry - to give me a good piece to qualify well and run up front like that and to just come out of here with a solid day. It feels like a win for us.” 

Logano with a team member before the race
Photo by Boris at http://facebook.com/joegibbsracing
Joey Logano started the event on the second row, then slipped back and ran seventh. The No. 20 car moved up to sixth position on Lap 13 and maintained that spot through the first three pit stops, one during green conditions and two during cautions.

Logano was strong and steady for the first 100 laps of the race, with the adjustments improving the car to his liking by around Lap 85. But a slow pit stop under the third caution caused him to lose track position and become mired back in 21st spot for the restart. Although the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota got back into the teens after the next pit stop, he again slipped back to 21st.

“My pit crew is normally spot on and they’ve been extremely fast all year long. But we had a slow stop and lost a lot of spots on pit road,” Logano said after the race. “That put us back in the big pack of cars and it completely changed the handle of the car. It went from being loose to being so tight you couldn’t even drive it.”

His final undoing came with 28 to go when Logano ricocheted around the track like the ball in a pinball machine. After getting loose in turn one, Logano bounced off the No. 21 car of Trevor Bayne, slid down the track into Bobby Labonte, then spun up the track into Matt Kenseth and the outside wall. He took the No. 20 car to the garage for repairs, and finished 33rd, 16 laps down.

Logano said, “That was just unfortunate and not the kind of day we were looking for. We had a decent Dollar General Toyota. We weren’t a race-winning car, but I think if we had kept getting it better and better, we could have finished in the top-five for sure.”

Points standings after Indy:
Denny Hamlin – 5th
Kyle Busch – 11th (+2)
Joey Logano – 17th (-1)

Beth Bence Reinke writes "Gibbs Garage," Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup team recaps, for the 2012 season. Her Skirts and Scuffs column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports. Beth is the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow Beth on Twitter at @bbreinke or reach her at bbreinke@skirtsandScuffs.com

Five-Time makes it four times at the Brickyard: Jimmie Johnson wins at Indy

The Johnson Family kissing the bricks.
Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR
Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team knelt on Crown Royal-purple cushions and kissed the bricks for the fourth time in his career. Owner Rick Hendrick was right beside him as the five-time champion added the eighth Brickyard trophy to the Hendrick Motorsports trophy case, joining Jeff Gordon as the only four-time winners at the historic venue. 

“Wow, man that victory lap to go around the track is something special.," Johnson said with obviously reddened eyes. His voice wavered as he spoke. "A big thank you to all the fans out there cheering it lets it really soak in. To come here and win is a huge honor, then to have four wins I’m at a loss for words."

The win gave Johnson his third of the season, and he earned it in dominating style, leading five times for 99 laps. Kyle Busch, who had a fast car and finished second said after the race that Johnson wasn't just in his own zip code, but his own country. Greg Biffle tried to put up a fight but wound up in third, saying, "He ran me down in two laps from 25 car lengths." 

Fourth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. wanted the win, but settled for the points lead instead. With Matt Kenseth getting caught up in a wreck on Lap 133, Earnhardt Jr. went up by 14 points. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the No. 48 and No. 88 teams share a race shop. Gordon finished fifth, giving HMS a third car in the top five.

The Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at The Brickyard powered by Big Machine Records began with deliberate calm after a drivers' meeting where questions about yesterday's start and restart issues prompted stern words from Mike Helton. Carl Edwards started on the outside and gave polesitter Denny Hamlin's No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota plenty of space to cross the starting line first. Hamlin led the first 26 laps but couldn't get his car quite right and wound up finishing sixth. He tweeted after the race, "Not the day we were looking for. Still a solid weekend for our FedEx team. Just couldn't get the car where we needed." 

Edwards didn't fare as well, developing an electrical issue that sent him to pit road on Lap 13 and putting him two laps down. He finished a disappointing 29th with new crew chief Chad Norris. 

The nineteenth NASCAR Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway slowed five times for 25 laps. Despite some concern about passing on the 2.5 mile oval, the lead changed 17 times among nine drivers. 

Drivers points after the 20th race of the 2012 season: (1) Earnhardt Jr. 731; (2) Kenseth 717; (3) Biffle 709;(4) Johnson 704; (5) Hamlin 667; (6) Harvick 653;(7) Truex Jr. 653; (8)  Stewart 652; (9) Keselowski 649; (10) Bowyer 643; (11) Kyle Busch 588; (12) Edwards 582.

Fin Start Driver
1 6    Jimmie Johnson
2 7    Kyle Busch
3 5    Greg Biffle
4 20    Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
5 9    Jeff Gordon
6 1    Denny Hamlin
7 11    Ryan Newman
8 17    Martin Truex, Jr.
9 22    Brad Keselowski
10 28    Tony Stewart
11 19    Mark Martin
12 15    Kasey Kahne
13 27    Kevin Harvick
14 8    Paul Menard
15 33    Clint Bowyer
16 24    Sam Hornish, Jr.
17 18    Trevor Bayne
18 14    Regan Smith
19 4    Aric Almirola
20 23    Marcos Ambrose
21 12    Juan Pablo Montoya
22 16    Jamie McMurray
23 32    Dave Blaney
24 26    David Stremme
25 38    Landon Cassill
26 29    Bobby Labonte
27 31    David Gilliland
28 36    David Ragan
29 2    Carl Edwards
30 42    Ken Schrader
31 37    Stephen Leicht
32 21    Jeff Burton
33 3    Joey Logano
34 25    Casey Mears
35 10    Matt Kenseth
36 13    Kurt Busch
37 30    Travis Kvapil
38 34    Scott Speed
39 41    J.J. Yeley
40 35    Josh Wise
41 40    Scott Riggs
42 39    Mike Skinner
43 43    Mike Bliss

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Brad Keselowski wins the Indiana 250 as Elliott Sadler gets black flagged

Brad Keselowski kisses the bricks after winning the inaugural Nationwide race at Indy.
Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images for NASCAR
Expectations were high as the NASCAR Nationwide Series headed to the "big track" this year, leaving Lucas Oil Raceway Park to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (A decision I still question!) Today's race created the drama that will have fans and media both buzzing about the race, but for the wrong reasons. We are not talking about Brad Keselowski's win, the thrill of Ty Dillon's second Nationwide start and finishing in 3rd place, instead we are focused on the controversy of the race.

So let's do that now. Let's focus a bit on the race itself: Brad Keselowski's victory is a monumental one for Penske Racing, NASCAR win No. 100. Penske Racing has always been a team to beat at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so it's only fitting that "The Captain's" 100th win in NASCAR comes on such a historic track. Adding to the jubilation, teammate Sam Hornish Jr. also had an outstanding race, finishing in second and claiming his 12th top-10 of this season.

Another surprise of the race had to be the Dillon brothers. No doubt Austin is shaping up to be a strong championship contender but younger brother Ty, in only his second Nationwide race, outshone his brother by finishing in third. There is no question that Pop Pop has a lot of stock in both boys, they will be around NASCAR for a long time coming.

Travis Pastrana had his best race to date after bringing home a 13th place finish.  After the race, Pastrana said, "I felt really good. We learned a lot. They did a great job getting the car working because we just went back to what we had. It took me awhile to get the line on this track just because there is so much speed. This is the biggest track I’ve ever raced.  I’m really excited with a top-15 -- the first top-15 and the crew did a great job."

Danica Patrick's much-touted return to IMS ended in a disappointing 35th-place finish after she tapped Reed Sorenson on Lap. 39, wrecking them both.

Johanna Long qualified ahead of Patrick and looked as if she'd have a competitive finish, but a failed U-joint forced her to the garage. Long finished 11 laps down in 30th place.

And Kyle Busch's on-track woes continue. He ran inside or near the top five all race, but spun on Lap 79, barely missing the No. 12. Busch was able to continue, but didn't regain the ground he lost. His strong run ended in a 22nd-place finish.

In the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash battle, Michael Annett walked away $100,000 dollars richer this week and heading to Iowa will be joined by Hornish, Dillon and Stenhouse.

"We're not kissing the bricks, but we got a big carboard check to lay our lips on," Annett said of his consolation prize.

Questionable calls

From the drop of the green flag, there was an uproar on whether or not there should have been a black flag thrown for Kyle Busch jumping the start of the race. Kasey Kahne started on pole but as the green flag dropped, Busch jumped to the lead. NASCAR did not call a penalty on the start, much to the dismay or fans and media alike. Post-race NASCAR's VP of Competition Robin Pemberton explained in their view, Kahne did not go when the green flag flew.
As the race wound down, the same cannot be said for Elliott Sadler, who faced the dreaded black flag on a restart, told he beat race leader Brad Keselowski to the line. The problem - for one, Sadler was pushed by teammate Austin Dillon.

The outcry was evident on Twitter, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson even chimed in saying "I feel for @Elliott_Sadler... What was he suppose to do with another car pushing him." Sadler's Richard Childress Racing teammate Kevin Harvick stated, "Holy cow there is a riot in bus 29 that is not right... after the call at the beginning of the race... #reallyconfused."

Although Sadler and crew chief Luke Lambert tried to fight the decision during the race, Sadler eventually served his penalty with a gut-wrenching plea over his radio, saying "That's so wrong. That's so wrong. To penalize me for a mistake they made. NASCAR is taking the championship from me."

After the race, Sadler and team owner went to the NASCAR hauler for further discussion. NASCAR clarified that Sadler did NOT jump the restart, but was penalized for beating the leader to the line. If  he had given back the position, the issue would have been moot. Sadler took to Twitter after meeting with NASCAR and simply said, "After meeting with NASCAR.. They said I DIDNT JUMP START but seems to be my fault the 22 spun his tires... I'm devastated......."

While this is not the way we wanted NASCAR's first Nationwide race at the Brickyard to end, tongues are now wagging and people will be waiting until next year's race to see whether controversy goes with the track. 

My question to you - racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway or at Lucas Oil Raceway Park?

Race results:

Credit: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR

  1. Brad Keselowski  
  2. Sam Hornish
  3. Ty Dillon
  4. Denny Hamlin
  5. Austin Dillon
  6. Michael Annett
  7. Joey Logano
  8. Paul Menard
  9. Ricky Stenhouse
  10. Jeremy Clements
  11. Mike Bliss
  12. Justin Allgaier
  13. Travis Pastrana
  14. Brian Scott
  15. Elliott Sadler
  16. Jason Bowles
  17. Cole Whitt
  18. Joe Nemechek
  19. Kenny Wallace
  20. Mike Wallace
  21. Jeffrey Earnhardt
  22. Kyle Busch
  23. Timmy Hill
  24. Eric McClure
  25. Kasey Kahne
  26. James Buescher
  27. Ryan Blaney
  28. Tim Schendel
  29. Tayler Malsam
  30. Johanna Long 
  31. Robert Richardson Jr.
  32. Kyle Fowler
  33. Reed Sorenson
  34. Kurt Busch
  35. Danica Patrick
  36. Jeff Green
  37. Scott Riggs
  38. Erik Darnell
  39. T.J. Bell
  40. Kevin Lepage
  41. Chase Miller
  42. Josh Wise
  43. Stephen Leicht

NSCS Pole Report: Denny Hamlin leads the field at the Brickyard

Racing at the Brickyard - those words evoke lots of emotions for drivers and fans alike. To win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, your name becomes part of NASCAR history as you and your team bow down and kiss the bricks. Denny Hamlin's No. 11 team now has an added advantage during tomorrow's Curtiss Shaver 400 after winning the pole award. With a lap of  49.244 seconds, 182.763 mph, Hamlin is joined on the front row by Carl Edwards.

The starting lineup:

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

Tune in to the race on Sunday at noon on ESPN, green flag is at approx. 1:19 pm ET.

NNS Pole Report: Kahne on pole for the inaugural Indiana 250

Taking the pole for the Inaugural Indiana 250 was Kasey Kahne, with a lap of 51.054 seconds, 176.284 mph. In a race loaded with Cup drivers, Elliott Sadler was the highest qualifying Nationwide regular in 5th. (Ty Dillon starts in 3rd, but is not a series regular)

Who will be the first Nationwide driver to kiss the bricks? Leave a comment with your answer.

The starting lineup:

  1. Kasey Kahne
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Ty Dillon
  4. Denny Hamlin
  5. Elliott Sadler
  6. Joey Logano
  7. Austin Dillon
  8. Brad Keselowski
  9. Paul Menard
  10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  11. Ryan Blaney
  12. Mike Bliss
  13. Sam Hornish Jr.
  14. Justin Allgaier
  15. Brian Scott
  16. Jeremy Clements
  17. Johanna Long
  18. Kurt Busch
  19. Travis Pastrana
  20. Danica Patrick
  21. Michael Annett
  22. Tayler Malsam
  23. Mike Wallace
  24. Jason Bowles
  25. James Buescher
  26. Kenny Wallace
  27. Reed Sorenson
  28. Joe Nemechek
  29. Kyle Fowler
  30. Chase Miller
  31. Josh Wise
  32. Stephen Leicht
  33. Erik Darnell
  34. Eric McClure
  35. Jeff Green
  36. Kevin Lepage
  37. Timmy Hill
  38. Scott Riggs
  39. Jeffrey Earnhardt
  40. Cole Whitt
  41. Tim Schendel
  42. Robert Richardson Jr.
  43. T.J. Bell
Failing to qualify: Morgan Shepherd and Mike Harmon

*Tune in to the race on ESPN, the countdown show begins at 4pm ET. *

Thursday, July 26, 2012

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: At the Brickyard

Track Classification: Superspeedway
Similar Tracks: Daytona International Raceway •  Auto Club Speedway (Fontana) 
Michigan International Speedway • Pocono Raceway • Talladega Superspeedway
Distance: 2.5 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
All with 4 - Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon
All with 3 - Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton

By Track
Greg Biffle - 4
All with 3 - Jamie McMurray, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Gordon

Recent Pole Winners:
2011 David Ragan
2010 Juan Pablo Montoya

The Likely Suspects: In addition to the hometown boy Tony Stewart, several drivers run particularly well at Indy. The include: Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth.

My 2 Cents: The no-brainer pick this week is, of course, the Indiana native Tony Stewart, followed closely by Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin. Kasey Kahne should finish well and may get me qualifying points so I'm giving him the nod. Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte and Sam Hornish will round out my team. It is important to note that since Jeff Gordon does have an excellent record at this track and this race you may want to test your comfort level for the pick. Perhaps his dark cloud will fade this weekend.

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

5 Questions...before Indianapolis

For nearly two decides NASCAR has made a once-a-year journey to Indianapolis and the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Over the years we've seen drivers experience heartbreak and joy within the confines of the 2.5 mile oval. This weekend we'll see Nationwide Series cars on the track for the first time in history and one driver will forever have his name etched in the history books as winning the Brickyard 400.

But before we get to victory lane and the kissing of the bricks, here are my five questions:

In the first 18 races held at IMS the Hendrick stable has earned seven victories and with the way the 2012 season has gone thus far it's a fair assumption we could see Hendrick getting another win this weekend. But which driver will it be? Will four-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon finally get the monkey off his back and join teammates Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as 2012 race winners? There's no denying that Jeff Gordon could use a golden horseshoe right about now. After 19 races the Indiana boy has an average finish of 17th and only two top-five finishes. By many standards these statistics would be promising, but not when you are a four-time Champion and a member of the most competitive team in 2012. Gordon's teammates have five wins between them and Dale Jr. has completed every race this season on the lead lap. The Brickyard could be Gordon's saving grace for 2012 and point him in the right direction as The Chase looms. Gordon emerged victorious at the Brickyard in 1994, 1998, 2001, and 2004. 

If not a HMS driver then who will it be? Perhaps another first time winner?  Last year we saw Paul Menard earn his first career victory in a fuel mileage race. Although it would be great to see another first-time winner at the track there aren't really any competitive drivers left in the winless column. If I had to choose one long shot I'd go with Sam Hornish Jr. Wouldn't that be something? With Allmendinger's career in limbo until he completes the Road To Recovery program, this is Hornish's opportunity to shine. The 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner hasn't fared well in a Sprint Cup car though. In his three starts at IMS Hornish has finished 21, 37, and 30. I did call it a long shot.

Since we heard Danica Patrick was coming to NASCAR we've been anticipating the moment she'd pull her shiny green Chevy onto the starting grid at Indianapolis. So why isn't she in the Sprint Cup field this weekend? She's got more experience on this track than any other on the NASCAR circuit, having led laps in the 2009 Indianapolis 500, but instead of putting her behind the wheel of the No. 10 they've chosen to bypass the weekend and let her focus solely on her Nationwide Series efforts. I'm feeling a bit cheated.

Don't worry Danica fans, you'll still get to see your girl, and the stars of the Nationwide Series, in action this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For the first time in series history the Brickyard will play host to the Nationwide teams. Previously the NNS competed at Lucas Oil Raceway, a short track located just a few miles from IMS. How will the Nationwide Series fare on Saturday? That's anyone's guess, but my prediction is we'll see a Cup driver at the front of the pack all night and that the racing will get so spread out we'll be begging for cautions. I sure hope they prove me wrong. I'll be waiting.

And finally I'm curious about the name of the race. How many times will we hear it called something other than its official name? For years it was just the Brickyard 400 later taking on All-State Insurance as a title sponsor. This years event is known as the Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard powered by BigMachineRecords.com. Can't we just call it the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard and be done with it? 

Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pennsylvania 400’s Pocono Presidential Pick for $100,000

LONG POND, PA (July 25, 2012) – The 2012 Presidential race is heating up and our very own Pocono Raceway President and CEO, Brandon Igdalsky, is initiating his own campaign with a bold prediction on his pick to win the Pennsylvania 400. Igdalsky is so confident with his pick, he will give $100,000 away to one lucky race fan if Dale Earnhardt, Jr., wins “The Tricky Triangle” 400-miler on Sunday, August 5th. Yes, you heard it right the first time! One lucky fan can walk away $100,000 richer if Dale Jr. wins the Pennsylvania 400!

“While watching the 2012 Presidential races, I decided it was time to make a campaign pledge of my own,” said Igdalsky. “My campaign strategy is simple. Pick a driver with a legitimate shot of winning the Pennsylvania 400 and give $100,000 to a race fan if he wins! The fans visiting Pocono Raceway each year are the greatest fans in all of motorsports. Without them, nothing we do would be possible. It is time to give back to the people! We will all be watching anxiously on August 5th to see if Dale Jr. can win. If he does, I will gladly cut one of them a check!”

Fans can enter the “Pocono Presidential Pick for $100,000” by visiting any of our Official Pocono Raceway souvenir trailers, stands or tents, located throughout our facility, during the Pennsylvania 400 race weekend. Once there, they will be required to fill out a simple entry blank to become automatically entered.

The Pocono Raceway staff will randomly select an individual at the half-way point of the Pennsylvania 400. If the No. 88 Chevrolet, piloted by Dale Jr. takes the checkered flag, they will win $100,000! Additionally, four other winners will be chosen at random, along with the potential $100,000 winner, with each receiving two Terrace Club tickets to a 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of their choice at Pocono Raceway, regardless of the outcome of the 2012 Pennsylvania 400.

Entrants must be 16 years of age or older and do not need to be present at time of random drawing to win. No purchase necessary. For more information, including additional rules and regulations, please visit www.poconoraceway.com/100k.

About Pocono Raceway 
“The Tricky Triangle” is host to two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards races each year and added a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in 2010.  Pocono Raceway’s 2.5-mile triangular design makes it truly unique.  Pocono is the only track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Circuit with three turns, three different radii and three variant degrees of banking.  All that ensures our fans will enjoy some serious action, meanwhile presenting a competitive challenge to the world’s best drivers and their crew chiefs.  Pocono strives to create a family atmosphere with increased focus on the Fan Experience.  We are Pocono Raceway and this is “The Tricky Triangle.”

In business for over 50 years, Pocono Raceway is family-owned and situated in the beautiful Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.  We are located within 300 miles of one-third of the U.S. population and within 90 miles of New York City and Philadelphia.  Pocono Raceway is and always will be an attractive option for NASCAR and race fans alike.

Pocono Raceway is the world’s largest solar powered sports facility. The Raceway developed a 25 acre, three megawatt solar farm that provides the energy needs of the Raceway as well as adding electricity to the local power grid.