Monday, April 30, 2012

Under the Spotlight: Mark Martin Earns 53rd Career-Pole

Michael Waltrip Racing's Mark Martin adds his
signature to the 2012 Coors Light Pole backdrop.
Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR
Mark Martin finished eighth in Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond after starting on the pole for the 53rd time in his career.

Martin earned Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) their third pole of 2012 during Friday’s qualifying session for the Capital City 400 Presented by Virginia is for Lovers. The driver of the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine turned the second-fastest lap of the day on his first run and knocked Carl Edwards off the pole his second time around turning a lap at 128.327 miles-per-hour, according to Michael Waltrip Racing’s website.

Martin led the first 29 laps of Saturday’s race until losing grip in the left year midway through the race, which caused the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine to fall all the way back to 17th.

After several pit stops for adjustments, Martin took the wave around on lap 315 and was able to make his way into the top 10 with less than 100 laps to go to the finish. The driver crossed the finish line in eighth in his second-highest finish of the season – Martin’s best finish came at Texas in which he finished third in the Samsung Mobile 500.

Saturday’s pole-position start was Martin’s fifth at Richmond and comes 31 years after his first pole. So far this season, the driver has earned two poles, including last weekend at Richmond and back in March at Phoenix.

Martin’s part-time stint at MWR is not the first of his career – the driver ran only part-time in the Cup Series in 2007 and 2008 in order to help his son develop his racing career. Martin decided to return full-time in 2009 and was offered a ride by Hendrick Motorsports.

During his time with the A-list team, Martin has a successful first season earning five wins and a second-place finish in the championship behind then teammate Jimmie Johnson. The 2010 season was not nearly as rewarding for the veteran driver who lacked wins and was unable to make the Chase – that same year Hendrick signed Kasey Kahne to drive for them in 2012 leaving Martin without a spot on the team.

In his first season with MWR, Martin is currently ranked 19th in the point standings after running seven races, ahead of several drivers who run full-time schedules including Hendrick-replacement Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, AJ Allmendinger, and Kurt Busch.

Despite having a successful racing career that spans 31 years, Martin explained Saturday that he is just happy to pilot fast cars at MWR, when asked whether starting on the pole would help earn him a win. “It’s hard to say,” said Martin. “We won one competition and that’s what it’s all about. When you get to this stage in my career, winning any competition is a cool thing. I get to drive such great race cars.” Martin finished by saying, “It’d be cool to win a race, but just driving fast stuff is pretty fun.”

Martin will hand over the wheel to Michael Waltrip neSunday in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. Martin will make his next Sprint Cup Series appearance May 12 in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Martin will also share seat time with Brian Vickers who is scheduled to drive seven races in the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine.

In his 45 career-starts at Darlington, Martin has two wins, two poles, 17 top fives and 26 top-10 finishes.

Hendrick Garage: Richmond

Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR
Night racing in Richmond, short track racing under the lights, is racing at its finest form. The questions at hand this week: would Hendrick Motorsports get their long awaited 200th win and could another Hendrick driver end their winless streak?

Jeff Gordon, No. 24

When the green flag waved Jeff Gordon had what appeared to be a winning car. The No. 24 car was gaining positions early on and Gordon’s night looked to be headed in the right direction. On Lap 50 NASCAR threw a competition caution for the earlier rain and Gordon's No. 24 team had a solid pit stop and looked to have a great restart. Suddenly Gordon made contact with Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch, causing Gordon’s tire to cut down. Gordon was forced to pit for repairs costing him two laps Gordon spent the reminder of his night fighting for any positions he could get. Jeff Gordon ended the race in 23rd position and now ranks 17th in the point standings.

Kasey Kahne, No. 5

Kasey Kahne’s bad luck appears to have lifted as the past few races Kahne has been getting the finishes he needs.

Kahne spent the night at Richmond in the top ten, and solid pit stops gained Kahne positions to move into the top five for the remainder of the night. Kahne would finish his night fifth and now ranks 23rd in the point standings.

"We were just trying to get forward drive throughout the race and keep it turning in the center, Kahne said on his night. “That was the hard part. It is always the tough at Richmond. We had a pretty good Farmers Insurance Chevrolet."

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48

Starting in the back in 27th would prove to be no issue for Jimmie Johnson, 37 laps into the race he had already gained 10 positions. On Lap 96 Johnson’s charge to the front paid off as he cracked the top ten. The No. 48 crew had a solid pit stop under green which put Johnson fifth when the field reset. On Lap 311 as Johnson hit pit road for his green flag stop, the caution came out. The caution looked to be great timing, however a crew member on the 48 team rolled the tire instead of carrying it. Johnson  received a pit road violation and had to yet again restart from the back. Johnson  yet again made a run to the front and with 76 laps remaining Johnson was back up to 12th. Johnson would finish his night sixth proving why he we call him "Mr. Five Time Champion." Johnson ranks sixth in the point standing.

“We had a couple little incidents there, but things happen – it’s racing,” Johnson said on his roller coaster of a night. “Unfortunately we had a tire get away from us. But the good news is we had a really fast race car, and this track has been hit or miss for us. To have a car that was that strong and passed that many cars all night long, I’m proud of the effort.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88

Dale Earnhardt Jr’s night kicked off great starting 10th   he was quickly on the move. Earnhardt Jr. was in the top five and looked to have a winning car, on Lap 210 during green flag stops Earnhardt Jr. got blocked in costing him tons of time. The No. 88 team would come off of pit road in 15th but that didn’t slow them down. When the final caution flag came out on Lap 386 Earnhardt Jr. restarted third, Stewart  spun the tires which gave Earnhardt Jr. the motivation to take second. Try as he might, Dale Jr. couldn't gain on leader Kyle Busch. Ending the night in second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. also now ranks second in the points.

“I didn’t have any brakes getting into the corner,” Earnhardt Jr. said on his final restart. “It got real loose locking the rear up. I want to thank National Guard and Diet Mountain Dew. My team had great stops; we gained a lot of spots on pit road.”

Ford hired as Almirola's new crew chief

Mike Ford, former crew chief for Denny Hamlin, replaces, Greg Irwin on No. 43 team

Concord, N.C. (April 30, 2012) – Richard Petty Motorsports asserted its commitment to winning with the hiring of Chase-proven Mike Ford as crew chief for the No. 43 team and driver Aric Almirola.  The veteran crew chief joins the team after leading Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 team to six straight post-season appearances in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  Ford will join the team immediately and will be atop the pit box in Talladega.

The 42-year-old Morristown, Tenn., native spent the past six seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing as Hamlin’s crew chief.  In that span, he led his team to 17 wins, 66 top-five finishes and 108 top-10 finishes and never missed a Chase appearance.  The 12-year Sprint Cup veteran also previously held crew chief roles for Dale Jarrett at Robert Yates Racing and Bill Elliott at Evernham Motorsports.

“Mike Ford is an elite crew chief who knows what it takes to be a winner at this level,” said team owner Richard Petty.  “We’re fortunate that he was available and that we could reach a deal to bring him over to our place.  We’ve taken a lot of big steps at Richard Petty Motorsports in the past year and I think this might be that one piece of the puzzle we were missing.”

In eight races with Petty, Almirola has one top-10 and one top-15 finish in the 2012 Sprint Cup season.

“I can’t wait to start working with Mike,” Almirola said.  “Everyone in the garage respects him and knows what he’s capable of.  It’s a goal of the 43 team to make the Chase this year and I think Mike’s experience and knowledge can help get us there.  We’ve got some ground to make up but I think we can do it.”

Ford is also looking forward to join forces with Petty and Almirola.

“Richard Petty Motorsports has proven to be a winning organization with the potential to be a Chase contender,” said Ford.  “Sammy Johns has built a solid foundation from a competition standpoint and I’m looking forward to working with Aric and the rest of the team.”

Ford replaces Greg Erwin, who joined the team in mid-2011.

Release courtesy of Richard Petty Motorsports

Why I Love NASCAR: Talladega Superspeedway by Chief 187™

Last spring it was Jimmie Johnson racing teammate Jeff Gordon for the checkers.
Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR
Whereas I’m showing week in and out that every NASCAR venue has much to love, it is the track spotlighted this week that is the perfect destination to immerse oneself in NASCAR culture.

As a very young woman I found NASCAR and quickly realized that the best party on the circuit was at Talladega Superspeedway.

Stories of hedonism, all night parties that lasted three to four days long, drinking in the morning, and wild antics for the entire weekend nearly eclipsed the actual racing that went on… nearly.

But Talladega is more than a party. It is a track with a long and storied history in NASCAR.

In his quest for a track that was longer and faster than Daytona International Speedway, Bill France Sr. took to the roads to find his ideal. In May of 1968 he was delighted to be breaking ground at an old airfield in Alabama. Slightly over a year later Alabama International Motor Speedway (AIMS) opened on September 13, 1969 just outside of Lincoln, Alabama. Eventually AIMS was renamed Talladega Superspeedway.

That first race was a logistical nightmare for France as tires were being eaten terribly and all of the original regular racers of the time refused to drive there. France, refusing to be left in the lurch, hired substitute drivers. Among those was a little known racer named Richard Childress.

Talladega hosts two NASCAR Sprint Cup races each season, one in the spring and one in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

In recent years some of NASCAR’s Cup drivers have earned their first win at the track. Brian Vickers won in 2006 for the UAW Ford 500. Brad Keselowski posted his first victory at Talladega in the 2009 Aaron’s 499.

I always tend to think of the Allison family when I picture Talladega. They were, after all, the basis of the “Alabama Gang” so Talladega was their “hometown” track. They posted several collective victories. Donnie Allison won twice and his brother Bobby took home the victory four times. Bobby’s son Davey Allison won three times. “Alabama Gang” member Neil Bonnett also won once.

But this was Dale Earnhardt’s track. He still holds the records for most wins (10), most top 5s (23) and most top 10s (27). He also still holds the record for most laps led (1377). As a forever Dale Earnhardt fan I will always equate Talladega Superspeedway with “The Intimidator”.

In more recent years Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon have been repeat winners multiple times. Junior has five victories while Gordon has six.

The depth of competition is so vast now that it’s anybody’s race to win. Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski all have a strong shot at winning as do many more like Martin Truex Jr. who has been extremely impressive this season.

More than anything I’d like to experience Talladega Superspeedway with my own eyes. I’m not a young woman anymore, but I’m still just as curious and willing to indulge in some serious NASCAR partying Alabama-style!

Maybe one day soon.

Until then, I’m just so dang thrilled that Talladega Superspeedway is on NASCAR’s circuit as it is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

In The Hunt with RCR: Richmond

Saturday night racing under the lights at Richmond International Raceway usually means lots of excitement. Unfortunately all three of the regular Richard Childress Racing drivers experienced and guest driver Stephen Leicht created some of the wrong kind of excitement during the Capital City 400. Paul Menard finished in 13th despite drama in practice and on pit road. Kevin Harvick, unable to overcome handling issues, wound up 19th. Jeff Burton limped home in 30th after making hard contact with the wall. 

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches
Start: 3
Finish: 19
Points start: 6 

Points finish: 7 
Photo by Debbie Ross
for Skirts and Scuffs
For weeks now handling problems have plagued the No. 29. Driver Kevin Harvick has used the term "plowing" on the radio often enough that John Deere should look at associate sponsorship. The last two weeks the Shane Wilson-led crew adjusted well enough to earn better positions but on Saturday night The Closer couldn't stay close enough to the leaders to finish in the top ten, much less challenge for the win. Harvick lost another position in the points standings, slipping to seventh. 

"The Jimmy John's Chevrolet was good during the first run of the race, but we couldn't find the right setup to be there in the end," Harvick said. "We made some mistakes tonight, and as a team, we really need to work on keeping the mistakes to a minimum if we're going to win races this season." 

Photo by LJ Cloud for
Skirts and Scuffs
Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards /NIBCO 
Start: 31
Finish: 13
Points start: 14
Points finish: 14

After hitting the turn-four wall in final practice on Friday, Paul Menard switched to a backup car and qualified in 31st. Despite the lack of practice that led to a poor qualifying effort, Menard fought his way through the field to a 13th-place finish. During the race the No. 27 crew ran into problems on pit road when the front tire changer lost control of a tire and chased it out onto pit road. According to Sporting News' Bob Pockrass, the incident occurred when Erik Pringle tripped over a tire left in the Menard's pit stall. Pringle then visited with a crew member from the No. 48 team and expressed his displeasure. 

Crew chief Slugger Labbe quickly let Pringle know that his reaction was unacceptable and, as was broadcast on FOX, that if he (Pringle) ever acted that way again, he'd never work on pit road again.  Pockrass quotes Labbe as saying, “Our crew member went out of our box into the 48 pit box. He went after the rear tire carrier, and to me that’s unacceptable, we don’t do that.” Labbe went on to say, “It’s just short-track racing. At the end of the day, if you’re a crew member or whatever, you’ve got to keep your head on straight and don’t cause no fights. We travel 36 weekends a year, we’re with these guys every weekend and you just don’t do that.” 

Menard fought his way to a 13th-place finish, his career best at Richmond. "Everything that could go wrong went wrong yesterday. We had a really fast car and wrecked it. We didn’t have much time with the back-up car and qualified really terrible." He explained, "Grant (Hutchins, team engineer), Slugger, all the guys got together last night and came up with some changes to do to the car overnight and this morning and it worked. This is the second best car I've ever had here. The first we wrecked on Friday. Thirteenth isn't something to write home about, but after the weekend that we had, it is a good finish.”  

The No. 27 remains 14th in the points.  

Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/
Getty Images for NASCAR
Jeff Burton, No. 31 BB&T                                  
Start: 31
Finish: 30
Point start: 17
Points finish: 20

Jeff Burton may be the Mayor of NASCAR but he certainly doesn't get diplomatic immunity on the track. His luck this season hasn't been the best and Saturday night didn't change that streak. Burton qualified the No 31 BB & T Chevy in 31st, but with lots of work from the crew and chief Drew Blickensderfer made it to inside the top 15, but on Lap 311, little more than a lap after pitting, the No. 31 hit the wall, causing significant damage. Burton said he didn't know what happened, but from the broadcast booth, announcer Darrell Waltrip said that the front tire had really low air pressure and wouldn't turn when cold. 
Burton tweeted post-race "Tough break tonight. Feel bad for my guys. They work so hard." The team slipped three positions in the points to 20th place.

The weekend started out on a more positive note for Burton, though. He raced a late-model car for the first time in 20 years in Denny Hamlin's Short Track Showdown. Burton built a brand-new car for the event and while he finished fourth, he gave the winner, Tony Stewart, a run for his money. Read more about Burton's reason for getting back into a late-model car here.

Stephen Leicht, No. 33 / Link-Belt
Start: 40
Finish: 35

Making only his third Sprint Cup start, Stephen Leicht's performance in the No. 33 wasn't brilliant but he didn't finish in last place, either. However, he did inadvertently cause a bit of drama for Dale Earnhardt Jr. during a green flag pit stop at Lap 206. Leicht pulled in at a slight angle and toward the back of the pit stall, so Earnhardt Jr. didn't have room to pull out around him. Earnhardt lost about 10 positions and Leicht earned the wrath of Junior Nation, deserved or not. 

Leicht crossed the finish line in 35th position, improving five spots from his start.

Smoke Signals: Final caution hurts Stewart's shot at Richmond win

Tony Stewart leads the way at Richmond.
Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR
After struggling at Texas and Kansas, Stewart-Haas Racing came oh-so-close to claiming its fourth win of the season at Richmond on Saturday – until the final caution flag.

Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart had victory in his grasp until the Capital City 400’s fifth caution came out for debris. After a slow pit stop cost Stewart the race off pit road, the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobile 1 Chevrolet lost precious ground on the last restart, relegating him to a third-place finish at the 0.75-mile short track.

Meanwhile, teammate Ryan Newman battled an ill-handling racecar that the No. 39 Army Reserve Chevrolet team could never get quite right, finishing the night in 15th.

Stewart started the weekend with a win in Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Showdown. He qualified 22nd for Saturday’s Capital City 400 at his favorite racetrack, and within 80 laps Stewart had cracked the top 10. Stewart took the lead for the first time on Lap 201, leading a total of 118 laps.

Stewart was involved in the night’s biggest controversy when NASCAR black-flagged Carl Edwards for jumping the restart on Lap 318. At the time of the fourth caution, there were only three cars on the lead lap: Johnson, Stewart and Edwards. Stewart pitted one lap prior to the caution. Race leader Johnson had pitted when the caution came out, but a tire violation sent him to the tail end of the lead lap. Edwards was the only car who had not pitted yet under the cycle of green flag stops, so he did so under caution.

With Johnson forced to the back and Edwards pitting, this meant Stewart was the leader and Edwards second. But Edwards’ spotter told him he was the leader after he said he talked with a NASCAR official. With one lap left before the restart, Edwards passed Stewart at the start-finish line, which the scoring monitors picked up. As a result, Edwards was scored first on the pylon. Believing he was the leader, Edwards gassed it before the start of the restart box, jumping the restart. Stewart spun his tires and was nearly five car-lengths behind Edwards when the driver of the No. 99 crossed the start-finish line.

NASCAR black-flagged Edwards, saying he jumped the restart and that Stewart was the race leader.

“We were the first one to line up and we were the leader on the board. So I don't know how much clearer it could be that we were the leader,” Stewart said after the race. “If that was the case, then they should have put the caution out and given him the opportunity to choose the lane that he wanted. It's a miscommunication between upstairs and the drivers.”

Stewart sailed away from the field and looked assured to catch his third win of 2011. The driver of the No. 14 built a commanding lead of more than 2 seconds over second-place Kyle Busch with 25 laps to go. But on Lap 386, a caution came out for debris in Turn 2 – not at all what Stewart wanted. Stewart pitted with the leaders, but his crew had some trouble on the right side of the car. After the slow pit stop, Busch beat Stewart for the lead off pit road.

Stewart restarted second with nine laps to go, but he spun his tires again and couldn’t get going. It was an uncharacteristic night for Stewart, who is known for his strong restarts. He fell back a spot and finished the race in third.

Though his performance was a pickup from the last two weeks, Stewart was upset by the late turn of events.

“Well, when the caution is for a plastic (water) bottle on the backstretch, it’s hard to feel good about losing that one, I mean. And we gave it away on pit road. So we did everything we could to throw it away; it got taken away from us,” Stewart said.

“That’s the best car I’ve had a Richmond in a long time. So I’m really proud of that and (crew chief) Steve Addington and I’m proud of our guys. But we’ve got some work to do on pit stops right now. I don’t know what their malfunction was but I’m pretty ticked off about it tonight.”

On Saturday Newman finished 15th at Richmond after two consecutive finishes in the 20s at Texas and Kansas.

After rolling out 12th on the grid, Newman reported a loose racecar that was tight in the center of the corners. Despite a series of adjustments, the car improved little. Newman spent the night just outside the top 10, unable to make any headway.

“I think we had a pretty good Army Reserve Chevrolet,” Newman said. “We just couldn’t quite get it to the point where we could roll the center of the corner well enough to compete with the top-10 guys.

“We’ll get back to the shop and get ready for Talladega and hope that we complete our mission, which is to win the race. It wasn’t the finish we were hoping for,” Newman said.

Nine races into the 2011 season, Stewart-Haas Racing continues its stay in the top 10 in the Sprint Cup point standings. Stewart holds steady at eighth, 31 points behind leader Greg Biffle. Though Stewart has two wins, his inconsistency has cost him ground in the standings. Newman maintains the 10th spot, 60 points behind Biffle.

MWR Weekly Wrap-Up: Short trackin' at Richmond

Mark Martin wins the third pole of the year for MWR, his second for the team.
Courtesy of Michael Waltrip Racing
The media buzz around Michael Waltrip Racing is at a fever pitch with Martin Truex Jr. performing at his career best while MWR newcomers Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin are vying to get a win for the team. Who will get the first win of the season for MWR? Flip a coin! Any one of the three drivers (four if you count Brian Vickers...five if you count Michael himself) are capable of winning. It's astonishing to think the MWR team was recently considered an underdog, at best a top-20 team. Underdogs no more, MWR have worked their tails off to be lucky dogs. (Sponsor pun intended.)

Clint Bowyer climbs into the No. 15 prior to the Capital City 400
Clint Bowyer, No. 15 5 hour ENERGY Toyota
Started: 23rd
Finished: 7th
Points: 12th (-1)

After two rough races for the No. 15 team, Clint Bowyer was back in contention at Richmond.

From the drop of the green flag Bowyer began moving forward, climbing from his 23rd-place starting spot into the top 10 by Lap 150. By Lap 290 he had battled into the top five. As the yellow flew at Lap 309, Bowyer was lapped and took the wave around to get back on the lead lap in sixth position.
On the final caution at Lap 387, Bowyer and crew chief Brian Pattie made the decision to pit for four fresh tires and fuel. The 5-hour ENERGY team finished the Capital City 400 in 7th place.

“The 5-hour ENERGY Toyota was great all night," said Bowyer. "We had one little hiccup after the first pit stop when the car wasn’t handling very well, but we made adjustments the next stop and the car just took off. We worked our way into the top five, but it got away from us a little in the end. It was a great car and it was amazing most of the night. They gave me a great car and turned out good pit stops all night long. Overall it’s a top-10 finish. We wanted a little more, but it’s a good points day and we’ll take it and move on.”

Get your "Epic Swag" Mark Martin shirts
Mark Martin, No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota
Started: POLE
Finished: 8th
Points: 10th in owners points (+1)

Fun fact: Did you know Mark Martin won the pole award at Richmond in 1981? His first career pole came that very season at Nashville. The fall Richmond race was his second pole and nearly 31 years later, Martin still had what it took to claim the pole award at RIR, the 53rd of his career.

Martin led the first 29 laps until being passed by outside pole-sitter Carl Edwards. Martin reported to the team that handling was an issue; he felt that the tires on the left rear were being used up very quickly. Crew chief Rodney Childers worked at the No. 55 throughout the evening to make adjustments and at Lap 162 told his driver, "Long way to go. Definitely have a direction. We just have to make a big step on next stop."
After falling to 17th at one point, the car was dialed in by Lap 300 and Martin was able to make up the lost ground. On the final restart he lined up 10th and ended the night in eighth position.

“That was a battle tonight," Martin said after the race. "I thought we were going to finish six laps down. But they got it fixed. Never have I had a car they were able to fix like they did tonight. That was amazing. That was a well-earned eighth-place finish. I’m proud of what my guys did tonight. They didn’t give up and we walked out of here with a top-10. That’s cool.”

Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
Martin Truex Jr, No. 56 NAPA Brakes Toyota
Started: 8th
Finished: 25th
Points: 5th (-3)

Handling issues plagued the No. 56 NAPA car throughout the evening but crew chief Chad Johnston went to work trying to dial the car in. Even though the team made major changes at Lap 209, Truex reported the handling was better for only a few laps but faded away.

The caution at Lap 309 fell as Truex was pitting costing him two laps he would not regain. He struggled to finish 25th.

"It is disappointing. This is usually a good race for us, but not tonight that's for sure. I'm happy to see that overall MWR produced two top-10 cars,  that we can go back and figure out where we went wrong. It's unfortunate, but we'll rally back and be ready for Talladega next week," Truex said.

Front Row Report: Capital City 400

Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway turned out to be a bigger struggle for the Front Row Motorsports than expected. Just a few laps into the 400-lap race, David Gilliland headed to the garage when mechanical issues arose that had to be addressed quickly. Teammate David Ragan received a pit road penalty with just over 100 laps remaining in the race.

David Ragan, No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford -- Start: 38th, Finish: 32nd

From the drop of the green flag during practice on Friday, the No. 34 team focused more on race setup than the qualifying setup. That was obvious when it came time for qualifying when David Ragan earned a 38th starting position for Saturday night’s Capital City 400. Once the race started, Ragan didn’t really make any real progress forward. He ran outside the top 30 for pretty much the entire race.

A competition caution was set for Lap 50 due to the rain that fell just prior to the race. It would be the first caution of the night, and by then, Ragan had moved up to the 34th position. He had been battling tight handling conditions in the No. 34 Ford so his team made air pressure adjustments as well as chassis adjustments to try and resolve the issue. The changes helped some, but the problem persisted. Just like a majority of the Sprint Cup Series races so far this season, green-flag runs dominated the race and left Ragan struggling to gain positions. Around lap 295, he was penalized for speeding while entering pit road and had to serve a pass-through penalty. Ragan managed to pass the No. 10 of David Reutimann in the closing laps to finish 32nd. He is now 29th in the standings.

David Gilliland had a rough night at Richmond. (seen here at Texas)
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
David Gilliland, No. 38 Long John Silver's Ford -- Start: 41st, Finish: 36th

Just like his teammate, David Gilliland and his team focused more on the race setup on Friday. The 41st qualifying effort later that evening left the No. 38 team nowhere to go but up for the race on Saturday. Gilliland felt confident he had a good car on Saturday night, but that all went away just 32 laps into the race when he reported that the car had no brakes. He took the No. 38 Ford to the garage where his team assessed the problem and began repairs. They replaced the master cylinder, and Gilliland returned to the track on lap 74 in the 39th position.

Being so far behind, there really weren't too many positions he would be able to gain. Gilliland fought hard to gain three more positions throughout the race to finish 36th. He lost one position in the standings and is now 30th.

Gibbs Garage: Kyle Busch makes it two-in-a-row for Joe Gibbs Racing

Kyle Busch celebrates his Richmond win
Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Kyle Busch won’t need a fancy cake or party hat for his birthday this week. He’ll still be celebrating an amazing race weekend at Richmond - a double-layer win sprinkled with confetti! Wearing his owner hat on Friday, Busch watched older brother, Kurt, score the very first NNS win for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Then Kyle traded his hat for a helmet and took the checkered flag himself, giving Joe Gibbs Racing two Sprint Cup wins in two weeks.

Crew chief Dave Rogers said, “... hats off to Kyle. I think the key to the game today was Kyle kept us in it all race. He never got frustrated or discouraged.”

A confetti-filled celebration.
Photo by Boris at
Now Kyle Busch has won the last four spring NSCS races at Richmond, breaking Richard Petty’s record of three successive wins. “I didn't even know that we were tied for a record, but it's definitely pretty special any time you're tied for a record with Richard Petty or you're able to break a record with that guy,” Busch said in a post-race interview.

Busch overcame multiple obstacles during the race. Early on he told his crew he had the worst aero in any car he ever drove at Richmond. A few laps later, he reported his cool box was broken. Prior to green flag pits stops at the halfway point, Busch reported the car had no rear grip. Then a miscommunication resulted in the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota sliding into the pit box.

Despite those hitches, Busch ran in the top five for the majority of the race and things got even better as the cautions and pit stops progressed. The crew gained four spots on one pit stop and Busch jumped from 5th to 3rd spot after a restart. After getting the free pass on caution number 4, he asked for changes to be undone next time in. The speedy crew sent him off pit road ahead of leader Tony Stewart with less than 10 laps to go. Busch credits the last caution with giving him the shot at the win. “It was a gift,” he said. “I just don’t know where it came from or what it was or anything, but it doesn’t matter. We came down pit road, and Dave Rogers and these guys went to work and gave me a great pit stop -- got me out front. Gave me the lead so I could restart the race how I wanted to. That was the win right there."

Two wins in two series wearing two different hats. Yes, Kyle Busch, birthday wishes do come true. 
Kyle Busch salutes the fans
Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Coming off a win at Kansas, Denny Hamlin hoped to win again at his home track. “It’s the first time in my career that I have gone to Richmond to race the weekend after winning a Cup race, so it’s a great feeling,” he said in a pre-race conversation.

Earlier in the week, Hamlin hosted his Short Track Showdown to raise money for the Denny Hamlin Foundation. “It has been really incredible, the amount of support we have received from people in the racing community to make this race what it has become in just five years. I can’t thank the drivers enough that are willing to come in early to participate in this,” Hamlin said.

Hamlin has a stellar record at Richmond International Raceway, with two wins, six top 5s, and 8 top 10s in 12 Sprint Cup starts. With an average finish of 7.6, he has the top driver rating at Richmond. After starting 7th, Hamlin never dropped out of the top 10, even running second for about 20 laps, but ended the day in 4th place.

Joey Logano had a busy week including tire testing at Pocono Raceway, commentating for SPEED TV during a NASCAR K&N Pro Series event and racing in Hamlin’s Short Track Showdown.

Logano lined up 18th for the Capital City 400 but fought a tight racecar for the whole event, finishing 24th.

Discussing the car’s handling after the race, Logano commented, “Needless to say, this was not the kind of night we wanted with the Home Depot Toyota. I don’t know if there was something wrong with the car or what, but we kept freeing it up and freeing it up all night long and it really made no difference. With the adjustments that we made, I should have been spinning out every corner but the car was plowing tight all night long. It just never got better.”

The points standings for the JGR drivers after Richmond:
Denny Hamlin – 3rd (+3)
Joey Logano – 15th (-2)
Kyle Busch – 11th (+3)


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

Victory at Richmond caps off a winning weekend for Kyle Busch

Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR

Carl Edwards dominated most of Saturday's Capitol City 400, then it looked like Tony Stewart would claim his third win of the season. But it was Kyle Busch who ended a 20-race winless streak at Richmond, claiming his fourth consecutive spring race win at the Virginia short track.

Busch lead only one time for 32 laps, but it was those final 15 laps that mattered.

The win was the second for Busch this weekend - his first came as an owner at Friday night's Nationwide race. His big brother Kurt captured the first series win for Kyle's team Kyle Busch Motorsports after a thrilling battle to the finish.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued his forward surge this season, finishing second and closing to second in the points standings, just five behind current leader Greg Biffle.

The fifth and final caution hurt Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart. Stewart lead the race before the last caution but lost the race off pit road to Busch following a slow stop. Stewart's fate was sealed when he had a bad restart and was resigned to finished the race in third.

Pit road problems

Pit road miscues abounded during the race. Besides Stewart, Earnhardt Jr. was boxed in his pit box and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson was sent to the tail end of the lead lap for a tire violation. Even race winner Busch at one point took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap.

Edwards black-flagged

Edwards was the front-runner for 206 laps of the race, the most laps the No. 99 has lead all season. Controversy erupted on a restart at Lap 250: Stewart was leading the race and Edwards beat him to the green. Edwards contends that he was told on his scanner by his spotter, who was told by NASCAR officials he was the race leader. Unsure of the reason for the black flag, the 99 team and crew chief Bob Osborne protested to their pit official. NASCAR posted Edwards for jumping the restart and he was forced to serve a pass-through penalty. Edwards salvaged a 10th-place finish after the penalty.

After the race Edwards, Osborne and team owner Jack Roush met with NASCAR officials.

Robin Pemberton explained this issue with the restart in question. "14 is the leader, and he didn't even get to the zone to restart the race yet. Carl, given the information he had, tried to get the best start he could. We were a couple of car lengths before the zone. You have to get to the zone first. That didn't happen."

Osbourne said, "At the end of the day, it comes down to jumping the restart and that's pretty straightforward. Our issue was the confusion about who was the leader and who wasn't the leader."

Edwards said to the media after his meeting with NASCAR, "We had to just agree to disagree and that's the way it is. They run the sport and they do the best job they can, and I drive a racecar and do the very best job I can. I'd rather not say what was said in there. This whole thing is very frustrating. I don't feel like we did the wrong thing."

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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Travis Pastrana calls 22nd-place finish in NASCAR debut a "team effort"

Travis Pastrana climbs into the No. 99 Boost Mobile for RAB Racing in conjunction with
Michael Waltrip Racing. Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR 
Not many drivers would be happy finishing in 22nd after a race, but Travis Pastrana was just that after finishing his first race as a NASCAR Nationwide Series driver.

Heading into the race, Pastrana's goal was simple. "My goal is to be on the lead lap at the end of the race. If we can do that and not crash, it would set a lot of confidence for me going into Darlington. If I end up crashing in the first quarter of the race, A, I didn’t learn anything this race and B, all the critics that have been saying I’m going to crash out all the time are going to be right. I really hope I don’t hit a wall, don’t hit anybody else, don’t make anybody upset, and hopefully end up on the lead lap.”

As the race got under way, crew chief Scott Zipadelli said, "Welcome to the Nationwide Series." With that, Zipadelli and spotter/driver-coach Matt Crafton coached Pastrana through the race in a very calm and reassuring manor. Crafton provided Pastrana with insight only another driver could know, and their partnership seems to be a natural fit.

Phrases heard from Crafton to Pastrana:

"get that thing down on the bottom"
"perfect 3 & 4"
"don't arch the corner like that anymore"
"don't abuse those tires"
"easy with your throttle, like you have an egg under your throttle"

When Pastrana asked what position he was running in, Crafton replied, "You can't see the pace car, so it don't matter." To which Pastrana replied, "A very good point."

Another one of Pastrana's pre-race goals was to beat Danica Patrick, another famous crossover star in NASCAR. Pastrana and Patrick were in eyesight of one another all evening long. Passing her at one point, Pastrana said on his radio, "Woo hoo Danica," with excitement. Egged on by his crew chief and Crafton, they both said "go get those girls" as Johanna Long was also running ahead of him at one point.

After developing a vibration just before Lap 100, Pastrana was told by his team, "You're as good as the 10th place car (the No.88 of Cole Whitt)" as he was laying down good lap times.
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs

Remaining on the lead lap until Lap 185, Crafton told Pastrana as leader Kurt Busch passed him, "Don't panic, you're going to be just fine," reassuring Travis that he could get back on the wheel and get his lap back.

On the final green-flag pit stop with just 46 laps remaining, Pastrana was hit with a speeding penalty for too fast exiting pit road. Not a surprise, considering it was his first attempt at a green flag pit stop.

Speaking about his pit road miscue, Pastrana said, "I had to go through the pit twice. I got on the gas at the end when I thought it was the end. I was like, ‘Yeah.’ Then I got out and I was like, ‘Ahh, it was the yellow line, not the white one.’ I was so stewed -- just getting antsy at the pit. That was my first green flag pit though. It was pretty cool."

"You can only drive how fast you can drive -- how fast you set the car up.  It really is a team effort -- from before practice -- but from the first lap of practice to the first lap of the race and just getting everyone together.  Every driver out there wants to win.  I know it’s going to be a really long time.  I believe we can be a top-20 driver this year and hopefully a top-10 next year -- maybe shooting for wins the year after.  It’s not going to be a fast process. I’m happy. I’m actually really happy with how we ran today," Pastrana said following the race.

Next up for Pastrana and the No. 99 team: Darlington Raceway in two weeks. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Kurt Busch wins at Richmond to claim first Nationwide victory for Kyle Busch Motorsports

The brother Busch are in victory lane for the first time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR
It has only taken seven races for Kyle Busch Motorsports to break through in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but it has not been an easy road to get there.

Starting off the season, owner and driver Kyle Busch crashed at Daytona and finished in 18th position. From there Kyle went on to Phoenix (11th), Las Vegas (33rd), Bristol (17th), Fontana (8th), and Kurt took over the No. 54 at Texas with a 30th place finish. This is not a start to the season that either Busch nor the media has expected. As it was announced that KBM was moving to the Nationwide Series, the owners title was practically given to the KBM team, but it has not proven to be that easy.

Kevin Harvick was the car to beat tonight, leading a race high 158 (of 250 total) laps. It was after the final green flag pit stops at Lap 222 that Busch seemingly pulled away with the victory, until a late charge from Denny Hamlin. With a handful of laps to go, Hamlin made it a drag race to the finish, something Busch knows a little bit about.

Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR
“To get Kyle Busch Motorsports it's first win is so awesome,” Kurt Busch said. “When you're driving for a guy named Busch, you've got to be on it.

"My heart was beating out of my chest more tonight than any race I've ever raced, any close finish I've ever had," Kyle the owner said on watching his brother fight for the win.  "All the stars aligned and Kurt Bush put the car in Victory Lane tonight."

Tonight's race was full of excitement, Travis Pastrana made his long awaited NASCAR debut and after a hard fight to stay on the lead lap, was lapped and would finish in 22nd. (Look for a special Pastrana story covering his debut tomorrow.)

Ryan Blaney also made his NASCAR debut in an impressive 7th place finish.  Steven Wallace also made his NASCAR return after sitting out the first portion of the season, finishing in 11th place.

Read more here:

Race results:

Credit: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images for NASCAR
  1. Kurt Busch
  2. Denny Hamlin
  3. Kevin Harvick
  4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  5. Sam Hornish Jr.
  6. Elliott Sadler
  7. Ryan Blaney
  8. Michael Annett
  9. Austin Dillon
  10. Kasey Kahne
  11. Steven Wallace
  12. James Buescher
  13. Joe Nemechek
  14. Brian Scott
  15. Justin Allgaier
  16. Brad Keselowski
  17. Mike Bliss
  18. Joey Logano
  19. Cole Whitt
  20. Johanna Long
  21. Danica Patrick
  22. Travis Pastrana
  23. Casey Roderick
  24. Mike Wallace
  25. Tayler Malsam 
  26. Timmy Hill
  27. Kevin Lepage
  28. T.J. Bell
  29. Tanner Berryhill
  30. Jason Bowles
  31. Eric McClure
  32. Matt Frahm
  33. Jeremy Clements
  34. Robert Richardson Jr.
  35. Erik Darnell 
  36. Morgan Shepherd
  37. J.J. Yeley
  38. Josh Wise
  39. Blake Koch
  40. Scott Speed
  41. Mike Harmon
  42. Chase Miller
  43. Jeff Green

NSCS Pole Report: Mark Martin wins pole at Richmond

Mark Martin won the pole at Richmond International Raceway on Friday with a lap of 21.04 seconds at 128.327 mph. This is Martin’s second pole of the season. The top-five was rounded out by Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, AJ Allmendinger, and Kyle Busch.

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

Who did not make it:
Scott Riggs
J.J. Yeley

Television schedule:
Capital City 500 at Richmond International Raceway- 7:00 p.m. ET Saturday on FOX

NNS Pole Report: Kevin Harvick wins pole at Richmond

Kevin Harvick won the pole at Richmond International Raceway for the Nationwide Series on Friday. Harvick earned his 24th series pole with a lap of 21.66 seconds at 124.625 mph. Hometown favorite Denny Hamlin qualified second, and rookie Austin Dillon qualified third. Ryan Blaney, making his second Nationwide Series start, starts eighth.

Here is the lineup:
1. Kevin Harvick
2. Denny Hamlin
3. Austin Dillon
4. Cole Whitt
5. Kasey Kahne
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
7. Elliott Sadler
8. Ryan Blaney
9. Brad Keselowski
10. Kurt Busch
11. Steve Wallace
12. Sam Hornish Jr.
13. Justin Allgaier
14. Joey Logano
15. Brian Scott
16. Danica Patrick
17. Joe Nemechek
18. Casey Roderick
19. Michael Annett
20. Mike Bliss
21. James Buescher
22. J.J. Yeley
23. Josh Wise
24. Johanna Long
25. Travis Pastrana
26. Mike Wallace
27. Tayler Malsam
28. Jason Bowles
29. Jeremy Clements
30. Erik Darnell
31. Tanner Berryhill
32. Morgan Shepherd
33. Timmy Hill
34. Eric McClure
35. Chase Miller
36. Scott Speed
37. Robert Richardson Jr.
38. Matt Frahm
39. Mike Harmon
40. Kevin Lepage
41. Jeff Green
42. Blake Koch
43. TJ Bell

Who did not make it:
Scott Riggs

Television schedule:
Virginia 529 College Savings at Richmond International Raceway- 7:00 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN 2.

Dash 4 Cash Bonus Program Returns To NASCAR Nationwide Series In 2012

Potential $1 Million Bonus, Four Consecutive Races, Fan Element Drives Excitement
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 27, 2012) — For the fourth consecutive year, NASCAR and Nationwide Insurance have combined to bring the popular – and exciting – “Dash 4 Cash” bonus program back for NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers and fans alike.
Introduced in 2009, “Dash 4 Cash” (Twitter hash tag: #Dash4Cash) is a one-of-a-kind element that rewards the highest-finishing eligible driver in four designated races with a $100,000 bonus above and beyond the race purse. Fans also can participate via a sweepstakes that culminates with one lucky fan also winning $100,000.
Its basic format hasn’t changed: In four select races during the 2012 season, four drivers who have earned the designation to compete for the $100,000 per-race bonus will “have at it.” As a refresher, the “Dash 4 Cash” winner in the designated races does not have to win the race. He or she simply must be the highest-finishing eligible NASCAR Nationwide Series driver championship contender in those designated races.
There are two key revisions. First, the July 6 race at Daytona International Speedway will serve as the “qualifier” where the top four drivers to receive NASCAR Nationwide Series driver championship points in that race will carry the “Dash 4 Cash” designation in the first race of the bonus program, July 14 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Additionally, for the first time, the four “Dash 4 Cash” races will be successive: The July race at New Hampshire followed by the July 22 race at Chicagoland Speedway, the series’ inaugural event on July 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and culminating at the Aug. 4 race at Iowa Speedway.
Driver eligibility is as follows:
·            New Hampshire Motor Speedway (July 14) – Top four drivers to receive NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) championship driver points at Daytona qualify for New Hampshire.
·            Chicagoland Speedway (July 22) – New Hampshire “Dash 4 Cash” winner plus top three finishing drivers to receive NNS championship driver points.
·            Indianapolis Motor Speedway (July 28) – Chicagoland “Dash 4 Cash” winner plus top three finishing drivers to receive NNS championship driver points.
·            Iowa Speedway (Aug. 4) -- Indianapolis “Dash 4 Cash” winner plus top three finishing drivers to receive NNS championship driver points.
Another returning perk: Should one driver collect the “Dash 4 Cash” bonus from the three previous designated races and win the Iowa Speedway race outright, Nationwide Insurance will pay an additional $600,000 to that driver in Victory Lane, making $1 million in total bonus money up for grabs at the onset of the program.
“We’re looking forward to partnering with Nationwide Insurance for another round of the ‘Dash 4 Cash’ program,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. “Since its inception, ‘Dash 4 Cash’ has brought increased notoriety to the drivers, teams and participating tracks in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
“We believe the $100,000 guaranteed winner for the select ‘Dash 4 Cash’ races will continue to elevate the series. Additionally, the condensed schedule will help our fans follow the exciting storylines and finishes we anticipate with the 2012 program.”
"Offering a $1 million bonus opportunity for NASCAR Nationwide Series teams brings another level of intensity to the race track and more attention to our series," said Jim McCoy, director of strategic partnerships for Nationwide Insurance. "There's a very good chance a driver could get hot and take home the million dollar bonus at the dramatic conclusion of our ‘Dash 4 Cash’ series at Iowa Speedway, where Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won both races in 2011."
The program isn’t just for the drivers. Since the fans drive the sport, they’re encouraged to participate as well by visiting www.NASCAR.COM/dash4cash to register for a chance to win $100,000.
As part of the NASCAR Nationwide Series $100,000 Sweepstakes, four lucky fans and a guest of each will win an all-expense paid trip to the final “Dash 4 Cash” race at Iowa. In addition to a VIP experience, those fans will be randomly paired with the four eligible “Dash 4 Cash” drivers for the final bonus program race at Iowa. The fan whose driver wins that “Dash 4 Cash” award also will receive a check for $100,000.

~ Courtesy of NASCAR