Friday, November 29, 2013

Change of Pace: Five Questions for NASCAR

November, Texas Motor Speedway
Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
Life is too short.

It’s a song that needed one more bar of music to be complete. It’s that guy you dated in middle school that only came up to your ribcage (trust me, slow dancing was so awkward). It’s every late-night conversation you’ve had that was more stimulating than good coffee.

There’s been a moment in everyone’s lives where everything is put into perspective. For some, it’s a family emergency. For others, it’s a book or movie. A lot of people wait until Thanksgiving day to determine what they are grateful for at that moment.

Here’s some advice: don’t be one of those people. There is nothing more unnerving than realizing how selfish you’ve become. You’re going through every day, laughing and working and not thinking of tomorrow, and it’s easy and carefree until something stops you in your tracks.

And then you realize you’ve been kicking around the fragile package of life like a soccer ball.

I couldn’t imagine where I would be without the amazing family, opportunities, and readers that I’ve been blessed with this year. I’m thankful for the police officers, firefighters, soldiers who risk their lives every day. I’m thankful for scientists who are trying to cure cancer, and for the doctors who are helping people fight it.

Most of all, I’m thankful for those who are attempting to make a difference in the world. They are the greatest gift of them all.

So don’t wait until Thanksgiving to express your gratitude. Don’t wait until Christmas to spread cheer. Don’t wait until New Year's to make a resolution. Don’t wait until any predetermined day to change your ways. There is no excuse; the time will pass anyway, so why not start now?

Speaking of making a change, it’s time for a change of pace in NASCAR. The season is over, yet there are so many questions still hanging in the air. I chose five of them to ask the sanctioning body in this special edition of Five Questions.

Was the Gen-6 really a success? After so much hype, the latest car model debuted in the Sprint Cup Series. Its true talent didn’t shine at the Daytona 500; in fact, it was very disappointing. The sport’s representatives came out and said they were happy with how the Gen-6 raced the entire year. However, it was also revealed that drastic changes will be made to the aerodynamics. I guess they weren’t that confident in their new design.

Is there consistency in the future? The 2013 season will be known as The Year of Confusion due to various inconsistencies, from restart rules to penalties to conduct off the track. Nothing bums the mood out more than indecisiveness. It’s time for a major sit-down to clarify the rulebook, the intentions, and the logistics of the entire corporation.

Why did you purchase Iowa Speedway? When it was announced earlier this week that NASCAR -the actual sanctioning body- bought the 7/8-mile track east of Des Moines, eyebrows were raised as to what it meant. People have been saying that the track should be added to the Sprint Cup schedule: it produces great racing and crowds. The response? “This isn’t the first of many. This is a unique situation.” A special event will be held at the speedway on December 12th to discuss the future plans, so we will know then.

When are you shaking up the Cup schedule? If they decided to add Iowa to the schedule, it would obviously have to wait until 2015; the schedules for all three series were released weeks ago, and not much changed - to fans’ dismay. “We’re happy with the tracks we have now,” NASCAR executives said at the schedule reveal, “And the fans are, too.” Uh, what? No. The consensus has been that there needs to be a road course in The Chase, along with other changes that didn’t go through. Major moves need to happen next time.

Does it matter what the fans think? It’s weird that NASCAR thinks the fans are happy with the track lineup, because that’s definitely not the impression watchers have been giving off for the past two years. Every time a questionable move is made, it is heightened by the array of opinions that light up comment sections and Twitter feeds. When someone within the sport reads a fan’s thought, do they store it in their mind to dwell on later? Or do they just scroll on by and shrug it off? That’s an answer I’d love to hear.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving to our readers

Tracks sit silent and empty during the off-season.
Credit: Beth Bence Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs    
If you’re celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday today, you know it’s a time for family, friends and thankful hearts. We enjoy yummy traditional foods such as turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. We share hugs and laughter and reflect on the blessings in our lives.

Although we don’t gather around the same dinner table, the staff of Skirts and Scuffs is thankful for you – our readers. You’re part of the Skirts and Scuffs extended family and we give thanks for your faithful readership and support.

As much as we prefer the rumble of engines over the stillness of an empty track, the off-season helps us appreciate the family-oriented sport we hold dear. While we share more weekends with our loved ones, the drivers and crews devote time to their families, too.

Over the next few months, as our preparation for 2014 begins, we hope you’ll pop in to read our columns. We wish you a happy, healthy holiday and an enjoyable off-season.

In case you missed them, enjoy these Thanksgiving tweets from NASCAR notables:

Monica Palumbo ‏@MonicaPalumbo : I want to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!! Spend it with the ppl you love. Or that can at least cook well, ha! Thankful for you all.

Pete Pistone ‏@PPistone : Thanks for listening - Happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone! @SiriusXMNASCAR

Kenny Wallace ‏@Kenny_Wallace : I am THANKFUL our friends @KevinHarvick and @DeLanaHarvick and Family are SAFE after a scare with a fire in their house

Steve Post ‏@ThePostman68 : Headed to PA for Thanksgiving in just a bit, going to be a bit of a wintery adventure along the way. Elbows Up!!!

Mike Kelley ‏@CrewChiefNSCS17 : Getting up at 4am to load the bird in the smoker. Love cooking for the Holiday. @danagvazquez lets me be the boss for the day!!!

A Checkered Flag ‏@acheckeredflag : Happy Thanksgiving to you all...and thanks for following me!

Elliott Sadler ‏@Elliott_Sadler1m : Happy thanksgiving from the Sadler Family...

Dave Moody ‏@DGodfatherMoody : Happy Thanksgiving to all, and many thanks for all your support in 2013. It's been an adventure!

Darrell Waltrip ‏@AllWaltrip : Good Morning America, twitterville, race fans, it's the day before Thanksgiving but I'm starting to make a list of things I'm thankful for!

Hendrick Motorsports ‏@TeamHendrick : The No. 48 @LowesRacing #ChevySS is getting some final touches before the #Thanksgiving holiday as well! #NASCAR

tom jensen ‏@tomjensen100 : I love family holidays. Have a great Thanksgiving, friends!

TheNASCARFoundation ‏@NASCAR_FDN : Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at The NASCAR Foundation! #NASCAR #Thanksgiving

Steve O'Donnell ‏@odsteve : Happy Thanksgiving everyone-Thankful 2 have time w/family-Thank u 2 all our troops home & abroad-ur service lets us have this day #NASCAR

Krissie Newman @NewmanKrissie : Happy Thanksgiving! Hope your day is filled with love, laughter and blessings (good food too)

Checkered Past: The 2006 Chase and Johnson's First Title

Another difference from 2006 to 2013:
In 2006, the NASCAR Awards Banquet was
held in New York City, not Las Vegas.
Champion Jimmie Johnson at 48th and 1st -
Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR/
Chris Trotman
Things were different when Jimmie Johnson won his first championship in 2006. One, it was the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup – the Sprint Cup came into existence in 2008. Two, there were only 10 participants – not the 12 we’ve become accustomed to (or the lucky 13 we had in 2013). Three, it was contested under the old points system. Four, some of the names were even different.

Conspicuously absent in the 2006 Chase: 2005 champ Tony Stewart, who was the only defending champ until Brad Keselowski in 2013 to be unable to defend his title. Also missing: 2005’s second- and third-place finishers, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, respectively.

Five of the 10 Chase races were won by non-Chasers, led by Stewart with three (Kansas, Atlanta and Texas). Brian Vickers took his first career win at Talladega and Biffle won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to make the Chase, finishing third on his way to the Rookie of the Year Award. Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Jeff Burton also qualified for their first Chase.
In addition to Stewart, Biffle and Edwards, other drivers not in the Chase who had made previous Chase appearances included Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Jeremy Mayfield.

The top 10 in points for the 2006 Chase for the NEXTEL Cup – 1) Johnson (2013 – first), 2) Matt Kenseth (2013 – second), 3) Hamlin (2013 – not in Chase), 4) Harvick (2013 – third), 5)Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2013 – fifth), 6) Jeff Gordon (2013 – sixth), 7) Burton (2013 – not in Chase), 8) Kahne (2013 – 12th), 9) Mark Martin (2013 – not in Chase) and 10) Kyle Busch (2013 – fourth).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NASCAR purchases Iowa Speedway

 Sean Gardner/Getty Images
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 27, 2013) – In a strategic move designed to expand its commitment to enhancing event experiences and fan engagement, as well as solidify the future of one of the premier racing and entertainment facilities in the Midwest, NASCAR announced today that it has purchased Iowa Speedway. The agreement, finalized today under a wholly-owned subsidiary, Iowa Speedway, LLC, is effective immediately.

“Iowa Speedway is a great entertainment facility with a very bright future,” said Eric Nyquist, NASCAR vice president, strategic development. “The facility has the support of the region, it’s positioned well in the heart of the Midwest, and year in and year out it provides great short-track racing action for motorsports fans.

“NASCAR ownership will allow us to draw on the entire resources of our company. It also provides us with the opportunity to execute first-hand a number of entertainment ideas and engagement opportunities with fans – much of which we have outlined repeatedly as the core of our Industry Action Plan.”

The facility, located 30 miles east of Des Moines in Newton, features a fast, .875-mile asphalt paved tri-oval designed by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. The Speedway released its 2014 schedule earlier this month, encompassing three weekends, one each in May, July and August. The schedule will include two NASCAR Nationwide Series races, a combination NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and IndyCar Series weekend, plus two additional NASCAR K&N Pro Series support races. NASCAR has no plans for Iowa Speedway to host a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race next year or in the immediate future.

NASCAR will host a special event in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 12, to outline additional details on the purchase and plans for the future. Information on this event will be announced soon.

The 2014 Iowa Speedway season opens May 17-18, with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East versus West Challenge on Saturday night. The stars and cars of the NASCAR Nationwide Series then will battle on Sunday in a 250-lap, high-speed contest. The race marks the only Sunday afternoon event of the season at Iowa Speedway.

The new NASCAR Camping World Truck Series / IndyCar Series race weekend at Iowa Speedway is slated for July 11-12. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will race Friday night and feature short-track racing action that has become synonymous with the series in the American Ethanol 200. The first-ever Iowa Corn Indy 300 will follow on Saturday night.

On Friday, Aug. 1, a second NASCAR K&N Pro Series East versus West challenge race will be held followed by a second NASCAR Nationwide Series 250-lap event on Saturday under the lights.

Season ticket holders may renew their tickets for the 2014 season, and will have an exclusive right to secure their current seats until Dec. 14. All other seats are available for purchase immediately, with season ticket prices starting at $95. All season tickets will include a guaranteed seat location, complimentary Casey’s Fan Walk pass and an opportunity to participate in pre-race ceremonies. Season tickets, parking passes and onsite camping options are available online, or by calling the toll-free ticketing hotline, 866-RUSTY-GO (787-8946). 

Iowa Speedway’s ticketing office, located at 3333 Rusty Wallace Drive in Newton, also will be open to assist customers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, holidays excepted.


Saturday, May 17 – NASCAR K&N Pro Series East vs. West Challenge

Sunday, May 18 – NASCAR Nationwide Series

Friday, July 11 – American Ethanol 200, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Saturday, July 12 – Iowa Corn Indy 300, IndyCar Series

Friday, August 1 – NASCAR K&N Pro Series East vs. West Challenge

Saturday, August 2 – NASCAR Nationwide Series

About Iowa Speedway

Iowa Speedway, a state-of-the-art motorsports and entertainment facility, is located 30 miles east of Des Moines at I-80 Exit 168 in Newton, Iowa. The track was designed by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, now an anchor and analyst for ESPN. Call 1-866-RUSTY-GO, or visit to learn more.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fast Facts: 2013 Nationwide Series Champ Austin Dillon

Richard Childress (l) celebrates at Homestead
with his grandson, Nationwide Series champ
Austin Dillon
credit: NASCAR via Getty Images
Austin Dillon, who drove the Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro in the Nationwide Series in 2013, picked up his second NASCAR top-tier championship with his recent Nationwide Series title. Learn more about this third-generation driver and newest Nationwide Series champ in this special champion’s edition of Fast Facts.
  • Austin Dillon was born April 27, 1990 in Lewisville, North Carolina. He is the grandson of Richard Childress, son of Mike Dillon (former Busch Series driver and current general manager for RCR), and brother of NASCAR driver Ty Dillon.
  • From 2005 to 2007, Dillon raced Bandoleros, Legends and Dirt Late Models. In 2008, he moved up to the NASCAR Camping World East Series, finishing second in points and winning Rookie of the Year.
  • Late in 2008, Dillon made his Nationwide Series debut at Richmond International Speedway and finished fourth at Memphis (TN) Motorsports Park in October. As an RCR development driver in 2009, Dillon raced in four series: Camping World Trucks, Nationwide, Camping World East, and ARCA.
  • Dillon moved to the Truck Series full-time in 2010, earning seven poles and winning twice. He became the second rookie in nine seasons to finish the season in the top five in points.
  • In 2011, Dillon competed full-time in the Truck Series again and raced in four events for Kevin Harvick Inc. in the Nationwide Series. He took the Truck Series title with two wins, 16 top 10 finishes and five poles, and earned three top 10 finishes in his four Nationwide Series starts. Dillon also made his Sprint Cup Series debut, finishing 26th at Kansas.
  • In 2012, Dillon moved up to the Nationwide Series with RCR, picking up the Rookie of the Year title and two wins on his way to a third-place finish in points. He also made his second Cup Series start, finishing 24th at Michigan.
  • 2013 saw Dillon win his second championship in three seasons, this one in the Nationwide Series. Dillon was held winless on the season in the Nationwide Series, ending the season with 22 top 10 finishes and seven poles. He also made 11 Cup Series starts, picking up a career-best finish of 11th at Michigan in June, and returned to the Truck Series for three races for the first time since 2011; he picked up the win in the inaugural event at Eldora Speedway.
  • An announcement is expected soon on Dillon’s 2014 plans, including whether he will bring the iconic No. 3 back to the Cup Series for the first time since Dale Earnhardt’s death in February 2001.
  • Find out more about Austin Dillon at and  

Mr. Six-Pack

Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was one for the history books. In an eventful season one event still lingers: watching Jimmie Johnson become a six-time Sprint Cup Champion. Now, instead of Ol' Five-Time, he’s Mr. Six-Pack.

NASCAR via Getty Images 
When it comes to Johnson’s success, everyone seems divided. Sometimes I can’t understand why. When I look at Johnson and his whole 48 crew, when I look at his crew chief Chad Knaus, I see fire. I see passion. I see all the elements that make him a winner and a champion. I see a driver and a crew chief who won’t back down, who defeated the odds by winning five Sprint Cup championships in a row.

I see a crew chief who sometimes crosses the line. I see a crew chief who takes just as much pressure as his driver. I believe the chemistry between Knaus and Johnson is the reason they are so good. They trust each other, and at the end of the day, trust is what matters between driver and crew chief.

But there’s more to Johnson than just being a driver. I think the one element I like most about him is his love for his family - “his girls” - as he calls them. Seeing his daughter Evie and wife Chani in Victory Lane is always fun, especially watching the curiosity of a little girl wondering why all these people are cheering for daddy - it’s such a cute sight. He has a new addition to his family, daughter Lydia. I’m sure before we know it we'll be seeing her curiosity like her big sister's.

Johnson is one in a million. His success and talent are beyond words. He does things with that car that I don’t think we’ll see in a long time - maybe never. He’s truly a great champion, one I’m proud to call Six-Pack.

I’m eager to see what 2014 brings. Johnson looks to be king of the Cup but I am curious to see if the driver who finished second in 2013 will be able to dethrone him.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Checkered Past: 2013 in the Rearview Mirror

The Camping World Truck Series saw a major influx of youth, the Nationwide Series saw its share of Cup veterans and the Sprint Cup Series saw one of its champs return to the top after a two-year hiatus. In between, there were injuries, moments of name-calling and other announcements that were shocking and not-so-shocking. Here’s a look back at some of the highlights – and lowlights – of NASCAR’s 2013 season.

“DanicaHouse” – shortly after Danica Patrick announced her divorce from her husband of seven years, Paul Hospenthal, she made another announcement: she was dating fellow Cup Series Rookie of the Year candidate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Patrick went on to bring home the pole award from the Daytona 500, but Stenhouse Jr. took home the Rookie title.

Injuries and maladies galore – first it was Denny Hamlin with a compression fracture in his back following an on-track incident with Joey Logano in March. Then Tony Stewart broke his leg in a sprint car accident in August. Later that month, Martin Truex Jr. broke his wrist at Bristol. But the problems weren’t all on the track. Brian Vickers missed the final few races of the season in both the Cup and Nationwide Series after doctors revealed a blood clot in his right calf, similar to the issue he had in 2010. And just days before the season ended, 2011 Daytona 500 champ Trevor Bayne revealed he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Also of note: at the season finale of the IZOD IndyCar Series in October, former NASCAR driver and four-time IndyCar champ Dario Franchitti suffered extensive injuries in a last-lap crash at the Houston Grand Prix. He announced his retirement five weeks later due to the injuries.

Jason Leffler
Credit: Getty Images/Jason Smith
Losing “LefTurn” – as fans of the sport, we know there are dangers, but it’s still a difficult thing to process when a talented driver is taken from us too soon. On June 12, NASCAR driver and open-wheel champ Jason Leffler died from injuries suffered in a sprint car crash. Leffler was 37 years old and left behind a five-year-old son, Charlie Dean.

The kids are alright – before the 2013 season got underway, NASCAR lowered the age limit for drivers to participate in the Truck Series to 16, with 16- and 17-year-olds allowed to race on tracks of one mile or less and on road courses. This led to the youngest winner record being broken twice: first by Chase Elliott in September and later by Erik Jones in November. In addition to these two youngsters, there were wins by Kyle Larson, Jeb Burton, Ty Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr.

Bristol in March:
Kyle Busch celebrates one of 12 NNS wins
Credit: Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton
“Busch-wacked” – in 2010, Kyle Busch won 24 races across NASCAR’s top-three divisions. In 2013, he came oh-so-close to that number again, with 21 wins across the three series: four in Sprint cup, 12 in Nationwide and five in the Truck Series.

Busch wasn’t the only “invader” to find the winner’s circle in the Nationwide Series this season – in 33 races, only one race was won by a driver with no Cup Series experience – Ryan Blaney at Kentucky. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, A.J. Allmendinger, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Trevor Bayne were among the Cup Series regulars or part-timers to win this season, while former Cup Series drivers Sam Hornish Jr. and Regan Smith also found victory lane.

“Rich kids” and rough words – Kevin Harvick didn’t appreciate “being dumped,” as he termed it, by Ty Dillon in the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville in October, and had some choice words about the two grandsons (Ty and Austin) of his team owner, Richard Childress:

“(Dillon) just dumped me. Exactly the reason why I’m leaving RCR because you’ve got those kids coming up, and they’ve got no respect for what they do in this sport and they’ve had everything fed to them with a spoon…It’s a shame you’ve got to get taken out by some rich kid like that.”

Dillon retorted that Harvick was “kind of hogging the bottom, and I just kept diving to the inside…he kept chopping down, chopping down.” Dillon also added, “I’m sure he's tweeting something now about it.”
Richard Childress celebrates with grandson
Austin Dillon, the 2013 Nationwide Series champ
Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images

Whether all was truly forgiven or not, Harvick did apologize for the outburst. While Ty Dillon will move up to the Nationwide Series in 2014 for RCR and brother Austin will run in the Cup Series for his grandfather’s team, Harvick will shift gears and move to Stewart-Haas Racing.

The champs – Truck Series veteran Matt Crafton took home his first title, while Austin Dillon picked up his second top-tier NASCAR title with his Nationwide Series championship. Jimmie Johnson returned to the top of the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the sixth time in the last eight years, putting him one behind the record of seven titles held by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Faith on the Frontstretch: Being vanilla is the best thing about Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson celebrates his sixth Sprint Cup championship.
Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images     

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

Another NASCAR season has raced by us, culminating in Jimmie Johnson hoisting the 2013 Sprint Cup championship trophy. Whether you’re a Johnson fan or not, it’s hard to deny he's an amazingly talented racecar driver who is making history with his No. 48 team.

Johnson’s nickname of “Five-Time” has officially retired as the “#6pack” hashtag has become a reality. Oddly enough, despite the respect he has earned with his on-track dominance - winning six championships in the last eight years - a segment of fans still insist on using the term vanilla to describe Johnson.

And they don't use the word in a positive way. It's used to mean Johnson has a bland personality or lacks the exciting persona of a celebrity. Jimmie Johnson as plain and boring? That just doesn’t ring true. The vanilla-sayers are mistaken on multiple levels.

Vanilla isn’t the absence of flavor, it is a flavor. Did you know vanilla is the most popular flavor of ice cream in America? There’s a reason for that. Vanilla is soothing and mellow. It’s calm, smooth and goes well with other desserts.

Is Jimmie Johnson vanilla? If vanilla describes a humble guy with a positive outlook, then yes, he’s vanilla.

During the post-race press conference at Homestead-Miami, both crew chief Chad Knaus and team owner Rick Hendrick had lots to say about Johnson. Knaus complimented Johnson on his low-key personality and his optimistic attitude:

“The thing I think that's the best about Jimmie is he always has the positive outlook,” Knaus said. “When we get into situations where they aren't the most comfortable, things are a little bit stressed, it's really a good spot because I can look at him and he has been a mentor for me in understanding there's more to life than just racing.”

Hendrick commented on Johnson’s calm demeanor. “If you monitor every driver out here all through the race all year long, you see how many times they get excited, go off on the radio, lose their composure - you won't ever hear Jimmie do that,” Hendrick said.

Is Jimmie Johnson vanilla? If vanilla describes a person who cares about people and quietly takes care of them, you bet he’s vanilla.

According to Rick Hendrick, Johnson does good deeds without bragging about it. In fact, his foundation’s charity work and relief efforts after tornadoes ravaged his wife’s home state of Oklahoma led to Johnson being named NASCAR Illustrated 2013 Person of the Year.

“He does so many things for charity, Make a Wish,” Hendrick said. “They raise money, build houses, do things. He doesn't try to do things to gain attention or say, ‘Look at me.’ He's more about letting his actions speak for himself.”

Is Jimmie Johnson vanilla? If vanilla describes a guy who chooses the high-line when insulted, then he’s vanilla for sure.

You probably heard former quarterback Donovan McNabb’s assertion that Jimmie Johnson is not an athlete, which rallied NASCAR Nation to Johnson’s defense on Twitter. Johnson’s comeback tweet was courteous, yet clear:

“The debate continues... Everyone is entitled to an opinion. #DriversAreAthletes

When a fan replied to Johnson, “don’t be vanilla now” and urged him to counter McNabb’s claim, Johnson’s answer displayed the wisdom of Proverbs 15:1, A gentle answer turns away wrath.

He tweeted: “I choose to be respectful. There is way too much venom spewed these days.”

If being “vanilla” means being humble and optimistic, helping others and responding calmly when people speak foolishly, bring it on. The world could use a little more vanilla.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. ~ Proverbs 15:1
Still not convinced that Johnson’s brand of vanilla is a good thing? ESPN’s Marty Smith describes in vivid detail why Johnson’s greatness as a human being is even bigger than his talent behind the wheel.

“Faith on the Frontstretch” appears every 1st & 3rd Wednesday and explores the role of faith in motorsports. Comments or twitter follows welcome: @bbreinke. See you on the Frontstretch!

Want more racing devotions? When you donate $25 to Skirts and Scuffs, we’ll send you a complimentary copy of Beth’s book, Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a month-long, pocket-sized devotional book for female racing fans.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fast Facts: 2013 Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson

credit: NASCAR via Getty Images
We can’t call Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson “Five-Time” anymore – that’s because he just wrapped up his sixth Cup Series championship in eight seasons. Catch up with Johnson in this special Sprint Cup Series championship edition of Fast Facts.
  • Jimmie Kenneth Johnson was born Sept. 17, 1975 in El Cajon, California (near San Diego), and attended Granite Hills High School. 
  • He began his racing career at age 5 on 50cc motorcycles, moving to 60cc bikes at age 8. He went on to compete in off-road racing on four wheels, and took numerous wins and championships in the SODA, SCORE, and Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group series.
  • He switched to stock cars in 1998, racing in the American Speed Association (ASA) and later in the Nationwide Series, winning the ASA Rookie of the Year award in 1998. When his Busch (now Nationwide) Series team lost their sponsor, Johnson looked to Cup Series veteran Jeff Gordon for advice; they kept in touch afterward, and Hendrick Motorsports later signed Johnson to a development deal on Gordon’s recommendation. He began his full-time Cup career in 2002 in the familiar No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, a team and a sponsor he drives for to this day.
  • Through the 2013 season, Johnson has 66 wins and 272 top 10 finishes in the Sprint Cup Series, along with six titles (2006 through 2010 and 2013). He is the first NASCAR Sprint Cup champion to win five consecutive titles. Johnson was also named the 2009 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year and is a four-time Driver of the Year (2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010).
  • The Jimmie Johnson Foundation, founded in 2006, assists children, families, and communities in need around the country, working with Make-A-Wish, the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and the Victory Junction Gang Camp among others.
  • Johnson is married to the former Chandra Janway (December 11, 2004), and is the father  of two daughters – Genevieve and Lydia. He is a football and baseball fan, following the Atlanta Braves, the Carolina Panthers, and his hometown teams, the San Diego Chargers and San Diego Padres.
  • Find out more about Johnson at,,, and

Monday, November 18, 2013

Chasing the Championship: Recapping the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

NASCAR via Getty Images
The checkered flag has been displayed for the final time signaling the end of the 2013 NASCAR season. After a two-year absence Jimmie Johnson is back on top becoming a six-time Sprint Cup Series champion, a feat he’s accomplished over the span of just eight years.

Johnson beat out Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick Sunday en route to the title. Our Stacey Owens, Stephanie Stuart and Rebecca Kivak recap the three drivers at the top of the standings heading into Homestead.

Jimmie Johnson – 2013 Sprint Cup Series Champion
by: Stacey Owens

He didn’t win the Ford EcoBoost 400, but then again, he didn’t have to. He never even led a lap, but then again, he didn’t have to. With a 28-point lead heading into the final race of the 2013 season, Jimmie Johnson merely needed to finish inside the top 23 to claim his sixth championship.

Mission accomplished.

Teams rolled into Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier in the week for press conferences before getting down to the business of racing on Friday. Knowing he’d need to run up front, Johnson qualified in the seventh position — and then watched Matt Kenseth, his closest competitor, secure the pole.

Johnson ran in the 11th and 15th positions in the first two practices but improved to a second place run in the final practice — right behind Kenseth. And for much of the opening laps of the race, that’s exactly how they ran on the track: Kenseth leading, and Johnson following close behind.

The race was not without its tense moments for both contenders when on Lap 194, Johnson was shoved from behind on a restart and moved into the back of Kenseth’s No. 20 car. Neither suffered much damage, but the smoke coming from the left front of Johnson’s No. 48 machine was a concern until the next caution allowed his crew to pull out the fender and change all four tires. During that run, Johnson said he “reminded myself of the big picture” but that trying to catch up with the front of the pack made the “last 50 laps kind of interesting.”

As the laps wound down, Johnson inched his way back into the Top 10, and as Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag, Johnson captured his #6Pack with a ninth-place finish.

Entering elite company alongside Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. as one of three drivers to win at least six titles, Johnson made history as the first of those three drivers to accomplish the feat in only eight years.

How does Johnson feel about comparisons to two of the best ever? He’s “honored” just to be a part of the conversation.

Climbing out of the car after the race, Johnson was quick to give accolades to his team. “I’m at a loss for words, but I’m so proud and so thankful for this opportunity at Hendrick Motorsports. I’m thankful that Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick gave me this opportunity back in 2002. This sport is about people, and our people at Hendrick Motorsports — especially on this 48 car — rose up and got the job done. I’m so thankful to be able to drive for this race team and so honored and so excited to have a ‘six-pack.’ Everybody in this garage works really, really hard, so we put in a lot of hours, but there’s something special about this group we have.”

He then turned his attention and his emotions to his family. “My wife [Chandra] is an amazing woman. I’m a very lucky man and owe a lot of my success to her and her support. She makes me who I am, makes me a better man, does a fantastic job raising these kids … so happy to have her as my wife.” Johnson went on to dedicate his win to his grandmother who passed away several weeks ago: “This one’s for her.”

Brian France in his post-race message to Johnson may have been speaking to every other driver in the garage and those yet to sign a contract. “You’re setting a new standard in this era and maybe any other era. Congratulations on your sixth championship.”

Johnson is back where he’s been the most comfortable in recent years — at the top of his game. He’ll return to the head table at the annual NASCAR banquet in Las Vegas. As the 2014 season begins, his No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet team will once again work from the first garage stall. But for right now, Johnson and those closest to him will savor their hard-earned victory. “We’re gonna have a lot of fun and enjoy this moment.”

Matt Kenseth – Second-place finisher (-19 points)
by: Stephanie Stuart

Matt Kenseth knew it was going to take a valiant effort to win the title on Sunday at Homestead.

And he gave it everything he had.

Kenseth was fastest in both practices, won the pole and came up just short of winning the race, finishing second to teammate Denny Hamlin. The only thing that would have needed to happen for him to win the Cup title would have been for Jimmie Johnson to finish 23rd, if he had won the race.

It almost happened. For a moment Team 20 collectively held its breath.

A bad restart with 74 laps to go bottlenecked the field towards the front, where Kenseth and Johnson restarted next to each other. The bottleneck effect sent the No. 48 careening sideways, and almost into the No. 20. Johnson lost his position and went from sixth back to 21st. He would stay towards the middle of the field for some time before making up ground to finish ninth in the race.

Kenseth battled all the way to the end, not even giving up second place to a hard-fighting Dale Earnhardt Jr., a friend he knows he can trust on the track and who at times had a better looking car. Kenseth knew he needed every point possible, just in case Johnson encountered a parts failure or an accident, and he made sure to stay in front of every car that he could.

"It was just an unbelievable year for us, really. I mean obviously we wanted to finish off and win the championship as good as we ran all year, but couldn't be more proud of the whole Dollar General/Home Depot team," said Kenseth after the race Sunday as he patted crew members on the back in his post race interview. "They did a spectacular job all season and all day today again... the night overall was really good for us, really dominant when it was sunny out, when it got dark we were off just a little bit and then we had that mishap on that restart that kind of got us behind but overall I don't think you could as for much more."

As the checkered flag falls on 2013, many wonder if Kenseth will look back and wonder if he let the title get away from him, or if he will have a "we let it slip away" moment. He feels confident that he gave it everything he had. "No, I won't have one of those moments," he said Sunday. "In the past I probably did that a lot, probably a little too much. Not really this time. I really will walk away from this year feeling like we gave it all - everything we had to give."

Oddly enough, the 2003 series champion doesn't consider his championship year to be his best season either. "I think when you look at our season overall, when I talk about it being the best season of my career, we didn't come up with the championship, the championship is the ultimate goal, you always want that, but from a competitive standpoint it's been by far the best season of my career," Kenseth stated. "We lead the most laps, we qualified the best, I think probably best average finish, most wins, all that stuff. From a competitive standpoint, it was our best year."

So I ask you this: if a guy who won seven times in a single year says the team can get better, what can we expect next season? 

Until 2014, friends.

Kevin Harvick – Third-place finisher (-34 points)
by: Rebecca Kivak

Kevin Harvick finished out his last race with Richard Childress Racing not as the Sprint Cup champion, but as the hard-charging, never-give-up racer we’ve come to know during his 14 years with the organization.

Harvick battled an ill-handling racecar through Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, making an impressive recovery after falling back during the Ford EcoBoost 400. Though his 10th-place finish wasn’t enough to claim the championship, it allowed Harvick to end his relationship with Richard Childress Racing on a high note before moving on to Stewart-Haas Racing next season.

Coming into Sunday’s race, Harvick knew he was a longshot to win the Sprint Cup, trailing points leader Jimmie Johnson by 34 points and second-place Matt Kenseth by eight points. But Harvick and his No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team were up for the challenge.

Harvick rolled off the grid sixth Sunday and he worked his way into the top five by Lap 4. On Lap 15 Harvick took the lead for the first of three times, leading a total of eight laps in Sunday’s race.

The No. 29 car spent the majority of the first third of the race in the top five. After the second caution of the day on Lap 89, however, Harvick fell back on the restart to 18th as he struggled mightily with a tight racecar. He dropped as far back as 23rd. With Kenseth leading numerous laps and Johnson running steadily in the top five, any chance Harvick had at the championship continued to fade.

Harvick, however, wasn’t going to give up easily, and methodically he powered his way through the field. By Lap 211 he was back in the race lead. But Harvick’s tires were wearing and he dropped outside the top 10. With 20 laps to go, Harvick steered his way back into the top 10. He crossed the finish line in 10th after the final checkered flag of the season flew.

Harvick finished out the 2013 season third in the standings, with four wins to his credit. Though he didn’t finish the night in victory lane as the race winner or series champion, he was proud of the No. 29 team’s effort in their last race together.

“We were able to salvage something out of the night,” Harvick said. “Obviously it’s not what we wanted, but came back and were way better at the end than what we were in the beginning. It’s what we’ve done all year and I’m just proud of everybody and thank them for everything that they have done.”

During 14 years with Richard Childress Racing, Harvick has collected 23 Sprint Cup wins, including a Daytona 500 victory and a Brickyard 400 win, and two Nationwide championships. With a big smile after Sunday’s race, Harvick lived up to his nickname, “Happy” Harvick, as he looked back at his time with RCR.

“I’m happy, yeah,” Harvick said. “I’m happy with everything that we have been able to accomplish as a group. We had a great year knowing what the circumstances were and we have won a lot of races. A lot of the marquee races. We have won Nationwide championships.

“… There is a lot that has happened with everything and everybody at RCR and (I’m) really proud about my past and everybody who has been involved in it and really excited about my future.”

After closing out 2013 as a title contender, Harvick will embark on a new chapter of his career with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 as he looks to finally capture that elusive Sprint Cup title.

Skirts and Scuffs sends out congratulations to the 2013 Champions.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Driver’s Champion: Jimmie Johnson
Owner’s Champion: Hendrick Motorsports (No. 48)
Rookie of the Year: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Nationwide Series:
Driver’s Champion: Austin Dillon
Owner’s Champion: Penske Racing (No. 22)
Rookie of the Year: Kyle Larson
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Driver’s Champion: Matt Crafton
Owner’s Champion: Kyle Busch Motorsports (No. 51)
Rookie of the Year: Ryan Blaney

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Caption this" winner: lorrilynn

"I got the girl and the ride - heck yeah, I'm happy about my season!"
Congratulations to lorrilynn who contributed the winning caption for this photo of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Please send your full name and mailing address to to receive your prize, a copy of the devotional book Race Fans' Devotions to Go.

Thanks to everyone who played "Caption this!" Check back next Tuesday for a new photo and your next chance to submit a caption.

An Open Letter to Donovan McNabb from NASCAR Nation

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
Those of us who consider ourselves proud members of NASCAR Nation are generally pretty happy folk. Really the only time we get upset is when our favorite driver loses, there’s a large wreck involving our favorite driver, or there is a rain delay before or during a race.

However, there is something above all that can really grind our gears; when common, everyday people with no knowledge of NASCAR state that racecar drivers are not athletes. It doesn’t matter who says it or which driver or drivers they say it about. When you tell a NASCAR fan that our drivers aren’t athletes, that sets us off above anything else. It’s a time-old argument NASCAR and motorsports fans face on a regular basis.

While I respect that each of us are entitled to our own opinions and thoughts, I personally beg to differ in regard to this particular matter. Here is why.

On Friday night following the Camping World Truck Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, former NFL player turned FOX Sports 1 analyst Donovan McNabb was asked whether or not he thought five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson is an athlete. His response was that Johnson is "absolutely not" an athlete because "he sits in a car and he drives.”

Hmmm … well if that’s the case, then in most other sports all the “athletes” do is run back and forth between a rink, court or field. But that is beside the point.

Donovan, with all due respect, here’s some food for thought:

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an athlete is defined as person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.

Jimmie Johnson and every other racecar driver on this planet can be considered an athlete as they are skilled in operating 700 horsepower machines that require both mental and physical capacities. Competing in NASCAR, as with any other sport, requires drivers to be in the best physical shape of their lives.

Here are some cold, hard facts for you (courtesy of CNN):

1) On straightaways at speeds close to 200 mph, NASCAR drivers in one second travel 293 feet, almost the length of a football field.

2) Temperatures in the car can exceed well beyond 100 degrees, whereas it can rise to be 170 degrees closer to the floorboards. Keep in mind that drivers wear protective firesuits that retain heat; they can lose anywhere between five to 10 pounds during a race.

3) Drivers experience 3 Gs of force against their bodies when entering turns on the track, which is considerably comparable to the forces pressing down on shuttle astronauts at liftoff.

4) In a race, a NASCAR driver maintains the same heart rate - 120-150 beats per minute for three-plus hours - as a serious marathon runner for about the same length of time.

5) A study in "anticipatory timing" found racecar drivers to possess the same ability to anticipate what was going to happen as a hockey goalie or a quarterback.

To meet these demands, drivers participate in various physical activities outside of stockcar racing. Johnson himself is a consistent marathon and triathlon competitor. When he isn’t behind the wheel of his No. 48 Chevy, he takes to the road with his feet. Kasey Kahne is another driver who enjoys running in competitive marathon events outside of racing. Mark Martin is 54 years of age, always tweeting about his workouts at the gym and how he constantly strives to be in the best physical shape he can be.

Donovan, the next time you sit in a regular chair at a roundtable on any sports network, it is my hope that you will have done your research. I recommend participating in a NASCAR-related driving experience. Go take a ride in an actual stockcar for a few laps and tell us first-hand if you could handle doing that for 200 to 500 miles every weekend. Tell us if you could do what Jimmie Johnson has done and will continue to do behind the wheel of his stockcar - win five consecutive championships and race for a sixth. We would all be intrigued to hear your thoughts then.

On behalf of NASCAR Nation,

Jessica Tow

Friday, November 15, 2013

Concussion forces Dario Franchitti to retire from driving

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
The crash was terrifying - and ultimately career-ending.

On the last lap of the second race of the Grand Prix of Houston double-header, Dario Franchitti sailed into Turn 5 and right into the back of the disabled car of Takuma Sato, launching the No. 10 Target car into the catchfence. Shards of carbon fiber and chunks of the car launched into the grandstands, injuring 13 spectators.

The Holmatro Safety Team loaded Franchitti into an ambulance to transport him the few blocks to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where he was treated for a concussion, a fractured spine, and a broken ankle.

It could have been much, much worse.

Franchitti had immediate surgery on his ankle and remained in the Houston hospital for several days. Upon his release, he headed to Indianapolis for further treatment. By all reports, he planned to be back in the car for the beginning of the season.

However, on Thursday Franchitti announced that, on the advice of doctors, he's retiring from racing.

"One month removed from the crash, and based upon the expert advice of the doctors who have treated and assessed my head and spinal injuries post-accident, it is their best medical opinion that I must stop racing," Franchitti said.

"They have made it very clear that the risks involved in further racing are too great and could be detrimental to my long term well-being. Based on this medical advice, I have no choice but to stop."

Shockwaves rolled through the motorsports community. INDYCAR released a statement:
"As a four-time IndyCar Series champion and a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Dario Franchitti has etched his name among the greats of this sport, and his legacy will continue to influence future generations of competitors. His passion was born, in part, from a deep love for the sport and a reverence to its history, and Dario carries that heritage everywhere he travels and shares it with everyone he meets. Dario's leadership on and off the track has helped shape INDYCAR, and we look forward to him remaining involved in the sport he loves."
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Team owner Chip Ganassi participated in a teleconference Friday. His first words were to reassure fans about Franchitti's health.

"I don't want anybody to read into comments that Dario is not going to make a full recovery. Medically, he has been told he'll make a 100 percent recovery. We've been told that from day one. It's not like he has any injuries that he won't recover from. These are all injuries that are recoverable. I don't want anybody thinking he's maimed for life or anything like that."

When pressed about what injury prompted Franchitti's decision, Ganassi said, "We can't talk about the specifics of the injuries, and again, I don't want to belabor that point, but it's obviously around his head, concussions, things like that, has to do with a repeat of that type of concussion could be serious."

Ganassi, whose driving career ended prematurely because of a head injury, asserted that Franchitti will be a great ambassador for IndyCar, that the Scotsman will have a role with the organization.

"I think this is just the turning of a page of sorts and the beginning of a new chapter in his career. I think he'll make a great ambassador to the sport," said Ganassi. "I can't think of anybody who would be better, as somebody that has worldwide recognition and a true interest in the sport of Indy car racing. We want to help him with that. We have a common interest in the sport, in furthering the sport, and we'll do it together I'm sure."
Franchitti speaks with a fan after driver introductions
at Texas Motor Speedway, June 2012
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Ganassi added, "I've always shied away from saying this, but because he won't be driving again, I guess, I think it's safe to say that his name is up there with all the greats, like Foyt, Andretti, Unser. We've all seen the statistics. I was reminded yesterday of him winning the Daytona 24 Hours, the Indianapolis 500, the Sebring 12 Hours, all within a year period.

"These are things that no one has ever done in consecutive races. Again, you look at 31 career wins, tied for eighth all time. Only driver in history to win three titles consecutively. Those are no small feats."

Indeed they are not. The track will not be the same without him.

Franchitti's injuries may be career-ending, even life-changing. His ankle injury required two surgeries, but at least he has his ankles and legs, unlike former Ganassi teammate Alex Zanardi. Zanardi's legs were sheared off above the knee in a horrifying Sept. 2001 crash.

Former driver, now team owner Sam Schmidt
at the Grand Prix of Houston, 2013
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Broken ankle not withstanding, Franchitti is able to walk - unlike Sam Schmidt, whose accident while testing in 2000 rendered the talented young driver a quadriplegic.

Franchitti can look back and say his career was successful by any measure, unlike Ganassi driver Tony Renna, whose career was full of promise when he died in a crash during a tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As heart-rending as it is that the charismatic Scotsman will no longer be strapping in to race, the sadness is mixed with gratitude that Franchitti is even alive and able to make such a decision. Too many racers - including Greg Moore and Franchitti's good friend Dan Wheldon - didn't get the opportunity to choose life.

We're grateful that Dario Franchitti got to make that choice.

Chasing the Championship: Previewing the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick. Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images 
Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick: One of them will be the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion. Four hundred miles separate one from greatness and the other two from a place on the sidelines for the banquet in Las Vegas next month.

This weekend our Stacey Owens, Stephanie Stuart and Rebecca Kivak preview the three drivers in the hunt for the title.

1. Jimmie Johnson
by: Stacey Owens

“We can control our own destiny.”

Jimmie Johnson likes the position he’s in heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He doesn’t have to win the race to win his sixth championship, but he believes that the best place to run throughout the Ford EcoBoost 400 is up front.

When asked how he intends to approach this weekend’s race, Johnson took a page from his most recent win. “If I look back to our Texas performance, we found a way to race smart, stay out of trouble, and still get the race won. I would love to win the race and win the championship, but we’ll just have to see how things develop in the race.”

Johnson has 66 wins to his credit, but none of those wins have come at the 1.5-mile South Florida track. Homestead-Miami Speedway is one of only five tracks where Johnson and the No. 48 team haven’t won. As much as he’d like to cross that track off his bucket list, Johnson is more focused on the larger picture.

“It’s not so much that individual win, but we need to go down there and be prepared and treat Friday and Saturday like we need to win the race so we can make the car as comfortable and as fast as possible to give us all our options on Sunday.”

In his 12 races in Miami, Johnson has four top fives, seven top 10s and two poles, but his average finish is 15.3. His driver rating of 95.1 is sixth-best among Chase drivers. Those numbers may not be stellar, but realistically, they don’t have to be. Even if Matt Kenseth, who trails Johnson by 28 points, wins the race and leads the most laps, Johnson only needs to finish 23rd to secure the big prize.

“Defending is the place of control of the points lead. There’s a lot of pressure on myself and the team to get things done. We’ll deal and manage that as the weekend goes on. But excited to have this opportunity. Again, we’re in the position that we want to be in, that  I’m sure any driver would want to be in.”

Yes, Johnson is right where he wants to be — in the driver’s seat.

2. Matt Kenseth (-28)
by: Stephanie Stuart

What a difference a year makes. Cliche, right? But ask Matt Kenseth, and he'll tell you - one year really can make a difference. This time last year, he came into Homestead-Miami sitting sixth in the race for the Sprint Cup championship in a partially sponsored car, which he was preparing to vacate at the end of the season. He had won three times, even winning the Daytona 500, but it wasn't good enough to secure full-time funding for the team. Kenseth was preparing to take his career to Joe Gibbs Racing. He was preparing for the unknown.

Many racing insiders wondered what the unknown would hold. How long would it take Kenseth to form a working relationship with new crew chief Jason Ratcliff? How would he react on-track, not hearing longtime spotter Mike Calinoff on his radio? How would driving a Toyota vs. a Ford affect his racing?

We got the answers to all of those questions just three weeks into the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kenseth won the race in dominating fashion, and then proceeded to give a somewhat emotional interview in victory lane, something we're not used to seeing from the usually stoic 41 year-old. After that win, the No. 20 team's season took off. They amassed six more wins leading up to the season finale at Homestead-Miami, including a controversial win at Kansas where NASCAR docked the driver for an underweight connecting rod in the engine, a part that the team never touched. NASCAR later overturned its ruling and scaled back the penalties, realizing that the team had nothing to do with the part in question.

So with seven wins, Kenseth should be a shoe in for the Cup right? Unfortunately, it's not that easy. When the No. 20 team was good, they were unbeatable, but when they were bad, they were really bad. Starting off the season with a 37th-place finish in the Daytona 500 didn't help the cause. Another bad finish a few weeks later at Bristol didn't help, either. It's like the team ran hot or cold. There was no middle ground, which will be obviously be something they will focus on in 2014.

After starting the Chase as the No. 1 seed, Kenseth looked to be the one to beat, as he won the first two races at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, but as the Chase wore on, the No. 20 team began to show signs of weakness. Finishes of 11th, 20th and 23rd allowed always threatening Jimmie Johnson to overtake Kenseth as the points leader coming into Texas, and a win by Johnson at Texas allowed him to leave Texas with the lead, with Kenseth only seven points behind. A dismal day in Phoenix allowed Johnson to stretch his lead to 28 points coming into this weekend's season finale.

The championship may seem out of grasp to some, but don't tell that to Kenseth. He's ready to give it all he's got this weekend as the curtain closes on the 2013 season. "I'm looking forward to this weekend," he said when asked about his thoughts on winning the title. "I'm hoping we can put together a really good effort here this weekend and finish the season off on a positive note no matter what happens with the points. Hopefully we can finish it off with if not a win, a good top-five finish and go run good and lead some laps and do the things we know we can do."

While Kenseth knows it's going to take quite an effort to win the title this weekend, he wants to see it done the right way. "I'm not a guy that roots for teams to lose," he said when asked about the possibility of Johnson having problems during the race. "I'm kind of a guy that roots for my favorite teams, so I'm probably more rooting to go out and dominate and win the race than anything else. If he has problems, I guess I wouldn't feel bad about it. I would take it, because we've had our share of problems this year, a lot of things that were just circumstances."

Look for Kenseth to be a contender at Homesetead-Miami this weekend. He's won there before, and the speedway is a 1.5-miler, which is to the Toyota driver's liking. Kenseth remains relaxed and confident as he prepares to do battle with Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick on Sunday. One thing remains constant though - what a difference a year makes.

3. Kevin Harvick (-34)
by: Rebecca Kivak

After 14 years and 23 Sprint Cup wins, Kevin Harvick will close the door on his tenure with Richard Childress Racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The question is: will Harvick leave RCR as the 2013 Sprint Cup champion?

Sitting 34 points behind five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and 2003 champion Matt Kenseth, Harvick knows he’s a longshot to win his first Sprint Cup title.

But one thing’s for certain: the driver of the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet will go all out in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, ready to capitalize if Johnson or Kenseth should falter.

“I think for us, we've had so many strange things happen throughout my career at the last minute, you at least have to play everything out,” Harvick said at the title contenders’ press conference Thursday. “Just the type of team we are, we race up until the last lap. You just never know what's going to happen.

“Realistically the only things we can control are what we do. It's definitely a really, really longshot. But we'll control the things that are in our control and see how it all falls,” Harvick said.

Harvick has four wins under his belt this year, half of which have come in the Chase (Kansas and Phoenix). Not only does he carry momentum from his Phoenix victory into the season finale, but he also boasts an impressive resume at Homestead.

In 12 starts, Harvick has only finished outside the top 10 twice at the 1.5-mile track. He has five top fives, including two runner-up finishes, and an average finish of 7.9. In his last five starts, Harvick has finished no worse than eighth, where he finished in his last trip to Homestead one year ago.

As his time with Richard Childress Racing draws to a close, Harvick will wear a custom-designed helmet highlighting memorable moments from his career with the organization. Next year he will move on to Stewart-Haas Racing.

For a driver who was labeled a “lame duck” entering this season, Kevin Harvick has proven he is anything but. There’s no better way he’d rather end his tenure with Richard Childress Racing than by hoisting the championship trophy at Homestead.

TV Schedule: Nov. 15-17

Homestead-Miami Speedway. Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR
It all comes down to this.

The 2013 NASCAR season ends this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Three champions will be crowned in the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series.

In Sprint Cup, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson wields a 28-point lead over Matt Kenseth, followed by Kevin Harvick.

In Nationwide, Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. will battle for each driver's first series championship.

In Camping World Truck Series, Matt Crafton will hoist his first championship trophy.

The following is a handy schedule to this weekend's track events and TV coverage at Homestead. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Nov. 15:
10 a.m. NNS Practice, FS1
11 a.m. NCWTS Final Practice, FS1
1 p.m. NASCAR K&N Pro Series at Atlanta, FS1
1:30 p.m. NSCS Practice, ESPN2
3 p.m. NNS Final Practice, FS2
4 p.m. NASCAR Race Hub, FS1
4:30 p.m. NCWTS Qualifying, FS2
6 p.m. NSCS Qualifying, ESPN2
7:30 p.m. NCWTS SetUp, FS1
8 p.m. NCWTS: Ford EcoBoost 200, FS1. Green flag: 8:18 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 16:
3:30 a.m. NCWTS: Ford EcoBoost 200 (re-air), FS1
12 noon NSCS Practice, FS2
1 p.m. NNS Qualifying, FS2
3 p.m. NSCS Final Practice, FS2
4 p.m. NNS Countdown, ESPN
4:30 p.m. NNS: Ford EcoBoost 300, ESPN. Green flag: 4:46 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 17:
10 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
2 p.m. NASCAR K&N Pro Series at Phoenix, FS1
2 p.m. NSCS Countdown, ESPN
3 p.m. NSCS: Ford EcoBoost 400, ESPN. Green flag: 3:15 p.m. Re-airs at 1 a.m. Monday on ESPN2.
7 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1
11 p.m. NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Thank you to our faithful readers!

Curtain Call: Five Questions for Homestead-Miami

2013 Sprint Cup championship contenders Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.
Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images
As NASCAR crowns a champion this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, bringing 2013 to a close, we can't help but look forward to 2014 and the excitement that it will bring.

Not that 2013 has been anything but exciting.

In a season that saw a veteran driver peak with a new team in just three races, another driver break his back, an engine reach the grandstands and quite possibly the best Tony Stewart interview ever after the wreck at Fontana, 2013 will be remembered by many.

But now, with just one race to go before our short off-season, we have to look ahead. Drivers will switch teams, crew members will swap positions and NASCAR will ultimately shift the rules again. It's never too early to hypothesize about what may happen come green flag time at Daytona.

1. Who will be happier to see 2013 end, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr.? Neither. The real answer is Denny Hamlin. Since suffering a compression fracture in his lower back in Fontana earlier this season, Hamlin has been counting the milliseconds until the end of the season. The fracture forced him to get out of the car for six weeks, which made him re-evaluate his love for the sport. Week in and week out analysts wondered whether the team could come back and make the Chase. Hamlin came back determined, but luck refused to be on his side. If it could go wrong, it did go wrong for the No. 11 team, and Hamlin admittedly drove the car in pain every week. As he ponders offseason back surgery, he undoubtedly welcomes a fresh start in 2014.

2. Is it too early to go from a Six Pack to Seventh Heaven? In my opinion, no. The No. 48 never looks like it has peaked, and they always look to be able to turn up the volume at any given time. The personnel on the team remain consistent and with Chad Knaus at the helm and Jimmie Johnson at the wheel, they look to be the leader in the garage. This should make the rest of the field very nervous, but should also make them want to take chances with their equipment. It's well known that Knaus competes in the gray area in the rulebook, so why can't everyone else? Competing in the gray area isn't cheating; it's just using rules that aren't defined.

3. Are we facing the end of an era? With so many seats being vacated after this weekend's race, it's a little hard not to ask this question. We've all gotten used to seeing Kevin Harvick in the No. 29, or seeing Mark Martin's friendly face or Juan Pablo Montoya hanging out with his kids. Out of those three names, only one will return to the track in 2014, and it won't be in his familiar ride. Is our current generation of drivers slowly starting to move on?

4. Will the No. 20 team come back stronger in 2014? The short answer is yes, and here's why. After winning seven times (at press time), the team has already shown their potential. Now, they can use the off-season and fine-tune the details. There were lots of pit-road miscues, which Matt Kenseth is not used to. There were handling issues with the car at different tracks, which will be addressed by Jason Ratcliff and the car chief. The entire No. 20 team will work together over the off-season to pull together and will come together in 2014 as a stronger unit. This will be in part due to a strong presence by Matt Kenseth, who, in the past, held a management-type presence over the No. 17 team at Roush Fenway Racing. I look for him to start doing the same thing at Joe Gibbs Racing very soon.

5. When will Roush Fenway Racing come back to life? Gone are the days of dominant Roush Fenway Fords. Now they are competitive, but not fiercely competitive like the Roush Fenway of the late '90s to early 2000s. What happened? Loss of sponsorship, for one thing. Losing DeWalt as a full-time sponsor hurt the organization more than anyone let on and performance started to decline. They have been able to produce a handful of winning cars, but performance has remained about the same for the past few seasons. What they need to do is go on a sponsorship crusade searching for big-time sponsors who will fully fund the organization. They also need to fully fund a third Cup team, in order to get the communication flowing again. Their Nationwide program could use a revamp as well. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. recently won the Nationwide title in a Roush Fenway car, but even he was partially sponsored, having a different name on the hood almost every week. Consistent money provides consistent opportunity for development. When all of these things come into place, hopefully we will see the Roush Fenway of old.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Homestead Season Finale

Track Classification: Intermediate
Similar Tracks: Atlanta Motor Speedway • Charlotte Motor Speedway • Chicagoland Speedway  Darlington Raceway • Kansas Speedway • Kentucky Speedway • Las Vegas Motor Speedway
New Hampshire Motor Speedway • Texas Motor Speedway
Distance: 1.5 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Kevin Harvick - 5
All with 4 - Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr. and Jeff Gordon
All with 3 - Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne 

By Track
Kevin Harvick - 4  
All with 3 - Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr. and Jeff Gordon

Recent Pole Winners:  
2012 Joey Logano
2011 Carl Edwards

The Likely Suspects: This season finale will crown a champion and end an eventful and highly competitive season. We can expect Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth to rack up as many points as possible during the race. However, look at these drivers to race for the win: Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex  Jr., Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer.   

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick this week is a tie between Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. If you got'em, use 'em. I don't, so I'm going with Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon. Clint Bowyer is also a decent pick here at Homestead. My next picks are: Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray and Aric Almirola. If you have Martin Truex Jr. starts left, I'd put him in and pull Jamie McMurray. Joey Logano is also worth consideration here.

I will complete my team with A.J. Allmendinger and Trevor Bayne. Enjoy the race. It should be an interesting finale. Post your comments here or email me at