Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fast Facts: 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bill Elliott

Cindy, Bill and Chase Elliott at the NASCAR Hall of Fame
following the 2015 HoF announcement
credit: Getty Images/Rainier Ehrhardt
2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bill Elliott was the 1988 Cup Series champion, earning 44 wins and 55 poles during his career. Elliott and fellow 2015 inductees Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly, Rex White and Fred Lorenzen will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Jan. 30, 2015. Here are the updated Fast Facts on one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers, originally published in Feb. 2011.
  • William Clyde Elliott was born Oct. 8, 1955 in Dawsonville, Georgia. His brothers Ernie and Dan were active in his early career, as was his father George. Elliott made his Cup Series debut in 1976 in a family-owned car; he received his first major sponsor in 1980 from Harry Melling, who later bought the team from George Elliott.
  • Elliott won his first race in 1983 at Riverside International Raceway. In 1985, he won 11 races and 11 poles, as well as the first Winston Million for winning the Daytona 500, the Winston 500 (Talladega), and the Southern 500 (Darlington). This is when he earned his nicknames “Million Dollar Bill” and “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.” In 1986, Elliott set the all-time NASCAR qualifying speed record at Talladega, running a lap of 212.809 mph.
  • After winning the Cup Series championship in 1988, Elliott was again a major player in the 1992 championship, finishing runner-up to the late Alan Kulwicki by 10 points; it was Elliott’s first year driving for Junior Johnson. In 1995, Elliott started his own team, sponsored by McDonald’s, which he owned until 2000.
  • In 2000, he sold his team to Ray Evernham, who was working on a Dodge return to NASCAR. Elliott drove the #9 Dodge Dealers Intrepid until 2003. In 2004, he began his part-time driving career, driving for a number of teams including Evernham’s and the Wood Brothers. Most recently, Elliott raced in the July 2012 Cup Series race at Daytona for Turner Motorsports, and tested a Nationwide Series car at Daytona for JR Motorsports in Feb. 2014.
  • Elliott was voted the Cup Series’ Most Popular Driver a record 16 times: 1984-1988, 1991-2000, and 2002. He took himself out of the running in 2001 and urged all fans to vote for the late Dale Earnhardt, who won the award posthumously.
  • Elliott and his wife Cindy are the parents of 2014 Nationwide Series champion Chase Elliott (born Nov. 28, 1995); the younger Elliott drives for JR Motorsports. Elliott also has two daughters, Starr and Brittany.
  • Find out more about Elliott at his website, www.billelliott.com

Monday, December 29, 2014

NASCAR: Week in Review (12/29/2014)

Photo Courtesy of: Carlos Herrera NASCARMedia.com  

Skirts and Scuffs' new weekly feature continues, recapping all the hot topics from NASCAR in the past week. We'll keep you informed about what's happening, so if you missed anything, don’t worry – we have you covered. As always, your comments are welcome on our Facebook page.

So, ladies and gentlemen, start your opinions!

Carl Edwards makes a bold prediction

The new Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver, in an interview with Fox Sports on Sunday, announced that he plans on winning 10 races and the championship in 2015. 

Do you think he’s crazy? Remember back in 2012, Matt Kenseth, a former Roush Fenway Racing teammate to Edwards, won seven races and finished second in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. 

Still think he’s lost his mind? 

Perhaps ... but perhaps not. Maybe he is just raising the bar at JGR. With Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin in the same stable, this could be exactly what the team needs – a little friendly (or not) competition.

Jeremy Bullins comes full circle

After three years at Team Penske, Bullins will return to Wood Brother’s Racing (WBR) in 2015 as crew chief for Ryan Blaney. Starting his career in 1999 at WBR, he worked on Pro Cup and Late Model cars driven by Jon Wood. He quickly moved up to race engineer for the famous No. 21 at a time when this particular position was an up-and-coming important part of a race team.

While working at Team Penske, his most notable success was as crew chief for the No. 22 Nationwide Series car, leading four different drivers to a total of 12 wins and the organization's first owners’ championship.

Will returning home and teaming with Blaney bring success for Bullins? We'll just have to wait and see.

Kyle Larson welcomes new addition

On Monday, the NASCAR Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Kyle Larson, and his longtime girlfriend, Katelyn Sweet, announced the arrival of their son, Owen Miyata Larson. The baby’s middle name is a tribute to Larson's mother. It's her maiden name, which will continue in the Larson family.

What a great way to end the year for this young driver. It's likely 2015 will be just as exciting for him and his new family.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

New motorsports-focused app satisfies your need for speed

“Why are you a NASCAR fan?” You wouldn't believe how many times I’m asked that question. And it’s usually a man who's asking me. Let me set the record straight. It’s not because I like seeing big wrecks, and it’s not because some of the drivers are handsome. It’s because I like to drive fast. Furthermore, I like to watch professionals drive fast in a field of 43 cars. It’s something I’d like to think I could do if I ever got the chance.

When I’m in my car (OK, my minivan) on the open road, I like to go as fast as I can, within the confines of the law, of course. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as putting the windows down and feeling the wind in my hair … unless a certain child has left a sippy cup of milk in the backseat for more than a day; that’s a completely different sensation. I can get away from the burdens of life at 80 miles per hour, even if it’s just for a moment.

Sometimes, I long to be on the German autobahn where there are no speed limits. Other times, I just want to hit the track and pretend I’m out there with 42 other cars racing for that coveted checkered flag.

Have you ever been at the track and wondered how fast those cars are actually going? Sure, you can rent or buy a headset and listen to your favorite driver talk with his crew, and yes, you can listen to the track broadcast for sporadic information as announcers run down speeds for the field during a race.

Imagine, however, that you’re at Daytona or Talladega, and you’re sitting high up in the stands along the frontstretch. The field is preparing to restart. By the time they drop the green flag on the 2015 season, there will be an app available that can tell you exactly how fast those cars are going as they fly past you on that restart.

Using technology that isolates moving objects from their background, Speed Racer, which will be available for iOS and Android devices, will show you instantly how fast cars are going. With your smartphone or tablet, simply take video of the cars as they pass by you, and the app will show with pinpoint accuracy the speed of every car in the video you've recorded. You’ll no longer need to rely on telemetry from cars or radar or laser instrumentation to satisfy your need for speed.

For more information, read more at their website: indiegogo.com/projects/speed-measurement-app-for-iosorandroid-devices.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A NASCAR Christmas

My usual Christmas tree. 
'Tis the season for shopping, spending time with family, Christmas dinners, and my favorite, presents. It's always fun to find a gift marked with your name under the tree and shake it with the hope of figuring out what it is. One of my favorite parts of Christmas is shopping for family members and seeing the look on their faces when they open the gifts I handpicked just for them.

For NASCAR fans, nothing beats getting a Christmas gift that you've wanted all season or receiving a gift that commemorates your driver's championship. I had the privilege to ask some NASCAR fans what memorable Christmas gifts they have received, or what NASCAR gift they hope to get this Christmas.

Whitney Richards shared a memorable Christmas gift:

“On Christmas Eve in 2009, my family gathered at my grandparents' house to open presents. When
Whitney Richards shares her Christmas gift. 
my Mamaw handed me my last present, she told me 'Don't turn it upside down! It might leak!' So I was immediately intrigued as to what was under the wrapping paper of the small square package she had handed to me.

I pulled off the wrapping paper to reveal an unexpected surprise! It was a collector's item -- A mini drum of race-used oil from the No. 17 DeWALT Ford that Matt Kenseth drove to victory in the 2009 Daytona 500. Kenseth was my favorite driver at the time, so the gift really meant a lot to me. As I got
excited over such a unique and thoughtful gift from my Mamaw, I heard my relatives laugh as she told everyone, 'I don't think I've ever seen a girl get so excited about getting motor oil for Christmas.'"

Jenny Lynn’s best gift was a race weekend with her dad. "'Things are great, but spending quality time and making memories with family is irreplaceable. Life is too short.”

PonyTails Pitstops would like a Dale Call or race tickets with friends and family. 

Many other fans would love race tickets and meeting their favorite drivers. But, let’s be honest, what fan doesn’t want all these things?

On a personal level, my favorite NASCAR gifts have always been from my Uncle Billy. Every year he would get me a calendar. Not just any calendar, a Dale Earnhardt Jr. one! The anticipation of receiving the calendar is something I look forward to. Getting that simple gift means the world to me, because it was my uncle who got me into racing. He got me my first diecast and, how could I forget, my very first sports jacket.

Christmas is the time of year we celebrate joy and being with our families. Christmas will forever be
One of the many gifts my Uncle Billy got me
my most cherished time of the year. I have so many memories, and reading from other fans, they do as well.

So, what's the best racing-related gift you've ever received? Share your stories in the comments below.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2014

NASCAR: Week in Review (12/22/2014)

 Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images     
Welcome to the second installation of Skirts and Scuffs' new feature, recapping the week's hot topics. If you missed anything going on in NASCAR, don’t worry – we have you covered. As always, your comments are welcome on our Facebook page. So, ladies and gentlemen, start your opinions!

Is 2015 crunch time for Danica Patrick?
The off-season is the perfect time to review drivers' performances and Danica Patrick's name keeps coming up. Patrick begins her third full NSCS season and still has people questioning her ability to continue racing in NASCAR’s premiere series. Her contract runs through 2015, and a renewal is in the “speculation” bubble. Will she be offered an extension or will her career go in a new direction?

Patrick ran 82 NSCS races with an average finish of 25.3 and 61 Nationwide Series races with an average finish of 21.1. She steadily improved both years she ran in Cup, but how long will it take her to be a top-20 driver?

To her credit, Patrick brings a lot of money into the sport, and her fan base continues to grow by leaps and bounds every year. If she can’t make it to that next level, will Stewart-Haas Racing let her go or keep her -- perhaps for business reasons? Only time will tell.

Expanded field announced for the 2015 Sprint Unlimited
NASCAR announced they will open the 2015 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona to a minimum of 25 drivers. It will now include all 2014 Chase contenders, 2014 Coors Light Pole Award winners and former Sprint Unlimited winners. The most notable change is former Daytona 500 pole winners will compete. 

This announcement opened the flood gates on social media focusing on Danica Patrick. The first female to capture the prestigious pole in 2013, this new opportunity reignited the question of whether NASCAR changed the rules for her. But other competitors benefited from the changes, too. Drivers who would have been sidelined, but are now eligible to race based on a Daytona 500 pole, include Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. The biggest surprise may be Brian Scott, who won a pole in 2014 at Talladega. Perhaps the expanded field will make for better racing in the Sprint Unlimited.

Brian Vickers suffers another setback
On Monday, Michael Waltrip Racing announced Brian Vickers, who has been fighting health issues for some time, will miss the first part of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season due to heart-related matters. Vickers had surgery because his body rejected an artificial heart patch placed in 2010. This development puts MWR in a precarious position, scrambling for a replacement driver with less than two months until the Daytona 500.

Who will be Vickers' replacement driver? Veteran Mark Martin would be a great choice. However, Martin is aligned with Roush Fenway Racing for 2015, which could create a conflict of interest.

Sprint says goodbye
Sprint announced 2016 will be its last year as NASCAR's primary sponsor, ending a successful partnership with the sport that began when Sprint merged with Nextel in 2004. Sprint's tenure in NASCAR was a time of many changes in the sport, including revamping qualifying and the Chase format. On the technology side of racing, fans saw the introduction of the FanVision® scanner. On the fan interaction front, Miss Sprint Cup reached many followers on social media in her role as an ambassador.

Who will be the next series sponsor? Many are speculating car manufacturers may collaborate to share sponsorship. Some say a major credit card company or another wireless service provider -- perhaps Verizon -- may step in. Verizon has the largest wireless network and could bring new technology to the tracks. A major credit card company would be relevant because fans utilize credit when making purchases of race tickets, merchandise or overnight accommodations.

If a global hotel chain became the major sponsor of NASCAR, it could create a relationship with fans and maybe provide an avenue for discounted hotel rates on race weekends. This could be a win-win situation, creating fan loyalty to the chain, even outside of race events. 

Darrell Wallace Jr. has a new home
As of Thursday, Darrell Wallace Jr. has a new ride with Roush Fenway Racing in the XFINITY Series. He joins Elliott Sadler, Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed. Wallace Jr. will pilot the No. 6 Ford with a primary sponsor to be announced at a later date.  He'll have veteran teammate Sadler and retired driver Mark Martin to mentor him.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

NASCAR: Week in Review (12/15/2014)

 Credit: Christian Petersen/NASCAR via Getty Images  
Welcome to Skirts and Scuffs' new feature, recapping all the hot topics from our sport in the past week. We'll keep you informed about what's going on in NASCAR, so if you missed anything, don’t worry – we have you covered. As always, your comments are welcome on our Facebook page. So, ladies and gentlemen, start your opinions!

Darrell Wallace Jr. wants more in 2015
Darrell Wallace Jr. made a bold move requesting he be released from Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). Wallace Jr., who won four Camping World Truck Series races in 2014 and finished third in the standings, is an up-and-comer in NASCAR. He appeared to have the world at his feet when it came to 2015. But things began to unravel when Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) announced lack of full-time sponsorship for him.

Wallace Jr. initially said he wasn’t worried about not having a full-time ride in 2015, stating “I’ll take what I can get,” similar to a comment made by Sam Hornish Jr. in 2014 when he was offered a limited schedule at JGR.

Asking for the release may be a smart move for Wallace Jr., but it has yet to be confirmed that Roush Fenway Racing (RFR) will be his new home.

A lot of people have placed RFR out to pasture, assuming their time as a dominant force in NASCAR has come and gone, but in 2015 RFR will have Elliott Sadler, Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed in their stable. It appears RFR is looking to reclaim the dominance it once had. With the possible addition of Wallace Jr., resurgence as a top-tier team is likely.

Is it possible that JGR and KBM will regret letting Wallace Jr. slip through their fingers? Perhaps, and maybe sooner rather than later.

Tracks reduce seats to create a better fan experience
Speedway Motorsports ,Inc. (SMI) announced it will remove 41,000 seats at Charlotte Motor Speedway and 17,000 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (AMS) to improve attendance in 2015 by creating more demand. AMS even took it one step further, by offering race fans 17 years of age and younger free admittance to the grandstands on Friday and Saturday during race weekends.

This is a trend NASCAR has seen in recent years with track attendance down significantly. Removing the seats can potentially create a better fan experience, but will it do so in these cases?

At Auto Club Speedway, removing approximately 30,000 seats proved to be a smart decision. ACS sold out last March's NSCS race due to the reduction of seats. With the aging of the racing surface, ACS produced some of the best racing, making ACS one of the most sought-after tickets on the West Coast. 

So the question is, will this tactic work for SMI? Only time will tell.

Dylan Kwasniewski has a great new opportunity in 2015
It was announced Thursday that Dylan Kwasniewski will race for a new Xfinity Series team in 2015. Owner Harry Scott Jr., formerly of Turner Scott Motorsports (TSM), has teamed up with Chip Ganassi to create H. Scott Motorsports with Chip Ganassi.

Kwasniewski will share a ride with 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson -- a combination with the potential to dominate the Xfinity Series.

TSM sponsored Kwasniewski in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) in 2014, so the transition should be a smooth one for the 19-year-old. Rockstar Energy Drink was his primary sponsor in 2014 but whether they will make the move with him in 2015 has not been confirmed. 

In 2014, Kwasniewski had an average finish of 17.72 and was running at the end of 29 of the 33 races, impressive statistics going into the new season. His schedule for 2015 is unknown for now, but this is a great opportunity for the young driver.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fast Facts: 2014 Camping World Truck Series Champion Matt Crafton

credit: NASCAR via Getty Images/
Robert Laberge
2014 Camping World Truck Series champ Matt Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra for ThorSport Racing, raced for 12 seasons in the series before winning his first championship – now he has two in a row. Learn more about this California-born driver in this updated Truck Series championship edition – originally published in Dec. 2013 – of Fast Facts.
  • Matthew Crafton was born June 11, 1976 in Tulare, California. He began racing go-karts at age 7, progressing to midgets by age 15 after winning regional and national championships. In 1996, he moved up to the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series for the season’s final three races, subbing for his father, Danny, who was injured; the younger Crafton won the series’ title in 2000. In 1998, Crafton took part in the Winter Heat Series on ESPN, racing against, among others, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Ron Hornaday Jr. and 2014 Cup Series champ Kevin Harvick.
  • In 2000, Crafton also made his Truck Series debut in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana with ThorSport, qualifying 17th and finishing ninth. After three full-time seasons with the team, he joined Kevin Harvick Incorporated in 2004, but was released at the end of the season in spite of a fifth-place finish in points and 17 top 10s. He rejoined ThorSport in 2005.
  • Crafton earned his first Truck Series pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2005, followed by his first victory in 2008 at Charlotte.
  • In 2013, Crafton scored one win and 19 top 10 finishes in 22 Truck Series races on his way to the championship. In 2014, he earned two wins and 17 top 10 finishes in 22 races to win his second-straight title.
  • Crafton made his Nationwide Series debut in 2013, racing three times for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 33 Rheem/Menards Chevrolet Camaro; he finished with three top 10 finishes, including two third-place finishes at the two races at Kentucky Speedway. He raced once in the series in 2014, finishing 12th at Las Vegas in March.
  • Find out more about Crafton at his website, mattcrafton.com

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fast Facts: 2014 Nationwide Series Champion Chase Elliott

1988 Cup Series champ Bill Elliott and 2014 Nationwide
Series champ Chase Elliott
credit: NASCAR via Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton
At Phoenix International Raceway in November, Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, wrapped up his championship quest one week ahead of schedule, and joined his Hall of Fame-bound father Bill as a NASCAR champion. Here are the updated Fast Facts, originally published in July 2013, on a young driver with a long NASCAR career ahead of him.
  • William Clyde "Chase" Elliott II was born Nov. 28, 1995 in Dawsonville, Georgia, the son of “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville,” 1988 Cup Series champ Bill Elliott, and his wife Cindy. NASCAR fans watched Chase grow up, including a visit to victory lane and the famed “Yard of Bricks” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2002 at age 6.
  • Elliott’s early years in racing included go-karts, from which he worked his way up to various late model series. In 2009, his first year in late models, he recorded four wins, 24 top 10 finishes and three poles in 31 starts. In 2010, his statistics improved, earning 13 wins, 39 top 10 finishes and six poles in 42 late model starts – those wins included the prestigious Winchester 400 and the first race at the re-opened North Wilkesboro Speedway.
  • When NASCAR lowered the age requirement for its lower-tier series to 15 in 2011, Elliott was signed to a development contract by Hendrick Motorsports, resulting in a full-time schedule in the K&N Pro Series East in 2001 and 2012. In two seasons in the series, Elliott earned one win (Iowa, 2012), 15 top 10 finishes and a pole in 26 races, finishing in the top 10 in points both years. In April 2011, Elliott was named Sports Illustrated’s High School Athlete of the Week.
  • Elliott also ran late models during this time, finishing third in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown in 2011 and winning the prestigious Snowball Derby later that year. In 2012, he ran six ARCA Racing Series races, finishing in the top 10 in each start.
  • In 2013, Elliott competed in the ARCA Racing Series and the Camping World Truck Series. Elliott became the youngest superspeedway winner in ARCA history in June 2014 by winning at Pocono Raceway. In September of the same year, Elliott captured his first checkered flag in the Truck Series at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.
  • In January 2014, Elliott was announced as the driver of the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, competing in the Nationwide Series full-time. Elliott won his first Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in April in just his sixth start, following it up one week later with a win at Darlington. He would add a third win at Chicagoland Speedway on his way to becoming the first rookie and the youngest driver to win a NASCAR national series title. The Elliotts became just the fifth father-son duo to earn NASCAR titles.
  • Learn more about Chase Elliott at his website, www.chaseelliott.com

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fast Facts: 2014 Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick

Kevin, Keelan and DeLana Harvick celebrate a championship
credit: NASCAR via Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton
After an exciting finish to the new-format 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing, is a first-time Cup Series champ. Here are the updated “Fast Facts,” first published in Aug. 2011, on the driver they call “The Closer” – and now “The Champ.”
  • Kevin Michael Harvick was born Dec. 8, 1975 in Bakersfield, California. His parents bought him a go-kart for his kindergarten graduation in 1980, and in the next 10 years, won seven national championships and two Grand National championships. He competed in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series while in North High School in Bakersfield, where he also competed as a wrestler, earning the section title in his weight class his senior year.
  • Harvick made his Truck Series debut in 1995 at his hometown Mesa Marin Raceway, starting and finishing 27th in a family-owned truck. He also competed in the NASCAR Auto Zone West Series, the Winston West Series, and the Winter Heat Series at Tucson Raceway Park.
  • In 2000, Harvick signed with Richard Childress Racing to compete full-time in the Busch Series, winning the series’ Rookie of the Year title. Plans were to have Harvick race the series full-time again in 2001, moving to the Cup Series full-time in 2002, until the untimely death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona. It took Harvick just three races to win his first emotional Cup Series race, edging out Jeff Gordon by 0.006-seconds at Atlanta. In 2001, Harvick captured both the Cup Series Rookie of the Year and the Nationwide Series championship; Harvick was also Nationwide champ in 2006.
  • As a member of RCR in the Cup Series from 2001-2013, Harvick won 23 races and had 209 top 10 finishes; he finished third in points three times (2010, 2011 and 2013). Harvick joined Stewart-Haas Racing for 2014, ending the season with five wins, 20 top 10 finishes and the Sprint Cup Series championship.
  • Harvick also has 44 career Nationwide Series wins and 14 career Camping World Truck Series wins.
  • Harvick and his wife, the former DeLana Linville, owned Kevin Harvick Incorporated from 2001 to 2011 and competed in the Nationwide Series and Truck Series. The Harvicks are parents to Keelan, who has become a fixture in pre- and post-race features on his father. The Harvicks founded the Kevin Harvick Foundation in 2010 to support children’s programs throughout the US.
  • Find out more about Kevin Harvick at www.kevinharvick.com

Friday, November 14, 2014

Redemption for Darrell Wallace Jr. with Victory at Homestead

Kyle Busch and Darrell Wallace Jr. celebrate race win, owner's championship
Credit:Chris Graythen/Getty Images  
Darrell Wallace Jr. told his team, "We want it more than anyone else. Let's show it."

And show it they did. The Camping World Truck Series season finale featured some of the best racing of the year with intense side-by-side action. The race ended with Wallace Jr. holding off Kyle Larson for the win in a rematch of their finish at Eldora earlier in the season.

"It was wild," said Wallace Jr. "Had to really work for it and it was back and forth, loose and tight, fighting aero tight and aero loose up there against the fence. Got into it once and learned from that. And then towards the end, battling two Kyles, the Cup stars, it was tough. But didn't get too excited, didn't get too down, kept a cool head, stayed patient, and was able to come out on top."

Larson stalked Wallace Jr. for the last half-dozen laps, going high, then low, then high again, trying to get around the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports entry to no avail. Wallace Jr. scored his fourth checkered flag of the season, the 18th for Toyota, tying Chevrolet for the most victories for a manufacturer in a season.

"Once I got back in traffic after we had a bad pit stop there on the last stop, I struggled to find clean air and get back to the front, and me and Kyle Busch raced pretty hard there and I was able to clear him finally and chase down Bubba pretty quickly," Larson explained. "Then once I got to him, he was already running kind of where I wanted to run, and was trying to run a lane lower than him in 1 and 2 and I could almost get to his inside, and he could just get down in front of me enough to take my air away, and I'd get tight on exit and lose ground.

"There was a couple times where I got a good run off 4 and thought about doing a slide job and just thought better of it. And then I tried it one time there and wished the lap truck hadn't been there so I could run it even deeper. He was able to squeeze back around me, and that was about my last real shot. I tried something there the last lap, but I figured it wasn't going to work."

During those final laps Timothy Peters (third), Kyle Busch (fourth), and Ryan Blaney (fifth) battled for the lead and for position. Tyler Reddick was in the mix, too, until he got loose and slid sideways down the track, winding up sixth. Blaney's shifter broke early in the race.

In his Victory Lane interview, Wallace Jr. paid tribute to a team member's relative.

"Eddie, [Troconis] our engineer lost his mother this morning and I wanted to put her name, Alejandra, over the door and she was our guardian angel," Wallace said.

Ty Dillon filled in at the last minute for Brennan Newberry, who was ill, and came home seventh.

Behind him, Matt Crafton crossed the finish line eighth, making history as the first back-to-back driver's champion in the Camping World Truck Series. Ben Kennedy finished 17th and won Rookie of the Year.

Kyle Busch Motorsports handily took the owner's championship.

Unofficial Finishing Order:

Finish    Driver
1    Darrell Wallace, Jr.
2    Kyle Larson
3    Timothy Peters
4    Kyle Busch
5    Ryan Blaney
6    Tyler Reddick
7    Ty Dillon
8    Joe Nemechek
9    Matt Crafton
10    Johnny Sauter
11    Ross Chastain
12    Daniel Hemric
13    Jeb Burton
14    Spencer Gallagher
15    German Quiroga
16    Mason Mitchell
17    Ben Kennedy
18    Bryan Silas
19    Tayler Malsam
20    Austin Hill
21    Matt Tifft
22    Justin Jennings
23    Joey Coulter
24    Tyler Young
25    Kyle Martel
26    Todd Peck
27    Derek White
28    Ray Black, Jr.
29    Mason Mingus
30    Jordan Anderson
31    Wendell Chavous
32    Jennifer Jo Cobb
33    Scott Stenzel
34    Norm Benning
35    John Wes Townley
36    Caleb Roark

Gordon scores Hendrick Motorsports' 200th pole in Homestead

Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images
Jeff Gordon grabbed the Coors Light Pole Friday night for the Ford Ecoboost 400 with his lap of
29.876 seconds at 180.747 mph. The first-place start marks number 200 for Hendrick Motorsports and the 77th for Gordon in 761 career starts. If you do the math, that's a pole about ever 10 starts over his career.

This was Gordon's first pole in 16 starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It's small consolation for missing the finals on the last corner of the last lap of the last race of the Eliminator Round last week.

"I think even if we win this race on Sunday, that's only going to make it hurt a little bit more in some ways because we could have won the championship if we were here," said Gordon post-qualifying.

"I think it's not that I'm over it yet, but I've definitely ‑‑ getting to the racetrack, it allows all of us to focus on what we do best, which is go and compete, and when you're fine‑tuning the setup of the car and making laps, especially at this place, right up an inch off the wall every lap, that takes your mind off of it."

Apparently unfazed by the controversy surrounding him, Kurt Busch rattled off a lap of 180.632 mph, good enough for the outside of the front row. Matt Kenseth followed close behind for third, with Brad Keselowski starting fourth. As has been the pattern this season, the second round of qualifying saw the track record fall, this time to Keselowski with his run of 181.238 mph.

Kevin Harvick starts fifth, closest to the front of the final four Chase contenders. Between him and the next Chase contender are Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch, then Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano roll off 8th and 9th respectively. Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the final round's top 12.

"Obviously, you want to try to qualify on the pole and do the best that you can," said Harvick, "But it's hard to complain about a top five and being in front of the other three is really the ultimate goal today and tomorrow and the next day. I think if we prepare, we should be competitive."

Starting back in 21st, Ryan Newman has some ground to make up if he's going to snatch the Sprint Cup from the clutches of Harvick, Hamlin and Logano.

Whichever of the four drivers finishes best, whether he wins the race or not, will win the Championship.

The final race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup starts at 3:00 pm Sunday, aired on ESPN and SiriusXM NASCAR radio. You can see the weekend's TV schedule here.

The full starting order:

Rank Driver Time Speed
1   Jeff Gordon 29.876   180.747  
2   Kurt Busch 29.895   180.632  
3   Matt Kenseth 29.951   180.294  
4   Brad Keselowski 30.001   179.994  
5   Kevin Harvick 30.009   179.946  
6   Clint Bowyer 30.068   179.593  
7   Kyle Busch 30.087   179.480  
8   Denny Hamlin 30.109   179.348  
9   Joey Logano 30.124   179.259  
10   Martin Truex, Jr. 30.156   179.069  
11   Dale Earnhardt, Jr. 30.280   178.336  
12   Jimmie Johnson 30.563   176.684  
13   Brian Vickers 30.167   179.004  
14   Justin Allgaier 30.178   178.938  
15   Carl Edwards 30.201   178.802  
16   Paul Menard 30.202   178.796  
17   Marcos Ambrose 30.205   178.778  
18   Aric Almirola 30.235   178.601  
19   Jamie McMurray 30.235   178.601  
20   Greg Biffle 30.256   178.477  
21   Ryan Newman 30.296   178.241  
22   Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 30.344   177.959  
23   Kasey Kahne 30.375   177.778  
24   Austin Dillon 30.392   177.678  
25   A.J. Allmendinger 30.298   178.230  
26   Trevor Bayne 30.314   178.136  
27   Kyle Larson 30.315   178.130  
28   Tony Stewart 30.333   178.024  
29   Casey Mears 30.390   177.690  
30   Brian Scott 30.476   177.189  
31   David Ragan 30.489   177.113  
32   Danica Patrick 30.496   177.072  
33   Landon Cassill 30.622   176.344  
34   J.J. Yeley 30.629   176.304  
35   David Gilliland 30.672   176.056  
36   Reed Sorenson 30.745   175.638  
37   Josh Wise 30.760   175.553   OP
38   Michael McDowell 30.773   175.479   OP
39   Michael Annett 30.877   174.887   OP
40   Blake Koch 30.882   174.859   OP
41   Alex Bowman 30.934   174.565   OP
42   Cole Whitt 31.009   174.143   OP
43   Brett Moffitt 31.069   173.807   OP
* OP = Owner's Points

TV Schedule: Nov. 14-16

Chris Trotman / NASCAR via Getty Images
It all comes down to this.

It's the final race weekend of the NASCAR season. All three series take their bows at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The final four drivers have been set in the Chase, but only one will take home the championship. It's winner-take-all on the last lap.

With the champion decided in Nationwide, the Camping World Truck Series will crown its champion.

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

Thank you for visiting the Skirts and Scuffs weekly TV schedule throughout the season. Enjoy the final race weekend, and we'll see you in 2015!

Friday, Nov. 14:
11:30 a.m. NNS Practice, FOX Sports 1
12:30 p.m. NSCS Practice, FOX Sports 1
2 p.m. NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1
2:30 p.m. NCWTS Qualifying, FOX Sports 1
4 p.m. NNS Final Practice, FOX Sports 1
6 p.m. NSCS Qualifying, ESPN2
7:30 p.m. NCWTS SetUp, FOX Sports 1
8 p.m. NCWTS: Ford EcoBoost 200, FOX Sports 1. Green flag: 8:18 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 15:
4 a.m. NCWTS Race at Homestead-Miami (re-air), FOX Sports 1
7 a.m. NCWTS Race at Homestead-Miami (re-air), FOX Sports 2
10:30 a.m. NSCS Practice (re-air), FOX Sports 1
Noon NSCS Practice, FOX Sports 1
1 p.m. NNS Qualifying, FOX Sports 1
2:30 p.m. NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1
3 p.m. NSCS Final Practice, FOX Sports 2.
4 p.m. NNS Countdown, ESPN2
4:30 p.m. NNS: Ford EcoBoost 300, ESPN2. Green flag: 4:45 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 16:
10 a.m. NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race at Phoenix (tape), FOX Sports 1
Noon NASCAR RaceDay, FOX Sports 1
1 p.m. NSCS Countdown, ESPN
3 p.m. NSCS: Ford EcoBoost 400, ESPN. Re-airs at 1 a.m. Monday on ESPN2.
7:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FOX Sports 1

For the Final Time: Five Questions for Homestead

(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
I could throw up at this very moment. My stomach is a contorted mess of nervousness and anticipation. I’m shocked I can actually breathe. The racing hasn’t started yet, and I’m already a mess.

This might be an issue.

The sport makes its way to Homestead-Miami Speedway every year, heading to sunny Florida to bid the season adieu. It all comes full-circle in the most mesmerizing and painful way. The greatest things in life have to end. NASCAR is no exception.

What we’ll see this weekend will be thrilling and awe-inducing, something I can’t wait to enjoy. For the final time in 2014, I’m asking five championship-oriented questions for Homestead.

Should we still watch the NASCAR Nationwide Series race? History was made last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway when Chase Elliott clinched the NNS championship via points. He is now the youngest driver to earn the honor, and that is just awesome. It also makes you wonder what you’re doing with your life. Anyway, he has that sewn up, so should we care about watching the actual race? Yes, we should. People are going to complain and justify skipping it by, “It’s going to be The Kyle Busch Show anyway.” I completely understand that Busch will most likely dominate this weekend. However, if you decide to turn it off, I don’t want to hear any complaining about missing racing during the off-season. YOU chose not to watch one of the final races of the year, so it’s YOUR fault. Spend your Saturday doing something else, fine. Just don’t come crying to me.

What about the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title fight? The NCWTS title is still up for grabs, and it hasn’t been talked of much. With everyone focusing on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series news, it’s understandable. It’s mostly between Matt Crafton and Ryan Blaney, who is 25 points behind the lead. The latter driver lost a bit of ground at Phoenix, but he has a secret weapon: his boss, former NSCS champion Brad Keselowski. Blaney mentioned that he’ll speak with BK prior to today’s race, and that could be dangerous. However, Crafton has the obvious advantage; he won the title last year. He’s more experienced and has a different set of ethics, one that may not allow him to take necessary risks. All of it will fall into place today, so tune in and see who comes out on top.

Who’s the champion if none of the Chase contenders win the race? I’ve seen this question asked about a million times already, and it’s getting on my nerves. That’s why I chose to discuss it. There are no “points as they run.” The highest finisher wins the title. That’s that. Because one race decides it all, bonus points are rather pointless (Ha, get it?) So, what if Newman finishes third, and Logano grabs fourth after leading 20 laps? Hello, Newman. It’s designed that way to prevent any sandbagging. It adds a lot of pressure, as it should. The games are over, boys. It’s go time.

Has the new Chase accomplished its goals? It’s time to review the past nine weeks and evaluate the differences between now and last year. The main thing I’m choosing to focus on: excitement. That was the main priority, right? To be perfectly honest, the new format has done an excellent job. It’s created a need to see each race; if you miss one, you’re behind on who’s fighting who. Sure, there are a few kinks, but it’s the first year. We need to be happy NASCAR even made changes. Let’s be appreciative of the attempt and that it’s doing moderately well.

And the champion is …? Homestead is the most important race of the season, and it’s the sole deciding factor in the championship. Newman, Hamlin, Logano and Harvick will battle it out and fight to finish better than their opponents. It’s going to be insane, but someone has to win. Who? Well, let’s look at each driver’s stats for the Florida track. Newman’s record is decent, with one top five and four top 10s. The driver of the No. 4, however, is better; Harvick has five top fives and 11 top 10s. Well, he does have the most starts. Logano seems to be the one with an issue, having one sole top five. Ouch. There is one driver who has a fantastic record and is the favorite: Hamlin. He has two wins, four top fives, and five top 10s at this venue. He’ll drive circles around these guys like they're standing still. I’m choosing him for the win and the title. This format was made for him, and he’ll reap the benefits.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Final Four for the Championship at Homestead

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
Martin Truex Jr. - 4  
All with 3 - Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin,  Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson 

By Track
Kevin Harvick - 4  
All with 3 - Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth

Recent Pole Winners:  
2013 Matt Kenseth
2012 Joey Logano

The Likely Suspects: This year the season-ending championship chatter will be minus some notable names, and we will be crowning a first-time champion. Interestingly enough one of our final-four -- Kevin Harvick -- happens to be pretty stellar here at Homestead. Who else shines at Homestead? Looks for these drivers to run well on Sunday: Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano.  

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick this week is a tie between Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth. Jeff Gordon is also a fine choice. This next group is tough for me because all the drivers I want to choose, with the exception of Martin Truex Jr., I can't pick - no starts left! If you got'em, use 'em: Joey Logano and Ryan Newman. In addition to Martin Truex Jr., I am going with Aric Almirola, Greg Biffle and A.J. Allmendinger. I will complete my team with Danica Patrick and Trevor Bayne. 

Enjoy the race. It will definitely be a memorable one, a fitting end to a history-making season. Post your comments here or email me at ssfantasyracing@skirtsandscuffs.com

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fast Facts: Homestead-Miami Speedway

The 2013 Nationwide Series Ford Ecoboost 300 at HMS
credit: NASCAR via Getty Images
Four drivers – Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman – head to Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend with hopes of becomimg a first-time Sprint Cup Series champion. Learn more about the track that has hosted Ford Championship Weekend for NASCAR’s top three national series in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • The idea for Homestead-Miami Speedway stems from the destruction caused by Hurricane Andrew in Aug. 1992. In an effort to revitalize the area after the storm, promoter Ralph Sanchez presented his idea for a motorsports facility in Sept. 1992; on Aug. 24, 1993 – exactly one year after the Hurricane – groundbreaking for the track took place. The facility currently has a 1.5-mile oval and a 2.1-mile road course.
  • The first official NASCAR race at the track was a Busch Series race on Nov. 3, 1995, won by Dale Jarrett. The day before, Geoffrey Bodine won a Truck Series exhibition race at the track.
  • The first Cup Series race at the track was on Nov. 14, 1999, won by Tony Stewart. To accommodate the event, the speedway doubled its seating capacity.
  • After the Indy Racing League made its initial appearance in 2001, with Sam Hornish Jr. taking the checkered flag, the speedway is awarded NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend beginning in 2002: all three of NASCAR’s top series – Trucks, Busch and Cup – would end their seasons at HMS.
  • In May 2003, a $12-million track reconfiguration transforms the nearly-flat track to one with 18- to 20-degree variable banking. In Nov. 2005, the first season finales took place under the lights.
  • In 2009, HMS hosted season finales for six of North America’s major motorsports series: IndyCar, Firestone Indy Lights, GRAND-AM, Sprint Cup, Nationwide and the Truck Series.
  • Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart lead all drivers with three wins; Jeff Gordon has the most top fives (seven) and top 10s (11). Jamie McMurray set the track qualifying record in Nov. 2013 (181.111 mph/29.816 seconds).
  • It’s in the numbers: in 2009, former IndyCar Series and NASCAR driver Dario Franchitti entered the season finale for the IndyCar Series on Oct. 10 (10/10) driving the No. 10 car for Target Chip Ganassi, looking for the team’s 10th win of the season. He won the race as well as the championship – no, not by 10 – by 11 points over Scott Dixon.
  • Find out more about Homestead-Miami Speedway at www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Travel Tips: Homestead-Miami Speedway – Nov. 13-16, 2014

The 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup will be decided this weekend during Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida, taking place Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 13-16. While the Nationwide Series title was decided at Phoenix, the Camping World Truck Series is still up for grabs going into the series’ final race.

The Championship Taste returns to the track this season on Thursday, Nov. 13 from 6 to 10 p.m. ET. The food tasting event takes place at the speedway’s Chalet Village and features more than two dozen of South Florida’s top restaurants. The event is open to the public and benefits the NASCAR Foundation – find out more here.

On Saturday, Nov. 15 from 8 to 9:30 a.m. ET, the Hot Rods and Reels Charity Fishing Tournament takes place on the infield lake at HMS. The event, which benefits the Darrell Gwynn Foundation and Speediatrics, allows fans to spend quality one-on-one time with top NASCAR personalities; past participants have included Tony Stewart, Kyle Petty, Ryan Newman and Ken Schrader. Find out more about the tournament and sign up here.

The interactive schedule for the weekend features driver appearances as well as live entertainment taking place at the track throughout the weekend – check it out here.

Key on-track times:

Thursday, Nov. 13
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 1 and 2:30 p.m. ET

Friday, Nov. 14
  • Nationwide Series practice – 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 12:30 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 2:45 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 6:15 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 – 8 p.m. ET

Saturday, Nov. 15
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – noon and 3 p.m. ET
  • Nationwide Series qualifying – 1:15 p.m. ET
  • Nationwide Series Ford EcoBoost 300 – 4:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Nov. 16
  • Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 – 3 p.m. ET

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

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Chase Elliott Becomes Youngest NASCAR Nationwide Champion

Credit:Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images  
Even though it was Brad Keselowski in the NASCAR Nationwide Series victory lane at Phoenix International Raceway, the siren still wailed at the Dawsonville Pool Room in Dawsonville, Georgia. Chase Elliott's fifth-place finish in Saturday's DAV 200 allowed him to clinch the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.

The iconic siren sounded whenever native son Bill Elliott won a race. It fell silent for over a decade after Awesome Bill's last win, but has seen action in the last year as the 1988 Winston Cup Champion's son Chase showed he's got the right stuff to win races.

In just his first full season in a top-tier series, Elliott already has a place in the record book as the youngest champion in NASCAR national series history, and he's the first rookie to win a national series championship.

The JR Motorsports No. 9 NAPA Chevy team has quite the pedigree.

First there's the driver, of course. He and his father are the fifth father/son combo to win NASCAR national series championships.

Then there's the owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of seven-time Winston Cup Champion Dale Earnhardt, himself a two-time Busch Series Champion. Crew chief Greg Ives earned five Sprint Cup Championships with the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team of Jimmie Johnson. Car chief Travis Mack worked on Frank Kimmel's ARCA team, which won three championships during Mack's tenure. Spotter Earl Barban's other driver is six-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson. Even sponsor NAPA has a pair of Craftsman Truck Series Championships.

With a confluence of skill and resources such as Chase Elliott had this season, he had a leg up on the competition from the start.

Hard to believe last year at this time, Elliott didn't have a deal for 2014.

"A a year ago at this time we had nothing, absolutely nothing," said Bill Elliott as Jerry Punch interviewed him on-camera after the race. "It wasn't until the end of December, first of January that we put this deal together with NAPA, with JRM and Rick and all the guys. For us, it was a miracle. It was a miracle to have anything, and then to come into this season and have the year this kid has had has been beyond belief."

When asked about his son, Bill said, "He's a very smart driver and individual. He knows what he wants in his race car, and I think that's 90% of the game. And if he can keep going in that direction, he'll be as good as they come."

Young Elliott accumulated three wins, 16 top fives, and 26 top tens during the season. With no DNFs to this point, he had an average finish of 7.8.

Beyond the pedigree and the numbers, Elliott showed a level of poise and composure remarkable in drivers twice his age. Polite, soft-spoken, almost monotone, the young champion doesn't seem to let anything shake him.

Despite Elliott's success this season, the owners involved are resisting any temptation to put him in a Cup ride next season. He'll be with the same team again in 2015, though with a new crew chief. Ernie Cope takes over atop the pit box as Ives moves to the No. 88 Sprint Cup team of Earnhardt Jr.

No doubt Elliott will take the change in stride. The residents of Dawsonville should expect to be serenaded by the siren for many years to come.

Friday, November 7, 2014

TV Schedule: Nov. 7-9

Phoenix International Raceway. Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images
NASCAR heads to the desert - Phoenix International Raceway - for the second-to-last race weekend of the season.

The Sprint Cup Chase field will be cut from 8 drivers to just 4 to battle for the title next week at Homestead. With the new Chase format creating drama, what kinds of emotions will we see from the drivers at Phoenix?

The following is a handy guide to track activity and television coverage at Phoenix. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Nov. 7: 
Noon NNS Practice, FOX Sports 1
1:30 p.m. NSCS Practice, FOX Sports 1
3 p.m. NNS Final Practice, FOX Sports 1
4:30 p.m. NCWTS Qualifying, FOX Sports 1
6:30 p.m. NSCS Qualifying, ESPN2
8 p.m. NCWTS SetUp, FOX Sports 1
8:30 p.m. NCWTS: Lucas Oil 150, FOX Sports 1. Green flag: 8:48 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 8:
4 a.m. NCWTS Race at Phoenix (re-air), FOX Sports 1
11:30 a.m. NSCS Practice, FOX Sports 2
12:30 p.m. NNS Qualifying, FOX Sports 2
2 p.m. NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 2
2:30 p.m. NSCS Final Practice, FOX Sports 2
3 p.m. NNS Countdown, ESPN
4 p.m. NNS: DAV 200 - Honoring America's Veterans, ESPN. Green flag: 4:15 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 9:
11 a.m. NSCS Practice (re-air), FOX Sports 2
Noon NSCS Final Practice (re-air), FOX Sports 2
1 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FOX Sports 1
2 p.m. NSCS Countdown, ESPN
3 p.m. NSCS: Quicken Loands Race for Heroes 500, ESPN. Green flag: 3:15 p.m. Re-airs at 12:30 a.m. Monday on ESPN2.
7 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FOX Sports 1

The Hunted: Five Questions for Phoenix

Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
Gosh, I love it when there’s a lot to talk about in racing.

Nothing is more angering than struggling to find a writing topic. You sit there for three hours, bash your head into a wall, and then finally scrounge something up. Is it your best work? HA, no. But at least the pain and suffering is over – for now.

Luckily, I didn’t have that issue this weekend. NASCAR is full of storylines, from fight night to eliminations to a possible baby-faced champion. Five Questions is back and in high gear as the sport heads to Phoenix International Raceway, the last stop before the championship event at Miami-Homestead. Things are going to get HOT in the desert, just wait.

Elliott’s success: impressive or concerning? Chase Elliott has a bit of a weight on his shoulders going into Phoenix; he has the (very realistic) possibility to clinch the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series title. The implications of this achievement would be huge. He would become the youngest NNS champion in series history. His successes leave many awestruck, yes, but should we be worried about him peaking too early? This was discussed earlier this year when he went on a hot streak. My stance on the matter is simple: we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I jumped the gun last year after they announced Kyle Larson’s foray into NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition, saying that it was too soon and risky. Can we all just bask in how wrong I was? Elliott has tons of support – from fans, peers, idols, and team owners alike. He’s just that good, and that should be the main focus.

Will this elimination be the most dramatic one yet? The Jaws theme song will reach its crescendo Sunday as four more drivers are let go. As the last race before the season finale, it’s bound to get intense. Heck, every race has been intense. Phoenix will be different in a special way; it’s the final final chance to go for the championship. Any ounce of pressure is magnified by a million at this point. Following the melee at Texas Motor Speedway adds even more. Not only are Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski on the outside looking in, but people are expecting the race to thrill and excite. Will it live up to standards?

Does the fighting help or hinder the sport as a whole? I previously mentioned “melee” from Texas. If you’ve been living under a rock, Keselowski and Jeff Gordon are mad at each other. Big time. They argued on pit road, Harvick shoved Keselowski, and that’s when Gordon grabbed the collar of his Miller Lite firesuit. Crew members joined in instantly, which is when fists began to fly. This is just weeks after the now-infamous Keselowski tackle carried out by Matt Kenseth. It’s insane, and it’s only going to continue. This is an organic byproduct of the new Chase format, and I absolutely love it. Hard racing? Good. Passionate arguing? Goooood. At this point in NASCAR’s existence, any publicity is good publicity. Besides, this gives them fuel for their marketing campaigns for the next three years or so.  

Who has the target on their back this weekend? Fighting often leads to apologizing, although that element has been lacking these past few weeks. Nobody is sorry for being competitive and angry. While many are agreeing to disagree, it seems like many drivers are together on one thing: they dislike Keselowski. Gordon, Harvick, Kenseth; you name a driver, and they have a bone to pick with the drive of the No. 2, no matter how small. I would say that he needs to watch his back, yet that’s not true; to be concerned would mean that he’s scared, and he isn’t. Keselowski is the complete opposite of scared at this point because he’s prepared to go all out. If Gordon wants to go out there and wreck him intentionally, he’s got another thing coming. What fans fail to acknowledge is that Keselowski is intelligent. He’s a very strategic person and race car driver. He knows people are out to get him, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s already thought of how to deal with it on-track. The hunters may soon be the hunted.

Is it a good thing that our new champion could be winless? Buckle up, because a rant is coming your way. The “elite eight” are being trimmed down to the “final four,” and the standings look very interesting heading in. Why? Because Ryan Newman is sitting third, and Kenseth is one point out of fourth. Many are thrilled about this shake-up; I am more reserved. NASCAR preached the idea of “win and you’re in” the ENTIRE regular season and the ENTIRE Chase thus far. Yet, it’s a walking contradiction. It’s not fair, no, but life isn’t fair. I’ve always said that, and I stand by it. I’m worried that – if Newman or Kenseth win it all — the sanctioning body will alter the entire format. That idea is worse than Bruce Jenner opting for plastic surgery. If one little thing is wrong, NASCAR wants to tear the entire machine apart. It doesn’t – and shouldn’t — have to work that way. Give it time. The long run will prove that it’s working perfectly fine.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Phoenix Final Four Fireworks on Tap

Track Classification: Short Track
Similar Tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway • Dover International Speedway 
Martinsville Speedway • Richmond International Raceway
Distance: 1 Mile

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Both with 4 - Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch  
All with 3 - Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson 

By Track
Both with 7 - Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman
Both with 6 - Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch
All with 5 - Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano

Recent Pole Winners:
2013 Jimmie Johnson
2012 Kyle Busch

The Likely Suspects: Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing drivers are the traditional masters at Phoenix, however with so much on the line anything can and will happen! I recommend focusing on these drivers this week: Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

My 2 Cents: To say this week's race will be drama-filled is quite the understatement. No matter who is on your fantasy team this week, it will be memorable. My no-brainer pick is last week's winner Johnson, followed closely by Newman. My next picks are Harvick, Greg Biffle, A.J. Allmendinger; and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. I will complete my team with Danica Patrick and Justin Allgaier. If you have Logano and Keselowski starts left (I don't), swap them out for Allmendinger and Stenhouse Jr.

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