Friday, February 28, 2014

That's Where His Demons Lie: Five Questions for Phoenix

My eyes fought to stay open as I watched the victory lane celebration; I had been up since 7 that morning, and the thought of school was looming. Fingers tapped away to put together the recap for my website. Words were blurring together as I set my laptop aside, hands now finding the remote to jack up the volume.

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave his post-race interviews, something stood out to me. The swagger and excitement oozed from him, and it was difficult not to smile. When drivers win over and over, their feelings don’t shine through every single time, like the task becomes monotonous.

The 2014 Daytona 500 winner’s enthusiasm was intoxicating. That’s what memorable moments are made of, and it was worth staying up while exhausted.

Fast forwarding a few days later, Earnhardt Jr. was everywhere; getting bit by the Twitter bug only amplified the impact. He was on any broadcast you could list. NASCAR was spreading wider than I thought it could, and it was beautiful.

I was particularly excited to listen to him speak on Marty & McGee, an ESPN podcast hosted by writers Marty Smith and Ryan McGee. Because the two are known for getting drivers to relax and open up, I was curious how the interview would go.

Both writers talked at length about what the win meant —for NASCAR and the driver of the No. 88. The conclusion was clear: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been through a lot, and this was bigger than anyone could fathom. He use to be in a difficult place between 2008 and 2009, one that seemed unrecoverable.

That hit me hard.

We paint all athletes as untouchable. Racecar drivers reach superhero status. They are the people we aim to mimic. What we fail to realize is that they have demons, just like us.

In Turn 4 of Daytona International Speedway and in his head. That’s where his demons lie. He lost his father, a key player in his life, career and character. The burden that comes with it is unimaginable. To carry it with you every time you head to a racetrack? Nothing could burn more.

All of us have gone through a dark time. Many don’t see it until their life has pulled a 180. Then one day, you look in the mirror and realize the fighter they’ve become along the way. Looking back, the change in Dale Earnhardt Jr. was significant. He smiled more. He began to make eye contact during engagements. The closeted caterpillar reinvented himself into a social butterfly again. From the lowest of lows, he rose.

So can you.

If you’re currently resting at rock bottom and believe the only solution is to burrow deeper, I want you to look at the driver that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is and the personality he has developed. He never gave up. I bet there were times he wanted to, but those feelings never won. The demons quit whispering in your ear once you stop listening.

I’m glad I stayed up late and finished watching this year’s Daytona 500. Learning a new lesson about life is worth sleep deprivation and a head-splitting migraine. And it always will be.

As the excitement dies down, teams are gearing up to head west. Phoenix International Raceway is a one-mile track that can’t rein in a spitfire attitude. Who knows what will happen? Nobody, but I’m going to try my best to figure it out before it all goes down.

How will Sprint Cup drivers adjust to the new qualifying format? Heading to Phoenix means that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will qualify using the new “knockout” format. They’re almost like heat races, which should excite fans. However, what pleases the fans usually trips up the guys on the track. Some drivers have said they’re thrilled for the change, and it will be interesting to see how it goes. Wrecks? Fights? Even faster speeds? Oh my.

When does the season begin? Not to diss the Daytona 500, but the truth season begins this weekend. Those who floundered need to rebound in points before they sink lower. Those at the top have to keep the momentum flowing. The wild card races are gone for a while, and the real work starts this weekend.

Does Denny Hamlin continue his hot streak? If you looked up the word determination in the dictionary, there would be a picture of Hamlin right next to it. The story of his broken back was tragic, yet he persevered and won the final race last year. Rolling into Speedweeks turned out even better; he won the Sprint Unlimited and his Duel race, capping it off with an amazing finish Sunday night sans spotter. This man is a stubborn dog who refused to let go of a chew toy. There’s no doubt in my mind he can keep this up.

What is it about NASCAR that brings the rain? Mother Nature is a jerk. A big, fat, heartless jerk. How dare she delay NASCAR’s biggest race by SIX HOURS? How dare she mess with our sport at all? It seems like the rain follows racing wherever it goes; I almost threw a fit once I heard the wet forecast for Phoenix. Thankfully, Sunday is starting to look better, but Saturday may not go well for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Either way, I’m none too pleased with Mother Nature. She and I aren’t on speaking terms.

Is this Earnhardt Jr. here to stay? (I hope so.) As you can tell, I admire the change Earnhardt Jr. has gone through. Sadly, it’s taken a huge win for me to realize that. I truly see this vibrant side staying; he has a strong support system around him, and that allows him to become vulnerable and human. My only fear is that losing Steve Letarte at the end of the season will have a negative effect, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

TV Schedule: Feb. 28-March 2

Phoenix International Raceway. Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images
The Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series head west to the desert - Phoenix International Raceway.

The Camping World Truck Series is on an extended break until March 29 at Martinsville.

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

Friday, Feb. 28:
1 p.m. NNS Practice, FS1
2 p.m. NSCS Practice, FS1
4 p.m. NASCAR Race Hub, FS1
5 p.m. NNS Practice, FS1
6:30 p.m. NSCS Qualifying, FS1
8 p.m. NSCS: Daytona 500 (replay), FS1

Saturday, March 1:
11 a.m. NSCS Practice, FOX Sports 1
12 noon NNS Qualifying, FOX Sports 1
1:30 p.m. NASCAR Live, FOX Sports 1
2 p.m. NSCS Final Practice, FOX Sports 1
3:30 p.m. NASCAR Countdown, ABC
3:45 p.m. NASCAR Nationwide Series Blue Jeans Go Green 200 presented by Cotton, The Fabric of Our Lives, ABC.

Sunday, March 2:
1:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FOX Sports 1
2:30 p.m. NSCS: The Profit on CNBC 500, Presented by Small Business Fueling America, FOX
8 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FOX Sports 1

Thursday, February 27, 2014

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Phoenix Short-tracking




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
Jimmie Johnson - 5
Jeff Gordon - 4
All with 3 - Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards

By Track
Both with 6 - Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman 
Both with 5 - Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch
All with 4 - Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne

Recent Pole Winners:  
2013 & 2012 Mark Martin  

The Likely Suspects: Historically Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway drivers have excelled at Phoenix International Raceway, and then there are flat and short track greats. Another good data source for this week is Richmond International Raceway. Richmond racing parallels Phoenix racing remarkably well.

Put all this together and you'll get this selection of drivers earning you maximum points during Sunday's race: Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick is a tie between Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick. The six-time champ may not be a surprise here, but selecting Kevin Harvick this week should not be overlooked. He tops the driver rankings for both Phoenix and Richmond. If you aren't feeling the love for Harvick, Kyle Busch is also a worthy pick.

My next choices are: Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart. If you want to save your Stewart starts for the summer when he usually runs his best, then go with Greg Biffle this week. I will round out my team with Danica Patrick and Austin Dillon.

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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Faith in the Fast Lane: Book Review


"Whether it was running from the law or running for the thrill of it, the moonshiners were just doing what they'd always done — surviving. One prominent aspect of that culture was particularly ironic in nature. The people from the early twentieth-century South tended to have an unwavering commitment to religion… The revenuers likewise were guided by biblical principles that included an uncanny sense of compassion toward the very people they were chasing down on a daily basis." (Faith in the Fast Lane, pgs. 4,7)

Out of the business of running illegal alcohol during the 1930s and 1940s grew the immensely popular sport enjoyed by millions of fans from Daytona to Sonoma and many other little towns across the country. So was the birth of NASCAR ... and its connection to Christianity.

In his newest book, Faith in the Fast Lane (Judson Press, 2014), Chad Bonham takes readers on an incredibly insightful journey from yesterday's backwoods of North Carolina to the speedways of today, where NASCAR remains the only national professional sports organization that begins its competition day with prayer.

Long-time as well as new fans to the sport will enjoy Bonham's glimpse into how NASCAR has been associated with religion since its earliest days. Weaving the stories of those who were candid about their faith as well as those who didn't share much about their walks with God, Bonham deftly moves from NASCAR's beginnings to its association with higher-profile organizations such as Raceway Ministries and Motor Racing Outreach.

From Herschel McGriff, the first driver to kneel by his race car to pray before a race, to outspoken Christian drivers such as Trevor Bayne and Michael McDowell, readers will learn about the deep commitments many drivers have had to Christ and their desire to share God's Word with their fellow competitors.

Reading the stories of Stevie Waltrip, Joe Gibbs and Max Helton will help many fans appreciate the likes of Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and even Kyle Busch in a new light.

Including interviews with Justin Allgaier, Ned Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Andy Petree, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bobby Allison, Matt Kenseth and others, Bonham offers a message of hope, peace and love, which will "fuel your enthusiasm for the sport and your faith."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fast Facts: Ryan Truex

credit: NASCAR Media
Ryan Truex is one of the talented young drivers competing for the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the Sprint Cup Series. While he missed the field for the Daytona 500, he had a strong fourth-place run in the Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona on Friday, Feb. 21. Learn more about this member of the Truex family in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Ryan Truex was born March 18, 1992 in Mayetta, NJ. He is the younger brother of Sprint Cup Series star and two-time Nationwide Series champ Martin Truex Jr. Their father Martin was a race winner in the NASCAR Busch North Series (now K&N Pro Series East).
  • While completing his high school education at Southern Regional High School in New Jersey, Truex won the 2009 Camping World East Series (now K&N Pro Series East) championship, earning three wins in the 11-race season. He backed that up with a second title in 2010, winning twice.
  • Truex made his Nationwide Series debut in 2010 and his Camping World Truck Series debut in 2012. In 35 Nationwide Series races, he has nine top 10 finishes (best finish – second at Dover in June 2012) and one pole. In four Truck Series races, he has two top 10 finishes (best finish – fourth at Daytona in Feb. 2014).
  • Truex made three Cup Series starts in the Phoenix Racing No. 51 in 2014, earning a top finish of 32nd at Dover in September. He will drive for BK Racing in the No. 83 as a teammate to Alex Bowman, who is also competing for Rookie of the Year.
  • Learn more about Truex and BK Racing at bkracing.com

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dale Earnhardt Jr's. fire burns bright as he wins 2014 Daytona 500

  • Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images
All the writers at Skirts and Scuffs were NASCAR fans before we joined the site. The love of the sport motivates us. Most of the time we keep our driver loyalties under wraps to tell the stories, but sometimes, when the story is that your driver, the most popular driver in the sport, wins the sport's biggest race for the second time, then it's hard not to shout it to the world. In this piece, Lacy Keyser does just that. Tomorrow we'll go back to the unbiased stories, but today, celebrate with Lacy for a few minutes. 

The Daytona 500 is the race every driver wants to win. Even if you're a champion driver, you still want to win that 500. It took Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Darrell Waltrip 20 years to win it. That just goes to show how much winning that race means.

In 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first Daytona 500, and that celebration ranked high on the all-time list. Ten years from that date, Earnhardt Jr. did it again, winning his second 500, which happened to be a prime-time event due to a rain delay.

For his fans, it was a beautiful sight to see that No. 88 taking the victory lap, waving to the crowds as he drove by. Nothing gets the NASCAR community going like a win from Earnhardt Jr. The fans love him, and honestly, it’s hard not to like such a genuine guy. Seeing his smile last night and his hugging everyone on his team ... how can you not celebrate?  

Watching the white flag come out and the No. 88 crossing the start/finish line first made everything
Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images
worthwhile. I can’t explain why, but seeing Earnhardt Jr. win brings a smile to my face. Maybe it has to do with how last year went, a season in which it seemed Earnhardt Jr. was always the bridesmaid but never the bride. He’d finished second in three of the last four of Daytona races, but last night, he was finally the bride.

It feels like Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte are finishing what they started last season. With Letarte leaving for the broadcast booth, getting a 500 win for his final season is poetic; every crew chief wants a 500 win, and Letarte can finally say he has one.

No matter what the season has in store for the 88 crew, I feel their winning the season opener and being Daytona Champions will impact their entire season. Whether or not Earnhardt Jr. and Letarte win the Sprint Cup Championship, at least they can end their era on a high note with a win in The Great American Race!

The season has just begun, but Earnhardt Jr’s. fire is already burning bright.

Travel Tips: Phoenix International Raceway – Feb. 27-March 2, 2014


The second race of the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season takes teams to Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona for this weekend’s The Profit on CNBC 500 Presented by Small Business Fueling America, taking place Sunday, March 2. The race weekend, Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 27-March 2, also features the Nationwide Series, K&N Pro Series West and Mexico Toyota Series.

The Budweiser ROLL-BAR, one of PIR’s hospitality areas, is located behind the Bobby Allison Grandstands and hosts driver appearances on Saturday and Sunday in addition to live entertainment, a game area, food and refreshments and a special silent auction. Scheduled to appear at the ROLL-BAR on Sunday are Danica Patrick (9:50 a.m. MT) and Kevin Harvick (10 a.m. MT). The ROLL-BAR pass is $99 for Saturday and $149 for Sunday – find out more here.

There will also be plenty of live music at the track throughout the weekend – check out the schedule here.

Key on-track times:

Thursday, Feb. 27
  • K&N Pro Series West practice – 9 and 10:30 a.m. MT
  • K&N Pro Series West qualifying – 1:30 p.m. MT
  • Mexico Toyota Series practice – 3:05 p.m. MT
  • K&N Pro Series West Talking Stick Resort 75 – 5 p.m. MT

Friday, Feb. 28
  • Mexico Toyota Series practice – 10 a.m. MT
  • Nationwide Series practice – 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. MT
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – noon MT
  • Mexico Toyota Series qualifying – 1:40 p.m. MT
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 4:35 p.m. MT
  • Mexico Toyota Series Toyota 120 – 7 p.m. MT

Saturday, March 1
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 9 a.m. and noon MT
  • Nationwide Series qualifying – 10:05 a.m. MT
  • Nationwide Series Blue Jeans Go Green 200 – 1:45 p.m. MT

Sunday, March 2
  • Sprint Cup Series The Profit on CNBC 500 – 1 p.m. MT

A list of frequently asked questions and their answers can be found here, and the track’s “NASCAR 101” page, which features the “What to Bring” section, can be found here.


Purchase tickets and get more information about the weekend at http://www.phoenixraceway.com/

Saturday, February 22, 2014

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: 2014 Daytona 500



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

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
All with 3: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick  
All with 2: Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Kurt Busch

By Track
All with 5: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick
With 4: Matt Kenseth
All with 3: Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne

The Likely Suspects: The Daytona 500 is known for its unpredictable finishes, where virtual unknowns can win and where anything can happen, and usually does. Given these facts it is important not to over-think your fantasy picks this week, and don't worry about where drivers start. Although passing will be a challenge, it is not impossible for Daytona's elite which include Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.

My 2 Cents:  Keep it simple this week by going with the best of the best when it comes to restrictor plate racing. Remember Joe Gibbs Racing is one team that seems to have this track dialed in, so picking as many from the Coach's team is a good strategy. 

My no-brainer pick for this first race of the season is a tie among Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. Kurt and Kyle Busch are also great picks here, but I think the ever-patient Matt Kenseth will serve me better. My next picks are Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. I will round out my fantasy team with Danica Patrick and Michael Waltrip.

My final roster is Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick.

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

NASCAR Announces Nominees For 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class, Inaugural Landmark Award



Baker, Elliott, Labonte, Stefanik, Yates Added To Ballot

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 21, 2014) — Following the first in-person meeting among the NASCAR Hall of Fame nominating committee in the hall’s history, NASCAR today announced the 20 nominees for the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame’s sixth induction class, as well as the five nominees for the inaugural Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

Included among the list up for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame are an eclectic – and exemplary – group of individuals whose skillsets span all levels of racing and areas of expertise.

Among them are two-time NASCAR premier series champion Terry Labonte; 1988 NASCAR premier series champion and 16-time Most Popular Driver Bill Elliott; nine-time NASCAR champion Mike Stefanik, whose titles came in both the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East; Buddy Baker, a 19-time NASCAR premier series winner; and championship winning engine builder and team owner Robert Yates.

From the list of 20 NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees, five inductees will be elected by the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel, which includes a nationwide fan vote on NASCAR.com. Voting Day for the 2015 class will be Wednesday, May 21. Fans can attend the announcement at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.

As was announced last November during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week, potential Landmark Award recipients could include competitors or those working in the sport as a member of a racing organization, track facility, race team, sponsor, media partner or being a general ambassador for the sport through a professional or non-professional role. Award winners remain eligible for NHOF enshrinement.

The five nominees for the inaugural Landmark Award are H. Clay Earles, Anne B. France, Raymond Parks, Ralph Seagraves and Ken Squier (more on each below). Parks is the only individual who was included as both a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and a Landmark Award nominee.

This round of nominees was selected by a 22-person nominating committee consisting of representatives from NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and track owners from both major facilities and historic short tracks, as well as one at-large member. The committee’s votes were tabulated by accounting firm Ernst & Young.

Following are the 20 nominees for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, listed alphabetically:

Buddy Baker, won 19 times in NASCAR’s premier (now Sprint Cup) series, including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500

Red Byron, first NASCAR premier series champion, in 1949

Richard Childress, 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series

Jerry Cook, six-time NASCAR Modified champion

Bill Elliott, 1988 premier series champion, two-time Daytona 500 winner and 16-time Most Popular Driver

Ray Fox, legendary engine builder and owner of cars driven by Buck Baker, Junior Johnson and others

Rick Hendrick, 14-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series

Bobby Isaac, 1970 NASCAR premier series champion

Terry Labonte, Two-time NASCAR premier series champion

Fred Lorenzen, 26 wins and winner of the Daytona 500 and World 600

Raymond Parks, NASCAR’s first champion car owner

Benny Parsons, 1973 NASCAR premier series champion

Larry Phillips, only five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion

Wendell Scott, NASCAR trailblazer was the first African-American NASCAR premier series race winner, and first to be nominated for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

O. Bruton Smith, builder of Charlotte Motor Speedway and architect of Speedway Motorsports Inc.

Mike Stefanik, winner of record-tying nine NASCAR championships

Curtis Turner, early personality, called the "Babe Ruth of stock car racing"

Joe Weatherly, two-time NASCAR premier series champion

Rex White, 1960 NASCAR premier series champion

Robert Yates, won NASCAR premier series championship as both an engine builder and owner

The five nominees for the inaugural Landmark Award are as follows…

H. Clay Earles, founder of Martinsville Speedway

Anne Bledsoe France, helped build the sport with husband Bill France Sr. Affectionately known as "Annie B.," she is the first woman to be nominated for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Raymond Parks, NASCAR’s first champion car owner

Ralph Seagraves, formed groundbreaking Winston-NASCAR partnership as executive with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

Ken Squier, legendary radio and television broadcaster; inaugural winner / namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence

The 22-person Nominating Committee follows...

NOMINATING COMMITTEE

NASCAR Hall of Fame: Executive Director Winston Kelley; Historian Buz McKim.

NASCAR Officials: Chairman/CEO Brian France; Vice Chairman Jim France; President Mike Helton; Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton; Executive Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell; Executive Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps; Competition Administrator Jerry Cook; former Vice President Ken Clapp. (Note: Due to Jerry Cook’s inclusion on the ballot for the 2014 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he was recused from voting for the 2015 nominee class.)

Track Owners/Operators: International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa Kennedy; Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell; Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage; Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark; former Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George; Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn; Pocono Raceway board of director member Looie McNally; Bowman Gray Stadium operator Dale Pinilis; Riverhead Raceway operators Jim and Barbara Cromarty (1 vote); Rockford Speedway owner Jody Deery; Kingsport Speedway Operator Robert Pressley.

At-Large: Mike Joy, lead announcer for NASCAR on FOX.

About NASCAR

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc. (NASCAR) is the sanctioning body for the No. 1 form of motorsports in the United States. NASCAR consists of three national series (the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series), four regional series, one local grassroots series and three international series. The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) governs the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the premier U.S. sports car series. Based in Daytona Beach, Fla., with offices in eight cities across North America, NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races in more than 30 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and Europe. For more information, visit www.nascar.com and follow NASCAR at www.facebook.com/NASCAR and Twitter: @NASCAR.


About NASCAR Hall of Fame

Conveniently located in uptown Charlotte, N.C., the 150,000-square-foot NASCAR Hall of Fame is an interactive, entertainment attraction honoring the history and heritage of NASCAR. The high-tech venue, designed to educate and entertain race fans and non-fans alike, opened May 11, 2010 and includes artifacts, hands-on exhibits, 278-person state-of-the-art theater, Hall of Honor, Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, NASCAR Hall of Fame Gear Shop and NASCAR Media Group-operated broadcast studio. The venue is opened 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. seven days a week and has an attached parking garage on Brevard Street. The five-acre site also includes a privately developed 19-story office tower and 102,000- square-foot expansion to the Charlotte Convention Center, highlighted by a 40,000 square-foot ballroom. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is owned by the City of Charlotte, licensed by NASCAR and operated by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. www.NASCARHall.com.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Falling in Love Again: Five Questions for Daytona

The first Budweiser Duel gets underway Thursday at Daytona.
Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images
Race week.

It’s been so long since that phrase was used, and it feels comforting to finally type what we’ve all been waiting to exclaim.

RACE WEEK!

A puzzle piece has been returned to its rightful place, and all is right with the world. The off-season has been rough on me personally, yet it was also a gift; I needed time to slow down. Teams and their drivers needed that, too.

That relaxation is over. It’s time to race.

The Daytona 500 packs a punch, one that awakens your soul and opens your eyes. High speeds and risky moves are guaranteed. It’s that rush that shakes the cobwebs off your soul. Somewhere between the erratic heartbeat and scattered thoughts, you recognize the surge. Suddenly, you can’t find any flaws.

Suddenly, you’re falling in love again.

Racing is a lot like love; it takes years to master. Experience goes out the window during a heated disagreement. Through thick and thin, the strongest always survive. It’s all fun and games until you slide across someone’s nose and end up rolling across the infield grass.

OK, maybe not the last one.

With the return of NASCAR brings the return of Five Questions, and I am pumped to get this year going! With out further ado, I give you my inquires for Daytona International Speedway’s first race of the season.

Can Jimmie Johnson repeat? Last year, the No. 48 team went to Victory Lane, shocking nobody. This kick-started his campaign for a sixth championship, which all of us know was successful. Is it possible for another Daytona 500 win? I personally say no; with how Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have looked during Speedweeks, things are rocky. Not only did the car wreck during the Sprint Unlimited, but multiple practice sessions show that his car continues to bottom out in Turn 2. That’s something no team wants to deal with, and it could hinder their efforts. However, Knaus always has something up his sleeve, and maybe he can make the car and team ready to win by Sunday afternoon.

Is it OK to expect help during Daytona 500 week? Dave Blaney was caught up in a wreck during Sprint Cup Series practice Wednesday afternoon, and it’s sad to report that he won’t be racing in Sunday’s event. Many fans on Twitter were upset that someone didn’t step up and offer him a ride or a helping hand. However, is expecting that sort of assistance right? NASCAR is different from other sports because the biggest event begins the season. It is also different because everyone in the garage is one big family. The truth is that the stakes are high, and times are tough on everyone money-wise. People help when they can, but some just can’t make it happen.

Which series will produce the best season opener? There is no doubt that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series produces some of the best racing. The aerodynamics of the trucks, combined with the inexperience and short tempers of the competitors, makes for thrilling races and surprise winners. The title may soon shift to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, though. This year’s spoiler on the Sprint Cup machines is half an inch taller, measuring four-and-a-half inches rather than last year’s four. As a result, practice sessions have become insane. Can you imagine how the actual race will play out? It’s tough to say, but I think we’ll see some surprises.

Ford dominance rises again? Ford engines run very well at Daytona, and it’s a well-needed change from last year’s statistics. The manufacture made it to the winner’s circle six times, nothing compared to Chevrolet’s 16 visits. Last Sunday’s qualifying session showed glimmers of hope. Though two Chevys claim the front row, Ford made itself known. Toyota wasn’t as strong as expected, so the Blue Oval Gang needs to step into the spotlight and shine. It’s definitely possible, but we’ll wait and see.

What important lessons will be taken away from this chaotic weekend? It’s hard to take things away from a race that’s mostly a crapshoot. There are some useful anecdotes: racing with the new spoilers, wrecks aren’t fun, and some teams will flex muscle sooner than others. However, the sad truth is that this race, though prestigious, is a difficult way to start the season. Despite this, I doubt the drivers would have it any other way. I know I wouldn’t.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Rebecca Kivak chooses the 2014 NASCAR champions

With the 2014 season upon us, it’s time to break out my crystal ball, polish it well and make my predictions for the three series champions.

With the exception of last year, I’ve been making my predictions annually since 2010, which was also my most successful year (two of my three picks were correct – Jimmie Johnson for Sprint Cup champion and Brad Keselowski for Nationwide champion).

But so much has changed since then. Not only has the model of racecar evolved, as the Sprint Cup drivers now run the Gen-6 car, but the Chase is undergoing a dramatic overhaul that will see a field of 16 drivers gradually eliminated to four, with the final race determining the champion. Not to mention all the driver and team changes!

Without further delay, here are my picks for series champions as well as rookies of the year for the top three NASCAR series.

SPRINT CUP SERIES

Credit: Skirts and Scuffs
It’s hard to bet against Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, which is why I’m not. Get ready for a history-making title number seven.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the defending champion and his crew chief Chad Knaus are the best in the garage at adapting to change. They’ve won their six Sprint Cup titles with different models of racecar (Gen-4, Car of Tomorrow and the Gen-6) and under the various tweaks to the Chase and the points system.

Under the new Chase, wins will be rewarded, especially in the last 10 races. Not only does Johnson, 38, know how to win races, but he knows how to do it during the Chase, which tips the odds greatly in his favor.

If Johnson wins the championship this year, he’ll make history, tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most Sprint Cup titles. Get ready for one heck of a celebration.

Rookie of the Year: Austin Dillon. The 23-year-old claimed Rookie of the Year honors in the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series; a year later in each series, he went on to win the championship. Dillon will make it three-for-three when he wins ROTY this year. At this pace, he’ll also be the 2015 Sprint Cup champion.

NATIONWIDE SERIES

Credit: Skirts and Scuffs
After returning full-time to the Nationwide Series last year, Regan Smith had an impressive season. The JR Motorsports driver won two races and led the point standings for 10 straight weeks before finishing third in points. Smith, 30, boasts three wins for the organization in 34 races.

JRM, taking advantage of its technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, has improved and risen to the level of a championship-caliber team, something not seen since Brad Keselowski’s days with the organization.

With eight top fives and 19 top 10s last year, Smith demonstrated he has the consistency and race wins needed to win the championship, as well as top-tier equipment. This will be the year he hoists the trophy at Homestead.

Rookie of the Year: It’s a tough call between Ty Dillon and Chase Elliott, but I’m going with Elliott. The 18-year-old has already shown remarkable success in his career, including winning his sole Truck Series start last year. With Smith and Elliott as teammates, JRM can look forward to a bountiful 2014.

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images
Speaking of young talent, expect Ryan Blaney to bring home the Camping World Truck Series title in his second full season in the series.

The 2013 Rookie of the Year has two wins in 31 series starts, including last year’s Pocono race. Blaney also won a Nationwide race last year, one of three starts he made in the series in 2013. All this before turning 20 years old!

Last year, Blaney amassed eight top fives and 13 top 10s. It’s pretty clear that Blaney and his team Brad Keselowski Racing have found a winning formula. Their partnership will take Blaney all the way to the championship in 2014.

Rookie of the Year: Ben Kennedy, who takes over the No. 31 truck from 2012 series champion James Buescher. In five truck starts last year, Kennedy, 22, had an average finish of 17.0, including a standout fourth-place finish at Martinsville. With good equipment from Turner Scott Motorsports, look for the great-grandson of Bill France Sr. to make a statement on the track.

TV Schedule: Feb. 19-23

The green flag waves at the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday.
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Daytona Speedweeks continues as the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series hold their season-opening races, culminating with NASCAR's biggest race, the Daytona 500.

The following is a handy guide to track events and television coverage at Daytona International Speedway. All times are in Eastern Standard Time:

Wednesday, Feb. 19:
1:30 p.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
2:30 p.m. NCWTS Practice, FS1
4 p.m. NSCS Practice, FS1
6:30 p.m. NSCS Practice, FS1

Thursday, Feb. 20: 
11 a.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
12 noon NNS Practice, FS1
1:30 p.m. NCWTS Practice, FS1
3 p.m. NNS Practice, FS1
4:30 p.m. NCWTS Practice, FS1
6 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
7 p.m. NSCS: Budweiser Duels at Daytona, FS1

Friday, Feb. 21:
1:30 a.m. NASCAR Now, ESPN2
6 a.m. NSCS: Budweiser Duels at Daytona (rerun), FS2
11 a.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
11:30 a.m. NSCS Practice, FS1
1 p.m. NNS Qualifying, ESPN2
2:30 p.m. NSCS Practice, FS1
4 p.m. NCWTS Qualifying, FS1
5:30 p.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
6:30 p.m. NCWTS SetUp, FS1
7:30 p.m. NCWTS: NextEra Energy Resources 250, FS1. Green flag: 7:52 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 22:
12 a.m. NSCS: Budweiser Duels at Daytona, FS2
2:30 a.m. NASCAR Now, ESPN2
10 a.m. NSCS Final Practice, FS1
12 noon NNS Countdown, ESPN
1:15 p.m. NNS: DRIVE4COPD 300, ESPN. Green flag: 1:34 p.m.
10:30 p.m. NSCS Final Practice (rerun), FS2

Sunday, Feb. 23:
3:30 a.m. NNS: DRIVE4COPD 300, ESPN2
10 a.m. SportsCenter Special, ESPN2
10 a.m. Daytona 500 Bash at the Beach, FS1
11 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
12 noon NSCS Pre-Race Show, FOX
1 p.m. NSCS: Daytona 500, FOX. Green flag: 1:30 p.m.
5 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1
10 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane (rerun), FS1

Faith on the Frontstretch: Healing brings hope for NASCAR notables

Tony Stewart waves to the crowd before the
Sprint Unlimited on Feb. 15, 2014
Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images  
“ ... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b

The 2013 season brought the misfortune of broken bones to two of NASCAR’s top drivers, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. Stewart's injury occurred during a sprint car crash in Iowa last summer, where he suffered compound fractures in the bones of his right lower leg. Stewart’s convalescence was long and tedious, requiring several surgeries and lots of grueling physical therapy.

Hamlin’s last lap crash at Auto Club Speedway in March left him with a fractured vertebra in his lower back. Like Stewart, his Chase chances were nixed as he was forced to recuperate out of the car, watching from the pit box for four races. Even after Hamlin strapped back in, nagging discomfort and numbness limited his ability to “feel” the car and provide feedback to his team.

On the broadcasting side of racing, another NASCAR notable had a rough end to 2013. Steve Byrnes was diagnosed with throat cancer in August, endured weeks of chemo and radiation, then spent the off-season regaining his strength. Many race fans their tweeted support and prayed for Byrnes, as well as the two drivers.

A victorious Denny Hamlin
Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images  

Thankfully, Stewart, Byrnes and Hamlin are on the upswing now. They’re healing.

All three made their mark at the Sprint Unlimited. Stewart raced his Cup car, crashed and climbed out on his own, with no immediate pain. Byrnes returned to reporting in the garage and on pit road, to the delight of race fans. With his win last November at Homestead in the rearview mirror, Hamlin reaffirmed his return by taking the checkers.

Suffering through pain and discomfort was part of the path to healing for these three men. During interviews, they discussed the physical aspects, but also the emotional side of their medical issues. When our bodies are broken, our hearts can become wounded, too. True healing restores the body and heart, and renews something crucial to living life to the fullest – hope.

Imagine you were terribly sick, dying even, and someone came along and by an outlandish miracle, healed you completely by taking the disease upon himself. You would be whole and well, with hope for the future. How grateful would you be to that person?

Steve Byrnes, left, is back for the 2014 season.
Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images  
Guess what? Jesus already did that for you. He healed us from our “disease” of sin, by taking it upon himself. When He was dying on the cross, he took the shame of all the stupid stuff we’ve ever done upon His own shoulders, so we wouldn’t have to suffer forever for it. It’s a free gift, yours for the asking. But just like a sick person has to go to the doctor for healing, you have to ask.

The worst kind of brokenness a person can suffer isn’t fractured bones or even cancer. A much scarier malady is to hear how much Jesus loves you, and to harden your heart towards Him anyway. Being separated from Him means your heart will never revel in the gift of healing-from-sin He freely offers.

Healing is a beautiful thing. It changes a bleak outlook by bringing comfort and redemption. Healing takes a tattered threadbare faith, one that’s hardly holding on, and knits it into hope. That’s what Jesus will do for you when you invite Him into your life. Go ahead, ask.

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled. ~ Psalm 6:2 (NKJV)
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“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 NASCAR fans.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fast Facts: Dakoda Armstrong

Armstrong at Daytona Preseason Thunder
credit: NASCAR via Getty Images
Dakoda Armstrong makes the move from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to the Nationwide Series in 2014, picking up a ride in the No. 43 WinField Ford Mustang with Richard Petty Motorsports. Learn more about another young driver to watch in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Dakoda Armstrong was born July 16, 1991 in New Castle, IN. He started racing go-karts at age 6, winning his first championship from the World Karting Association in 1998. At age 13, he became the youngest USAC National Midget Champion.
  • In 2009, Armstrong signed a driver development deal with Team Penske, competing in seven races in the ARCA Racing Series as part of the deal: six for Cunningham Motorsports and one for Venturini Motorsports. He posted three top 10 finishes that year, including a best finish of third at Salem Speedway.
  • In 2010, Armstrong raced full-time in the ARCA Racing Series for Cunningham Motorsports, winning at Talladega Superspeedway and Salem Speedway and finishing seventh in points. In 2011, he split time between ARCA and the Camping World Truck Series, winning the ARCA race at Winchester Speedway. He ran seven races for ThorSport Racing in the Truck Series, recording his first top 10 finish at Kentucky Speedway in October of that year.
  • In 2012, Armstrong ran the first 15 Truck Series races of the season with ThorSport before he was released; he also competed in his first Nationwide Series race, finishing 25th at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He returned to the Truck Series full-time with Stacy Compton’s Turn One Racing in 2013, picking up three top 10s and finishing 12th in points. He also ran six Nationwide Series races, earning a top finish of 13th at Kentucky.
  • In Indiana, Armstrong’s family is involved in farming; their corn and grain operation produces millions of gallons of ethanol fuel each year. His sponsor, WinField, offers seed and crop protection products, making the fourth-generation farmer a perfect ambassador.
  • Learn more about Armstrong at his website, www.dakodaarmstrong.com

Lacy Keyser chooses the 2014 NASCAR champs

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs  
The old saying, "Out with the old and in with new," is what the 2014 NASCAR season feels like. A new Chase format has rocked NASCAR Nation. Many fans are on the fence about it, and who can blame them? This is a big change.

With that being said, it’s that time of the year again where I pick my champions for the Nationwide and Cup series.

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs
Nationwide

I’m once again picking Regan Smith for the Nationwide champion. To me, Smith had a breakout season with Junior Motorsports in 2013. He had two wins and was the points leader for most of the season, but due to a few bad races he finished third in the standings.

I’m also picking a dark horse: Chase Elliott. We know he can race, we know he’s a winner, so I feel he is one to watch out for. He may just be the one to have a break-out year in Nationwide.  

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
Sprint Cup

I picked Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year and I’m picking him again.

Earnhardt Jr. was on fire in 2013. He finished in the top five in half of the Chase races and three of those were second-place finishes. He may have had an engine blow in the first Chase race, but that didn't stop Earnhardt Jr. from having his best season finish since 2006.

With crew chief Steve Letarte leaving after this season, he has even more on the line, which means getting that championship! 

Under the new Chase format, Earnhardt Jr. would have been the 2013 champion, so I feel he can once again have a fiery Chase like last year. Let’s make Letarte’s final season go out with a bang!

Katy Lindamood rolls the dice with 2014 Championship picks

Chances are I’d have better luck picking the winning lottery numbers than picking three NASCAR Champions. New teams, new driver/crew chief pairings, a new qualifying procedure, a new Chase format – just like each new beginning, this is a clean slate. 

Will we see a dark horse emerge the victor? A comeback from a veteran?
These are my picks.

Sprint Cup Series
2014sprintunlimited_hamlinpostrace_021514
Credit: Jared C. Tilton

Matt Kenseth, who finished second to Jimmie Johnson in 2013, seems like the obvious choice, right? Wrong. It’s never a safe bet to put your money on the second-place finisher from the previous season. Remember Carl Edwards' 2012 season? Clint Bowyer’s 2013?

Maybe Kenseth will be different, but for 2014 I’m picking his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin’s back in fighting form after a dismal 2013. Plagued by injury, engine failures and crashes, the FedEx Racing driver never had a shot at contending. Eight DNF’s and an average finish of 21st placed him 23rd in the driver standings, his worst rank since a partial season in 2005. After a rocky road there’s only one place to go, and that’s to the top.

A win at Homestead Miami Speedway gave the team something positive for the off-season and his victory in the Sprint Unlimited last weekend starts 2014 off on the right track. It won’t be an easy row to hoe for Hamlin, but he’s proven in the past he’s a fighter and when it comes down to the final race this season it’s winner take all.

I’m picking Kurt Busch as my dark horse champion and Kyle Larson as Rookie of the Year. In November I’ll either be hanging my head in shame or doing a victory dance, only time will tell.

Nationwide Series
2014_nns_headshot_021314_scottbrianWith Cup drivers having dominated the Nationwide Series in recent years and sponsors unwilling to sign on for more than just a handful of races, the list of title contenders is limited to only a handful. Regan Smith seems to be emerging as a favorite among Skirts and Scuffs contributors and he’s sure to be in the hunt, but I’m liking Brian Scott’s chances.

Scott is a driver who flies under the radar. People forget about him and this might be his best chance to steal the spotlight from the likes of Sadler, Smith, Bayne, and Ty Dillon.

In 2013, Scott finished seventh in the Nationwide Series standings with one pole, three top fives and 13 top 10’s.

Ty Dillon and Chase Elliott will fight it out for Rookie of the Year with Dillon ultimately taking the honor.
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Camping World Truck Series

In all the years I’ve participated in the Championship Picks posts I’ve always chosen Matt Crafton. I didn’t participate last season so of course he won the Camping World Truck Series Championship. Figures.

Crafton has had the potential to be a champion for several years, but in 2013 all the pieces fell into place. Can he become a repeat champion? I don’t see why not. Consistency is key and no one showed more than the No. 88 Menard’s team. Crafton finished 22 of 22 races in 2013 on the lead lap and earned an impressive 19 top 10’s and one win.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Lisa Janine Cloud chooses the NASCAR champs, 2014 edition

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs

Poised on the threshold of the 2014 NASCAR season, the thought of choosing champions seems premature at best, but that's how we do it. That's kind of how everyone does it, really, because if we waited until the season started, it wouldn't be as satisfying to be right at the end of the season.

Last season I picked Ty Dillon in the Truck Series and he finished second, so I was close. I chose Austin Dillon for Nationwide and despite the fact that Sam Hornish Jr. had a win, 3 more top fives and three more top 10s than Dillon, the driver of the No. 3 AdvoCare  Camaro had one fewer DNF than Hornish Jr., giving him the title.

I picked Clint Bowyer to win the Sprint Cup championship.

Sigh. We'll just forget that happened.

Let's hope I don't curse anyone this year.

Camping World Truck Series

Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
A patchwork roster of drivers makes choosing a champion from the ranks of the Truck Series especially difficult this season. It's hard to tell who's running and who's not!

Many of last season's competitive drivers moved on to Nationwide teams. Some teams shut their doors altogether for lack of sponsorship. Others are on the ride-share plan, giving those drivers little chance to score a Driver's Championship against full-time teams such as defending champ Matt Crafton.

So I'll choose Crafton, whose consistency in 2013 earned him his first title in 13 seasons of Truck Series racing. While Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Blaney may challenge him, they will need to step it up to beat the veteran Crafton. It's a shame that Jeb Burton probably won't run the whole season, because he'd be right up there in the mix.

Rookie of the Year will be Ben Kennedy, one of the few rookies with a full-time ride for the season.

Nationwide Series

The Nationwide Series landscape looks much different in 2014 than it did in 2013. Still loaded with talent, many of the drivers are either veterans who haven't quite been able to meet the challenge of beating Cup drivers on any given weekend, or they are rookies up from the Trucks or the K&N Series.

If Roger Penske had fielded a Nationwide ride for Sam Hornish Jr. instead of an IndyCar ride for Juan Pablo Montoya, I'd be picking Hornish. But Penske didn't, and Hornish is only running a handful of races for KBM, so I can't pick him for the championship. No, I'm not bitter (much.)

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
I'll go with Regan Smith, who was my dark horse pick last season. He finished third in 2013 to Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr., neither of whom will be competing for the Nationwide Championship this season. (Again, not bitter!)

With full-time teammate Chase Elliott and a ride-share team that includes Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., JR Motorsports is arguably the strongest it's ever been.

James Buescher's experience in Nationwide cars will give him an edge over Ty Dillon, Chase Elliott and Dylan Kwasniewski in the Rookie of the Year competition. I think it's enough of an edge to make him both my dark horse pick and my ROTY pick.


Sprint Cup Series 

What a difference a year makes!

Last year's introduction of the Gen-6 car made it hard for me to pick a champion, but this year's changes to the Chase structure make it part handicapping, part crap shoot.

While I believe that the best of the best will make it to that final showdown, what happens from there is anyone's guess. Don't get me wrong - the past three seasons have come down to the final laps of the final race, but those battles were between two drivers with a third lurking, waiting to pounce if the right circumstances arose.

This year's winner-take-all finale creates a set of challenges for those four teams. Drivers that survive the Challenger, the Contender and the Elimination rounds to make it to the Sprint Cup Championship will need the luck of the Irish - or Jimmie Johnson's fabled horseshoe.

I'm projecting that the final four will be Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Dale
Credit:Jamie Squire/Getty Images 
Earnhardt Jr. I believe that it will be an epic battle - I hope that it will be, anyway - and in the end...I am predicting that Kevin Harvick will finally bring home the Sprint Cup.

The Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle should be epic as well, with (in alphabetical order) Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Parker Kligerman, Kyle Larson, Ryan Truex and Cole Whitt vying for the title that in recent years hasn't held a lot of significance.

Allgaier and Annett may make some noise. Kligerman and Truex may have good runs, but when it comes down to it, the two drivers who will be competitive every weekend will be Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson. Of the two, Dillon has more experience and superior equipment so I'm calling it for Austin Dillon as ROTY.

And there you have it, folks. My picks for the 2014 NASCAR season.

Now let's go racing, y'all!


Janine, aka Lisa or LJ, Cloud, a fifth-generation Texan, lives in Houston and considers Texas Motor Speedway her home track.

She's been a part of the Skirts and Scuffs team since May 2011, going from contributor to media rep, photographer, and associate editor covering both NASCAR and IZOD IndyCar. Janine considers it a privilege to represent the site at the track and to share with readers the excitement of the world of motorsports.

Paula Thompson’s 2014 Champions Picks

It’s the start of another new NASCAR season, and it’s time to make our championship picks for 2014. Last year, veterans took the titles in the Sprint Cup Series, where Jimmie Johnson earned his sixth title, and the Camping World Truck Series, where Matt Crafton picked up his first championship. In the Nationwide Series, young Austin Dillon won his second title in three seasons. Who will take home the prizes this year? Here are my picks.

credit: NASCAR Media


Sprint Cup Series – Kevin Harvick

Harvick has been on the cusp of winning a title for the last few years, finishing third in points in three of the last four seasons. His relationship with Richard Childress Racing had grown stale, however, so he headed to Stewart-Haas Racing, where the team already has a championship and a few big-name wins, including the 2013 Brickyard 400. Winning won’t be a problem for Harvick, but rising above the big personalities on the team – “Happy” (Harvick), “Smoke” (Stewart), the “GoDaddy Girl” (Danica Patrick) and the “Outlaw” (Kurt Busch) – might be a challenge. If he can overcome that challenge, the championship is in his near future.




credit: NASCAR via Getty Images/
Tom Pennington



Nationwide Series – Regan Smith

JR Motorsports is the place to be in 2014: Smith was a contender in the No. 7 last season, finishing third in his first full-time season in the Nationwide Series since 2006. Smith gets a full-time teammate in 2014 in Chase Elliott, son of 1988 Cup Series champ Bill Elliott, and a smart driver in his own right. Smith has three wins in 34 races with JR Motorsports, and should add a few more this year on his way to another strong season.







credit: NASCAR via Getty Images/Robert Laberge
Camping World Truck Series – Ryan Blaney

Third-generation driver Blaney is part of a crop of talented young drivers that are finding their way in the Truck Series, including Darrell Wallace Jr. and Erik Jones at Kyle Busch Motorsports and Ben Kennedy at Turner Scott Motorsports. Blaney won last year’s Rookie of the Year award in the series, and has a strong truck from the Brad Keselowski Racing stable under him, but with added races in the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series this season, Blaney will be racing nearly 40 times this year – quite a few more than the 25 he ran in 2013. If Blaney has the stamina, he’ll be set to win his first NASCAR title.

Travel Tips: Daytona Budweiser Speedweeks – Feb. 18-23, 2014

credit: NASCAR Media
The 2014 NASCAR season kicked off on Saturday with the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona. This week, Daytona International Speedway continues to host Daytona Budweiser Speedweeks, culminating with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 23. Over the next week, fans will see the season openers for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series along with the UNOH Battle at the Beach featuring the Whelen Modified and Southern Modified Tours and the K&N Pro Series East.

Fans heading to Daytona for Speedweeks will want to check out the Sprint FANZONE for off-track activities, including garage tours, driver and team appearances, live music and the kids area. Find the schedule for Speedweeks in the Sprint FANZONE here.

Key times for this week’s Budweiser Speedweeks on-track action:

Tuesday, Feb. 18 –
  • K&N Pro Series East practice – 10:30-11:30 a.m. and 12:40-1:40 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified and Southern Modified Tour practice – 11:35 a.m.-12:35 p.m. and 1:55-2:55 p.m. ET
  • Qualifying for the K&N Pro Series East – 4 p.m. ET
  • Qualifying for the Whelen Modified and Southern Modified Tour – 4:45 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour race – 7 p.m. ET
  • K&N Pro Series East race – 8:45 p.m. ET
Wednesday, Feb. 19 –
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 2:30-3:50 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 4-5:30 and 6:30-8 p.m. ET
Thursday, Feb. 20 –
  • Nationwide Series practice – noon-1:20 p.m. and 3-4:20 p.m. ET
  • Truck Series practice – 1:30-2:50 p.m. and 4:40-6 p.m. ET
  • Budweiser Duels qualifying races for the Daytona 500 – 7 p.m. ET
Friday, February 21st
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 11:30 a.m.-12:50 p.m. and 2:30-3:55 p.m. ET
  • Nationwide Series qualifying – 1:10 p.m. ET
  • Truck Series qualifying – 4:05 p.m. ET (approximate)
  • Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 - 7:30 p.m. ET
Saturday, February 22nd
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 10-11:30 a.m. ET
  • Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 - 1:15 p.m. ET
Sunday, February 23rd
  • Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 – 1 p.m. ET

Get information about and purchase tickets for Daytona Budweiser Speedweeks, and find a complete schedule for Speedweeks, at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/

Friday, February 14, 2014

TV Schedule: Feb. 14-16


Most people would think of Feb. 14 as Valentine's Day. But for NASCAR fans, Friday is the start of the 2014 season, with the glorious roar of engines back on the track for Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.

The Sprint Cup drivers will prepare not only for an exhibition race, but also for its biggest race of the year. The series' pole-winning drivers from last season will race for bragging rights in the Sprint Unlimited on Saturday, then try for the pole for the Daytona 500 on Sunday, the first step of qualifying for the prestigious race.

The following is a handy guide to television coverage and track events this weekend at Daytona. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Feb. 14:
4 p.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
5 p.m. NSCS Sprint Unlimited Practice, FS1
6 p.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
6:30 p.m. NSCS Final Sprint Unlimited Practice, FS1
7:30 p.m. Fox Sports 1 on 1: Jimmie Johnson
8 p.m. The Day: Daytona Primetime, FS1
9 p.m. Return of the 3, FS1
10 p.m. The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt, FS1

Saturday, Feb. 15:
12 a.m. The Day: Daytona Primetime (rerun), FS1
1 a.m. NASCAR Now, ESPN2
10 a.m. Fox Sports 1 on 1: Jimmie Johnson (rerun) FS1
10:30 a.m. NSCS Practice, FS1
12:30 p.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
1:30 p.m. NSCS Practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. NASCAR Live, FS1
6:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
8 p.m. NSCS: Sprint Unlimited, FS1

Sunday, Feb. 16:
12 noon NASCAR Live, FS1
1 p.m. NSCS Daytona 500 Qualifying, FOX
9 p.m. NASCAR Daytona 500 Pole Day, FS1
9:30 p.m. NSCS: Sprint Unlimited (rerun), FS2

Check back with Skirts and Scuffs on Wednesday for the remainder of the Speedweeks TV schedule, leading up to the Daytona 500.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fast Facts: Norm Benning

credit: Getty Images/John Harrelson
Norm Benning’s battle to get into the inaugural Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway last July drew the appreciation of numerous drivers and teams in the garage area – so much so that a number of them helped the owner/driver make repairs to his Camping World Truck Series No. 57 before the historic green flag fell. Learn more about this veteran competitor in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Norm Benning Jr. was born Jan. 16, 1952 in Level Green, Pennsylvania. A second-generation driver, he began racing in the figure-eight division at Heidelberg Raceway in Pennsylvania, where his father was track champion in 1964; Benning was just 15 at the time, in spite of the fact that he was supposed to be at least 18 to race. His earliest experiences in racing were on both dirt and asphalt.
  • Benning made his first NASCAR start in 1989, competing in the Budweiser 500 Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway. He raced four times in the Cup Series and three times in the Nationwide Series, but has spent most of his NASCAR career in the Truck Series. Since his first start in 2002, Benning has made 115 starts in the series, with a career-best finish of 12th at Talladega in October 2013.
  • Benning has also competed in the ARCA Racing Series, where he earned 32 top 10 finishes in 281 starts between 1995 and 2009.
  • Learn more about Benning at his website, normbenningracing.com