Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Smoke will retire after 2016; Bowyer will step into the No. 14 in 2017 "smelling like roses"

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs  
Today Tony Stewart announced he will retire from racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series following the 2016 season.

Since 1999, Stewart has been a towering fixture of the Cup Series. His numbers are legendary: 17 years, 582 races, 48 wins, nearly 13,000 laps led, an average finish of 13.7 over his entire Sprint Cup career, and of course, three championships. Stewart is the only driver who won a Winston Cup championship, a Nextel Cup championship and a Sprint Cup championship, and the only driver to win under both the old points system and the Chase system. He's also the only driver to hoist the series championship trophy in both NASCAR and IndyCar.

His aggressive racing style and brash personality won him millions of fans -- and plenty of haters. But no one can argue that Tony Stewart isn't one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time.

"I think it's a scenario where everybody in their career at some point makes the decision that it's time for a change," he said. "It's nothing that you plan. I think deep down you know when it's time to make a change like this."

He will not be retiring from racing entirely, however; he left the option open to continue to race other series, and will turn his focus to being a team owner in NASCAR. He unequivocally stated he will not be racing in the Indianapolis 500, but he didn't rule out running in any other type of racing.

Relaxed and excited, Stewart talked about his future plans -- working with Stewart-Haas Racing, traveling to see an F1 race with team co-owner Gene Haas and racing whenever he wants. Stewart also didn't miss a chance to poke at NASCAR in his usual sarcastic fashion.

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
"I'm not stepping away from the sport I love," Stewart said. "I'm still going to be at the track harassing everyone. NASCAR is probably going to be the most disappointed because they aren't getting rid of me. They have to deal with me as an owner."

Stewart said he had considered retiring at the end of 2015, but after seeing how much it has meant to Jeff Gordon's fans to see him race one more year, he decided to offer the same to his own fans.

"The reason we decided to run through the end of next  year is 100 percent because of the fans that have supported us through the years," he said. "It's important to me to be able to do this for our fans who have stuck with us through thick and thin and supported us. It's as important for me to do this for them as it is for me to do what I'm doing for my future."

Don't expect him to just ride around the track next year, however. They're going to do everything they can to win races and a championship. For all his wins, Stewart has never won the Daytona 500 or the Southern 500, and he wants to add those to his resume before he leaves the driver's seat.

Gene Haas, Stewart's co-owner at Stewart-Haas Racing, credited Stewart with the surge in success the team has seen since its inception in 2011.

"Without Tony, we would never have turned out into the super team that we are now, winning two championships," Haas said. "He brings the talent, he brings the sponsors. I had the foundation, and you put those two together, and you had a NASCAR superstar team."

Stewart will be an owner-driver for one more year, after which he will hang up his helmet and turn the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet over to current Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer.
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Stewart-Haas Racing via Getty Images

"What an unbelievable opportunity," Bowyer said, "just to think how my year started. You thought you were set, then all of a sudden you're not, then all of a sudden that led to a door opening in one of the biggest powerhouses in the sport.

"Do you ever hear that term 'when you fall in a pile of cow manure and come out smelling like roses?' That's exactly what this is for me," he said, laughing.

Bowyer, who has driven the No. 15 MWR Toyota since 2012, has worked with several of the drivers and crew chiefs at SHR. He was teammates at Richard Childress Racing with Kevin Harvick from 2004 to 2012, and worked with Rodney Childers, Harvick's current crew chief, at MWR from 2008 to 2012. He believes the fit with Stewart-Haas Racing couldn't be any better.

"There's so many good people here, and that's why they have the success that they do," he said.

Stewart is going out on his own terms. The decision, he said, was 100 percent his, and nothing was ever part of a master plan.

"There was not one factor that led to this other than just I felt like it was the right time," he said. "Everything in racing is timing, and the opportunity to get someone like Clint Bowyer, I mean, that's when you seize the opportunity. We've put the right guy behind the steering wheel moving forward."

Many wondered if the injuries and tragedy of the last several years had any bearing on Stewart's decision. Not one percent, he said.

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
"This is strictly what I want to do, and my leg feels fine. The tragedy, nothing is going to change that," he said. "It happened, but it's not going to direct the rest of my life. I'm still going to race when I want to race, but as far as the [Sprint] Cup Series, it had no bearing on that."

Jeff Gordon has been lauded and honored at nearly every track during this, his "swan song" year of racing. Stewart does not want any part of that. He wants to race and be with his racing family and fans.

"I'm not really that kind of guy. I think it's been very fitting for Jeff," he said. "I don't think I'm worthy of that admiration because I think that Jeff has really done so much for the sport that nobody will ever be able to do again. I think that kind of celebration is reserved for somebody like Jeff."

Others in the sport reacted to Stewart's announcement. His teammate and close friend Kevin Harvick wrote on Instagram. "As the world learns about Tony retiring today I have to admit I've known about this for awhile and really struggled to put my arms around what I think about it. I've seen Tony as my driver, my boss, and my friend but in the end I want to see him smile and be happy in his life. Tony has done a great deal for not only my family, but the sport we all love! Proud to call you my friend!"

Jeff Gordon tweeted, "Incredible contribution @TonyStewart has made on & off the track. Thanks Tony! Looking forward to calling your final Daytona 500 next year!"

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Tony Stewart isn't going to be driving the No. 14 Chevrolet after next year, but he'll still be around the track. He has too much fun not to keep racing, and he's too good at it and too driven by the competition of it all to stop.

"I made my father a promise when we first started racing when I was eight years old, and he made me promise him that the day I didn't have fun doing it I wouldn't do it anymore, and I never forgot that."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fast Facts Redux: Stewart-Haas Racing

Photo credits: Patrick - Atlanta 2015, Charlotte Bray;
Harvick - Dover 2014, Beth Reinke; Busch - Texas 2015,
Debbie Ross; Stewart - Darlington 2015, Charlotte Bray 
(all for Skirts & Scuffs)

Stewart-Haas Racing is currently the home of team co-owner and three-time Cup Series champ Tony Stewart, 2014 Sprint Cup Series champ Kevin Harvick, 2004 Cup Series champ Kurt Busch and former Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick. With a big announcement concerning the team on the way this week, let’s take a look at the history of the team in this week’s Fast facts, originally published in Nov. 2011.
  • Stewart-Haas was originally Haas CNC Racing, which debuted in 2003. The original team was the No. 0 NetZero Pontiac with driver Jack Sprague, who was followed by John Andretti, Jason Leffler and Ward Burton. The No. 0 became the No. 66 in 2006 with Jeff Green behind the wheel and Best Buy as a sponsor. The No. 66 became Ryan Newman’s No. 39 from 2009-2013 (No. 39 was Newman’s midget car number), then became Harvick’s No. 4 in 2014.
  • In 2006 the No. 70 for Haas CNC Racing debuted at the Coca Cola 600 with Johnny Sauter behind the wheel. Jeremy Mayfield signed on as the driver in 2008, but was replaced along the way by Sauter, Leffler, Tony Raines and others. The No. 70 became Stewart’s No. 14 for the 2009 season (Stewart’s number is homage to his racing hero, A.J. Foyt).
  • Patrick’s No. 10 (Patrick’s number in her karting days) was originally the No. 35 at Tommy Baldwin Racing. In 2012, Patrick moved to NASCAR full-time after splitting time between IndyCar and the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series, competing in 10 Cup Series events for TBR in a partnership with SHR. She retained the No. 10 when she moved full-time to SHR in 2013, but Baldwin’s team retained the owner’s points for the 2013 season. While Patrick has been sponsored by GoDaddy for much of her career, Nature’s Bakery comes on as Patrick’s sponsor beginning in 2016.
  • Busch was signed by team owner Gene Haas for a fourth SHR car in 2014 after it was announced that Newman would not return to the team because they could not find sponsorship for a fourth team. Busch’s No. 41 is sponsored by Haas’s company, Haas Automation.
  • Stewart won the team’s first race at the 2009 Sprint All-Star Race (non-points race), then followed it up with the team’s first points victory at Pocono in June 2009, becoming the first owner-driver to win a race in the Cup Series since Ricky Rudd in 1998. 
  • On November 20, 2011, Stewart won the Chase for the Sprint Cup by winning a tie-breaker (most wins in the season) over Carl Edwards. Stewart won five races during the 10-race Chase, including the title-clinching finale over Edwards. He became the first owner-driver to win the championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
  • Find out more about Stewart-Haas Racing at

Travel Tips: Dover International Speedway – Oct. 2-4, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
Race No. 3 in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup sees the stars heading to Dover International Speedway in Delaware for the AAA 400 weekend, Friday through Sunday, Oct. 2-4. Also on the schedule for the weekend: the Xfinity Series and the K&N Pro Series East.

On Thursday, Oct. 1, the third annual NASCAR Hauler Showcase and Parade takes place at the Blue Hen Corporate Center, 655 S. Bay Rd. in Dover, from 3-5 p.m. ET. Sprint Cup Series haulers will leave the center at 5 p.m. ET to make their way through downtown Dover and end at the track. Click here to find out more about the event.

Prior to Sunday’s AAA 400, alternative band X Ambassadors will perform a free pre-race concert on the Victory Plaza stage at 11 a.m. ET. The band’s lead singer, Sam Harris, will perform the National Anthem before the race as well.

Throughout the weekend, fans can check out a number of events at the track, including driver Q-and-A sessions, autograph sessions and more. Click here for the updated listing.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Oct. 2 –
  • K&N Pro Series East practice – 8:30 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 11 a.m.  ET
  • Xfinity Series practice – 1:30 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 3:45 p.m. ET
  • K&N Pro Series East Drive Sober 125 – 5 p.m. ET
Saturday, Oct. 3 –
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 12:15 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series Hisense 200 – 3:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Oct. 4 –
  • Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 – 2:30 p.m. ET

Find out more about the race and purchase tickets at

Monday, September 28, 2015

Travel Tips: Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Oct. 3, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
The Camping World Truck Series makes a stand-alone appearance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this Saturday, Oct. 3, for the Rhino Linings 350.

There will be a drivers’ autograph session in the Neon Garage at 2 p.m. PT.

Key on-track times:
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 9 a.m. PT
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 4:05 p.m. PT
  • Camping World Truck Series Rhino Linings 350 – 7 p.m. PT

For more information on race day and to purchase tickets, visit

Jeff Gordon: From Wonder Boy to NASCAR's Iron Man

Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images
Jerry Gappens, left, Executive Vice President and General Manager at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, presents Jeff Gordon with an award for earning the record for all-time most consecutive starts.

Jeff Gordon made NASCAR history Sunday afternoon when he took the green flag at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for his 789th consecutive career Sprint Cup start.

In a career filled with records, Gordon says this one's got a special ring to it, though.

“When I think of things I’ve accomplished in NASCAR, the Iron Man record is one I think ‘…damn, that’s a tough thing to do,’ especially when you see what happened to Kyle (Busch) or Denny (Hamlin) or Tony (Stewart)," said Gordon. "It could be an illness or a broken bone or an accident or a lot of things that can easily take you out of one race."

Barring something more severe and serious than anything he’s experienced in the last 23 years, when the season ends in eight more races, he’ll do what no other driver in the modern era has done: start every race of every season in his Cup career with the same owner and essentially the same primary sponsor.

Sure, in the last few years Gordon has worn the AARP livery, and occasionally Panasonic’s. This season 3M came on board. And yes, DuPont sold the Automotive Coatings unit and it was re-branded as Axalta - but it’s essentially the same company, and they remained with Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports. So for all intents and purposes, Gordon’s had the same sponsor for his whole career, even in his debut the last race of the 1992 season. 

Speaking to the press on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Gordon acknowledged the role that such security played.

“I never had to think twice about whether I was going to have a ride. It was how good of a performance or result are we going to get that day. I’ve never had to worry about whether we had a sponsor or not. We have always been very secure in that instance.”  

Gordon also said that his record of consecutive starts didn’t begin with his debut in what was then the Winston Cup Series.

“Since I was five years old, I have missed only one race that I was scheduled to do, and that was because of poison ivy,” Gordon stated.

“You have to understand if you are a sprint car racer, you are racing 100 times a year. Coming into the Cup level and racing 30 times a year, now 38 times a year, and it’s a lot more work that goes into 38 weeks than what went into 100 races in a sprint car. But, still, to me if there was a race and I was scheduled to do it, then I was going to do everything I could to be healthy and to be focused and to give 100 percent. I think just by having that mindset and that effort, that is what got me here. It’s not that I was looking at ‘hey I want to set an Iron Man record’ or anything like that.”

In claiming the Iron Man title, Gordon surpassed the record of Ricky Rudd, 788 consecutive starts. Rudd would still hold the record had he not stepped away from racing in 2005. He returned in 2007, running 31 of 36 races, before walking away for good. 

Known as “Rooster,” Rudd was arguably the toughest driver of the modern era. After a crash in the 1984 Busch Clash left his face swollen and battered, Rudd used tape to keep his eyes open enough to see to race in the Daytona 500. He finished in seventh. The next week, using Band-Aids® instead of tape, he won the race at Richmond.

Behind Rudd, the 2000 Winston Cup Champion Bobby Labonte had 704 consecutive starts, despite having broken his shoulder blade twice. His streak ended in 2013 when after a cycling injury, he stepped aside and let AJ Allmendinger drive the No. 47 for a couple of races. Allmendinger took over full-time duties the next season, and Labonte has only run six races since then.

Rusty Wallace’s streak of consecutive starts ended in 2005, too, when he retired as a driver. Wallace now has a career in broadcasting, but his 697 starts should keep him at fourth on the all-time list for some time to come.  

The older Labonte brother, Terry, in addition to winning championships in 1984 and 1996, started 655 consecutive races from 1979 to 2000. The Ice Man, as Labonte was known, was also the Iron Man until his streak ended at Indianapolis in 2000. Inner ear injuries sustained at Watkins Glen sidelined Labonte for two races.  

Texas Terry held the Iron Man title longer than he’d anticipated, though. Before the 2001 Daytona 500, Labonte and Dale Earnhardt worked together on special paint schemes in anticipation of Earnhardt eclipsing his record later that season at Talladega. Instead, Earnhardt’s string of consecutive starts was frozen at 648 with his death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Jeff Burton (626), Mark Martin (621) and Ken Schrader (579) hold the seventh, eighth and ninth places on the all-time list. None of them are active drivers. The only active driver in the top 10 for all-time consecutive starts is Matt Kenseth, who won Sunday in his 566th start.

At 43 years old, Kenseth shows no signs of slowing down, but he’d have to race another six seasons to surpass Gordon. Whether that's likely to happen is anyone's guess.

“I’m curious to see what happens with the more modern era of safer cars, safer race tracks and how that affects what drivers do in the future,” said Gordon. “Will they not race as long and they not get to it? Or will they blow this number out of the water and it won’t even be significant? I don’t know.”

Right Sides Only: Notes from Sylvania 300 Winning Crew Chief, Jason Ratcliff

Yogi Berra, the colorful baseball coach and manager who passed away last week, was known for his quotes that always seemed to be a bit off. He once quipped that "baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical." Doesn't add up, does it? NASCAR could be thought of in a similar fashion. Sometimes, it seems like the sport is ninety percent strategy while the other half is just plain luck. It doesn't add up, but it seems to make sense. Just ask Matt Kenseth.

On the strategy side, crew chief Jason Ratcliff discussed the tactics his No. 20 team employed for the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"Well, it was just great execution. Today Matt did a great job of methodically moving forward and giving us good feedback on the car. The guys did a great job on pit road of at least maintaining our spots every time we came down. This is a tough place to call a race because track position, you know you've got to get it, and then when you get it you know you need to keep it, and the cautions are so hard to predict, when they're going to come. A couple guys were on one strategy and they were going to be hard to beat. There were a couple cars there that were really, really strong and we needed to do something different. It worked our way, and everyone, like I say, executed perfectly. And there at the end, the car was at its best, and Matt was able to put the pressure on the 4 and bring home the victory," Ratcliff explained.

That strategy would not have worked so well if the team didn't have great equipment to begin with.

Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images
"Well, you know, it's like any sport; when things are going well, it provides a lot of opportunity.  I've been asked a number of times this year, 'What's different this year?' And the answer is everything is different. I mean, every department has been working really hard. The race cars are fast. The engine program is phenomenal. The pit crews are -- it's just all of it.  And when you have that, you open a lot of doors for a lot of opportunity, and I think that's why you're seeing success in a lot of different ways.
"So you know, hats off to everyone at JGR. We have eight more races. We've got to keep doing what we've been doing. There's some strong contenders out there, very competitive. But yeah, it's been a great season so far, and hats off to everyone at JGR," Ratcliff said.

Kenseth and company had a little bit of luck on their side, too. 

Defending series champion, Kevin Harvick led a race-high 216 laps while trying to make up ground lost in last week's race at Chicagoland Speedway, which left him near the bottom of the Chase grid. Harvick aggressively fought for the win but finished a dismal 21st after running out of fuel with two laps to go. Kenseth, well inside the window for fuel and tires, took advantage of Harvick's trouble and easily took the lead.
Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

"I think you never know what another competitor's situation is, but we knew that possibly he [Harvick] couldn't make it based on our count, and the guys did a good job of calculating that and telling me that, hey, he's probably going to be one or two short, but he can save that in a 60-lap run. So then at that point I felt like our car was at its best, and Matt had what he needed to go up there and pressure him," Ratcliff said.
"But he [Harvick] was sitting in a good spot. When Denny and Matt were racing each other, I'm sure he was loving that, so we needed to go up there and race him hard, and we did just that. I didn't think he was going to run out that soon. I thought it would be closer than that. But just goes to show you how well Matt did of not letting him save and making him burn more fuel than he had to."

Strategy and luck. The two go hand-in-hand or lap-to-lap as the case may be. With eight races to go before a new champion is crowned, strategy and luck may be the forces that work together to place the crown squarely on the head of a driver from Joe Gibbs Racing. 

   Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    Her other interests include country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Tough Go Racing: Five Questions for New Hampshire

(Credit:  Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
When your back is against the wall, what do you do?

This is the questions for a couple of NASCAR drivers this weekend as they head to Loudon, New Hampshire. Only on the second race of the Chase, there’s still time to fight back—for some.

I have many questions for this weekend, from Travis Pastrana to Michael Waltrip Racing to racetrack smack downs. Let’s get into this week’s edition of Five Questions.

What should we expect from Pastrana’s reappearance? Yes, you read that correctly—Travis Pastrana is returning to NASCAR for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It’s been two years since the X Games gold medalist drove in NASCAR. His sole Truck start came at Las Vegas in 2012, where he finished 15th. The former Roush-Fenway Racing Xfinity driver is coming back, but how will he do? I don’t expect much from Pastrana; he was decent in his two-year career, but there was always something holding him back from going to the next level. Pastrana’s thrill-seeking heart lives for that next level. He’ll run the No. 31 NTS Motorsports truck, which also fields a full-time ride in the NCWTS. He may do well, but it depends on if he can shake the cobwebs off during those practice sessions.

Can New Hampshire benefit from the Chicagoland thrills? Chicagoland Speedway produced more Chase drama than anyone could imagine. It gave us a surprising winner (Denny Hamlin featuring his torn ACL) and some sassy moments between Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick. The excitement meter is currently pegged. Can New Hampshire Motor Speedway capitalize on everyone’s nerves? The answer is yes; not only are fans on edge but so are the drivers. They know that a win moves them onto the second round of the Chase, and many non-Chasers are looking strong. For some, NHMS is a difficult track that poses a threat to their hopes. There are many storylines, and we’re only heading into the second race. Anticipation is everywhere—and it should be.

How can MWR rebound from their harsh P4 penalty? The biggest news from this week was the serious penalty handed down to Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer and the No. 15 team for issues during opening-day inspection. As a result, Bowyer lost 25 driver points and crew chief Billy Scott for three races. This is more salt in the wound for that organization, and many are wondering if they can rebound after this blow. It’s going to be difficult, but we’ve seen crazier/more unlikely things happen, right? I think everyone wants to see MWR finish strong to ensure that those crew members—and drivers—get other opportunities within the sport. Also, seeing another organization close its doors is rough. Bowyer bouncing back at New Hampshire and advancing to the next round would be a great story, yes. But is it actually doable? Like I said, more insane things have happened. However, I’m leaning toward "no" due to the rest of the competition having an edge over MWR.

Will more punches be pulled? Everyone loves a good fight. NASCAR hasn’t seen one in a long time. Johnson vs. Harvick is the closest thing we’ve had to a brawl, which is why it’s getting all the media attention. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a sign of the times; is this going to cause a domino effect? I’m thinking yes. As I previously mentioned, the drivers are feeling the pressure and will get angry very easily. We can’t predict which drivers will jump into the ring next. We can talk about the atmosphere the Chase produces. It’s thicker, making everyone feel uncomfortable. That results in jumpy, anxious drivers. We’ll definitely see more disagreements, and I’m thinking a few more altercations as well.

Is an upset brewing beneath the cutoff line? Harvick is now second-to-last in the standings, 22 points behind 12th. Nobody expected the 2014 NSCS champion to be behind, let alone in danger of being eliminated. That’s the deadly beauty of the Chase. Now, the real questions is—will Harvick fall victim to the cutoff line? The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is known for his ability to close the deal and be there when it matters. His cars are great, his drive is even great. When the going gets tough, the tough go racing. That’s exactly what Harvick will do. If he does get left below the line, it will be because of outside forces like a large accident. When he gets bad finishes, he tends to come back and do extremely well the following week. That’s what I expect to happen this weekend in New Hampshire. Nevertheless, if he does get eliminated due to other circumstances, it will be an upset. As in everyone will be upset and tear their Chase Grids in half.

TV Schedule: Sept. 25-27

Credit: Chris Trotman / NASCAR via Getty Images
The Sprint Cup Series embarks on the second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Camping World Truck Series also gets on track at the Magic Mile.

The XFINITY Series has a standalone event at Kentucky.

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

Friday, Sept. 25:
Noon Sprint Cup Series practice, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
3 p.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, NBCSN
4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN
6 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, NBCSN

Saturday, Sept. 26:
9 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, CNBC
10 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Keystone Light Pole Qualifying, FS1
11:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, CNBC
12:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Setup, FS1
1 p.m. Camping World Truck Series UNOH 175, FS1
4:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN
6 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), NBCSN
7:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
8 p.m. XFINITY Series 300, NBCSN

Sunday, Sept. 27:
11:30 a.m. NASCAR Race Day, FS1
1 p.m. NASCAR America Sunday, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Countdown to Green, NBCSN
2 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300, NBCSN
5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN
6 p.m., NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN
11:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap (re-air), NBCSN
12:30 a.m. (Monday) NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Eyes in the Sky: Meet Spotter Chris Lambert

Credit: Debbie Ross
Joe Gibbs Racing is still on fire. Despite a torn ACL and an early spin, Denny Hamlin opened the Chase with a win at Chicagoland. 

This week’s Eyes in the Sky has a new tone to it. Thanks to fellow contributor, Debbie Ross, I was able to ask Chris Lambert, Hamlin's spotter, a few questions.

Why did you choose to become a spotter?

It was simple for Lambert, growing up in Kannapolis NC, the true heart and center of NASCAR. When he was born his cousin was already dirt track racing, and as Lambert grew older he would spend a lot of time in their shop and realized that this was what he wanted to do. 

How long have you been spotting for Denny?

Lambert has been spotting for Hamlin since 2012, that year Hamlin won five races with Lambert as his spotter.  Since becoming Hamlin’s spotter the duo has a total of nine wins together.

Who else do you spot for?

Lambert is a full time spotter, I’m not sure he ever gets any rest. When he isn’t spotting for Hamlin, he spots for all the drivers of the No. 20 JGR Xfinity Series car. He even spotted for Hamlin in the No. 54 when Kyle Busch was out hurt. Sometimes too, Lambert will spot for Timothy Peters if the Camping World Truck Series is racing the same track as the Sprint Cup Series.

What was your favorite win?

For Lambert, last year’s Talladega win has to be his favorite. It was the first time Hamlin ever won there. According to Lambert, “It is always hard work to spot at restrictor plate races, but worth it when your driver wins!”

Watching Hamlin win the All Star Race this year was a huge highlight as well.
Credit: Debbie Ross

To watch Denny pass everyone including Harvick, in the final segment was really amazing.”

That win felt very special and close to home for Lambert. His grandfather, the man he owes everything to, sadly passed away that week. Lambert was sure his grandfather had something to do with that win.

When Lambert isn’t spotting he’s a husband to Angela and father to sons Hunter and Cameron.

Follow and learn more about Lambert on Twitter under the name @3widemiddle. He'svery active and fun twitter and loves to tweet with fans.

Lambert is always quick to tweet his excitement at winning: 
He also took time to thank as many as possible, his feed was full of thanking all the fans.

Thank you Chris Lambert for taking time and answering my questions.

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Contender round heats up at New Hampshire

Track Classification: Intermediate
Similar Tracks: Atlanta Motor Speedway • Charlotte Motor Speedway • Chicagoland Speedway  Darlington Raceway • Homestead-Miami Speedway • Kansas Speedway •  Kentucky Speedway 
Las Vegas Motor Speedway • Texas Motor Speedway
Distance: 1.058 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
All with 3 - Brian Vickers, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray
All with 2 - Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin

By Track
Brad Keselowski - 7
Jimmie Johnson - 6
All with 5 - Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon 

Recent Pole Winners:  
2014 Brad Keselowski
2013 Ryan Newman

The Likely Suspects:  As the drama builds in the playoffs, all eyes are on those first 12 spots in the standings. Who will enter the second round by virtue of a win? Who will get there on points? Who will be left on the outside looking in? As I put together my fantasy team this week, I'll be focusing on these "Magic Mile" elite drivers: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin.

My 2 Cents: Here we are at Chase race #2 with some grumbling drivers angry about restarts and aggressive racing at Chicagoland. It remains to be seen whether the Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson drama will bleed through to this race. Things aren't looking good for Clint Bowyer who was docked 25 points for suspension and track bar issues at Chicagoland. Oddly enough, due to his incident with Jimmie Johnson and Bowyer's loss of points, Kevin Harvick just stands one spot above Bowyer in 15th.

With all this in mind, my no-brainer pick this week is a tie between Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. My next choices are Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray. I will round out my team with Danica Patrick and Justin Allgaier.

My final four: Keselowski, Bowyer, McMurray and Allgaier.

Points to ponder:
  • Hendrick Motorsports leads the series in wins at New Hampshire in the Cup Series with nine; followed by Roush Fenway Racing (seven), Joe Gibbs Racing (seven), Team Penske (six), and Richard Childress Racing (four).
  • Jimmie Johnson leads the Cup drivers in average finishing position at New Hampshire with a 10.250. 
  • Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are tied for the series lead in runner-up finishes at New Hampshire with five each, followed by Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Mark Martin with three each. 
  • Eight active drivers have multiple wins at NHMS: Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart with three each. Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano each have two.
  • The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (five) than any other starting position at New Hampshire.  
  • More than half -- 23 of the 41 -- NASCAR Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire have been won from a top-10 starting position.
Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rookie Stripe: The Vivid World of NASCAR Paint Schemes

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
One of the most mouth-watering, tantalizing, I-must-eat-that-right-now moments I ever had at a NASCAR race had nothing to do with track food, or even food from the miles and miles of tailgates around the track’s periphery. It happened when I first set eyes on the No. 18 car of Kyle Bush, painted a shiny yellow and peppered with larger-than-life chocolate orbs.

I wanted to eat the car.

Art and racing intersect when it comes to cars, and I love this elegant aspect of a reputedly aggressive sport. Paint schemes are one of the most beautiful and fascinating parts of a NASCAR event. They’re rarely the same from race to race, and passionate fans tend to have strong opinions about them.

In the sport’s early days and up through the late twentieth century, cars were painted by hand. You’ll still find hand-painted cars here and there today. But just like NASCAR itself, car-painting technique has evolved with technology and time. Though stock car art is commonly referred to as a “paint scheme,” today you’ll rarely find a full-fledged paint job above those four wheels.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Most modern-day stock cars are decorated with vinyl -- enormous shrink wraps applied with hot air. If you’ve heard of regular automobiles being wrapped, it’s essentially the same process. While a real paint job may seem truer to NASCAR’s roots, vinyl paint schemes are an easy decision for most teams because of the volume of cars produced and the time painting a car requires. Real estate on a race car is precious, and with sponsor placement as a driving force, teams need to quickly and efficiently change paint schemes between races.

Here are some useful tidbits about modern NASCAR paint schemes:

· Most teams body-wrap the cars in their shops. The cars get a primer coat of gray paint, and employees in the body shop spend several hours applying the vinyl by hand with heat guns, knives and other tools. 

· The front and rear headlights on stock cars aren’t real -- they're part of the wrap.

· The weight of a body wrap and decals are a big factor for the car's aerodynamics.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs

· Paint schemes can illustrate almost anything: sponsors, sponsor products, nonprofits, special events, movies, the military and more. In honor of the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule’s return to Darlington on its original date of Labor Day weekend, NASCAR teams united to produce throwback schemes honoring the sport’s history.

· Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Rainbow paint scheme is one of the most revered of all time. He drove it from his start in 1992 until 2000, and resurrected it in 2015.

· In honor of the SpongeBob Squarepants 400 at Kansas Speedway in 2015, many drivers opted for SpongeBob themes.

· Creative, one-time paint schemes are common at the All-Star Race.

· Legendary artist Sam Bass has not only designed many of NASCAR’s paint schemes, but also programs, trophies, and even mascots.

· NASCAR has to approve every paint scheme, and has turned some down.

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs

If you have some spare time, just for fun Google ugliest, scariest, worst, best, most memorable and most embarrassing NASCAR paint schemes. It’ll keep you entertained for hours.

One of the best ways to understand how the vinyl wrapping paint scheme process works? Watch it happen. This video from Joe Gibbs Racing shows the color process for Matt Kenseth’s Dollar General Toyota. You can find many more of their race car wraps in time-lapse video, including the No. 18’s Skittles wrap, on their YouTube page.

Color me impressed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fast Facts Redux: Regan Smith

Regan Smith at Darlington - Sept. 2015
credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts & Scuffs
Xfinity Series driver Regan Smith will be blowing out the candles on his birthday cake this week, so let’s take a look back at Smith’s career to date in this week’s Fast Facts, originally published in May 2011.
  • Regan Smith was born Sept. 23, 1983 in Cato, NY, northwest of Syracuse. He began racing go-karts and microds at age four. In 1995, his family moved to Mooresville, NC in hopes of advancing Smith’s racing career. He went on to compete in the World Karting Association, the Allison Legacy Series, and the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series.
  • In 2002, Smith made his Truck Series and Busch (now Xfinity) Series debuts, going on to race for a number of teams over the next few seasons. He made his Cup Series debut in 2007, sharing the Ginn Racing No. 01 with Mark Martin before the team merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and he lost his ride. In 2008, he came back to the No. 01 as a full-time driver, and won the Rookie of the Year title over Sam Hornish Jr. In addition, Smith was the first rookie driver in NASCAR history to finish every race he entered in his first season.
  • Smith was on his way to winning his first race in 2008 when the “yellow line” rule struck: at the fall race at Talladega, he passed Tony Stewart on the last lap for what looked like the win, but NASCAR deemed the pass came below the yellow line, relegating him to an 18th-place finish.
  • In January 2009, after DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing, Smith signed with Furniture Row Racing for a partial season. He remained with the team in 2010, finishing 28th in points with a top finish of 12th.
  • Smith returned to Furniture Row Racing in 2011, and started the season with a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500, his first top-10 in Sprint Cup. In May of that year, Smith finally made it to Victory Lane, winning the historic Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He later added a third place finish in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.
  • Smith stayed at Furniture Row Racing late into the 2012 season, when he swapped rides with Kurt Busch, who was heading to FRR for the 2013 season. In addition to racing for Phoenix Racing, Smith also subbed for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in two races after he was diagnosed with a concussion. In 2013, Smith returned to the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series with JR Motorsports.
  • Smith has become something of a “super-sub” in the Sprint Cup Series: in addition to filling in for Earnhardt Jr., he has filled in for Tony Stewart, Busch and Kyle Larson, and has been tabbed as a standby driver for Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
  • Find out more about Regan Smith at

Travel Tips: New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Sept. 25-27, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
The Sprint Cup Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH for the second race in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup, the Sylvania 300. The race weekend, Friday through Sunday, Sept. 25-27, will also feature the Camping World Truck Series, the Whelen Modified Tour and the American-Canadian Tour (ACT).

On Thursday, Sept. 24, the NASCAR Hauler Parade gets underway at 6 p.m. ET.

On Friday, Sept. 25, the groundbreaking ceremony for the Northeast Motorsports Museum takes place at 2 p.m. near the South Gate.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Sept. 25 –
  • Whelen Modified Tour practice – 10:30 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – noon ET
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 1:30 and 3 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 4:45 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour qualifying – 5:50 p.m. ET

Saturday, Sept. 26 –
  • ACT practice – 8 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 9 and 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 10:10 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series UNOH 175 – 1 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour F.W. Webb 100 – 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Bond Auto Parts ACT Invitational – 5 p.m. ET

Sunday, Sept. 27 –
  • Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 – 2 p.m. ET

Find a detailed schedule of events here.

To purchase tickets for the Sylvania 300 weekend, or to learn more about NHMS, visit

Monday, September 21, 2015

Right Sides Only: 400 Winning Crew Chief, Dave Rogers

Resting on his laurels? Hmm, not so much. That's not Dave Rogers's plan for the next two weeks. Though he and driver, Denny Hamlin, winner of the opening Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway, essentially have a bye to the next round, Rogers plans to contend for wins each of the next two weeks.

"We're going to try to carry as much momentum into the Chase as possible. It definitely opens up some doors. Anything can happen in these races. We saw the 4 car got tore up today. He was fast.

"So we have a mulligan. If we have a problem the next two weeks, it doesn't matter. But we're still going to go to Loudon and Dover and try to lead laps and contend for the win. We just have a little less pressure on us than the other guys have," Rogers said.

This win marked yet another trip to Victory Lane for Joe Gibbs Racing. Now having won nine of the last 11 races, the JGR teams have made Victory Lane their second home. But the team has earned every win.

"There's so many back at Joe Gibbs Racing working hard to build fast racecars. All four Joe Gibbs cars were in the top 10. That's a testament to the speed. The road crew, the pit crew, the driver, engineers, everyone just stayed really composed. That's what I'm most proud of today," Rogers explained.

As the race began, few would have predicted that the No. 11 FedEx Racing crew would end their day with a win. A spin in the opening laps left Hamlin scrambling for an opportunity to find the front of the pack. 

Rogers, however, wasn't one of the naysayers.

"Call me crazy, but I thought we had a shot to win. We had a really good car in practice. I guess we always set our goals on trying to lead laps and win races.
"I think the minute you tell yourself you can't win or you're just trying to get a top 10, then that's probably all you're going to get.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
"The way Denny was moving up through traffic, I knew last year Brad won the race, he started in the mid 20s. Denny finished sixth, I believe, and started 27th. So I knew last year people came from deep in the field and contended for the win. So I knew it was possible.
"And we spun because he was going. He had a fast racecar and he was trying to make something happen and got in the back of slower cars. So I knew he had speed. I have a lot of faith in that driver. He can do some crazy things," Rogers explained.
As it turns out, the rest of the team was ready to help out because they instinctively know how to rebound.

"We did have a lot of adversity. You know in the Chase you're going to have adversity, it's going to strike. We've been talking about it, been trying to mentally prepare for it.

"Today I thought the entire team did a great job of just keeping focused and it paid off in the end. So really proud of the guys that travel and really thankful for everyone back at the shop, including our partners in Costa Mesa who built the powerplant, TRD. Great steam under the hood. Proud to have a racecar this fast and could allow us to overcome adversity," Rogers said.

With one down and two more to go until the next round of the Chase, does Rogers believe that the battle for wins will get tougher?

"I don't want to say this because we won it and I don't want to take any glory away from the team. The way the Chase is laid out, 12 cars are going to advance to the next round, and only three of them are going to advance on wins, the other nine are going to come from points. So realistically, this is one of the easier brackets, as it should be. The championship should be the toughest bracket. Homestead is going to be by far the hardest race," Rogers said.

Hamlin has fought to the last lap for a championship at Homestead once before. Fans of the team are hoping he can battle to that last lap yet again ... with a different result--a championship.


   Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    Her other interests include country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.

Travel Tips: Kentucky Speedway – Sept. 25-26, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
The Xfinity Series has a stand-alone race this weekend, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25-26, at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The ARCA Racing Series is also on the schedule.

There will be an Xfinity Series autograph session on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET – among the drivers scheduled to appear are Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Brennan Poole, Ben Rhodes, Ryan Truex and Darrell Wallace Jr. Check the Kentucky Speedway website later in the week for more information.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Sept. 25 –
  • ARCA Racing Series practice – 12:30 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series practice – 3:30 and 6 p.m. ET
  • ARCA Racing Series qualifying – 4:30 p.m. ET
  • ARCA Racing Series Crosley Brands 150 – 8 p.m. ET

Saturday, Sept. 26 –
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 4:45 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series 300 – 8 p.m. ET

Check out the fan guide for Kentucky Speedway here. Information on coolers and what can be brought into the track can be found here.

For additional information on Kentucky Speedway, and to purchase tickets and Fan Zone passes, visit

Sunday, September 20, 2015

In Pursuit of the Perfect Grid - Handicapping the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship

Last season, everyone I know who drew up a Chase bracket had that bracket busted after the Contender Round. It’s likely the same will happen this year, but I’m giving it a go anyway.

Kevin Harvick’s statistics this season are jaw-dropping. And as tempting as it is to choose Harvick for his stellar record this season, or Jimmie Johnson for his stellar record at winning championships, I just can’t do it.

I say Joey Logano will win his first Sprint Cup Championship by the almost non-existent hair on his chinny-chin-chin.

Penske engines have the speed, Logano has the focus and drive, and his team has something to prove. They’ll never know if they’d have won the title last season if they hadn’t had that last misbegotten pit stop, but it’s possible they could have. And I believe that will be enough to push the team to their best work ever.

Logano recently remarked that the saying, "you have to lose a championship before you can win one" is the stupidest thing he’s ever heard, but in case it’s true, he lost one last year, so this should be his year. I agree, and I think Joey Logano will hoist the Sprint Cup at Homestead.

As hard as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon worked to get into the Chase, I don’t think that the Hendrick power plant can compete with the Toyota and Ford packages. Ryan Newman’s RCR power hasn’t even had enough speed to win, and I don’t think he’ll start now. As tough as the competition is this season, I’m not convinced points-racing will get as far as it did last season.

Of the drivers who did not make the Chase, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, and Aric Almirola all have the potential to win races. But they won’t. In fact, I’m going out on a limb and saying that in the next 10 races, we’ll see no more than five different drivers in Victory Lane.

Here are my predictions to win the last 10 races:

Chicago - Kevin Harvick
Loudon - Matt Kenseth
Dover - Jimmie Johnson
Charlotte - Carl Edwards
Kansas - Matt Kenseth
Talladega - Kevin Harvick
Martinsville - Joey Logano
Texas - Kyle Busch
Phoenix - Kevin Harvick
Homestead - Joey Logano

I need a Goody’s Headache Powder now, please!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Expectations and Eliminations: Five Questions for Chicagoland

(Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Come one, come all to one of the greatest 10 weeks in racing!

That’s right, it’s time for the Chase to get underway. It’s an exciting time for drivers, teams and fans who enjoy good competition. That’s exactly what this system provides.

As we head to Illinois to kick things off, I discuss that first race’s flaws, JGR, non-Chasers and more. Grab a slice of deep dish pizza and dig in…to this week’s Five Questions!

Should Chicagoland be the Chase-opening race? The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is kicking off its 10 Chase races at Chicagoland Speedway, the 1.5-mile tri-oval in Joliet, Illinois. The track is similar to four other tracks down the road, making it a good indicator of who will be in contention as the Chase gets underway. However, is it worthy of being the first race? The short answer is no; if NASCAR is trying to allure new people into watching the final 10 races for the excitement, you have to start off with that excitement. Chicagoland does not produce that. If the team were running the low downforce package, I would be absolutely giddy about this Sunday. That’s not happening, and it’s a real shame. Another factor is the other sports in the area. The Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs both play at home this weekend, forcing fans to choose. Just thinking about the attendance numbers and TV ratings makes me cringe. I personally think the Chase needs an entire overhaul of the tracks involved but NASCAR is reluctant, which I don’t understand. Either way, Chicagoland should be moved either later in the Chase—which can be difficult due to weather—or not be there at all.

Can the Joe Gibbs Racing foursome keep their momentum alive? Move over, Hendrick Motorsports, there’s a new sheriff in town, and it’s JGR. All four Toyotas made the Chase field, a testament to their strength. The team has been killing it, and it won’t go away anytime soon. Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards are on top of it, and Kyle Busch is holding steady. The only issue that may form later is Denny Hamlin’s ACL injury. He’s having surgery after the season is over, but it may pose an obstacle during the longer races. That being said, I am not a doctor and don’t play one on TV. Hamlin has done well since he announced his injury, so maybe the entire team will compete for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Now that would be a show. I don’t see anything deterring their momentum. JGR fans everywhere, rejoice!

Will non-Chasers be a threat during these final 10 races? The sad truth is that many people will forget about those not competing for the championship. Media coverage will be locked in on who makes a good start and who puts themselves behind. Despite this, the other 27 cars aren’t going away. I expect non-Chasers to be a serious threat, claiming three wins overall. Some drivers such as Kasey Kahne and Aric Almirola barely missed the cutoff, and they will be determined to rebound. I can’t tell you who these winners will be, but I think they’ll break up the party three times during the next 10 races.

Who’s the biggest threat going into Sunday’s race? Of course, one of the looming thoughts about Sunday is who’ll end up in victory lane. Will it be a non-Chaser as previously mentioned, or will a Chase contender take the first checkered flag? Judging by the stats, it’s leaning toward the latter. Both Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski have two wins at the track. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver/reigning champion holds eight top fives and nine top 10s. The Team Penske driver collected three top fives and four top 10s. The only possible dark horse is Tony Stewart, who has three wins, eight top fives, and 10 top 10s. The No. 14 has been all over the place this year, but victory lane isn’t one of those places. Nevertheless, the biggest contenders will be Harvick, Keselowski or whoever is fast in qualifying. That’s the true key at tracks like Chicagoland.

What can we expect from this year’s Chase? The Chase was invented to get people excited for the championship battle—we can thank Kenseth for that. It’s comprised of 10 races with 16 drivers going head-to-head. Doesn’t that sound awesome? This is the second year with the new “knockout” format, and it will continue to impress this season. Teams now have a years-worth of notes under their belts. That should allow them to take more chances as the races dwindle down. The eliminations add pressure and make every position matter—and that’s how it should be. The Chase might not be perfect (hence my rant about Chicagoland at the beginning of this piece), but it’s something unique. I say “unique,” and many will respond, “But it’s NASCAR trying to be like the NFL!” I know. I cried the same sentiment when it was first announced. NASCAR has morphed it into something completely different with the added incentives for winning during the regular season and eliminating four racers at a time setting us apart. I think it makes for healthy competition, something served to the sport in a hefty dose. We’ll see action, drama and heartbreak. Those are what makes the sport human and worthwhile. I’m excited for the Chase as a whole, and you should be, too.

TV Schedule: Sept. 18-20

Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images
And we're in the Chase! Chicagoland kicks off the 10-race playoffs in the Sprint Cup Series. The Windy City plays host to the first race in the Challenger round.

All three series are running at Chicagoland this weekend.

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

Friday, Sept. 18:
10 a.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1
12:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, NBCSN
2 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, NBCSN
4:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Keystone Light Pole Qualifying, FS1
6:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, NBCSN
8 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Setup, FS1
8:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol E15 225, FS1

Saturday, Sept. 19:
3:30 a.m. Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol E15 225 (re-air), FS1
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, CNBC
2:45 p.m. XFINITY Series Coors Light Pole Qualifying, NBCSN
4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, NBCSN
5:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
6 p.m. XFINITY Series Furious 7 300, NBCSN

Sunday, Sept. 20:
11:30 a.m. NASCAR Race Day, FS1
1:30 p.m. NASCAR America Sunday, NBCSN
2:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Countdown to Green, NBCSN
3 p.m. Sprint Cup Series 400 , NBCSN
6:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN
7 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN
11:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap (re-air), NBCSN
Midnight NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1. Re-airs at 2:30 a.m.

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Chase Round One, Race One at Chicagoland

Track Classification: Intermediate
Similar Tracks: Atlanta Motor Speedway • Charlotte Motor Speedway • Darlington Raceway  Homestead-Miami Speedway • 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
Both with 4 - Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer 
All with 3 -  Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch  

By Track
Brad Keselowski - 4 
All with 3 - Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer

Recent Pole Winners:
2014 Rained Out
2013 Joey Logano

The Likely Suspects: Welcome to the second year of NASCAR's version of the playoffs -- The Chase. The first race in the Challenger round is the perfect time for non-Chase spoilers to show their stuff while the Chase drivers are just anxious for a quick win to get them in the next round. This all spells drama and exciting racing. My eye will be on those five drivers who made it in on points: Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray and Jeff Gordon. Look for these drivers who perform well in Chicagoland to spoil their day: Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick is Brad Keselowski. My next picks are Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson. I will complete my team with Ryan Blaney and Justin Allgaier,

My final four: Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Justin Allgaier.

Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.