Friday, February 27, 2015

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: The Squirrelly-Car Debut at Atlanta


Track Classification: Intermediate
Similar Tracks:  Charlotte Motor Speedway • Chicagoland Speedway • Darlington Raceway   Homestead-Miami Speedway • Kansas Speedway • Kentucky Speedway 
Las Vegas Motor Speedway • New Hampshire Motor Speedway • Texas Motor Speedway
Distance: 1.54 miles

2015 Fantasy NASCAR Year: AKA the Year of the Squirrelly Car-Abled Drivers
Hmm. I need to work on a shorter term for this. Here's the gist. The rules package for this year's Sprint Cup car -- particularly the reduction in horsepower from 900 to 725, shortening the rear spoiler from 8 to 6 inches and making the car slightly lighter in weight, bringing the specs a lot closer to the XFinity Series cars than ever before.

Furthermore, this new rules package is going to change the drivability of the car. It is going to be a bit squirrelly, favoring drivers who never adjusted well to last year's car, and who are known to love driving squirrelly cars such as Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenneth, Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr.  For this reason NASCAR Fantasy Fusion will factor in 2013 track statistics this year.

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
All with 3 - Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin
All with 2 -  Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski

By Track 
All with 3 - Jeff Gordon,  Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin
All with 2 -  Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski 

Recent Pole Winners:
2014 Kevin Harvick
2013 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

2013 Top-15 Finishers at Atlanta (September 1, 2013)
1       Kyle Busch                       
2       Joey Logano                       
3       Martin Truex Jr.           
4       Kurt Busch                       
5       Ryan Newman           
6       Jeff Gordon                       
7       Juan Pablo Montoya                       
8       Dale Earnhardt Jr.                       
9       Kevin Harvick           
10     Brian Vickers           
11     Jamie McMurray           
12     Matt Kenseth           
13     Marcos Ambrose                       
14     A.J. Allmendinger                       
15    Greg Biffle

The Likely Suspects: This weekend will be the first true test of the 2015 rules package. Jimmie Johnson may gain some of his old luster, but I don't think he will rule Atlanta like he once did. Look for these drivers to perform well this week: Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

My 2 Cents: The quintessential no-brainer at Atlanta is Jeff Gordon, followed by Kevin Harvick. I will round out my team with Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Ragan and Regan Smith.

My final four: Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Regan Smith. Enjoy the race!

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

The Real Season Opener: Five Questions for Atlanta


(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Daytona is nice and all, but it isn’t the real beginning.

Well, it’s technically the start, yes. It’s the first race of the season, and it’s where points are accumulated. This doesn’t mean the season starts here.

Restrictor plate tracks are full of tricks and luck. They feel more like exhibition events than anything. It’s not fair to count the results, yet that’s what makes it thrilling.

No, the real season opener is now lovely Atlanta Motor Speedway, the gorgeous gem of Georgia. This is where we see who’s here to fight and who’s here to fake it out.

Let the real games begin. Here are this week’s Five Questions.

Does the inclement weather prove the Atlanta move was a bad idea? “Hotlanta” is no more. A heavy snowstorm paralyzed parts of the southeast, just in time for NASCAR’s visit. Many drivers, media members, and fans are pointing to this as proof that the schedule change wasn’t the best move. One little mishap doesn’t bruise the event’s entire complexion. We live in a world full of overreaction and hollow privilege. Driving to Georgia instead of flying isn’t the end of the world. Stop acting like it is.

Can Hendrick dominance return at a meaningful venue? This track marked Jeff Gordon’s entrance into the NASCAR world, and this weekend is his final visit as a full-time competitor. The living legend is only one facet of Hendrick Motorsports’ success at the 1.5-mile track. Kasey Kahne won the final Labor Day race there, locking him into The Chase in the nick of time. Then again, he’s always been good there. Teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are also decent. The six-time champion has three wins, 12 top-fives, and 14 top-10s. The 2014 Daytona 500 winner has one win, 8 top-fives, and 12 top-10s. With that in mind, does it seem like the organization will thrive at the “real” season opener? It’s very likely. HMS was powerful at Daytona International Speedway, and that nothing new. Counting this four-car stable out isn’t the smartest idea. The only issue may be how they (and the entire field) adjust to the new competition rules. Other than that, watch out.

How will the competition changes influence the racing? Those previously mentioned competition changes go into effect this weekend. The various adjustments include reduced horsepower, a shorter spoiler, and deregulation of lug nuts on pit stops. These changes are bound to affect the racing, but will it be for the better? Right now, it’s unclear; the lug nut rule will lead to teams risking in and having loose wheels. In response, there’s now a penalty associated with a wheel falling off during the race. The most exciting thing, however, is the reduction of horsepower. This will lead to closer racing, which should pump up everyone. We’ll see how it goes, but it will take multiple races to see the full effect.

Logano: True winner or luckiest guy alive? Last Sunday produced a fresh result; Joey Logano won his first Daytona 500, taking the checkered flag under caution. Yeah, the last part is accurate. A crash occurred on the backstretch, and NASCAR threw the yellow flag. Fans were instantly outraged, saying the end killed the action. So, did the race play into his favor? The win was most certainly earned. Logano was good all week, and Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick wouldn’t have caught him regardless. Besides, his win is the most just out of those three. The caution didn’t change anything.

What do you think will be the big story this season? This year has the makings of a fantastic season, and that’s evident this early on. I want to know what you think will be the story of the season. Will it be Gordon’s retirement? Logano riding momentum? Let me know!

TV Schedule: Feb. 27-March 1

Atlanta Motor Speedway. Credit: Todd Warshaw / NASCAR via Getty Images

After the whirlwind of Speedweeks, the NASCAR season is off and running. All three series head to Atlanta Motor Speedway as the track's date moves up to the second race of the season from its Labor Day weekend spot.

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

Friday, Feb. 27:
10 a.m. XFINITY Series practice, FS1
11:30 a.m. XFINITY Series final practice, FS1
1 p.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, FS1
2:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1
5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, FS1

Saturday, Feb. 28:
3:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), FS1
9 a.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, FS1
10:30 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
Noon Sprint Cup Series final practice, FS1
1:30 p.m. NASCAR Race Day: XFINITY, FS1
2 p.m. XFINITY Series: Hisense 250, FS1
4:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Set Up, FS1
5:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: Hyundai Construction Equipment 200, FS1
10 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 (re-air), FS1

Sunday, March 1:
Midnight XFINITY Series: Hisense 250 (re-air), FS1
11 a.m. NASCAR Race Day: Atlanta, FS1
12:30 p.m. NASCAR Race Day: Atlanta, FOX
1 p.m. Sprint Cup: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, FOX. Re-airs at 2:30 a.m. Monday on FS1.
6 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1. Re-airs at 5:30 a.m. Monday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tony Stewart's First Daytona 500 Win on Hold (Again)

Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images
Tony Stewart entered Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona happy and back to his old self.  After two seasons where injury and tragedy marred his chances of making The Chase for the Sprint Cup, this is the year where a rebound is critical.

Stewart's Daytona racing resume is impressive. The three-time Sprint Cup Series Champion holds the record for most victories among active drivers, 19 overall. Between the Sprint Unlimited race and July Sprint Cup races at Daytona he has a combined ten wins, seven wins in the Xfinity Series and two wins in the former IROC Series.

It was no surprise that he was among the favorites to win Sunday's Daytona 500 in his 17th attempt. The driver/owner has won just about everything else when it comes to Daytona, but the 500 win remains elusive.

Stewart started the race fourth in his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet and seemed satisfied with the way the car was running, when he reported the car was “tight.” A split second later he hit the outside wall hard, collecting two-time Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth and rookie Ryan Truex. On Lap 41 his dreams of winning “The Great American Race” were put on hold for another year.

After repairs Stewart returned to the race 64 laps down, finishing 42nd.

“It’s the biggest race of the year. The last thing you want to do is stay out there and have something else happen to get in the middle of something. Let’s just let those guys have their day,” he said in a post-race interview.

Though this was a set-back for him and his fans, it’s not insurmountable for a comeback and a championship this year in the NSCS. In 2002, Stewart finished last at Daytona only to come back and win his first NSCS Championship.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fast Facts Redux: Joey Logano

2015 Daytona 500 victory lane
credit: Getty Images/Chris Graythen
A lot has happened to Joey Logano since Skirts & Scuffs first profiled him in March 2012: he made the move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Team Penske, became a contender for the Sprint Cup, got married and won the 2015 Daytona 500 to name a few things. Catch up with the driver who was nicknamed “Sliced Bread” (as in “the best thing since…”) by veteran racer Randy LaJoie early in his career in this Daytona 500 winner’s edition of Fast Facts.
  • Joseph Thomas Logano was born May 24, 1990 in Middletown, Connecticut. He began racing at age 6 in quarter midgets, moving through the ranks of Junior Stock Cars and Late Models in the eastern United States.
  • Logano’s family moved to Georgia where he began racing Bandolero Bandits and later Legends cars. In the Legends Series at age 10, Logano won a record-setting 14 races in a row at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and also won a Lions National Championship. Over the next few years, he raced Late Models, the FASCAR Pro Truck Series and the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series.
  • A 2007 rule change allowed 16-year-old drivers to participate in the Grand National Division, allowing Logano to race in the Camping World East Series (now the K&N Pro Series East) that year. He went on to earn the championship with five wins, 10 top 10s and three poles. In 2008, he made his ARCA Racing Series, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (now Camping World Truck Series) and Nationwide Series (now Xfinity Series) debuts.
  • In August 2008, Logano was announced as the driver for the vacated Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Home Depot ride for 2009, as Tony Stewart was leaving to field his own team. In 2009, he became the youngest driver to race in the Daytona 500, the youngest driver to win a Cup Series race (New Hampshire in June 2009 – 19 years, 35 days), and the Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year.
  • After earning a second win with JGR (Pocono in June 2012), it was announced that Logano would move to Team Penske for the 2013 season as a teammate to Brad Keselowski. Since moving to Team Penske, Logano has earned seven wins (including the 2015 Daytona 500) and finished in the top 10 in points in 2013 (eighth) and 2014 (fourth – made the championship round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup).
  • Logano also competes regularly in the Xfinity Series, winning 21 times in 135 starts from 2008-2014; in 2012, he won nine times and earned six poles in 22 starts with JGR.
  • Logano and the former Brittany Baca were married on Dec. 13, 2014.
  • Find out more about Joey Logano at joeylogano.com


Monday, February 23, 2015

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Winning Crew Chief


Usually after a race win, the focus is on the winning driver. Everyone wants to know what he felt in the closing laps and who he wants to thank for helping him get to Victory Lane. That was certainly the case after the 2015 season opener, the Daytona 500, which saw Joey Logano wheel his Pennzoil Ford to his first win in the iconic race.

That isn't the case in this column. "Right Sides Only" will tell the tale of the race from the perspective of the man atop the war wagon. As every driver attests, NASCAR is a team sport, and the crew chief is the team captain.

Going into this year's Great American Race, the focus was on Jeff Gordon who led the field to the green flag for his final year of competition. However, as the checkers flew, attention turned to another Gordon --Todd Gordon-- crew chief for the No. 22.

When asked what were the keys to winning the race, Gordon said he felt making the right calls to have stability in the car for Logano to stay up front was instrumental. He further acknowledged Logano's ability to find the right lines to run as well as spotter Tab Boyd's work to help his driver maneuver to the front of the pack. Gordon also credited Clint Bowyer for working well with Logano throughout the afternoon.
Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon in the Daytona garage, Jan. 10, 2013
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR

Even team owner, Roger Penske, cited Gordon as being one of the reasons Logano performed so well.

"For me it's a credit to what Todd's done... Joey, he and and Todd have built a bond together, which is important. They trust each other. You could see it. The calls on the racetrack, stay out, two tires, four tires. That's what you have to have. It was a perfect day."

Though there was concern about possible engine issues following problems for teammate, Brad Keselowski, Gordon maintained his composure.

"You worry about the things you can control in this sport. At that point we have no control over it... we had managed where we needed to be with our motor all day. Fortunately everything worked out for us."

When asked what winning the Daytona 500 felt like to him on a personal level, Gordon practically beamed, and focused on his relationship with Logano.

"It's been great," he said. "The relationship is something where we trust each other with everything. Today was a perfect example of 'I'm too tight,' I call for two tires, there's no hesitation in Joey's mind. He understood track position was what we had to maintain... I don't ever question what he does. I've never heard him question me, so..."

Logano agreed with his crew chief, "I don't question you, man. You're smarter than me."

Thanks to Gordon's great calls and his intellect, both of them are forever recognized as Daytona 500 winners.

Travel Tips: Atlanta Motor Speedway – Feb. 27-March 1, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
One key change to the NASCAR schedules for 2015 was moving the event at Atlanta Motor Speedway from Labor Day weekend to the second race weekend of the season. That means that the Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series will be at the track this weekend, Friday through Sunday, Feb. 27-March 1. In a unique twist to the schedule, the Xfinity and Truck Series will both run on Saturday, Feb. 28.

There will be a number of live musical performances throughout the weekend, including a pre-race concert from Grammy-nominated country newcomer Cole Swindell. Click here for a schedule of performances and the complete weekend schedule.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Feb. 27:
  • Xfinity Series practice – 10 and 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup practice – 1 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 2:30 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup qualifying – 5:25 p.m. ET

Saturday, Feb. 28:
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 9:10 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 10:40 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – noon ET
  • Xfinity Series Hisense 250 – 2 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Hyundai Construction Equipment 200 – 5:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, March 1:
  • Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 – 1 p.m. ET

First-time fans can check this out for tips on enjoying the race.

Find out more about this weekend’s races and purchase tickets at www.atlantamotorspeedway.com

Want to know what's going on in Atlanta this weekend? Follow Skirts & Scuffs on Facebook and Twitter for updates!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Kurt Busch loses final NASCAR appeal, indefinite suspension stands

 
(Feb. 21, 2015)

This evening, the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer, Mr. Bryan Moss, heard and considered the appeal of driver Kurt Busch.

The penalty concerns Section 12.1.a: Actions detrimental to stock car racing; 12.8: Behavioral penalty

The penalty stems from activities last year involving Kurt Busch that resulted in a decision by the Family Court of the State of Delaware to issue an Order of Protection of Abuse against him.

The penalty is an indefinite suspension.

Earlier today, a three-person National Motorsports Appeals Panel upheld the original penalty assessed by NASCAR.

Tonight, Kurt Busch presented his position to the Final Appeals Officer.

Representing NASCAR was Jim Cassidy, Senior Vice President of Racing Operations.

The Appellate Administrator is NASCAR Vice President George Silbermann.

Upon hearing tonight’s testimony, Bryan Moss, the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer, made the following decisions:

· The appellant violated the Rules set forth in the penalty notice and the decision of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel was correct;

· The penalty was within the scope of the guidelines;

· The National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer upholds the original penalty levied by NASCAR

The decision of the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer is final and binding on all parties.

Kurt Busch now has exhausted his appeal options under the NASCAR Rulebook, and the indefinite suspension remains in effect.

He will not be allowed to race nor participate in any NASCAR activities until further notice.

Appeals Panel denies Kurt Busch's appeal

credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
National Motorsports Appeals Panel Statement


(Feb. 21, 2015)


The National Motorsports Appeals Panel today heard and considered the appeal of driver Kurt Busch.


The penalty concerns Section 12.1.a: Actions detrimental to stock car racing; 12.8: Behavioral penalty.


The penalty stems from activities last year involving Kurt Busch that resulted in a decision by the Family Court of the State of Delaware to issue an Order of Protection of Abuse against him.


The penalty is an indefinite suspension.


The Appellant appealed both penalties.


Upon hearing the testimony, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel decided that the Appellant violated the rules set forth in the penalty notice. The Panel therefore decided to uphold the original penalty assessed by NASCAR.


The panel consisted of the following three individuals:

Mr. Paul Brooks

Ms. Lyn St. James

Mr. Kevin Whitaker


Kurt Busch presented his position to the panel.

Representing NASCAR was Jim Cassidy, Senior Vice President of Racing Operations.


The Appellate Administrator is NASCAR Vice President George Silbermann.


Kurt Busch has the right to appeal the decision to the Final Appeals Officer, Mr. Bryan Moss. Kurt Busch must inform NASCAR of his intent to do so within the guidelines provided to him.

The Final Appeals Officer has indicated that he would hear the final appeal, if requested, this evening at the International Motorsports Center in Daytona Beach, Florida.

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: 2015 Great American Race at Daytona


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
Both with 4: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle
Both with 3: Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth 
All with 2: Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick  

By Track
Both with 4: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth
All with 3: Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Casey Mears, Paul Menard, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Daytona 
2005-2014 races (active drivers only) 
Kyle Busch                  96.2  
Matt Kenseth               91.6
Kurt Busch                  90.5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.       90.3
Tony Stewart               87.9
Jeff Gordon                 87.1
Jimmie Johnson          87.0
Denny Hamlin             86.4
Clint Bowyer               83.7
Joey Logano               82.5

The Likely Suspects: If Speedweeks is any indication of what we'll see on Sunday, then we're in for a great race as well as a few dust-ups between drivers. For me, the Daytona 500 is like a really good thriller where you never know what's going to happen or how it's going to end. It's not easy but anyone can win this race -- a rookie, a superstar or even a relative unknown.

These factors make fantasy picking a nightmare. For my picks I'll focus on who performed well during Speedweeks, who traditionally performs well at Daytona and who has buddies on the track for help during pack drafting. My Daytona fantasy elite include: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin.

My 2 Cents:  My advice this week is two-fold: Don't agonize about picking the winner and don't fall for the sentimental favorite without considering driver performance. Otherwise we'll all be wanting to pick Jeff Gordon for all the races in his final season. If you aren't sure about your Daytona picks, hovering around the Joe Gibbs Racing stable is never a bad thing because JGR has this track figured out.

My no-brainer pick is Dale Earnhardt Jr. He leads all active drivers in Daytona 500 top-five finishes with seven (eighth most all-time) and has four runner-up finishes, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough. I'm very tempted to choose polesitter Jeff Gordon, but Matt Kenseth is stellar here, is coming off the Sprint Unlimited win, and is one of JGR's drivers -- my fantasy trifecta. He's starting way in the back though so keep that in mind when making your final picks.

My next picks are Greg Biffle, the often-overlooked Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr., who has been crazy fast during Speedweeks. I will round out my fantasy team with Danica Patrick and Ty Dillon, who no doubt will be drafting the pack with his brother Austin.

My final roster is Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr. and Danica Patrick.

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

Lisa Janine Cloud predicts the 2015 NASCAR champions

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
The 2015 NASCAR season hurtles toward us at the speed of ... well, race cars. Fast race cars.

Daytona is almost upon us, so it’s time to pull out the old crystal ball and peer into it, hoping to catch a glimpse of who will be standing on the track after the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with those championship trophies lined up in front of them.

I have to brag a little because in 2014, I correctly predicted two of the three series champs in Matt Crafton for the Camping World Truck Series and Kevin Harvick for the Sprint Cup Series. I think I should get partial credit for choosing Regan Smith for the Nationwide Series because he finished second in points. Also, because who really thought that Chase Elliott would be THAT good? For him to win the championship in his rookie season did not seem to be a reasonable prediction.

All boasting aside, the upcoming season seems at first glance to be way too complicated to predict: Few full-time or full-season drivers in Camping World Trucks. A handful of competitive teams in the Xfinity Series. A new engine and aero package in Sprint Cup to go with the sophomore year of the new Chase format. No preseason testing to use as a gauge.

Speculating on who will come out on top seems harder than ever. Yet when I looked at each series, it wasn't as hard as I thought.

Here are my picks:

Camping World Trucks

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
The Truck Series begins its 20th season at Daytona. Thirteen drivers have claimed the title in what’s considered the lowest rung on the NASCAR ladder, showing that repeat championships are possible. Last season Matt Crafton became the first to earn back-to-back titles, but can he make it three in a row, joining Jack Sprague and Ron Hornaday Jr. as the only drivers with three or more championships?

Given the sketchy lineup eligible for the Driver Championship, I wouldn’t bet against him, but I’m also not going to pick him as my front-runner. I’m going with the youngster Erik Jones for Kyle Busch Motorsports, with Tyler Reddick of Brad Keselowski Racing a close second.

Jones only started 12 races in 2014, but he won three of them and earned five top fives and eight top-10 finishes. He graduated from high school and to superspeedways in June, so he’s free to run the full season instead of sharing a ride with the boss.

Reddick started 16 races and while he didn’t pull off a win, he did score three top-fives and nine top-10 finishes. While I’m sure Reddick has the talent to win, I don’t think his BKR team has the same polish as KBR’s powerhouse. I expect some good battles between the young guns, but I give Jones the edge and the title.

Xfinity Series 


In 2014, the middle-tier series featured some of the best racing in all of NASCAR, despite the heavy involvement of Sprint Cup drivers such as Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson. The three drivers put on an epic show at Auto Club Speedway in March, with young Larson holding off veterans Busch and Harvick for the win.

When it comes to picking the champion, I don’t want to jinx him, but I just don’t see anyone who can beat Chase Elliott.

He’ll be challenged, sure. His teammate Regan Smith came close to winning it all in 2014, but as good as Smith is, he doesn’t have the same native talent Elliott does. Smith had 26 top-10 finishes, just like Elliott. However, only seven of those were top fives, and only one a win, while Elliott drove to 16 top fives and three wins to propel him to the championship in his rookie season, the first to ever achieve that feat.

Ty Dillon has the racing chops but not the consistency, and to be frank, Childress just can’t compete with Hendrick/JRM for speed.

Elliott Sadler’s back in a Ford at Roush Fenway Racing, but despite Doug Yates' magic touch with engines, I’m not convinced the Blue Ovals can compete with the Bowtie Brigade overall. If a Ford driver is going to be a serious threat, I’m thinking it will be Chris Buescher, who won at Mid-Ohio, and had five top fives and 14 top 10s after his DNQ at Daytona.

Chase Elliott knows what he’s doing in 2016. He’s got a championship pedigree, a championship organization behind him, and he’s a quick learner. I’m betting he’ll be even better in 2015 than he was in 2014, and add his name to the list of back-to-back champions.

Sprint Cup 

The “win and you’re in” theme of 2014 provided exciting racing throughout the whole season, right
through to the end of the Chase. Each round of eliminations became more nerve-wracking and gut-wrenching than the last.

Who would have thought that going into the Championship Round, only one Hendrick Motorsports driver would be left? Not me! Who would have thought Jeff Gordon would be eliminated from championship contention AFTER HE TOOK THE CHECKERED FLAG? Not me! Who would have thought Ryan Newman and Richard Childress Racing would come so close to winning it all? Not me!

That makes choosing one driver who will successfully navigate the challenges of each round and who will make it through the final race unscathed almost impossible. So many factors are involved.
Since there are so many variables, I’m going to make my prediction based a combination of past performance, potential and my own peculiar logic.

As great a story as it would be for Carl Edwards to win in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing and with the crew chief who beat him in 2011, I just don’t think Toyota has the horsepower to keep up with Hendrick and Penske.

It would be an even better story for Jeff Gordon to win in his final season in the No. 24. He showed last season that he still has the skills and the will to win. Yet last season also showed just how difficult the new system makes getting into final round, never mind winning the whole thing. So I’m not going to pick Gordon, though if he does add a Sprint Cup trophy to his collection, I’m not sure I’ll be able to push the fan in me down far enough to tell that story objectively.

Who else could win?

Kevin Harvick could easily repeat. He and his team really started to gel near the end of the season, and he’s got the momentum of those final two gut-check wins on his side. Jimmie Johnson may have been off his game last season, but anyone who counts him out does so at his own peril. Brad Keselowski wants a second championship so bad he can taste it. He’s got something to prove, and he could do it this season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his best season in a decade in 2014; with new crew chief Greg Ives he could go all the way this time.

All of the above are worthy choices, but I’m not going to pick any of them.

Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
I pick Joey Logano.

Logano had five wins, 16 top fives and 22 top 10s in 2014. He won three poles, had an average start of 9.8, and an average finish of 11.3 even with four DNFs.

The driver known as Sliced Bread found a home at Team Penske. He’s finally showing the potential that earned him that nickname. What most impressed me about Logano in 2014 was his focus. At Texas in April, when other drivers went to the Final Four game that pushed the usual Saturday night race to Sunday afternoon, Logano stayed in his bus, not wanting to let anything distract him from winning. And although it was Monday before the race ran, he made it to Victory Lane.

I think the 2015 Sprint Cup champion will be Joey Logano in the Team Penske No. 22 Ford.

What do you think?


Friday, February 20, 2015

NASCAR indefinitely suspends Kurt Busch

Charlotte Bray / Skirts and Scuffs
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2015) — NASCAR has indefinitely suspended driver Kurt Busch for actions detrimental to stock car racing following the release Friday of a supplemental disposition setting forth the findings and conclusions that formed the basis for the Family Court of the State of Delaware’s decision on Monday to issue an Order of Protection from Abuse against him.

Busch, driver of the No. 41 car, was found to be in violation of:
  • Section 12.1.a: Actions detrimental to stock car racing
  • Section 12.8: Behavioral Penalty
“Given the serious nature of the findings and conclusions made by the Commissioner of the Family Court of the State of Delaware, NASCAR has indefinitely suspended driver Kurt Busch, effective immediately," according to a statement from NASCAR. "He will not be allowed to race nor participate in any NASCAR activities until further notice."

“Kurt Busch and his Stewart-Haas Racing team are fully aware of our position and why this decision was made. We will continue to respect the process and timetable of the authorities involved.”

UPDATE: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Friday night that Regan Smith will pilot the No. 41 Chevrolet in Sunday's Daytona 500. No interim driver has been determined yet for next week's Sprint Cup race at Atlanta and the following races, according to a team release.

Paula Thompson’s 2015 Champions Picks

2014 was one of the most storied seasons in recent NASCAR history: a new champion (Kevin Harvick) was crowned in a new Chase for the Sprint Cup format, a second-generation driver (Chase Elliott) became a rookie champ in the final season under the Nationwide Series banner, and a consistent veteran (Matt Crafton) became the first-ever back-to-back titlist in the Camping World Truck Series.

Will 2015 see new drivers come to the forefront, or will the veterans show the kids that they’re still boss? Here are my championship picks for the 2015 NASCAR season.

Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts & Scuffs
Sprint Cup Series – Kevin Harvick

After coming close to success with Richard Childress Racing -- three third-place finishes in points from 2010 to 2013 -- Harvick made the switch to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and cashed in on a change of atmosphere with his first Sprint Cup Series title. He did it amidst some turmoil, with co-owner Tony Stewart’s sprint car racing woes and the late-season domestic issues following teammate Kurt Busch. Harvick has proven he can overcome diversity, and this season’s diversity will be successfully defending his championship. Plus, who doesn’t want to see more of Keelan Harvick?

Credit: Charlotte Bray
for Skirts & Scuffs
Xfinity Series – Chase Elliott

Last year, I suspected that Elliott’s presence on the JR Motorsports team would make Regan Smith a strong contender for the title – and Smith was, but he couldn’t get past that rookie in front of him. Elliott, a second-generation driver who is just as smooth a driver as his father – 1988 Cup Series champ and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott – won the final championship under the Nationwide banner as an 18-year-old rookie. This season, as he prepares for his 2016 ride in the Hendrick Motorsports car being vacated by Jeff Gordon at the end of 2015, Elliott has a better-than-good chance of becoming a two-time champ, and the first to win in the Xfinity Series.

Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images

Camping World Truck Series – Erik Jones

Jones will compete in his first full-time season for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2015, but he’s hardly a rookie. In 17 Truck Series races over the last two years, he has four wins and 13 top-10 finishes. Jones, who will also be racing part-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2015, is a driver much like his team owner Kyle Busch – put him in the seat of anything and he’ll get you a good finish, if not a win. Jones is consistent, and sometimes that, even more than wins, is what makes a driver a championship contender.

Miracles: Five Questions for Daytona

(Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)
It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Christmas usually holds that title, but this is NASCAR’s holiday season. If you don’t think thundering race cars are the greatest gift of all, then you need to get out. Families converge and take in this special weekend with excitement and appreciation. After three harsh months, the drought is finally over.

This is also when miracles tend to happen. Daytona International Speedway produces surprise winners and fantastic memories. Sunday’s warranted prestige lives up to expectations time and time again. One miracle will occur late that afternoon, when a driver wins the Daytona 500.

Within the euphoria, that driver checks an item off his or her bucket list and becomes a part of history.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty dang wonderful to me.

The new season brings back Five Questions, and I’m absolutely thrilled for what’s to come. It’s time to talk about Jeff Gordon, each individual series and rebuilding. Here are five questions for Daytona.

Why does this week feel different? Out of all the race weekends on the schedule, I think this one is always the best; everything is new and fresh once again. As we fall under its mesmerizing spell, I have to wonder why this season in particular feels so different. Whether it’s from the pre-season chatter or the tiring off-season, I’m not sure. It simply feels more thrilling. Maybe it’s just me; I can’t wait until the season is officially underway.

How will Gordon perform in his final season? The beginning to the end of a legendary tale starts now. Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon announced in January that he won’t run full-time after this season. For many young fans, he was the legend they grew up watching, battling with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson as the torch was passed. The focus now turns to how his last season will be remembered. HMS will do all they can to help him end on a high note, no doubt. There’s also no way Gordon lets opportunities go. He will do all he can to go out on top because that’s what he – and his illustrious career — deserves.

What should we expect from each series? This is a tough question to answer. By definition, the sport of NASCAR is unpredictable. That’s the point. The top three levels, however, developed their own personalities over time. This makes it easier to set expectations for each one. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is the wild child of the group, and it will remain that way for a long time. Young drivers keep filtering in, looking for their chance to shine. That makes for recklessness and underdog stories. On the other side of the spectrum, the NASCAR XFINITY Series has the task of rebranding itself. With a new title sponsor, now is the chance to mature. There’s a preconceived notion about NXS, especially when it comes to NSCS drivers hogging all the victories. It’s time to see what the series will turn into next, morphing into a newer version of itself. Finally, the party is here with the NSCS. Last year’s Chase format was a hit, and it sets teams up for a year of stiff competition. The idea that consistency wins championships is long gone. Everyone needs to create a game plan and stick to it. This isn’t the time to slack; the season is already here.

Can teams rebound from disappointing 2014 runs? As great at last year was for some, others want to forget about it. Those who were disappointed are already feeling the pressure to shine. Drivers such as Danica Patrick, Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Matt Kenseth struggled to find the perfect rhythm. Case in point, only one of those four drivers won in 2014. There’s also some added incentive for one of this bunch because Patrick’s contract is up at the end of 2015. Her performances over the past three years failed to impress, so she needs to kick it into high gear. In fact, all the drivers mentioned are in need of a revival. Let’s get it together.

Who will be the 2015 winner of the Daytona 500? Alright, this is the only questions that matters! Choosing a winner is difficult because of the various factors that go into the event. The Big One could swoop in and destroy the best-running machines. Engines could expire and result in heartbreak. A furry creature could scamper across the track and become a hole in someone’s front end. Daytona is NASCAR speak for "luck," because you need a crap-ton of it to win The Great American Race. With all that said, I’m taking a shot in the dark and choosing a Ford to win. Joey Logano showed a lot of growth over the last season and isn’t slowing down. It’ll be a miracle if I’m actually right.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

TV Schedule: Feb. 19-22

Sprint Cup drivers practice Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway.
Credit: Sean Gardner / NASCAR via Getty Images

Speedweeks at Daytona continues with the Budweiser Duels on Thursday and the season openers for the Camping World Truck Series, the newly named XFINITY Series and the big daddy of them all, the Daytona 500.

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

Thursday, Feb. 19:
Noon Sprint Cup Series practice, FS1
1:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1
5 p.m. NASCAR Race Day, FS1
7 p.m. Budweiser Duel at Daytona, FS1
10:30 p.m. K&N Series East: New Smyrna (taped), NBCSN

Friday, Feb. 20:
1 a.m. K&N Series East: New Smyrna (re-air), NBCSN
3 a.m. Budweiser Duel at Daytona (re-air), FS1
7 a.m. Budweiser Duel at Daytona (re-air), FS2
11 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, FS1
12:30 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, FS1
2 p.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, FS1
4:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series qualifying, FS1
7 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Set Up, FS1
7:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: NextEra Energy Resources 250, FS1

Saturday, Feb. 21:
3 a.m. Camping World Truck Series: NextEra Energy Resources 250 (re-air), FS1
6 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice (re-air), FS1
7:30 a.m. Camping World Truck Series: NextEra Energy Resources 250 (re-air), FS2
10:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, FS1
Noon XFINITY Series qualifying, FS1
3 p.m. NASCAR Race Day: XFINITY, FS1
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series: Alert Today Florida 300, FS1
9 p.m. Daytona 500 Bash at the Beach, FOX
10 p.m. XFINITY Series: Alert Today Florida 300 (re-air), FS1

Sunday, Feb. 22:
3 a.m. XFINITY Series: Alert Today Florida 300 (re-air), FS1
6:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice (re-air), FS1
10:30 a.m. NASCAR Race Day, FS1
Noon NASCAR Race Day: Daytona, FS1.
1 p.m. Sprint Cup: Daytona 500, FOX. Re-airs at 3 a.m. Monday on FS1.
5 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1. Re-airs at 1 a.m. Monday.

Fan Representative Lacy Keyser: 2015 Champion Picks

Credit: Debbie Ross Skirts and Scuffs
Hear that? That’s the sounds of engines roaring, which can only mean one thing: NASCAR is back! Now that I have your attention, here are my picks for the 2015 season:

Sprint Cup:
With new crew chief Greg Ives, who is also a Nationwide champion crew chief, my pick is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Coming off a career high - winning four races last season - and even with Steve Letarte off the box, I strongly feel with Ives, Earnhardt Jr. is going to win that championship, Ives is also just coming off a Nationwide championship win; with that motivation, I see the duo as a strong force.

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
My dark horse pick is Jeff Gordon. With this being Gordon’s last full year in Sprint Cup, I believe he’s going to be racing hard and wanting to win his final championship.

Xfinity Series:
Last year showed the start of a new rising star, who happened to snatch the Nationwide championship. My pick for the Xfinity Series will be a Junior Motorsports driver, either Chase Elliott or Regan Smith, who finished one-two last year. I think the JRM boys will come out on top again.
Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs  
I look forward to see where each of my picks end up. What are your predictions for the 2015 champs? Feel free to comment below.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Faith on the Frontstretch: A New NASCAR Season Comes Knocking

Matt Kenseth takes the checkers in the 2015 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona.
Credit: Patrick Smith / NASCAR via Getty Images  
“ ... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” ~ Hebrews 12:1b

Since February began, I’ve been checking the calendar, counting down the days like a kid looking forward to Christmas. As a new NASCAR season knocks on your door, do you feel the excitement?

The Sprint Unlimited, crash fest that it was, gave us a taste of the amped-up racing we might see on Sunday. To many drivers’ dismay, group qualifying for the 500 followed suit, resulting in a senseless loss of primary cars. Despite the damage to cars and added stress on the teams involved, time springs forward toward NASCAR's biggest race.

My race day strategy is simple: Come home from church, claim the big-screen TV, curl up on the couch with my afghan and immerse myself in the Daytona 500 pre-race show. The laundry and bills and writing assignments will be on hold, but a mug of my favorite brew -- hot tea -- will be within arm’s reach.

You probably have a race day plan, too, which is likely more exciting than mine. No matter where we watch -- at home, at a friend’s house or in the grandstands -- it’s a stretch of time we devote to fast cars, talented athletes and like-minded friends. Why? Because racing brings us joy.

The NASCAR naysayers think we’re wacky for spending four hours watching cars travel in circles. Poor souls, they’ve probably never felt the heart-skipping exhilaration of 43 engines rumbling through the TV speakers. The only thing better is being trackside, jumping to your feet as the field rounds Turn 4 coming to the green flag.

So starting with Daytona, I’ll spend four hours a week, give or take, watching the Cup race, not to mention extra time for the Xfinity or trucks series and writing about racing.

Four hours. That’s quite a spell spent in race gal mode. As I reflect on my priorities and schedule, a question pops into my mind: As a Jesus gal, do I spend four hours a week focusing on God?

OK, let’s do the math. Worship at my church lasts about an hour and a half. And I pray a lot throughout the day, read a daily devotion and other faith-filled books and go to Bible study every other week. Does that add up to four hours a week? Maybe. Maybe not.

Don’t get me wrong, I love racing and have no plans to give it up. But that four- or five-hour chunk of time ricochets in my head. I feel challenged and convicted to give as much of my time and my heart to God as I devote to a favorite pastime.

When the Victory Lane confetti is swept away, the racing high is over for the week. But fellowshipping with my Lord brings a deep, comforting joy that lingers throughout the day, all week long. Racing is fun, but the foundation of my life is my relationship with God.

A new NASCAR season hovers at the threshold, seeking to roar through our living rooms this week. Let’s enjoy the races, but also tune in our spiritual ears to hear Jesus as He seeks our time and attention. He won’t barge in uninvited. Instead, He taps politely and waits.

Listen. Do you hear Jesus knocking on the door of your heart?

“Look! I have been standing at the door, and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me.” ~ Revelation 3:20 (The Living Bible)
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“Faith on the Frontstretch” explores the role of faith in motorsports and runs every 1st & 3rd Wednesday of the NASCAR season. Follow Beth on twitter at @bbreinke.

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. Or you can purchase the book in paperback & ebook here.

Rookie Stripe: Qualifying for the Daytona 500


The Daytona 500 is a special race.

That’s kind of putting it lightly...

Storied history aside, the prestigious Daytona 500 takes place in late February and is, to a degree, the apex of a celebration of horsepower. It also starts a new NASCAR season every year. Fun fact: the race's origins go back to 1903 when it was a race on the beach. People like to say the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR as the Super Bowl is to pro football, but I know even less about football than I do racing... so let’s not go there.

For rookies like myself, NASCAR is confusing enough, and the Daytona 500 is probably the most complex of all the races because it is different than any other race -- it’s the only race where standard qualifying doesn’t apply. Budweiser Speedweeks are the weeks leading up to the Daytona 500 and within those weeks are a number of races and events for different series of NASCAR. For the Sprint Cup Series, drivers have two opportunities to qualify for the Daytona 500:

·         Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Qualifying (this year held Sunday, February 15)
·         Budweiser Duel – two 150-mile races (this year held Thursday, February 19)


But before we even get to qualifying, Budweiser Speedweeks gives us the Sprint Unlimited, an invitation-only 75-lap exhibition race that’s purely for show. The criteria for the Sprint Unlimited change every year, but in 2015 it includes Chase drivers from 2014, Coors Light Pole winners from 2014, and full-time 2014 drivers who have previously won a Daytona 500 pole. Matt Kenseth won this year's Unlimited.

The rules for Daytona 500 qualifying itself too seem to change to a degree every year. For the 2015 season, group qualifying is being used to set the field rather than the traditional single car runs. Since that might be enough to cause brain fade, let’s take a closer look at exactly how qualifying for the Daytona 500 works.



Daytona 500 Coors Light Pole Qualifying
In 2015, stock cars will qualify for the Daytona 500 through group qualifying. Drivers are divided into two random groups for three rounds of racing, slotted in even and odd numbers.
·         The first round lasts five minutes and the 24 fastest cars go to Round 2.
·         10-minute intermission
·         The second round lasts five minutes and the 12 fastest cars go to Round 3.
·         7-minute intermission
·         The third round lasts five minutes and decides the top two cars.
This qualifying session sets only the front row for the Daytona 500 – the Pole Sitter and runner up.


Budweiser Duel
The Budweiser Duel happens several days after Coors Light Pole Qualifying and is a duo of races that determines the rest of the starting lineup for the big race the following Sunday.
·         Duel One – Cars that qualified in odd number positions in the qualifying session race in this duel with the Pole Sitter (in 2015, Jeff Gordon).
·         Duel Two – Cars that qualified in even number positions in the qualifying session race in this duel with the driver who placed second in qualifying.

Then we get to the colossus. The actual Daytona 500 race itself, the resplendent titan that heralds attention even from those outside NASCAR. According to Jayski.com, this is how the lineup plays out:
  • The two fastest qualifiers set starting positions one and two.
  • The highest 15 finishers in each Duel race - excluding the already locked-in front row - will earn a spot in the Daytona 500, and fill positions 3-32.
  • Based on their finishing position in the first Duel race, the top 15 will line up on the inside row (odd-number starting positions).
  • Based on their finishing position in the second Duel race, the top 15 will line up on the outside row (even-number starting positions).
  • Positions 33-36 will go to the four fastest cars from qualifying that have not already earned a spot.
  • Position 37-42 will be provisional positions, and go to the highest six cars in 2014 owner points that have not already qualified via the Duel or Coors Light Pole qualifying. Once provisional starting positions have been assigned, they will be placed in the starting lineup by their qualifying speed in descending order with the fastest qualifying speed starting thirty-seventh.
  • The 43rd starting position will be assigned to any car owner who has the most recent eligible past NASCAR Sprint Cup champion who did not make the field by any other method, providing the driver had competed in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. If the 43rd position remains unused it will be assigned to the next highest car in 2014 owner points not already locked into the field.
Even more on the Daytona 500 from Jayski

As we approach the Budweiser Duel, the qualifying format for 2015 has seen some agitation among drivers. But when it finally arrives on Sunday and brings with it the fanfare of a new NASCAR season, the Great American Race should make for a flat-out great day of racing. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fast Facts Redux: Matt Kenseth

Kenseth in victory lane at the Sprint Unlimited - Feb. 14, 2015
credit: Getty Images for NASCAR/Jerry Markland
A few things have changed since Skirts & Scuffs first profiled Matt Kenseth, winner of the 2015 Sprint Unlimited, in Oct. 2011. First, he won a second Daytona 500 in 2012; second, he switched teams in 2013, leaving Roush Fenway Racing for the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry at Joe Gibbs Racing; and third, he had a career-best seven-win season after joining JGR in 2013. See if anything else has changed for this Wisconsin driver in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Matthew Roy Kenseth was born March 10, 1972 in Cambridge, Wisconsin. He began racing stock cars at age 16 at Madison (Wisconsin) International Speedway in 1988. After racing and winning titles at numerous area short tracks, Kenseth moved south in 1996 to run in the Hooters Late Model Series; he finished third in the points chase as a rookie.
  • In 1997, when his driver Tim Bender was injured, Busch Series (now Xfinity) car owner Robbie Reiser, a former rival of Kenseth’s on the mid-west short tracks, hired Kenseth as a replacement. In 1998, the pair won their first race in the series.
  • Kenseth made his Cup Series debut in 1998 at Dover, subbing for Bill Elliott, who was attending his father’s funeral; he finished sixth. In 2000, Kenseth, Reiser and their entire team joined Roush Racing (now Roush Fenway Racing) in the Cup Series; Kenseth beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the Rookie of the Year title.
  • In 2003, Kenseth became the final “Winston Cup” champion, only the second Wisconsin native to win the title (Alan Kulwicki won in 1992). In 2004, Kenseth won the International Race of Champions (IROC) title.
  • Kenseth is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 (2009 and 2012) and the 2015 winner of the Sprint Unlimited, both at Daytona International Speedway; he also has two Budweiser Duel wins (2012 and 2014) at Daytona. He won the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte in 2000 as a rookie, and in 2004 won the All-Star Race at Charlotte; he is also a winner of the Southern 500 at Darlington (2013).
  • Entering the 2015 season – his third with JGR – Kenseth has 31 Cup Series wins (24 with RFR and seven with JGR) and 29 Xfinity Series wins, including three with JGR. In addition to his 2003 championship, Kenseth finished second in points in 2006 and 2013.
  • Kenseth married the former Katie Martin in 2000; he has a son, Ross, from a previous relationship, and he and Katie are parents to Kaylin Nicola and Grace Katherine. Ross made his ARCA Racing Series debut in 2013 and competed in the CRA Super Series in 2014.
  • Find out more about Matt Kenseth at www.mattkenseth.com


Has Carl Edwards stepped into the "dark side"?

Credit: NASCARMedia.com

Media outlets have been reporting for years that car owner Jack Roush has no love when it comes to Toyota. In 2007, Roush declared war on the manufacturer using phrases like “handing them their heads.” In 2012, Roush called Toyota the “dark side” when speaking about the departure of Matt Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing. These were strong words for the driver who brought Roush the first of two consecutive titles and the final Winston Cup awarded.

Was the switch to Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota what Kenseth needed? In his last five years (2008-2012) with Roush Fenway, Kenseth earned seven victories, three coming in his final season with the team. Since the transition to JGR, Kenseth has fared extremely well finding victory lane seven times, all in the first season with the manufacturer. The No. 20 team was plagued by the sophomore slump in 2014, though they did make The Chase. Kenseth’s season stalled in the Eliminator round and he went on the finish seventh in the standings.

This season Kenseth's former teammate, Carl Edwards, joins him on the "dark side" after 12 years in the Roush Fenway stable. Though Roush hasn't made any remarks lately regarding Edwards' move, he did announce Edwards' departure during the 2014 Brickyard 400 weekend saying, "I will always be thankful for Carl's contribution and the role he played in many Roush Fenway wins and championships. We wish him well for the future." Strange timing? Perhaps.

In his final five seasons (2010-2014) at RFR, Edwards had seven victories and finished a career-high second in points in 2011 after a contentious points battle with eventual Sprint Cup Series champion, Tony Stewart. Edwards' 2014 season ended with a Chase berth and a ninth-place finish in the final standings, leaving room for improvement.

The question on everyone's mind is: Will Edwards have early success in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing like Kenseth? Or will it take time to build a solid relationship between driver and crew?

Edwards teams up with Denny Hamlin's former crew chief, Darian Grubb for the 2014 campaign. Grubb has experience leading a championship team, having called the shots during Stewart's third title run in 2011. With a new team, Edwards is set to have that breakout season his fans are hoping for and if Saturday night at the Sprint Unlimited was any indicator of what type of year he will have, the No. 19 is poised to have a great 2015 season. Edwards finished third in the preseason exhibition race.


Where does this leave Roush Fenway Racing? Greg Biffle returns to pilot the No. 16 Ford alongside 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner, Trevor Bayne joins the lineup where he'll compete in his first full Sprint Cup Series season with hopes of taking home Rookie of the Year honors in November.

Will RFR return to the glory days of old? Or will Carl Edwards and the "dark side" be handing them their heads?