Thursday, April 30, 2015

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Geico 500 at Talladega


Track Classification: Superspeedway
Similar Tracks: Daytona International Speedway • Auto Club Speedway (Fontana)  
Indianapolis Motor Speedway • Michigan International Speedway • Pocono Raceway
Distance: 2.66 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Clint Bowyer - 4
All with 3 - Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and David Ragan 
All with 2 - Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Gilliland, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne

By Track
Clint Bowyer - 6
All with 4 - Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and David Ragan
All with 3 - Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Gilliland, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman 

Recent Pole Winner:  
2014 Brian Scott
2013 Rained Out

2013 Flashback: Throw out those 2014 statistics and crunch the numbers from 2014. You'll thank me later. This 2015 rules package makes 2014 not so important when trying to rack up fantasy points.

Top 15 Finishers at Talladega Superspeedway on May 5, 2013:
  1. David Ragan
  2. David Gilliland
  3. Carl Edwards
  4. Michael Waltrip
  5. Jimmie Johnson
  6. Regan Smith
  7. Martin Truex Jr.
  8. Matt Kenseth
  9. Scott Speed
  10. Aric Almirola
  11. Jeff Gordon
  12. David Stremme
  13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  14. Marcos Ambrose
  15. Brad Keselowski

The Likely Suspects: Restrictor-plate racing at Talladega has some predicable fantasy picks, but it is just as easy for a one-car, underfunded team to win as the big dogs. Look for these drivers to perform well: Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, David Ragan and David Gilliland.

My 2 Cents: Talladega racing is just as wild on the track as it is in the infield. Well, almost.

My no-brainer pick this week is a tie between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. My next picks are the Davids -- Ragan and Gilliland. I will complete my team with Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle.

My final four: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer and David Gilliland.

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fast Facts: Brett Moffitt

Brett Moffitt at Martinsville, March 2015
credit: Getty Images/Daniel Shirey
Brett Moffitt quickly rose through the ranks in the K&N Pro Series East and is now working for Michael Waltrip Racing. Learn more about this young driver in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Brett Moffitt was born Aug. 7, 1992 in Grimes, Iowa. He began racing karts at age 10, later moving up to IMCA Sport Modifieds, where he won the Harris Clash in 2007. He made the move to asphalt from dirt in 2008, competing in the American Speed Association’s Late Model North Series.
  • In 2009, Moffitt made his NASCAR debut in the Camping World East Series (now K&N Pro Series East). Moffitt won the pole in his first race, taking place at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, and became the youngest driver to do so. He won for the first time in just his fourth start, taking the checkered flag at South Boston Speedway in May 2009; at the time, he was the youngest winner in any NASCAR touring series, a record that stood until March 2010 when Darrell Wallace Jr. took his first win.
  • Moffitt raced in the series for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2010, then moved to Michael Waltrip Racing in 2011. In 2012, he moved once again, this time to Hattori Racing Enterprises; he continued to race for the team in 2013. In Aug. 2012, Moffitt made his Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series debut for RAB Racing at Iowa Speedway, finishing ninth.
  • Moffitt, who is a test driver for MWR, made his Sprint Cup Series debut at Dover in June 2014; he ran seven races for Identity Ventures Racing throughout the season. In 2015, Moffitt was called into action by MWR at Atlanta Motor Speedway, replacing Brian Vickers in the No. 55 Toyota Camry; Moffitt earned his first top 10 in that race, finishing eighth.
  • Learn more about Moffitt at his website, brettmoffittracing.com


Monday, April 27, 2015

Right Sides Only: Richmond Winning Crew Chief, Tony Gibson

Redemption. It was claimed at Richmond International Raceway as the No. 41 Haas Automation team won the Toyota Owners 400 in dominating fashion. 

After leading a race-high and career-high 291 laps, the No. 41 team led by driver Kurt Busch and crew chief Tony Gibson scored the third win of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing. 

Busch started the season under suspension, missing the first three races. How did he feel about the win on Sunday? 

"Well, today is a great day of total team execution... it starts with building a fast race car back at the shop and coming to the racetrack and fine tuning it, and really a great effort from team communication because we felt like we were a fifth-place car after practice, and the way that the team looked at things, we even qualified better than what we thought, and there was still this realization of, 'Hey, let's continue to fine tune it, let's not ignore the lack of speed that we don't have. Let's go for it all.'
             
"And that's what Tony Gibson did, along with Johnny Klausmeier, our engineer. Everybody chipped in. The tire guy had some health problems this weekend, and we had to bring in a backup tire guy, but then Jet made it back to the track to enjoy victory lane with us today.
             
"And why I tell that long story is it's all about team, people, and chemistry within the organization.  For us the last few weeks, we've not given away wins, but we've made some small mistakes and we've had some things go against us that it made us stronger. It really put a bond between all of us to go, 'You know what? This 41 Haas Automation Chevy has got some speed. The wins will come. We don't need to force it, and let's just settle in for the long run.' And so here we are. We're winners in April. It feels good."
His crew chief feels the same way.

"Well, I think like Kurt said, it's about having depth in our team, and we have a lot of depth and we believe in one another," he said. "When I had to bail there after the drivers' meeting at Bristol, normally I can fight through the pain on those things, but this one put me down." 

Gibson missed the Bristol race because of an issue with kidney stones. Engineer Johnny Klausmeier called the race from atop the pit box.
 
"I called Kurt on the phone before the race started and told him, 'Look, I'm not going to make it, so it's up to you and Johnny and Zippy to make this deal happen,'" Gibson said. "Johnny did a fantastic job. He's going to be a crew chief one day. I'm getting old, and he's going to be moving in pretty soon. He's going to be a crew chief. Kurt did a great job communicating with Johnny last week, and it's a race that got away from us, and we didn't win.
             
Credit: Carol D'Agostino/Skirts and Scuffs
"So we came into this week and if we could stay focused and execute a little better ... It's like Kurt said, we really not so much gave them away, but we just didn't execute on a few races we should have won. We knew we had to get better at that as a team. The depth of our team is incredible, whether it's the tire guy or me going down. We have enough depth in our organization and in our team to overcome. That's pretty cool going in to win and know you've got a shot to go for a championship, knowing you've got those kind of people that are working on your race team is pretty cool."

After missing those early races this season, Busch said that he felt he has over-driven after getting back in the car. Gibson doesn't necessarily agree.

"I don't think he drives too hard. I know he beats himself up. I think the thing that we missed early is we didn't execute as far as our practice stuff. Should have had a little bit better practice plan of making longer runs and making sure we had long run speed. I know he goes out and he gives you 150 percent every lap, every practice, and I force some of that on him. I said, 'Man, let's just go out there and while we got 'em down, just kick 'em while they're down, try to win every --  set fast time and win every practice. 

"I don't think he overdrove at all. I know he takes a lot of blame on himself and puts a lot of pressure on himself, but as a team we didn't execute on those races. He needs to drive as hard as he needs to drive. It's our job to put a car underneath of him that he can run that hard with. Today was proof of that."

Crew chief and driver weren't paired until near the end of last season, but they've quickly formed a tight bond and a similar mindset when it comes to how to approach a race.

"It's still four tires and a hunk of steel that's got to meet the racetrack. And I know Kurt, he feels the same way. You know, me and Jimmy Fennig have a lot in common. We're great friends, and I lean on him now, too. We talk every weekend. He's a big influence on my career and where I go. And I know Kurt, he's driven that same way. He believes in engineering just like I do, but sometimes you've got to go with your gut, and you've got to go old school, and I think that's why me and him, me and Kurt hit it off so well. We share the same passion of racing. We don't want to run second. We're hard on ourselves when we've got to be to be better, and I think we both have that same mindset.
         
"I think he makes me be better, if that sounds right, and hopefully I make him be better. Moving forward, I think if we push one another and believe in one another like we're doing right now and our team, we've got a shot to win the championship just as well as anybody." 

Gibson used to work with Alan Kulwicki and said that Busch reminds him of the legendary driver.

"I worked with Alan for a long time, and the desire and the enthusiasm and the want-to is incredible, and the only reason that he wants to know about the race car, because he feels like between his input and our input, we can make a really good product.
            
"I think that's huge.  You have to have a driver that's involved. You have to have a driver that's engaged, and we talked about this last year when they asked me over the winter what did I like about him. He's an engaged driver. He's there early before every practice. We talk on the phone at night or we text back and forth. He looks over data. He's 100 percent involved in this, and he's committed.
             
Credit: Carol D'Agostino/Skirts and Scuffs
"And that's the part that I love about him. I'd rather have a guy like him than a guy who just shows up every once in a while to the shop or just shows up five minutes before practice and climbs in. The more we can be involved and work together, we're going to make a better product."

Was there any time during that three-race suspension that Gibson feared that perhaps Busch wouldn't be able to jump back in upon his reinstatement?

"No, I don't believe that at all. I think we went and did a Vegas tire test there, and we had a tremendous amount of speed at the test, and we felt really good and positive. You're not dealing with a rookie. It's a guy who's won championships and a ton of races. He knows what he's got to do. It's just a matter of we knew we were going to get him back, it was just a matter of when, and he hit the ground running. We weren't fearing for that at all. We knew whenever we got him back, whenever that was, that we were going to put ourselves in position to win races and be fast, so pretty cool."

And that kidney stone? Gibson was asked which he enjoyed more: passing cars or passing kidney stones.

"That's a good question, but passing cars. I had one at Vegas when we landed out there, and I was able to make it through a couple weeks carrying that thing before I got it blasted out, and normally I can overcome the pain just from being at the racetrack and the love of it, but this last one I couldn't do it. But passing cars is the most important thing. The health will come later. I can rest later." 

That rest won't come until November since the No. 41 team has likely secured its place in The Chase and will spend the final 10 weeks of the season trying to win another Sprint Cup 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: Talladega Superspeedway – May 1-3, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
The Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series are joined by the ARCA Racing Series as they travel to Talladega, Alabama, home of Talladega Superspeedway. The weekend includes the ARCA Series International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200 on Friday, May 1, the Xfinity Series Winn-Dixie 300 on Saturday, May 2 and the Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 on Sunday, May 3.

Off-track activities:

Visit the InternationalMotor Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, located adjacent to the speedway. Extended hours for race week are Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. CT, Thursday 7 a.m.-4 p.m. CT, Friday 8 a.m.-7 p.m. CT, Saturday 7 a.m.-7 p.m. CT and Sunday 7 a.m.-2 p.m. CT.

On Friday, May 1, all infield guests can take part in the ARCA Fan Walk and autograph session from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. CT in the ARCA garage area. There will also be an Xfinity Series autograph session from 2-2:30 p.m. CT in the Concourse area behind the OV Hill South grandstands sections D & E; wristbands for the autograph session can be picked up at Guest Services, located near OV Hill South grandstands section L. Currently scheduled to appear: Chase Elliott, Ryan Reed, Regan Smith and Daniel Suarez; others will be announced closer to the appearance.

Key on-track times:

Friday, May 1 –
  • ARCA Racing Series practice – 8:30 a.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series practice – 10:30 a.m. CT
  • ARCA Racing Series qualifying – 2:30 p.m. CT
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 3:30 p.m. CT
  • ARCA Racing Series International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200 – 5 p.m. CT

Saturday, May 2 –
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 10 a.m. CT
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – noon CT
  • Nationwide Series Winn-Dixie 300 – 2 p.m. CT

Sunday, May 3
  • Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 – noon CT

Check out guest services information, grandstand guidelines and more here, and get the complete event schedule, including more things to do at the track, here.

Get more information and purchase tickets for this weekend’s race at http://www.talladegasuperspeedway.com/.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Kurt Busch Wins Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway

Credit: Carol D'Agostino/Skirts and Scuffs

After waiting a day to run the Toyota Owners 400, NASCAR fans were treated to a rare day race at Richmond International Raceway. After a dominant performance, Kurt Busch and the No. 41 team celebrated in Victory Lane.

Busch has run well since his reinstatement and return at Phoenix International Raceway in March, coming close to victory a couple times, but today he and crew chief Tony Gibson pulled out a flawless win, securing a spot in the Chase.

Busch led the most laps with 291, which is also a career high. This win is his second victory and 11th top-10 finish in 29 career Cup starts at Richmond International Raceway.

Busch said the key to getting to Victory Lane was focusing on his driving style and acknowledging the importance of working as a team.  

“Victory Lane is Victory Lane. At this point in my career I understand that wins are a total team effort. In order for me to win I need to go slower to go faster,” he said.

The race featured very few lead changes and leaders, and a solid performance from Justin Allgaier who finished 18th, coming off an eighth place finish last week at Bristol Motor Speedway. Allgaier ran as high as second.

The unofficial results:
1.     Kurt Busch  
2.     Kevin Harvick  
3.     Jimmie Johnson  
4.     Jamie McMurray  
5.     Joey Logano  
6.     Kasey Kahne  
7.     Matt Kenseth  
8.     Jeff Gordon  
9.     Clint Bowyer  
10. Martin Truex Jr.  
11. Ryan Newman  
12. Kyle Larson  
13. AJ Allmendinger  
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  
15. Paul Menard  
16. Chase Elliott  
17. Brad Keselowski  
18. Justin Allgaier  
19. Carl Edwards  
20. Aric Almirola  
21. Greg Biffle  
22. Denny Hamlin  
23. David Ragan  
24. Trevor Bayne  
25. Danica Patrick  
26. Landon Cassill  
27. Austin Dillon  
28. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.  
29. Brett Moffitt  
30. Casey Mears  
31. David Gilliland  
32. Alex Bowman  
33. Michael Annett  
34. Reed Sorenson  
35. Sam Hornish Jr.  
36. Cole Whitt  
37. Matt DiBenedetto   
38. Jeb Burton  
39. Alex Kennedy  
40. Jeff Green  
41. Tony Stewart  
42. Josh Wise  
       43. Joey Gase

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Fire and rain at Richmond International Raceway

Credit:Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images 

Wrecks and driver injuries are almost givens in stock car racing. However, they've become less frequent due to safety improvements to the car and protective devices at the tracks, like Steel and Foam Energy Reduction barriers, more commonly known as SAFER barriers.

Sometimes fans and the media take for granted just how dangerous the sport can be. Then we see an incident like the pit road fire on Lap 109 of last night's ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR Xfinity Race at Richmond International Raceway, which sent three pit crew men to a nearby hospital.

The blaze occurred during a routine pit stop when Brendan Gaughan’s pit crew was fueling the No. 62 car. A spark triggered a brief but large fire that was quickly extinguished by the Richmond International Raceway fire crew. Three injured pit crew members were transported to the hospital -- two from the No. 62 team and one from Eric McClure’s No. 24 team in the adjacent pit stall.

Clifford "Doc" Turner, the gas runner for the No. 24 team was evaluated for inhaling the fire extinguisher chemicals, and released last night. The No. 62 gas man, Josh Wittman, was released today after overnight observation. Anthony O’Brien, rear tire changer for the No. 62 team, is in good condition but remains in the hospital for further evaluation, according to the team.

"It was an emotional night for this entire South Point team and I here at Richmond," said Gaughan. "When I saw the flame and that none of the guys were near my car, I tried to get away as fast as I could. That race car only had more fuel in it that could potentially ignite and I didn't want that to happen. Don't tell me these guys aren't professional athletes. They are the toughest, most athletic guys I have seen."

Race weekend continues tomorrow after rain postponed the NASCAR Sprint Cup race. The Toyota Owners 400 is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. The grandstands will open at 10 a.m. and FOX will broadcast the race.

Kyle Larson anxiously awaits first Sprint Cup win

Credit: Beth Reinke/Skirts and Scuffs

Sprint Cup driver Kyle Larson's racing career boasts numerous accolades and "firsts" in a variety of racing formats, including go-karting, Sprint Car, plus NASCAR K&N East, Camping World and Xfinity Series – with one notable exception – his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win.

Many drivers could say the same about the early part of their NASCAR careers. However, after coming off an amazing 2014 season where he earned the Sunoco Rookie of the Year, and scored eight top fives and 17 top 10s, the expectations were extraordinary. Remarkably, Larson finished the final 10 Chase races with three top fives and three top 10s.

Perhaps it was the impact of those last races that revved up not only the fans, but also Larson and his team, building hopes for a first win.

“It was nice how we ran in the Chase last year and it definitely gave our team a lot of confidence going into this season," Larson said. "That is why we have been a little bit disappointed in the way we have started off this year."

Larson knows the team has the capacity for winning Sprint Cup races, but realizes they need to achieve consistency throughout a race.

“Veterans understand what they need to do to the race car to make it good throughout the course of a run, as well as taking care of it during the race through a run. I am good here (at Richmond) on a short run and not so good on long runs. On 1.5 miles (tracks) I’m really good on long runs and not very good on short runs,” he said.

Although he is disappointed with the early season results, Larson is committed to working hard and running toward the front of the pack.  

“The more we run up front the more opportunities we have to get a win and those wins will start happening if we just continue to run up front. We have to get a little bit more speed in our car and do a better job throughout the race, as a team. We should hopefully get that first win soon.”
Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs

Denny Hamlin dominates ToyotaCare 250 for Toyota’s100th NASCAR Xfinity Series win

Credit:Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images 

For two weeks in a row NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race in a dominant fashion. This week native Virginian Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag after earning  the pole position. It was Hamlin’s 12th NASCAR Xfinity Series win, his first of the season and his third at Richmond. The victory was the 100th for Toyota in the Xfinity Series.

Hamlin was excited for the win, but felt his restarts could have been better. 

“You want to run well when you literally grew up right down the road. During my restarts I felt I wasn’t getting through the gears well. You can’t be greedy, though you just don’t have weekends like this weekend,” he said.

There were only four lead changes during the 250-lap race, with Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott leading one lap each.

The race was also marked by a pit road fire in during the second caution of the race. A spark ignited spilled fuel behind the car of Brendan Gaughan. Flames engulfed rear tire changer Anthony O’Brien, but fortunately the fire was quickly extinguished. O’Brien, Gaughan’s fueler, Josh Wittman, and Clifford Turner, a crew member form Eric McClure’s team, were taken to a local hospital for treatment and observation as a result of the incident.

The unofficial results:
  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Regan Smith
  4. Erik Jones
  5. Chase Elliott
  6. Daniel Suarez
  7. Brian Scott
  8. Austin Dillon
  9. Ty Dillon
  10. Landon Cassill
  11. Brendan Gaughan
  12. Darrell Wallce Jr.
  13. Brennan Poole
  14. Jeremy Clements
  15. Aric Almirola
  16. Elliott Sadler
  17. Ross Chastain
  18. Kevin Harvick
  19. JJ Yeley
  20. Chris Buescher
  21. Ryan Reed
  22. Harrison Rhodes
  23. Mike Bliss
  24. Blake Koch
  25. Cale Conley
  26. Joey Gase
  27. Dakoda Armstrong
  28. Dylan Lupton
  29. David Starr
  30. Brandon Gdovic
  31. Ryan Sieg
  32. Peyton Sellers
  33. Jimmy Weller
  34. Carlos Contreras
  35. Derrike Cope
  36. Eric McClure
  37. Carl Long
  38. Timmy Hill
  39. Mike Harmon
  40. Jeff Green

Friday, April 24, 2015

Team owner Mike Affarano is up for the challenge of the single car team

Mike Affarano, Owner of Affarano Motorsports
Credit: Carol D'Agostino/Skirts and Scuffs  

Racing in NASCAR is a huge commitment of time, talent and resources, especially financial resources. Sponsorships, or lack thereof, often dictate who has a ride and who doesn’t. The odds seem to be stacked against any small or single car team who tries to compete against the big organizations like Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

That doesn’t bother Mike Affarano, who made his NASCAR Xfinity Series owner debut this weekend at Richmond International Raceway with Johanna Long piloting his No. 03 car. Despite the fact that Long failed to qualify for the race, both Affarano and Long remain steadfast about the ultimate prize – racing in NASCAR.

“To race in NASCAR is an honor, but there is definitely a huge disadvantage for the lower-funded teams,” Affarano said. He is still searching for sponsorship for the No. 03 team.

The issues don’t stop with money though. Access to information has been equally challenging for the team. Although Affarano has experience in ARCA and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the technical inspection process in the NASCAR Xfinity Series is very different.

“The learning curve is huge. The car is being measured with lasers and other templates that we do not have access to. We are learning what they are looking for. It would be great to have a buddy system for new or small teams so we can learn from someone who has been doing it for a while,” he said.

If his history with coping with personal challenges is any indication, Affarano will do just fine.  In 2005, the tragic death of his teenage son made him rethink his priorities, putting his own racing aspirations on hold for six years, then later returning to race in the ARCA Series. In May 2012 he took the ultimate tumble at Talladega, crashing into the outside wall, then flipping and rolling six and a half times down the front stretch. Even that crash didn’t keep Affarano down for long.

“My personal challenges and losses left me with needing a purpose. I have always reached for the unreachable, so being a NASCAR team owner just fits,” Affarano said.

“What I really want to do is not only find Johanna sponsorships, but I also want to be able to help young drivers like I had been helped by others. With my experience in ARCA, the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series, I can bring young drivers up through the ranks,” he said.

Affarano acknowledges he always supports women drivers.

“Someone asked me why I particularly liked working with women racers. That’s easy. They tend to have a great work ethic. They work hard, they never complain, and they appreciate everything that you do for them.”

2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series debut eludes Johanna Long

Credit: Carol D'Agostino/Skirts and Scuffs

There was a time last year when Johanna Long, driver of the No. 03 Mike Affarano Motorsports Chevrolet, doubted whether she would ever be back racing in NASCAR. When her hot-pink Camaro rolled off the truck at Richmond International Raceway this weekend those doubts disappeared, for just a little while anyway.

“It was hard and very depressing not to be racing. I started to think that I wouldn’t get another chance to race in NASCAR,” says Johanna Long. The 22-year-old lost her ride at the end of 2013 when ML Motorsports owner Mary Louise Miller folded the team due to lack of sponsorship.

Since then Long has taken every opportunity to get in a racecar. In 2014 she competed in a dozen or so races, mostly Late Models. Despite the setback, her career goals remain intact. “I am a racer. My goal is to be in a racecar. That hasn’t changed.”

Long has used her time off the track to stay in shape – both mentally and physically. “I wanted to stay sharp since I didn’t know when I’d get back in the car. I am probably in the best physical shape that I have ever been. I stayed in touch with the sport and watched races so I could be mentally and physically prepared to get back in the car whenever that happened.”

Unfortunately, after a disappointing qualifying finish, the No. 03 team had to load up the car to go home. According to team owner Mike Affarano the team will try it again on May 17th at Iowa Speedway.

Despite yet another setback to continuing her NASCAR career, Long's enthusiasm and determination may be what keeps her going. “I have been around race tracks since I was 8. I love the sport. I love everything about racing – even the smell of the fumes. I am not giving up,” 

_____________________________________________________________________________

Carol D'Agostino is an avid NASCAR fan and Fantasy NASCAR enthusiast. Carol has been writing a weekly column called NASCAR Fantasy Fusion for Skirts and Scuffs since October 2011. She owns and operates Purple Cat, a public relations and marketing firm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She also serves as Main Street Manager for the Town of Centreville. In addition to NASCAR, Carol is a Philadelphia Phillies fan and enjoys gardening and cooking.

TV Schedule: April 24-25

Richmond International Raceway. Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

It's been a trying week as the NASCAR community dealt with the loss of beloved broadcaster Steve Byrnes. The sport's drivers, officials, media and fans came together to honor a man who gave his all to covering this sport and to living life. We will carry on - Steve would want us to - but we will always remember Steve.

The Sprint Cup and Nationwide series head to Richmond International Speedway for more short track racing. Both will race under the lights.

The Camping World Truck Series is on a break until May 8 at Kansas.

The following is a handy guide to track activities and TV coverage at Richmond. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, April 24:
11 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, FS1
1 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, FS1
5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, FS1
7 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay: XFINITY, FS1
7:30 p.m. XFINITY Series: ToyotaCare 250, FS1

Saturday, April 25:
3 a.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice (re-air), FS1
4:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), FS1
10 a.m. XFINITY Series: ToyotaCare 250 (re-air), FS1
5 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay: FS2
7 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Toyota Owners 400, FOX
11 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS2

A Tribute to Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes on pit road. Credit: FOX Sports
Though you’d never hear it from the man himself, Steve Byrnes deserved every ounce of praise he received.

The Maryland native entered NASCAR by accident, yet stayed with serious intentions. He kept at it not only because he loved it but because he also fell in love with racing. Steve started his legacy during a hands-on era that preceded hashtags and iPhones. Some of Steve’s best conversations, he told me, occurred around a hotel pool, where he, other reporters, and drivers hung out after a long day at the track. He brought that personal touch to his work and made everyone feel like family.

In the close-knit sport of NASCAR, that warmth was reciprocated.

Everything he did had to be perfect, and that is what made him phenomenal at his job. You knew whatever interview he conducted was comprised of numerous takes, long hours and copious amounts of passion.

He gave it his all — no matter the instance.

Cancer is a sinister disease, one that sneaks up and destroys stability. Steve went against the odds and remained positive. He smiled, accepted the challenge, and battled hard on two separate occasions. By all accounts, there should’ve been a fairy tale ending. We should be celebrating his remission and watching him return to work as we did before. He had the support of thousands, many repaying him for the loyalty he gave throughout their lives.

It was us versus a medical diagnosis. Sometimes, the numbers don’t win.

After building an illustrious career and fighting an incredibly strong fight, Steve passed away Tuesday at the age of 56. He is the standard — for NASCAR reporting and for living life to the fullest. He used his time of struggling to reach out to others and give a new face to a horrible disease. Making it personal, he showed what it was like to go through treatments, mustering energy to post smiling selfies as chemicals filled his body. That signature smile never wavered as he walked through the darkest depths.

NASCAR took this past Sunday to honor his courage. And now, we revel in his contributions to the coverage of racing, the fight against cancer, and the spirit within thousands of people. The world of journalism lost a remarkable worker, yes, but our sport says goodbye to a man who gave us all hope.

I’m forever thankful we experienced the highs and lows with him. He went the distance, and we went it as well.

That’s what families do.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Toyota Owners 400



Track Classification: Short Track
Similar Tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway • Dover International Speedway 
Martinsville Speedway •  Phoenix International Raceway 
Distance: .75 Mile 

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Carl Edwards - 5
Kyle Busch - 4  
All with 3 - Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer 

By Track
Carl Edwards - 6
All with 6 - Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer
All with 4 - Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch

Recent Pole Winners:
2014 Rained out
2013 Matt Kenseth

2013 Flashback
The 2015 Sprint Cup rules package is making 2014 statistics obsolete. Ditch 'em, and instead factor in the facts and figures from 2013.

Top 15 Finishers at Richmond International Raceway on April 27, 2013
1. Kevin Harvick
2. Clint Bowyer
3. Joey Logano
4. Juan Pablo Montoya
5. Jeff Burton
6. Carl Edwards
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Aric Almirola
9. Kurt Busch
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
11. Jeff Gordon
12. Jimmie Johnson
13. Paul Menard
14. AJ Allmendinger
15. Ryan Newman

The Likely Suspects: This short track is a favorite with many drivers and it shows in their results, making it particularly difficult to pick the best selection for a fantasy team. Final selection gets a lot easier since starting in the top 10 is a good indicator of finishing well. Look for this group of drivers to score you some points this week: Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick this week is Brad Keselowski, followed by Carl Edwards. My next picks are: Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart. I will round off my team with Justin Allgaier and David Ragan.

My final four: Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Justin Allgaier.

Points to ponder:
  • Ninety-one of the 117 (77.7%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Richmond International Raceway have been won from a top-10 starting position.
  • Of the 117 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at RIR, 13 (11.1%) have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
  • Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Richmond International Raceway with a 7.909.
  • Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Richmond International Raceway with a 10.412.
  • Petty Enterprises has the most wins at Richmond in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 15, followed by Hendrick Motorsports with 10. Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing each have nine.
Post your comments here or email me at ssfantasyracing@skirtsandscuffs.com. I will be at the track for Skirts and Scuffs this weekend so be sure to check back for race coverage and photos. Enjoy the race.

Rookie Stripe: Preparing for Your First NASCAR Race

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs  
When I found out I had passes to the Darlington race last year, my first question was, “What should I wear?” It was going to be my first-ever NASCAR race, and I wanted to look good. You never know who you’ll meet or what famous people you might run into.

Truth be told, your outfit at a NASCAR race actually is important in a way -- especially if you don’t want to end up with a scorching farmer’s tan or shivering in a cold-soaked rain -- but it's not about fashion. I learned a lot of lessons my first time hanging out at a track.

First and foremost, it’s a long day. You’ll do a lot of walking, so unless you want to lug your belongings around with you all day, reduce the drag and bring only what you need.

Take it from someone who has a hard time packing lightly: Embrace minimalism, people.
Granted, I’ve been to a number of races at this point, but I’m no diehard yet. These tips are from a still somewhat-fledgling perspective to help you have the best race experience possible:

Make a weekend of it.
Depending on your ticket package, you may have access to extra events. Most weekends at the track start early and your tickets may allow you to check out pit road, the track and garages, or you can buy these options separately. Every NASCAR Sprint Cup series race has support races such as the Xfinity series or Camping World Truck series that take place in the days before the big event, so go to the support races. They're usually cheaper, less crowded and easier to find parking. Your best bet is to check out the website for the track you’ll be visiting for a full list of events.

If you’re traveling to a race, book accommodations early and try to get as close to the track as you can, preferably walking distance. If camping is your thing, that’s an alternative – there are reserved spots and non-reserved, first-come-first-served spaces.

Channel your inner meteorologist.
When it comes to racing, the sun, rain, wind and cold are fair-weather friends. It might feel chilly when you leave for the race early in the morning, but by midday the sun may be out and temperatures soaring. Time of year, geographical location and all sorts of complex meteorology variables play into racing weather on any given day, so dress in layers and bring a raincoat or poncho. Sunscreen is an absolute must especially as the season progresses into the warmer months.
Another factor to consider is what happens if there is a rain delay. If weather causes postponement, a Sunday race may get pushed to Monday. NASCAR doesn’t offer refunds unless they cancel the race altogether. Just in case the weather rains on your parade, factor the chance of an extra day into your travel plans and book for Sunday night, too.
Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Arrive at the track early.
A NASCAR race is like an epic party that starts early -- well before the roar of the engines -- and goes late. As early as five or six hours pre-race, pit crews are working. There are souvenir stations, events at the Speed stage and on track, and sometimes driver meet-and-greets or autograph sessions. Wander around, look, listen, take photos and soak in the lifeblood of NASCAR. Allow extra time to get to the track as traffic can be nightmarish both coming and going.
 
Pack the essentials.
For me, it was helpful to leave my purse at home and load my minimal gear into a backpack for the day. Helpful items to bring include an empty water bottle you can refill, earplugs or some kind of ear protection, sunglasses, hat, seat cushions if you need them, and binoculars. Your bag can also hold a sweater or jacket you may need later on. Put anything that weather or moisture may damage (headphones, camera, cell phone, etc.) in small waterproof or plastic bags inside your pack. If you want to save money on concessions, bring snacks or a cooler with food, but check the restrictions at your destination track. Each track has its own rules about what you can bring in, so peruse the website for guidelines.
 
Get a radio scanner.
You know those cool earphones you always see people wearing at a NASCAR track? You guessed it. Racetracks are loud and chaotic. It can be difficult to follow the play-by-play without a scanner, which also allows you to listen to driver-team communications…and you never know what you might hear, cursing included. You can rent radio scanners or Sprint FanVision, which also show the TV broadcast, leader boards and more. You can also find used scanners for sale online on sites such as eBay. Before you leave home, check online for a list of drivers and what frequencies they will be on, or ask for the list when you rent a scanner at the track.

Wear sensible shoes.
Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world, right? Fashion aside, shoes deserve a category of their own in this post, because they are THAT important. Remember how I said you’ll do a lot of walking? NASCAR tracks are enormous and you’ll be getting your steps in for the day plus some, by the time you count travel from parking to racetrack to seats and everything in between. High heels and shoes with little cushioning will do you no favors. My personal favorites other than tennis shoes are Toms® or Keen® brand, which offers a metatomical footbed.

Park strategically.
Be prepared for traffic. That’s just the reality of a race, and it’s going to happen. Generally, the closer to the track you park, the longer you will be sitting in traffic after the race, aka horsepower at an all time low. My opinion? Put those carefully-selected comfortable shoes to good use, park far out, and escape more quickly after the race. Check the track’s website for directions, parking areas and other FAQs that will be helpful on race day.

Your first live NASCAR race is something you’ll never forget. The noise will immerse you, the pomp and circumstance will awe you, and the racing will leave you hungry for more. At the end of the day my makeup was washed away by streaks of sweat and my hair was in a dirty ponytail, but my feet were still comfortable in my walking shoes.

 Oh, so back to my original question: What did I wear? To be honest I don’t even remember.