Friday, October 30, 2015

Insanity: Five Questions for Martinsville

Nick Laham  /NASCAR via Getty Images
This weekend is going to be good—scary good.

NASCAR is headed to Virginia to race one of the sport’s most historic venues. The Paperclip is bound to provide more storylines to the already-thrilling Chase, as it kicks off the third round.

It’ll be a race to remember, and a race to forget for some. Let’s jump into Five Questions, where I talk about Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, and more.

Can Earnhardt Jr. redeem himself? Last weekend was heartbreaking for Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans everywhere, and their driver was upset as well. The No. 88 was under the cutoff line after Talladega—ending his title hopes right then and there. Although he’s out of championship contention, that doesn’t mean the driver will ride out the rest of 2015. My prediction is he’ll visit victory lane this weekend for two reasons—he’s good there, and he’ll be even more motivated to get that victory. This may not be a redemption for not capturing the title, but it will help with the healing.

Where will Smith end up? This has to be the most pressing question in the entire sport; after two seasons of competing for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, Regan Smith is without a ride. JR Motorsports announced Wednesday that Justin Allgaier will pilot the No. 7 Chevrolet—for multiple years—starting in 2016. This began with the announcement of Tony Stewart’s retirement and caused a domino effect. Now, Smith is on the outside looking in. There are no rumors at the moment of his possible destination. His ability to get a ride—whether it be in Cup or Xfinity—hinges on what sponsors he can bring. As sad as that sounds, that the nature of the sport at the moment. Smith is a very talented driver, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been vocal about that; the JRM owner wants his driver to acquire a Cup ride. Any NSCS team would be lucky to have Smith in their stable. He just needs the money to attract them.

Is the “five-year guarantee” a good or bad move? I hope you like the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule because it’s staying that way until 2020. Okay, that’s not completely true; this agreement guarantees the current tracks their races, but the dates can be subject to change. The fact this ensures each track they’ll have a race or two is nice. However, this is a terrible move, and it makes me angry. NASCAR will remain stagnant for five years—how is that a good idea? With where the sport is now, it needs to keep improving. I understand that consistency signals a healthy organization. Despite that, it’s idiotic to ignore the fans who have wanted new tracks for years. “Add more short tracks! How about another road course? Some tracks need to go!” All of that apparently fell on deaf ears, and now we have the same schedule for five more years. I can’t wait.

What’s the real problem, Harvick’s move or the “single” restart? Speaking of fans, they were quite vocal about the finish at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday. What went down: after the field wrecked before the GWC attempt, NASCAR scrapped it and tried again. So the first attempt was “an attempt,” per say (quotes included). The genuine GWC took place, and carnage erupted when Kevin Harvick clipped the back of Trevor Bayne and triggered a huge wreck. That froze the field and ended the race. Joey Logano was crowned the winner. Now, many people were angry with Harvick. They claimed he turned Bayne on purpose to freeze the field, which kept him above the Chase cutoff line. NASCAR said they didn’t find anything wrong with his restart, so that’s over and done with. My main issue is that none of this would’ve happened if we still had the three GWC attempts. The single attempt was a dumb move that didn’t solve anything; "wrecking" and "Talladega" go together like peas and carrots. I know they did it for safety reasons, but it was the equivalent of putting a child in a plastic bubble because they stubbed their toe. Violent wrecks can happen anywhere at a restrictor plate track, not just the ending. Limiting the restarts caused the questioning of Harvick’s intentions by putting more pressure on the Chase scenario and the individual drivers. The fact they thought one restart would stifle the intensity is the real problem.

Will Martinsville rival Talladega’s insanity? It’s time to shift gears from one exciting venue to another. Martinsville Speedway is the sport’s oldest track and high on the list of crown jewel races. Winning at The Paperclip is an honor because earning the trophy means you fought tooth and nail for it. That’s the short track way—and it’s full of tempers and carnage. As we go from one of the biggest tracks to one of the smallest, the mentality doesn’t change much. Drivers must have a special game plan for handling the unpredictable elements of other drivers and the track’s twisted sense of humor. Martinsville will put on a show, and it will equal the craziness we saw at Talladega. It may even eclipse it.

TV Schedule: Oct. 30-Nov. 1

Martinsville Speedway. Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images
NASCAR converges on the oldest track on the circuit: Martinsville. The Eliminator Round kicks off at the Paperclip, where close quarters breed big tempers.

The XFINITY Series is on an extended break until Nov. 7 at Texas.

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

Friday, Oct. 30:
11:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, NBCSN
1 p.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
2:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1
4 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, NBC Sports Live Extra, CSN Mid Atlantic, CSN Chicago, CSN Northwest, CSN Bay Area, TCN (Philadelphia)
6 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN (tape delay)

Saturday, Oct. 31:
9 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, CNBC
10 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
Noon Sprint Cup Series final practice, CNBC
1 p.m. NCWTS Setup, FS1
1:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: Kroger 200, FS1

Sunday, Nov. 1:
10 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
11 a.m. NASCAR America Sunday, NBCSN
12:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
1:15 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500, NBCSN
5:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Post-Race, NBCSN
6:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1. (Re-airs at 3 a.m. Monday.)
11 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN

Thursday, October 29, 2015

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Welcome to the Eliminator Round at Martinsville

Track Classification: Short Track
Similar Tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway • Dover International Speedway
Phoenix International Raceway • Richmond International Raceway
Distance: .526 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
All with 4 - Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson
All with 3 - Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick

By Track
Both with 7 - Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer
Both with 6 - Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
All with 5 -  Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick

Recent Pole Winners:  
2014 Jamie McMurray
2013 Denny Hamlin

The Likely Suspects: The Chase is getting interesting and I'm sure the drama will continue into this round. I have my eye on these elite Martinsville drivers: Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray.

My 2 Cents: The perennial no-brainer pick at Martinsville is Jimmie Johnson. My next choices are Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Kasey Kahne. I will complete my team with Danica Patrick and Justin Allgaier.

My final four: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and Danica Patrick.

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Rookie Stripe: Fourteen Facts about NASCAR Fire Suits

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Technology has always been a hot topic in racing. No doubt, what our favorite drivers wear from race to race certainly consumes us as well. Fire suits are the norm in modern racing, just as a basketball player would wear a jersey or a professional skier would wear a race suit. But fire suits haven’t always been around in NASCAR.

Denim blue jeans, a ubiquitous American classic and the original miners’ wear, were the durable uniform choice in NASCAR’s early days. According to, drivers and crew alike often paired jeans with T-shirts affiliated with an automotive manufacturer or brand, and eventually started using rudimentary cooling liners made of netting.

With time, the science of racing apparel naturally progressed, too, and fire suits have been just one of the drastic improvements on the circuit designed to combat flames. With the copious amounts of gasoline at any race, fires can erupt not only during crashes, but virtually anywhere on a NASCAR track, including pit road.

Fire suits today are uniforms, but safety is their priority and function. Here are 14 facts about fire suits:

1. Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, a beloved racing legend who won 33 races, was in a fiery crash in the 1964 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway that left him with severe burns. He survived the crash but died of complications six weeks after the accident. Fireball Roberts’ death was one of the major catalysts that led to the development of more fire-resistant uniforms in racing.

2. In the 1960s, some drivers dipped their clothing into baking soda to make it more fire resistant.

3. Modern fire suits are made of Nomex® or Proban® fire-retardant materials. According to Nomex’s website, Nomex fiber protects auto racing teams through its inherent heat- and flame-resistant properties and durability.

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

What's the difference?

Nomex: Nomex, developed by DuPont, is a permanently fire-retardant fiber that's woven or knitted into fabric. It remains fire-retardant over time.

Proban: Proban is used mostly in single-layer economy uniforms. It's a cotton-based material which has been chemically treated so that it is fire retardant. However, washing it decreases the fire protection.
4. Helmet lining, gloves, socks, and shoes are also made of Nomex materials.

5. Fire suits not only protect from fire, heat and burns, but allow cooler air to enter the suit and expel air heated by the body, also known as air transfer.

6. Pit crew members also wear fire suits. Each individual’s fire suit is custom-tailored, often has his or her name on the back and is professionally cleaned after each use.

7. Special undergarments are worn underneath fire suits.

8. In the United States, the SFI Foundation issues and administers standards for the quality assurance of specialty performance and racing equipment, including NASCAR fire suits. Its racing suit specification 3.2A tests a material’s fire retardant capabilities and ability to provide thermal protective performance (known as TPP) against flame and heat. The test and a mathematical calculation determine a number value which determines the suit’s TPP value. Logically, the higher the TPP value, the better the rating of the fire suit and its properties.

9. NASCAR mandates that drivers and any crew member handling fuel to wear a one-piece fire suit at a minimum of SFI 3.2A/5. Pit crew members who go over the wall must wear a suit with an SFI rating of 3.2A/1 or better.
10. A gasoline fire can burn between 1,800 and 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit.

11. Beginning in the 1980s, fire suits also became a place to put sponsor logos. Like the colorful stock car paint schemes, fire suits today come in a vivid array of colors and are carefully designed to incorporate a number of logos.

12. Fire suits can be heavy. Nomex averages about 14 to 16 ounces per square yard. Depending on the size of the driver it takes around three yards of material to make a Sprint Cup fire suit. Sponsor logo and embroidery adds weight as well.

13. Some NASCAR media members wear fire suits, and there are reasons why.

14. A custom-made fire protection suit that meets all NASCAR specifications can cost between $900-$2,000, depending on style, logos and other embroidery. Remember when we said NASCAR is expensive?

On April 21, 2015 a scary fire on pit road erupted during the ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond International Raceway when Brendan Gaughan’s No. 62 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet had a full-scale fireball near the left rear corner of the car. Gaughan had just pitted after a caution on Lap 108 of the 250-lap race when the gas man and rear tire changer were caught in the flames. They managed to escape the inferno and were treated at a local hospital, but their fire suits undoubtedly helped save them from more serious injury or maybe even saved their lives, just like dozens of competitors before them.

More about fire suits:
SFI Foundation suit specifications
Watch a Nomex Fire Retardant Suit Demonstration
Simpson Racing: Anatomy of a Custom Fire Suit

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fast Facts Redux: Aric Almirola

Almirola goes retro at Darlington in
Sept. 2015
credit: Skirts & Scuffs/Charlotte Bray
Aric Almirola is in his fourth full-time season driving the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports in the Sprint Cup Series, and you’ll also find him moonlighting in the Xfinity Series, driving the No. 98 Ford for Biagi-DenBaste Racing. Learn more about Almirola in this week’s Fast Facts, originally published in Feb. 2012.
  • Aric Almirola was born March 15, 1984 on Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Florida and is of Cuban descent. He began racing go-karts at age 8 and began racing nationally at age 14. He briefly attended the University of Central Florida (Mechanical Engineering), but left to pursue a career in auto racing.
  • Almirola signed with Joe Gibbs Racing as a development driver in 2004. In 2005, he made his Truck Series debut with Morgan-Dollar Motorsports, following that up in 2006 with a full season in Trucks with Spears Motorsports; he also drove in nine Busch (now Xfinity) Series races for JGR, and another 20 in 2007.
  • Almirola drove in all three of NASCAR’s top series – Sprint Cup, Xfinity and Trucks – over the next few seasons, driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., Key Motorsports, Phoenix Racing, Billy Ballew Motorsports and others. In 2011, he raced full-time in the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports in the No. 88 Chevrolet.
  • In 2014, Almirola won his first Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway in July; to date, he also has one Xfinity Series win and two Camping World Truck Series victories.
  • Almirola and wife Janice are parents of two children: son Alex (born (Sept. 2012) and daughter Abby (born Nov. 2013).
  • Find out more about Almirola at

Monday, October 26, 2015

Travel Tips: Martinsville Speedway – Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
The first race of the Eliminator Round in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup is the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway, which goes green on Sunday, Nov. 1. Also on the schedule for the weekend is the Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 on Saturday, Oct. 31.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Oct. 30 –
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 1 and 2:30 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 4:15 p.m. ET

Saturday, Oct. 31
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 9 a.m. and noon ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 10:15 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 – 1:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Nov. 1
  • Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 – 1:15 p.m. ET

Find the Martinsville Speedway fan guide here.

Find out more about the weekend and purchase tickets at

Right Sides Only: Notes from 500 Winning Crew Chief, Todd Gordon

Was there anyone who wasn't stressed as the field headed to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for the 500? Oh, yeah. Todd Gordon wasn't stressed. Not even a little bit. After two consecutive wins in the Contender round, the crew chief for the No. 22 team led by driver Joey Logano couldn't have been more at ease.

"I would say we were probably the lowest stressed group coming into today," Gordon confessed.
Even though the team had no pressure to win and could have finished dead last with no consequences, they approached the race with the same vigor they've displayed on five other winning occasions this season and won ... again.

"The final laps, we had a good car. Felt like we could contend. Execution in the pits got us to the point where we got off pit road that last fuel-only stop first. Just watching it go, seeing what was happening with the 16, he was trying to make it on fuel. Wasn't sure where that was going to go.
"The caution definitely put us in a position where you knew there was going to be restarts. Playing the one restart rule, we got through it with a caution coming up pretty quickly there, and survived," Gordon explained.
Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images
Strategy continued to be the name of the game, even on the final restart at which time Logano opted to switch lanes so that the No. 24 and 88 Hendrick cars wouldn't line up.

"I felt like the 24 has been strong.  Obviously qualified on the pole by 2/10ths and something. You know the 24 is really strong. Didn't really want to stack the 24 and 88 together in one lane.
"We felt like splitting the Hendrick cars up and ourselves up, we could get a better run being the leader. You get to set the restart, and took the opportunity to split those guys up," Gordon offered.
Logano joins seven other drivers in the Eliminator round when it begins next week at Martinsville Speedway: Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

Can the No. 22 team make it four in a row? Will eliminated drivers spoil their chances? I can't wait to find out.

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

Friday, October 23, 2015

Annett hoping to be in “the right position” at Talladega

Michael Annett meets a fan at the Pilot Travel Center in
Lincoln, Alabama on Oct. 22
Credit: Patrick Roach/Pilot Flying J
HScott Motorsports driver Michael Annett is feeling confident going into Talladega Superspeedway, home of the 500, this weekend. Not only has he won at the track before, but he knows that anyone in the field has a chance to win.

“That’s the cool part about these restrictor plate races, it really levels the playing field, but you really do have to take it lap by lap,” said Annett in a recent interview. “I’ve had every strategy in the world of racing on these superspeedways over the past seven years and I’ve wrecked running second, I’ve wrecked running toward the back and the middle of the pack, and had success with those same ones.”

“It’s all about putting yourself in the right position at the right time at the end of the race. We can ride around for 498 miles, but it’s that last lap that matters. You’ve got to prove to the guys you’re racing around that you’re a car that’s going to be at the front at the end.”

Annett has won at both NASCAR restrictor plate tracks – Daytona and Talladega – in ARCA Racing Series competition, but these days it takes more than just past wins to succeed at those tracks. It takes some help from your competition as well.

“I know I can pull it off,” said Annett. “The biggest thing is trying to get people to work with you, gain respect from the guys throughout the day and getting them to trust a second-year guy in the series, showing them you’ve got a fast race car. No matter who’s behind the wheel, a guy wants to follow a car that he knows is going to the front.”

Annett is hoping to take his sponsor Pilot Flying J to the front this weekend and let people know about their new fresh baked pizza offering, the “unexpectedly awesome” PJ Fresh Pizza, which will be available initially at about 250 Pilot Flying J Travel Centers throughout the country. Annett and his No. 46 Pilot Flying J team were helping the company introduce their new product at a “pit stop” at the Pilot Travel Center in Lincoln, Alabama on Oct. 22.

“We are about three miles, a couple exits, from the race track and we have the car that we’re running on Sunday and throughout the weekend. We’ve got the whole Pilot Flying J PJ Fresh race team out here,” said Annett. “It’s cool – we’ve got these unsuspecting customers pull up to the Pilot here and you’ve got a professional race team washing your windshield and filling you up, and this weekend is even more special. Pilot and Flying J are introducing their brand new pizza. It’s pretty cool, it’s 100-percent fresh baked bread each morning and throughout the day, and I’ve had the opportunity to eat a lot of it today and even more of it this weekend, and it’s really good pizza, not your average interstate, cardboard, been-sitting-out-all-day kind of pizza.

“They’re going to have the cheese, the pepperoni and the sausage, they’re also going to do these limited time recipes. Right now, there’s a chicken cordon bleu which is pretty cool, and there’s some other special ones that are coming down the pike. The car this weekend has my favorite, pepperoni, on it, and the car looks pretty cool, and will hopefully look even better at the front of the pack.”

With five races left in the 2015 season, Annett and his team are hoping to improve on the track and get a jump on 2016.

“We’re not happy with our performance this year,” remarked Annett. “I think everybody is a little let down and disappointed with the way we ran. Obviously, this deal came together about a month before Daytona in February, so we knew that it would be a bit of a slow start, but could progressively get better. And we’ve gotten better, we’re growing as a team, but we’re still not where we want to be. We had a pretty good run there at Charlotte a couple of weeks ago, got a top 25, but we feel like we should be in the top 25 week in and week out.

“We’ve got five more chances the rest of this year for that to happen and accomplish that goal and be in the top 25 consistently. I think if we can pull that off we can get some pretty good momentum going into the off-season, going into 2016 with our heads held high.”

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Round 2 Closer 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
Both with 4 - Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski
Both with 3 - Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman

By Track
Clint Bowyer - 6
All with 4 - Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenneth, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and David Ragan

Recent Pole Winners:  
2014 Brian Vickers
2013 Rained Out

The Likely Suspects: OK, fantasy fans, get that dart board out and get ready to make your picks. Yes, there are definitely restrictor-plate greats like Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr.,  Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray, but this week could be exceptionally wild. Anything can happen and usually does at Talladega, but after last week's final lap drama where Joey Logano basically dumped Matt Kenseth for the win, we just don't know how this Chase round will end.

I will go with past performance and look at these drivers to finish well after the dust clears: Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick this week is a tie between Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Matt Kenseth. I will be rounding out my team with Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray. I will complete my team with Ryan Blaney and Danica Patrick.

My final four: Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Blaney.

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

TV Schedule: Oct. 23-25

Talladega Superspeedway. Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images
The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series take over Talladega Superspeedway. The Contender Round ends at the most unpredictable track on the NASCAR circuit. Which Chase drivers will advance onto the Eliminator Round?

The XFINITY Series is on an extended break until Nov. 7 at Texas.

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

Friday, Oct. 23:
1 p.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
2 p.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, NBCSN
3 p.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1
4:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, NBCSN
10 p.m. The Soup Invades NASCAR, Live from Talladega Superspeedway, E!

Saturday, Oct. 24:
10:30 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
1 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: fred's 250 presented by Coca-Cola, FOX
4 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN
9 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), NBCSN

Sunday, Oct. 25:
10 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
Noon NASCAR America Sunday, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
2:10 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: 500 at Talladega, NBCSN
6 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Post-Race, NBCSN
6:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN
10:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1
11:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap (re-air), NBCSN

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Chase Elliott unveils 2016 Sprint Cup car and talks upcoming season

Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Back in February it was announced that Xfinity Series Champion, Chase Elliott, would be taking over Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 car beginning in 2016. Since the announcement, fans have been waiting to see what the new car would look like. Monday, team owner Rick Hendrick and Elliott unveiled the new paint scheme for the No. 24 Chevy SS.

Referring to the paint scheme, Elliott said, "NAPA let me make a few decisions, which was really cool. I think the car turned out great. I hope everybody likes it. They were really open and willing to some of the ideas that we had.”

The new car sports the NAPA blue and yellow along with light blue stripes to match the NAPA drag car driven by Ron Capps. As homage to his home state of Georgia, the GA flag is located above the door by Elliott’s name.

Elliott and Hendrick also talked about the 2016 season. Both of them are excited about Elliott's rookie year.

“There's really no excuse for us to not go and try to give ourselves the chance to get in that top 16," Elliott said. "I think we have a team that's capable of doing it. I really feel like if I can do my job, we have a shot there."

During the season, Elliott will have a lot of help along the way. Gordon's crew chief, Alan Gustafson, will remain with the No. 24 team. Together, Hendrick thinks they have a real shot of making the Chase. Also in the Hendrick garage, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne will give advice and help Elliott through his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series.

“There's something really special about him and I could see it in Jeff and Jimmie," Hendrick said.

Elliott competed in five Sprint Cup Series events in 2015 and earned three top-20 finishes driving the No. 25 for HMS. His first Sprint Cup race in the No. 24 will be in February at Daytona International Speedway.

Skirts and Scuffs intern Kaitlyn Kochanski lives in Shavertown, Pennsylvania about 45 minutes away from Pocono Raceway. Her love of NASCAR has taken her to many races at Pocono and even to a couple at Atlanta Motor Speedway. She loves watching the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Kaitlyn's other interests include track and field, the New York Yankees, rock music and classic cars.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Faith on the Frontstretch: The Motives of a Racer’s Heart

Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images  
“ ... and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”     ~ Hebrews 12:1b

The Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway last Sunday ended with Joey Logano in Victory Lane. But with only a few laps to go, Matt Kenseth was leading, with Logano on his tail. As the duo headed into Turn 1, Kenseth blocked and Logano tagged his rear bumper, spinning him back to a 14th-place finish.

Not surprisingly, the two drivers had opposing perspectives on the incident. Logano said it was just hard racing, denied intentionally turning Kenseth and described the event as two drivers wanting to run the same line.

“With 15 to go I got to the outside of him down the backstretch, and I had to lift not to wreck both of us at that point, and then kind of got put in the same situation down the front stretch, and then we just happened to go in the same corner and we both went for the same piece of real estate,” Logano said. “I wanted that middle lane and so did he and we collided there. He ran me hard, I ran him hard back.”

On the other hand, the driver of the No. 20 thought Logano spun him on purpose.

“It was really cut and dry. He picked my rear tires off the ground and wrecked me, so there’s no debate about that one,” Kenseth stated. “It’s the end of the race and I was trying to stay in front of him the best I could ... I didn’t do anything wrong to him. He just chose to spin me out because he wanted to be in the top groove instead of going left and trying to race me for the win, the way a man should do it really.”

Race fans offered strong opinions on both sides, too. Some folks believed Logano meant to wreck the No. 20. Others thought it was just a racing deal.

There’s only one person who knows whether the wreck was intentional or just hard racing, and that’s Logano. He alone knows what his true motives and intent were in that split-second when he inched his car forward. No matter how vehemently fans argue one way or the other, no one else knows what was in his heart.

Well, almost no one. God knows. That’s the thing about God. No one can hide the truth from Him. Not you, not me. He knows every subtle thought that flits through our minds. He sees the intentions of our hearts, whether they’re selfish or kind. He knows when we’re being nice just to get something or when we’re genuinely moved with compassion and love.

It’s hard to have pure motives, isn’t it? Our pesky human nature makes it really difficult. But God is deeply concerned with our motivations. He wants us to have a sincere faith and a desire to please Him, even with our private thoughts. Proverbs 12:2 says, “A good man obtains favor from the Lord, but a man of wicked intentions He will condemn.”

God sees the motives of human hearts, race car drivers and fans alike. None of us can be pure and humble in our own strength, but God stands ready to cleanse us and mold our hearts to be more like His. Why not seek His help? Use these verses of Scripture as a prayer:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.    ~ Psalm 51:10-12 (NKJV)

“Faith on the Frontstretch” explores the role of faith in motorsports and runs every 1st & 3rd Wednesday of the month during 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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fast Facts Redux: Kasey Kahne

Kasey Kahne at Charlotte, Oct. 2015
credit: Charlotte Bray/Skirts & Scuffs
NASCAR’s newest dad is the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet SS for Hendrick Motorsports, Kasey Kahne. See what else Kahne has been up to in this updated version of Fast Facts, originally published in October 2011.
  • Kasey Kenneth Kahne was born April 10, 1980 in Enumclaw, Washington. He began racing sprint cars at age 17 in Washington, then moved on to USAC, where he earned the National Midget Series championship in 2000. He also raced in the Toyota Atlantic Series and the World of Outlaws before moving to NASCAR.
  • Kahne made his NASCAR debut in the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series in 2002, driving for Robert Yates Racing. At the end of 2003, Ray Evernham named Kahne as the replacement for Bill Elliott in the No. 9 Dodge in the Sprint Cup Series in 2004 when Elliott stepped back his schedule to part-time. Kahne won the Cup Series Rookie of the Year title in 2004 on the strength of 13 top five finishes, including five second-place finishes.
  • Kahne won his first Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond in May 2005. From 2004 to 2010, Kahne drove for Evernham Motorsports and later Gillett Evernham Motorsports, finally moving to Richard Petty Motorsports when GEM merged with Petty Enterprises. In April 2010, Kahne announced he was leaving Petty Enterprises at the end of the season and joining Hendrick Motorsports beginning in 2012. Later in the season it was announced that he would join Red Bull Racing for the 2011 season; after he was released from his RPM contract in Oct. 2010, he moved to Red Bull for the rest of the season.
  • Kahne’s career to date includes 17 Sprint Cup Series wins, eight Xfinity Series wins and five Camping World Truck Series wins.
  • Kahne remains true to his sprint car racing roots as the owner of Kasey Kahne Racing in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, fielding cars for Daryn Pittman and Brad Sweet.
  • On Oct. 13, 2015 Kahne and girlfriend Samantha became parents to son Tanner Lee.
  • Find out more about Kasey Kahne at

Far from Settled: Five Questions after Kansas

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
A little bump never hurt anyone, right?

That’s what Logano’s thinking after Sunday’s race at Kansas, where the ending overshadowed the entire event. With the 1.5-mile track in the rearview mirror, it’s time to discuss what the Chase Grid looks like, what lies ahead, and who’s sitting pretty.

Oh, and did I mention Talladega is this weekend? Yeah, it’s bound to get ugly real quick. Here are my five questions following Kansas.

Who was in the wrong, Logano or Kenseth? The highlight of Sunday’s race was Joey Logano spinning Matt Kenseth for the lead with under 20 laps to go. Kenseth saved the car but not his chances of visiting victory lane. Logano went on to win for the second time in two weeks. It was undoubtedly the move of the race—but was it clean? More importantly, who was in the wrong? The No. 20 had every right to block and drive defensively. However, the No. 22 was upset, and that’s completely understandable. In my mind, the moves cancel each other out. There’s no question that it was a very intense moment on track, but that’s exactly what the Chase is meant to produce. I don’t understand why everyone is taking sides and saying someone is in the wrong; you can have a moment of pure competitiveness without it being dirty. It was clean, hard racing—and we don’t get enough of it. I thank Logano and Kenseth for the spirited battle, and you should, too.

Has Kansas lost its luster? Aside from the aforementioned scuffle, the Chase race at Kansas Speedway was anything but thrilling. It felt like something was missing, and I realized what it was. Goodyear brought a harder tire this time around, taking away the abundance of tire issues we’ve seen at the track before. No matter what you think, that element added excitement, and its absence was quite clear. However, the entire race could have been 100 times better if we had the low downforce package tested earlier this season. I sound like a broken record, but for good reason. Tracks like Kansas need that extra something to spice things up, and that package is it. Sorry, not sorry.

What green-white-checkered rule will be used at Talladega? The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Talladega Superspeedway, the unprecedented wild card of the Chase. It is not only a restrictor plate track but also an elimination race. With Logano scooping up both victories of this round, the other 11 drivers are nervous, the media is nervous, everyone’s just really nervous, OK? The thing that has me on edge is the fact that NASCAR hasn’t announced the GWC rule for this weekend. There’s bound to be an accident near the end. Will we go for a three-lap shootout? Or will NASCAR decide to take another route? I just hope we know before the race weekend gets underway.

Can the bottom four pull off a miracle? The next batch of eliminated drivers is full of big names; Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth sit ninth through 12th on the Chase Grid. This group has their backs to the wall, yet shouldn’t be counted out. Second-place Denny Hamlin is only 18 points ahead of the cutoff line. This is far from settled—especially if you consider who we’re doubting. The words "Earnhardt" and "Talladega" instill fear whenever mentioned in the same sentence. Saying he’s done is a stupid move. Last year, Kyle Busch was over 20 points to the good coming into the superspeedway and still got eliminated. Nobody above the cutoff line is safe, and nobody below it is hopeless.

With the Chase halfway over, who’s pulling away? Everyone is still in contention for the 2015 NSCS title. With that said, there are some drivers who catch my eye. Of course, Logano is one of them; he’s established his dominance and seems unstoppable at the moment. The Team Penske driver is making it known that he’s not going down without a fight. He and his crew dropped the ball at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year, and Logano doesn’t want people to think there will be a repeat performance. With that said, I think he’ll have some competition in the next five races from an old teammate and rival. As I previously mentioned, Hamlin is second in points at the moment. He’s been quiet this round but is putting up a great fight. I’ll admit I counted him out—especially since he has a torn ACL—but I’ll probably be eating crow before long. It’s a long way until Miami, but the No. 11 will be a threat if he’s in the final four. Homestead is his kind of track. Of the 12 drivers that remain, those two are the ones to watch at the moment. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Travel Tips: Talladega Superspeedway – Oct. 23-25, 2015

credit: NASCAR Media
Four will be "done at ‘Dega," as Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama hosts the third and final race in the Contender Round in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup, the 500, on Sunday, Oct. 25. Also on the schedule for the weekend at Talladega: the Camping World Truck Series’ fred’s 250 on Saturday, Oct. 24.

While you’re there, visit the International Motorsports 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. and Sunday 7 a.m.-2 p.m. CT.

There will be a Camping World Truck Series autograph session on Friday at 4 p.m. CT in the Hospitality Village behind the Birmingham Tower outside the frontstretch. Wristbands for the session can be picked up at the main Guest Services office at OV Hill South Section L.

On Saturday, there will be a youth (12 and under) only autograph session at 10:45 a.m. CT featuring Danica Patrick, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Ryan Blaney (subject to change) – wristbands for the first 100 kids can be picked up in the same Guest Services area as above.

Also on Saturday beginning at approximately 7:15 p.m. CT, Tim Dugger will open the show for country singer Easton Corbin, who takes the stage at approximately 9 p.m. CT. The concert is free to all infield guests and any fan presenting a Sunday race ticket.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Oct. 23 –
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – noon and 2 p.m. CT
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 1 and 3:30 p.m. CT

Saturday, Oct. 24 –
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 9:30 a.m. CT
  • Camping World Truck Series fred’s 250 – noon CT
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 3:15 p.m. CT

Sunday, Oct. 25
  • Sprint Cup Series 500 – 1:3.0 p.m. CT
Get more information and purchase tickets for this weekend’s race at

Right Sides Only: Notes from Hollywood Casino 400 Winning Crew Chief, Todd Gordon

In the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Joey Logano's racing philosophy may have been to simply let the chips fall where they may.

Though the No. 22 team didn't need a win to advance into the Eliminator round because they'd already secured a spot with a win last week, the driver did whatever was necessary to snag another victory, including spinning Matt Kenseth in the closing laps.

Crew chief Todd Gordon described the late-race bump-and-pass as a product of great racing.

"I saw two guys racing their butts off. You know, Joey had a couple runs at Matt and Matt blocked both of them and unfortunately got us in the wall into Turn 1 and there's more contact that prevails beyond the contact to the wall. That's just hard racing, two guys that want to win, and ... Joey has talked about it, they're both very competitive race car drivers and they do a lot of similar things, and neither one of them was going to give there, and obviously it came out the way it did," Gordon explained.

Did Gordon alter the team's strategy since they didn't actually have the speed that others had throughout the race?

"We build our race cars to do that. You have to look at the end of the race and checkered flag and race your race backwards. I think we understand how we need to make our cars to be successful on that last stint and how our cars need to be for the whole race.
"Honestly, we didn't have the speed the 48 or 20 had in the middle of the race. Had a tire come apart, actually, and fell back a little ways," he said. "But definitely had a strategy for how we wanted to end the race, and when the caution comes, and we're able to play that strategy and definitely find speed in our race car.

Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
"I think the thing that you look at is we understand what we have to feel in our race car. Joey does a phenomenal job of it, of what we need to feel in a race car in practice to be successful come race time, because you really don't ever get to race the line. The track widens up come race time, and there are some things that happen with the track, and once you know what that offset is and what you're looking for in practice to be successful, you look for those things. We felt really good about our car yesterday. We had speed, but we had the balance that we needed to have to have a good race, and it played out again," Gordon explained.

He also discussed the team's unique position to lock out other teams since they've won consecutive races during a single round, a feat not previously achieved since the new Chase format was implemented.

"We talked about it at the team meeting ahead of time and we've talked about it all week because the opportunity after you win Charlotte is that winners go on, and if you can go ahead and lock everybody else out, it puts everybody else that's a Chase contender on edge going to Talladega. It's a great advantage. We'll take what we can. I haven't had a Chase race at Talladega needing to perform there with a win here last year, and this team has done a great job of making sure that everybody else has to," Gordon said.

On edge at Talladega? That isn't exactly a place where a driver wants to be "on edge." Rest assured that at least 11 other drivers will want to make sure that Logano's advantage means nothing as the teams head to their final restrictor-plate race of the season. Hang on, fans. It's going to be a bumpy ride!


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

Friday, October 16, 2015

TV Schedule: Oct. 16-18

Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
NASCAR goes to America's heartland. The Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series descend on Kansas Speedway.

The Camping World Truck Series is off this week and will return Oct. 24 at Talladega.

The following is a handy guide to track events at Kansas. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Oct. 16:
1 p.m. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, NBCSN
2:30 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, NBCSN
3:30 p.m. Whelen Southern Modified Tour: Charlotte Motor Speedway (re-air), NBCSN
4:30 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, NBCSN
6 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN

Saturday, Oct. 17:
11:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, CNBC
12:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN
2:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, NBCSN
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
4 p.m. XFINITY Series: Kansas Lottery 300, NBCSN

Sunday, Oct. 18:
11 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
1 p.m. NASCAR America Sunday, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
2:15 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Hollywood Casino 400, NBC
6 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Post-Race, NBCSN
6:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN
11:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap (re-air), NBCSN
Midnight (Monday) NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1. Re-airs at 3:30 a.m.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Round Two, Race Two at Kansas

Track Classification: Intermediate
Similar Tracks: Atlanta Motor Speedway • Charlotte Motor Speedway • Chicagoland Speedway  Darlington Raceway • Homestead-Miami Speedway • Kentucky Speedway 
Las Vegas Motor Speedway • New Hampshire Motor Speedway • Texas Motor Speedway
Distance: 1.5 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Both with 4 - Carl Edwards, Paul Menard and Jimmie Johnson
All with 3 - Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon

By Track
Jimmie Johnson - 8
Matt Kenseth - 7
Carl Edwards - 6
All with 5 -  Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr.

Recent Pole Winners:  
2014 & 2013 Kevin Harvick

The Likely Suspects:  The cookie-cutter 1.5 mile tracks and champions like Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick usually are a good pairing. In addition to these champs, look for these drivers to run well this weekend: Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Kyle Larson.  

My 2 Cents: Hmm. Well this is certainly getting interesting. Do you think it is possible to go three consecutive weekends with mechanical issues with the  No. 48 team? Yikes. My no-brainer pick this week is Kevin Harvick. My next choices are: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Paul Menard, Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne. If you have any Edwards and Truex Jr. starts left, pull Kahne and Almirola. I will complete my team with Landon Cassill and Ryan Blaney.

My final four: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney.

Points to ponder:
  • Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman are tied for the most runner-up finishes at Kansas Speedway with two each. 
  • Jeff Gordon leads the series in top-five finishes at Kansas Speedway with 11, followed by Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson with seven each.
  • Jimmie Johnson leads the series in top-10 finishes at Kansas Speedway with 15, followed by Jeff Gordon (13), Carl Edwards (11) and Matt Kenseth (11).
  • Three active NSCS drivers have an average finishing position at Kansas Speedway inside the top 10 – Jimmie Johnson (9.055), Kyle Larson (9.666) and Jeff Gordon (9.947).   
  • Paul Menard has participated in the most Cup races at Kansas Speedway without posting a DNF (13).
  • Jimmie Johnson leads the Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Kansas Speedway with 596 laps led in 18 starts.
Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

NASCAR Announces Base 2016 Rules Package

NASCAR tested a low-downforce aero package at Darlington, Sept. 5, 2015.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
NASCAR announced today the base package for the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season. After extensive testing and collaboration with industry stakeholders, a new, lower-downforce package will go into effect in Feb. 2016.

In 2015, NASCAR introduced a high-downforce, lower-horsepower package. Drivers and fans alike have been vocal in their criticism of the racing produced by this rules package. A high spoiler, large splitter and large radiator pan create racing where aerodynamics play the larger part in how cars handle. Drivers feel the package takes the driving out of their hands, and complain they simply cannot pass each other as in years past.

"You just can't pass people," has been a common refrain during post-race interviews this year.

Clean air is king, and if you're mired in the middle of the field, your greatest hope of passing is on restarts. Because of the lower horsepower and high downforce, drivers are forced to be on the throttle almost constantly. The cars are slower on straights and faster in the corners, and extremely aero-sensitive. The cars are too easy to drive, almost driving themselves. Drivers want to race, not chase each other around the track with little hope of advancing.

Fans criticize the racing as unexciting. They want more passing, more lead changes and better finishes.

A shortened spoiler and smaller splitter characterize the low-downforce package.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
NASCAR listened, and tested low-downforce packages in Kentucky and Darlington with great success. There was more passing, more racing action and more excitement. Drivers and fans were delighted; racing felt like racing again, instead of follow-the-leader. Since those two races, fans have been waiting with bated breath, hoping that NASCAR would choose to implement the package in 2016.

They got their wish.

After months of collaboration with teams, drivers, manufacturers and Goodyear, NASCAR has come up with a rules package that promises to put control of the cars back in the drivers' hands. Cars will be harder to drive, with less grip and more throttle-break changes. Additionally, the 2016 base rules package provides an opportunity for Goodyear to safely develop track-specific tires to complement aerodynamic effects for optimal racing.

The base rules package does not include the individual track specifications (e.g. tire compounds and drivetrain rules) which will be released at a later date.

Below are the rules package specifics per

All tracks except superspeedways (Daytona, Talladega)
  • 3.5-in. high rear spoiler (down from 6 in.)
  • 0.25-in. front splitter leading edge (down from 2 in.)
  • 33-in. wide radiator pan (down from 38 in.)
  • Rear gear ratios adjusted to maintain 9,000 RPM maximum engine speed
  • 1.38 third gear ratio for tracks smaller than 1.25 miles
  • Engine roller lifters replace solid lifters (adds ~10 horsepower)
  • Restrictor plate reduced from 29/32 in. to 57/64 in. 
  • Standardized radiator / oil cooler (effective July Daytona race)
All tracks
  • Digital dash in all vehicles (previously optional) 
  • Fire suppression system activation cable routed to dash or right-hand side leg board
  • Right-hand side double NACA duct to cool drivers at tracks where side window is used
  • Seat belt restraint systems must meet SFI 16.6 specifications

Downforce changes explained

Rear Spoiler:  The rear spoiler redirects air flowing over the car, reducing lift. The higher the spoiler, the more air is redirected, and thus more downforce. A shorter spoiler provides less downforce on the rear tires, leaving them with less grip on the racing surface.

Front Splitter: The front splitter affects downforce by "splitting" the air pressure at the front of the car. The air hitting the bumper becomes high pressure, and the air under the car becomes an area of low pressure. This pushes the front end of the car toward the track, creating more downforce and thus traction. The more a splitter extends from the bumper, the more downforce is created. The smaller splitter will reduce that front downforce on the front tires.

Radiator Pan: The radiator pan, or splitter extension panel, is a flat piece of metal which lies under the radiator right behind the splitter. When the air flows under the splitter, it continues straight past the smooth radiator pan, increasing the low air pressure under the car and further pulling the car closer to the racing surface. One negative effect of the radiator pan is that, during an accident where the car goes airborne, more lift is created (the opposite of what happens when the car is right side up) and can cause a more dangerous wreck, much as Austin Dillon's No. 3 car did at the July 2015 Daytona race. The narrower radiator pan will allow more "choppy" air to flow under the car, reducing downforce and the risk of a dangerously airborne car.

What are NACA ducts?

NACA ducts are low-drag inlets which allow air to enter the cockpit of the car. After the Darlington and Kentucky tests of the new aero package, drivers advised NASCAR that their cockpits were exceedingly hot -- some interiors reached temperatures of more than 160°. By increasing the number of NACA ducts on the right-side window at tracks where one is installed, NASCAR expects more air to flow into the cockpits to help keep the drivers cooler.

If Darlington and Kentucky's races are any indication, the racing next year should be more exciting, with more passing and closer finishes. Cars will be less grippy and more apt to slide around the track. Drivers will have to use every bit of their skill and concentration to keep their noses pointed in the direction they want to go. Ultimately, that's what any driver or race fan wants to see: their favorite drivers going all out, working for just one more position and with their eyes on the checkered flag.

Rookie Stripe: How to Choose a Favorite NASCAR Driver

Kevin Harvick
Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs  
We all have our favorites in sports, and NASCAR is no different. For fans hooked on racing, our hearts jumpstart at pulsating speeds when we’re at the track or watching a race. We glorify our drivers, and see them as heroes who compete in precarious situations that put them in a place of endearing vulnerability. We openly wear our passion for drivers, too. When you go to a NASCAR race for the first time, you’ll see fans displaying driver loyalty everywhere… sometimes places you don’t want to see!
As you spend some time in the sport, you’ll quickly realize how many of our fans are female. I personally take great pride in our ability to spout racing scores and stats with the same or better agility than our male counterparts. Among NASCAR’s devoted following, you’ll also find lifelong fans are more the norm than bandwagon-hoppers. 

Carl Edwards
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
One of the first things to know about NASCAR allegiances is that many of us support one main favorite driver, and this faithfulness is part of what sets NASCAR fans apart from other professional sports. That’s not a written rule of course, but race fans may follow favorite individual drivers through ups and downs and different teams over the years.

In addition, loyalty is usually for the driver, not the team’s place of origin. That's because teams also aren’t spread out across the country like NBA, NFL, MLB or other pro sports teams. In fact, the heaviest concentration of race shops is based in the Charlotte, North Carolina area.

So as a new fan, how do you choose your driver?

I’m still a rookie, but I picked my favorite driver as soon as I started following NASCAR. I’m going to keep it a secret, mainly because I want you to choose your own, but my biggest piece of advice would be to go with your gut.

You can choose based on a driver's achievements or because you’re influenced by your friends. Or it might feel like when you’ve met someone you want to date -- you just know.

Joey Logano
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Here are some other ways to help you decide:

· Racing style. Do you prefer someone who tries to dominate or provoke other drivers on the track, or someone  with a more laidback style?

· Personality. Does the driver seem like someone you’d want to hang out with in real life? Do you like a more stable personality or more of a hothead?

· Family history. There are celebrated and storied families throughout NASCAR history and some of their relatives still drive today.

· Winner or not. Do you prefer the perennial winner or the underdog? Some drivers overshadow others, and while the up-and-comers may win less often, the rush is exhilarating when they do.

· Age. Does age matter to you? While a few are in their late teens, most drivers range from early 20s into their mid-40s.

It’s not the most scientific method, but I asked some race fans on Twitter how they chose their favorite drivers. If you’re still under caution on your decision, these explanations might help.

Tony Stewart
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
@racecardogs: I root 4 Clint. Won first race I attended in person when I got into NASCAR. Plus he's a goof.. Gr8 personally.

@brandymills_: Earnhardt -- my dad was a fan of Sr. Honestly - I think he's the last true good ol' Southern boy in the sport.

@picchicwendy14: I became a fan of Tony Stewart after I saw his first interview after a loss. I loved how he called things as they were even if it meant he was in the wrong. His intensity is why I cheer for him every week.

@pitkin_ryan: Jimmie Johnson spoke to my 9th grade class. He was a Busch Series driver who said he hoped to move to NASCAR and win a few races.

@shellydorey65: Rusty fan because he spoke his mind, didn't sugar coat things. I picked Smoke for the same reasons. #badassery

@louisegroomer: Harvick. I admired how a young guy could step in for a giant of a man so early in his career. Now he controls it.

@CEFan4ever19: Carl Edwards is my favorite driver because he is a very positive person who doesn't give up no matter what. He's kind to everyone, especially to his fans, and makes sure he takes time out of his busy schedule to make their day. Finally, he's a very talented driver who will win a championship someday!

@surfrgrl5862: Joey Logano. He's always smiling and helping charities off the track.

@paigecoop: I've always been a fan of Dale Jr. because I was a fan of his daddy. They're good people who always felt like they could be family members.

@springwolf: I've been a race fan since I was 12. I'm old. My first favorite driver was Darrell Waltrip in his rookie year. He was from Franklin Tennessee, I'm from Tennessee. It was a connection. Then I started liking Davey Allison. When he passed, I stopped watching racing for a long time. Started watching again when Joe Gibbs got into racing. I grew up outside of DC, grew up a Redskins fan. It was a connection. One night in 1999, watching the Richmond race, everyone was talking about a rookie winning his 1st cup race. Ok kewl. And he drove for Gibbs, even better, come on kid. He won, and they interviewed him. His over-confident attitude (yes, some call it arrogant) in his post race interview won me over right then there. Been a Tony Stewart fan ever since.

You don’t have to know who your driver is the first time you go to a race, but when it’s time to  make a decision, choose carefully, be passionate and above all else, root hard.