Thursday, March 31, 2016

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: STP 500 at Martinsville


Track Classification: Short Track
Similar Tracks: Bristol Motor Speedway • Dover International Speedway 
Phoenix International Raceway • Richmond International Raceway
Distance: 0.526 Mile

By Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Both with 4 - Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer  
All with 3 - Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray

By Track
Clint Bowyer - 6
All with 5 - Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski
Both with 4 - Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray

Recent Pole Winners: 
2015 Joey Logano
2014 Kyle Busch

Last Year's Race Winner: Denny Hamlin

The Likely Suspects:
 It's pink hot dogs in waxed paper weekend, and of course, awesome short track racing weekend. Martinsville Speedway may be shaped like a paperclip, but racing here is not like just another day in the office. There may be many heated discussions and actions, both on and off the track. When I think of Martinsville, it brings to mind several years back when I saw Jimmie Johnson drive to Victory Lane as if he was simply gliding on a sheet of ice. Jimmie Johnson is definitely someone to keep your eyes on this weekend, as well as Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenneth, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.
      
My 2 Cents: Bonus points are key this weekend because you never know when your driver is going to get caught up in someone else's bad day. A focus on qualifying and picking drivers who will finish in the top 15 will serve you well. My no-brainer pick this week is a three-way tie among Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray. Joey Logano is also a fine choice.

My next picks are Aric Almirola, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. I will complete my team with Chase Elliott and Brian Vickers. 

My Final Four: Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott.

Points to Ponder:
  • A total of 48 different drivers have won at Martinsville Speedway, led by Richard Petty with 15;.Jimmie Johnson leads the series among active drivers with eight wins.
  • NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in runner-up finishes at Martinsville Speedway with seven. Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers with five, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth with two each.
  • Almost 72 percent -- 96 of 134 -- of the NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from a top-10 starting position.
  • Chevrolet leads the series in wins at Martinsville Speedway with 55 victories – including nine of the last 10 races.
Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Women in NASCAR: Kaitlyn Vincie

Photo courtesy of FOX Sports

by Stacey Owens

Most little girls may be made of sugar and spice and everything nice, but a few of them have racing fuel coursing through their veins.

Kaitlyn Vincie, broadcaster for FOX Sports, is one of those young women.

Having been interested in sports journalism since high school, Vincie fell head over heels for NASCAR after attending her first race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Pit passes in hand, she knew right away she wanted to learn everything she could about motorsports.

I loved the atmosphere, the team dynamics. I can remember being very fascinated with the team side of things. I also felt like if I could learn the sport of racing, I would have really accomplished something in my life. It is one of the hardest sports to learn - so many variables change from week to week, and the intricacies of the mechanical side are complex.

“If you didn't grow up working on race cars or have someone in your family line to introduce you to them at a young age, it can be very difficult to learn. So I started dedicating so much of my time to learning the sport while still in college. I bought every racing book I could find, watched practices, qualifying and races. I started a column in my college paper on NASCAR—no one else was writing about racing in our paper, so I offered to do it for free. I did several sports-related internships—three to be exact—that I felt would help me with an on-camera career,” Vincie explained.

After working with a local news station in their sports department as well as working with the Athletic Communications Department at Christopher Newport University where Vincie was a student, she also interned with the PR staff of the USAR Pro Cup Series. While still in college, she moved to Charlotte for a summer so that she could travel with the Pro Cup Series. That’s when she realized how much she loved the travel aspect of covering the sport.

Though she enjoyed her internships, she credits a reporting gig for a racing show at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, for kickstarting her career.

“It was the perfect place for me to start my on-camera career. And at Langley Speedway I was able to cover all kinds of grassroots racing series: modifieds, late models, super trucks, K&N cars,” Vincie said.

It was at Langley where she first met some of the current XFINITY and Cup stars, including Chase Elliott and Bubba Wallace.

Seeking to expand her on-camera skills, Vincie bought a green screen and lighting system and borrowed a camera from the Langley production crew. She began shooting NASCAR reports on her own from her spare room.

I put these on YouTube and they were later picked up by the NASCAR Illustrated website SceneDaily.com. That was a big step for me because now my work was being featured alongside guys like Bob Pockrass and Kris Johnson—respected journalists in the business. It was all these series of steps that eventually landed me the job of a lifetime—reporter at Speed Channel, now FS1,” Vincie explained.

Regular FS1 viewers will recognize Vincie from her work with the Camping World Truck Series as well as NASCAR RaceDay and Race Hub.

If the trucks division has a scheduled race, Vincie's week is packed with preparation.

"Early week I have a lot of planning conference calls for the week aheadone for the Truck Series (when we have a race that weekend) and one for NASCAR RaceDay. I also do work on Race Hub and may have a feature shoot or something similar in the mix that I will record during the week. Thursdays are travel days. Friday we start our shows in the race market. We can have up to three shows a day. This would be Race Hub Weekend Editions, Truck practice or qualifying and of course, the Trucks race. 

"For Truck weekends I put in a tremendous amount of preparationI will watch film of the race from the year prior and go through all my notes from previous weeks and seasons to update all the data I have on each driver. One time, my computer decided to crash, and I lost hours of work. Things like that are beyond frustrating! But in my opinion, for me to do my job and do it well, I have to put in that kind of time to do research. 

"And once I'm actually at the track I like to check in with each team whether it's the driver themselves or the crew chief. I will check in throughout the weekend to see where they started when they unloaded and how they are come race time. Once the Truck race is complete, the focus is back on the Cup Series for our RaceDay show. Fortunately, I have producers with me who help keep everything straight and offer assistance, as well.  It's easy to miss things, and my field producer, Kelly Hambleton, is a second set of eyes in the field, which is incredibly helpful," Vincie said.

One of the segments Vincie hosts on Race Hub is dedicated to women working in the sport. Though Danica Patrick is an inspiration for women on the track, there are a number of women working off-track.

"On race weekends I am starting to see more and more women working in the garage whether it's in a PR role, marketing, sponsorship -- even on road crews we are seeing some female members," she said. "I recently interviewed a female who is the tire specialist for Tommy Baldwin Racing with Regan Smith. There are also female engineers now who are working toward that coveted crew chief role. Women also work at the race shops back in Charlotte in various positions.

"I am fortunate that on Race Hub I host a segment called 'Women in Wheels' that helps profile these amazing women. We have a feature coming up with Lesa France Kennedy, who is the Chief Executive Officer of International Speedway Corporation, and I am thrilled we are getting time with her. I think having women like Lesa in an executive role with ISC speaks volumes - there are women in our sport who are the decision-makers and the brains of the operation, and they are making huge strides for women not only in racing, but women everywhere."

With women like Vincie in the sport, women are well-represented.

For more on Kaitlyn Vincie, visit her website at kaitlynvincie.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @kaitlynvincie and Instagram @kaitlyn_vincie. 

Fast Facts Redux: Elliott Sadler

credit: NASCAR Media
Elliott Sadler is a veteran NASCAR driver who’s now driving the No. 1 One Main Financial Chevrolet Camaro for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. Find out more about this fan favorite from Virginia in this week’s rebooted Fast Facts, originally published in Sept. 2012.
  • Elliott William Barnes Sadler was born April 30, 1975 in Emporia, Virginia. He is the younger brother of former NASCAR driver and current race announcer Hermie Sadler. The younger Sadler brother began racing go-karts at age 7, then moved up to Late Model stock cars. Among the items on his resume from that time period: more than 200 wins, the 1983-84 Virginia State Karting Championship and the 1991-92 North Carolina Gold Cup.
  • Sadler joined the Winston Racing Series (now the Whelen All-American Series) full-time in 1993. In 1995 he was track champion at South Boston Speedway, winning 13 races.
  • Sadler moved into the Sprint Cup Series in 1999 with the Wood Brothers in the famed No. 21, finishing second to Tony Stewart for Rookie of the Year honors. He won his first Cup Series race in 2001 at Bristol Motor Speedway. In 2003, Sadler moved to the No. 38 M&Ms ride at Robert Yates Racing, winning two races with the team in 2004.
  • Midway through 2006, Sadler left RYR for Gillett Evernham Motorsports and the No. 19 car, a ride he held through 2010 with the merger with Richard Petty Motorsports; Sadler then signed with Kevin Harvick Inc. to drive in the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series full-time and selected Camping World Truck Series races in 2011. Sadler moved to Richard Childress Racing after Childress purchased KHI in 2012, then to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2013 and 2014. He landed at Roush-Fenway Racing in 2015 before joining JRM for the 2016 season.
  • Sadler’s top finish in Sprint Cup Series points was ninth in 2004; in the Xfinity Series, Sadler finished runner-up to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in both 2011 and 2012.
  • Sadler attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, with a scholarship to play basketball; he injured his knee before his freshman year and needed two surgeries, and later left school to focus on racing.
  • Sadler and his wife, Amanda, have two children: son Wyatt and daughter Austyn. The Sadler brothers are involved in raising autism awareness through their charity, the Hermie and Elliott Sadler Foundation.
  • Find out more about Elliott Sadler at his website, www.elliottsadler.com


Monday, March 28, 2016

Travel Tips: Martinsville Speedway – April 1-3, 2016

credit: NASCAR Media
The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series will visit “The Paperclip,” Martinsville Speedway, Friday through Sunday, April 1-3 for the STP 500 Cup Series race and the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck Series race. The 0.526-mile track was on the very first NASCAR season schedule – the only track to currently have that distinction.

For $60,Uugrade your Sunday ticket to include the Green Flag Experience, which includes photo opportunities, the opportunity to walk on the frontstretch of the track on race morning, music, prizes and a continental breakfast, plus scheduled appearances Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Richard Petty, Aric Almirola, David Ragan and others (subject to change). Find out more here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, April 1
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 11 a.m. ET
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 4:15 p.m. ET
Saturday, April 2
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 11:15 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Alpha Energy Solutions 250 – 2:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, April 3
  • Sprint Cup Series STP 500 – 1 p.m. ET
Check out the track’s carry-in policy here, and the fan guide here.

Get more information on the schedule and purchase tickets at www.martinsvillespeedway.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Rookie Stripe: NASCAR Safety -- The HANS Device

Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

By Logan Stewart

It’s been said that there’s a gritty mentality in racing that makes the velocity of the race addictive for a passionate driver. With a laser-like focus steady on the task ahead, the world around him slips away as he become ones with the high speed that moves him.

"During a race, the mental background noise of ordinary life, the static that chatters along in the everyday consciousness, is muted, and the racer fuses with the car and the craft of driving, absorbed completely in the slow-motion passage of the seconds.” – Wendell Scott

NASCAR is a powerful combination of intrepid, competitive race car drivers blended with fast tracks and raw adrenaline, and it yields a recipe for dangerous conditions. The high-octane pace brings fans back weekend after weekend. If you’ve been to a race, even as a rookie, you surely feel the excitement that seems to reverberate from below the ground and settle into your bones. Fixated in part by exhilaration, in part by elation and in part by fear, we all sit on the edge of our seats because we know there’s peril that comes with racing.

Several Rookie Stripe posts will touch on some of the safety aspects of NASCAR, because in addition to being an integral component of racing, safety is an impassioned topic. Most safety improvements and technological advancements have come about as the result of some tragedy and helped outline different periods of racing. Yet there are still fans that yearn for the bygone eras of NASCAR when part of the thrill of the race was the unbridled danger in what lay ahead when the green flag dropped.

What to know about the HANS Device

One of the most critical pieces of safety equipment in a race car, the HANS (head and neck support) device makes sure that the driver’s head stays aligned in the helmet with the rest of the body, helping prevent basilar skull fractures. Despite the fact that the HANS device protects susceptible neck and skull bones, drivers were slow to adopt it. Only six drivers were wearing HANS devices when Dale Earnhardt crashed during the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001, resulting in his death. NASCAR drivers Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper also suffered fatal basilar skull fractures.

A driver’s torso and upper body are strapped into the seat in the cockpit, but he or she needs some degree of head movement that's still safe. If a head not supported by any kind of restraint is forced forward during a collision, the external forces, pressure and tension can be too much for the body to handle. If worn correctly the HANS device can reduce the total neck load by 78 percent.1

Kevin Harvick in August 2015 at Pocono Raceway
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
Other HANS facts:
· Biomechanical engineer Dr. Robert Hubbard created the HANS device with his brother-in-law Jim Downing. It first became available in 1991. It was mandated by NASCAR in October 2001.

· The device is constructed from carbon fiber and Kevlar composite. It sits on the driver's shoulders and has an upright back piece that extends partway up the next behind the helmet. Two arms extend from the back piece over the collarbone and hug the driver's chest.

· It weighs 1.5 pounds.

· Two flexible tethers across the shoulders attach it to the helmet. The seat belts coupled with the HANS device allow the head, neck and chest to move as a single unit during impact, without the head and neck snapping forward.2

·  Any driver involved in an accident must take his HANS device and helmet with him to the infield care center because cracks in either can signify that the driver is at risk for concussions or internal injuries.

· The HANS device is believed to have saved many drivers' lives since it became mandatory, simply because it keeps the head from being in the line of such a high degree of force.

Marcose Ambrose; Fall 2014 at Dover International Speedway
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs

More on safety improvements in NASCAR
HANS device acceptance slow until fateful crash – NASCAR.com
The history of the HANS device as told by Dr. Bob Hubbard
This 30-second video makes the case for HANS devices

1 “The Physics Of: How the HANS Device Saves Lives”; Caranddriver.com. Jan. 2012.
2 Leslie-Pelecky, Diandra. The Physics of NASCAR. New York, New York. 2009.

May 2015 at Dover International Speedway
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Fast Facts: Jimmie Johnson's Milestone Wins

Superman celebrates at Auto Club Speedway
Credit: Getty Images/Jonathan Moore  
Jimmie Johnson sure looked like Superman when he flew through the field and won Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in California – the 77th win of his career. The victory puts him in sole possession of seventh-place on the all-time wins list, just ahead of the late Dale Earnhardt. This week in Fast Facts, let's look back at some of Johnson’s milestone wins in his career.
  • First win – 2002 NAPA Auto Parts 500 at Auto Club Speedway, April 28, 2002 – Johnson led 62 laps on his way to his first checkered flag, ahead of Kurt Busch.
  • 10th win – 2004 Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway, August 1, 2004 – Johnson led 124 laps and went on to sweep the two races at the “Tricky Triangle.”
  • 20th win – 2006 UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, March 12, 2006 – Johnson led just one lap – the one that counted – in his win over Matt Kenseth.
  • 30th win – 2007 Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway, October 21, 2007 – Johnson led 147 laps and swept both races at “the Paperclip” in 2007.
  • 40th win – 2008 Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil at Phoenix International Raceway, November 9, 2008 – Johnson dominated the field, winning the pole and leading 217 of 313 laps as he later won his third Sprint Cup championship.
  • 50th win – 2010 Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, March 21, 2010 – Johnson led 84 laps in his win over Tony Stewart.
  • 60th win – 2012 AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, November 4, 2012 – another dominating performance, as Johnson won the pole and led 168 laps in his win over Brad Keselowski.
  • 70th win – 2014 AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, November 2, 2014 – Johnson led 191 of 341 laps on his way to another Texas win, his fourth of six so far in his career at TMS.
  • 76th win – 2016 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, February 28, 2016 – Johnson tied Earnhardt on the wins list after leading 52 laps.
  • Learn more about Johnson at his website, www.jimmiejohnson.com


Monday, March 21, 2016

Right Sides Only: Notes from Auto Club 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Knaus

by Stacey Owens

Kryptonite. Apparently, nobody took any to Auto Club Speedway to take down Superman. Consequently, the No. 48 team wasted little time flying to the front of the field. Others tried to sneak past Jimmie Johnson, but crew chief Chad Knaus had other plans for getting his driver to Victory Lane for the second time this season and for the 77th time in the dynamic duo's career.

"Oh, wow. Man, I'll tell you what, try to recap how this went down. It's kind of mind-numbing right now," Knaus said.
             
"Obviously we pitted with the second-to-last pit stop. We short-pitted everybody by a lap. Then the caution came out. Fortunately enough Jimmie was able to get by the 4 car and stay on the lead lap.  But we knew we were going to be in trouble having one full lap on our tires when everybody else was going to have stickers.
             
"Unfortunately we fell back a little bit, I think maybe to seventh or eighth. Jimmie did a good job, he really did. For as aggressive as everybody was driving at that point, he managed his tires well, was able to get by a couple of other guys.
             
"I think we were probably going to settle in about fifth or sixth. When that caution came out coming down pit road, our pit crew guys knew what they needed to do. They knew they had to try to get us some spots if we were going to have any shot at getting a victory with the Superman Chevrolet. They did. Had a fantastic pit stop. I think we gained two or three spots, put us in third," Knaus explained.
            
"I was telling Jimmie just before that restart, 'Buddy, dig in deep, go find that cape.' He did. On that restart he did really well. He got up on the 4 car. They pushed past the car on the outside. He was able to drive down to the inside, blow by the 4 car, make it happen.
             
"I couldn't be prouder. Jimmie is obviously an amazing, amazing talent behind the wheel. For him to do what he did today I think speaks volumes about what that man is capable of," Knaus said.

Teams get a bit of a break before heading to Martinsville since there isn't a Sprint Cup race scheduled for Easter weekend. Knaus is a fan of winning just before the break because it gives his team an opportunity to enjoy the victory a little longer before getting back to work.

"Typically, as you guys know, as soon as we get back to the shop on Monday, we're focused on the upcoming event. Fortunately enough it's a long trip. Everybody gets to fly home, catch their breath, take a week to enjoy it. We make sure to emphasize with our guys that they do celebrate the victories, go out and enjoy it, whether that be going out and partying at a club, or going out and getting an ice cream with the kids. Whatever your way of celebrating is, we want to make sure they do that. This will give the guys plenty of opportunity to do that before we go to Martinsville, so I'm glad about it," he said.
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
While other teams are still looking for their first win, Knaus is looking beyond the next few races and ahead to the first few Chase races as the No. 48 team seeks to make improvements.
"This year we're not going to worry about the summer months as much as what we need to, obviously, especially now since we've been able to capture this second victory which essentially locks us into the Chase.
             
"What we're going to do, we're going to focus forward, put our efforts into going into Chicago, New Hampshire, those first few races of the Chase. That's our main focus at this point.
             
"We want to perform well, win as many races as we possibly can. This [second win] provides an opportunity for us to go out there and be aggressive," Knaus said.

Getting a second win this early in the season isn't an easy feat in such a talented field of drivers. Making great calls and having an outstanding driver are essential. As well as the No. 48 accomplishes those tasks, Knaus still feels like there's a lot of work to be done.

"Look, let's be honest. Our job as teams is to build the best racecar we possibly can. We want to build the most downforce, we want to build the most mechanical grip, we want to build the most horsepower. He who does that wins, period. That's how it works, right?
             
"We have to try to do that on all levels. We need more horsepower, we need more downforce, we need more mechanical grip. We're going to do that to the best of our ability 100 percent. Once you do that, then you have all the other aspects of the race team you have to work on: pit crews, pit stops, so on and so forth.
             
"We're not where we want to be from my standpoint. We have a good product, but I'm hoping come Chase time, we're going to be better," Knaus said.
             
Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images
"Calling the race, honestly the way this race went by, don't take this lightly, but a fairly easy race to call because the stint was so long in between cautions that you knew you had to take four tires. If you didn't take four fires, you were going to be in trouble.
             
"Where it gets hairy is when you do a couple runs, you get toward the end of the race, there's 25 cars on the lead lap because of the wave-around, you get some guys maybe want to stay out.  

"Here this weekend, for this event today, it was not that difficult to call. The only thing you had to be cognizant of was what you were doing with your left-side tire pressures, your right-rear tire pressures. As a team, you needed to pay attention to that to make sure you didn't have a failure," Knaus explained.

Post-race, Knaus was questioned about whether his team can catch the record set by former teammate, Jeff Gordon. Ever the pragmatist, Knaus responded, "Let's worry about the next one. How is that?"

Knaus simply doesn't put the cart before the horse.

"If you start shooting goals like that, you can't do it," he said. "The thing you have to do, from my standpoint, is we have to worry about going to Martinsville and trying to win that race first. We have to worry about practicing well, qualifying well, winning that race. Then we have to do the same thing going to Texas, then so on and so forth throughout the rest of the season ... we focus forward, and that's what we're worried about."

If the No. 48 team still has worries -- even with Superman behind the wheel -- the other 39 teams better be concerned, because their worries may just be beginning.

---------------------------

   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.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves 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, March 18, 2016

March Madness: Five Questions for Auto Club

Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images   
March Madness.

While this phrase conjures images of basketball for some, it makes me think of NASCAR. Why? Because last week’s finish was one of the craziest things I have ever seen. It was everything we think of when we discuss the sport, and it was great competition. The weekend before that saw a dust storm and a skillful win.

However, this NASCAR "March Madness" isn’t over.

As we head to Auto Club Speedway, we should prepare ourselves for whatever may happen—because who knows what insane thing will occur to close out this month?

In this week’s Five Questions, I tackle some XFINITY stars, the close finishes in the Cup Series, and more ahead of Fontana. Let’s see what we can get into.

When will Suarez claim his first XFINITY win? Have you seen who is leading the NASCAR XFINITY Series points? Joe Gibbs Racing driver Daniel Suarez currently leads the field by eight points. Suarez’s two top fives and four top-10 finishes created the gap. Although he hasn’t led any laps yet, you have to wonder when we will see him in victory lane. We know Suarez can do it due to his intense driving style.

Throughout his rookie year, Suarez perfected his driving talents and figured out how to use them to his advantage, so his sophomore season should be full of opportunities for victory. Getting up front is not the issue, but getting around Kyle Busch is, which is a whole different ballgame, and easier said than done. Suarez is a threat wherever he races, whether it be on a restrictor-plate track such as Daytona International Speedway or the one-mile oval of Phoenix International Raceway. This diversity can help him excel. His first XFINITY win is not an "if" but a "when." The "where" is a bit harder to pinpoint. 

Who will continue their second-tier success? We’re now a month into the schedule, and drivers have raced at a variety of tracks. Some surprising names have mastered the first few XFINITY races. Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones, Brendan Gaughan and Brennan Poole all stand out to me. Allgaier, Jones and Poole are all in first-year scenarios while Gaughan is surging amid rumors of sponsorship struggles. Out of these four, who can remain consistent? These are some powerful cars and teams, but JR Motorsports is the one that rises above; the organization is good when it comes to XFINITY competition. JRM driver Elliott Sadler is also second in points, so the equipment is stout. Allgaier is most likely the one who can go the distance.

What’s up with the close Cup finishes? The close finish at Daytona ramped up everyone’s excitement, but nobody thought it would happen again at Phoenix. Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick dueled it out, slamming doors as they crossed the finish line. Two fantastic—and historically close—finishes within one month. What’s up with that? Well, Daytona’s finish happened because it’s Daytona. The Phoenix finish happened because of low downforce, desire and urgency. The new package flexed its muscle at the end of the race. Although that doesn’t necessarily make for a good overall race, it’s still refreshing to see a competitive finish. Also, there was so much raw emotion in that final lap. Edwards—who tends to race conservatively most of the time—was desperate to taste victory and resorted to banging doors. It was awesome. I don’t know if we’ll see that again, but I can’t wait to see if we do.

Can Dillon keep his hot streak going? With all the excitement in the Cup Series recently, it's no surprise that Austin Dillon has flown under the radar. The Richard Childress Racing driver has already accumulated one top five and three top 10s this season. This success is starting to create some buzz, and the same question keeps coming up: Can Dillon maintain the momentum? This weekend might produce a bump in the road. In his two starts at Auto Club Speedway, his average finish is 13.5. However, it is not far from another top-10 result. Over the course of the season, we will see Dillon get stronger and more competitive, and this is a necessity at this point. With youngsters Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott capturing the spotlight, the driver of the No. 3 has no time to waste. If he wants to remain relevant, he has to keep collecting these great results.

Is the fifth time the charm for Busch? This guy will not go away, will he? Four top fives in the first four starts of the season prove that Kyle Busch isn’t slowing down after his 2015 Cup championship. However, these results are not good enough; the JGR driver is anything but passive, and nothing less than first will do. It’s obvious that his equipment is good. There's no question that he is back to his winning ways, claiming three wins in the XFINITY Series so far. Can Fontana be the place where Busch stops being the bridesmaid? It is highly likely, but we shouldn’t freak out if it isn’t. His last two starts at Fontana were victories. He is very in-tune with the track, and he will certainly be a competitor come Sunday. If something gets in the way and prevents him from getting that win, it is not the end of the world. This is the driver that knocked out FIVE wins after missing half the season due to a broken leg and foot. I don’t think anyone is doubting his ability to win in 2016, but will it be this weekend? My gut says "Yes," but my gut could be wrong—and the trophy might be a few more weekends away.

TV Schedule: March 18-20

Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images
NASCAR's West Coast Swing wraps up this weekend at Auto Club Speedway. The Sprint Cup Series and XFINITY Series make their annual stops at the 2-mile Fontana, Calif., track.

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

Friday, March 18:
1:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, FS1
3 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, FS1
5:30 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, FS1
7:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying, FS1

Saturday, March 19:
5:30 a.m. XFINITY practice (re-air), FS1
7 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice (re-air), FS1
8:30 a.m. Sprint Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), FS1
11 a.m. Sprint Cup Series practice, FS2
Noon XFINITY Series Qualifying, FS1
2:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series final practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay: XFINITY Series, FS1
4 p.m. XFINITY Series: Treatmyclot.com 300 by Janssen, FS1

Sunday, March 20:
8 a.m. XFINITY Series: Treatmyclot.com 300 by Janssen (re-air), FS1
1:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
3 p.m. Sprint Cup Series FOX Pre-Race Show, FOX
3:30 p.m. Sprint Cup Series: Auto Club 400, FOX
10:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1
3 a.m. (Monday) Sprint Cup Series: Auto Club 400 (re-air), FS1

Thursday, March 17, 2016

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Auto Club 400 at Fontana


Track Classification: Superspeedway
Similar Tracks: Daytona International Speedway • Indianapolis Motor Speedway 
Michigan International Speedway • Pocono Raceway • Talladega Superspeedway
Distance: 2 Miles

By Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s :
By Race
All with 4 - Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman
All with 3 - Dale Earnhardt Jr.,  Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth  

By Track
Kurt Busch - 4
Both with 3 - Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman

Recent Pole Winners: 
2015 Kurt Busch
2014 Matt Kenseth

The Likely Suspects: Superspeedway racing and low downforce should make for good racing. I'm looking at these drivers to run well this weekend: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Austin Dillon.

My 2 Cents:  At Phoenix last weekend Kevin Harvick made it a point to comment how much drivers were looking forward to racing at Fontana with this low downforce package. Hopefully we'll see multi-lane racing and skillful passing. My no-brainer pick this week is a tie between the Busch brothers. My next choices are Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon and "Mr. Hugging the High Line" Kyle Larson. I will complete my team with Brian Vickers and Chase Elliott.

My Final Four: Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott.

Points to Ponder:
  • Hendrick Motorsports leads the series in wins at Auto Club Speedway (ACS) with nine, followed by Roush Fenway Racing with seven and Stewart Haas Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske -- each with two.
  • California native Jimmie Johnson became the first and only driver to win from the pole at Auto Club Speedway in 2008.
  • A total of 15 different drivers have won at ACS, led by Jimmie Johnson with five victories. Three other drivers have multiple wins at Auto Club Speedway: Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth each have three wins and Tony Stewart has two.
  • Three reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions have gone on to win at Auto Club Speedway the following season: Tony Stewart (2012), Jeff Gordon (1999) and Jimmie Johnson - the only driver to do it multiple times (2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010).
  • Jimmie Johnson (fall of 2009 – spring of 2010) and Kyle Busch (2013, 2014) are the only drivers to win consecutive races at Auto Club Speedway.
  • Only three car numbers have produced three or more Auto Club Speedway NSCS wins: No. 48  – Jimmie Johnson (2002, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010); No. 17 – Matt Kenseth (2006, 2007 and 2009); and No. 24 – Jeff Gordon (1997, 1999 and 2004).
  • The most proficient starting positions at ACS are third, ninth and 24th. Each starting position produced three winners.
Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fast Facts Redux: Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin in victory lane at Daytona, Feb. 2016
credit: NASCAR via Getty Images/Sarah Crabill
Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing, kicked off the 2016 season in stellar fashion with a win in the Daytona 500 – his first in the historic event. Here’s an updated look at the career of the 2006 Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year, originally published in Feb. 2012.
  • James Dennis Alan Hamlin was born Nov. 18, 1980 in Tampa, Florida, but grew up in Chesterfield, Virginia. He started racing go-karts at age 7, moving up to mini-stocks at age 16 at Langley Speedway – in his first start, he won the pole and the race. He moved up to Grand Stocks in 1998 and Late Models in 2000. In 2002 Late Model competition, Hamlin won 10 races; in 2003, he had 25 wins and 30 poles in 36 races.
  • Hamlin signed a driver development contract with JGR in 2004, continuing in Late Models while also testing the waters of NASCAR’s Truck Series and Busch (now Xfinity) Series; he also made his first ARCA Racing Series start at Talladega, finishing third. 2005 was just as eventful, running full-time in the Busch Series for JGR while also making seven Cup Series starts.
  • Hamlin’s rookie Cup Series season, 2006, was history-making, as he became the first rookie to compete in the Chase for the Cup, finishing third at season’s end. In addition to his Rookie of the Year title, Hamlin won both races at Pocono Raceway as well as the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona.
  • Hamlin has won at least one race each year since 2006, with a career-high of eight wins in 2010, including both races at his home track of Martinsville Speedway and both Texas races; he finished second in points that season, his best points finish to date. As of the end of the 2015 season, he had 26 career Cup Series wins, 14 career Xfinity Series wins and two career Truck Series wins.
  • Hamlin and his girlfriend Jordan Fish have a daughter, Taylor James Hamlin, born Jan. 20, 2013. Hamlin founded the Denny Hamlin Foundation to raise funds and awareness for the needs of children with cystic fibrosis as well as other chronic diseases.
  • Find out more about Hamlin at www.dennyhamlin.com and more about the Denny Hamlin Foundation at www.dennyhamlinfoundation.org


Monday, March 14, 2016

Travel Tips: Auto Club Speedway – March 18-20, 2016

credit: NASCAR Media
NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series visit Fontana, California’s Auto Club Speedway for the Auto Club 400 and TreatMyClot.com 300 weekend, Friday through Sunday, March 18-20.

On Thursday, March 17, the Auto Club Speedway hosts the St. Paddy’s Day FanFest presented by Bubba Burger from 5-9 p.m. PT. The NASCAR Hauler Parade gets underway at 6 p.m. PT, leaving from R.C. Quakes Stadium, 8408 Rochester Ave. in Rancho Cucamonga. The parade route (view here) will have three prime viewing areas: Quakes Stadium, the Bass Pro Shops at 7777 Victoria Gardens Ln. and Auto Club Speedway along Cherry Ave. FanFest will feature driver appearances (among those scheduled to appear: Joey Logano, Austin Dillon and Michael McDowell), live music, interactive displays, food and beverages and more.

Key on-track times:

Friday, March 18
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 10:30 a.m. PT
  • Xfinity Series practice – noon and 2:30 p.m. PT
  • Sprint Cup Series qualifying – 4:45 p.m. PT
Saturday, March 19
  • Sprint Cup Series practice – 8 and 11:30 a.m. PT
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 9:15 a.m. PT
  • Xfinity Series TreatMyClot.com 300 – 1 p.m. PT
Sunday, March 20
  • Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 – 12:30 p.m. PT
A list of driver appearances around the track can be found here.

If you’re a first-time visitor to Auto Club Speedway, click here for the First-Time Guests guide.

Get more information on the schedule and purchase tickets at www.autoclubspeedway.com

The History and Mystique of Rattlesnake Hill

Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs
By Carol D’Agostino

Each NASCAR track has a bit of historical significance with some tracks, such as Talladega International Speedway, boasting a noteworthy infield. But none come close to Monument Hill at Phoenix International Raceway -- better known as Rattlesnake Hill.

PIR was the dream project of Richard Hogue, a Scottsdale real estate developer and amateur road racer who wanted to build a venue that would be reminiscent of the great circuits of Europe, such as the Nurburgring, Spa-Francorchamps and LeMans. His wife, a member of a longstanding Arizona family, supplied the financing. 

Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs
It took months for Hogue to find land that had dramatic changes in topography. Finally he located a 314-acre parcel of land and purchased it for $1,000 per acre in 1963. Construction soon began on a 10-turn, 2.75-mile road course that incorporated a quarter-mile drag strip as the return straightaway. When the Board of Directors of the Arizona State Fair decided to end racing at the one-mile dirt oval at the Fairgrounds, the promoter, racing legend J.C. Agajanian, approached Hogue about adding an oval track to the venue.

After Agajanian recruited Clarence Cagle, track superintendent at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to design and oversee construction of the oval, Hogue agreed to add an oval to the track. PIR’s quirky “dog leg” resulted to compensate for the addition of the oval.

With so many changes, the project became more expensive than originally anticipated, so the only fan seating area created was a grandstand a mere 12 rows high. The lack of adequate seating motivated many early fans to sit on the slope of Monument Hill because it provided an unobstructed view of the entire oval. The area was quickly nicknamed Rattlesnake Hill because track staff had to walk across the hillside on race days to clear away the dangerous snakes. 

By 1965, nearly half of the track's patrons were purchasing general admission tickets to sit on the hill. Unfortunately, there was no fence to prevent people from climbing over the hill from the neighboring Indian Reservation. When Hogue noticed that the number of fans on the hill outnumbered the amount of money generated from ticket sales, he donned a Stetson hat, cinched up a holster with a pair of Colt .45s and patrolled the hill on a horse looking for gatecrashers. 

Today the hill’s unique visual perspective still draws news fans each year. This weekend Randy Camden from Linden, Wisconsin, drove 1,900 miles to watch racing from Rattlesnake Hill.

“It’s been on my bucket list for a while,” Camden said. “My friends thought I was crazy to come here alone, but the nice thing about NASCAR is there are no strangers."

Shortly after Camden walked up the hill, he met Orel Semenza and his wife Carla, who invited Camden to watch the race with them. The Semenzas are from Lompoc, California, a nine-hour drive from PIR, and this is Orel’s 10th race at the track.

“By the second day of race weekend we are all family here on the hill. In the grandstands you may meet the person next to you, but here you’ll know everybody,” Orel said.

Orel Semenza, left, and  Randy Camden, right, on Rattlesnake Hill.
Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs
Special thanks to John Chuhran of Phoenix International Raceway for sharing his extensive knowledge of the history of the track.

Right Sides Only: Notes from Good Sam 500 Winning Crew Chief, Rodney Childers

Rodney Childers is no stranger to calling the winning shots at Phoenix International Raceway. In the team's previous wins, Childers has had to determine whether or not to call the No. 4 team to pit road during a late-race caution. He's previously chosen to leave Kevin Harvick on the track to maintain good track position. It's worked before, and it worked again during the Good Sam 500.

"Every race we've won here as the 4 team, that caution has come out late and we've ended up staying out and been able to be okay," Childers said. 
            
"Our last adjustments on our last stop just ended up getting it going the way it needed to go, and finally hit it right. I knew that he had kind of been riding and saving his stuff, and thought we'd be okay, but every time there's always seven or eight that stay out in that situation, and when there was only three, that turned into a little bit of a panic mode for me.
            
"You know, I thought we would be okay, and then after that first lap, I'm like, 'This is going to be close.' Just thankful of the job that Kevin does. It's really a pleasure for us to come here and to work with him. There's a lot of hard-working people back at Stewart-Haas that put everything into this race. It's one of those deals where you have to focus on the places that you're good at, and we put everything that we had into it to try to come out here and win the race," Childers explained.

Rodney Childers at Phoenix International Raceway, March 13, 2016.
Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs 
As often as Childers makes that particular call, does he ever consider whether it's a good call or does he just automatically make it?

"Honestly you think about it every lap. As you're running along there, you -- probably every two laps you look up, you see how many laps are on the tires, you look at how you're running compared to your competitors.
            
"So about every two to three laps in your head, you say, 'What if the caution come out now, what if the caution come out now,' and I used to always look over at my engineers and ask that question, and we would all kind of say, 'Well, I think we should do this.'
            
"Honestly, about, I don't know, four years ago, I finally figured out that was the wrong thing to do.  You've got to go with your gut. You don't ask anybody anything, you've got to do what you think is right. It's my butt if it's wrong, and I want to be responsible.
            
"It was way too close today. That shouldn't have happened. But all in all, we ended up winning the race, which is good.
            
"You know, it just happened to work out. It wasn't the right thing to do," Childers said. 

The day was filled with tire issues for various teams. Was Childers at all concerned about tires on the final run?


Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
"We didn't have any issues. In all honesty that's been going on here for the last few years," he said. "I can remember all the way back maybe two, three years ago when Earnhardt Jr. had a right rear bead melt, so every time we come here we just try to keep a bunch of air blowing on that right rear as much as we can to take care of it, but we took one set of tires off and I think the wheel was about 315 degrees when we took it off. Part of it's the learning curve, I think. It's nobody's fault. It's not Goodyear's fault for sure. They brought a good tire. It's just the teams have got to learn more about that stuff and using more brake and all that. You've just got to be smart and take care of your stuff," Childers explained.

The win was the closest margin in track history with Harvick edging Carl Edwards by a mere .010 second. Childers will be the first to admit that he was more than a little nervous on the final lap.

" ... Pretty much from the dogleg all the way back to the start-finish line, I don't think I was breathing at all. I don't think my heart was beating, either," he admitted.
            
"You know, they crossed the line, and I felt like we won, and then I looked up at the monitor and it said we won, but then they were waiting to look at the camera, and I'm like, you just hold your breath and hope it's the best."

With a win under their belts and having become Chase-eligible early in the season, how is the team feeling about heading to the final stop of the West Coast Swing at Auto Club Speedway next week?

"I feel pretty good about it. I don't feel like it's probably the best car we have, but it's the car we won at Dover with in the fall, and we ran third at Texas with a driver with one hand for 150 laps," he said.

"I think we have to work on our setups better. I don't feel like our platform was near controlled good enough at Vegas. It seemed to me that the 48 had it figured out better than anybody at that particular racetrack, and we've just got to figure some things out this week and hopefully have a good car next weekend."

If any team can "figure some things out," it's a pretty much given that the No. 4 team will be among those that will be successful.

---------------------------

   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.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves 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.

 

Harvick Edges Out Edwards in the Desert

Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs
By Carol D'Agostino

It was a day full of ill-handling cars and blown tires as the NASCAR Spring Cup Series ran the 12th annual Good Sam 500 in Phoenix on Sunday. It was also a day for breaking records. In the end, Kevin Harvick took the checkered flag, narrowly beating Carl Edwards to the finish line.

Harvick's margin of victory - 0.010 seconds - is now the closest in series history at Phoenix International Raceway and the seventh-closest finish in the Sprint Cup Series since electronic timing and scoring began in 1993. The previous record at PIR was 0.13 seconds in 2010 when Ryan Newman edged out Jeff Gordon for the win.

This is Harvick’s first win and fourth top-10 finish this season. This win is his eighth victory and 16th top-10 finish in 27 races at PIR. For Edwards, it was his 13th top-10 finish in 24 races at PIR and his third top-10 finish in 2016.

Although Harvick was clearly dominant throughout the race, leading 139 of the 313 laps, holding off Edwards wasn't easy.

"I knew he was better through Turns 3 and 4," Harvick said. "That was not the car I wanted to see behind me. I knew I could beat him down there. I tried to protect the bottom in 3 and 4, and I just missed the bottom with all of the rubber buildup on the tires.

"All in all, I knew I was going to be on defense down there. I got up too high and wasn’t able to stay on the bottom like I wanted to, and then he got into me – like he should have. Once I got there, I knew I needed to get a good run off the corner, or I was going to have to get into his door. It worked out – just barely."

Edwards was obviously disappointed after the race, but enjoyed the hard racing.

“Man, I wanted to win that thing, but you win some, you lose some," Edwards said. "It was a good race. He (Harvick) was pretty fast even on old tires, but I thought once we got clear, I thought, ‘Man I’m only going to get one shot.’ I tried to go to the outside of him, he blocked a bit, and I just didn’t have anywhere to go but to just kind of rub him a little bit."

The official race results are:

1 Kevin Harvick
2 Carl Edwards
3 Denny Hamlin
4 Kyle Busch
5 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
6 Kurt Busch
7 Matt Kenseth
8 Chase Elliott
9 Austin Dillon
10 Ryan Blaney
11 Jimmie Johnson
12 Kyle Larson
13 Aric Almirola
14 Martin Truex Jr.
15 Ty Dillon
16 Jamie McMurray
17 AJ Allmendinger
18 Joey Logano
19 Danica Patrick
20 Matt DiBenedetto
21 Greg Biffle
22 Kasey Kahne
23 Trevor Bayne
24 David Ragan
25 Landon Cassill
26 Michael McDowell
27 Brian Scott
28 Regan Smith
29 Brad Keselowski
30 Chris Buescher
31 Clint Bowyer
32 Joey Gase
33 Michael Annett
34 Josh Wise
35 Casey Mears
36 Cole Whitt
37 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
38 Paul Menard
39 Ryan Newman

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Painting the NASCAR Landscape

Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs  


By Carol D’Agostino

When you think of the art term plein air, you may conjure up images of an artist setting up an easel in a picturesque landscape or park. However, if you are scenic artist and NASCAR fan Ken Kaylor of Logandale, Nevada, what could be more fitting than painting Phoenix International Raceway, while perched up on Rattlesnake Hill?

“For 10 years I’ve wanted to do this. I am getting to the point in life when I want to travel and I want to start painting NASCAR tracks,” Kaylor said.

He has painted all around the world in a variety of mediums doing murals, watercolors and miniatures. It is not uncommon for him to finish a couple small pieces a day.

However, the California native and Matt Kenseth fan hasn’t painted for more than eight months due to some major personal challenges, including the recent death of his mother.

“My daughter Terri got me tickets for race weekend for my birthday, so I am making my artistic return here on Rattlesnake Hill.”

For Kaylor, plein air and stock car racing are a perfect match.

“When I do plein air, I am studying all the elements -- the light, smells, how the colors are constantly changing. I am painting from life. When I look at the piece later, it brings me back to that moment in time and all the elements of that moment,” he adeds.

If you are at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday or at your home track this season, you may just see Ken Kaylor capturing spontaneous moments and elements that only racing can provide.
  
Credit: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs