Saturday, September 23, 2017

Trackin' Trucks: Christopher Bell wins at New Hampshire

Christopher Bell celebrates in Victory Lane at New Hampshire.
Credit: Chris Graythen

by Courtney Horn

Christopher Bell dominated Saturday’s UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, capturing both stage wins for his fifth victory of the season.

Bell started second and led 73 laps toward his first win at the 1.058-mile track, which advances the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver into the second round of the Camping World Truck Series playoffs.

Bell trailed Ryan Truex in the final laps but gained enough momentum with 15 laps remaining to slide his No. 4 Toyota Tundra into the lead for the seventh career victory.

“He was doing a really good job of watching his mirror,” Bell said of Truex. “I knew it was tough to pass all day, but our truck had been so good, we had been able to do it until we got to him.”

“I kept trying to work down, and he kept blocking my air down and down and down. Finally, I got one run where I drove up in (Turns) 1 and 2 and then got a big run into 3.”

Bell was the only playoff driver to score a top-five finish. Truex finished second, Todd Gilliland third, while Grant Enfinger and Stewart Friesen finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

John Hunter Nemechek had the most troubling day of the playoff contenders. Nemechek was forced to go to the garage to repair a rear gear early in Stage 1. Nemechek returned after 36 laps to finish in the 20th position.

Johnny Sauter fought hard for ninth place after his No. 21 Chevrolet was heavily damaged when Ben Rhodes spun and made contact with the right side of Sauter’s truck, but ended up finishing seventh.

A Look Ahead Into The Playoffs

The Camping World Truck Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday, September 30, 2017 for the second race of the 2017 playoffs.

Bell holds a 40-point lead over Sauter, the defending series champion, while Matt Crafton sits third, 41 points behind Bell.

Nemechek is the most need of a turnaround. The NEMCO Motorsport driver is eighth in the standings after New Hampshire, seven points below the cutoff.

Will a playoff driver take the checkers or will a non-playoff driver play spoiler? Find out when the CWTS return to night racing at Vegas on September 30th at 8:30 p.m ET on Fox Sports 1.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

TV Schedule: Sept. 22-24

New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
By Rebecca Kivak

NASCAR hits the track running for the second week of the playoffs.

The Monster Energy Cup and Camping World Truck Series head to the Magic Mile at New Hampshire for some short oval racing, while the XFINITY Series takes to the 1.5-mile intermediate track at Kentucky Speedway.

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

Friday, Sept. 22:
11:30 a.m. Monster Energy Cup Series practice, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
3:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
4 p.m. XFINITY Series practice at Kentucky, NBCSN
5 p.m Monster Energy Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN
6:30 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, NBCSN

Saturday, Sept. 23:
9 a.m. Monster Energy Cup Series practice, CNBC
10 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
11:30 a.m. Monster Energy Cup Series final practice, NBC Sports App
12:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series SetUp, FS1
1 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: UNOH 175 at New Hampshire, FS1
5:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN
6:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series final practice (tape delayed), NBCSN
7:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
8 p.m. XFINITY Series: VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky, NBCSN

Sunday, Sept. 24:
11:30 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
1 p.m. NASCAR America Sunday, NBCSN
1:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
2 p.m.: Monster Energy Cup Series: ISM Connect 300, NBCSN
5:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN
6 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire

By Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Jimmie Johnson - 5
All with 3 -  Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne
All with 2 - Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman

By Track
Matt Kenseth - 8
Kyle Busch - 7
All with 6 - Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson
All with 4 - Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano

Recent Pole Winners:  
2016 Carl Edwards
2015 Carl Edwards
2014 Brad Keselowski

Last Year's Race Winner: Kevin Harvick

The Likely Suspects: The Magic Mile has always been a good place to run for these drivers: Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.

My 2 Cents: Encumbered has been the word for the week as Chase Elliott's stage win last week was penalized. Points have always been important, however, the championship may very well come down to who can not only make the least mistakes, but also not get snagged with an unauthorized or illegal car issue.

My no-brainer pick is a tie between Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth. My next choices are Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman. I'll round out my team with Ty Dillon and Michael McDowell.

My Final Four: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon.

Points to Ponder:
  • 21 different Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers have won Coors Light poles at New Hampshire, led by Ryan Newman with seven.
  • Eight drivers have won the pole for New Hampshire’s Playoff races. Among active drivers are Brad Keselowski (two), Ryan Newman (two) and Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick (each have one). 
  • The first starting position and the 13th starting position are the two most proficient starting spots in the field, producing more winners (five each) than any other starting positions at New Hampshire.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing leads the series in wins at New Hampshire in the MENCS with 10 victories; followed by Hendrick Motorsports (nine), Roush Fenway Racing (seven), Team Penske (six), and Richard Childress Racing (four).
  • 24 of the 45 (53.3%) Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at New Hampshire have been won from a top-10 starting position.
  • 10 different drivers have won the New Hampshire Playoff races, but only three have multiple wins – Kevin Harvick (two), Clint Bowyer (two) and Matt Kenseth (two). 
  • Among active drivers, five drivers are tied for the series-most wins at NHMS with three each – Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson. 
  • Three drivers have posted consecutive wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway: Jimmie Johnson (2003 sweep), Kurt Busch (2004 sweep) and Matt Kenseth (2015 fall, 2016 spring). 
  • Among active drivers, Denny Hamlin leads the series in runner-up finishes at New Hampshire with four, followed by Kyle Busch with three.
  • 54 different MENCS drivers have finished inside the top-five at NHMS. Among active drivers Matt Kenseth leads the series in top-five finishes at New Hampshire with 11, followed by Jimmie Johnson with 10. 
  • 79 different MENCS drivers have finished inside the top-10 at NHMS. Among active drivers Jimmie Johnson leads the series in top-10 finishes at New Hampshire with 21, followed by Matt Kenseth with 20.
  • Denny Hamlin leads Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in average finishing position at New Hampshire with a 10.000.
Remember, if you're playing Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing, your pick deadline is Friday, September 22, at 5 a.m. EDT.

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fast Facts: 2017-18 NASCAR Next class

credit: NASCAR Media
Where is the next group of up-and-coming drivers coming from? Chances are you’ll find a few of them in the 2017-18 NASCAR Next class, a diverse group of young drivers coming from varying racing backgrounds. These nine drivers were selected because NASCAR officials believe they are primed for success and will impact the sport in the future. Learn a little more about these drivers in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Harrison Burton – In his second season in NASCAR Next, this 16-year-old second-generation driver from Huntersville, NC, is the son of former Cup Series driver and current broadcaster Jeff Burton. Burton is currently competing full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and part-time in the ARCA Racing Series for MDM Motorsports, as well as part-time in the Camping World Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
  • Chase Cabre – This 19-year-old was also a member of the NASCAR Drive 4 Diversity program, racing in the K&N Pro Series East for Rev Racing alongside his brother, Collin.
  • Hailie Deegan – The 15-year-old is the youngest driver in the program for the 2017-18 season, the only female in the group, and the daughter of an action sports legend: 10-time X Games motocross medalist Brian Deegan. Deegan has competed in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series as well as Legends cars.
  • Todd Gilliland – Another second-year driver in the program, third-generation driver Gilliland is the son of Cup Series veteran David Gilliland and grandson of 1997 Winston West Series champ Butch Gilliland. The 17-year-old from Sherrills Ford, NC, currently competes full-time in the K&N Pro Series West and East for Bill McAnally Racing and part-time in the Truck Series and CARS Late Model Stock Tour for KBM.
  • Riley Herbst – The 17-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing development driver from Las Vegas is competing in the ARCA Racing Series and K&N Pro Series West. He is a third-generation racer, with his father and grandfather both veterans of the Baja 500 off-road race.
  • Cayden Lapcevich – The Grimsby, Ontario, Canada native became the youngest Pinty’s Series champion in 2016. The 17-year-old is also a third-generation driver and grew up racing Quarter Midgets and Super Stocks, having won two championships at Sunset Speedway in Ontario.
  • Ty Majeski – The 23-year-old from Seymour, WI, is also a second-year driver in the program, currently racing part-time for Roush-Fenway Racing in the Xfinity Series and part-time in the ARCA Racing Series for Cunningham Motorsports. As of March 2017, Majeski was the No. 1 ranked iRacing.com driver in the world; the website also serves as his sponsor in the Xfinity Series.
  • Chase Purdy – This 17-year-old was the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Rookie of the Year in 2016, when he was also the South Carolina champion. He is currently racing in the K&N Pro Series East.
  • Zane Smith – The 18-year-old is competing in the ARCA Racing Series and K&N Pro Series East, with a resume that includes driving Legends and Super Late Models.


Learn more about the program and the drivers at next.nascar.com

Monday, September 18, 2017

Travel Tips: New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Sept. 22-24, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire for the second race in the 2017 Playoffs, the ISM Connect 300. The race weekend, Friday through Sunday, September 22-24, will also feature the Camping World Truck Series, the Whelen Modified Tour and the American-Canadian Tour (ACT).

On Thursday, Sept. 21, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hauler Parade gets underway at 6 p.m. ET, followed by a concert from KISS Forever at the Trackside Live Stage from 7-10 p.m. ET.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Sept. 22 –
  • Whelen Modified Tour practice – 10 a.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour qualifying – 2:30 p.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 4:45 p.m. ET
Saturday, Sept. 23 –
  • ACT practice – 8 a.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 9 and 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 10:05 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series UNOH 175 – 1 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour F.W. Webb 100 – 3:30 p.m. ET
  • ACT Invitational – 5 p.m. ET
Sunday, Sept. 24 –
  • Pre-race concert with Dan + Shay – 11 a.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ISM Connect 300 – 2 p.m. ET
Find a detailed schedule of events here, and check the links on the left side of the page for driver appearances, Trackside Live Stage activities and more.

To purchase tickets for the ISM Connect 300 weekend, or to learn more about NHMS, visit www.nhms.com

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Tales of the Turtles 400 Winning Crew Chief, Cole Pearn

by Stacey Owens

The first race of the playoffs isn't the time for the average team to make mistakes and have to battle back, but the No. 78 team has proved that they are anything but average.

In Chicago, crew chief Cole Pearn would be the first person to admit that the team didn't have the best day... until they did.

"Yeah, kind of a down day there for a little bit. We were fortunate enough to overcome. The 18 was definitely a little better than us those first couple runs. We sped on pit road there that last segment.  Seemed like a lot of people were having issues with that today for whatever reason. Then we kind of battled back.
           
"We were lucky enough to stay on the lead lap. That was really the key there. Then we left lugs off on the next stop, had to come back, which was kind of just poor execution on our part. We should have put them back on when we were in there, but we didn't.
           
"We kind of took that time to make some bigger adjustments on the car that we had really kind of been not wanting to make, just to not slow the stops down. That was really where we started to pick it up, got the balance right.
           
"Martin did an unbelievable job driving back through the field there that second stage, got us up to third, got us in position. Pretty confident towards the end of that run that we were better than the 4 and 24, especially on the long run.
           
"Yeah, we were just able to have a smooth, clean execution the last stage," Pearn explained.
Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

With their win, the No. 78 team automatically transfers to the second round of the playoffs. That's a good thing because as rough as much of their afternoon was, it started out even worse.

"I told Martin before the race, 'You need to have a real good strategy to win today because I don't think we're having much practice next week.' It was kind of one of those snowball mornings in tech.  We had a small issue on the top of the splitter that kind of got dinged up when they put the nose module on. That just kind of took us a couple times to get that fixed. It was just kind of confusing because it was an odd scenario kind of what had happened.
           
"We had the always untimely fail of the LAS at the end after we got all that fixed. You can only get through that thing so many times. Anyway, yeah, that's the way it went. There we go. We probably have 45 minutes or so next week, I guess," Pearn said.

Several drivers have yet to figure out Chicagoland Speedway and have no wins at the track. Truex isn't one of those drivers. He won the 2016 playoff opener in Illinois and repeated with another win to kick off the 2017 road to the championship. Did Pearn think this year's win felt any different than last year's win?

"Yeah, I mean, I don't know. Yeah, last year we kind of had an up-and-down day, too. We had a tire come apart last year when we were running up front. Had to go down a lap and overcome that.
           
I don't know. We definitely haven't had the cleanest days when it comes to Chicago, but we have a good understanding of what we need to do to be good here. We really had to work for it this weekend. We were pretty far off when we unloaded off the truck. Swung a lot more than we normally would.
           
"But when you only race at some of these places once a year, it's kind of tricky. You're coming back with a new tire, new downforce rules. You haven't been here in a year, so much has changed. It takes a little bit of time to get ahold of it.

"We really worked hard last night trying to understand our problems from practice. I feel like we made the right changes and were able to get the car in the right direction for today," Pearn explained.

Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Even though he won the regular season last week, Truex was upset about how the Richmond race ended. Was his approach to the playoff opener a response to last week?

"Yeah, for sure. After last week he was like, 'I want to go to Chicago and lap the field twice.' I think he was pretty motivated this whole weekend. Even when we were struggling in practice, he kept an upbeat attitude, kept everybody calm and focused, which shows more of his leadership skills.
           
"I think, yeah, coming off last week, definitely motivated. I think he showed that in how he drove today," Pearn said.

Had the No. 18 team not had issues, Truex might not have won. How did Pearn feel about Busch's problems?

"That's a loaded question. I mean, I like those guys, so I don't want to wish them ill will. I was pretty happy we weren't racing them. Even when they were back in there, they were really strong, had good speed. With all those long runs, new cars would get lapped, they wouldn't be able to be in position for the Lucky Dog.
           
"For sure, if they would have got back on the lead lap, they were going to be a challenge. They were really good, especially early on. We didn't have much for them," Pearn said. 

Didn't have much for them? Don't look for that to be the case as the playoffs continue.

------------------------------------------
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; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.



Thursday, September 14, 2017

TV Schedule: Sept. 15-17

Chicagoland Speedway. Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
By Rebecca Kivak

NASCAR's 10-race playoffs begin in the Windy City - Chicagoland Speedway. The Monster Energy, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series take to to the 1.5-mile track.

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

Friday, Sept. 15:
12:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series practice, NBCSN (Canada: TSN 2)
2 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, NBCSN (Canada: TSN GO)
4 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, NBC Sports App (Canada: TSN GO)
5 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
6:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN (Canada: TSN GO)
8 p.m. NCWTS Setup: Chicagoland, FS1
8:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: House.com 225, FS1

Saturday, Sept. 16:
5:30 a.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying (re-air), FS1
6:30 a.m. Camping World Truck Series: Chicagoland 225 (re-air), FS1
11:30 a.m. Monster Energy Cup Series practice, CNBC (Canada: TSN GO)
12:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN (Canada: TSN GO)
2 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series final practice, NBCSN (Canada: TSN 5)
3 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green: Chicagoland, NBCSN
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series: House.com 300, NBCSN (Canada: TSN 5)
6 p.m. XFINITY Series Post Race, NBCSN
9:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), NBCSN

Sunday, Sept. 17:
11:30 a.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
2:30 p.m., Monster Energy Cup Series Countdown to Green: Chicagoland, NBCSN
3 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series: Tales of the Turtles 400, NBCSN (Canada: TSN 4)
6 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Post Race, NBCSN
10:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Playoff Round Opener at Chicagoland




By Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Both with 5- Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch
Both with 4 -  Matt Kenneth and Joey Logano
All with 3 - Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin  

By Track
All with 4 - Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch
All with 3 - Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano

Recent Pole Winners:
2016 Rained Out
2015 Rained Out
2014 Rained Out
2013 Joey Logano

Last Year's Race Winner: Martin Truex Jr.

The Likely Suspects:  Look for these drivers to perform well: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. OK, so after Joey Logano's second place run last week I am more likely to consider him this week -- maybe.

My 2 Cents: As we begin the playoffs, remember to stick to the pick strategy you've used in the regular season. Spoilers who run well at particular tracks aren't going to stop producing just because they aren't in the playoffs. Focus on the stats with a bit of emphasis on momentum, and you should do well.

My no-brainer pick is Mr. 1.5-Mile Martin Truex Jr. (But don't tell him I called him that!) My next picks are Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.  I will complete my team with Ty Dillon and David Ragan.

My Final Four: Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson and Ty Dillon.

Points to Ponder:
  • No non-playoff driver has ever won the opening race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
  • Eleven MENCS drivers have posted Coors Light poles at Chicago, led by Jimmie Johnson with two. 
  • Three drivers have won the pole at Chicagoland Speedway as the opening race to the playoffs: Matt Kenseth (2011), Jimmie Johnson (2012) and Joey Logano (2013). For the last three seasons the qualifying sessions were cancelled due to weather; Kyle Busch started first in 2016 and 2014; Kevin Harvick started first in 2015. 
  • Five different active drivers have won the Chicago Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff races: Martin Truex Jr. (2016), Denny Hamlin (2015), Brad Keselowski (2014, 2012) and Matt Kenseth (2013). 
  • Three times the winner of the opening race of the postseason went on to win the title: 2012 (Brad Keselowski), 2011 (Tony Stewart) and 2004 (Kurt Busch).
  • Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski lead all active drivers in wins at Chicagoland with two each.
  • Kevin Harvick (2001, 2002) is the only driver to post consecutive series wins at Chicagoland Speedway.
  • Jimmie Johnson leads active drivers the series in runner-up finishes at Chicago with three, followed by Matt Kenseth with two.
  • Kevin Harvick leads active drivers in the series in top-five finishes at Chicago with eight, followed by Jimmie Johnson with seven. 
  • Jimmie Johnson leads active drivers in top-10 finishes at Chicago with 10, followed by Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick with nine each.
  • Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in average finishing position with a 9.467.
Remember, if you're playing Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing, your pick deadline is Friday, September 15, at 5 a.m. EDT.

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Fast Track Facts: Chicagoland Speedway

credit: NASCAR Media
Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL hosts the first race in this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The 1.5-mile D-shaped tri-oval will host all three of NASCAR’s top-tier series – Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Trucks – and the ARCA Racing Series, and over the years has hosted other series as well. Learn more about this week’s host in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Discussions on building a race track in the Chicago area began in late 1995. Spearheaded by Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George and International Speedway Corporation CEO Bill France Jr., a jointly-held company called The Motorsports Alliance was formed, and the search for a site began. Route 66 Raceway, a drag strip that hosts the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, was already built in the Joliet area; after impact studies were conducted, the Joliet city council unanimously approved the speedway to be built adjacent to Route 66 Raceway in Jan. 1999. Ground was broken for the speedway in Sept. 1999.
  • The speedway officially opened in July 2001, hosting NASCAR, the IndyCar Series and Indy Lights. The Verizon IndyCar Series raced at the track from 2001-2010, recording three of the five closest finishes in IndyCar history, including the closest finish ever in 2002 (0.0024 seconds, Sam Hornish Jr. over Al Unser Jr.). In addition to NASCAR’s top three series and the ARCA Racing Series, the track has also hosted the Traxxas TORC (The Off Road Championship) Series, the International Race of Champions and the USAC Silver Crown Series.
  • The inaugural Cup Series pole was won by Todd Bodine in 2001. Jimmie Johnson currently leads all competitors with two poles. The current qualifying record for the Cup Series is held by Joey Logano (189.414 mph/28.509 seconds), set in Sept. 2013.
  • The inaugural Cup Series race in 2001 at Chicagoland was won by Kevin Harvick – he also won the 2002 race, currently the only driver to post consecutive wins there. Tony Stewart leads all drivers with three victories.
  • Chicagoland Speedway is home to Champions Park, an interactive fan display in a park-like setting. Monuments honoring each of the track’s Cup and IndyCar winners can be seen throughout the area, located next to the grandstands.
  • Find out more about Chicagoland Speedway at its website, www.chicagolandspeedway.com


Monday, September 11, 2017

Travel Tips: Chicagoland Speedway – Sept. 14-17, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs kick off this weekend, Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 14-17, at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL, home of the Tales of the Turtles 400 on Sunday, Sept. 17. Joining the stars of the Cup Series will be the ARCA Racing Series on Thursday, Sept. 14, the Camping World Truck Series on Friday, Sept. 15 and the Xfinity Series on Saturday, Sept. 16.

On Wednesday, Sept. 13, downtown Joliet will host its annual Race Fan Rally from 5-10 p.m. CT. This free event will feature live music, vendors, food and beverages, driver appearances and more. Get more information on the Race Fan Rally here.

Key on-track times:

Thursday, Sept. 14 –
  • ARCA Racing Series practice – 1 p.m. CT
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 2:30 and 5:30 p.m. CT
  • ARCA Racing Series qualifying – 4:35 p.m. CT
  • ARCA Racing Series Scott 150 – 7 p.m. CT
Friday, Sept. 15 –
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 11:30 a.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series practice – 1 and 3 p.m. CT
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 4:05 p.m. CT
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 5:45 p.m. CT
  • Camping World Truck Series Chicagoland 225 – 7:30 p.m. CT
Saturday, Sept. 16 –
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice –10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 11:35 a.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series Chicagoland 300 – 2 p.m. CT
Sunday, Sept. 17 –
  • Josh Turner pre-race concert – 12:15 p.m. CT
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Tales of the Turtles 400 – 2 p.m. CT
For a complete schedule of events at the track, including driver appearances, infield Fan Zone activities and live music in Champions Park, click here.

For more race information and to purchase tickets for the Tales of the Turtles 400 weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, visit http://www.chicagolandspeedway.com/.

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Federated Auto Parts 400 Winning Crew Chief, Chad Johnston

by Stacey Owens

Whether you've prepared for weeks on end, many times a race win comes down to the final restart.

Chad Johnston, crew chief for race winner, Kyle Larson, talked about the last restart from his position on the pit box.

"Yeah, we had a pretty solid car all weekend long. We felt like going into the race, we were a third‑ to fourth‑place car. I think that's pretty much what we had for the night. The 78 definitely was faster than us and probably was the class of the field once he got 10 or 15 laps into a run. We knew our best chance was when that caution come out to be the leader off of pit road, so we put four tires and no fuel in it, which played to our handling there earlier in the race a little bit, and were able to win it off pit road. So, the pit crew guys won that race for us.

Kyle did an awesome job on his restart. That's the second one, win in a row that we've got on a late‑race restart, so really proud of him and really proud of the job that he did all day long keeping the tires on the car. We felt coming into this that Richmond is kind of one of our worst tracks, to come here and to be competitive all weekend long and to go home with a week going into Chicago is pretty special," Johnston said.

Having added no fuel, was the car lighter and looser for those last few laps of racing?

"It helps with additional nose weight, which will tighten it up on a short run. We use nose weight as far as percent of weight that's on the front tires to tighten it, so the more weight that's on the front tires, the tighter it'll be. We pumped the air up on them, too, to try to get them to come in a little bit quicker and take off a little bit better for the green‑white‑checkered, so it was to tighten it up," Johnston explained.
Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs

That apparently played right into Larson's driving style.

"We were a little bit too free on the short runs, so I think that helped. We're typically loose in, tight in the middle, loose off, which is typical Richmond for us, but we didn't fight the entry balance as much today, but on the short run it allows him to be a little bit more aggressive taking off," Johnston said.

One of the benefits of stage racing is that NASCAR has called fewer debris cautions, which has led to much longer stretches of green flag racing. How will Johnston factor those longer stretches of racing into his race prep as the playoffs begin in Chicago next weekend?

"I think the format with the different segments makes it a little bit easier because you know obviously when two of the cautions are going to come out. But as far as the debris cautions, it's definitely been a lot less this year. The one here tonight obviously wasn't a debris caution, so I think you just play it off of past history. You definitely look at it, but I don't think that you live by it. You look at what the characteristics are. Even if you go back the last five, six years, it's pretty hard to draw a distinct conclusion that a caution ‑‑ you look at the percentages and it's a 50, 60 percent chance. It's not like it's a high likelihood. But you definitely play it different based off of the racetrack that you go to and what the tire falloff is and what the probability of the caution coming out at a certain point is and what gives you your best chance to make it work in your favor and not get caught by a caution," Johnston explained.

Is short pitting a bigger factor in these kinds of races?

"Yeah, I think you see it at the places that have a lot of tire falloff or tire degradation. This place is pretty bad, you get about two seconds of falloff, so if you come in you're making up two seconds on the guys that haven't pitted. Darlington is similar; I think Chicago is going to be the same way. The repaves and stuff you don't see near the falloff. Dover you don't see a lot of falloff. But you definitely ‑‑ at the places where you get a lot of tire falloff, short pitting will definitely play a factor in it, and you're just going to have to pay attention to who you're racing to get into the next spot in the Chase and play your hand the best you can to try to finish in front of them and make points on them every week," Johnston said.

Larson has steadily been making points and expects to do the same once the playoffs begin next week. The No. 42 team, with a nod to its sponsor, clearly has set its target on a championship.


------------------------------------------
Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.
 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Kyle Larson wins final race of season; Kenseth, Elliott and McMurray make the playoffs

CREDIT: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs

By Carol D’Agostino

As the green flag waved for the Federated Auto Parts 400, all eyes were on Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Of course, there were more than a handful of fans wishing for a Cinderella finish for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Would Clint Bowyer win to get in the playoffs? Would Joey Logano take the win, and with it earn redemption for his spring encumbered win? Or would Brad Keselowski sweep the weekend?

The laps of the season closer started clicking off during long green runs when the race took an odd turn. A caution came out on Lap 255 for an incident between Danica Patrick and Austin Dillon. Then one of one of the more bizarre moments in NASCAR racing happened. Pit road opened and an ambulance was just sitting on the apron in the commitment area of pit road.

The big loser in the confusion surrounding the ambulance was Matt Kenseth, who ran into the back of the No. 14 car of Clint Bowyer. The mishap ended Kenseth’s night, after he started on the pole and led 89 laps. Bowyer was able to continue the race and finished in 24th.

In the closing laps, it looked like clear sailing for race leader Martin Truex Jr., who had the fastest car all night and took the lead on Lap 354 from Brad Keselowski. Then with 10 laps to go a caution came out when the No. 15 car of Derrick Cope hit the wall. Cars came to pit road, including Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. Larson won the race off pit road.

In the final lap of the race, Truex Jr. crashed after contact with Denny Hamlin. Truex Jr. finished 20th after leading 198 laps.

This is Larson’s fifth win in 137 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, his fourth victory and 15th top-20 finish in 2017, and his first win and second top-10 finish in eight races at Richmond Raceway.

Does Larson think he stole the win from Martin Truex Jr.?

“Yeah, we definitely stole the win, or our pit crew stole the win, because they got me off (pit road) as the leader," Larson said. "Richmond and Martinsville are probably my worst racetracks, and you can throw Loudon in there, too. Historically these styles of tracks don't suit me. I can go really fast on the short runs at all these shorter flat tracks, but it seems like I struggle on the long run, which I did tonight, but it came down to a short run, and we got the win."

The NASCAR Monster Energy Series begins the playoffs next Sunday at Chicagoland.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Fans to Experience $30 Million Richmond Raceway Reimagined in Fall 2018


By Carol D’Agostino

When race fans return to Richmond Raceway next September they'll experience a brand new Richmond, thanks to a $30 million infield redevelopment project called Richmond Raceway Reimagined. The project is a complete redesign and modernization of the Richmond infield. Construction begins next Wednesday, and includes enhanced amenities and new attractions for fans, sponsors and race teams.

The project comes on the heels of Richmond’s official announcement of a new brand identity and logo that bridges the past and the present, acknowledging Richmond Raceway’s heritage as well as its future.

One of the key enhancements is relocating Gatorade Victory Lane closer to the grandstands so fans can better experience Victory Lane celebrations with the race winners. The location will provide new fan engagement opportunities for prerace access, driver appearances and entertainment programming.

Additional components of the construction project are:
·      new garage walkways and inspection viewing areas
·      expansive infield social and engagement areas with concessions
·      80-person club experience with roof access that overlooks Gatorade Victory Lane
·      two new garage suites with a view into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garages
·      a new Media Center with broadcast booths, a conference room and hospitality space
·      a new vehicle crossover gate on the backstretch
·      a relocated tram route delivering fans closer to the front door of the track
·      a new pedestrian tunnel
·      80 new consumer RV spaces and infield drainage improvements

“Richmond Raceway Reimagined is a commitment by International Speedway Corporation to the future of the sport and the iconic racing experience in Richmond,” said Richmond Raceway President Dennis Bickmeier. “The track has been a racing destination for over 70 years, and this investment will help ensure the bright future of the facility for the next 70 years.”

Check out Richmond Raceway’s Reimagined video here. 

The 2018 fall race weekend is scheduled a couple weeks later in September (September 21 and 22) and will be part of both the NASCAR Monster Series and XFinity Series playoffs.   

Friday, September 8, 2017

Brad Keselowski wins NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond; Elliott Sadler clinches the regular season championship

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

At the beginning of this evening’s Virginia529 College Savings 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race, there were two distinct groups of drivers focused on taking the checkered flag – those with a realistic clinch scenario and those in must-win situations.

Nearly two hours and three cautions later, Brad Keselowski picked up the win: his 36th victory in 249 NASCAR Xfinity Series races, and his second victory and ninth top-10 finish in 2017. At Richmond Raceway, this is his fourth win and 10th top 10 in 17 races.

It was a relatively calm race with 224 laps of green flag racing, dominated by tire strategy and hard racing between NASCAR Monster Energy Cup drivers Kyle Busch, who started in the pole position, and race winner Brad Keselowski, who also won Stage 2 of the race.

“I wish I could explain what it is like to win a race like this where you don’t necessarily have the best car. I knew I needed every lap I had (to beat Kyle Busch). It was a thriller of a race to win,” Keselowski said.

Busch finished second and led 182 laps, posting his 19th top-10 finish in 22 races at Richmond. It is Busch’s ninth top-10 finish in 2017.

Ty Dillon finished third and won the first stage of the race, for his seventh top-10 finish in 10 races at RIR.

Daniel Hemric, the highest-finishing rookie, was fourth. Virginia native Elliott Sadler finished fifth, clinching the NASCAR XFINITY Series Regular Season Championship, which comes with 15 playoff bonus points.

Looking toward the playoffs, Sadler is focused on accumulating bonus points and maintaining the momentum he's had in the last couple months.

“The biggest thing we feel pressure about is we want to get more bonus points. I think you can get to Homestead without winning, but I think you have to win Homestead to win the championship, “ he said.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series travels to Chicago next Saturday for the Chicagoland 300.


CREDIT: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs

Joey Logano is "all in" for the do-or-die challenge at Richmond

CREDIT: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs

By Carol D’Agostino


It’s been 132 days since Joey Logano won at Richmond International Raceway -- a very long 132 days. Since the win, which was determined to be “encumbered” due to an L1-level penalty for a rear suspension violation, Logano’s No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford has lacked speed, clearly reflected in his dismal finishes: no wins and only three top 10s. In fact, his average finish since the spring Richmond race has been 21.7.

With his back against the wall, there's only one scenario for Logano to get to the NASCAR Monster Energy Series playoffs -- win tomorrow night’s Federated Auto Parts 400. He has big shoes to fill, as the last driver to sweep Richmond was Jimmie Johnson in 2007.

His mindset going into practice today was all about the win, and perhaps a little redemption.  

“We are in a do-or-die situation. Anytime you can win a race in that situation, there is no better feeling than that,” Logano said. “Returning here after our win in the spring and obviously the drama that followed, it would be very nice to be able to get back in Victory Lane and prove a point. I don’t see any reason why we can’t."

More than a few drivers will try to keep Logano out of Victory Lane though, specifically Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer. If a new driver takes the win, Elliott, Kenseth and McMurray are in danger of missing the postseason. Elliott sits 14th on the playoff grid, two points ahead of Kenseth and three points ahead of McMurray.

Like Logano, Bowyer is in a must-win situation, and Richmond is one of Bowyer’s top tracks. In 23 starts at the 0.75-mile short track, he has two wins, four top fives and 12 top 10s, with a 12.9 average finish.

Although the win represents one of the greatest challenges in his career, Logano remains optimistic.

“Obviously this is one of the toughest spots we have been as a team," he said. "We haven’t had to fight to get into the playoffs in a long time. This is a challenging position, but the spirits of the team are strong. They are ready to fight and do whatever we have to do to get into Victory Lane. I am proud of that. This is a time that shows your true character."

Logano is focused on winning Saturday's race, and not thinking about April's encumbered win.

"It happened. That is in the past," he said. "We have to keep looking out the windshield. Roger (Penske) preaches that to us all the time. What has happened, has happened, and we can't change it. We have to keep looking forward."

The No. 22 is running a special Red Cross paint scheme this weekend to draw more attention to the needs of the people affected by Hurricane Harvey. 

“I am thankful for Shell for giving the car to the American Red Cross in this time of need," Logano said. "We saw what happened down in the Houston area and the devastation that is there, and also looking in the future in the next few days in Florida and what could possibly happen there. Obviously we need all hands on deck."

Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET and will broadcast on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

CREDIT: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs






Thursday, September 7, 2017

TV Schedule: Sept. 8-9

Richmond International Raceway: Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
By Rebecca Kivak

NASCAR heads to Richmond International Raceway, the last race of the regular season. It will determine which 16 drivers will compete for the championship in the 10-race playoffs.

The Monster Energy and XFINITY Series take to the short track. The Camping World Truck Series is on a break until next week at Chicagoland.

The following is a handy guide to following along the on-track action at Richmond. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Sept. 8:
8 a.m. XFINITY Series practice, NBC Sports App
10 a.m. Monster Energy Cup Series practice, NBCSN
11 a.m. Whelen Modified Series: Toyota Mod Classic 150, NBCSN
12 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series final practice, NBCSN
4 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying at Richmond, NBCSN
5:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN
7 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green: Richmond, NBCSN
7:30 p.m. XFINITY Series: Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond, NBCSN
10 p.m. XFINITY Series Post Race, NBCSN

Saturday, Sept. 9:
3:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay: Richmond, FS1
7 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Countdown to Green: Richmond, NBCSN
7:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series: Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond, NBCSN
11 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Post Race, NBCSN
11:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond



by Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Brad Keselowski - 4
All with 3 - Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth

By Track
Joey Logano - 8
Kurt Busch - 7
All with 6 - Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth     
Both with 5 - Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski
All with 4 -Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson and 
Clint Bowyer  

Recent Pole Winners:
2016 Denny Hamlin
2015 Joey Logano

Last Year's Race Winner: Denny Hamlin

The Likely Suspects: As the regular season draws to a close, the drama will intensify. Your fantasy picks this week will be an interesting concoction of part desperados and part elite, making for an interesting night race on Saturday. Look for these drivers to run well: Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer usually run well here, but this season I am not as confident in their potential performances.

My 2 Cents: My no brainer pick this week is Kevin Harvick. My next choices are Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola. I'll complete my team with Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez.

My Final Four: Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Michael McDowell.

Points to Ponder:
  • The pole starting position is the most proficient starting spot in the field, producing more winners than any other at Richmond (24). 
  • Denny Hamlin leads all active drivers in poles at Richmond with three (2006, 2008 and 2016).
  • Petty Enterprises has the most wins at Richmond in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with 15, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing with 12, Hendrick Motorsports with 10, and Richard Childress Racing with nine.
  • More than three-quarters (96 of 122) of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup races at Richmond Raceway have been won from a top-10 starting position.
  • Only five active MENCS drivers have won from the pole: Kasey Kahne (2005), Jimmie Johnson (2007), Kyle Busch (2010), Brad Keselowski (2014) and Denny Hamlin (2016). 
  • Kyle Busch leads all active drivers in the MENCS in average finishing position at Richmond International Raceway with a 7.333 as well as in runner-up finishes, top-five finishes and top-10 finishes.
  • Trailing Kyle Busch in runner-up finishes are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman with two each, while Kevin Harvick (12) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10) follow Kyle in top-five finishes.
  • Kevin Harvick leads all active drivers in top-10 finishes at Richmond with 21, followed by Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman (17 each).
Remember, if you're playing Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing, your pick deadline is Friday, September 8, at 5 a.m. EDT.

I'll be covering the race weekend at Richmond for Skirts and Scuffs. Check back for my articles and visit our Facebook page to see my photos.

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Fast Facts: Austin Cindric

Austin Cindric in victory lane at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park
credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Recent high school graduate Austin Cindric can add another accomplishment to his 2017 resume: Camping World Truck Series winner. Learn more about the Truck Series’ most recent first-time winner in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Austin Cindric was born Sept. 2, 1998 in Columbus, OH. His family has been heavily involved in auto racing, particularly in IndyCars: his father, Tim, is the president of Team Penske and strategist for driver Will Power; his grandfather, Jim Trueman, is a former IndyCar team owner and founder of hotel chain Red Roof Inn.
  • Cindric began his racing career in Legends and Bandolero cars after his family moved to North Carolina. He moved into the USF2000 National Championship in 2013 and 2014 after attending Skip Barber Racing School and also competed in Historic SportsCar Racing. Cindric also competed in Global RallyCross Lites in 2014 and won a bronze medal at XGames Austin the same year.
  • In 2015, Cindric competed full-time in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge while also making his debut in the ARCA Racing Series and the Truck Series. Cindric won the CTSCC race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park that July, becoming the series’ youngest winner at age 16. In 2016, he raced in the Pirelli World Challenge, the K&N Pro Series East, the Truck Series and the ARCA Racing Series, picking up his first ARCA win at Kentucky Speedway.
  • For the 2017 season, Cindric is racing full-time in the Truck Series for Brad Keselowski Racing, and picked up his first career win at CTMP on Sept. 3. He also made his Xfinity Series debut for Team Penske at Road America in August, finishing 16th, and will make his Global RallyCross Supercar debut in Seattle, WA in September with Bryan Herta Rallysport.
  • Follow Austin Cindric on his Facebook page for up-to-date information.


Monday, September 4, 2017

Travel Tips: Richmond International Raceway – Sept. 8-9, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
The drama of one last race to make the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs happens this weekend, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 8-9, at Richmond International Raceway, home of the Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday night, Sept. 9 and the Xfinity Series Virginia529 College Savings 250 on Friday night, Sept. 8.

Fans in town early can check out the “Rally in the Alley,” a pro-celebrity bowling tournament to support the RVA Field of Dreams Fest at the Richmond Raceway Old Dominion Building on Thurs., Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. ET. Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are currently scheduled to appear (subject to change); teams will feature a NASCAR celebrity, a local Richmond personality, a Professional Women’s Bowling Association pro bowler and a sponsor representative. General admission tickets for fans are $25 and VIP tickets are $100 – find out more here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Sept. 8 –
  • Xfinity Series practice – 8 a.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 10 a.m. and noon ET
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 4:15 p.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 5:45 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series Virginia 529 College Savings 250 – 7:30 p.m. ET
Saturday, Sept. 9 –
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 – 7:30 p.m. ET
Find the complete weekend schedule here.

For updated information for race weekend and to purchase tickets visit www.richmondraceway.com

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Bojangles Southern 500 Winning Crew Chief, Mike Wheeler

by Stacey Owens

Wheels has a wheelman at the wheel.

After the race, crew chief Mike Wheeler talked about how well his team and his driver performed, despite the mistake Denny Hamlin made in missing the entrance to pit road, which cost him 10 seconds off the leaders.

"The race played out very fortunate for us. We didn't really struggle too much. We ran top 5 all night. The guys did a really good job on pit road. We were doing well. I'm proud of the fact that we had good speed and Denny was able to run up front. I was getting a little nervous that the 78 looked a little faster. So we're going to just keep battling and try to get him at the end, then it came down to strategy. Tried to make sure we made not the wrong call, so we were doing our numbers, and I seen [sic] everybody else pitting, and ultimately just made sure we tried to give our driver the best chance to win, even though it might not work in our favor.
           
"I didn't think once he missed pit road we had a great chance anymore. I knew he gave up 10 seconds on the leaders, and ultimately as much as I was trying to coach him to get mad and get even with everyone else, I knew it was hard to make up 10 seconds over one stint, but I'm proud of the fact that the car was that fast. Denny is obviously a wheel man here. If you don't win here with Denny, you probably didn't have a good enough car. Seeing him coming from 10 seconds back in one stint, I was really happy with that effort, and I knew we probably had the fastest car," Wheeler said.

That pit road mistake didn't set well with Wheeler. In fact, he was just plain mad.
 
"I was mad. You know, it's one of those things, I try to stay focused on what's going on, forward and not what just happened. I saw we ran a 41-second lap and I know that's hard to overcome when we're trying to do math on one and two seconds of sequences and pit stop gains. But I noticed when we came out that the 41 and 78 were battling each other pretty hard and losing a half second a lap doing that, so I knew that as long as they were battling that hard and hurting their tires, they were going to be in trouble to make it the whole distance without falling off really hard. We got within 10 seconds, and I'm like, 'Okay, we should be leading right now,' but we still had about 35 to go, and I'm like, 'We've got a long time to go.' About 20 to go, we were within like five seconds, we were on a break-even with the leaders, but once we got within 15, I realized as much as Denny was pushing it, Truex was falling off even harder than he ever had all night.

"Seeing that, it was like, just keep trying to feed Denny information and get him to get up on it, and it went from a tenth or two a lap to four tenths a lap, and I knew the math would work out that we could win by two seconds. I thought we gave it up when some lapped car got in the way, and Denny gave him a big punt. I was hoping they'd let us race it out, but fortunately Truex had to push harder than he probably needed to and hurt his tires and ended up in the fence, and we drove by," Wheeler explained.


Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Toward the end of a race, strategy has to be flexible. Wheels talked about the fluidity of his plans.

"Yeah, that's a good way to put it, definitely fluid. It's difficult because you can't go on last year's notes and lap times to see where you should be. Truthfully, I noticed early in the race, I believe it was end of segment 2, where Denny and Truex were definitely the best long-run cars. It was about 56 laps they were going on tires and a couple guys were dropping the anchor, and Denny and Truex were running them down, and it was apparent that our tire wear was great, or it looked better than the field. You heard comments about guys having cords and all that kind of stuff, and Denny managed his stuff well, and we worked separate on it, too -- but Denny manages his stuff very well. Yeah, I won't say anything else.
           
"So you know, the last stint when we were running top two or -- yeah, I think we were leading. I knew the moment the 78 short pitted us we could not come back around and be ahead of him. That caught us off guard earlier. We were going to pit in like two or three laps. I followed suit early in the race, and we came up behind him because you lose three or four seconds of a lap time here. So I knew our best option was not bite on the other guy short pitting that thing because they short pitted the stint by 10 or 15 laps. Some guys were going two laps and we were going to do one stop.
           
"It was painful to do, and I'm glad it worked out in our favor, but I made sure we just stayed diligent on our numbers and make sure -- when Denny was in clean air he was able to run good lap times on long runs, but I knew mathematically it should work out if the cautions don't fall or fall in our favor.  I thought we were in trouble when we lost 10 seconds there, but ultimately I knew the other guys were going to have to save their tires to make the last 10 laps, and it worked out in our favor," Wheeler said.

Fans who have become accustomed to seeing lots of cautions may have been surprised when they realized that this Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway was the first race in 11 years that ended with more than 100 laps of consecutive green-flag racing.

Was Wheeler concerned about what to do if the caution flag came out?

"I think  a lot of the races go green now with the stages falling out the way they do and NASCAR letting things race out. It's great to see because it makes its own story lines. So as much as I thought someone might hit the fence, spin out, blow a tire, I knew we shouldn't try to call a race on that.  Ultimately you try to make sure that you position yourself to go the distance the best you can. Yeah, sometimes it doesn't go your way, but I wasn't going to take it away from us. I knew we had a good enough car and obviously a great enough driver, but I wanted to make sure we gave him a full opportunity to make the best long run car and driver and get there at the end.

"You know, you just can't use last year's data before the race. Someone said it's very fluid. It is, and we were calculating data live on the pit box, and I've got two young engineers that we've been together for three races now, so I'm really proud of that effort because they weren't wrong, they were right. But that big hiccup, it would have not shown up, but for him to come that far back as quickly as he did, it was pretty impressive," Wheeler said.

Hamlin is impressive. He's also the active driver with the most wins who doesn't have a championship title. The playoffs begin in a couple of weeks, and it's a sure bet that Hamlin and Wheeler will seek to change that fact, and be the first duo to hoist the new Monster Energy Series championship trophy.


------------------------------------------
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; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.