Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fast Track Facts: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

credit: NASCAR Media
The NASCAR Xfinity Series visits three road courses during a span of four upcoming races, the second of which is Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, located just outside of Lexington, OH. Learn more about this versatile course in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Mid-Ohio opened in 1962 as a 15-turn, 2.4-mile course; it was sold in 1982 to Jim Trueman, the founder of Red Roof Inns, and significant upgrades were made to the facility. In 1990, the track itself was refurbished, including the addition of a new straightaway that created a second layout of 13 turns and 2.258 miles. Another track renovation in 2006 led to a third potential configuration.
  • Mid-Ohio hosts four major events each year spanning a variety of motorsports. In addition to the Xfinity Series race, the Verizon IndyCar Series, the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association and the American Motorcyclist Association also host weekends at the track. The IndyCar Series has raced at the track since 2007, while the Xfinity Series began racing at Mid-Ohio in 2013.
  • The Xfinity Series race takes place on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile course and has had four different winners in its four years: A.J. Allmendinger (2013), Chris Buescher (2014), Regan Smith (2015) and Justin Marks (2016). Sam Hornish Jr. has earned two pole positions (2014 and 2016) in Xfinity competition, including a track-record in 2016 of 96.374 mph.
  • Learn more about the track and its events at www.midohio.com

Travel Tips: Pocono Raceway – July 28-30, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is joined by the Camping World Truck Series and ARCA Racing Series during its second trip to the “The Tricky Triangle,” Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, Friday through Sunday, July 28-30, for the Overton’s 400 weekend.

Pocono Raceway FanFest will be held on Friday from 5:30-8:30 p.m. ET, currently featuring nine Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, including Daniel Suarez, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Larson, and Ryan Blaney (subject to change). Find out more about entry into the event here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, July 28 –
  • ARCA Racing Series practice – 9 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – noon and 2 p.m. ET
  • ARCA Racing Series qualifying – 1 p.m. ET
  • ARCA Racing Series ModSpace 150 – 4 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 29
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 9 and 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 10 a.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Overton’s 150 – 1 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 30
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton's 400 – 3 p.m. ET
Find out more about the event and purchase tickets at www.poconoraceway.com

Monday, July 24, 2017

Travel Tips: Iowa Speedway – July 28-29, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
NASCAR’s Xfinity Series and K&N Pro Series East and West head back to Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa, for the U.S. Cellular 250 weekend, taking place Friday and Saturday, July 28-29.

The NAPA Auto Parts Concert Series will feature Grand Funk Railroad on Friday night after the K&N Pro Series race, while the post-race party on Saturday will feature Party! Party! The Ultimate Karaoke Band.

Key on-track times:

Friday, July 28 –
  • K&N Pro Series practice –2 and 3:15 p.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series practice – 4 and 5:30 p.m. CT
  • K&N Pro Series qualifying – 5 p.m. CT
  • K&N Pro Series Casey’s General Stores 150 presented by Vatterott College – 7:30 p.m. CT
Saturday, July 29 –
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 11:05 a.m. CT
  • Xfinity Series U.S. Cellular 250 presented by American Ethanol – 2:30 p.m. CT
Visit www.iowaspeedway.com for more information on the weekend and to purchase tickets.

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Records Brickyard 400 Winning Crew Chief, Keith Rodden

by Stacey Owens

Every victory means something to a race team. But according to crew chief, Keith Rodden, for the No. 5 Farmers Insurance team led by driver Kasey Kahne, the Brickyard 400 win is a bit of a moral victory.

"I think it's probably one of the sweetest races you can win. Obviously Indianapolis is a huge racetrack, ton of history here. Every time you turn in, get to the museum, you're like, 'Oh, man.' Just so cool to be here and be able to experience it.
           
"Obviously it's a huge, huge win for us. It's not just about the 5 team.  I mean, it's a huge win for everyone at Hendrick Motorsports. Incredibly proud of all the men and women there, whether it's the chassis shop, engine shop, everyone is working together closer than they ever have.
           
"It's all about coming together and making it where we all run first through fourth every week. We all know that's idealistic and it might not always happen, but that's our goal.

"I think it's a huge moral victory for him [Kahne] and everyone on our team.  He does an incredible job. I don't think he gets near the credit that he deserves," Rodden said.

Rodden talked about how his crew and driver worked well throughout the long afternoon.

"Today was a big day. We always talk about how much bad luck we have really as a company, but definitely on the 5 car.  Sometimes you make your own luck, sometimes things happen that are completely out of your control. Today was one of those things where we made a decision to alter our pit strategy a little bit.
           
"When it was time to pit, they all wrecked, all four. Thankfully everyone is okay. But that led to us being able to leave pit road with four fresh tires and enough fuel. When everyone pitted in front of us, we took the lead, were able to control the series of the restarts that started happening. Really good day for everybody. Super proud of everybody," Rodden explained.

Rodden is obviously a big fan of his driver and continued to defend Kahne's talent.

"I think today we caught a break. At the same time, he had to defend everyone else that was left in the race and have really good restarts three times in a row. Ultimately, restarted second and won the race.  I think that says a lot to his talent and his ability. I was really glad that happened...honestly, I feel like he comes to the track prepared every week. First practice here on Saturday morning, we were the fastest car -- we weren't the fastest car on the long run, but we were the fastest car taking off in race trim. We ran some really good laps. We were definitely a top-five car right off the truck in race trim," Rodden said.

Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
As Silly Season keeps rolling along, much speculation has been made about the status of the No. 5 team as part of the Hendrick Motorsports stable. Has Rodden discussed with team owner Rick Hendrick who his driver will be for the 2018 season?

"I don't worry about any of that. All I worry about is our race team, keeping all the guys focused and ready, frankly, for an opportunity like this to present itself, right? You can't take one minute off, can't take one second off, can't lose focus at all.
           
"Through our career, there's always been a lot of speculation. For me, working at Team Hendrick, it's been very stable. It's really nice. But when you're not winning races, not getting the job done, I think you have your own answer.
            
"I don't really worry about it. All I keep worrying about is keeping the guys focused and motivated each week, and have it where they show up ready to do their jobs. Our road crew works so, so hard.  Everybody knows about the 16-and-a-half-hour day yesterday. They just killed it, did an incredible job. They all have great, great attitudes. Our pit crew is really, really good. They're super strong.
           
"I can't wait to start running up front more and more and more, and let those guys show off their ability, as well," Rodden explained.

The win, the team's first in 102 races, came after an incredibly long afternoon and evening. Rodden discussed the day's events in the post-race media conference.

"We had a race a few years ago at Daytona that kind of started and stopped, restarted later.
           
"But there's lots of twists. Like I said, we just had to try to figure out a way to do something different and try to end up in front, and that's what we did. We definitely turned the luck around a little bit.  We still had to win the race, and Kasey did that. So did a great job. 

"One thing that did keep happening, it seemed like every time we would pit and put on sticker tires, the caution would come out. It's like you had like a little mini heat cycle in the tires. We just run stickers here for our car this weekend, we were freer.
           
"It's kind of hard because you don't know how to adjust. You're staying out for track position. Really to me the heat cycles on the tires over and over, some of those runs, kind of gave us a little bit of a bad idea on what the car was doing.
         
"But otherwise, just getting the track position and getting up front. I mean, you're just so, so much faster. That was probably the best thing that helped our car," Rodden explained.

Though the No. 5 team has run well in recent races, they haven't had the finishes they probably deserved. Rodden talked about how they've handled the rough patches.

"Yeah, we've had a little bit of a rough stretch. You just have to keep communicating, whether it's me and Kasey or everybody on the team, keep everyone prepared. I don't want to keep repeating the same stuff, but that's really the thing. That's my job. My job is to lead the team, keep them ready, understand at any moment this sport is crazy and anything can happen to put you into position to win. There we were on the biggest stage, executed and got the job done.
           
"As far as his passion, he's really quiet. Just because you're quiet doesn't mean you don't want it. You don't need to scream and shout and stuff either. I think channeling your emotions correctly.
           
"I was giving our spotter a little bit of advice on the last restart, like, 'Don't yell at him, he knows what he needs to do.' We'd look at some stuff a lot, we know a lot about one another, we know what motivates each other. Yelling at him, telling him, 'C'mon, let's do it, get a good one,' that's not going to work.
           
"I think we did all the right stuff. He executed an incredible restart at the end, so..."

Doing all the right stuff has earned Kahne a spot in the playoffs. Will it be enough, though, to maintain his spot in the No. 5 car for next season?

------------------------------------------
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.



            

Friday, July 21, 2017

Silly Season picks up speed: Five Questions for Indianapolis

Alex Bowman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Texas Motor Speedway, November 2016
credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs

by Lisa Janine Cloud

Kristen Schneider is on the road this week, so she graciously consented to allow me to step in and ask five questions that are burning a hole in my brain. Thanks, Kristen, I hope you had fun at Eldora!

Speaking of Eldora, congratulations to Matt Crafton, who piloted the No. 88 Menard’s Toyota Tundra to a Stage 1 win and then his first Eldora Dirt Derby victory. Moonlighting in dirt late models the last few years finally paid off with that coveted Golden Shovel trophy Wednesday night.

The No. 88 was in the news for another reason today as a major domino fell in the maze that’s this year’s Silly Season. Hendrick Motorsports revealed that Alex “The Showman” Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind the wheel of the No. 88 Nationwide/Axalta Chevy in 2018, to the delight of Bowman’s growing cadre of fans. The move isn’t a huge surprise given Junior’s endorsement of the young driver, but until the announcement was official, speculation ran wild about who would get that call.

That speculation leads us to the actual questions for this week.

Where will Matt Kenseth land when the Silly Season music stops? With the No. 88’s seat filled, Kenseth’s down one option for 2018. He could still land in an HMS ride if Mr. H. buys out the final year of Kasey Kahne’s  contract. Perhaps he’ll fit in with the other champions at Stewart-Haas Racing, if Danica Patrick hangs up her helmet. Furniture Row is a possibility as well, but at this point it’s all just speculation.

Can Bowman build better chemistry with crew chief Greg Ives than Junior had with Ives? 
Let’s be real here. Regardless of what Junior said out of the car about his relationship with Ives, if you’ve listened to the 88 scanner during a race, you know that the two just never gelled. At first soft-spoken Ives seemed, to this listener at least, to be intimidated by Earnhardt Jr. He didn’t instinctively know what to stay to calm his driver the way Steve Letarte did. When Bowman drove the No. 88 last season during Junior’s absence, he and Ives seemed to communicate well. Those were special circumstances, though, so it remains to be seen whether Bowman and Ives click long-term.

Will restrictor plates and aero ducts make the Xfinity race at the Brickyard watchable?
Per NASCAR, the Xfinity cars package for Indianapolis Motor Speedway features a ⅞ inch restrictor plate like the ones used at Daytona and Talladega, aero ducts on the lower front bumper area, and a taller spoiler-splitter combination. Seems rather complicated to me, and I’m not sure how restrictor plates will affect racing the corners of a flat track designed for open-wheel cars -- but at this point, it can’t get much worse, can it? The chances of NASCAR stock cars racing at Lucas Oil Raceway again are essentially nonexistent, so why not give plate racing a chance?

Can Kyle Busch break his winless streak and put his name in the history books at Indianapolis Motor Speedway? The No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing will feature the Skittles livery this weekend, as Busch attempts to put his team in the history books as the first to win three consecutive Brickyard 400s. Jimmie Johnson leads active drivers with four Ws, two back-to-back. Jeff Gordon leads all drivers with five wins spread across 20 years, 1994 - 2014. But no driver in ANY regular touring series has ever won three races in a row at the hallowed Brickyard: not AJ Foyt, not Rick Mears, not Helio Castroneves. Only Mark Martin in the IROC Series won three consecutive times at Indy. With JGR on the rise again, as evidenced by Denny Hamlin taking the checkers at Loudon, perhaps Rowdy will be trying to get Brexton to kiss the bricks on Sunday.

Will another first-time winner complicate the playoff picture? Whether it’s a first-time-this-season winner or another first-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup winner, a different face in Victory Lane this weekend will stretch everyone’s nerves almost to breaking. Drivers such as Kyle Busch and Kenseth were expected to take a trophy or two this season, but haven’t yet done so. Joey Logano has a win, but it’s encumbered and doesn’t really count for anything. Junior’s had some flashes of potential, but nothing that would signal a win is imminent. Meanwhile, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez lurk near the front week in and week out. It’s not a matter of if they’ll win, but when. Where better to get that first trophy than the prestigious Brickyard?

Tune in to NBCSN on Saturday, Jul 22 at 3:30 PM E.T. for the Xfinity Series Lilly Diabetes 250 and on Sunday at 3:30 PM E.T. for the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400.



TV Schedule: July 21-23

Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
By Rebecca Kivak

NASCAR heads to the mecca of auto racing, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. When all is said and done at the famed Brickyard, who'll kiss the bricks?

The Monster Energy and XFINITY Series take to the track this weekend. The Camping World Truck Series got down and dirty in the dirt at Eldora on Wednesday.

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

Friday, July 21:
6 p.m. K&N Pro East Series: United Site Services 70, NBCSN

Saturday, July 22:
7:30 a.m. Camping World Truck Series: Eldora 150, FS2 (re-air)
9 a.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Practice, CNBC
11 a.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Final Practice, CNBC
12:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN
2 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Final Practice, NBCSN (re-air)
3 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series: Lilly Diabetes 250, NBCSN
6 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN

Sunday, July 23:
12:30 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
2 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBC
2:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series: Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400, NBC
6 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN
6:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN
11 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Trackin' Trucks: Matt Crafton Snaps Winless Streak at Eldora

Matt Crafton celebrates his win at Eldora.
Credit: Sean Gardner

by Courtney Horn

Matt Crafton soared ahead of Stewart Friesen on a late-race restart that helped him pull into Victory Lane for the first time in 27 races while earning his first Eldora Dirt Derby 150 win at Eldora Speedway.

Crafton secured the Stage 1 win Wednesday night, hung around in the top ten during the second stage, and quietly made his way back to the front with 40 laps to go to battle with Friesen, who had the dominant truck of the night.  

"My first dirt win! A lot of fun," Crafton said, "In the second part of that race we downright just stunk. It was my fault. We over-tightened it a little bit in the first run. It got free and we just went back to the way we started the race.

"I knew I was getting beat down low. Finally, at the end, I said, 'Well, we may have to tear the right side off to get the win.' I started doing it and this truck became a rocket ship."

Friesen led the first 33 laps of the night before Crafton took the lead at the end of Stage 1. The first stage ended under caution after Christopher Bell spun and suffered significant damage after Kaz Grala made contact with the right side of the No. 4 Toyota.

A multi-truck wreck on Lap 42 collected Max Johnston, Korbin Forrister, and ended the day of ThorSport Racing’s Ben Rhodes. Rhodes finished 30th and sits seventh in the NCWTS points standings.

Friesen earned the Stage 2 win over Ty Dillon, but Friesen was forced to pit unexpectedly during the Stage 2 break for a right-front tire that appeared to be going down.

Friesen restarted sixth and regained the lead on Lap 115. He led the most laps of the night, but the veteran Crafton in the No. 88 Menard’s Toyota took advantage of the top lane of the race track and was able to resume the lead for the final time with 17 to go.

Chase Briscoe, Grant Enfinger, and John Hunter Nemechek rounded out the top five, while Bobby Pierce finished sixth.

A Look Ahead
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Pocono Raceway on Saturday, June 29, 2017, at 1 p.m. ET. Only three races remain before the playoffs begin.

Bell looks for his fourth win of the season after finishing ninth at Eldora. A good run at Pocono can help the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver close the seven-point gap in the series regular points standings, where Johnny Sauter holds the lead. 

Ryan Truex sits eighth in points after a 20th place finish, a good run at Pocono can solidify his chances at making the playoffs for the first time.

Don’t miss the truck series on July 29th at 1 p.m. ET on FOX.

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Brickyard 400

By Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Kyle Busch - 5
All with 4 - Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano
All with 3 - Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr.

By Track
All with 4 - Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano
All with 3 - Kyle Larson. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick

Recent Pole Winners:
2016 Kyle Busch
2015 Carl Edwards

Last Year's Race Winner: Kyle Busch

The Likely Suspects: It's best not to overthink Indy. Stick with the drivers that consistently perform well, and you should rack up the points. My Indy elites include Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin,  Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard.

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick this week is a tie between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. My next picks are Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman. I will complete my team with Landon Cassill and Michael McDowell.

My Final Four: Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Landon Cassill.

Points to Ponder:
  • Hendrick Motorsports leads the series in wins at Indianapolis in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with nine, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing (five) and Richard Childress Racing (three).
  • Four different manufacturers have won at Indianapolis, led by Chevrolet with 16 victories, followed by Ford (three), Toyota (two), Dodge and Pontiac each have one. Chevrolet won 12 straight races from 2003-2014.
  • Jimmie Johnson leads all active series drivers in wins with four.
  • Jimmie Johnson (2008-09) and Kyle Busch (2015-16) are the only two drivers that have posted consecutive MENCS wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 
  • 19 drivers have won Coors Light poles at Indianapolis. Among active drivers, Kevin Harvick has the most poles with two.
  • The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing four winners -- more than any other starting position at Indianapolis.   
  • Six of the 23 (26.1%) Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Indianapolis have been won from the front row: four from the pole and two from second place.
  • 15 of the 23 (65.2%) MENCS races at Indianapolis have been won from a top-10 starting position.
  • Matt Kenseth leads all active drivers in top-five finishes at IMS with eight and in top-10 finishes with 11.
  • Kyle Busch leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in average finishing position at Indianapolis with a 9.000.  
  • Among active drivers, Matt Kenseth leads the series in runner-up finishes at Indianapolis with three, followed by Kyle Busch with two.  
Remember, if you're playing Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing, your pick deadline is Friday, July 22nd at 5 a.m. EDT.

Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter @purplecatpr.
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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Fast Track Facts: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

credit: NASCAR Media
Long known as the hub of open-wheel racing, Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted its first NASCAR Cup Series race in 1994. Learn about the famed “Brickyard” and its NASCAR history in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • “Indy” opened in 1909 and hosted the first Indy 500 in 1911. The 2.5-mile rectangular oval has permanent seating for more than 235,000 spectators, and infield seating can raise the total to approximately 400,000.
  • The rectangular-shaped track is banked to 9.2-degrees in the turns and flat in the straightaways. The all-time one-lap speed record was set by Arie Luyendyk in 1996 in an IndyCar (237.498 mph). The NASCAR track qualifying record was set by Kevin Harvick in July 2014 (188.889 mph).
  • Jeff Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 – he holds records as the youngest driver to win the race (23 years, two days), the driver with the most wins in the Brickyard 400 (five – 1994, 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2014) and the driver with the most poles for the race (three). The oldest winner of the Brickyard 400 is Bill Elliott, who was 46 years, 300 days old when he won the race in 2002.
  • An Xfinity Series race was added to the weekend schedule in 2012; Kyle Busch has won three of the five Xfinity Series races, including the last two (2013, 2015 and 2016).
  • 16 drivers have competed in both the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400: A.J. Allmendinger, John Andretti, Geoff Brabham, Kurt Busch, Patrick Carpentier, A.J. Foyt, Larry Foyt, Robby Gordon, Sam Hornish Jr., Jason Leffler, Max Papis, Danica Patrick, Scott Pruett, Tony Stewart, Danny Sullivan, and J.J. Yeley. In addition, Scott Speed competed in the Brickyard 400 and the Formula One United States Grand Prix, and Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve competed in the Indy 500, the Brickyard 400 and the F1 race.
  • Find out more about the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Records Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Travel Tips: Indianapolis Motor Speedway – July 21-23, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
The Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Records Brickyard 400 on Sunday, July 23 highlights the annual NASCAR weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Friday through Sunday, July 21-23. The Xfinity Series joins the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for the weekend, competing in the Lilly Diabetes 250 on Saturday, July 22.

On Friday, July 21 from 4:30-8 p.m. ET, the annual Hauler Parade heads down Main St. in Speedway, Indiana, a free event that is now part of “Fan Fest.” The parade itself begins at 6 p.m. ET at Allison Transmission, and the event will feature a number of NASCAR drivers, including (subject to change) Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott among others. The weekend now also includes 400 Fest, a two-night concert scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Find out more about both events here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, July 21 –
  • Xfinity Series practice – 1 and 3 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 22
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 9 and 11 a.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 12:45 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series Lilly Diabetes 250 – 3:49 p.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 6:15 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 23
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Records Brickyard 400 – 2:49 p.m. ET
Find a complete schedule of events for the weekend here.

Purchase tickets and learn more about the historic track at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Overton's 301 Winning Crew Chief, Michael Wheeler

by Stacey Owens

Some days, things just don't go your way. Other days, things work out better than you'd expect. The No. 11 team experienced both of those days this weekend.

Crew chief Michael Wheeler talked about the team's difficulties that ultimately led to their first victory of the season.

"We've been working our butts off all year long, and this weekend is another one of those testaments where we wrecked the primary car on Friday and had to double down and get to work. The guys in the team, guys in the shop, they really worked their butts off to get here. We weren't the fastest car all race long. We had a top-five car. There was probably one or two guys a little bit faster, but we were in contention all day and made it happen," Wheeler said.

The Joe Gibbs Racing teams have watched, along with every other team, how well the Furniture Row Racing team led by Martin Truex Jr. have performed this season. Those JGR teams, however, watch with a bit more scrutiny since they share an alliance with Furniture Row. This past Friday, Kyle Busch talked about how frustrating it's been to watch Truex succeed with the same equipment the JGR teams use but had yet to find Victory Lane. Kyle Busch wasn't the only frustrated one at JGR.

"Yeah, there's moments where you're frustrated and there's moments where you're actually motivated," said Wheeler. "They've been a great car for the last few years before they were with us, and now that they're with us, they're better. But at the same point, we've learned stuff from them, too, watching them, seeing how they're doing, and they're beating the field, not just us. So when they beat us and they beat the field, it's like, okay, they're the best car.
         
"You know, we've been getting closer and closer. They won last week; we finished top five. There's no shame in that. It's made us all work a little harder and made us realize what's most important. We're getting better every week, and I'm really happy about that. As much as we're climbing the hill, fortunately, we're starting to peak at the right time, and I think come playoff time, we'll be right there," Wheeler explained.
Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

Wheeler is a Long Island native and could consider New Hampshire Motor Speedway his home track. As well as JGR teams have run in New Hampshire in recent years, it must feel good to go home again. Denny Hamlin talked a bit about JGR's dominance of the one-mile track. 

"Well, I think it probably started with Tony Stewart many, many years ago. I watched him many times get around this racetrack, and the track has changed a lot over the years. The cars have changed. But just kind of being a student to the game and seeing what all he's done. He was a great leader, and really, I think, when I got to drive his car at Richmond in my rookie year during a test and kind of felt what he thought was a good short track package, I just kind of levitated to that ever since I got in a race car on a short track, and I think it's raised all of our games. Really the short tracks and flat tracks weren't really Kyle's forte.
           
"We worked together so much now over the last few years, he's really good if not exceeded beyond that. Matt has came in and been dominant at this racetrack and so we look at him and look at his notes, and so I think it's just kind of a feeding off of all the good things that have happened here, and everyone is just working off of that and getting better," Hamlin explained. 

Wheeler agreed with his driver, "Yeah, like Denny said, once you get a package here that works good and you understand why, it's easy to kind of duplicate over time, do different tire changes and aero changes. It might take a race or two to get it back, but once the drivers get a good feel for what it takes to get around here, get in the corner, get off the corner, you can go year in, year out and try to get that same feel for them again. Just really at all the tracks, they're intermediate and they know what it takes to make a car go fast around the track; give them that feel the next time you go back there is what you try to search for." 

This win marked the first win for Hamlin in roughly 20 races. Though the team has run well, they just haven't been able to seal the deal until now. Is Wheeler relieved?

Wheeler affirmed that getting to victory lane provided "a big sigh of relief."

Hamlin's fans are breathing those same sighs of relief.

------------------------------------------
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, July 16, 2017

Travel Tips: Eldora Speedway – July 18-19, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
The Camping World Truck Series returns to Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, OH for the fifth annual Eldora Dirt Derby on Wednesday, July 19. The event is the only dirt track race on any of NASCAR’s three national series schedules. Also on the schedule are the Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modifieds. The historic clay oval is owned by three-time Cup Series champ Tony Stewart.

Among the out-of-series drivers on the entry list for the race: Ken Schrader, who won the pole for the inaugural race; fan favorite Rico Abreu and last year’s pole sitter Bobby Pierce.

Key on-track times:

Tuesday, July 18 –
  • Spectator gates open at 3 p.m. ET
  • Super DIRTcar Big-Block qualifying – 6 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 7 and 9 p.m. ET
  • Super DIRTcar Big-Block heat races – 8:15 p.m. ET
  • Super DIRTcar Big-Block feature – 10:15 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 19 –
  • Spectator gates open at noon ET
  • Super DIRTcar Big-Block practice – 4:45 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 5 p.m. ET
  • Super DIRTcar Big-Block heat races – 6:30 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series heat races – 7:30 p.m. ET
  • Super DIRTcar Big-Block feature – 8:25 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Last Chance race – 8:45 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Eldora Dirt Derby (150 laps) – 9:30 p.m. ET
Find out more about the race and the track, and purchase tickets for the event at www.eldoraspeedway.com

Saturday, July 15, 2017

TV Schedule: July 15-16

Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
By Rebecca Kivak

NASCAR heads to New Hampshire, the Magic Mile, for the feel of short-track racing. The Monster Energy and XFINITY series take to the short oval.

The Monster Energy Series held qualifying Friday. Kyle Larson won the pole, but was stripped of the top starting spot after his No. 42 Chevrolet failed post-qualifying inspection. Martin Truex Jr. will instead start first in Sunday's race.

The Camping World Truck Series is off this week but returns Wednesday for the sole dirt-track race of the year at Eldora Speedway.

The following is a handy guide to track events and television coverage for the rest of the weekend at New Hampshire.

Saturday, July 15:
10 a.m. Monster Energy Cup Series practice, NBC Sports App
11 a.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, CNBC
12:30 p.m., Monster Energy Cup Series final practice, NBCSN
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Countdown to Green, NBCSN
4 p.m. XFINITY Series: Overton’s 200, NBCSN

Sunday, July 16:
12 noon NASCAR RaceDay, FS1
12:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Qualifying (re-air), NBCSN
2:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
3 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Overton’s 301, NBCSN
6:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Simple Request: Five Questions for New Hampshire

Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images
I’m breaking the rules a bit. Whoops.

Rule breaking is frowned upon in racing, especially NASCAR—but this is necessary for what I want to say. I’ll touch on it more at the end of this column.

Hopefully, teams won’t break any rules this weekend, or they’ll face some harsh penalties (*cough* Larson *cough*). Both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a track that measures 1.058 miles. It will be thrilling to see who can maneuver the short oval and succeed as the second half of the year gets underway.

This week, I’m talking babies, new manufacturers, and a simple request. Here are your five questions for New Hampshire.

What’s in the NASCAR water? We dedicate a lot of time to Silly Season, but NASCAR’s also in the middle of Baby Season. Kevin and DeLana Harvick announced this week they’re expecting baby number two, revealing the news a few days after their son Keelan’s fifth birthday. A few days before that was when Joey and Brittany Logano said they’re having a boy via burnouts. Also on the baby watch list: Ty and Haley Dillon, as well as Denny Hamlin and Jordan Fish. Cute kids galore, yes—but I’m staying away from that water fountain.

Should car changes be the next move? The latest rumblings in the NASCAR world include the sport looking at new manufacturers. They even posed their question to members of the NASCAR Fan Council, according to Reddit. Of course, the earliest a new manufacturer could join the sport would be 2019, so there’s a tiny bit of time for NASCAR’s efforts to come to fruition. Is this a good idea? Sure, I guess; I’m not certain it would alleviate the parity, but new manufacturers would be fun. My main thought regarding this is that the sport’s in such a state where they have to reach out to new manufacturers rather than the other way around. Things have definitely changed, that's for sure. NASCAR should press hard for new manufacturers and stick their neck out a bit. Why not take the risk?

Have Cup guys stopped infiltrating the Xfinity win column? No. Twelve of the 16 NXS races were won by full-time MENCS drivers. That sucks. William Byron’s back-to-back victories broke up the monotony, but…it still sucks. Byron is quickly becoming the go-to Xfinity guy, making it difficult for other regulars to catch up. Even if they could, they would be met with a sea of Cup competitors. I’m bringing this up because something needs to happen with this series, whether it be a new car or what have you. It’s hard to watch. When Cup regulars are winning 75-percent of the races, it goes from NXS to Cup Light. I’ll ponder on this more and come back with a few solutions in two weeks.

Can team No. 22 right the ship? When I compare this year to last season, one thing strikes me as odd—the lack of noise from Logano. Sure, he has a win under his belt, along with seven top-fives and 10 top-10s. Some drivers would kill to have those stats. However, the recent numbers are less than stellar. Out of the last 10 races, the No. 22 finished outside of the top 20 six times; three of those finishes were worse than 30th. Now, Kentucky Speedway was a bright spot, with him bringing his Ford home in eighth. Is the rough patch over? New Hampshire could provide a springboard for the second half of the season; Logano has two wins, six top-fives, and eight top-10s in Loudon, with four of those top-10s coming in the last five races there. It could be a great weekend for the No. 22 crew.

This isn’t really a question—but it’s my column, right? As I said before, I’m breaking the rules a bit with this column. Well, this “question” does, but I do what I want. All I want to say is that we need to send Sherry Pollex and Martin Truex, Jr. positive vibes. As many people know, Sherry battled ovarian cancer a few years ago and built a charity/awareness network on her experience. After Truex’s win on Saturday, it was revealed she went in for another surgery due to a recurrence. There’s no word on what this means for them (and it’s a personal matter that they aren’t required to share with the masses), but it’s important to keep them in your thoughts. As Truex made it to victory lane, I saw many tweets complaining about the announcers discussing Truex finding his speed a few seasons ago and that coinciding with Sherry’s diagnosis. Given, those tweeters didn’t see her hospital selfie until afterward—but that doesn’t mean their posts are forgiven. You can be tired of the “underdog” trope, one that Truex and the No. 78 have seemingly shaken. I mean this in the nicest way possible—it’s not about you. None of this is about you, or the win, or even racing in general. So please, as much as your fingers are itching to type out how much you hate hearing about Truex overcoming a rough start to his career and watching the love of his life go through one of life’s hardest battles, just shut up. Spread positivity instead.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire

By Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
All with 4 - Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick
All with 3 - Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano

By Track
All with 7 - Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson
Kevin Harvick - 6
All with 5 - Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano   

Recent Pole Winners:  
2016 Jimmie Johnson
2015 Carl Edwards
2014 Kyle Busch

Last Year's Race Winner: Matt Kenseth
 
The Likely Suspects: New Hampshire Motor Speedway gives the flat track masters a chance to show the other drivers how its done. Look for these drivers to run well this weekend: Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.

My 2 Cents: When making final picks this week, remember to cross check against performances at Phoenix International Raceway, which is basically New Hampshire's twin. My no-brainer pick this week is a tie between Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Brad Keselowski is also a fine pick. If one of these three elite drivers earns the pole position, make him your final pick since the pole position is golden. My next picks are Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer. I will complete my team with Ty Dillon and Michael McDowell.

My Final Four: Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman and Ty Dillon.

Points to Ponder:
  • Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing lead the series in wins at New Hampshire in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with nine each, followed by Roush Fenway Racing (seven), Team Penske (six), and Richard Childress Racing (four).
  • The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (five) than any other starting spot at New Hampshire. 
  • Twenty different Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers have won Coors Light poles at New Hampshire, led by Ryan Newman with seven. 
  • 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).  
  • 23 different MENCS drivers have finished second at NHMS. Tony Stewart leads the series in runner-up finishes with six, followed by Jeff Gordon (five), Denny Hamlin (four), Kyle Busch and Mark Martin (with three each).  
  • 78 different MENCS drivers have finished inside the top 10 at NHMS. Jeff Gordon leads the series in top-10 finishes with 24, followed by Jimmie Johnson with 20.
  • 54 different MENCS drivers have finished inside the top five at NHMS. Jeff Gordon leads the series in top-five finishes at New Hampshire with 16, followed by Tony Stewart with 15, and Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth each have 10.   
  • Jimmie Johnson leads Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in average finishing position at New Hampshire with a 10.267. 
Remember, if you're playing Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing, your pick deadline is Friday, July 14th at 5 a.m. EDT.

Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter @purplecatpr.
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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Caption This Winner for 7-8-17: Dave Lundeen


Congratulations to Dave Lundeenwho contributed the winning caption for this photo of
Trevor Bayne and Landon Cassill. All winners who include their twitter handles with their entries will be entered in a drawing for the end-of-season prize package of racing swag.


Thanks to everyone who played Caption This. Check back on Saturday for a new photo and your next chance to submit a caption.
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Rookie Stripe: Who makes up the race day team?

Photo credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
by Logan Stewart

The operation of a NASCAR race day team can be kind of like a commercial kitchen … hurried, demanding and hot. The right blend of people is only the start to helping a car and driver perform each weekend.

Let’s be honest, no one likes too many cooks in the kitchen, right?

Each person on a race team has a very specific role, and errors can be a recipe for disaster. Members of a race day team have to not only do their jobs well, but also work well together.

Here are the race day team members you should know about:
Photo credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Driver – If you’re reading this, you probably know what a race car driver is. It’s a highly demanding role that involves driving hundreds of miles at a time at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. Most drivers are competitive, professional and know how to deal with the physical and mental toll that racing so hard and so often can take. Drivers are the star of the show. But they couldn’t do their jobs if it wasn’t for the…

Crew chief – The crew chief is a race team’s commander-in-chief and in many ways like the coach of a team. Typically a crew chief has years of experience in racing and knows his tracks, his team and tricks of the trade in exquisite detail. The crew chief makes all decisions, including how cars are built and adjusted and which pit crew members will go over the wall. He is the leader and director, frequently telling the driver what to do. Think of him as the head chef.

Car chief – To understand the role of the car chief, consider baseball. There’s the coach, which in NASCAR is the crew chief, and there is the third base coach, which in NASCAR is the car chief. Responsible for overseeing much of what happens with the road crew and in the garage at the track, the car chief is also the primary person directing the set-up of the car. During the race, the car chief coordinates between the pit crew and crew chief as needed. You could also say that the car chief’s job is the equivalent of the sous chef in a kitchen. Let that one marinate.
Photo credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Road crew – No dish is superior without lots of flavor. Each driver has a road crew that provides support to the teams and travels to every race. The head of the road crew is the crew chief. They’re a miscellaneous bunch with roles that may include engine specialist, engine builder, spotter, engine tuner, shock specialist, tire specialist, engineer, mechanic and fuel runner. Truck drivers are also a part of the road crew, transporting team haulers from race to race, often on the road for weeks at a time.

Pit crew – The over-the-wall pit crew consists of a team of six. They include the gas man, front and rear tire changers, front and rear tire carriers, and a jack man. There is a seventh pit crew member who can go over the wall to where the car is on pit road during a pit stop, but his job is specific: he can only remove a windshield tearoff, and give the driver water or anything else he or she may need. (Side note: Cars have have tearable windshields that can simply be stripped off to the next layer when they get dirty with rubber and bugs.) The seventh crew member also takes care of seat adjustments and the driver’s helmet, as well as the interior of car pre-race.

Photo credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Pit support – Pit support are also members of the pit crew, but don’t go over the wall onto pit road during a pit stop. Their jobs are varied but essential, including getting tires before the race, cleaning them during the race and discarding the tires to Goodyear at the track. You can’t make a pancake without a spatula, right?

Pit coaches
– Just as their title would suggest, pit coaches practice with the pit crew and coach them to help them improve. Just like any other sport, they run different plays such as how many tires to change, adjustments to the car, and fueling. Pit coaches put together the appropriate personnel on the car and the six men or women over the wall, with input from the crew chief. If a pit crew member is injured, the coach figures out who to plug in as a replacement in a pinch.

Medical personnel – As racing has gotten more competitive and cars have gotten faster, teams often recruit pit crew personnel from college and professional sports. (Fun fact: NASCAR teams host combines to evaluate potential pit crew, just as a sports team would look at potential players). A higher level of human performance means injuries are always on the forefront and medical care is critical. Some teams have their own physical therapists, athletic trainers or strength coaches who travel with the team on weekends. If they don't have these roles on staff, they may contract local medical orthopedic groups to provide this care.

In summary, NASCAR race day teams are made up of everyone but the kitchen sink, sometimes with a scoop of victory for dessert.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Fast Track Facts: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

credit: NASCAR Media
This weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series visit New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH, for the Overton’s 301. Learn more about this New England track, known as the “Magic Mile,” in this week’s Fast Facts.
  • Ground was broken for the former New Hampshire International Speedway on Aug. 13, 1989 on the site of what was the Bryar Motorsports Park road course. The Bahre family redeveloped it into a multi-purpose facility, adding a 1.058-mile oval to the 1.6-mile road course. In addition to hosting NASCAR events, the facility hosts the Loudon Classic motorcycle race – the longest-running motorcycle race in North America.
  • NASCAR’s Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) made its debut at the track in July 1990. In July 1993, the Cup Series made its debut at the track, with Rusty Wallace heading to victory lane. That race would be Davey Allison’s last race, as he was severely injured the next day in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway; Allison would later die from his injuries.
  • From 1992-1998, the track hosted open wheel racing – CART from 1992-1995 and the Indy Racing League from 1996-1998. The IndyCar Series attempted to make a comeback to New Hampshire in 2011, but poor attendance and controversial decisions by race officials left it off of the 2012 schedule. 
  • Following the 1996 season, owner Bob Bahre and Speedway Motorsports Inc. CEO Bruton Smith purchased North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina and moved one of its Cup Series dates to New Hampshire.
  • The 2000 season at the track was shrouded in tragedy, as two up-and-coming drivers lost their lives in separate practice accidents. In May, fourth-generation driver Adam Petty lost his life after his throttle stuck exiting Turn 2 while practicing for the Busch Series event; less than two months later, Kenny Irwin Jr. died of similar complications while practicing for the upcoming Cup Series race. The accidents led track owners to run restrictor plates for the Cup Series race in September 2000, which Jeff Burton led wire-to-wire.
  • Prior to the 2008 season, Speedway Motorsports Inc. purchase the track from the Bahre family, renaming it New Hampshire Motor Speedway to coincide with other SMI interests.
  • In addition to the Cup Series, NHMS hosts NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series, K&N Pro Series East and the Whelen Modified Tour.
  • Beginning with the 2018 season, the fall “playoff” race originally hosted by NHMS, along with its accompanying Truck Series race, will be moved to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with NHMS retaining only its July race with the Cup Series and Xfinity Series.
  • Learn more about NHMS at www.nhms.com


Monday, July 10, 2017

Travel Tips: New Hampshire Motor Speedway – July 13-16, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
There will be plenty of action on track this weekend, Thursday through Sunday, July 13-16, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, NH. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is joined by the Xfinity Series, the K&N Pro Series East and the Whelen Modified Tour for a weekend full of racing.

Fans can meet up-and-coming NASCAR drivers at two autograph sessions on Saturday featuring Whelen Modified Tour drivers (11 a.m. ET) and the K&N Pro Series East (1 p.m. ET). Find out about more driver appearances for the weekend here.

Key on-track times:

Thursday, July 13
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hauler Parade and Fan Fest – 6 p.m. ET
Friday, July 14 –
  • Whelen Modified Tour practice – 9:30 a.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 11:30 a.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series practice – 1 and 3 p.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour All-Star Shootout – 2:10 p.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 4:45 p.m. ET
  • K&N Pro Series East practice – 4 and 6 p.m. ET
  • K&N Pro Series East qualifying – 7:05 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 15 –
  • Whelen Modified Tour qualifying – 9 a.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 11:05 a.m. ET
  • Whelen Modified Tour Nor'Easter 100 – 2 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series Overton’s 200 – 4 p.m. ET
  • K&N Pro Series East United Site Services 70 – 6:45 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 16 –
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 301 – 3 p.m. ET
Find the complete weekend schedule here.

To purchase tickets for the New Hampshire 301 weekend, or to learn more about NHMS, visit www.nhms.com

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Quaker State 400 Winning Crew Chief, Cole Pearn

by Stacey Owens

Sure, stage-racing is new and different. Yes, it shakes up the points standings from week-to-week. And no, not every team is good at it yet. One team that is good -- yes, one might even say phenomenal -- is the No. 78 team.

Martin Truex Jr. has three times more stages wins than any other driver. With 13 stage wins before taking the checkers on Saturday night, he is poised to enter the playoffs with at least 30 playoff points. His win at Kentucky Speedway marked the second time this season he's won the first two stages and the race itself. Crew chief Cole Pearn says it's all about qualifying.

"I think a lot of it comes down to qualifying well. I think if you look at our qualifying averages, we've been really stout that way. Definitely our best as a team. I think having good track position to start the race is a huge, important part of it, and you're able to maintain that, it makes it a lot easier to score stage points for sure," Pearn said.

"We were fortunate to have a good long-run car tonight. Early in the race, I thought the 18 was maybe a little better on the short run. It just took a long time for him to wear down a bit and we were able to keep digging. I don't know that there's any strategy to it or not. I think there's definitely a few of those stage wins we've had to make strategy calls to get, but tonight that second stage was sketchy at times with staying out, at times we were up to five laps short and you didn't know if you were going to make it. Having the cautions we did, Martin did a good job saving fuel and we were able to make it there. So I think for us that was probably the most difficult stage for sure," Pearn explained.



Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
How does Pearn feel about the points advantage the No. 78 team will have as the playoffs begin in Chicago in mid-September?

"Yeah, I don't think you can have enough," he said. "I mean, the best way to get a lead is to keep winning them and not let other people win them. I think when we blew a motor at Talladega last fall and took us out of the Chase and we were having a great season, when this format came about, it was definitely like, all right, this is an opportunity for us to give ourselves a window to have a bad race in the Chase and still be able to make it through.
              
"The more we have, the better it is, especially when you get down to that round of eight. You're going to have eight guys that are probably pretty good playoff point wise, so it's going to not necessarily be easy. That gap may seem big to the guys at 16th, but when you get down around eighth that gap is not going to be as big. The more we can get, the better, I think."

The entire No. 78 team has worked incredibly well together and has proven themselves on intermediate tracks this season. As the playoffs approach -- a 10-race series featuring several 1.5-mile tracks -- how does Pearn feel about the team's chances on those tracks?

"I think it always feels like the Chase the second time around is a lot different," Pearn said. "I look at our performances last year, I always feel like we do really well in the early section of the mile-and-a-halfs and then maybe not quite as good come Chase time. I don't know why that is, but it's definitely something we're focused on and will continue to work to get better at. I don't think any of those are guaranteed. This is a tough competition in this garage, and I'm sure it's not going to be this -- I don't want to say easy, but this far apart maybe when we come Chase time."

Because the garage is full of such talent, Pearn wasn't confident that he'd given his driver a car that could win the race.

"I really thought early on, I was like, um, I don't know. I thought we were almost a third-place car the first couple runs of the race, and then it seems as the night came and the track cooled down a bit, we got stronger. Really at that point you're just -- you're not trying to overthink it. You're trying to make sure you stick to the plan, and we were able to do that. I mean, he did a great job.
              
"We've lost a lot of fuel-mileage situations in the last few years, and I think that's a product of being in contention to win races. It makes you better at winning races because when you lose them in a lot of different forms, you focus on that and get better. And we were able to be good in a fuel-mileage situation, which I think is a huge boost for his confidence and for our team," Pearn said.

As most fans know, the Furniture Row Racing team is based in Colorado, nowhere near home base for other teams. Even though the team has an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, which builds all their chassis, Pearn and his team at the shop are at least a day behind in their prep.

"It's tough in Colorado. I mean, we've got to load a day early most weeks, so we work closely with JGR, and obviously they've got a day ahead of us. So our Monday and Tuesdays are pretty much hair on fire most weeks, so it's amazing sometimes ... we make it to the racetrack, but when we do, we're generally good.

"Even this week, just having Daytona cars, had to leave early, and then we just had a little bit more time on the Kentucky cars, and you just feel like ... we're not missing anything, and you feel like you're in good shape," Pearn said.

"It's a challenge being out there that far, especially these last few weeks with road course cars and speedway cars and then back to a mile-and-a-half. It's a lot of different cars going through the system, especially with two teams now. It's just double the work, and really it falls on a lot of our key people. So I can't speak highly enough of the effort they've had to put in. There's been a lot, a lot of long hours on our group, and just to get this win for them, it's just retribution to keep them digging," Pearn explained.

Despite those long hours, Pearn says his team still enjoys working together and finding fun in their work.

"I kind of got the personality where we just keep working. I mean, obviously those are moments you're like, wow, we've got a good thing going. But it's just fun. I mean, we beat each other up. Everybody is equal, and everybody is equal to get beat on. We just keep each other honest and make sure we're all pulling our weight. I think when you've got a whole team like that, it's just really fun," Pearn said.

It's also really fun for their fans to watch this team excel as stage-racing becomes the new on-track norm. Those fans are really in for a fun time if their favorite Colorado-based driver keeps winning stages once the playoffs begin. They may find themselves fans of a new NASCAR champion by the end of November.

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 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.