Friday, May 25, 2018

Five Questions Before Charlotte


Kevin Harvick wins the 2018 All Star Race
credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
by Lisa Janine Cloud

Memorial Day weekend. For many Americans it means the beach, barbecue, and beer, wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, never forgetting those men and women in uniform who gave their lives for our freedom to burn hot dogs, our skin and rubber.

Ohhh yeahhh. While the last Monday in May commemorates those who paid the ultimate price in defending our country, the last Sunday in May is the equivalent of a high holy day for motorsports fans. Engines will roar in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.

What better way to honor the memory of those who have passed on than to live life full throttle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway?

Some diehards will even start Sunday morning off with breakfast at the Monaco Grand Prix.

That’s 78 laps in Monaco, 200 laps at the Brickyard, and at least 400 laps at Charlotte. About 1260 miles. Will you be among those who try to catch every lap?

Those questions don’t count toward this week’s Five Questions, though, so don’t think you’re getting off that easily. It’s been a busy few weeks in the NASCAR world, and there are probably as many questions as there will be miles run on Sunday, so let’s get started.

Can the Xfinity Series momentum continue? The four weeks of the Dash 4 Cash contest gave fans some of the best racing in the series in recent memory. Whether it was the lack of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers, the variety of tracks, or a combination of the two, the on-track product certainly satisfied. Will the trend continue at Charlotte Motor Speedway with five Cup drivers entered in the Alsco 300? Three of those five topped the charts in practice: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Chase Elliott. Can an Xfinity Series regular get past those three?

Has the Xfinity Series been infected with the penalty virus? After a thrilling race at Dover where Justin Allgaier beat teammate Elliott Sadler to win the race and the $100,000, Allgaier’s No. 7 Chevy incurred an L1-level penalty for a trailing arm violation found during teardown at the R&D Center. While he retains the prize money since it's considered part of his pay for the race, the victory does not qualify Allgaier for the Playoffs. The No. 3 of Jeb Burton had a splitter violation that cost crew chief Nick Harrison $10,000 and earned car chief Michael Searce a weekend off. Penalties have been plentiful this season in the Cup Series. Do the penalties at Dover indicate that the Xfinity Series is following suit?

Can anyone beat the “old guy” Kevin Harvick? The driver of the No. 4 Busch Ford is a self-professed old guy who takes pleasure in beating the young drivers who are getting so much air time and publicity. He’s won five of the 12 points-paying races this season plus the All Star Race. Even though one of those wins doesn’t count toward the Playoffs, it still counts as a “W” in the record books. Another one at Charlotte in the Coca-Cola 600 would give Harvick a second set of three wins in a row. With SHR firing on all cylinders, and with Rodney Childers making inspired race calls, it’s as sure a thing as you get in racing that Harvick will win again this season. Will it be at Charlotte?

Will the 2018 championship be powered by Roush-Yates engines? Currently, seven of the top 10 in Drivers Points are blue ovals, and just over half the races (plus the All Star Race) this season ended with Fords in Victory Lane. Although Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. scored trophies for Toyota, and Austin Dillon holds the lone Chevrolet checkered flag, Fords have dominated this season the way Chevy and Hendrick Motorsports dominated in years past. Can Toyota and Chevy catch up?

Is Rob Kauffman right? On Monday, CGRT partner Rob Kauffman, formerly partner in the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, reacted to a Bob Pockrass tweet announcing a 41st entry in the Coca-Cola 600, the No. 7 to be driven by JJ Yeley, owned by John Cohen.


Kauffman’s tweet was widely criticized by those who defend NASCAR’s history of small teams growing into larger teams, but he held fast, stating that “at the at the Premier Level of @Nascar someone should have the resources to commit to the full season and help put on a great show all year. Nothing against small teams!”

You can read the exchange here, by Dustin Long of NBC Sports.

Personally, I look no farther than the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing team piloted this season by Kasey Kahne. Bob Leavine of Texas formulated a plan, running David Starr for four races in 2011, Scott Speed 15 races in 2012, working up to run a full season with Ty Dillon and Michael McDowell in 2016.

The sport has evolved over the last few years, but has it moved beyond providing opportunities for small teams with shoestring budgets? I hope not. I’m all for the team owners investments being protected, but not at the expense of the teams that are, in my opinion, the guts of NASCAR. They could do something else and make a living, but racing is in their blood, so they would rather scratch and claw at the big show than run in lower-tier series.

What’s your take? Leave your comments below, but please keep them respectful.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

By Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Kevin Harvick - 5
All with 4 - Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch 

By Track
Kevin Harvick - 9
Denny Hamlin - 8
Ryan Newman - 7
All with 6 - Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch
Both with 5 - Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch

Recent Pole Winners:  
2017 Kevin Harvick
2016 Martin Truex Jr.

Last Year's Race Winner: Austin Dillon

Likely Suspects: The Coca-Cola 600 is one long race made for drivers with will and endurance. My go-tos this weekend will be Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.

My 2 Cents: This week's no-brainer pick is Daniel Suarez. My next picks are Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Erik Jones. I will complete my team with J.J. Yeley and Chris Buescher.

My Final Four: Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Daniel Suarez and Chris Buescher.

Second-Look Driver: This week's second-look driver is Erik Jones. Although Erik has only raced twice on this track as a Cup driver, he has one top 10 and an average finishing position of 12. This could be his breakout weekend, coming off a seventh-place finish at Kansas. Our last second-look driver (at Kansas) Daniel Suarez finished in 28th after starting 14th.

Points to Ponder:
  • Hendrick Motorsports leads the series in wins at Charlotte in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with 19.
  • The second-place starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (17) than any other starting position at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 
  • Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in poles at CMS with nine; followed by Jimmie Johnson with four.
  • Kevin Harvick is the most recent driver to post consecutive poles (2016 Playoffs, 2017 May race).
  • 50 different drivers have won at Charlotte Motor Speedway, led by Jimmie Johnson with eight wins – 2003 summer, 2004 sweep, 2005 sweep, 2009 playoffs, 2014 summer, 2016 playoffs.
  • Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth lead all active drivers in runner-up finishes with four each.
  • Daniel Suarez (two starts) leads all active drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in average finishing position at Charlotte with an 8.500.
  • Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the series in laps led at CMS with 1,930 laps led 33 starts.
    Remember, if you're playing Driver Group Game, make your picks by 8 a.m. EDT on Thursday, May 24, and pick your starters by 6 p.m. EDT on race day, Sunday, May 27.

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

    Monday, May 21, 2018

    Travel Tips: Charlotte Motor Speedway – Coca Cola 600 edition - May 24-27, 2018

    credit: NASCAR Media

    It’s the second weekend the NASCAR folks will be spending “at home” in the Charlotte, NC area, where the action at Charlotte Motor Speedway includes this weekend’s big races, the Xfinity Series Alsco 300 and the longest race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, the Coca Cola 600, going green on Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27, respectively. On Thursday, May 24, the Cup Series will qualify and the ARCA Racing Series will hit the track as well.

    If you’re heading down to Charlotte for the action, here are a few things to check out:
    Check out the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series on Friday night, May 25, at the neighboring Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway – find out more about the Outlaw Showdown here.

    Key on-track times:

    Thursday, May 24 –
    • ARCA Racing Series practice – 11:30 a.m. ET
    • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 2:05 p.m. ET
    • Xfinity Series practice – 4:05 and 6:05 p.m. ET
    • ARCA Racing Series qualifying – 5 p.m. ET
    • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 7:15 p.m. ET
    • ARCA Racing Series General Tire 1:50 – 9 p.m. ET
    Friday, May 25 –
    • World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway – opening ceremonies begin at 7:40 p.m. ET
    Saturday, May 26
    • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – practice – 9 and 11:30 a.m. ET
    • Xfinity Series qualifying – 10:10 a.m. ET
    • Xfinity Series Alsco 300 – 1:15 p.m. ET
    Sunday, May 27
    • Eli Young Band pre-race concert – 3:30 p.m. ET
    • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 – 6 p.m. ET
    Find out about different ticket packages and single-day tickets at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

    Right Sides Only: Notes from the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race Winning Crew Chief, Rodney Childers

    by Stacey Owens

    Stewart-Haas Racing is having the kind of year that other teams only dream about. Rodney Childers, crew chief for the No. 4 team, is the crew chief that those other teams wish they had. Even though it wasn't a points race, Childers led Kevin Harvick to yet another win this season on Saturday night. 

    If you were to ask Childers who's responsible for the results the team is reaping, he'll tell you: everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.

    "I think it comes from just everybody involved. It doesn't matter who it is, it's Kevin, it's the race team, it's everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, everybody at the engine shop, everybody at Ford Performance. Everybody is just focused right now, they're working hard. It doesn't matter what kind of racetrack it is, what kind of package it is, we're going to give it 100%, come out and try to win races. Everybody is doing a really good job of that," Childers said.

    Childers is modest, of course. Ultimately, the crew chief everyone wishes they had calling the shots had to make a few calls to get Harvick to the front following a pit stop issue.

    "I felt like we had a good car going into the race. We were able to lead a lot of that first stage. We had the tire get hung up in the fender on the left front on that first stop, lost some track position. It was hard to fight back from that. Just really wasn't going anywhere much at all. Felt like we had to do something different. That's when we chose to pit out of sequence, come from the back. 

    "I really think that turned things around for us, put us in a better position to win the race," Childers explained.

    The team would have likely been disappointed if they hadn't won since they arrived at the track with a good car.

    "Yeah, I felt like our car was really good on Friday. Wasn't sure if I really wanted to practice this morning or not. We didn't bring a backup car over here at all. If we would have tore it up this morning, we probably wouldn't have raced tonight. 

    "It was one of those deals where we just tried to go out there and practice this morning, play it really, really safe, but also try to figure out what the car was doing, what our tire wears looked like, how much tape we could have on the grille, all those things," Childers explained.
    Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
    Teams didn't get as much practice as they usually get, but Childers didn't mind.

    "I think it ended up enough practice, to be honest. I think everybody at the racetrack and NASCAR did an awesome job of getting us out there. I think all of us sitting in the trailers probably thought we weren't going to qualify yesterday, thought we weren't going to practice any more either. 

    "We were pretty nervous from a lot of different things, just not knowing what was going to happen if we didn't practice any more. 

    "We just felt like our car was fast. We weren't sure if it was going to handle the best in the world. It was a little bit too tight in practice. Then we got it too loose, then got it too tight again. No matter the balance, it had a lot of speed. That was a big positive," Childers said.

    How did Childers feel about the speed with the package they used on Saturday night and the impact it had on strategy and pit stops?

    "When you look back at it, there's been a lot of work behind the scenes. I think Rex [Stump, technical director for SHR] blew his computer up about 10 times working on all this stuff trying to figure out this package. Is it going to be more about drag, more about downforce. Honestly, it ended up being different than what we thought. I told somebody in Victory Lane, I'm glad it wasn't 600 miles because we would have needed a different car. 

    "It was all about trying to figure out what was the right thing. We brought what we thought was right.  I think the whole garage thought we were going to come over here and just run wide open for 80 laps. It didn't end up being that way. There was a lot of handling involved. Once we saw how much everybody was out of the gas in practice, we had to rethink what we were doing. He said it the same time I said it. We went out in practice 15 laps, put tires on it again, just drove through everybody.  Then the 42 put tires on and drove through everybody. We're like... our original thought was we were going to pit after the first stage, stay out the rest of the time. That wasn't going to happen. You are going to have to have tires. It was a lot different than what we thought it was going to be," Childers explained.

    It was all about trying to figure out what was the right thing. After five wins, Childers has that figured out.


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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... as long as she allows him to obsess over college football every fall.

      

    Saturday, May 19, 2018

    Trackin’ Trucks: Johnny Sauter Wins at Charlotte

    Johnny Sauter celebrates with a burnout at Charlotte.
    Credit: Sean Gardner

    by Courtney Horn

    Johnny Sauter scored his third win of the season Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, leading 71 of 134 laps toward his victory in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200.

    The win is Sauter’s first at the 1.5-mile track and 10th win with GMS Racing.

    “This is a tough place,” Sauter said. “Everyone wants to win here. I never thought I’d win here. To win this race is just super special. I never thought 40 would be so good.”

    “This is the biggest race of my career, and I’ve won a lot of big races. We kept making adjustments on the truck all night and made it better and better.”

    Sauter won by a 1.34-second margin of victory over Kyle Busch, who was penalized twice for crewmembers being over the wall too soon during pit stops. Busch came from the back of the field but came up short from earning his second Camping World Truck Series of 2018.

    Grant Enfinger battled back from early troubles to finish in the 12th position. Enfinger suffered a flat right rear tire on Lap 21.

    Brett Moffitt won Stage 1 and John Hunter Nemechek won Stage 2, earning his first stage win of the season.

    A multi-truck wreck ensued on Lap 118 when the No. 88 Ford of Matt Crafton started blowing smoke. Nemechek, Austin Wayne Self, Todd Gilliland, and Jordan Anderson were all involved as a result.

    A Look Ahead 

    The Camping World Truck Series takes a two-week vacation, but returns on June 8th at Texas Motor Speedway.

    Sauter extended his points lead to 59 points over Noah Gragson. Moffitt, Ben Rhodes, and Enfinger are all inside the top 5.

    Christopher Bell held off Chase Briscoe one year ago for the win. Can Johnny Sauter earn back-to-back victories or will another young gun win in Fort Worth, TX?

    Find out on Friday, June 8, 2018, at 9 p.m ET on Fox Sports 1.

    Wednesday, May 16, 2018

    Rookie Stripe: Six Ways Pit Crew Athletes Prepare for the Physical Demands of the Job

    Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
    by Logan Stewart Kureczka

    Fitness has gone full throttle in NASCAR. While pitting may not be an actual sport on college campuses, modern-day NASCAR teams now recruit many of their pit crew athletes straight out of college and even from professional sports.

    Drivers face many challenges, but the over-the-wall crew members truly are some of the best athletes on the track and have to be in peak physical condition to do their jobs. Because pit stops and their timing can literally make or break whether a driver wins a race, the speed at which the pit crew can work efficiently is one of the most important elements of a race. Elements like weather and heat can also impact their performance, so teams take special measures to prepare appropriately.

    A study posted in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that NASCAR pit crews face temperatures that can fluctuate between 56 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit at any given race, depending on the track and weather conditions, and they endure the temperatures for three to six hours.

    Here are six ways pit crews prepare for the physical demands of their jobs:

    1. They follow a specially designed strength program. Many teams, especially larger teams, have strength coaches on staff who design programs for pit crew athletes. Pit crew members work out on site daily and usually have a main workout, but may also have a supplemental workout based on their position on the car.

    2. They practice reps. Beyond strength and cardio workouts, pit crews also practice pit stops, including repetitions, as they would do during a race. Some athletes perform more reps at practice than others depending on goals and needs of the team.

    3. Being in shape goes hand in hand with being healthy. Teams focus on whole body health including inflammation, nutrition and proper warm-up and cool down. Some teams have orthopedic, chiropractic, physical therapy and/or athletic training providers in the shop daily.

    4. Many teams put special focus on heat training. Heat training helps pit crew athletes get acclimated to performing physical tasks at hotter temperatures where they may experience an increased heart rate. Teams spend time on heat training because athletes can develop a physiological adaptation to the heat they work in, making them more efficient and able to work through soaring temperatures, which frequently happen at tracks like Daytona.
    Photo Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
    5. They cross-train and practice recovery. Pit crew teams may utilize the pool for a weightless workout, post-injury workout or active recovery, take a spinning or cycling class, or practice yoga onsite with an instructor. Cross-training and active recovery are important parts of a full performance plan.

    6. They engage in team-building activities with their crew chief or driver. Pit crews may head to the shooting range, driving range, go go-karting, play golf, or participate in other team-building activities together. This is a way for them to get away from the grind of daily practice, learn to work as a unit and get to know each others’ personalities better.

    More:

    Hendrick Motorsports: Fast Five: Pit Crew Workouts
    How JGR Keeps Pit Crews in Tip Top Shape
    Why NASCAR’s Best Athletes are in the Pits
    11 Things You Might Not Know About NASCAR Pit Crews
    Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

    Tuesday, May 15, 2018

    Fast Facts: 2018 Monster Energy All-Star Race FAQs

    credit: NASCAR Media
    by Paula Thompson

    From the name to the format, the Cup Series all-star race has seen many changes over the years. Here are the answers to some of the frequently asked questions – “FAQs” – for this season’s sure-to-be-memorable non-points event at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 19.

    • Who’s eligible? – drivers who have won a points event in 2017 or 2018; full-time drivers who have previously won an All-Star Race; full-time drivers who have won a Cup Series championship. Additionally, three drivers will be added as a result of winning a stage in the Monster Energy Open (before the All-Star Race), and one driver will be added through the Fan Vote.
    • What’s the format? – this year’s format for the Open is three stages, 20 laps-20 laps-10 laps; for the All-Star Race: four stages, 30 laps-20 laps-20 laps-10 laps (10 laps longer than 2017). NASCAR Overtime procedures will be in effect (stages will not end under yellow), and there are no mandatory pit stops. Only green-flag laps will be counted in Stage 4 of the All-Star Race.
    • What’s the qualifying format? – drivers take three laps with a mandatory four-tire pit stop – no pit-road speeding penalties.
    • Who’s performing at the pre-race concert? – country star Cole Swindell; show begins at 4 p.m. ET. In addition, team owner Joe Gibbs will give the invocation, and Monster Energy girl Erica Nagashima will perform the National Anthem.
    Find out more at the 2018 Monster Energy All-Star Race at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com. For a full weekend schedule, check out Travel Tips.


    Monday, May 14, 2018

    Travel Tips: Charlotte Motor Speedway – All-Star edition - May 18-19, 2018

    credit: NASCAR Media

    NASCAR returns home to Charlotte, North Carolina, as all three of NASCAR’s top series – the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series – invade Charlotte Motor Speedway over the next two weeks. Festivities kick off this weekend with the Camping World Truck Series and the Monster Energy All-Star Race, Friday and Saturday, May 18-19. These races are the predecessors to the following weekend’s big races, the Xfinity Series Alsco 300 and the longest race of the Cup Series season, the Coca-Cola 600, on Saturday and Sunday, May 26-27.

    If you’re heading to Charlotte for all of the action, you’ll have a few days and evenings to explore the area – here are a few things to check out:
    Key on-track times:

    Friday, May 18 –
    • Camping World Truck Series practice – 9:05 and 10:35 a.m. ET
    • Monster Energy All-Star Race practice (Open) – 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET
    • Monster Energy All-Star Race practice (All-Star) – 12:15 and 1:45 p.m. ET
    • Monster Energy pit road speed practice – 2:30 p.m. ET
    • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 4:40 p.m. ET
    • Monster Energy All-Star Race qualifying – 6:05 p.m. ET
    • Camping World Truck Series NC Education Lottery 200 – 8:30 p.m. ET
    Saturday, May 19
    • Pre-race concert featuring Cole Swindell – 4 p.m. ET
    • Monster Energy Open – 6 p.m. ET
    • Monster Energy All-Star Race – 8 p.m. ET
    Find the complete schedule for the All-Star weekend here.

    Find out about different ticket packages and single-day tickets at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.