Showing posts with label Auto Club 400. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Auto Club 400. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Through the Lens: A fan perspective of Auto Club Speedway

Skirts and Scuffs reader and NASCAR fan Brandy Valentine was in attendance for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana California. Brandy had her camera in hand and captured the following photos from her weekend at the track. We’d like to thank her for her generosity in sharing these shots and hope you enjoy getting inside the action. (click on the view slideshow link below each album to see all photos)

photos used with permission

Speak Your Mind: Should there have been penalties after Fontana?

Pieces fall off Joey Logano's No. 22 Ford at the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday.
Credit: Brandy Valentine
A last-lap wreck. A serious injury. A pit road scuffle.

NASCAR put speculation to rest Tuesday with the announcement that no penalties will be issued after the controversial events of Sunday's Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup race at Fontana, Calif.

Following their skirmish at Bristol, the last-lap wreck between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin upset many fans, especially with Hamlin suffering a broken vertebrae in his back that will take him out of his No. 11 Toyota for at least six weeks. Fans were also riled up when Tony Stewart threw punches at Logano on pit road because Logano blocked Stewart on the final restart. After the confrontation, Stewart gave an expletive-filled but accordingly bleeped TV interview.

Did NASCAR make the right call to forgo penalties? Our writers at Skirts and Scuffs sound off.

Carol D’Agostino: The action at the Auto Club 400 could be aptly described as the good, the bad, and the ugly, but was it penalty-worthy? I say no. Remarkably I am in agreement with NASCAR on this one. When I look at all the “ugly” incidents, most notably the one that sent Denny Hamlin into the wall, I did not see anything wrong with the racing strategy. I’m not sure whether the result would have been difficult if it had been two different drivers.

I also feel that the block that Joey Logano put on Tony Stewart was just that, a normal run of the mill block. What can be deemed offensive was Joey Logano’s post-race comments about Denny getting what he deserved.

Joey’s attitude comes down to integrity, and even NASCAR can’t legislate integrity or good sportsmanship. They can certainly make racing teams think twice about making illegal adjustments to the cars or other similar actions, but they can’t make someone be a better person. Only that person can make those changes.

Joey’s issue will be resolved in the garage and on the track the next time someone has to decide whether they can trust him as a drafting partner or in a normal give-and-take situation on the track.  Best of luck with mending fences with Tony Stewart, Joey, you’re going to need it!

Lacy Keyser: When it comes down to it, Sunday’s race is what everyone wants to see on the final lap: two drivers driving hard for the win. What we don’t want to see, however, is a driver laying on the ground clearly in pain.

Honestly, as long as the drivers are OK, that’s all I care about. I happen to like seeing them race hard for the win, and not just let someone drive on by with it. Tempers flare and for Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, their tempers had been flaring for a while now. But I don’t believe this was payback for Bristol.

As for Tony Stewart, that’s just another story waiting to be told. I am very anxious to see if something happens at Martinsville, or will Stewart make Logano sweat it out?

As for no fines - I agree, I feel like each driver reacted in the right, I don’t believe anyone was wrecked intentionally. Like I said earlier, it was just two drivers driving hard for the win. As for Stewart, he was just reacting after a long day’s race - nothing wrong in my eyes how he reacted. No one likes being blocked and from watching the replays, Logano almost did make Stewart wreck, so I could see why he was so upset.

But in the end, knowing Hamlin will be OK is all that matters. Sadly, yes, he’s out for six weeks, but in the end, as long as he recovers fully, that’s the most important thing.

Denny Hamlin walks through the garage before
Sunday's Auto Club 400. Credit: Brandy Valentine
Unique Hiram: In regards to what happened on the last lap of the Auto Club 400 race this past Sunday between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin, I don’t agree with NASCAR’s stance to not issue any penalties or fines. At the least, I think that “Sliced Bread” should have received some type of probation or ordered to sit out for a race or two due to the extent of Hamlin’s injuries. Regardless of this driver’s previous back issues, that hit caused some major damage and could possibly take him out of competition for a little while. I will agree that both drivers were racing each other hard, but we also know that Logano had an ax to grind because of what happened in Bristol when he got spun out.

I can recall two separate incidents where some heavy hitters were penalized for their respective on-track retaliation: Carl Edwards had to serve a three-race probation when he flipped Brad Keselowski in Atlanta (2010) and Kyle Busch was parked for a Sprint Cup race in Texas when he wrecked Ron Hornaday in the Truck race (2011). No one was physically hurt in either of those incidents; however, there was some very extensive and expensive vehicle damage resulting in NASCAR dropping the hammer down on both of those drivers.

As far as the altercation on pit road between veteran driver Tony Stewart and Joey Logano, I fully support the decision of no penalties or fines because there is nothing wrong with a little hand to hand (excluding the water bottle) contact every once in a while. Having served in the military for 21 years, I feel that it is perfectly OK to participate in this type of physical activity from time to time. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little “old school” throw down. 

Ro Cowan: If you are going to say “Boys Have It,” then you have to step back unless it's obvious that someone is going to get hurt, involved or not involved. What I mean by that is in the case of Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski; the actions of the Edwards could have very likely got someone badly hurt. Mr. God was kind to him in that no one was seriously hurt.

If they want to get into fistfights afterwards that is between them, and if it can't be contained, that is why they have law enforcement on the pit road. Very often the only effective measure to stopping a situation like this one is let it run its course and let the drivers hand out their own type of retribution. Believe me, every one of them knows how each other will drive on track. They know being out there behind the wheel if what happened was intentional or not, and they all heard by now what was said afterward. They also know by now that Joey Logano didn't call Denny Hamlin. They will deal with it within their circle of peers.

For NASCAR to hand out penalties and try to control something that they are obviously making money on is contrived and hypocritical. They have been under the gun for years over trying to intervene in situations that were best handled by those involved. You can hand out penalties or fines, but the bottom line is that until the drivers handle the situation and deal out their own "punishment" - if you will, it's not over. It just goes underground and pops up somewhere like Talladega, where more folks can be involved and injuries are even more likely.

I personally do not condone retaliation; however, there is in every professional group that code that you don't step on that line that says you don't go further than this. For the most part, it is well understood amongst the group and not publicly shared. It can usually be figured out by the response of others in the group. With that being said, look at the reaction of the group as a whole and you will be able to figure out that Logano stepped over the line. Roger Penske may defend him and Brad Keselowski may not speak against him, but that doesn't change the ultimate outcome in that they will police their own.

Rebecca Kivak: I actually agree with NASCAR's decision not to issue penalties after the incidents in Sunday's Auto Club 400.

Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin were racing hard for the win when the last-lap crash ensued. Were they racing each other harder because of their issues at Bristol? Most certainly yes. Were they trying to take each other out? No, but that's what happened, the product of hard racing. Hamlin gave Logano room, and Logano moved up the track to battle Hamlin, but that's not punishable behavior - that's trying to win a race.

Logano's comments after the race - specifically, "He probably shouldn't have done what he did last week, so that's what he gets" - were in extremely poor taste, especially since he was unaware of Hamlin's condition after the wreck. From his comments, many inferred that Logano wrecked Hamlin on purpose, but I think that was Logano commenting on the wreck after the fact, not an admission of retaliation. This is different from the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski incident at Atlanta in 2010, when Edwards admitted he went back out on the racetrack multiple laps down with the intention of wrecking Keselowski, whom he blamed for an early-race incident. Edwards was rightfully penalized after that race (not hard enough in my opinion), but I do not think the motive of retaliation was established for Logano to have been penalized after this race. Logano's post-race comments, however, as well as the fact he has yet to reach out to Hamlin after the wreck, don't do him any favors.

As for Tony Stewart, I can understand why he was upset at Logano - after all, that block caused Stewart to fall back 20 or so spots, ending his shot at a win. However, I think he overreacted by confronting Logano. Logano did what any driver would and should do to hold onto his position.

Stewart is known for his no-tolerance of blocking, but his reaction also came off as hypocritical, considering it was his block that caused a multi-car wreck last fall at Talladega.

Do I think he should be fined for going after Logano? No - I'd rather these guys settle things with their fists than by using their cars as weapons on the racetrack where others could get hurt. Considering the curse words in his interview were bleeped out, I see no reason to fine him for that either. Between Stewart throwing his helmet at Matt Kenseth last year and now confronting Logano, Smoke's fire (or should I say ire?) has been stoked after initially toning down when he became a team owner.

Lisa Janine Cloud: NASCAR's version of a grand jury decided not to indict Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart for the events of 24 March 2013 at Auto Club Speedway Sunday. No penalties, no fines. None of them called or texted me to ask my opinion on the subject, but I'm going to express it anyway.

I completely agree with NASCAR's decision.

Nothing that happened on the track between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin rates so much as a slap on the wrist. Perhaps Logano made some unwise choices in focusing so completely on one former teammate that he lost any chance he might have had at keeping the other former teammate from winning the race, but he didn't intentionally wreck Hamlin. Hamlin may have bowed up to him a little, but is old enough and experienced enough to have been ready to give Logano a wide birth, but he didn't intentionally turn Logano into the wall. Had Hamlin climbed unharmed from his car, his fans might have been indignant, but I doubt anyone would have called for penalties.

As for Stewart - perhaps he's guilty of overreacting. Maybe he's guilty of going after Joey for something he's done before.

*Cough* Talladega *Cough*

But Stewart's nothing if not consistent when it comes to the subject of blocking. Just ask Brian Vickers. And at least Smoke chose to use his fists instead of the No. 14 Chevy. A number he chose because of his racing hero and mentor, AJ Foyt, who's been known to throw a few punches and use salty language.

It's not the first time a competitor has gone after another competitor with flailing fists. It won't be the last. Promoters use the footage of those episodes to sell tickets. Heck, Eddie Gossage of Texas Motor Speedway already has an ad with Stewart vs. Logano on it.

Plus, Stewart's earned the right to speak his mind. He's won enough races and enough championships that he can say things for which other drivers might be fined. The TV reporters who braved his wrath to ask the unavoidable questions chose not to do so on live TV because they've been around Smoke post-race before. They already KNEW the answers, and they knew he would not be thanking God and his sponsors in that moment. They KNEW he was going to use colorful language, yet they asked the questions anyway and didn't air the piece until they'd had time to edit and censor it.

Bottom line, the day Tony Stewart gets out of the car after a race like that and mealymouths his way through an interview is the day he needs to hang up his helmet.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Life is like a Race Track, It's a Circle

Stewart follows Logano on pit road following the race at Auto Club Speedway.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ferry/Getty Images
Racing is a sport of passion. It is consuming and it is rewarding. Not necessarily in terms of money as it is not a poor man's sport. One must earn their way to the top and gain the respect of their peers even if it is respect based in fear, distrust or dislike. The traits a man shows on the track are true to who and what he is. His words can be deceiving or contrived but actions speak louder than words. Some, however, begin believing their hype and their press and when that occurs there is ultimately the competitor that steps up and knocks them back down in their place. That process began today.

Today saw the beginning of a feud. Not the end or the middle but the beginning. When Joey Logano drove up the track and Denny Hamlin took the stance of turning into the No. 22 to take him with him, the feud began. It was a conscious act on both parts. Both were very aware of who they were racing and how they were racing each other. It was an act of aggression on both sides. It was an act that would lead to an apparent injury to Hamlin when his car went full speed into an unprotected inside wall head on. Although Hamlin would climb from the car under his own power, pain would drop him to the ground almost instantly. Pain that has been reported to be back pain. With a history of back injury in the past this seems to be a strong possibility. At the time of this writing there was no update on Denny's condition, he was transferred by air ambulance to a local hospital for evaluation and would be kept there over night for observation.

At the beginning of every broadcast interview after a wreck the driver is given an update on others involved if they are not coming from the care center. It is a courtesy to the driver being interviewed. After seeing the replay of the incident, Joey Logano was asked about the incident with Denny Hamlin. He made the following statement: "He shouldn't have done what he did last week and that's what he gets. He deserved what he got." The statement was flat and definite. It was an admission of intent and it was completely without remorse.

But Logano's problems didn't begin or end there. He had created a new adversary, one that most will tell you was a mistake to create. That adversary was Tony Stewart. The incidents are linked together by actions on the track. This all started when Logano was disgruntled over the fact that Hamlin blocked him late in the race and thus in his eyes and opinion cost him a better finish. Today, Logano himself did the same thing to Tony Stewart. Last week, Joey went down and challenged Denny Hamlin over the action. Today, Stewart did the same and just like Logano he threw a punch. His landed square.
Stewart was incensed that Logano would do the same thing he had been enraged at someone else for doing. "For a guy that has been complaining about how everybody else is driving here and then (for) him to do that it’s a double standard. He makes the choice. He makes the decision to run us down there and when you run a driver down there then you take responsibility for what happens after that. He is a tough guy on pit road as soon as one of his crew guys gets in the middle of it. Until then he’s a scared little kid. Then he wants to sit there and throw a water bottle at me. He is going to learn a lesson. He can run his mouth on Twitter and stuff all he wants tonight. I’ve got plenty of people that are going to watch for that. It’s time he learns a lesson. He’s run his mouth long enough. He has sat there and done this double standard and he’s nothing but a little rich kid that has never had to work in his life. He’s going to learn, what us working guys that had to work our way up, know about how it works.” Stewart stated very matter of fact in post race interview.

Kevin Harvick has been down this road with Logano before and had an interesting observation, "Racing hard is one thing...but not chopping and blocking, and not giving somebody a lane to race," said Harvick. "He's responsible for his own career and everybody's actions around him. So he can either fix it and go about things the right way or not. In my opinion he gets bad advice on how he needs to race."

The common theme that runs through most of these altercations for Joey is a sense of entitlement and double standards. In other words, it's his track and you are suppose to race him his way and he can race you any way he feels is necessary at the time. Translate this very simply to I want what you have and if you don't give it to me I will break it.  If we look back at Joey's resume we don't see a lot of grass roots type racing struggles. We see store bought cars, big dollar equipment and a very supportive father who pushed Logano every step of the way. Ironically, the controversies he has encountered have all been with drivers who have had to work and race and claw their way to the top of the game.

One might say well they are jealous of what he had. But the truth is that it was Logano who in every case instigated the controversy. Harvick at Pocono. Stewart at California. Hamlin at Bristol.

The opinion that "Sliced Bread" was going to be the greatest thing to come to NASCAR was quickly disproved when Logano replaced the departing Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing in the Home Depot No. 20. Logano, with no Nationwide experience, climbed into a Cup car to compete when he was not even old enough to pull his own Bud Shootout bottle. For three years he had the guidance of one of the premier crew chiefs on the circuit and one of the most patient. In that three years Logano won two races. The struggle was evident every week but it was not clear why there was so little success between two very successful people. There have been speculations of interference from family and countering of instruction by advisers but in truth no one had an answer. Logano seemed excited to see Zipadelli go to Stewart Haas Racing for the 2012 season and welcomed Jason Ratcliff as his crew chief. But that combination did not prove any more successful. So Logano sought a new team at Penske racing.

Joey's struggles with controversy have continued there. Without the guidance and intercession of Coach Joe Gibbs, former team mates and other drivers seem less willing after four years to give Logano any more leeway. Logano seems at times to be his worst enemy with comments like, "I have a scorecard. I ain't putting up with that. ... I ain't getting run over and not doing something about it." Like many in his age group Logano tends to take his battles to social media. Sadly, his competitors also choose to use the outlet as a way to respond as was apparent in the twitter exchange between Logano and Hamlin earlier this week. Hamlin who apparently text Logano an apology found that was not adequate as Logano wanted a face to face apology. When told that Hamlin had said it was over. Logano responded with, "It ain't over until I decide it's over."

Yet today after the incident with Stewart, Joey stated, "I will talk to him this week. We will work it out." Stewart on the other hand was not nearly as gracious about that possibility saying, "If he wants to talk about it, we can talk about it. After he threw the water bottle at me like a little girl, we’ll go at it now.”

So what is the answer? NASCAR has become famous for it's interventions. Maybe the time has come for one for Joey Logano. Perhaps anger management like they sent Tony Stewart to early in his career or perhaps sensitivity training. Or maybe the answer is already in place, Boys Have It. In all walks of life there is the one person that knocks you down a peg when you get a little to big for your britches. Who opens your eyes to the fact that your way is not always the right way or the best way. Perhaps the answer is a demo derby or perhaps as Humphy Wheeler suggested a boxing ring. No rules first man down loses get it all out of your system because when you step out of the ring it's over. But at the rate we are going young Mr. Logano is going to get hurt. He has taken on and chosen to make adversaries of some of the sports hardest core competitors. Men that don't back down from a fight or away from a punch. There is a big difference between threatening Denny Hamlin and threatening Tony Stewart. There is just as big a difference in wrecking and hurting Denny Hamlin and wrecking Kevin Harvick.

We are all responsible for our own actions. Regardless of social class and right or wrong of it. If you hurt someone you are responsible for the injury. You are responsible for the words you speak. If you are not willing or able to accept that responsibility it might be a wise thing to play by the same set of rules you expect your fellow competitors to play by. Using the excuse of I didn't know he was hurt when you were told at the time you watched the replay that your opponent was injured is a cop out. It's time to take responsibility for the words and the actions or it's time for the intervention. Preferably both. But either way it goes Joey Logano's trip to Martinsville looks to be a hot time at the old track that night. Because the one constant in racing is that the start finish line doesn't move and you end at the same place you began. In other words, what goes around comes around and the concrete wall always wins and it always hurts when you hit it. You know thinking about who he has on his tail looking for him, if I were him I might call in sick.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Denny Hamlin wins Coors Light Pole Award at Auto Club Speedway

Denny Hamlin seemed unaffected by the controversy that surrounded him this week as he put the No. 11 FedEx Camry on the pole at Fontana with a speed of 187.451 mph and a time of  38.410. The top four positions all ran in the 38.4 range with Greg Biffle's 38.458 good enough for the front row.

Unfortunately, the No. 16 3M Window Film Fusion blew an engine in practice so Biffle will drop to the back of the field, as will third-place Brad Keselowski. The Blue Deuce didn't blow an engine but the No. 2 team made the change just to be on the safe side since the two-mile track keeps RPMs high for almost the whole 400 miles.

Kyle Busch, who earned fourth position but will start the race beside teammate Hamlin, holds the track record from 2005 with a 38.248 at 188.245 mph. Matt Kenseth put the third JGR car up front with his fifth-place effort and will start behind Hamlin.

Only 43 cars attempted to qualify, so there were no DNQs.

Hamlin earned the 13th pole of his nine-year Cup career, his third at Fontana. He'll be making his fourth top-ten start of the season.

The highest qualifying rookie was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 31st.

Position Driver
1 Denny Hamlin
2 Greg Biffle
3 Brad Keselowski
4 Kyle Busch
5 Matt Kenseth
6 Joey Logano
7 Martin Truex Jr.
8 Tony Stewart
9 Mark Martin
10 Kurt Busch
11 Casey Mears
12 Juan Pablo Montoya
13 Clint Bowyer
14 Kevin Harvick
15 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
16 Kasey Kahne
17 Jamie McMurray
18 Jimmie Johnson
19 Jeff Gordon
20 Ryan Newman
21 Marcos Ambrose
22 Jeff Burton
23 Aric Almirola
24 Carl Edwards
25 Bobby Labonte
26 AJ Allmendinger
27 Paul Menard
28 David Reutimann
29 Dave Blaney
30 Josh Wise(i)
31 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #
32 David Stremme
33 Travis Kvapil
34 David Gilliland
35 Michael McDowell
36 Landon Cassill
37 JJ Yeley
38 Scott Riggs
39 Timmy Hill #
40 Danica Patrick #
41 Mike Bliss(i)
42 David Ragan

Thursday, March 21, 2013

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Fontana

Track Classification: Superspeedway

Similar Tracks: Daytona International Speedway • Indianapolis Motor Speedway 
Michigan International Speedway • Pocono Raceway • Talladega Superspeedway

Distance: 2 Miles

Drivers with Most Top 10s :
By Race
Jimmie Johnson - 5
All with 4 - Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick
All with 3 - Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman

By Track
Jimmie Johnson - 6
Both with 5 - Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick
All with 4 - Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards

Recent Pole Winners: 
2012 Denny Hamlin
2011 Juan Pablo Montoya
The Likely Suspects: Superspeedway racing should be more competitive in this new Gen 6 car, but I don't think it will greatly improve performance for drivers who haven't excelled in the past. Look for these drivers to take command during Sunday's race: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle.

My 2 Cents: The no-brainer pick this week is Jimmie Johnson, followed closely by Kyle Busch. My next picks are Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman. I will complete my team with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger. If you are feeling generous and risky, Tony Stewart usually does well here, however Stewart-Haas is having a troublesome start to the season. I'd go with Kasey Kahne for the "off the beaten path" pick - at least he has momentum on his side.

Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or email me at

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Truex Finishes Eighth in Rain-Shortened Auto Club 400

Martin Truex Jr. driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota for
Michael Waltrip Racing earned his third top 10 of 2012 in Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway.
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR 

Michael Waltrip Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. finished eighth in Sunday’s rain-shortened, but caution-free NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway. 

Truex, driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota started the Auto Club 400 in 13th and raced his way up to 10th position around lap 100. When rain put a stop to the race on lap 129, Truex remained on the track during the caution and found himself sitting in eighth when the race never resumed. 

“We were a bit off at the start of the race. We made some changes during ‘Happy Hour’ and kind of missed it a little bit, but the guys worked hard on the NAPA Toyota. At one point we were as fast as the leader for the whole run. You run 130 laps with no caution and it can get strung out, but we were able to maintain and obviously stay on the lead lap. We started making some positions up after about lap 80 or so. The very last run there we got too loose and we gave about two of the spots back. Overall, it’s been a decent day. This place was really tough on us last year. It’s nice to come in here and have a decent run -- something we can build on,” said Truex following Sunday’s race.
The finish earned Truex his third top-10 finish of the 2012 season and put him fifth in the championship standings. The driver’s highest finish so far this season was third in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. 

In comparison to the 2011 season, Truex has more top-10 finishes (three) thus far – at this point last year, Truex had only one top-10 finish. Last season, the driver finished 18th in the standings three top fives, 12 top 10s and one pole. 

Now in his seventh full season driving in the Sprint Cup Series, nearly a fourth of the driver’s 230 career starts have resulted in a top-10 finish. 

Truex’s Michael Waltrip Racing teammates also had a successful race on Sunday. Mark Martin, driver of the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota finished 12th after starting third and running in the top 10 for much of the race. Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota finished the race in 13th,a successful finish after struggling with handling issues throughout the day. 

Next week the team will head to Martinsville Speedway for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500. In the 2011 race, Truex’s day ended early when the driver lost his brakes, sending him flying into the wall, while taking Kasey Kahne (then the driver of the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota) along for the ride. 

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 51 Chevy for Phoenix
Racing is interviewed during 2012 NASCAR Media Day. 
Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR 
Another notable “underdog” of Sunday's race is Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevy for Phoenix Racing who finished ninth after starting 23rd. At the halfway point of the race, Busch was one of only 15 drivers still on the lead lap as the team was able to turn laps nearly as fast as the leaders in order to maintain position.  

“This just goes to show what results when you are smart all day,” said Busch following the Auto Club 400 on Sunday. “The car’s going back onto the trailer without a scratch on it, with a top-10 finish. That’s a first for us this year, and good adjustments were the key.” 

Heading into next week’s race at Martinsville, Busch said, “It was a nice solid day and everyone is pumped about this finish.”

Busch's team also took home two awards - the USG Improving the Finish award and the MOOG Problem Solver of the Race award.

There are several “underdogs” to watch in Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500. Martin, Jeff Burton, David Ragan, Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose all have average finishes of 18th or better over the last five years.

Ragan finished eighth in last season’s race, followed by Bowyer and then Martin in 10th. Several other drivers also had solid finishes – Logano finished 13th, followed by AJ Allmendinger in 14th, David Reutimann in 15th and Kurt Busch in 16th.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Roush Fenway Rewind: Rain doesn't stop Roush Fenway from having respectable finishes

Carl Edwards greets fans, during driver introductions at Auto
Club Speedway (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
In a race that was doomed by Mother Nature from the start, the Auto Club 400 still managed to make it past the halfway mark before the race was called for torrential rain. The boys of the Roush Fenway Racing teams all finished within the top 16 after all qualifying no lower than 15th.

At the beginning of the race at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, Greg Biffle would start his No. 16 3M Ford in the 4th position, with Carl Edwards  and his No. 99 Subway Ford in the 12th and Matt Kenseth in his No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Ford in the  15th  position. With strong qualifying positions, the Roush Fenway Racing camp had high hopes of dominating the race, as Joe Gibbs Racing seems to do during the NASCAR Nationwide races.

Within the first lap of the race, Biffle would find himself easing into the 3rd position, then splitting between the Toyota front row drivers of  Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, taking over 2nd place..  By Lap 4, Biffle was running in 3nd, Edwards in 11th, and Kenseth in 15th position.

However, despite strong starts, the RFR boys were crippled by somewhat basic car problems, including Kenseth complaining of possible motor issues. Edwards also claimed, like many other drivers, that he was “slick in one and two, sliding in the nose, and couldn’t get it to stop at all”.  Biffle often complained of needing track back adjustments and tape on his grill.

The boys were able to overcome these issues and maintain good green flag pit stops throughout the race, due to the fact there were no cautions during the race, until the rain caution fell on Lap 129.

On this caution, a number of drivers chose to pit, hoping the rain would dissipate and the race would go back to green in a short amount of time. This proved to be a frustrating pit stop for Kenseth, who ended up losing three positions in the finish of the race, due to a pit stop violation, in regards to an uncontrolled tire. He would finish the race in 16th place, rather than 13th.

On this pit stop, Edwards chose not to pit, believing with his crew chief (Bob Osborne) that the race would be called. This proved to be a good call, as Edwards would have his second top-5 finish of the season, finishing in 5th position. Biffle, also choosing to stay out of the pits, would finish 6th, one place behind Edwards. This choice would also allow Biffle to maintain his points lead, going into next week’s race at Martinsville.

The race was red flagged and soon called for rain at 2:20 p.m. PST. Many drivers and members of the media questioned this early calling of the race, but reports out of Fontana claim that the rain was still falling steadily at 7:00 p.m. PST.

Congratulations to Tony “Smoke” Stewart on his second win of the race. Rain delay or not, he had a fast car and, no doubt, had the ability to win the race had the drivers been able to run all 400 miles.

The Roush Fenway Racing teammates are now heading to Martinsville next weekend for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500, sitting strong in the points standings. Biffle leads the points, seven points ahead of Kevin Harvick. Kenseth remains in 6th position, only 22 points behind the leader. Edwards sits in the 12th position, 49 points behind Biffle.

(It must also be noted that Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR Nationwide Series driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, finished well in Saturday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, finishing in 2nd place. Roush Fenway Rewind would like to congratulate Stenhouse Jr on another great finish this season!)


Greg Biffle:
(Following Sunday’s race) “Well another decent day but not happy unless we’re winning!!! To tight and didn’t adjust on it enough coming on at the end!!

Matt Kenseth:
(Saturday, following a practice session, in response to a tweet from a fan asking “How do those bumps feel out there?”) “Bumpy.”

Carl Edwards:
As he remains, #TwitterlessCarl, I will once again turn to Lori (@99_RFRracing) for our Carl tweet. This was in response to Edwards battling Harvick for position during the race. (SN: Harvick was running his Jimmie John’s paint scheme this week)

“Ha- #CarlEdwards refers to racing @KevinHarvick as a sandwich battle (Subway vs. a competitor)”

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
(On his ride home Sunday) “On the big bird that Jack let’s us fly in headed home to nc.  Great racing at #AutoClub400 #NASCAR #RFR25

Roush Fenway Rewind would also like to apologize for no Recap following the Bristol “Food City 500”. Notes were prepared, but illness caused the recap to not be submitted. This will, hopefully, be the only week without a recap. Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tony Stewart wins in a rain shortened Auto Club 400

Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR

Heading into Auto Club Speedway if you checked the forecast, you knew the race was to the halfway mark. Drivers and teams knew that as well and the racing reflected that.

Denny Hamlin started on pole but Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch quickly took the lead. This was a welcome change for JGR, who has yet to win at Auto Club Speedway, the only active track on the circuit in which the team is winless.

The race, although only 129 laps, went caution free until the yellow was displayed for the rain. 

With five lead changes between Busch, Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart the racing was at a fever pitch because every lap counted. Typically you can drive around the first 100+ laps and go hard in the second half, today there was no second half.

Pit road was a cause of problem for many drivers. Speeding infractions resulted in pass thru penalties for Brendan Gaughan. Joey Logano, Bobby Labonte, Brad Keselowski and J.J. Yeley. That was not it for the penalties, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon were sent to the tail end of the lead lap for tire violations. Gordon’s problems did not end there, he also served a stop and go (prior to that) after removing equipment from his pit box. The gas can stuck in the car and as he pulled away, the can and Brad Pickens his gas man were both removed from the pit box. The penalty was incurred for the can being removed from the box.

As the race was halted, Tony Stewart was declared the winner and now has two victories early this season. Read more in this week’s Smoke Signals by Rebecca Kivak. 

Race Results:
1.    Tony Stewart
2.    Kyle Busch
3.    Dale Earnhardt Jr.
4.    Kevin Harvick
5.    Carl Edwards
6.    Greg Biffle
7.    Ryan Newman
8.    Martin Truex Jr.
9.    Kurt Busch
10.   Jimmie Johnson
11.   Mark Martin
12.   Denny Hamlin
13.   Matt Kenseth
14.   Clint Bowyer
15.   Kasey Kahne
16.   AJ Allmendinger
17.   Juan Pablo Montoya
18.   Brad Keselowski
19.   Paul Menard
20.   Regan Smith
21.   Marcos Ambrose
22.   Jeff Burton
23.   Casey Mears
24.   Joey Logano
25.   Aric Almirola
26.   Jeff Gordon
27.   David Reutimann
28.   Bobby Labonte
29.   Travis Kvapil
30.   David Gilliland
31.   David Ragan
32.   Jamie McMurray
33.   Dave Blaney
34.   Ken Schrader
35.   J.J. Yeley
36.   Landon Cassill
37.   Josh Wise
38.   Michael McDowell
39.   David Stremme
40.   Mike Bliss
41.   Scott Riggs
42.   Reed Sorenson
43.   Brendan Gaughan

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Under the Spotlight: Vickers Finds Luck at Fontana with Second Top 10

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton
/Getty Images Sport)

Auto Club Speedway was the site of Red Bull Racing’s first-ever top 10 finish, achieved by Brian Vickers in February 2007, and this season it is the place where Vickers earned his second top 10 since returning to racing.
Since his start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series in 2003 at the age of 19, Vickers has achieved two career wins and 11 poles.
The 2009 season was his best to date, earning himself and Red Bull Racing a spot in the Chase with one win, four top 5s, 13 top 10s and six poles.
These days, perhaps Vickers has even more of a reason to succeed.
Last year in May, Vickers was diagnosed with multiple blood clots in his leg, lungs and finger.
It was later discovered that Vickers also had a hole in his heart, as well as May-Thurner Syndrome, a rare condition involving the formation of blood clots in the left leg.
In July, just two months after his initial diagnosis, Vickers underwent heart surgery and had a stent placed in his left leg.
Vickers missed the final 25 races of the season and there was much speculation as to when he would return to racing, if ever.
Rumors were put to rest after Vickers and Red Bull Racing announced he would return to the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota for the 2011 season.
In January, Vickers found himself back in the car for a two-day test session with teammate Kasey Kahne (driver of the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota) at Disney Speedway in Orlando.
The first five races of the season have been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for Vickers, finishing 30th or worst for three out of the five.
Vickers and the No. 83 team attribute the inconsistency to getting caught up in wrecks and an overall lack of luck.
At Sunday’s race in Fontana, things seemed to turn around when Vickers attained his second top 10 of the season.
His 8th place finish in Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway has moved him up seven spots in the points to 24th.
In a pre-season interview during the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour, Vickers spoke of what it was like to be out of the car, watching from the sidelines and his expectations for the upcoming season.
“ I love racing, I love what I do," Vickers said.
“I’ve been very fortunate to do it for a long time. No matter how much you love something, it’s human nature to lose sight of that sometimes and to get tired of things and grow old of things. Being able to step back and lose what you love most really makes you appreciate it. I think that’s going to show up on the race track, in my driving, my determination and my focus in a lot of things.”
So far, so good.
This weekend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Martinsville, where Vickers finished sixth last spring.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Red Bull Rundown: Vickers, Kahne Pull Off History-Making Combined Finish at Auto Club Speedway

Brian Vickers in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota.
Credit: Tom Pennington, Getty Images Sport

Red Bull Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne achieved one of the best combined finishes in Red Bull Racing history, driving their way to 8th and 9th place finishes respectively, in Sunday’s 400-mile race at Auto Club Speedway.

The best-ever combined finish for the team came in April 2009 at Talladega with the No. 83 in eighth place and the No. 82 in fifth.
This Sunday’s result ties the team’s finish in March 2010 at Atlanta for third-best.
Vickers, who started in 19th and Kahne in 22nd, both managed to crack the top 10, but while Vickers remained toward the front of the pack most of the day, Kahne struggled with track position for a majority of the race.
The start of the season has been pretty consistent for Kahne, driver of the No. 4 Toyota, who placed in the top 10 in three out of the past five races, two of those being consecutive (one in Sunday’s race at Fontana and the other at last week’s race at Bristol).
Kahne’s Red Bull Racing teammate, Vickers, driver of the No. 83 Toyota, has not had the same luck, but this Sunday’s race brought confidence for the No. 83 team.
Vickers had the third-highest average running position (6.375) and passed more top-15 cars while under green than any other driver.
Kasey Kahne on the grid at Auto Club Speedway.
Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kahne on the other hand, struggled all day with an ill-handling car, but was saved by a series of good pit stops, using a similar strategy to that of the No. 83 team.
Kahne appeared a bit discouraged during his pre-race press conference at Fontana and seemed to have the same attitude following Sunday’s race despite his top-10 finish, a definite improvement over last year’s finish of 34th.
“We were really bad and kept working on it. The team did a good job with pit stops. We came back to right there, to a top 10, but it was a tough race,” said Kahne.
“The car wouldn’t turn, we were really loose, but it wouldn’t turn for the first 150 laps and then we made some air pressure adjustments that our teammate, the 83 (Brian Vickers) worked pretty good with that. We kind of followed them and had good pit stops. We had good pit calls, made the car a lot better, but it was way off, we weren’t close when it started.”
Vickers seemed pleased with the No. 83 team’s performance in the Auto Club 400.
“We wanted to win, but I think everyone is pretty happy,” said Vickers.
“The way our luck has been, to be honest with you, we had a good car all day, we were competitive all day, we just couldn’t quite get that last little tight out. There at the end on the restart, that 09 (Landon Cassill) hurt us a lot when he spun his tires. The guys did a great job, this is just what the Red Bull pit crew needed — a good solid day.”
After his performance in the Auto Club 400, Kahne has entered the top 10 in the point standings and is now tied for 9th (alongside Paul Menard).
Vickers has gained seven spots in the points and is now 24th (14 points out of 20th position), following Sunday’s top-10 finish.
In post-race remarks in Fontana, Vickers spoke of his new spot in the standings, as well as both Red Bull Racing drivers’ top-10 finishes at Auto Club Speedway.
“After these five races, we weren’t out of the top-35, but we were close, we were like 20-something in the high twenties. So, to move up a little bit it definitely gives us a little more comfort going into Martinsville,” said Vickers.
“Kasey (Kahne) and I have been working great together, the teams have been working well together. We’ve had two good cars week in and week out. We just haven’t had the luck to go with it. We had a good run and he’s had a problem or vice-a-versa. It’s good for both of us be up front racing competitively.”
At next week’s race at Martinsville, the Red Bull Racing team will make an attempt at another best-combined finish and Kahne will go for his fourth top 10.
In this race last year, Kahne started 23rd and finished 17th, while teammate Vickers started 14th and finished 6th.

5 Questions After ... Auto Club 400

Victory for Kevin Harvick and our 5th different winner this year.
Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR

Sunday’s race came down to the final corner of the last lap, and Kevin Harvick became the fifth different winner in as many races in 2011, the first time we’ve had such variety in winners since the beginning of the 2005 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Sure, Sunday’s Auto Club 400 was mostly a snooze-fest, but it ended with a bang and an unexpected winner. Be honest, did you really think anyone was going to beat Kyle Busch?

I didn’t think so. And if you said yes, you’re lying.

Here are some questions on my mind after Fontana …  

When will Kyle Busch snap? … I keep waiting and waiting and waiting for Busch to wind up ticked off after a race, punching the air, and storming away from reporters after the race. At the very least, I’ve expected some rude and crude remarks after a frustrating day.

It hasn’t happened yet.

Of all the circumstances Busch has been in this year, this was the one time I not only expected him to show some emotion, but I also wouldn’t have faulted him for it. Busch set a blazing fast pace at Fontana, leading 151 of the 200 laps in the race. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin led the second-highest number of laps at 15.

Fifteen laps. No driver other than Busch led more than 15 laps. That’s how good he was.

Yet he didn’t win. A late race restart proved to be Busch’s demise, which is surprising because Busch himself has claimed to be the “king of the restarts.” Five-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson and Richard Childress Racing driver Kevin Harvick both managed to get around Busch with just a few laps remaining. Harvick wound up shoving Johnson down the backstretch and pulled a dazzling move in turns 3 and 4 to pull ahead of Johnson and win the race. Harvick’s only lap led was when he crossed the start/finish line first.

Surely, I thought, Busch would be rather PO’ed. He’s not always been a very gracious loser, and this was a particularly tough loss. Do I smell smoke because I think he’s gonna blow!

“It’s just we give it up, you know. We gave the race away today, unfortunately. We seem to be losing the handle a little bit two runs from the end and especially that last set of tires. We just didn’t quite have what it took in order to keep the front end under the car and then the back end under the car on the exits of the corner. I just couldn’t get the right speed that I needed. The guys did a great job this weekend. The Interstate Batteries Camry was good from when we unloaded the second one Friday. I can’t say enough about the guys on pit road and the guys back at the shop. They did a great job for us and got us in position and just unfortunately I couldn’t get the job done today. I didn’t have what it took there at the end.”

Did he actually sound … apologetic? Heck, he even apologized to his crew on the cool down lap after the race!

Someone file a missing person report! Kyle Busch is officially MIA.
Kyle Busch led almost the entire race: 151 of 200 laps
Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR

What has happened to Mark Martin? … Speaking of MIA, where is Mark Martin? All three of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates have had some success in some form or another this season, yet Martin has very quietly seemingly ceased to exist.

The fact Martin has yet to lead a lap this season probably has something to do with it, the only of the four HMS drivers to not have spent at least some time up front.

Here are Martin’s finishes in the first five races of the season: 10th, 13th, 18th, 12th, and 20th. That’s right, Martin has only finished in the top 10 once this season.

To be fair, Martin’s teammate Jeff Gordon only has one top-10 finish this year too, but at least his was a win!

Martin is in his final contract with HMS, and the organization will be making room for Kasey Kahne once the 2011 season is out. Martin’s last win came in the 2009 Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a season in which he earned five victories and a second-place finish in points to teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Lance McGrew replaced Alan Gustafson on top of the pit box over the off-season, but so far the changes don’t seem to be working as well for Martin as they have for his teammates. However, we’re only five races in and maybe Martin will wind up being a late bloomer.

What’s up with Joe Gibbs Racing? … Denny Hamlin was just another in a long line of engine failures for JGR this season, retiring from Sunday’s race just past halfway due to some engine issues.

While Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota sat lonely in the garage area, Hamlin spoke with reporters and said the issues look to be a problem with the valve train. Now, I don’t know much about the technical aspects of the racing world, but I know that this is a problem they need to address quickly. All three JGR cars have had at least one engine problem since the start of the season, and Joey Logano wound up having to start at the rear of the field in Sunday’s race because of an engine change.

Hamlin came into this season as the title favorite after finishing a heartbreaking second in what was a career year for the Virginia native in 2010. Kyle Busch has already had a strong start to the year in both series, and both drivers need reliable engines if they are going to be solid championship contenders once the Chase starts in September.

Does Fontana deserve its bad reputation? … I definitely don’t think the track is as drastically bad as people make it out to be. After all, both races had some good racing and exciting finishes that kept fans talking well after the checkered flag had fallen.

While Saturday’s Nationwide Series race was competitive throughout, thanks to several strong cars that put on a show for most of the race, Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race remained a snoozer for a majority of the race. There were only four cautions of the day, two of which were for debris. The first caution involving an actual spin/crash was on lap 172 when Andy Lally spun off of turn 4. The rest of the race was rather competitive, with tire strategy playing a part and some competitive cars getting a chance to show their stuff for the first time all day.

Auto Club Speedway made the right move when they cut 100 laps off of the race distance, making it a 400 (instead of 500) mile race. Saturday’s race, though, felt like the perfect distance and kept the drivers racing all the way through. Maybe to cut down on some of the parade racing that was seen in Sunday’s race, cutting off another 100 miles might generate some added excitement. Make the Nationwide Series race 200 miles instead of 300 and maybe race fans will start getting more enjoyment out of the Fontana race weekend.

Who is the favorite to win the title? … Five races in, we really haven’t seen one dominant driver. Some big names have struggled, while others have continued success from last season. Even then, there has been such a variety in winners and competitors it’s hard to tell who is a contender and who is a pretender.

So far, Carl Edwards is leading the standings, the driver with arguably the most momentum right now. Edwards hasn’t slowed down since winning Phoenix and Homestead last season, not even letting a crash at Phoenix International Raceway earlier this season slow him down.

Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch have also been strong this year, and Kevin Harvick’s name is now being tossed around for the championship. Sure, it’s early in the season to start speculation on the title race, but with a new points system you never really know what to expect.  

Bonus questions: Does Kevin Harvick now have a golden horseshoe? … Is Kasey Kahne beginning to fit in at Red Bull Racing? … Is Juan Pablo Montoya getting closer to winning on an oval?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kevin Harvick Wins Auto Club 400 With Last Lap Pass

Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kevin Harvick won the Auto Club 400 with amazing flare and style, a last lap pass on the 5 time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson who was battling with Kyle Busch for the lead in the last 3 laps.

Harvick, who grew up in nearby Bakersfield, California, finally got a victory on his home track. He has had success on the track, including eight top-10 finishes.

After Juan Pablo Montoya started on the pole, Denny Hamlin took the lead on lap 8. Hamlin led for 15 laps before being passed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Busch did not look back, after taking control he led 5 times for a total of 151 laps.

The race was problem free for most, Andy Lally (#71) spun at lap 172 and Bobby Labonte also had an accident at lap 187, resulting in a caution and cleanup due to a fire under the hood.

Denny Hamlin, who was last years' runner up in the Chase, had an early end to his day. His issue is unclear at the moment, although it is being attributed to engine or electrical issues. This was not the only engine issue for JGR this weekend, Joey Logano had to start from the rear of the field due to an engine change prior to today's race.
Team celebration Credit: Jared C. Tilton/gGetty Images for NASCAR         

Today's complete results:

  1. Kevin Harvick
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Kyle Busch
  4. Matt Kenseth
  5. Ryan Newman
  6. Carl Edwards
  7. Clint Bowyer
  8. Brian Vickers
  9. Kasey Kahne
  10. Juan Pablo Montoya
  11. Greg Biffle
  12. Dale Earnhardt  Jr.
  13. Tony Stewart
  14. AJ Allmendinger
  15. Jeff Burton
  16. Paul Menard
  17. Kurt Busch
  18. Jeff Gordon
  19. David Reuitmann
  20. Mark Martin
  21. Martin Truex Jr.
  22. David Ragan
  23. Jamie McMurray
  24. Landon Cassill
  25. Joey Logano
  26. Brad Keselowski
  27. Regan Smith
  28. Marcos Ambrose
  29. Casey Mears
  30. Trevor Bayne
  31. David Gilliland
  32. Andy Lally
  33. Ken Schrader
  34. Robby Gordon
  35. Travis Kvapil
  36. Tony Raines
  37. Dave Blaney
  38. Bobby Labonte
  39. Denny Hamlin
  40. Todd Bodine
  41. JJ Yeley
  42. Joe Nemechek
  43. Michael McDowell
Stay tuned to the points update tomorrow, we have a  new leader and as of next week's race in Martinsville the top 35 begin using 2011 points so all top 35 will be recapped.