Blogs > Nascar: Beyond the Track

Find out what's really going on in NASCAR. Look here to find out why your driver really lost his ride, or the real reason those two drivers can't stand each other. Learn about the hidden motives and reasons for the things that happen in NASCAR, from the drivers to the team owners.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Danica coming full-time to NASCAR would be both great and horrible

OK. I know it’s still all talk. ESPN is reporting Danica will make the leap to NASCAR Nationwide racing full time in 2012, allegedly at this point.

If it does happen, it’s no surprise. NASCAR is where the money is at, and honestly almost no one cares about Indycar racing … it’s harsh to say, but it’s the truth.
So assuming it will happen, what do I think about it?

On the positive side, it will bring a ton of attention to the sport. Attendance will rise at the tracks, viewership on TV will rise for the races, and many new fans will come to the sport.

This is all very positive, and I welcome these changes that would result directly from a Danica entry into NASCAR.

Then, of course, there is the downside of Danica – and it is called OVEREXPOSURE. Every TV show, every race will focus on her disproportionately, regardless if she’s running 1st or 35th. This will be of interest to the newbies, but true fans who actually want to follow the important on-track action will be more than a little annoyed.

And if you think the fawning over Danica is bad now in Nationwide, imagine if she ever moves up to Cup. It would only grow exponentially.

So what’s the verdict? Regardless of what I or anything else thinks, Danica is likely on her way, and we’ll have to take the good with the bad. Thankfully, I have a DVR, so

I can record the races and fast-forward through all the fawning media coverage about her once her full-time arrival comes to be a reality.

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Driving 128 mph is fine, Kyle Busch ... just do it on the racetrack

OK. So Kyle Busch got busted driving 128 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone.

Some people are saying he should have been arrested, as most everyday Joes would have been. But honestly, I’m not surprised he wasn’t – celebrities rarely get the same treatment as us.

And if you’re really surprised that a NASCAR driver was going way too fast in a sportscar … you’re just being silly.

Sure, he could have hurt someone, but it’s pretty likely this is the last time this will happen. Once Coach Gibbs has a talk with him (not to mention Samantha), he’ll probably realize what a dumb move his joyride was.

My advice to Kyle: Keep it on the track, buddy. You don’t need to give anyone another reason to dislike you.

NASCAR The Game 2011 comes to Nintendo Wii
NASCAR The Game 2011 is now available for the Nintendo Wii System. It is already available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
You can compete as a real driver, or create your own character.
“We’ve heard firsthand from the fans that they were very eagerly awaiting the launch of NASCAR The Game 2011 on the Wii,” said Blake Davidson, NASCAR vice president for licensing and consumer products. “I don’t think they’ll be disappointed at all. The same non-stop, thrilling racing action that can be found in the other console versions is also available in the Wii release. Having this entertaining new game on the Wii strongly bolsters our move to reach a younger demographic and introduce them to a new experience in NASCAR.”

Racers will have continual spotter feedback to adjust them to the drafts, blocks and slingshot maneuvers used on the track. Split-screen racing lets players take on any challenger.

NASCAR The Game 2011 is available on the Wii for $49.99 and for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for $59.99. It is rated E for Everyone by the ESRB. For more info visit

Time has come for Iowa to get a Cup race
With so many cookie-cutter tracks on the Cup series schedule, I say it’s high time that we saw some more variety. Iowa Speedway put on a great show this past weekend, as the track always does. This short track is full of excitement, and blows away some of the tracks that have Cup races (Pocono being the first one that comes to mind: they could easily lose a race, and few people would complain.)

The sold-out crowd this weekend should be a sign that the track is ready to move up to Cup. And while I’m not holding my breath, if this were to happen I’m sure fans would be better served.

“Iowans have a long-standing passion for auto racing,” said Newton Mayor and Green Flag Alliance President Chaz Allen. “With a quarter million people coming to the Speedway last season, we generated an economic impact of more than $34 million for our state and undoubtedly captured the interest of NASCAR representatives.
“We are looking to build upon this success, continue to generate sellout crowds and hopefully lure a Sprint Cup race to Iowa,” he added.

Congrats to Stenhouse
Amazingly, on a weekend that featured an All-Star race, the highlight was a Nationwide race – which actually featured Nationwide regular winning – IMAGINE THAT!

Off the heels of the boring All-Star race, which was barely worth watching, Stenhouse put on a great battle with Carl Edwards and beat the Cup star to the checkered flag, and hopefully started a trend of Nationwide regulars winning, though if history holds true it might be the only time it happens this year.

Looking at Stenhouse’s story, it’s pretty amazing. Less than a year ago, both he and Colin Braun were on thin ice at Roush, and the arrival of Trevor Bayne meant they both were on the hot seat. Braun fell by the wayside, never settling in well at Roush, but Stenhouse turned his season around late in 2010 and picked up where he left off in the beginning of 2011. He is now a future Roush star in the making, and is the best comeback story of the season. The young man has great potential (and rumor has it he might get to start the Coke 600 in the #21 car is Trevor Bayne is still ill and unable to drive).

As they say, when you’re hot you’re hot – and that’s definitely a good way to describe Stenhouse right now.

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Coke 600 and Charlotte Motor Speedway: Facts and figures

At Charlotte Motor Speedway:
-- Construction began on Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1959.
-- The track’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held on June 19, 1960.
-- The track was repaved midseason in 1994.
-- The track name changed from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 1999. It changed back to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 2010 season.
-- The track was re-paved again before the 2006 season.

-- There have been 104 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, two races per year since the track opened in 1960. In 1961, there were two 100-mile qualifying points races held the week before the May race. The first six fall races at Charlotte were 400-mile events (1960-65).
-- 37 drivers have posted poles, led by David Pearson with 14.
-- Fireball Roberts won the pole for the first race, in 1960.
-- David Pearson posted 11 straight poles at Charlotte from the fall of 1973 through 1978.
-- Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in poles, with nine. Jeff Gordon has eight.
-- Jeff Gordon won five straight poles for the spring races between 1994 and 1998.
-- 43 drivers have won races, led by Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Jimmie Johnson, with six each.
-- Joe Lee Johnson won the first race, in 1960.
-- There have been 13 back-to-back victories, including three consecutive by Fred Lorenzen (fall 1964 and both 1965) and four straight by Jimmie Johnson (both in 2004 and 2005).
-- A sweep has occurred eight times, including each season from 2004-2007.
-- 14 races have been won from the pole, the last by Jimmie Johnson (October 2009).
-- Jimmie Johnson won the 2003 Coca-Cola 600 from the 37th starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.
-- Joey Logano is one of two drivers with more than two Charlotte races to average top-10 finishes (8.5); Jimmie Johnson is the other, with an average finish of 9.8.
-- A number of active drivers earned their first win at CMS: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and David Reutimann. Inactive drivers David Pearson, Buddy Baker and Charlie Glotzbach also got their first series win at Charlotte.

NASCAR in North Carolina
-- There have been 512 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in North Carolina.
-- 424 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as North Carolina.
-- There have been 43 race winners from North Carolina in NASCAR’s three national series; 28 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series:
Richard Petty 200 0 0
Dale Earnhardt 76 21 0
Lee Petty 54 0 0
Ned Jarrett 50 0 0
Junior Johnson 50 0 0
Herb Thomas 48 0 0
Buck Baker 46 0 0
Bobby Isaac 37 0 0
Dale Jarrett 32 11 0
Jim Paschal 25 0 0
Benny Parsons 21 0 0
Speedy Thompson 20 0 0
Buddy Baker 19 0 0
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 18 23 0
Harry Gant 18 21 0
Bob Welborn 9 0 0
Kyle Petty 8 0 0
Morgan Shepherd 4 15 0
Bill Blair 3 0 0
Gwyn Staley 3 0 0
Brian Vickers 2 3 0
Jimmy Pardue 2 0 0
Billy Myers 2 0 0
Phil Parsons 1 2 0
Donald Thomas 1 0 0
Richard Brickhouse 1 0 0
Buddy Shuman 1 0 0
Leon Sales 1 0 0
Jack Ingram 0 31 0
Tommy Houston 0 24 0
Sam Ard 0 22 0
Robert Pressley 0 10 2
Scott Riggs 0 4 5
Dennis Setzer 0 2 18
Hank Parker Jr. 0 2 0
Johnny Rumley 0 2 0
Ed Berrier 0 1 0
Stephen Leicht 0 1 0
Justin Labonte 0 1 0
Andy Houston 0 0 3
Timothy Peters 0 0 2
Austin Dillon 0 0 2
Shane Hmiel 0 0 1

Charlotte Motor Speedway Data
Race #: 12 of 36 (05-29-11)
Track Size: 1.5 miles
-- Banking/Corners: 24 degrees
-- Banking/Straights: 5 degrees
-- Frontstretch: 1,980 feet
-- Backstretch: 1,500 feet

Driver Rating at Charlotte
Jimmie Johnson 114.7
Kyle Busch 108.2
Joey Logano 102.8
Kasey Kahne 95.7
Mark Martin 92.6
Matt Kenseth 89.4
Jeff Gordon 88.9
Brian Vickers 88.0
Jeff Burton 87.3
Greg Biffle 86.6
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2010 races (12 total) at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Qualifying/Race Data
2010 pole winner: Ryan Newman (187.546 mph, 28.793 seconds)
2010 race winner: Kurt Busch
(144.966 mph, 05-30-10)
Qualifying record: Elliott Sadler (193.216 mph, 27.948 seconds,
600-mile race record: Bobby Labonte (151.952 mph, 05-28-95)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kudos to ESPN for going “nonstop” with commercials; events abound during Charlotte Speedweeks

Thanks ESPN, for finally listening to the fans.

After far too many instances of important on-track action being missed due to commercials, many fans have been asking for years for the networks to show commercials side by side with the race.

This year, ESPN will do finally do it, letting viewers catch all the action.
The new “NASCAR Nonstop” format will be in effect for the races that make up the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, starting with the race at Chicagoland Speedway Sept. 18.

The format will show the ads on the left of the screen and racing action on the right side. Even better, ESPN’s scoring ticker will continue across the top of the screen, so you can still track the running order.

“Since we returned to NASCAR racing in 2007, one of the most common questions from our fans has been ‘why don’t you do the commercials side-by-side?’” said John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president, content. “We’re very pleased to be able to do it now with NASCAR NonStop and showcase the advertiser while still showcasing the race. ESPN’s mission is to serve sports fans and this is a way to give the fans more racing action during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.”

Skipper said that ESPN worked with NASCAR to create the format for NASCAR NonStop.

"NASCAR has the most dedicated and loyal fans in the world, and we are constantly trying to enhance how those fans consume this great sport,” said Paul Brooks, president of NASCAR Media Group. “ESPN’s ‘NonStop’ format will ensure our fans maximize their viewing experience during the most intense and thrilling time of the season – the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.”

Events aplenty during Charlotte Speedweeks
There will be plenty of action in and around the Charlotte area this week and next week during Charlotte Speedweeks.

The seventh annual NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge presented by Craftsman will take place Thursday, May 19 at 7 p.m. at Time Warner Cable Arena (TV start time is delayed until 8 p.m.). This competition between the top 24 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pit crews has become a popular event among the fans and features the "unsung heroes" of the sport. The event’s finishing order determines pit selection for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. The No. 11 FedEx Toyota is the defending Pit Crew Challenge Champion.

-- Friday, May 20, NASCAR Day – The NASCAR community will unite with its inaugural NASCAR Day Car Wash For Kids, a national volunteer effort and fundraiser to support children’s charities across the country. More than 30 venues, including 15 NASCAR race tracks will hold car wash events. Proceeds from NASCAR Day Car Wash for Kids will benefit local children’s charities and The NASCAR Foundation. Limited-edition NASCAR Day pins are also available and support the mission of Victory Junction. The pins are available for a $10 donation at The Sprint Experience at-track and at WWW.NASCAR.COM/foundation.
-- Friday, May 20, 5 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway – NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Qualifying (for tickets call 1-800-455-FANS or log onto – SPEED to televise.
-- Friday, May 20, 8 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway – NASCAR Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 (for tickets call 1-800-455-FANS or – SPEED to televise.
-- Saturday, May 21, 7:30 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway – Sprint Showdown (top-two finishers qualify for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race). For tickets call 1-800-455-FANS or – SPEED to televise.
-- Saturday, May 21, 9 p.m., Charlotte Motor Speedway – NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (for tickets call 1-800-455-FANS or – SPEED to televise.
-- Sunday, May 22, NASCAR Hall of Fame – NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Fan Day, featuring Q&A’s and autograph sessions with Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Richard Petty, and Hall of Fame inductees Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore and David Pearson. Also in attendance will be Maurice Petty, who will represent inductee, Lee Petty.
-- Monday, May 23, 7 p.m., NASCAR Hall of Fame – 2011 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Allison, Jarrett, Moore, Petty and Pearson are officially inducted as the second class. The Induction Ceremony is open to the public. The historic event takes place in the Charlotte Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom, which is connected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and can be purchased through Ticketmaster or by calling 800-745-3000.

You can also keep up to date with all the events by following @NASCAR on Twitter (Hashtag: #SprintAllStar) and logging onto

Robby going back to his roots
Robby Gordon will compete in short-course off-road racing this weekend t the dual Glen Helen Raceway rounds of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. Gordon will race in the premier Pro 2 Unlimited class.

"Robby's from Southern California originally, and having him - a famous off-road and NASCAR racer - out on the track will only bring more fans and more competition to an already popular and competitive series," says Tony Vanillo of the Lucas Oil Off road Racing Series. "We're really excited to see how he fares out there against the best of the best in modern short-course racing."

Gordon said he looks at this as a chance to get back to his roots.

"Short-course racing is a lot of fun," says Gordon. "They're sprint races, so they aren't long, and I don't want to say there's a lot of beating and banging because I don't want to beat up my truck, but there is a lot of tight, wheel-to-wheel racing out there. It's a good show."

"Too much business, not enough fun lately," Gordon says, "But since we weren't in the All-Star Race [in NASCAR that weekend], and with the television package the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series provides, we figured it was a good opportunity to promote our product, Speed Energy, on our truck."

NASCAR brings back Wendell Scott Scholarship Program
He may not be getting much love from the Hall of Fame nominators, but at least Wendell Scott’s name lives on through NASCAR’s Wendell Scott Scholarship Program, which started last year and will return tin 2011.

The program is funded in part by UPS, and was established to provide financial support to deserving African-American and Hispanic students currently enrolled in college who are pursuing degrees in areas of study related to motorsports, including marketing, engineering and public relations. The scholarship program is part of NASCAR Diversity Affairs’ integrated initiative that includes a scholarship program, mentorship program and summer internship program.

“We are continually seeking ways to further engage students as fans and as future employees of the sport,” said Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR vice president, public affairs and multicultural development. “The goal is to create permanent employment prospects for diverse college students entering the work force through viable, real-world opportunities.”

The NASCAR Wendell Scott Scholarship Program provides annual scholarships administered by the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities (HACU) and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). In addition, NASCAR and UPS support a scholarship program for students attending the University of Central Florida, DeVos School of Management which offers a master’s program in sports management.

“UPS’s commitment to diversity extends beyond our workforce, and we’re excited to continue our support with NASCAR in this important initiative,” said Ron Rogowski, UPS vice president, global sponsorships & events.
The scholarships are based on the following award criteria:
-- 3.0 GPA requirement
-- Documented financial need
-- College juniors, seniors and graduate students with majors in: business, communications, engineering, mass media, public relations or technology

Wendell Scott was the first African American driver to win a NASCAR Cup race. He won in NASCAR's premier series on Dec. 1, 1963, on a 1-mile dirt track in Jacksonville, Fla. Wendell Scott made 495 starts during his career and posted 147 top-10 finishes before retiring in 1973. Scott died in 1990. As part of an ongoing effort to recognize trailblazers in the sport, Wendell Scott was recognized during the Las Vegas Race the weekend of March 4-6, 2011, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of his first start – March 4, 1961 in Spartanburg, SC.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Facts and figures: NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race

Charlotte Motor Speedway Data
Track Size: 1.5 miles
— Banking/Corners: 24 degrees
— Banking/Straights: 5 degrees
— Frontstretch: 1,980 feet
— Backstretch: 1,500 feet

2011 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race

Entry List
Bayne, Trevor
Biffle, Greg
Bowyer, Clint
Busch, Kurt
Busch, Kyle
Edwards, Carl
Gordon, Jeff
Hamlin, Denny
Harvick, Kevin
Johnson, Jimmie
Kahne, Kasey
Kenseth, Matt
Martin, Mark
McMurray, Jamie
Montoya, Juan Pablo
Newman, Ryan
Reutimann, David
Smith, Regan
Stewart, Tony
Fan Vote Winner
Winner Sprint Showdown
Second Place Sprint Showdown

NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race
-- There have been 26 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Races.
-- The first NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race was in 1985.
-- 25 have been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In 1986, the event was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and won by Bill Elliott. That season was also the first year for what is now known as the Sprint Showdown.
-- 84 drivers have run in at least one All-Star Race.
-- There have been 18 different winners of the All-Star Race.
-- Mark Martin has participated in 21 races, more than any other driver.
-- The race has featured a field that ranged from 10 drivers in 1986 to 27 in 2002.
-- Dale Earnhardt (1987, 1990 and 1993) and Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997 and 2001) are the only three-time winners of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
-- There have been seven different winners in the last seven NASCAR Sprint All-Star races.
-- Davey Allison (1991 and 1992), Terry Labonte (1988 and 1999), Mark Martin (1998 and 2005) and Jimmie Johnson (2003 and 2006) are the only other drivers to post multiple victories in the All-Star Race. Allison is the only driver to ever win consecutive All-Star events.
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2000) and Ryan Newman (2002) are the only drivers to win the All-Star Race in their rookie season.
-- Jeff Gordon is the youngest winner of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at 23 years, 9 months and 18 days (1995). Mark Martin is the oldest at 46 years, 4 months and 12 days (2005).
-- Matt Kenseth has a 6.6 average finish in 10 appearances in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, the best of any driver in this weekend’s field; followed by Jimmie Johnson with a 6.7 average finish in nine appearances. The best average finish by a driver with more than five starts is Ken Schrader, at 6.125.
-- The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race has been won from the pole position four times; the first three came in consecutive years: Dale Earnhardt (1990) and Davey Allison (1991 and 1992). Kurt Busch posted the fourth win from the pole last season.
-- The deepest in the field an All-Star Race winner has started was 27th, by Ryan Newman in 2002.
-- Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won six All-Star Races: Jeff Gordon (three), Jimmie Johnson (two) and Terry Labonte (one).
-- Five drivers have won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in the same year: Darrell Waltrip (1985), Dale Earnhardt (1987, 1990, 1993), Rusty Wallace (1989), Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997, 2001) and Jimmie Johnson (2006).
-- The record for lead changes in a NASCAR Sprint All-Star race is 10 in 2004. The most different leaders is nine in 2002.

NASCAR Sprint All-Star Wins List
Year Driver

1985 Darrell Waltrip
1986 Bill Elliott
1987 Dale Earnhardt
1988 Terry Labonte
1989 Rusty Wallace
1990 Dale Earnhardt
1991 Davey Allison
1992 Davey Allison
1993 Dale Earnhardt
1994 Geoff Bodine
1995 Jeff Gordon
1996 Michael Waltrip
1997 Jeff Gordon
1998 Mark Martin
1999 Terry Labonte
2000 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2001 Jeff Gordon
2002 Ryan Newman
2003 Jimmie Johnson
2004 Matt Kenseth
2005 Mark Martin
2006 Jimmie Johnson
2007 Kevin Harvick
2008 Kasey Kahne
2009 Tony Stewart
2010 Kurt Busch

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Crazy Nationwide finish at Dover; Bayne may return to racing soon

Dover often provides some wild racing, and the end of the Nationwide race Saturday was no exception.

With a tight race between Carl Edwards and Joey Logano, both racing hard in a Green-White-Checkered finish, Logano got loose and major carnage ensued – knocking Clint Bowyer sideways and destroying the cars of Logano, Steven Wallace, and many others.

From his perspective, Edwards described it as follows:
“That was an odd finish emotionally for me to be honest with you. I thought I had bumped him and I thought somebody was hurt there. That looked like a bad enough wreck that I thought somebody was hurt. It was a very different feeling than you normally have in a race car at the end of a race. I am glad that I didn’t hit him and everything was okay. That is a product of what we do. When it comes down to it this race track we were driving so hard and there is so much grip and you are giving everything you can and the cars are so close at the end. Joey was racing as hard as he could and I was racing as hard as I could and that is why they call it the Monster Mile.”

Logano said that while on the track, he couldn’t tell what happened, and that ultimately it was just a product of hard racing.

"It just seemed like I either got tagged or I think just Carl (Edwards) coming up took the air off me enough to make me loose. Those shark fins they got them – you get a car underneath you right about that point you feel the car starting to get loose. It's unfortunate man. I felt like we had something to win this thing with the GameStop car. We had a good day, for sure. Just trying to get that little bit there at the end. Wish we didn't tear up as many cars as we did."

Jack Roush gives update on Bayne
It’s been a few weeks that Trevor Bayne has been sidelined due to an illness, but Jack Roush said Friday at Dover that we might seem him on track soon.
“I can’t say definitely because I don’t have the right pay grade and education for that, but he is making progress and his symptoms are by and large gone,” Roush said. “His blurred vision is by and large gone but we are going to take him to Grisham in Georgia to give him some laps to see if he is comfortable and then report back to the doctors and NASCAR to see what they think.”

Congrats to Bill Lester
Bill Lester, former NASCAR driver and current Grand-Am series competitor, took the checkered flag for the first time in his career Saturday in the Grand-Am series at Virginia International Raceway. It was also the first victory for his teammate Jordan Taylor, and the Autohaus Motorsports team.
“Everything came together,” Lester said. “Don’t let Jordan sell himself short, i mean that guy’s is really a rock star; he can flat drive a car. He brought it home, all I had to do is bring him the car. But it all starts with preparation at Autohaus, they did a phenomenal job.”

Lesson One: Don’t drive into traffic
Young Kevin Swindell was doing a decent job filling in for Trevor Bayne, when 19-year-old Alex Kennedy, who had already wrecked, drove straight into traffic and collected the #16 car.

As Swindell described it: “I was talking on the radio and trying to get a drink and get ready to come down pit road and I guess whoever was wrecked thought they could drive back across and drove straight up the hill. I was coming and at least it was just me and he didn’t wipe out more of us, but it ruins a great opportunity for me. We had finally got our stuff going there and the track was coming back to us. We weren’t too good at the beginning with the green track but we were getting better and finally getting back and passing some cars. It is frustrating what happened. It tore up a great Roush Fenway Ford and this may have been my only opportunity and it gets ruined by somebody being an idiot.”

Kennedy tried to defend himself by saying his car wouldn’t turn like he thought it would, but the fact here is pretty simple – Kennedy’s spotter should have told him to stay down low until all cars passed. It was yellow anyway, and his car was wrecked so there was no hurry. And more importantly, he should have seen the cars coming himself and known not to try and turn around when he did.

These kind of unexpected accidents can be deadly (this one kind of reminded me of the fatal accident when Deborah Renshaw hit a stopped Eric Martin on the track in an ARCA race), and Kennedy and his spotter should be penalized for their dangerous decision-making.

Lineup set by practice times for the first time
In the past, when qualifying was rained out, the field was set by owner points. Today, it was set by practice time at Dover, per the new NASCAR rules this year.
One big beneficiary was A.J. Allmendinger, who will start 2nd based on his practice time, right nextto Jimmie Johnson.

“For me, I used to be down in the 20’s in points so this actually worked out well. It was good. I feel like we came here and did the Goodyear tire test and this is my favorite track and the one I am best at. We unloaded good yesterday and worked on it a little bit. You really have to figure out when the right time to do a Q run is. We went out there and felt like we put up a really good lap. We were right there with Jimmie and unfortunately he had to cheat and do one extra run to beat my lap. I would like to have gotten qualifying in, but I think with the new system all we want is to control our own destiny instead of having something determined by stuff that was in the past like points. As long as you can control your own destiny you can’t complain. Starting second I am happy with. I feel like the Best Buy Ford is really good in race trim. Hopefully Jimmie and I will duel it out again.”

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NASCAR community helping victims of disasters

With so many weather disasters recently, the NASCAR community has come together to help disaster relief efforts.
Pledging more than $400,000 in donations and supplies to help those affected by these events, the NASCAR community contribution is being led by a donation of $250,000 to the American Red Cross by The NASCAR Foundation. Tracks, teams, sponsors, drivers and NASCAR fans have pledged their time, money and supplies to aid those in need.

“The entire NASCAR community has embraced the central purpose of NASCAR Unites," said The NASCAR Foundation Chairwoman Betty Jane France. "We are striving toprovide assistance to those communities in the Southeast that have been severely affected by the recent disasters. Our efforts show the positive impact our sport can have when called into action. We have a responsibility to help out, and we are proud to do so.” To find out more and to donate, visit NASCAR.COM/Unites.

Highlighting those efforts were:

NASCAR Race Tracks
-- Talladega Superspeedway pledged more than $100,000 and held fan events and auctions to help those in its surrounding community.
-- Auto Club Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Watkins Glen International contributed exclusive race track experiences to the NASCAR Unites Disaster Relief auction in conjunction with Talladega Superspeedway. The Auction closes at 11:59 PM on May 16. Fans can bid on these experience packages by logging on to NASCAR.COM/Unites.
-- Atlanta Motor Speedway donated $1.00 to the American Red Cross from each Friday Night Drags grandstand ticket sold during the season opener on April 29. The event raised $5,362 for the American Red Cross.
-- Bristol Motor Speedway’s Race to Relief created 24 hours of awareness by allowing fans to donate money in exchange for a chance to drive on the track. In addition, BMS donated a percentage of tickets sold for their IRWIN Tools Night Race weekend.
-- Darlington Raceway donated $1,000 to the American Red Cross and provided a VIP ticket package to support Talladega Superspeedway’s fundraising efforts.

-- Motor Racing Network led efforts to collect donations and supplies with the help of several race teams including Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Red Bull Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing.
-- Red Bull Racing and Hendrick Motorsports provided transporters to deliver approximately 70,000 pounds of items to a town in Alabama impacted by the recent tornadoes.
-- Following the North Carolina tornadoes, members of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team visited the devastated Lowe’s store in Sanford. The team met affected Lowe’s employees and volunteered at the Salvation Army.

NASCAR Drivers and Driver Charities
-- The Ryan Newman Foundation collected supplies for displaced pets and transported these to the region for distribution.
-- The Denny Hamlin Foundation pledged proceeds from its recent charitable event in Richmond to the American Red Cross efforts.
-- Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation raised more than $5,000 to help with children's items, such as baby food, socks, underwear, diapers and wipes.
-- Speedway Children’s Charities Charlotte Chapter collected items for Raleigh Salvation Army to support disaster relief efforts as a result of the April storms in the area.
-- Anheuser-Busch, sponsor of Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 Chevy Malibu donated approximately 800,000 cans of water in eight U.S. states to support relief efforts associated with storms, tornadoes, wildfires and floods.
-- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. ran a special NASCAR Unites paint scheme during the NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Dover in support of flood relief efforts in his home state of Mississippi.
-- The Women’s Auxiliary of Motorsports will host several events in the upcoming months and has made a one-year commitment to assist individuals within the NASCAR community in the rebuilding process. WAM will host a Charity Bingo Night at The Pavilion at Tom Johnson Campground at zMAX Dragway May 24th. WAM also partnered with Venturini Motorsports, Creative Business Solutions, and WAAX-570 AM Radio in Gadsden, Alabama to help generate children clothes and basic household items for those in need throughout the communities affected.

NASCAR Media Partners/Industry Sponsors
-- Hendrick Motorsports partner Time Warner Cable held a telethon to generate donations toward Red Cross tornado relief efforts in North Carolina. Rick Hendrick, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte appeared in television segments and online videos to encourage donations.
-- The Home Depot Foundation created a $1 million weather impact fund to aid relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts in response to the recent storms throughout the Southeast, which includes a $250,000 donation to the American Red Cross.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

“Have at it boys” policy means NASCAR couldn’t punish Harvick, Busch too harshly

NASCAR has itself in an interesting predicament right now.

On one hand, they have announced that the drivers should be free to express themselves when upset with each other, and are free to “have at it”.

On the other hand, they don’t want the drivers to go too crazy and end up hurting someone.

So the incident Saturday at Darlington between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick puts them in an interesting position. In response to the drivers’ actions on pit road Saturday night , some “penalties” were handed out Tuesday.

Busch and Harvick have each been fined $25,000 and placed on probation for the next four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events until June 15.

“These penalties are a result of what occurred on pit road after the race was over,” said Kerry Tharp, senior director for communications, competition. “They are about maintaining a safe environment on pit road.”

First of all, the money means nothing, as these Cup drivers are all millionaires now.

Second, the probations means nothing, as nothing ever comes of it. Despite calls for it by some fans at times, NASCAR pretty much never suspends a driver from future races. (I can only think of a couple examples in the past decade, and they were in relation to actions in Nationwide or Truck series races years ago.)

Third, I’m fine with this limited punishment scenario and don’t believe anything more should be done.
Let’s face it – Fans like to see excitement, and what’s more exciting that the series’ two most hotheaded drivers facing off both on and off the track? Of course, I prefer they keep it away from the other drivers on the track, but a little dustup after the race never bothered me at all. In fact, the biggest dustup ever – between Cale Yarborough and the Allisons after 1979’s Daytona 500 – helped raise the sport’s popularity among the masses of America.

There have to be limits of course, and anything that would endanger the well-being of any of the drivers needs to be addressed. Last year’s battles between Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski went a little too far, and since then the two of them have calmed down and gained more respect for each other on the track.

But for the most part, I agree with the “have at it boys” philosophy, and with that policy in place NASCAR has to accept that it won’t be able to punish drives severely just because they get into a little scuffle.

And I’m perfectly OK with that, and I’m pretty sure most fans are too.

Kenseth’s son wins ASA race

The next generation of future NASCAR drivers includes a lot of familiar names … including Bill Elliott’s son Chase, and Matt Kenseth’s son, Ross.

Ross Kenseth, driving a Ford just like dad, is only 17 but still managed to take the checkered flag in the American Speed Association season opener at Madison (Wisconsin) International Speedway. He also had an upgraded Roush Yates engine under the hood.

Ross has been racing in the ASA series since he was 15, and said the new engine helped him get the win.

"It feels awesome to get a win in the ASA," Ross said. "The tour is huge and there's a lot of talent out there. I could definitely feel a difference between last year's engine and this year with the changes and improvements Roush Yates offers. Last year the engine had great initial power but seemed to die off. This engine is much smoother on the gas and runs cooler. We can run more tape now. It's just better all the way around."

Congrats to Ross, and if he keeps this up, I hope to see him running in a NASCAR series before too long.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Regan Smith wins a big race with a small team; gives hope to underdogs

Prior to Saturday night at Darlington, Regan Smith was mostly known in NASCAR circles as the guy who probably should’ve won at Talladega a couple years back – if not for that pesky yellow line violation.

But when Smith, who was on older tires, valiantly held off a hard-charging Carl Edwards to take his first checkered flag that actually counted, he proved he was much more than that.

Driving for a Furniture Row team based out of Denver, Colorado, with just one car and 64 total employees … Regan Smith’s victory is nothing short of a miracle in modern-day NASCAR.

This is a great story, because it just doesn’t happen. Last time I can remember something like this was Brad Keselowski’s win for the Phoenix Racing team at Talladega. And this is even more amazing, as Talladega has a history of surprise winners, while Darlington is usually reserved for wins by the best of the best.
The simple fact is that the multi-car team dominates NASCAR. Going into every weekend, you can bet that either a Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs or RCR car will win, as they are the teams with the money … and money buys winning racecars. By staying out on the final caution, and somehow holding the lead, Smith completed a great storyline that gives hope to the few little teams that remain in NASCAR – you never know what’s going to happen if you take a gamble – and what a great gamble it was by crew chief Pete Rondeau.

The Furniture Row team didn’t even run the full season not too long ago, and has made a major leap this season. Smith is an amazing qualifier, has run strongly in many races, and if he can climb into the top-20 has a shot at making the Chase via the wild card.

Smith, who is now qualified for the All-Star race said after the race that he just took advantage of the opportunity he was given.
“The car was good all night. Pete and the guys made some good calls. We got up to six at one point the old fashioned way: driving up there. We had good pit stops. Those guys did a great job. The opportunity presented itself.”

When it came to staying out, Smith gave all the credit to his crew chief.
“Pete and I were talking about it. The decision is his a hundred percent. The way our stuff works is whatever he tells me to do, I do. I did mention, I said, Man, I think this thing would be good with clean air. That's all he needed to hear to make the call to stay out. That won the race for us right there,” Smith said. “We were fortunate on the last restart. I spun the tires on the second to last restart. The tires hooked up good. When we cleared Carl going into one, I thought, That's good, at least we'll finish second in this thing, I won't have to worry about any of the other guys on fresh tires. When he didn't catch me at the white flag and I still had a car length gap at the white flag, I thought, I'm going to run another qualifying lap here, we might have a chance at this thing.”

It almost all went away, though, when Smith hit the wall hard on the last lap. … Luckily, he was able to hang on.
“I hit the fence at turn two. How hard was it? I thought I hit it hard, anyways. Never checked it up. Sailed off into three. I had been on the bottom all night long. My game plan was to stick with the bottom. I figured if he passes me with his tires on the outside, that's all right. I sailed off in there, drove it deeper than I wanted to. I got tight in the middle. I saw he drove off pretty deep, which I expected him to do. He got tight at the same time. I don't know if the air off my car got him or what. He wasn't able to make the run and we won the Southern 500. That's pretty awesome.”

Furniture Row team manager Joe Garone said the win is huge for his small team.
“Well, for our organization, obviously it means everything. We've been six years building this team and literally started from scratch. I can tell you a lot of people, and I can't say I wasn't with them when Barney Visser wanted it run out of Colorado, that we might just be crazy. It's been a long road,” Garone said. “After the second or third year we started realizing we can compete in Cup, we can do a good job, get ourselves in a position to win races. Tonight just solidifies all that hard work and shows the racing community that you can win races outside of the normal North Carolina area.”

Watching Smith in Victory Lane was a great site, as you could see the true emotion on his face as he cherished the win. It was a nice contrast from the usual sponsor-listing you get from Victory Lane regulars such as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. A guy like Smith has worked very hard to get where he is, and winning in such dramatic fashion put him through the emotional gamut.

“There were a lot of emotions. I was trying to get them all out at that point so I didn't show it too much on TV there. But I couldn't help it. It's Mother's Day weekend. My mom is not here. She's in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She left Thursday, about the same time I left to come down here, to help out with the recovery efforts and save some animals down there. She's down there doing that. She's always been there for all my wins, all my races, everything. She doesn't miss too many of them. To not have her here, that got me choked up a little. It is now, too.”

“Outside of that, there's been so many ups and downs for my career, so many points where you think, Man, what am I doing? What's the next move? I think it's obvious now the best thing that happened to me was the end of the '08 season I didn't have a drive, I didn't have a ride, got hooked up with Barney and Joe and Furniture Row Racing. There's a lot of times the guys could have got down on me last year, this year, some races this year, but everybody stuck behind me and has given me the support that I needed as a driver to keep my head on straight.”
“It's very special.”

For the record, the last time Smith won a race was in 2008, in a late model race in Canada.
I would say that a win in the Southern 500 at Darlington is a bit of a step up from that.

Now, I fully recognize that in the coming weeks, all the multicar teams will return to dominating the races, and will likely win most or all of them. But I’m pretty sure none of those wins will be as awesome as this one, as the stars aligned as they rarely do and let a young, up-and-coming driver with a small team steal the spotlight.
And who knows, maybe Smith can buck the trend and keep contending.
And, finally, he can forget about the bad luck he had at Talladega.

“We've been doing it good for a while, but now everybody is going to notice how good we're doing it. I don't think I'll go to bed tonight thinking about Talladega, that's for sure,” he joked after the win.

Keselowski post season-best finish
In addition to the great Regan Smith story and the dustup with Harvick and Busch, there was a surprise 3rd place finish by Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski, whose season hasn’t gone exactly stellar so far.

Keselowski said that it wasn’t his best run, and he caught some good luck.
“It was our best finish, but not our best run. We were probably a 15th-place car. A nice comeback for this Miller Lite Dodge tonight. We played the strategy card tonight. That was our only shot. It all worked out. We had a shot late in the race and that’s cool. The last restart, I was just trying to stay in my own lane and stay with Regan (Smith). What a crazy finish. I’m happy with the result, but not happy with the way we got it. We want to earn them because we have fast race cars. We’ve got some work to do to make our cars better.”

Smith said that Keselowski’s push at the end of the race helped him get the victory.
“Brad did give me a shove, probably three quarters of the way down the front straightaway. It was just enough of a boost to get me that next little step past Carl to where I could run my line through one and two. If I couldn't have done that, I don't think we could have had the momentum to win. So Brad certainly helped me right there. He kind of preoccupied Carl for that corner and it gave me those two car lengths to stretch it out,” Smith said. “(Brad’s) a guy that has had his first win, he knows how special it feels.”

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Harvick-Busch incident almost leads to fight night at Darlington

Behind the Cinderella victory was a little Saturday night dustup between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, two drivers who have never been described as even-tempered.

The two were trading paint very heavily late in the race, and in the process they sent Clint Bowyer hard into the inside wall.

Online, many fans were angry at Kyle – even calling for a suspension – after he clipped Harvick hard and triggered the melee, but others defended him and said Harvick was to blame.

Things got very interesting after the race, as the two continued to trade paint, then on pit road Harvick got out of his car and tried to take a swing at Busch in his car .. but Busch drove off, and Harvick’s car (minus the driver) slammed into the pit wall.

Bizarro, to say the least, and you can bet some probationary periods are in order for these two, who quickly took the fighting spotlight away from JPM and Newman, who on Friday got into a dustup inside the NASCAR hauler (for the record, JPM said Newman “hits like a girl”).

From Busch’s perspective, he was not in the wrong.

"It was tight racing after the restart there. (Kevin) Harvick is up there on the top a little bit loose and I had a run and I gave him room -- he kind of came up off the wall. That's kind of a bad angle, obviously (watching the replay). He lifted early to
let me go into turn three and I thought it was all good. Then he drives into the back of me there. He made my car loose all the way through the exit and just made a run for those two guys to get back on my inside. Then obviously Clint (Bowyer) wrecked bouncing off of Harvick,” Busch said. “Just uncalled for and just unacceptable racing. It's in the last couple laps, but I gave him room off of two and I didn't get the room. Just real unfortunate. We tore up a few good cars there. Our Doublemint Camry was so good today that we should have ran up front and we should have finished up front, but we kind of got marred back in traffic there. Tried to fight our way back forward. It was a really, good clean night and I probably passed the most cars tonight, but there was one I couldn't pass."

Regarding the after-race incident, Busch said:
"I just stayed behind him, I was just going to sit there, not worry about it and let him cool his head for a second and let him figure out that we just need to go back to the garage area. Instead of him doing that, he wanted to get out of his car I guess and
wanted to fight. I knew that wasn't going to be a good situation and when I saw him getting out of his car, I knew it wasn't going to be a good situation.”

“My choices were limited, I was either going to get punched in the face and then wait for Harvick to get back in his car for me to go or just drive through his car and push it out of the way so I could get out of there and try not to get hit or anything like that. I made a judgment call there and it wasn't one of the best choices that I had, but I pushed his car out of the way on pit road and unfortunately there was men walking down pit road. I hate it that somebody could have gotten hurt, but I was just trying to get away from it and get back to my hauler and go on with my own business."

So I guess it’s up to the viewer to decide … was Busch afraid, or was he smart to avoid a confrontation? Probably a little of both (I wouldn’t want to be in Harvick’s way when he’s mad.)

Harvick was interviewed after talking to NASCAR officials, and was not as forthcoming.
“Obviously we were racing hard and doing what we had to do there at the end and thing happen. That’s racing, I guess.”
Beneath that smile he was flashing, you know that Harvick has a plan … next time he is near Busch, you can expect some fireworks, and I would say it’s justified. Busch’s move was very aggressive and should be looked at hard by NASCAR. It put other cars in danger and Busch needs to know that it’s not acceptable.

Regardless of what happens, I have to say – it was all quite fun to watch, and reminded me of some great post-race confrontations in the past. I know I, and all NASCAR fans, will be watching this one closely in the future.

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Signs of life at Red Bull Racing after strong run by Kahne

Red Bull Racing, a team that has had very little good news since Brian Vickers’ illness was announced last year, had its best shot at a win in a long time Saturday night at Darlington.

Kasey Kahne, on a one-year stopover before moving to Hendrick Motorsports, led a ton of laps early in the race, before a visit with the Lady in Black’s wall hurt his night, leaving him to finish in 4th.

In what should be considered a good sign for the team, Kahne – whose year has been up and down so far – was not happy with 4th.

"The guys did a good job of keeping me upfront with pit stops and kept working on the car to make it as good as we could. I'm a little disappointed with fourth, disappointed with myself, but other than that the Red Bull team was awesome. The car was great. Qualifying first helped a ton tonight -- having that first pit stall tonight."

Kahne said he hopes the team can continue to perform well.
"We started pretty decent this year and then it seemed like these last couple we've been really good again. We have Dover and Charlotte and some good tracks for us so we should be capitalizing on some points and get back to where we need to be."

Speaking of Red Bull, I must say that the incident where David Ragan literally peeled the driver-side sheet metal off Brian Vickers’ car was among the most bizarre I’ve ever seen. Not only was the metal stripped off like a can opener, all that foam being released was pretty scary, especially since it was on the driver’s side. Thankfully, Vickers was OK.

More woes for Kurt Busch
Fresh off last week’s meltdown on the radio, Kurt Busch had another not-so-great weekend at Darlington.

“It’s just been a long string of tough races. The "Lady in Black" got us,” Kurt said. “We unloaded a really fast Shell/Pennzoil Dodge on Friday - a top-three car in practice. We may have sealed our fate when we cut a tire in practice and put our primary car in the Turn 1 wall. We were super tight with the back-up car to start the race and we never could loosen the car up. We threw everything at it - track bar, wedge, shims – you name it, Steve (Addington, crew chief) tried it. This place is tough enough with a good race car, when your setup is off, it's just a nightmare.”

Baby Edwards – No. 2
Congrats to Carl Edwards, who nearly celebrated his new baby with a win. His wife Kate gave birth to son Michael, and Edwards was beaming at Darlington.

“It’s going great. It was amazing. Kate is an amazing woman. We had a healthy young boy,” he said. “His name is Michael Edwards and he’s doing great, so it’s just a great week. It was unreal. We had a lot of fun. Annie is really excited about her little brother. I don’t think she quite understands what is going on, but we’re all doing really well, so it’s good.”

NASCAR community helps tornado victims
With so many storms this year affecting the South and hundreds killed, NASCAR folks have stepped up to help out.
The Red Bull Racing and Hendrick Motorsports transporters donated about 70,000 lbs of relief items to Pell City, Ala.
Items were collected from Red Bull, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Motorsports, Michael Waltrip Racing, RCR, JRMotorsports, MRN and Victory Junction Gang Camp.
Also, Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation raised more than $5,000 toward purchases for baby/children's needs.

Scott Speed going Indycar racing
Out of a NASCAR ride, Scott Speed is getting behind the wheel of another type of car this month, as he will work with Dragon Racing and attempt the Indianapolis 500. Also, he plans to run the Indycar finale at Las Vegas, which this year comes with the possibility of a $5 million bonus if a non-Indycar regular wins the Vegas race.
While he has never raced Indycar, Speed has experience at Indy in Formula 1 and NASCAR, so he is no stranger to the track.

I will be interested to see how well he can adapt to this new form of racing, and it is good to see him back behind the wheel of something as he works through his lawsuit against Red Bull Racing over his dismissal last year.
Speed will test at Chicagoland Speedway on May 9th and begin practicing at Indy on May 14.

Get well Trevor Bayne
After missing races the past two weeks due to an unknown illness, Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne has been released from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. after being admitted last week for testing and evaluation.
Bayne will continue to be monitored closely, but the hope is that he can return to racing next week at Dover.
"Trevor Bayne was seen by a team of Mayo Clinic specialists where he underwent a series of tests and consultations over the last week," said Mayo Clinic neurologist Brian Crum, M.D. "He was admitted after suffering from nausea, fatigue and vision impairment. Since his admission, the nausea and fatigue have abated, and the vision impairment continues to be treated with medication, and is showing significant improvement. This symptom appears to be the result of an inflammatory condition. Further assessments will be made over the next couple of weeks. His condition is not life threatening or career-ending. We expect he will continue to improve, though the timeframe for his return to racing is unknown at this point. He will continue to be followed closely by his Mayo Clinic team."
I wish him well in his return, as he is a fresh young face who should have a great career once he recovers. His hopes for a Nationwide Series title for this year are over, but his health takes precedence over that and he’s got many more years to race for championships.

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