Tag: Danica Patrick

FOX Wrong on MWR Reporting

It’s weird to think that FOX Sports could be wrong in its reporting about Michael Waltrip Racing. Especially since, you know, the team owner works for FOX Sports. But here we are and apparently there were no Danica Patrick yoga poses to talk about, so instead erroneous reports about MWR’s future with Toyota were to be had. Here’s Toyota’s Andy Graves calling out FOX digital editor Jay Pennell about his reporting.

 

To his credit, Pennell doesn’t dwell on the call out and bounces along as if nothing happened. It’s FOX, so I’m sure nothing will happen until more “news” breaks.

NASCAR All-Star Races Are A Joke

Like most things in NASCAR, something that started as a simple concept has spun out of control and needs to be stopped. The two all-star events for NASCAR, the Sprint Unlimited run at the Daytona International Speedway, and the Sprint All-Star Race run at the Charlotte Motor Speedway have ran their course and should be retired.

All-star events are cool, but when you take away the factor of meaning (points, win/loses) behind them, they always seem to lack something. This point is not a NASCAR exclusive issue, other sports like hockey, basketball, and famously football have seen their all-star events called into question because of a lack of interest by participants and fans. Baseball had to respond to declining interest by awarding the winning league of the game home field advantage for the World Series, aka give the event some sort of meaning, but that has been met with mixed results.

The Sprint Unlimited was originally created to honor drivers who won poles the previous season. After it was realized that there, on average, were only 10-15 drivers who won poles the rules started to be adjusted to add more cars. Especially at Daytona, where pack racing is king, only having 10 cars (extreme low example) makes for nothing short of terrible racing. This week it was announced how the 2015 field would be made up and that is how I know this event has “jumped the shark.”

To get into the 2015 Sprint Unlimited you need to have won a pole in the previous season (like how it all began) and be running the full 2015 season (I call that the Brian Scott rule). It doesn’t end there, because if that didn’t get you in and you made last season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, you’re now in this event. Because part of the new rules say a minimum field of 25, the next way to get into the field is to have previously won a Daytona 500 pole and are running the full season (I call that the Danica Patrick rule). And finally, if 25 drivers can’t be found that way, they’ll round out the field with the highest placing drivers in the last season’s point standings who are not already in.

The interesting part about how this field is made up is how often it was emphasized that it was a minimum field of 25 drivers. That means, in NASCAR’s favorite scenario, we could see 30 or more drivers compete in the race. This was add excitement to a sometimes bland event, but at that point how is it an all-star race and not just a normal race?

Let’s take a quick look at the Sprint All-Star race. That was created originally to honor race winners of the previous season and up to that point in the current season. Again, great concept, but they found out early that there weren’t that many drivers winning, especially back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The solution was a race prior to the event to allow a few drivers (typically five) the ability to race their way in. That worked for some time before additional one off races and additional rules were added.

To make the event exciting, segments were added with the possibility of field inversion to keep drivers from running away with the race. The problem with this is every year the rules have been adjusted so much that most (drivers, crews, fans, etc.) don’t know the rules until the day of the race how the race is to be run. That should have been a red flag right there that gimmicks were needed to keep fan interest on TV and in the stands.

Besides the dilution of the honor of getting into these races, I think the biggest issue, and why I feel so strongly about dropping these races, is there is nothing that different going on from any other race. Sure there’s segments and mandatory pit stops, but the cars are running at the same tracks they always run at.

For me, if you’re going to do an all-star race, make it something unique and different. Other sports do this, be it playing in a different city from normal like football or how the teams are made up of players from all different teams. In NASCAR it’s the same drivers with the same teams running the same cars. They should just call these test sessions for the teams that have the money to run them and go all out.

My suggestion is ditch the Unlimited, there is already almost three weeks of practice at Daytona there doesn’t need to be anymore. NASCAR sort of agreed by ending preseason testing in January there because it is honestly ridiculous how much time they have on track for this race. You keep the all-star race though, but don’t run it at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, instead run it at the little dirt track across the street. Then you don’t have the drivers run their Cup cars, instead have them run late model cars.

This would be an instant hit, just look at what Eldora Speedway’s inclusion in the Truck Series schedule has done for that facility and the Trucks. While a smaller venue, the dirt track would be packed to see the NASCAR stars do something different. Then you can do all the segments and tweaks the race already has, but it would make more sense being on a small track setting. And most importantly, you’re going back to the roots of the sport in one of the most historic cities for NASCAR.

If NASCAR won’t go to a different model for their all-star events, they might as well make those two weekends additional races that pay points. We are closing in on a time when nearly everyone makes these special events and takes away from them being special. Change is needed and if they keep with the status quo, I’ll not hesitate to find something better to do with my time on those Saturday nights.

Column: Points, Pit Road, Stenhouse, and Kurt

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In this column I take a look at the points situation in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to let you know who will be battling for the title in Homestead. Pit road cost a bunch of teams on Sunday, why was that? Rookie Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. impressed many on Sunday and might have clinched the Rookie of the Year title. And finally could there be trouble brewing between two pseudo teammates who will be teammates for real next season?

With only four races remaining in the Chase there are five drivers still mathematically alive in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Jimmie Johnson leads the points by four over Matt Kenseth, 26 over Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, and Jeff Gordon continues to linger behind by 34 points. Arguments can be made that all five could be in it until the end, but my gut and odds are pointing towards Johnson and Kenseth being the two title contenders. Take Talladega out of it and the duo have been too consistent for anyone else to gain on them. After Martinsville I figure one to two more will drop out of range, and it’ll be a matter of time before it’s mathematically down to Johnson and Kenseth.

Pit road was brutal for a handful of drivers on Sunday. Kyle Busch missed his pit stall on his first stop, which resulted in coming back down pit road and going down a lap. He was the only driver who overcame the issue as he got a caution to get caught back up. Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, and Danica Patrick each got speeding penalties that ruined their days. Patrick was running in the top-10 most of the day before her gaffe on pit road. Without any cautions the second half of the race, until the last lap, no one could gain their lost lap back. Normally it might have been an issue, but with such a clean race, all three will have to think about what could have been.

While most might say Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s great run was trashed by perceived contact with Austin Dillon to end the race, I say that doesn’t matter. Replay shows Stenhosue didn’t touch Dillon’s Chevrolet, instead it was the air movement that got him loose. I was very impressed on how Stenhouse handled himself all day working from the back to the front and vice versa with the poise of a veteran. And he had the respect of the field too, because no one left him out to dry, everyone worked with him. It’ll be hard for him to not win Rookie of the Year this season and he’s building a lot of momentum to bring into 2014. I think our cars are getting better, and everybody at the shop is all hands on, just trying to make our season the best it can be here at the end.  We struggled throughout the first half of the season, definitely more than I thought we should or definitely more than we wanted to.  We’ve learned a lot.  I think we’re getting better as a team, and I’m learning a little bit more about what we need to do from practice to the race to make our car still fast throughout the race,” commented Stenhouse after the race.

With two laps to go, Kurt Busch decided he would step out of line on the high side and help out Kevin Harvick. The move proved disastrous because as soon as Busch moved low, Harvick moved back high. Busch was left to out to dry. Listening to his radio, Busch seemed shocked that Harvick did that, dropping some F bombs. For this season Harvick and Busch are pseudo teammates, with Furniture Row Racing (Busch) and Richard Childress Racing (Harvick) working together with a technical alliance. Next season both will be on the same team, Stewart-Haas Racing, and it’ll be interesting to see if this creates a rift to start the season. “Restrictor plate racing is all about being in the right place at the right time,” said Busch, who led twice for three laps. “We were in the right place for the majority of the race, but when it counted at the end we weren’t there. I tried to make something happen, but couldn’t get there.”

Side note, I was hoping Busch’s Wonder Bread car would have been painted more like Ricky Bobby’s from Talladega Nights, but you can’t win them all.

Pastrana Versus Patrick

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There’s been a lot of hype when it comes to Travis Pastrana and Danica Patrick turning to NASCAR after careers in other forms of motorsports. Pastrana made his name in the extreme sports genre and rally cars, Patrick made her name running the Izod IndyCar Series. Both made the jump to NASCAR in the last few years, which has brought a lot of attention to how they’re performing. How they are performing is shockingly similar to one another.

Patrick might have more eyes on her since she came to NASCAR in 2010 running part-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for two years then the full season in 2012. Currently she is running her first full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Pastrana made a few races last season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and is in the middle of his first full-time season. The pressure has been on Pastrana as he’s driving for the Roush Fenway Racing organization, who’s #6 team has won the past two series championships with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. behind the wheel.

Just watching Pastrana this year, the last race at Kentucky sums up his season. He was running in the top-10 when he was spun by Austin Dillon. He correct his car and continued, without any issue. Then within 30 laps he spun again, but totaled his car. If he didn’t have bad luck, it seems Pastrana would have no luck at all.

Here’s his stat line versus Danica Patrick’s 2012 season:

St Pole Win Top5 Top10 Laps Led AvgSt AvgFin Rank
Pastrana 27 1 0 0 4 4,440 5 15.1 21.2 14
Patrick 33 1 0 0 4 5,486 41 14.9 18.8 10

Now Patrick has the benefit of six extra races, but they are just about spot on. Each has a pole, neither has a top-5 (again, Pastrana could change that in the next six races), both have four top-10 finishes, Patrick led more laps, their average starts are about the same, the biggest difference is average finish. Pastrana is about three positions further back than Patrick did last season.

What is the point of this? Well, just to show that Pastrana is having a tough year, but it’s not that far off of a decent season that Patrick had last season. I think if Pastrana can get some luck and more importantly, another season with the same team, he can build on the foundation he’s building.

Patrick Feeling More Confident Running Atlanta

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Sitting 27th in points might not be where Danica Patrick envisioned she would be at this point in the season, but now that we’re hitting tracks for the second time her finishes should improve. Building that playbook of notes she and crew chief Tony Gibson can use.

“The first time I raced there (Atlanta) was last year and I did both Nationwide and (Sprint) Cup. That seems like a long time ago and that was only my fifth Cup start, so I feel a little more confident and knowledgeable than I did a year ago. It’s a fast place. The tires definitely go off with the surface and the line moves around a lot. It’s a big weekend with a lot going on for GoDaddy, Coke Zero and Chevrolet, so there’s a lot off the track, as well. But I’m looking forward to it,” commented Patrick.

Something that will help her this weekend and until the end of the year will be having veteran Mark Martin as a teammate while her owner and teammate Tony Stewart is recovering from a broken leg. Patrick can lean on his years of experience at these tracks. This was seen this past week during a test session at the Richmond International Raceway.

“The test went really well. And I’ve always been happy to have other drivers in my car at a test, especially someone like Mark with all his experience. For me, as a rookie, I think it’s important to get a different perspective and get someone else’s thoughts. Mark has so much experience and he’s been so helpful to me, even before we were teammates, so I was happy to have him in the car. Anything that will make me better and SHR better as a whole, I’m all for,” explained Patrick.

Speaking of Stewart, she was able to visit him this past week. “I went and saw him last week and he is progressively getting better. We were joking about how he has to go to the hospital to get a check-up and how the ambulance comes, and they bring him out on a stretcher. Poor guy. But he was in good spirits and he was definitely of the mindset that he needs to do it right, and do rehab right. You know, they hope that he can be back in January. And if he does, he is like, ‘I don’t need to be back any sooner, so let’s just do this right.’ I think that is the right attitude. I think he is in a really good place – as good of a place as you can be with many incisions in your leg.”

Looking towards 2014 Patrick is excited about the recent announcement that Kurt Busch would be joining the Stewart-Haas Racing team. “I’m excited. I have known Kurt for a long time. It goes all the way back to when he drove an IndyCar (in 2003) at Sebring (Fla.), I believe. He drove a Rahal Letterman car and I was there watching that day. I’ve always really liked him and got along really well with him. We’ve never had any problems on the track at all, so we have a good working relationship, for sure. I always like having more people to look at as far as their styles. With a four-car team, there are more engineers, there are more crew chiefs, and more people around to develop things. For me I think it’s a great thing.”

The action gets underway for the AdvoCare 500 Sunday night at 7:30. All the action from the Atlanta Motor Speedway can be seen on ESPN.