CONCORD, N.C. – The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champions No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team with driver Jimmie Johnson will have a new primary sponsor beginning next season. Lowe’s Companies Inc., which has been the No. 48 team’s only primary sponsor since 2001, will not return to Hendrick Motorsports in 2019. Continue reading “Lowe’s To Leave Hendrick After 2018”
For Kevin Harvick, yesterday’s poor finish can be directly linked to the actions of Jimmie Johnson. That much was evident after Johnson tried to talk to him about the contact that led to a cut left rear tire. Harvick gave Johnson a shove (or punch depending on how you saw it) and many choice words. If you didn’t see the video, you will soon because NASCAR will be pushing this baby all over to promote their Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship battle.
Johnson took the jab in stride, let Harvick yap, and when it seemed nothing would be accomplished, walked away. Not all of this falls onto Johnson’s shoulders, sure it was his car that made the contact that put Harvick in that position, but there’s other factors involved.
If you watch the video, you can see Joey Logano push Johnson on the restart, leaving Johnson with nowhere to go but low below Harvick. The option there would have been to plow into Harvick and we could only guess where that would lead. A giant pile up? Harvick’s car getting trashed anyways? Or maybe nothing would have happened.
The option Johnson went with was going low next to Harvick, something Harvick was aware of. There was an opening next to Harvick, so the option was there for him to slide over without contact, but Harvick wanted to send the message he wasn’t giving an inch to Johnson.
“I saw those guys coming on the apron. They must have gotten together and had a good run up. But I just held my ground and he (Johnson) just slammed into the side of the door like I wasn’t even there. So, the spotter was telling me four-wide and I guess he just figured that he’d come up the race track,” said Harvick.
Johnson also had that mindset, as he came over whether Harvick was willing to move or not. “He (Harvick) didn’t leave me any space. He was pinning me down, and I had to get back up on the track. I wouldn’t say that what he did was any different than other situations I’ve been in like that. When you are in his position, you want to get the inside car in a bad angle so they have to lift. I was fine with lifting, but I had to get back on the race track, so I worked my way back up on the track,” commented Johnson after the race.
The contact took place, which is a common occurrence in the world of racing. What makes this unique, is Harvick and his crew ran the calculated risk that the damage inflicted would not lead to a cut tire. It is a coin flip situation, as you can try and run around hoping the tire and fender separate before the tire goes. That was not the case of Harvick, who shortly thereafter lost his left rear.
While it would have been costly to come down pit road, it paled in comparison to what transpired and the time lost repairing a fully wrecked vehicle. I understand it is the Chase, you are up front and want to do your best, but you have to error on the side of caution when something like that happens.
Right now Harvick doesn’t want to hear it or share the blame, but things could been done differently on both sides. The good thing for Harvick is he is fast enough each week, that winning at New Hampshire or Dover is a possibility, it just means he and his crew need to be flawless the next two races.
There is an old saying that what drivers hate, fans will love. Sunday afternoon’s qualifying for the starting two position of next week’s Daytona 500 proved that saying wrong. Both fans, drivers, and media alike classified the knockout qualifying rounds as “idiotic,” “dumb,” “the worst,” and “not even entertaining.” The only group that seemed to enjoy it was the FOX broadcast team who had to enjoy the ratings as fans watched in horror at what the Daytona 500 qualifying has become. Continue reading “Daytona Qualifying Disaster”
One year ago it was chaos for NASCAR fans as the announcement came through there was a new version of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, one that put emphasis on winning, had eliminations, and an expanded field. Many, include me, thought this was the dumbest idea ever and no way would it work. Sometimes I can admit when I’m wrong, and judging by the tempers that overflowed and nail biting season finale at Homestead, this was the correct move for NASCAR to make. Continue reading “Sprint Cup Series 2015 Season Preview”
Kevin Harvick flat out dominated the Quicken Loans 500 from the Phoenix International Raceway. He led 264 of the 312 laps and punched his ticket into the Chase finale with his win. Joining Harvick with a shot at the title at Homestead next weekend is Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman.
Here are some observations on the Chase and this weekend’s race:
Anything For A Championship
If the past few weeks haven’t been indicators of the pressure teams and drivers are under, today provided another example of that. While there were no post-race fights on pit road, Ryan Newman did everything he could to wrestle 11th place from Kyle Larson, which included a slide job into Larson to get the spot. Different from last weekend, Larson did get into the wall, but still salvaged a 13th place finish. Dirty move by Newman? No way, he’s going for a title and it is racing. Larson might not disagree, but he’ll understand in time like Newman said.
Second Just Isn’t Good Enough
Jeff Gordon finished second and became the first loser when it came to the Chase cut off. He might have tied Kevin Harvick for fourth place, but Harvick’s win gets him in. After last weekend, there will be lots Gordon will dwell on, but this season has been a major resurgence on his career. Capping off with another Homestead win will go a long way to putting this behind him.
Hamlin And Logano Try To Give It Away
Both Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano tried to give away their positions in the Chase. Hamlin had a tire go down and lost two laps, but battled back to make it in with a top-5 finish. I had already given up on Hamlin, equating him to being toast at one point, and began to wonder where crew chief Darren Grubb might be working next year. They hang on for one more race, but I can’t imagine there will not be changes across the board at Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano had a simple pit miscue, and like Hamlin, he just couldn’t get through the traffic back in the pack fast enough. Both persevered and will look to take home a title.
First Timer Next Weekend
We will have another first time champion when the checkered flag falls next weekend. The only driver of the four that has a NASCAR title on his resume is Kevin Harvick, owning two Nationwide Series championships. A quick look at the title contenders at Homestead, you’ll see by virtue of average finish it is Harvick’s to lose. He’s averaging an 8.08 finished followed by Hamlin (11.22), Newman (17.00), and Logano (20.80). Hamlin though owns two wins at the track versus the zero for everyone else.
Harvick Takes The Record
Kevin Harvick used his dominating performance to move past Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Jimmie Johnson to become the all-time lap leader in Sprint Cup Series history at Phoenix. He now has led 978 laps, which is 45 more than Johnson. This is one record that could seesaw over the next couple of years, but it is an impressive list of drivers Harvick got past. Rounding out the top-10 are Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Denny Hamlin.
Johnson Continues To Look At 2015
It’s hard to rationalize a four win season as being “terrible,” but when you’re Jimmie Johnson, that’s how the bar is set. Phoenix was another forgettable race for Johnson and his team as an accident knocked him out on lap 235 for a 39th place finish. Dominating last weekend to near last the next has been the exact example of his season.
Ambrose Gears For The End
Marcos Ambrose’s NASCAR career has one more race left in it, but he is not going down without a fight. Ambrose picked up his 46th career top-10 finish at Phoenix with a late charge past Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson. Coming into Homestead, Ambrose has a lot to be proud with after his eight years in the Sprint Cup Series.
For the past two years, I have accompanied Mike to the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen with media credentials and cold garage and pit passes. Each year, as we walk around the track and I take in all the sites, Mike explains to me what is like to come to the track strictly as a fan. I have been very spoiled (and thankful) of the opportunities to participate as a member of the media to cover the race, but I also feel like I have missed out on certain passage rights of NASCAR fans.
A few weeks ago, some friends and I came to Watkins Glen to attend their annual Wine Festival; my absolute favorite festival of all time! We decided that the easiest and most responsible way to ensure our safety and continued fun would be to camp at the track. Do not be fooled! I guarantee it was a very comparable experience to camping during race weekend – the late night drinking fests, blaring music until 3 am, toga party, bon fire and fireworks. There was little sleep acquired, which was okay with us since that was not the intent of our stay. My imagination (and from leisurely walking around the track at 8am and seeing all the beer cans strewn about) tells me that race weekend is not much different. So I have checked camping at the track off my list this year.
This weekend (yesterday), Mike was very motivated to be out of the Media Center as much as possible in order to freshen our horizons and spark creativity by experiencing the garages before and during practices. This may sound boring or naïve to some, but for me, it was absolutely amazing!
First, we casually walked past the cars and their appropriate teams working diligently to perfect them for the races. I am accustomed to watching these guys work from my living room couch. I know they work fast and there are constant sounds of power tools and engines, but to smell the exhaust (and other fumes) and feel the rumble of the cars travel through my body as they light up the garage area really brought my attention to how much this is new to me… and I love it!
Mike successfully set up a few interviews yesterday, including Jeremy Clements and Chase Elliott. Normally, I do not attend the interviews. Initially I figured I would be a nervous mess that would rub off onto Mike, so I would just let him go on these adventures by himself. This year he insisted I come along and I am so appreciative. Though I probably did not say more than three words to either driver from what I remember, it was a remarkable experience for me because it yet again reminded me that this is real, these people are real, and it is not as easy as it looks on TV.
Thanks to Can-Am Spyder, Mike and I received Hot Passes this year which has allowed us the freedom of wandering the garage and admiring the atmosphere to my heart’s content. During the Sprint Cup practice, my adrenaline surged as I watched the cars go in and out and crews work speedily from inside the garage area. Because I like paying attention to small details that probably means nothing to anyone else, I was fascinated focusing on when drivers choose to get out of their cars. Jimmie Johnson caught my attention a few times when he jumped out and immediately began working on the car with his crew. Kyle Busch was another one I watched relatively closely and was a little surprised at the speeds he used while literally pulling his car into the actual garage. The roar of the cars was phenomenal; I cannot think of words that truly justify an explanation of exhilaration.
I am excited to see what I experience today and cannot wait to report back!
Last night’s Budweiser Duels provided an interesting insight into what we can expect in Sunday’s Daytona 500. With most of the early practices gear towards single car qualifying, it wasn’t until the Sprint Unlimited where we saw how the racing could be with this new package on the Daytona International Speedway.
Results there were of a wreckfest, with nearly have the field eliminated in accidents because cars were unstable and drivers were unused to the closing rates. Wednesday during practice we had a similar situation which saw more cars destroyed, and drivers opted not to practice much in the night time session.
What we saw in the Budweiser Duels was a lot different and should translate into the Daytona 500. Drivers raced side by side, but did so with caution they did not have prior. Whether this was because teams couldn’t afford to wreck any more cars or drivers got acclimated to the new package has yet to be seen. The first race went caution free and the second nearly went caution free, and that caution was due to Jimmie Johnson running out of fuel, not errors by any drivers.
Something that is a bit disturbing, from a fan’s perspective, is that there was very little movement in the top-5 during the final six laps of each race. The first Duel saw the same drivers who were first through fifth with six to go cross the finish line the same way to end the race. Second place Kevin Harvick was disqualified as his car fail post-race inspection, which throws this example off on paper.
In the second Duel, it was shaping up to finish the same way until Johnson ran out of fuel. That jumbled the order up, but the same drivers who were first, second, and third with six laps to go crossed the finish line as the top three drivers. Only Jeff Gordon managed to get past Kurt Busch for second place when it was all said and done.
Each race featured minimal lead changes (eight total between the two races) with five drivers leading 96.67% of the total laps run last night. The others who led did so because of pit stops or because they started on the front row.
Another indicator that drivers were happy riding last night is the average position of each driver. In the first race, the top four finishing drivers had the top four best average positions (minus Harvick, who had he finished second would have made it five for five). Kenseth and Earnhardt average a running position of fourth place (along with Harvick), Marcos Ambrose averaged a fifth place position and Kasey Kahne averaged a seventh place position.
The second race has nearly the same result with Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, and Kurt Busch among the best average running positions with seventh, third, and fourth respectfully. With the accident at the end it did drop drivers like Jamie McMurray (averaged eighth), Casey Mears (averaged eighth), and Carl Edwards (averaged sixth).
On the flip side, drivers who were out back didn’t really gain much by the race’s conclusion. The bottom three finishers in the first race had the worst three average running positions (excluding Harvick). In the second race, the fourth worst running drivers were aided by Brad Keselowski’s problems and Ryan Truex and Justin Allgaier were able to get past Michael Annett by the finish, who had a better average running position than both of them. This is a moot point for Truex, who missed the Daytona 500, whereas Allgaier and Annett both made it.
Passing as always will be critical and one thing did jump out at me when looking over the box score. Factoring in that each race only featured 24 drivers, there was a good number of drivers who were in the 90% of quality passes. Quality passes is a stat NASCAR keeps track of for every time a driver makes a pass of a car for position who’s running in the top-15. Marcos Ambrose led the way with 64 of his 64 passes being quality passes for a 100% mark. Others who rated high include: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (96.3%), Brad Keselowski (92.9%), AJ Allmendinger (92.8%), Kurt Busch (91.9%), and Jimmie Johnson (90.6%).
I didn’t like that Earnhardt tried to go with Ryan Newman to the front in the closing laps of the first race, but Newman passed on the invitation citing it was too early and the bottom of the track wasn’t good for a run. I hope we see some racing near the end instead of just a single file line to the finish.
My theory is that during the Daytona 500 most drivers will be happy to ride single file if they can for as long as they can. There will be the traditional jockeying for position around mid-pack, but once someone gets to the lead they will try to stay there. This might mirror last year’s race, when Matt Kenseth put his Toyota on cruise control for much of the race until his engine expired. As the second race showed, when it comes to the end of the race, anything can happen and probably will.
Even if drivers want to stay single file, someone is going to try a move to position themselves to potentially win the Daytona 500. Not only would they gain the accolades of winning the Super Bowl of stock car racing, the win could secure them into the Chase for the Sprint Cup after one race.
With the stakes that much higher we might see more moves than we did Thursday night when they were racing for starting position and not a points paying victory. The action gets underway at 1 PM EST and can be seen on FOX.