Tag: Jimmie Johnson

Johnson Not Solely To Blame For Harvick’s Trouble

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.

Daytona Qualifying Disaster

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.

Just one year ago, and many years prior, this day was single car qualifying which saw the fastest two drivers be reserved for the front row of the Daytona 500. There was much prestige to be felt by drivers and crews because this was the culmination of an entire offseason of trying to build the fastest car. This year, to spice things up, NASCAR brought in their knockout qualifying format that it had used with success last season (minus the fall Talladega race, another restrictor plate track like Daytona).

This format saw the field split into two groups, with the top 12 in each group advancing to the second round. Then the top twelve of that group would advance to the third and final round, with the fastest car in that session becoming the pole sitter for the “Great American Race.”

The problem with this scenario is a few things, first instead of filling out the entire field, this spectacle was used for the first two spots. In four days there will be two races run to determine order of the field, which feels redundant to put it kindly. The second problem is each round has a three minute clock, but drivers do not start until half the time has passed. This would allow a fast first lap for some, while others might not have had enough time to attempt theirs or would not have enough time to knock you off. So basically for over a minute, cars just sat on pit road waiting. The third problem was exactly what we saw in the first round, which was a multi-car wreck (typical of restrictor plate racing) that not only put some drivers in a bad spot qualifying wise, but in Reed Sorenson’s case, unless his team can rebuild his car in four days, he won’t be able to even try to make it into the race.

Clint Bowyer, who was caught up in the Sorenson wreck after the two made contact, did not hold back in his interview with FOX after being released from the care center. “It’s idiotic to be out here doing this anyway. It makes no sense in being able to put on some cute show for whatever the hell this is, then you have a guy out there in desperation doing this crap like this. There’s no reason to be out here. These guys have spent six months working on these cars, busting their asses on these cars to go out there and have some guy out of desperation do that crap, but it ain’t his fault. It’s not, it’s NASCAR’s fault for putting us out here in the middle of this crap for nothing.”

Other drivers weighed in with similar thoughts as Bowyer, including last season’s Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson. “I think they need to go back to single-car qualifying. I think that’s about it; for Superspeedways anyway, because this is pathetic.” Team owner and driver Tony Stewart took to Twitter to call out NASCAR for what went on today. Keep in mind that all four of his cars did not advance past the first round, but I think the frustration was beyond that.

In my opinion, AJ Allmendinger’s assessment of the day was spot on. “Honestly, I could have cared less how I qualified. I just didn’t want to wreck. Restrictor-plate qualifying; it’s going to be boring or dumb, no matter what, honestly. It’s the nature of it. It’s pretty cool for a race team to win the Daytona 500 pole. That’s prestigious and that’s important. But the rest of the speedway qualifying doesn’t really matter. You could just draw out of a hat for Sunday and that would be a lot easier.”

Naturally the cheerleaders of what we saw were the FOX broadcasters Darrell Waltrip, Mike Joy, and Larry McReynolds. Also joining that bandwagon was ex-driver Kenny Wallace, who works for FOX, and current driver Michael Waltrip, who works for FOX. Waltrip went so far as to say he had fun in his car out there trying to qualifying for the 500. I understand they have to keep things positive, but just another reminder of why I don’t mind turning down the volume on the TV while races are on.

The lone positive in this whole debacle was Jeff Gordon picking up the pole for his final Daytona 500. The final round of qualifying almost saw half the field running not even being able to register a time as they played chicken waiting for someone to leave pit road. Had Martin Truex, Jr. just waited a few more seconds, he could have been the lone driver to make a time and collect the pole. Instead, it was Gordon and teammate Jimmie Johnson creating an all Chevrolet front row for the season opening race. “This is one of the most gratifying poles here at Daytona that I have ever had,” commented Gordon.

I just hope for all the complaining that drivers and fans did today NASCAR will learn from their mistake and not do this again. The realist in me, though, believes NASCAR will fine drivers like Bowyer (whose whole rant was epic) and Stewart for speaking out in order to send the message that they need NASCAR more than NASCAR needs them. I hope Thursday is not as much of a shit show as today was.

Sprint Cup Series 2015 Season Preview

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.

This offseason leading into the 2015 was supposed to be a calm one without much waves being made. Heck, what could top last year’s circus atmosphere to start the season? Only one thing, that being Jeff Gordon announcing this year will be his last in the Sprint Cup Series. Bombshell for sure and now that’ll be what everyone will be talking about, not only to start the season, but over the course of the 36 race trek across the United States.

It would make sense to start with Gordon, so let’s do that. I’m still in disbelief that he is calling it a career after 23 years. You almost think he would race forever, and at age 43 he will walk away many years before some of the stars that came before him. Gordon was in the thick of the points battle until that fateful night in Texas where his title hopes got dashed after a run in with Brad Keselowski. The fight and fire you saw that night, I believe, will carry over into his final season. He should go out with a bang, rather than a whimper, which is why he’s calling it quits now. Last season he won the most races in the previous seven season, had the most top-5s and top-10s in the past five seasons. It’ll be hard to beat those numbers he put up, but anything will be possible for this team and driver determined to leave on top.

After 11 years with Ford, Carl Edwards makes the jump to the “dark side” of Toyota with Joe Gibbs Racing. He’s been putting up decent numbers with Roush Fenway Racing, despite that team going through a decline of sorts. I’m not sure how Gibbs’ organization will handle being a four car operation, as only Hendrick Motorsports has figured that balance of four cars out. And even then, it’s taken them nearly a decade to perfect it. Many expect Edwards to have the sort of jump in his step that former and now current teammate Matt Kenseth had when he joined the organization for the 2013 season.

Thanks to NASCAR’s subjective rules, Trevor Bayne will not be able to run for rookie of the year this season. Despite not having run a full season, he’s done enough in prior years (including a Daytona 500 win in 2011) to be deemed experienced. Never mind he’ll still have a yellow stripe on his car, he’s not rookie according to NASCAR. Thanks to BK Racing picking another rookie to run, we will have a Rookie of fhe Year award winner. That is Jeb Burton. Not finding sponsorship in the Truck Series was the best thing that’s happened to him. Unless he talks to Ryan Truex, then it might be the worst thing that happened to him.

Welcome back to the Cup Series Ron Hornaday, Jr., he gets the nod in the new TMG Racing #30 Chevrolet as the “primary driver.” Not sure about the wording on that about primary driver, but whatever. I assumed Hornaday’s career was done when he got screwed over by the Turner Scott Motorsports fiasco, but instead will try only his second full Cup season. The other was in 2001 running for A.J. Foyt in the #14 Conseco Pontiac, remember that car? It’ll be nice to see the 56 year old Hornaday back, I would have trusted him to do more in the Truck Series than Cup, but if the goal is to finish and not tear up cars, then Hornaday’s your guy.

Also coming back to the Cup Series is Sam Hornish, Jr., who took his lumps and learned how to race in the XFINITY Series the past few years. I’m rooting for Hornish to do a lot better than he did in his first Cup go around, especially because he’s learned not only how to win in a stock car, but also run for a title. I think that is what he needed when he first came to NASCAR in 2008.

Other moves over the offseason include Michael Annett moving to HScott Motorsports (the only cool part about this is now he’s running the 46 and his teammate Justin Allgaier runs the 51, Days of Thunder anyone?), Mike Bliss, Bobby Labonte, and Boris Said will run the 32 Ford for Go FAS Racing (lame name), Alex Bowman joins Tommy Baldwin Racing replacing Annett (you won’t really notice much out of performance improvements with him in there), JJ Yeley becomes the “lead” driver for BK Racing (whatever the heck that means, more Whoppers?) who have yet announce anything else, and Landon Cassill returns to the 40 of Hillman Racing.

New Chase and a title for Kevin Harvick? You could say he loves this format. While the expectation is for Harvick to slow down in his bid to go back to back, the scary part is how many races the team let go during the course of the season last year. Part failures mostly bit Harvick early in the season, and when it was all sorted out, there was no stopping him from the title. He can only improve, and that will be a big task considering how good his season was.

After nearly pulling up a major upset by winning the title without a win, I hope Ryan Newman comes into 2015 and wins a bunch of races. Not only would it stick it to all the fans who called him out as not being title worthy, but I’m due as a fan of his to see him win again. After winning eight times in 2003, Newman has won seven times since and not more than two times since 2004. He’s due, check that, beyond due to win some races.

When it all shakes out I expect the usual suspects up front once again. Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski, Gordon, and others will go for the title. The hard part is figuring which Cinderella stories get into the Chase through fluke wins and which usual suspect gets shut out. Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards should have solid seasons, but I’m putting my early money on ol’ six time champ Jimmie Johnson to win his seventh title.

Quicken Loans 500 Observations

Quicken_Loans_500_14_Phoenix_Kevin_Harvick_WinnerKevin 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.

Brittany’s Fan Experience

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!

What Can We Learn From The Budweiser Duels?

NSCS_Budweiser_Duel2_Bowyer_022014

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.

The Paradigm Shift In NASCAR

Sprint_Cup_Series_Dover_2012

Much was made last November about a changing of the guard in NASCAR when we ran the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Mark Martin and Ken Schrader made it be known it would be their final Sprint Cup Series race. For Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte it represented their final full-time race in the series, although Labonte did not make the trip south as his finale was a week prior at Phoenix.

Beyond those four drivers there are a few more veterans who might be shut out of the Sprint Cup Series in 2014, making a landscape of drivers whom diehard fans know, but the casual fan might not. David Reutimann, an eight year veteran has been let go from BK Racing and it’s not looking good for him securing a new ride. Dave Blaney, with 16 years, has said he will focus more on sprint cars than the Sprint Cup Series in 2014. And signs are not good that Travis Kvapil, a nine year veteran, will have a ride in 2014 either.

There always comes a time in NASCAR when it seems the whole landscape shifts to a new crop of stars. In the late-80s drivers like Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Richard Petty, and Cale Yarborough got out of the way for the new crop. That crop included Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, and Mark Martin among others.

Those drivers have slowly retired along the way, handing off the baton to the likes of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and others. With rides being at a premium in the Sprint Cup Series, this will be the first time in a very long time we will have a deep rookie class coming into the season. That comes at the cost of veterans who have been hanging on, for good or bad.

This rookie class has, officially, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, and Michael Annett. Unofficially Justin Allgaier should be joining them in the Phoenix Racing entry and most recently it looks like Alex Bowman should as well with BK Racing.

While it is unfamiliar times for some NASCAR fans, this time should be embraced with excitement. While we wish all the veterans can hang on, I for one believe it’s time for change and to get new faces into the sport.