The sport of auto racing is built on the idea of men pushing machines to the extreme in order to achieve victory. In the world of NASCAR it is no different that teams will do everything in their power to become faster in all aspects, including pit stops by not tightening all five lug nuts on a tire. Continue reading “Pushing It To The Limit Is On Crews, Not NASCAR To Police”
What seemed to be a stretch of an idea by Motorsport.com is now being reported by another media outlet. Earlier Claire B Lang of SiriusXM Radio confirms the Motorsport.com report that Clint Bowyer will head to HScott Motorsports (HSM) in 2016 and then move to Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2017.
— Claire B Lang (@ClaireBLang) September 5, 2015
When Bowyer gets to SHR, he would take over the seat of Tony Stewart, who will hang up his helmet after 18 seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This would be another big blow to NASCAR on the national radar, as this year marks the end of Jeff Gordon’s illustrious career.
Originally the idea seemed crazy that Stewart would ever walk away, but at age 45 (Stewart in 2016) time and circumstances have taken their toll on him. A broken leg in 2013 and then the tragedy in 2014, Stewart has yet to regain the form that has led him to three Sprint Cup Series titles and 48 wins in his career. The last win coming in early 2013, which was done with fuel mileage rather than out pacing the competition. So far this season, Stewart sits 26th in points with only two top-10 finishes in 24 starts.
When looking at what HSM might do for that one season, no matter what, it will be an improvement over what it is currently getting from drivers Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett. Logic would dictate that one of those drivers would be out of a job to make room for Bowyer, rather than expanding for three teams for one season. Allgaier is a favorite of owner Harry Scott, but lacks full sponsorship and is currently 30th in points. Annett has sponsorship, but sitting 35th in points with no top-10 finishes (Allgaier has one) I can’t imagine there’s enough Pilot Travel Centers money to keep him employed at HSM.
The benefit to Bowyer spending a year in the minor leagues, as outlined by Motorsport.com, is with HSM’s Hendrick Motorsports affiliation, he can spend a year getting accustomed to their chassis. While the results haven’t been there for HSM, it is not from lack of effort, and getting a talented driver like Bowyer in there might turn their luck around. Many would point to when Kurt Busch went to HSM’s predecessor, Phoenix Racing, and turned them into a potential contender. While that is an honorable comparison, what Busch did for Furniture Row Racing might be a better parallel.
With the eventual move to SHR, Bowyer will be reunited with his for Richard Childress Racing teammate Kevin Harvick. Looking at that aspect, maybe it is better to go backwards in time, to then be able to go forward.
The season opening Daytona 500 is over, but there will be many questions to answer in the coming days for the next event on the schedule. Ironically it involves both of the Busch brothers and polar opposite reasons. Continue reading “Question Marks Heading Into Atlanta Over Replacement Drivers”
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.
When the checkered flag flies in Sunday’s Ford 400 from the Homestead-Miami Speedway, more than just the 2013 season will come to a close. For some drivers it will be the end of tenures with their current teams and for others the end of their careers.
The most prominent driver to be hanging it up at the close of the season is Mark Martin. While the retirement word hasn’t been used, his talk with reporters is one that indicates the driving aspect of his career is over. “It is hard to believe that I’ve lived this dream. I’m so fortunate. I got two chances at it. I got a chance at it and had success and failed, and had to go and start my career all over again and spend several years getting back up on my feet and getting a second opportunity in NASCAR. It is really hard to believe. I am still – deep down inside, I’m still the kid from Arkansas that got the huge thrill the first time I went to Daytona as a spectator to watch the Daytona 500. I wasn’t even a teenager yet. I never dreamed I would be able to do the things that I’ve done and to have the success that I’ve had. It’s been a dream. Living a dream.”
Coming into the race under the radar of his final Sprint Cup Series start is Ken Schrader. The 29 year veteran has been running off and on the past few years, but has said that this will be it. Odds are he still might make a random Camping World Truck Series or appearance in another series, it won’t be the Sprint Cup Series. While not one of the more successful drivers on the track, off the track he’s earned the respect of fans and competitors alike.
Another driver stepping away from the Sprint Cup Series, but could possibly be back in a one off race scenario is Juan Pablo Montoya. After seven years in the Sprint Cup Series, which saw two career wins, Montoya is going back to his roots in the IndyCar Series. He will be driving there for Roger Penske, so coming back for a road course race will always be a rumor. “It’s hard to believe that seven years ago I raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time. This race is special to me in a lot of ways; its home, my family and friends will all be there and it’s the last time I will race with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Target. To be honest with you, it’s bittersweet and I’d like to have a good weekend for Target and the team. Nothing would mean more than a win this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”
While not retiring, just yet anyways, Jeff Burton will be stepping away from the full-time side of things in the Sprint Cup Series for a yet to be determined part-time ride in 2014. He will leave the Richard Childress Racing team after just over 9 years with them. During that time he was able to re-ignite his career with four wins from 2006 to 2008. He has struggled as of late, but that should not be a true reflection of his career. “I’ve been really blessed to do it for as long as I’ve done it to do something that you love and to be able to do it as long as I’ve done it really is a blessing. When I was seven years old I wanted to be a race car driver. I’m 46 and I’m a race car driver. I’ve just been really blessed. The cool thing is I’ve met so many people and experienced so many things that I never would have been able to do. To have a chance to compete for a living is really is a cool thing. You know what your job is and go out and try to do it. Competing to me means something. To be able to do it this long has been really cool.”
After helping Furniture Row Racing become the first single car team to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kurt Busch will be leaving at year’s end to join the Stewart-Haas Racing stable. Busch helped set marks for the teams with top-5s and top-10s, but was never able to get a victory. “This is our last chance to take the Furniture Row Chevrolet to Victory Lane. There’s nothing I want more for these Furniture Row guys who have worked so hard all year to give me a fast race car. Though we have a bunch of top-fives (11) and top-10’s (16) we don’t have that W. A victory would cap off an already successful season for our single-car team. It’s been a great ride with a great bunch of guys and with an outstanding organization led by team owner Barney Visser. Each year when we close out the season at Homestead there is that nostalgic feeling of what happened in 2004 — winning the championship in the first year of the Chase. It was a magical time for me and I am looking from some more magic this weekend in my final ride with the No. 78 flat-black Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet.”
The man he’s replacing at Stewart-Haas Racing will be Ryan Newman. Newman is moving on to the Richard Childress Racing team after five years with SHR. In that time he’s won four races and qualified for the Chase three times. “I really look forward to Homestead. It’s a really fun racetrack for all of us. For us to go down there and end the season on a racetrack that is very raceable is something I’m happy about. They really did a great job the third time around on redesigning that racetrack. It’s a great place to have a championship weekend for all three series. I’ve not had the best record there, but we did finish third in this race last year. I’d like nothing more than to end the season on a high note and end the season on a good note for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Also joining Stewart-Haas Racing is Kevin Harvick, who leaves the Richard Childress Racing team after 13 interesting years. It started off as Harvick being pushed into replacing the late Dale Earnhardt. Through squabbles and tribulations along the way, Harvick and his team were able to win 23 times. They finished in the top-5 in the driver standings five times and find themselves as one of the final three for this year’s title. “Homestead (Miami Speedway) has been a great race track for us, whether it was flat or banked. It’s been a race track where we’ve run well. It would be nice to close out my career at Richard Childress Racing with a win there and go out on the right note. RCR is where I got my start and it’s been a great career so far.”
Unplanned at the start of the year, Martin Truex, Jr. will be moving on from Michael Waltrip Racing after this race. He will go to the Furniture Row Racing team after four years with MWR. “I believe this NAPA team has nothing to prove. All we want to do is end on a high note and this track can certainly be the place that we can win. My guys have worked so hard for me over the last four years and I know they really want to close out our time together with a victory. To be honest, it’s been sad to see it end this way. We had such high expectations for all of us. If you really think about it, this year is only our second full season as a team for this group of guys and that’s impressive. We are really just getting started and moving in the direction that we always wanted to go. This NAPA team is such a great group of guys. It’s just unfortunate that we are not going to realize the full potential of this amazing team. All we want to do is go down swinging at Homestead. We want to use this race as a way to show everyone just how good we are and to thank NAPA Auto Parts for supporting and believing in this team. They deserve another visit to victory lane and it’s our plan to get them there on Sunday.”
While it is the end there is excitement for what the future might hold for all of these drivers. They’ll reflect on the season or career that was, but then get focused for what lies ahead.
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.
The dream season is going out like a nightmare for Kurt Busch and Furniture Row Racing. The single car team and former champion were able to work their way into the Chase for the Sprint Cup by hard work and determination.
Through three races of the Chase, they sit 9th, 55 points out of first place. Pit road miscues hinder Busch during the regular season and now in the Chase they might have done him in.
“A loose wheel did us in,” said Busch after the completion of the AAA 400 from the Dover International Speedway. “We were way off at the start, but after the first pit stop we made some good changes to the car and started to make a move. But once again we had an issue with a loose wheel and that put us a couple of laps down. And with the lack of cautions we couldn’t make it up.”
It figured that once Busch came in to change the loose wheel the caution came out almost immediately. A pattern that disturbed Busch as heard over his radio. He questioned the team’s preparations as this was the second time this season a loose wheel had happened.
He was calmed down by crew chief Todd Berrier, but the damage was already done. They were able to get a lap back of the three they lost via the wave around. Busch ended up losing that third lap again before the close of the race.
Down they are, but Busch and his team won’t give up on their dream.
“Nothing went our way today. This is the Chase and you can’t afford to have these problems. We need to regroup and get it together for Kansas next week,” commented Busch.
The Hollywood Casino 400 is next up from the Kansas Speedway for the Sprint Cup Series. The action gets underway Sunday, October 6th, at 2:00 PM EST and can be seen live on ESPN.