Tag: Kyle Larson

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.

Retro Day Race

The most common theme when you talk to longtime fans of NASCAR is a harkening back to the “days of old” when, in their opinion, races were better and the stars had more of a connection to the working man. While we can’t go back in time, I have a proposal that will allow, all be it one race, fans to enjoy taking a look back.

My proposal is to have a retro day race, which would make most sense as an all-star race, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be a good idea to make it some place historic like Darlington. We’ve seen every so often a team will roll out a retro paint scheme, such as Jeff Gordon at Talladega in 2009, Brad Keselowski at Bristol in 2012, Denny Hamlin at Michigan in 2013, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at Darlington in 2008.

My concept has all NASCAR teams participating on the basis of what their existing sponsor is or an inspiration from the number they drive for. The later has been done when Mark Martin raced a retro #25 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. It had sponsorship from Farmers Insurance, but the inspiration was from when Folgers was on the car back in the late 1980s.

Below I will go through some drivers and what car I propose they use for this special occasion.

#1 Jamie McMurray McDonald’s Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. My pick would be the ride Bill Elliott drove in 1996, I liked how adding white on the front really made the car pop. A runner up would be the 1999 edition which had black on the roof of the car. Beyond that you could make a case for the original 1993 Hut Stricklin paint scheme as well and I wouldn’t be offended.

#2 Brad Keselowski Miler Lite Ford for Team Penske. This is a no brainer, you have to go with midnight aka the early 1990s Miller Genuine Draft paint scheme Rusty Wallace dominated with. I know that Miller Lite is what the company leverages now, but the MGD paint scheme is the best hands down.

#3 Austin Dillon Dow Chemicals Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. This will probably spark the biggest debate among fans on whether this concept should be done or not. There was enough of a fire storm at the idea that Dillon would run the iconic #3, but I say put the 1990s GM Goodwrench paint scheme on the car that Dale Earnhardt ran. Dow Chemicals would probably work the best on it versus his other sponsors, but it would be nice if Goodwrench came back for one race.

#4 Kevin Harvick Budweiser Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. Budweiser has been in the sport for a very long time and has had pretty much the same scheme during that time. Usually the car has been flat red without much of anything else with it. Bill Elliott rocked the boat in 1992 when a white stripe was added down the side, but when the company went to Hendrick Motorsports that was scraped. I like having another color on there, so that’s why I put my vote on Darrell Waltrip’s 1985 version of the car. Mostly white the red really pops in contrast to it, plus it doesn’t hurt that he dominated that year too.

#5 Kasey Kahne Pepsi Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Farmers Insurance is Kahne’s primary sponsor, but they don’t have the historic background of other sponsor. Kahne will have Pepsi MAX colors on his car later this year, so I’m grabbing Pepsi for him and going with Jeff Gordon’s 1999 Nationwide Series ride for inspiration. I almost went with Darrell Waltrip’s 1983 Pepsi Challenger scheme, but that yellow is just too much for me.

#7 Michael Annett Pilot Travel Centers Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing. I almost left Annett off the list as I was stumped with what to do. Part of me wanted to honor the late Alan Kulwicki with a Hooters inspired scheme, but then it came to me. Gary Bradberry. Bradberry drove a Pilot Travel Center sponsored car during the 1998 Sprint Cup Series season, how can we not honor Bradberry by resurrecting that scheme?

#9 Marcos Ambrose DeWalt Power Tools Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. Just having the number 9 brings back many memories of quality schemes, highest of all being Bill Elliott’s Coors paint scheme of the 1980s, but with DeWalt on board we had to go a little more recent. Matt Kenseth drove DeWalt sponsored cars for many years with many different schemes. I’m going back to basics and picking his rookie year 2000 paint scheme for Ambrose.

#10 Danica Patrick GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. When looking at just the number, 10, I wanted to incorporate Derrike Cope or Ricky Rudd somehow. Instead I’m going to go with the scheme Patrick ran in the Nationwide Series which actually had some colors to it versus just a neonish green all over the car.

#11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. This was a no brain and has already been done. Wrap the car like it was when Jason Leffler drove the inaugural FedEx car for Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin drove this car last season as a tribute to the late Leffler and I think it made a lot of people happy to see it on track once again despite the circumstances.

#13 Casey Mears GEICO Chevrolet for Germain Racing. I was looking originally for some GEICO paint scheme that was used with Max Papis, but those were ugly. Really they were, nothing about that looks good. Then going to the Nationwide Series, same thing, red/blue and uninspiring. So this one goes back until the current scheme is the best, but luckily we’re not bounded by sponsor. Because I liked it, I’m going with the FirstPlus Financial scheme Jerry Nadeau ran for Elliott-Marino Racing. Yup, that happened, Bill Elliott co-owned a team with Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino. Since I’m a Dolphins fan you didn’t have to say much more, but then make the car look like a Dolphins car? Sign me up!

#14 Tony Stewart Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. It is a toss-up between Stewart’s two sponsors, Bass Pro Shops and Mobil 1, but in the end Mobil 1 wins. I would go with the 1998 paint scheme Jeremy Mayfield ran for Team Penske which featured the iconic Mobil 1 Pegasus on the side of the car. A close second is the 2000 paint scheme that was a tad bit more streamlined.

#15 Clint Bowyer PEAK Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. A soon as I saw this sponsor I thought of when Kyle Petty ran this beauty in 1990 for PEAK Antifreeze. It’s a shame the series only visited Rockingham twice a year back then or else Petty would have had 200 wins like his Dad. The also ran this scheme the year prior, but it certainly doesn’t draw in your eyes like the blue/pink combo from 1990.

#16 Greg Biffle 3M Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle has been paired with 3M for what seems like forever with different variations of the same paint scheme used each year. My pick is a little outside the box, but utilizes the same colors 3M uses. Go with the 1994 Family Channel scheme that Ted Musgrave rocked and was one of my favorite 1/64th scale collectable cars growing up.

#17 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Nationwide Insurance Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse has a lot of sponsors going on and none have any real NASCAR history. You could argue about NOS and how they sponsored Stanton Barrett before it was cool, but instead I’m going to opt with a Darrell Waltrip scheme. Waltrip is extremely popular in my book for paint schemes, so why not? Let’s take the awesome 1991 Western Auto paint scheme, where they used silver. Enough silver that he made a chrome helmet for good measure. This is pre-Parts America era when they killed it with this weird blue/gray combo.

#18 Kyle Busch Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch’s primary sponsor is M&M’s, but since they joined the sport in 1999 the same basic paint scheme has been used. A yellow base with M&M’s all over the car. Prior to that it was Skittles, which was cool, but the new Skittles paint scheme used this year was cooler in my opinion. Instead we’re going to use the original Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor in Interstate Batteries and go with that inaugural year of 1992. Dale Jarrett raced this scheme on the track and into our hearts over a three year period and it was then used for two more season with Bobby Labonte. After 1997 the scheme went wild, but retained its green primary base. That changed the past couple of season with Busch running a white based scheme, which seems unnatural to me.

#20 Matt Kenseth The Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. The Home Depot has backed off in how active in NASCAR they, instead pushing their Husky brand of tools rather than their stores (I blame Jimmie Johnson for that). I vote bring back the store branding and use Tony Stewart’s rookie paint scheme. I always enjoyed the scheme, even though I tried to recreate it in my first NASCAR computer game and failed miserably doing so. They’re another sponsor that went with a single color for their schemes and it annoyed me that they did that. It’s not like teams paint anymore, get creative will ya!

#21 Trevor Bayne Motorcraft Ford for Wood Brothers Racing. I could have gone one of two directions here, stick with Motorcraft or bring back Ford Quality Care Service. I kept it Motorcraft because I was not a Dale Jarrett fan when he was doing well in the blue #88 (sorry Dale!) so I say go with the 1990 scheme that Morgan Shepherd drove to an Atlanta victory in. This year feature red and white as equals instead of the basic red they used the next four years after.

#22 Joey Logano Shell Ford for Team Penske. One of my favorites and a very underrated paint scheme was what Tony Stewart ran in the Nationwide Series in 1998. I like how the yellow/black/white all come together and just think the scheme looks cool. I usually don’t purchase Nationwide Series collectable cars, but when I saw this one available I didn’t think twice. A close second would be Michael Waltrip’s 1990s Pennzoil paint schemes, but it’s just yellow and that’s not cool in my book. Distant third is Steve Park’s Pennzoil 1998 paint scheme, which at least introduced some other colors into it.

#24 Jeff Gordon Axalta Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. While it’s technically the same sponsor, Axalta will have to replace DuPont on Gordon’s retro scheme as we go back to the Rainbow Warrior days. This paint scheme won three titles and a bunch of races, but was bounced for flames starting in 2001. I’ve always loved it and never understood why we couldn’t see it at least once a year.

#27 Paul Menard Menards Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. The tough part for Menard is his Menards sponsorship has never really yielded anything but neon yellow. The number he carries, 27, hasn’t had any real inspiring paint schemes with its various team/sponsor combinations. The only thing I could pull was this blue Menards paint scheme Menard ran for Andy Peetre Racing in one start.

#31 Ryan Newman Caterpillar Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Caterpillar has been in NASCAR a long time and true to the company’s colors, has used black and yellow in all schemes. It’s hard to pin point one that stands out from another, actually this year’s is probably the best, but it wouldn’t be retro if we didn’t dig deep. This case I’m going with David Green’s 1997 scheme he ran in his rookie season.

#40 Landon Cassill Chevrolet for Hillman Racing. Without a sponsorship we get another free reign paint scheme so I’m going to honor Sterling Marlin with this one. Coors Light has some good paint schemes back in the day and most would associate the all silver paint scheme as vintage Marlin. Heck that’s a ton better that whatever threw up all over Kyle Petty’s 1995 and 1996 cars. Instead of the silver, I’m going with the 2000 black Coors Light paint scheme. I like how it works in Coors Original and Coors Light all on one car. Smart marketing at its best. This might actually make me root for Cassill…well no, not really.

#41 Kurt Busch Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. While Haas Automation has sponsored a car or two in the past, the schemes aren’t all that great. So ditching the sponsor theme, I’m going with something I enjoy, although the driver ran in the back with it most of the time. After securing sponsorship from Kodiak, Larry Hedrick brought up a rookie from Maine named Ricky Craven to drive for him. During his two year tenure, Craven was known more for flipping at Talladega then much else. But he did so in a very cool looking ride.

#42 Kyle Larson Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. My favorite all-time scheme that Target used in the Sprint Cup Series was an IndyCar inspired number run by Juan Pablo Montoya at Indianapolis in 2008. It’s probably because that’s when I got into IndyCar racing when that scheme was run with Alex Zenardi and Jimmy Vasser at the wheel. Normally I’d go with my favorite, because after all I’m writing this, but instead I’m going to defer to the scheme Jimmy Spencer ran in 2001. I like the use of white top and red bottom, reminds me of what they’re doing this year with Larson’s paint scheme.

#43 Aric Almirola STP Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. When you’re looking at the #43 how can you not go with STP? It’s just a matter of picking out the STP paint scheme that fits with the reader. In this case as someone who got into NASCAR in the early 1990s, I’m going with The King’s last year’s paint scheme as my inspiration. Other variations have come and gone, but I like this one the best.

#48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. This entry was the one that sparked me actually put my thoughts of a retro race on paper. I think Johnson should run, at least once a year, a scheme equal to that of Mike Skinner in 1997. I like to associate my Lowe’s with a golden yellow rather than neon yellow of the numbers. We’ll skip over the Brett Bodine years, of course. Over the years Lowe’s schemes have gotten very basic and plain, and I’m not a fan of that. Oh look, a creative computer user already did a mock up of this beauty!

#55 Brian Vickers Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing. With number 55 I was tempted to go with one of the Square D paint schemes run by Kenny Wallace or Bobby Hamilton. I held back and stayed on point with the sponsor, opting for the 2000 scheme run by Johnny Benson. Benson lost his sponsor Lycos.com (which itself was a cool scheme) and Aaron’s stepped up.

#83 Ryan Truex Burger King Toyota for BK Racing. I know BK Racing is shying away from Burger King being on their cars, but how can you not do the Joe Nemechek/Burger King throwback? The car he raced in 1996 is the winner and it’s just awesome. The 1995 model? Not so much. The only other scheme that comes close is what Steve Park ran for his Sprint Cup debut in 1997, but it doesn’t feel quite the same.

#88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Mountain Dew Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. While I should honor the bravery and courage of our soldiers, I’m opting to ignore the National Guard and go with Mountain Dew for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. This is also not original because it was done before, but whatever, I like the scheme that Darrell Waltrip campaigned to back to back titles in 1981 and 1982.

#99 Carl Edwards Kellogg’s Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. You hear Kellogg’s and NASCAR and you can’t help but think Texas Terry Labonte and his iconic (yeah I’m using that here) paint scheme he ran from 1994-1997. I love that paint scheme, I thought it was so cool the use of green and red strips to break up the yellow and white on the sides. It might have been because ANYTHING would have been better than what he drove in 1993, but I really enjoyed this paint scheme.

The Paradigm Shift In NASCAR

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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.

Excitement Builds At Earnhardt Ganassi Racing

Photo- Getty Images
Photo- Getty Images

For the first time in a very long time there is excitement building inside the walls at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. After years of mediocrity, the tide is turning for the organization for the better and Sunday’s win by Jamie McMurray just put a punctuation mark on it.

“Winning, it’s not just about me; it’s about everybody within our whole group.  You know, probably more so the 1 guys because they’re the ones that are in victory lane.  But it’s so cool to see their faces in victory lane and know that when we go to Martinsville, you have confidence, everybody does.  It’s so big for us because Martinsville    to me plate tracks are probably my best tracks, and Martinsville is probably my next best.  I love getting to go there,” said McMurray after the win Sunday.

This is a great place to be able to win at to take not only my confidence but everybody else within our group to that track where I feel we’ll run really well at. McMurray and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya have been running better than they have in the past few years. Prior to the win McMurray finished second at Kentucky and Montoya finished second at Dover. Other races they have been in contention, but one thing or another whipped out a good finish. McMurray has posted four top-5 finishes and eight top-10 finishes, which is more than 2011 and 2012 combined. Montoya has posted four top-5 finishes as well, better than 2011 and 2012 combined. His seven top-10 finishes is just shy of the eight he posted in 2011, in 2012 he had two all season.

Montoya is on his way out after the conclusion of this season, but momentum will continue because replacing him is highly touted rookie Kyle Larson. Larson, who will make his second Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville, was running in the top-15 during his debut at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. While he hasn’t collected any wins during his first season in the Nationwide Series, Larson has shown he has the skill set to get the job done.

“You know, my first indication (Larson is a special talent) was at Daytona this year.  I remember watching him in the race, hearing all the time how special he is, how special he is.  He’s running around the Nationwide race 14th or 12th.  I thought, What the hell is so special about this kid?  Sure enough, at the finish line, he was right there.  Of course, he was here and there at the finish line at Daytona this year, I should say.  Be that as it may, that to me was special.  I’ve seen that five or six, eight times now.  He gives you the impression he’s dilly-dallying in the middle of the pack, not paying attention.  Always at the end he’s where it seems to matter to be.  That says something to me,” said team co-owner Chip Ganassi.

Coming to Martinsville this weekend, McMurray will look to prove he’s not just a restrictor plate winner. While he has no wins at the paperclip shaped facility, he does have a second place finish in in 2004. Montoya will look to close his NASCAR career (potentially) on a high note by getting his first oval win at the tough track.

The Goody’s Headache Powder 500 gets under way at 2 PM EST and can be seen on ESPN.

Column: Keselowski, Debuts, Talladega, MWR, and Irvan Returns

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In this week’s column I take a look at the most recent Sprint Cup Series winner, Brad Keselowski, along with the three drivers who made their Cup debuts Saturday under the lights. My two cents on the Michael Waltrip Racing situation that came out Monday. And to round things out I will touch on what a wildcard Talladega is to the Chase and a former Talladega winner is back involved in NASCAR.

It was a very long time coming for Brad Keselowski, who had not won a Sprint Cup Series race in just over a year. His last win was Kansas of last year during his run for the Sprint Cup championship. It has been a big struggle for him and his team all year long. Luck just has not been on their side, some of their own doing (Texas with penalties) and others were just out of his hands. This team is going for broke during the Chase since they are not in it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick up another win or two.

It was Kyle Larson who got most of the media attention heading into Charlotte about making his Sprint Cup Series debut. He did not do it alone as Brian Scott and Blake Koch each made their inaugural Sprint Cup races. Of the trio, Scott produced the best finish coming home in the 27th position. Larson was quick and up near the top-10, but his engine expired after completing 247 of the 334 laps, relegating him to a 37th place finish. Koch was a late add to the #95 Leavine Family Racing Ford and ran 216 laps before retiring with a vibration, he finished 38th. Larson is going to be running full-time in 2014, whereas Scott hopes to run a handful of races next season, and Koch’s plans are still unknown at this time. Each has a bright future, but Larson will be the one who garners all the attention.

It’s down to a five man battle for the Sprint Cup championship this year, although you could argue it’s down to two already with five races to go. That’s good because Talladega is up next and the unpredictability of it will definitely shake things up. In the spring Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth were the only Chase drivers to get a top-10 finish. Heck, David Ragan won the race with David Gilliland pushing him. When we say anything can happen, anything can and will happen in the race. The goal of every Chase driver is to survive and hopefully not lose too many points in the process.

The announcement that Michael Waltrip Racing would be reducing the number of full-time teams it fields from three to two is not surprising. There was no way they could secure funding for a full season in such short notice after NAPA informed them they were leaving. What I don’t like is the number of people who will be out of jobs because of the action of a few inside the organization. You can’t tell me from the top (i.e. Michael Waltrip himself) there was no discussions of manipulating the race if push came to shove out there. For a team that is starving for funds, a bonus for a car making the Chase was worth the risks at the time. Now that they have found out what the risks are, they would probably re-think their approach. I hope that driver Martin Truex, Jr., who did nothing but race his ass off into the Chase only to get kicked out, lands a good ride and can bring some of his former MWR colleagues with him.

Something that might have slipped through the cracks last weekend was Ernie Irvan getting back into racing as a car owner for his son Jared starting in 2014. The 15-year old Irvan will compete full-time in the Pro All Star Series South (PASS) that hits tracks like Hickory, South Boston, and Organ County. History lesson for you all is those were former Nationwide Series tracks back in the day. It’s good to see Ernie getting back into the sport after having such a great, albeit short, career that included 15 victories, the 1991 Daytona 500, and what should have been the 1994 title had he not gotten injured at Michigan.

Could We See Larson In The 42 This Year?

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The biggest question raised after Monday’s announcement that Juan Pablo Montoya would be going back to the Izod IndyCar series in 2014 is will this open the door to seeing Kyle Larson in the car before the close of the season.

The first reason this would make sense is that Montoya isn’t in the Chase, so it’s not like he’s going for the championship, it’s mainly just wins from here on out. While the team has been fast, I don’t see them getting any wins in the final nine races.

A second reason is the rivalry between Chip Ganassi (co-owner Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) and Roger Penske (owner Team Penske) could be one where Ganassi could be furious that is where Montoya is going. Instead of keeping him around where maybe he gather information to give Penske, he could cut him loose early.

A third reason is this way both organizations can focus their efforts on 2014. Montoya can begin to re-acclimate himself to IndyCar and Ganassi can bring up rookie Kyle Larson to get some races under his belt. Penske might not have a team in place for Montoya yet, but Larson could begin to work with the crew he’ll work with starting at Daytona next February.

I think a move like this could benefit both sides, but most likely would take place after this weekend’s activates at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This weekend the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series are not racing at the same location, so logistically it would make sense to not start Larson until the week after.

Too Fast, Too Soon?

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During the offseason Joey Logano looked back at his career and admitted what some people were thinking. Maybe going into Sprint Cup racing at age 19 was not the best decision, but it was not one he regrets. While I was unable to talk to Joey specifically about his comments, I was able to catch up with David Ragan, Blake Koch, and Kyle Larson to get their opinion on their experience rising through the ranks.

David Ragan was relatively unknown, running a handful of NASCAR Camping World and Nationwide Series races. Then at age 21, he was named the driver of the #6 Ford for Roush Racing. If that was not intimidating enough, add in that he was replacing a legend in that ride, Mark Martin.

Was it too fast of an ascension for him?

“I was definitely not ready for a full-time Cup series ride. The previous series I ran full-time in before was legends car series in 2002,” says Ragan. “I was fast enough to go fast, but not mature enough to finish these 500/600 mile races and to race for points over the course of a year.”  The greatest factor maturity plays in racing is the ability to race for points, because, like we all know, it is the points that crown you champion of the series at the end of the season. So where it is important to drive fast to win a race, it is equally important to have consistency to win race after race, which is where mature focus comes in.

There are a couple of ways to reach that level of maturity before racing Sprint Cup fulltime. Ragan states, “Looking back I would definitely change things: run Trucks for a couple of years, Nationwide for a year and learn how to points race; learn how to race at these tracks.” He brings up a good point that having more experience working as a team and racing on the same tracks is what allows a driver to gain confidence while maintaining a stable and mature nature on the track. As each track differs from the next, it is important to understand the ins and outs of each for successful preparation that allows the team to gain points, not just win.

When we were young, we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. As adults, some of us adjusted our dreams to be realistic, but for a select few their dreams came true. Now despite your age, would you ever turn down the opportunity to live your dream? Majority vote is no. “In this day and age when you’re given an opportunity, you can’t look back; you have to make the best of it. It was tough for a couple of years,” comments Ragan.

Lately in NASCAR, there have been less and less of those opportunities for new, young drivers, teams, and manufacturers to enter the scene. Ragan explains, “With the current structure of the Sprint Cup Series and the economy the way it is, it isn’t really acceptable to new teams, drivers, and owners. You see a lot of drivers staying for 10-15 years, and there’s only a couple of rides open each year. If you don’t cut the grade soon, you’re usually left behind.” With this small window of opportunity, it makes sense why young drivers would not decline an offer even if they feel they are not ready.

Blake Koch took a different path to NASCAR. He started out racing motocross, but after some injuries decided that it was not for him. “I stopped and went to college. My step-dad bought me a car for a local track. I tried it out and fell in love with it.” In 2008 he placed a series of calls to different teams about getting on their developmental programs. One team listened: Richard Childress Racing.

Koch went through a handful of starts before getting a full-time Nationwide Series ride in 2011. Then part-way through 2012, he lost ride. That put Koch in a precarious position of what he wanted to do. He could continue to chase his dream, or give up for a regular job away from racing. He decided to plug on. “I had the opportunity to do a start and park car, and I said ‘no, I don’t want to do it. It is too early in my career, I don’t want to be labeled as a start and park driver.’ Then two weeks later when my mortgage was due, I realized it was something I might have to do.”

That was not all he was doing those weekends, “sometimes I was driving Trevor Bayne’s motorhome, starting and parking a truck, and doing some spotting on the Cup side,” stated Koch. That perseverance has paid off with a full-time ride with SR2 Motorsports this year.

Previous experience with former development drivers might be working into the fortunes of Kyle Larson. He is a developmental driver for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, has spent 2013 driving for Turner-Scott Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. ”You can’t turn down opportunities like that (driving for EGR/TSM), but Chip Ganassi (team owner) won’t move me up if I’m not ready. I’m just going to try to do the best I can and learn as much as I can to try and be prepared if he throws me in a Cup car,” said Larson.

That call came Friday when Ganassi announced Larson as the new driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet. Both Ganassi and Larson sounded ok with dealing with the growing pains that will come. “I think Kyle is the kind of driver, when he sees an opportunity in front of him, he takes it.  If that means it’s a win, hey, great.  There’s no pressure for him to win his first year out,” said Ganassi Friday.

Larson even had a little bit of time to reflect on going from K&N East Series champion to Sprint Cup Series regular in under two years. “It’s definitely been quite a whirlwind.  I was walking over here saying a year ago today I was making my second Truck start.  It’s been a really quick road.  But I feel like I’ve done okay with it and learned quite a bit. As far as next year goes, I know I’ll have to focus more on the Sprint Cup stuff.  I understand it’s probably going to be the toughest step in my whole career.  I’m going to have to dedicate a lot of time to it and grow as a driver, do a great job for Target, for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and make everybody there happy.”

Hindsight is 20/20, but as David Ragan said, “given an opportunity you can’t look back, you have to make the best of it, and it makes you stronger in the long run.” No matter the path a driver takes to NASCAR, they have to be willing to take chances on and off the track. If it is getting into a series before they’re ready, then they will do that.

Hindsight is 20/20, but as David Ragan said, “given an opportunity you can’t look back, you have to make the best of it, and it makes you stronger in the long run.” No matter the path a driver takes to NASCAR, they have to be willing to take chances on and off the track. If it is getting into a series before they’re ready, then they will do that.