Hillman Sues Circle Sport-Levine for Charter

mcdowell promo picWe all knew coming into the season that Charters would change the way the back end of NASCAR operates. I talked about all the charter maneuverings before the Daytona 500. In the direct lead up to the charter announcement, there were moves among some of the smaller teams to secure one of the coveted charters.

BK Racing shrunk to only two full time cars. So did Front Row Motorsports. The Wood Brothers were left out in the cold but in a proper old school mentality shrugged and got to work kicking ass anyways. Premium Motorsports shrunk to a single full time car and then leased their charter out to HScott for their Clint Boywer year (although, look how good that’s working out for them).

cslfr logoThe big move among the little teams was the merger between Joe Falk’s Circle Sport Racing #33 and the Levine Family Racing #95.

Circle Sport has been running full time long enough to score the charter. Just barely. That team purchased the points off of RCR back in 2012 and struck a deal to be an unofficial fourth RCR car for certain races when Childress wanted to get his Xfinity drivers seat time in Cup. Brian Scott and Austin Dillon picked up a few starts this way before they were officially rookies. Ty Dillon has a few, including a start in this year’s Daytona 500 with the new merged CS-LFR.

Levine Family Racing kind of got hosed by the charter system. They were one of those little teams that started out part time and was chugging along, surviving, getting better, and on the road to running full time. Even prior to the charter system, I expect they would have been running full time this year anyways.

So the two teams struck a deal. Falk’s charter and deals with RCR. Levine’s gear and driver. Seems like it’s a win for the two groups.

Problem is, a lawsuit dropped this week in North Carolina says there were more investors left out in the cold.

Back when I first wrote about the charters, I mentioned that Mike Hillman, owner of the #40 Hillman Motors car that was often run by Landon Cassill before he moved to Front Row, sounded pretty annoyed about all the work he put into his team to be left out in the cold.

Cassill @ Martinsville, 2013
Cassill at Martinsville, 2013

I felt he had every right to be annoyed by it and bitter. In among the preseason moves, if you follow the little teams, Premium Motorsports bought up most of the #40’s equipment and took Hillman on in a role with that team. Made it sound like the #40 was up the creek without a paddle without a charter. They entered in as an open team into the Daytona 500 with Reed Sorensen, but did not qualify for the race. They haven’t attempted a race since (although, not terribly uncommon for the part time teams to skip the west coast run).

See, the thing is, Hillman and Falk used to run their cars together. At various times during the last few years, Hillman and Circle Sport were listed as a single entity. In fact, as of the day of posting this, Hillman’s entry on Wikipedia still lists the team as Hillman-Circle Sport.

In 2012, Hillman and the #40 teamed up with Michael Waltrip for him to run the Daytona 500. Per the rules at the time, that classified the #40 as a MWR car and maxed out the four car limit. Hillman was out of the game and couldn’t run his own car. Falk bought the RCR points for the #33 that year and started running full time. Hillman got in on the deal with Falk in 2013, and it included some discounted ECR engines from Childress starting with Indy. The #40 car was half a season short of qualifying for a charter. Despite the two groups working in tandem to run in Cup, Circle Sport was the official name on the #33 so when the charters came down, it went to the #33.

Sorensen at Daytona
Sorensen at Daytona

The full details of the lawsuit spell out how the relationship between Hillman and Falk soured starting with last year. Hillman accuses Falk of leaving the #40 side of the partnership with more of the bills. Supposedly Hillman and Falk were planning on cutting ties at the end of 2015 anyways but neither ever officially signed off on the agreed upon terms. The biggest thing is that Hillman was totally unaware of any pending deal with Circle Sport and Levine. The details in the lawsuit certainly imply that the investors in the #40 car had to liquidate everything they had (to Premium) and are still left with a hefty amount of debt. The complaint straight up says “As a results of the circumstances described … the 40 points are of negligible value, the Partnership is unable to race full-time during the 2016 race season, Hillman and Hillman Racing have no ability to pay for the significant debt incurred in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 race seasons, and the remaining partners have been forced to liquidate many of the Partnership’s remaining assets.’’

Hillman is seeking cash damages, the rights to the #33 team, the #95 charter and all profits/benefits gained from the charter.

So those are the details in summary. What is going to come of all this?

It’s hard to tell. From the public information out there that NASCAR fans can find with a little Google-fu, the ownership ties between Hillman and Falk seem murky at times over the last few years. I’m sure more details of their ties will come out over the course of the lawsuit because right now, what details we have are from Hillman’s point of view. Falk has not commented on anything because the case is pending. Childress will definitely be roped into this because of the ongoing deals he had to supply equipment and the checks he cut to run his driver/car/crew under the #33 banner (now the #95 banner).

mcdowell at daytona 59
McDowell at the Daytona 500

I think that the biggest loser in this fight is Michael McDowell. He is considered one of the nicest guys in the garage and committed to making Levine a better team. He was slated to finally run the full season (or pretty close to it depending on the number of Ty Dillon races with RCR). The drivers concern themselves with what happens on the track. The owners worry about behind the scenes. That’s why the owner-driver fad in the 90s fell apart and frankly, I’m surprised Stewart has so much success in the dual role.

Whatever happens between Hillman and Falk, I really hope McDowell doesn’t have to suffer as a result.

I think whoever loses this lawsuit, is likely broken and out as a Cup level owner. Hillman already seems to be busted so if he loses, he’s no worse off in terms of Cup racing (his debt is a different matter though). If Falk and Levine lose, there are a couple ways I could see it going. Falk is likely out as a Cup owner either way. Levine may or may not be. One of the big questions at this point is what, if anything, Levine knew about the situation between Hillman and Falk. That could lead to more lawsuits. The only asset belonging to the #95 that Hillman seeks is the charter itself (which was originally the #33’s). So Levine could survive without it and run as an open team. Their assets and deals might not be affected, just their guaronteed spot. Which, of course, is a big deal in itself, so who knows what that means in the new charter environment.

How much debt Hillman has racked up running the #40 over the last couple years is likely to come out in the lawsuit. All their gear is liquidated already. So depending on how much debt they’ve already got, winning the charter from CS-LFR may not enable them to race. No gear, no money to buy more gear, no racing. But charters are worth a few million a pop. We know this because Kaufmann sold his from MWR to the #19 and #41 teams. The initial thought seems like that even if Hillman wins, he’d have to sell the charter to get out of (some) debt.

Then we get to play the game of “Who Wants to Buy a Charter?” (answer: Penske-Wood)

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Fontana Round Up

Last stop on the PR approved hashtag #NASCARgoesWest. Auto Club Speedway, which since I’ve been watching NASCAR for over 25 years, I still call Fontana, has been producing fantastic races over the last few years. Even with the mediocre aero package last year, Fontana was a highlight of the season. Expectations were very high for this race. The track is wide and speeds top 200mph. Lower downforce this year means there was lots of passing. Junior had a race high 144 green flag passes. 144! Last year’s crappy aero package didn’t produce that many passes by the whole field at times.

So….

Did NASCAR’s trip to southern California live up to the expectation?

Yes. Yes it did.

johnson wins fontanaJimmie Johnson won a race that Kevin Harvick dominated. Harvick has been the guy everyone wants to beat so the fan base seems more than ok with him losing. Even though the #4 car led 145 of the race’s laps, almost 2/3 of the race, there was a lot more passing than that stat makes you believe. The wide track lets drivers find speed all over the place with multiple viable racing lines right from the green flag. Restarts can fan out four or five wide without wrecking anyone.

The big thing about this race again was tire issues. Multiple people had flat tires that hosed up decent runs. Kyle Busch lost a tire while running second. Larson had a scary solo crash after losing a right rear. The Fox coverage talked about how teams often ignore Goodyear’s recommended PSI on the tires. The tire pressure builds up as the heat builds on track, but it wears those tires out faster, especially when combined with aggressive camber (which we saw create issues last week). Frankly, I think ignoring Goodyear’s PSI rec’s is a self policing issue, like number of lug nuts on the tires during pit stops. Ignore Goodyear at your peril.

larson fontanaThe comfort for this is that NASCAR is safer than it was years ago. Larson’s crash on Sunday was the second or third of the year that I don’t think the driver would have walked away from 20 years ago. Maybe not even fifteen. Larson hit that wall at over 150mph head on. The crash looked spectacular when the SAFER barriers flung him back out on the track, but that was the barrier doing its job. He was winded, but ok. Danica’s wreck (which was totally Kahne’s fault) was similar. The in car camera showed just how close she came to flipping a barrel roll in traffic. Roof flaps for the win. I remember before cars had those and everyone winced when a car got turned around hoping it wouldn’t flip.

Crashes make the highlight reels among the mainstream media, but I only want to see highlights of passing and checkered flags. I don’t want to see our drivers in danger.

Safety rant aside, how did my predictions do?

newman practice fontanaWell RCR ran well during the front half of the race. As a high horsepower track, they tend to do well at Fontana. Dillon started on the pole. For a large chunk of the race, he was in the top ten with teammates Menard and Newman. The #31 ended up with an ok 14th place finish but pit road miscues doomed Dillon and Menard to mediocre finishes. The #27 team in particular needed a good finish after the tire issues at Phoenix gave them an 38th place finish and the whole or RCR got docked those 10 points a couple weeks ago. Dillon ended up 24th but still good enough to remain 10th in the early season points.

The Penske cars both pulled top 10 finishes. Keselowski’s was pretty quiet. Logano mixed it up at the front and had a run in with Truex to hose up the #78’s day (more on that later). Jimmie Johnson who I called out with the early advantage, well, we already know he won the race.

Shenanigans!

Fontana had a lot more shenanigans than a high speed track usually does. Expect NASCAR to drop some penalties very soon.

danica wrecks fontanaFirst, Kahne wrecked the hell out of Danica. As much as many people in the sport snark about her mediocre finishes in top shelf equipment, myself included, nothing about that wreck was her fault. Kahne hooked her car and dumped her in the wall. Now, I don’t think it was intentional, but if it wasn’t, it was definitely careless. Kahne has never been a beating-and-banging kind of driver and he’s never had a beef with Danica like some others have. I remember run ins with her and Vickers, Gilliland, and if memory is serving me correctly, Cassill. In her post-wreck interview on TV, Danica said “…the next thing I know I was getting spun up the track. I was passing him. He was behind me in the right rear. I don’t know what kind of day he was having. I just heard he was a lap down, actually. I feel bad if he felt like he was put in a position to have to be that desperate a lap down.” She was running the lead lap, he wasn’t. I think Danica hit the nail on the head with ‘desperate.’ I can’t be the only one who thinks Kahne’s job is going to be on the line real soon if he doesn’t improve.

Will Kahne get penalized… I don’t know. A big part of me wants to say no. NASCAR has made a trend of not over policing the drivers in the last few years. It’s not like Kahne pulled a pile driver like Kenseth did last year with Logano. But NASCAR has also made it clear that context matters and with two cars on different laps… eh… hard to say.

Speaking of Danica…

After the wreck, she marched up the track go give Kahne the ol’ WTF gesture. Not the first time she’s done that when pissed. But it is the first time she’s done that since NASCAR dropped a rule post-Kevin Ward that says it’s a no no. I expect a fine. Jennifer Jo Cobb got nailed with $5k in fines for doing that in a Truck race last year. Cup fines tend to be more what since they make more money to start with.

The most amusing shenanigan of the weekend comes courtesy of Cole Pern, the crew chief for Truex’s #78 team. Logano ruined their day. It didn’t quite seem like contact was made between the cars, but Logano took the air off the spoiler anyways and still managed to ruin it. Pern broke the number one rule of Twitter, don’t tweet while angry. The tweet, which as been deleted, said that Logano couldn’t see with his “squinty douchey eyes.” I find this wonderfully hilarious.

Fines? Eh, probably not. As long as you don’t trash NASCAR itself and don’t say anything bigoted, NASCAR usually lets that stuff go.

Speaking of trashing NASCAR (as the shenanigans list gets even longer), Kyle Busch expects to be in trouble. He blew a tire in the lead on the last lap of the Xfinity race, which Austin Dillon ended up winning. Well… NASCAR didn’t fly the yellow flag, which would have frozen the field and given Busch the win even though it was his tire which caused the yellow. But the yellow didn’t fly. Suarez took the lead for a straightaway and then ran out of gas handing the win the Dillon (which makes every Xfinity race won by Cup regulars this year). Busch was livid on the radio about how NASCAR got their wish to fix the race. Woah. That’s a big one.

I normally don’t care if drivers get heated or use salty language on the radio. The radio is primarily for them. Fans and TV don’t have to listen in on them even though it has become a big thing to do so. Look, I’m glad someone beat Busch in the Xfinity race. I’d rather it was an Xfinity regular, but take what you can get. But to even hint that NASCAR delayed the yellow to make it happen, whoa, that is going to get all the ire of the NASCAR front office right there. That’s big time fighting words.

Shout outs!

This post is getting real long, but I have to drop some shout outs for some good finishes. It is one of my favorite parts of these posts and we’ve got a new cast of characters to shout out this week at Fontana.

stenhouse fontanaThe first shout out goes to Rickey Stenhouse Jr. Look at that, a Roush car in the top five! This is his first top five since the spring Bristol race last year and only his fourth top five in Cup. With a 10th at Atlanta and a 12th at Vegas, it looks like RFR and Stenhouse are starting to turn the corner and live up to their potential.

Shout out number two goes to another driver with a quietly solid run. AJ Allmendinger finished in 9th place and ran solid around the top ten most of the day, except for a stretch in the middle when he was off sequence in pit stops. Every race this year for the one car JTG Daughtry Racing has been an improvement on the last for this team and scored them their first top ten since the August Pocono race last year.

Brian Scott, the rookie racing for Petty, matched his best finish in Cup with a 12th place finish. He ran a handful of races before this year in the Circle Sport But Really RCR car, but now he managed to score a good finish for himself with his full time team. The team only had three finishes better than this last year with Hornish so this is a good boost for the Petty team. If Scott can keep throwing down decent results, combined with Almirola’s constant gains, Petty Racing could be in the mix for the Chase.

Pit Stall 13… er… 12A Update

Fontana is just like Daytona in that there is no Pit Stall 13. Sad face. Harvick did have pit stall 12A which is close enough for an update, but won’t count for real in the season standings. By the way, I’m making a season standings for the 13th pit stall.

12A is in a good location at Fontana with an opening in front. Harvick had McDowell and the #95 team behind which works out for them as the #4 can be in and out before the #95 rolls in. Harvick led the most laps by far but only finished 2nd.

Charterless Update

  • 26th – #98 Cole Whitt – Ran flag to flag, finished on the lead lap. This is an excellent finish for the small team.
  • 35th – #21 Ryan Blaney – The Wood Brothers team was running ok, but mishaps cost them ten laps on the track.
  • 36th – #30 Josh Wise – Ten laps off the pace, but Wise has talked about the progress the tiny team is making.

Martinsville Up Next

NASCAR takes the Easter weekend off so all the teams have a week to stew about the Fontana shenanigans. Or, if you’re Landon Cassill, you get your wisdom teeth out.

I love short track racing. Love it love it love it. And three of the next four races are all short tracks. This is one of my favorite stretches of the year. I love when NASCAR gets to roughhouse on the track and the short tracks are all about the driver.

martinsville promoWhat do I expect from Martinsville? Well… I think things will get hairy fast. Drivers let their on track beef linger until the short tracks show up and they can shove each other around (somewhat) safely. You can’t pull a payback move at Daytona, but you can at Martinsville. So expect hard racing. Expect ugly sheet metal. Expect good racing.

Early advantage… Kyle Busch. He’s going to be racing mad after the close-but-no-cigar races this past weekend and the New Kyle Busch gets focused when he races mad unlike the Old Kyle Busch which would fall apart if things weren’t perfect. The Gibbs Toyotas are top of the class to start with and Martinsville favors the Busch brothers.

I want to see Allmendinger take his momentum to Martinsville too. He’s finished 11th or better in 3 of the last 4 races at the track. The man has been sneaky good there. With the team making gains this season, I’d like to see them continue. The driver and team both bust ass week in and week out so I like to see the small teams get the paydays to reward the work.

Phoenix Round Up

Boom. Another week of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is in the books and for the second time in only five weeks, we got another photo finish.

Bam!

harvick edwards phoenix finish

Don’t ever wonder why I love NASCAR.

Part of this is going to be luck of the draw. You know that whenever the masses start calling a decent race a snoozer, I like to point out that not every race can be a classic. I’ve been present for actual snoozers. (Jeff Burton led flag to flag at New Hampshire in the fall 2000 race for the one year that NASCAR slapped restrictor plates there after Adam Petty’s death) But the racing gods have smiled upon NASCAR this year in that 2016 has excellent races already. Since electronic timing in ’93, there have been ten races with a margin of victory at .010 or less.

2016 has two of them.

So yeah. I’m excited. You should be excited too.

Harvick won with that super minor victory margin. (He’s got five of the 14 wins at .020 or less) And really, Kevin Harvick winning at Phoenix is like saying “Sky is blue.” Not surprising anyone. The close finish though, shows he didn’t house everyone like he had been doing lately at the track. The race was solid and competitive the whole way through without being a wreckfest. Races like this weekend are what really makes NASCAR great. I don’t care who your favorite driver is (mine got owned by Lady Goodyear), if you are a fan of NASCAR, a finish like this should have you jazzed up.

The downside to the super close finish, is that there are people who immediately called out Edwards for not dumping Harvick and wrecking him.

Really? Bah.

Now, I don’t really think that NASCAR would have dropped the hammer on Edwards for it like they did on Kenseth for hosing Logano last year. NASCAR has said repeatedly, (and correctly, in my opinion) that context matters. Kenseth was laps down when he T-boned Logano. Edwards and Harvick were going for the win so I think Edwards would have been in the clear. I think it would have been a serious jerk move though (to keep it in PG terms).

They raced hard. They roughed each other up. There was no need to push it farther. It was good, hard racing, the kind of which the sport was built on.

The sport was not built on dirty moves.

The USA Today guy I linked above thinks that Earnhardt Sr. or Stewart or Gordon in their heydays would have dumped and run. I cry shenanigans on that.

edwards at phoenixThey would have raced just as hard as Edwards and Harvick did this week. They cars are better now than they were back in the day so roughing each other up back in the 80s or 90s could have easily taken out the other guy. I remember as a kid, the lightest tap on a corner bumper would have spun someone. The cars are better. The talent pool running in Cup as a whole is better than it was back in the day. (Don’t fire up those angry emails accusing me of saying a minnow driver today is better than Petty or Earnhardt. I said total talent pool, front to back.)

So would Earnhardt, famous for the chrome horn, fully dumped someone? I don’t think so. He would have raced the other guy hard and if the other guy wasn’t up for the challenge, Earnhardt would not lose any sleep over it. Anything he may have said otherwise was likely messing with his competitor’s heads. Mind games in NASCAR are nothing new.

Anyways. No one has housed the competition at a single track like Harvick has at Phoenix recently in a long time. Burton in the late 90s won 4 of 8 at New Hampshire leading up to that flag to flag run in 2000 I mentioned above. But since Harvick’s latest win was just so damn close, I’m perfectly cool with it.

Tire Issues cost five drivers

menard phoenixAll the cautions on the day in Phoenix, came courtesy of Lady Goodyear. Overall, NASCAR is having less cautions than in years past. I think that is in part because of the aero package. The lower downforce makes passing easier which means drivers aren’t pushing beyond the capabilities of their cars in search for positions. Easier passing means less desperate drivers means less wrecks. This is good. Sheetmetal carnage is not an indicator of a good race despite the press it can get from the outside world.

Goodyear itself confirmed that all five of the cars with tire issues had melted beads caused by excessive break heat, something that is usually more of a problem at Martinsville. Increased speeds this year meant the drivers had to stand on the brakes a lot more however.

Newman, Menard, Stenhouse, Keselowski, and Kahne all lost a right side tire due to overheating. The #2 finished six laps down, the #5 only one lap off the pace since his happened towards the end of the race and he could limp it off. The other three took the bottom finishes and officially DNF’d.

After Newman and Menard had their tire issues early on in the race, the Fox broadcasters raised the legit questions of any worries for Austin Dillon. Slugger Labbe, Dillon’s crew chief, said they were running a different camber set up than the other two RCR cars. Makes me wonder if the other cars who had tire issues were also running aggressive camber set ups.

Out of all five of those cars, I think it hurts Menard and Newman the most. Roush and Stenhouse are kinda up the creek without a paddle to begin with and they weren’t about to make any noise in this race anyways. Kahne has been on the downswing the last couple years, but it’s Hendrick, if he can find the upswing again, it will be a big upswing. Keselowski is going to end up being just fine. He’s got a win already and should get more.

Menard and Newman both snuck into the Chase last year on points, not wins. While wins are not out of the question for either driver, they are not in the conversation win in and week out. This is stacked on top of the ten point penalty that all the RCR teams and RCR affiliate Circle Sport-Levine got hit with a couple weeks ago for illegal fender braces. Without a win, ten points can hurt very bad come Richmond when the Chase bubble is on the line.

Pit Stall 13 Update

mears at phoenixEveryone’s favorite pit stall, number 13, went to Casey Mears this week. Symmetry, #13 in the 13th stall.

Eh… it didn’t work out so well.

The car was running decently until mid race when it lost power. The team reported they had a melted master switch which caused them to pull into the garage for repairs. They kept plugging along but managed to pick up a few more spots because of all the Lady Goodyear problems

Shout outs!

elliot at phoenix gridShout out to the new blood of NASCAR, for showing up and throwing down. The young guys are getting good finishes and they’re getting consistent. So much so, that they wont be shout outs for much longer.

Chase Elliot rolled in 8th. Austin Dillon finished 9th and hasn’t finished below 11th yet this year. Ryan Blaney took home the 10th spot. With so many of the stars retiring or nearing the ends of their careers, this is very promising for the sport.

Beyond the top ten, Kyle Larson had a quiet 12th place finish. Ty Dillon subbing in the #14 finished an impressive 15th. To confused matters, he finished right behind Truex with both cars sponsored by Bass Pro Shops.

One last shout out to Matt DiBenedetto for finishing 20th in the BK Racing #83. That’s a solid finish for that team and he spent most of the day on the lead lap.

Charterless Update

10th – #21 Ryan Blaney, ran very well all day in the Wood Brother’s first Phoenix race in years

34th – #30 Josh Wise, ran all day but finished ten laps down

36th – #98 Cole Whitt, managed to finish ahead of the three tire DNFs, but took home a DNF himself

Again, with the PR approved hashtag #NASCARGoesWest, no part time teams made the trip to Phoenix so we had a 39 car field. Everyone who rolled in, got a spot in the show.

On to California

fontanaNASCAR has one last stop on the PR approved hashtag. I think that the low downforce package is going to have a world of difference this coming week though since Fontana is a wider and faster track than the flat Phoenix, the cookie cutter Vegas or the uniquely abrasive Atlanta. For all of NASCAR’s schedule issue over the years, I very much do like having a wide variety of tracks to open the season.

Early advantage based off of the track’s history and the guys who like low downforce?

Jimmie Johnson is an early favorite. Larson’s best finish ever was at Fontana and with a decent finish at Phoenix, look for him to seize some momentum. Look for the Penske cars to do well as this track suits the whole lot of them. I am also looking forward to seeing if Austin Dillon can keep his fantastic start to the season going.

Las Vegas Roundup

Race number three of the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule is in the books for this year. The sport is full on with its “West Coast Swing” which the PR guys have turned into a Thing.

Which is fine. NASCAR is more cross country now a days than it ever was when I was growing up. When I was a kid before the big boom in the late 90s/early 00s, NASCAR left the south all of five times a season… Phoenix, Sonoma (which was Sears Point when I was a kid), Michigan, Pocono, and Watkins Glen. As a New Englander, Dover counts as South. We can snark on NASCAR’s scheduling problems until the cows come home, but clumping all the west coast races on the schedule was a good move for the teams’ logistics and the PR guys and gals making it into a Thing is a bonus for some early season buzz.

First on the PR approved hashtag #NASCARGoesWest … Vegas! (insert cliche about shenanigans in Vegas)

How was the race?

keselowski wins vegasI thought it was a pretty good one. This week was the first real test of the low downforce aero package of the year. Plate tracks don’t count and Atlanta’s ancient pavement requires special tires and special tactics. That means Vegas is going to be our first gauge of the meat-and-potatoes of the NASCAR slate.

Brad Keselowski won the race and in this season that seems a lot more old school than most of its recent brethren, it is fitting since he’s got an old school mentality.

The season is going to work out just fine. As the teams run with this rules package more, they’re going to get more data and figure out how to fine tune the performance to their driver’s liking. NASCAR doesn’t play around with rules packages from week to week nearly as much as they used to. So many of the drivers have raved about this particular aero package, I don’t see NASCAR futzing with it in the near future barring some unforeseen safety issue.

There was definitely still an advantage of clean air out front, but it did not seem nearly as pronounced as in years past. Keselowski stretched old tires and fuel mileage and still out ran Logano and Kyle Busch to win the checkered for the first time in nearly a year. Tangent: Penske’s performance has been so good, I did not realize that Keselowski had gone that long without a win.

This race was not going to even think about challenging any lead change records, but despite that, it seemed to me that there was a lot of mid pack passing. Whether or not NASCAR’s loop data backs this up, perception is reality in this case. The Fox broadcast never had to slowly cycle through the running order just to have something to talk about while the cars were logging laps. There was always some kind of on track action.

I think it will only get better as the season progresses.

Shout Outs!

The top ten at race’s end featured a lot of the usual suspects. The big teams and the best drivers tend to figure out the rule changes first. That’s why they’re the big teams and the best drivers. So the Penske Fords, the Busch brothers, Junior, Harvick, Jimmie Johnson… no surprises there.

dillon at vegasThe first Shout Out goes to Austin Dillon in the #3 rolling in with a fifth place finish. That’s his third top five in his career and his season has started out with 9th – 11th – 5th. That’s a solid start for anyone. Dillon is on his third full time year, so it’s time for that team to turn the corner and get results. He seems to have gelled well with Slugger Labbe (yesterday’s post pit stop rant aside) who has been around long enough to have crewed for Alan Kulwicki (and one of the small number of New Englanders in NASCAR).

Second shout out goes to Ryan Blaney…. again. Soon his good performances in the Wood Brothers #21 are going to be so common, that they won’t count as shout outs. The Penske affiliated team finished in 6th place, another very good outing for the rookie. A very good point that the Fox broadcasters brought up (probably Mike Joy, cause that man knows his stuff) is that the Wood Brothers aren’t used to running full time anymore, so once they get better used to a weekly grind, their performance is going to be on the up swing.

kahne inspection at vegasLast Shout Out before we move on… Kasey Kahne. Wow. He showed up for a race! I snark, but he quietly ran in the top ten for most of the day and finished with the 10th spot. Just last week I snarked how he was the Danica of Team Hendrick. With a lot of drivers looking good in the Trucks and Xfinity series, Kahne needs more races like this with solid finishes to keep his job long term. The last couple seasons have been kind of weak for him. Last year he missed the Chase and in 2014 he squeezed in at the last minute. I think the #5 team need to regain their consistency to make sure everyone has a job next year rather than scoring a fluke win. This is a good start.

Pit Stall 13 Update

vickers at vegasBrian Vickers ran the #14 for Tony Stewart again at Vegas (Ty Dillon is back next week to go along with the Bass Pro Shops sponsorship). He had the magical pit stall number 13 for the race.

He ran a solid mid pack race for much of the day and logged some laps in the top ten for a while. Vickers had some TV time with an almost-wreck with Truex at one point during the day. The last quarter of the race though, the #14 dropped out of sight and finished 36th. Stewart Haas Racing later said on twitter, that the car dropped out because of a rear gear failure. Late in the race, that’s not going to be saved.

Charterless Update

With PR approved #NASCARGoesWest, often the part time teams don’t make the trek. There’s a lot of money in the logistics of making it all the way out there. For the second week in a row, only 39 teams showed up to race so everyone made the show. (Entry list for next week says I can copy/paste this for Phoenix)

  • 6th – #21 Blaney – The rookie ran a great race. ‘Nuff said.
  • 35th – #30 Wise – The TMG car ran as the back marker for much of the day, but kudos for not start-n-parking
  • 39th – #98 Whitt – Mechanical failure, and I like to think that’s honest since the 98 does seem to try to run the whole race

On to Phoenix!

Next week, NASCAR keeps going with the trip out west and they head to Phoenix. The new aero package at Phoenix is of special note to me since it’s a flat track and the most comparable to New Hampshire where I’ll be sitting in my usual seat some September.

As for predictions? If anyone other than Harvick wins, I’ll be surprised. Might as well rename that one Harvick International Raceway.

Bonus Points!

My three year old realized there is a car repping his favorite store in existence. I got him hooked. No idea why I didn’t think to play that card earlier.

larson bumper

 

Nemechek Wins with No Sponsor

JHNemechek wins atlantaJohn Hunter Nemechek won an exciting race at Atlanta in the Truck series.

The Trucks and Xfinity guys raced a double header which seemed to work out awesomely for everyone involved. This really let the Truck racers shine in their own series since all the Cup buschwackers hit the Xfinity race. Nemechek won in an unsponsored truck.

UNSPONSORED.

Seriously??

First of all, I don’t even remember that ever happening in my lifetime. I vaguely remember Johnny Benson running very well at Daytona in a blank white number 10, but that must have been one of the 500’s qualifying races since according to Racing-Reference.info, his years in the #10 were sponsored by Valvoline or Lycos. Someone on twitter cited Gilliland in a Kentucky Xfinity race, but Racing Reference didn’t agree. So unless someone wants to seriously datamine Racing Reference (and kudos to you if you want to pick through that by hand, no way to search that), I’m gonna go with Nemechek is the first to do it in at least thirty years.

That Nemechek is unsponsored in the first place is a god damn travesty.

This kid is only 18 years old. NASCAR won’t allow anyone under 18 to run the big tracks, so John Hunter shared the truck with his father Joe and ran a partial schedule until he was legal. Even without running six races last year, John Hunter still won a race and finished 12th in the standings, better than some drivers who ran all the races. He had 14 races in a row where his worst finish was 13th. And these races include all the times the Cup guys double or triple dip on a weekend.

Nemechek will be one of the future stars of NASCAR.

Or at least he should be.

NEMCO Motorsports is a small operation and without solid sponsorship, may not make it to all the races this year.

That would easily make the list of top ten worst things to happen to NASCAR in the last decade. Easily.

I get that funding is hard to come by these days and racing isn’t exactly a financially responsible investment. This kid is a race winner though! That should be money in the bank for a company looking to advertise any demographic NASCAR touches. Nemechek has that little winner sticker. He’s going to make it into the first Truck Chase.

If he has the money to make all the races.

I sincerely hope that the reddit NASCAR community and doge coin people rally around Nemechek this year like they did with Josh Wise’s Phil Parsons Motorsport ride before that team got bought out. Hell, I wish I had the money to sponsor the truck. I don’t think a fiver is going to go far though.

 

Atlanta Round Up

It’s round two of the NASCAR season and we finally get a better picture of how the season is going to go.

Or not.

The Daytona 500 has the prestige but as a plate track, we only get a sense of who’s going to be good on a plate track. Whatever. Atlanta is a mile and a half, the track type making up the bulk of the schedule.

Except Atlanta’s surface was last paved in 1997. That’s ancient by NASCAR standards. With Gordon retired, no one left has raced on the track without that pavement on it. So Atlanta is like driving on sandpaper. Tires, tires, and tires were everyone’s concern heading into this race. Lower downforce and massive tire drop off means Atlanta is a 180 from Daytona.

This is a track that favors the drivers.

This race was old school.

johnson wins atlantaJimmie Johnson won the Folds of Honor Quik Tip 500 at Atlanta. Another sponsor I have no idea what the hell they are. I actually thought it was Fields of Honor for most of the weekend.

Not a big surprise that he did well and won the race. As much as I maintain that his five years of championships were a great personal achievement that may not have been good for the competition level of the sport at a time when NASCAR needed more competition, no one can deny he isn’t one of the all time greats. As much as we may want to. Johnson tied Dale Earnhardt Sr’s mark of 76 wins on the all time list. Impressive by any measure you can think of in any era of the sport.

menard post atlantaRemember a second ago I said how this Atlanta race was old school. I mean that in the best way. There were only two caution flags, plus a lase second wreck. This race was all about the drivers out wheeling each other and the crew chiefs out smarting each other. Which the #48 team did both to score the win. Only twelve guys finished on the lead lap, and there were that many only because one of the cautions flew with three laps to go. Much of the race had less than ten. But since it wasn’t a wreck fest, the box score had everyone running at the end. Not something we see too much of anymore. The drivers were slipping and sliding all over the track. They were bumping around the old pavement. They were covered in grit and grime and chunks of rubber (bless you 50″ plasma purchased before the children). It was wonderful.

Most of the drivers I pegged as having a good race ahead of them did. Johnson. The Busch brothers. Keselowski, although his race was quietly good. Kahne… whoops. Missed that one. He’s becoming the Danica off Hendrick Racing. The biggest surprise in the results was Larson. His car never got it together and was a non factor the whole race. Without any cautions until the race was half over, the #42 team never had a chance to work on the car and finished three laps off the pace.

I absolutely loved this race and was surprised that I saw the Let’s Never Change Cadre complaining on twitter. I guess the thing that really never changes about the Let’s Never Change Cadre is that they’ll always find some reason to hate on any race Dale Jr doesn’t win. We’ll be over there enjoying NASCAR without you.

Crew forgets to tell Kenseth about black flag

Whoops! This was a big one. Kenseth was running very well up front when NASCAR pegged them with a pit road penalty. It was the gas man who dropped an adjustment wrench on the back decklid of the car for the tire carrier to pick up and do his adjustment thing with. [Buzz sound] Fail. Rules say gas guys can’t do anything but fuel the car. This is a safety thing. Gas fires still happen. Brendan Gaughan’s pit crew at a Richmond Xfinity race last year. Thing is, Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Radcliff, argued that the gas can wasn’t engaged yet and that queuing up a wrench like that was standard practice. And while he was arguing with NASCAR, no one told Kenseth about the black flag. Which then turned into a black flag with white X. I didn’t even realize that was a thing, that’s how often that one drops. Someone on twitter said it happened to Robby Gordon at a Montreal Xfinity race a few years ago. I certainly don’t remember it happening in Cup. NASCAR stopped scoring Kenseth, so from their point of view, that lap after the black-white-X flag dropped, just didn’t count. Added to losing a lap from a pass through peanalty and Kenseth was down two. One was survivable. A couple well time cautions and all’s well. But two? Eh, not so much. He never got either back and finished 19th.

Kenseth was pissed and I don’t blame him. I haven’t seen a screw up that bad … well… since Kenseth T-boned Logano just for kicks.

Truex was … displeased with Regan Smith

truex flips off regan smith at atlantaSo I wasn’t really sure what caused this. It certainly wasn’t something caught by the TV broadcast. Regan Smith was a few laps down in mid race and Truex was among the front runners (as he was the whole race). I guess Truex figured the #7 held him up more than he needed to. Atlanta is a wide track with room to get out of each others way, but I guess if your car is handling like a dump truck on ice there’s not much you can do. Whatever the case, the Fox broadcasters had Truex’s in car camera rolling while Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon and DW were talking about him and whoops! Middle finger time! I didn’t even catch it at first. My dad was all “Did that just happen???” and I had to use the magic of the DVR to get that nice little screen cap you see to the left.

We’ll see if anything happens on Penalty Tuesday or if everyone tries to ignore it. Which is often the best tactic since the pictures didn’t make the rounds too much.

Bonus question… how the hell would Regan Smith even be able to see the bird? It’s not like Truex went full Norm Benning with the finger out the window.

Pit Stall 13 Update

newman pits at atlantaRyan Newman was the recipient of the magical Pit Stall number 13. This is the first true pit stall 13 of the year, since Daytona has 12A instead. How’d he do with the magic behind him?

Well, he ran better than his 24th place finish would have you think. Newman’s #31 RCR team stayed on the lead lap throughout the whole day when the lead lap cars dwindled down to a low of eight. But at the end of the race when everyone was trying to stretch their tires to the end, the Caterpillar Chevy blew the left rear. Newman didn’t hit anything or anyone but the tire shredded to hell and hosed up his car pretty bad and killed his good finish.

Charterless Update

  • 25th – #21 Blaney, ran decent, lost laps with a loose wheel though
  • 37th – #98 Whitt, managed to lead a lap during early green flag pit stops
  • 39th – #30 Wise, first qualified race for that team, finished last

wise atlantaWait, Wise finished last in 39th? Yup. NASCAR ran without a full field. Happened at Kentucky a couple years ago. Before that, it’s going back to the epic 2001 Thanksgiving at Loudon (Robby Gordon for the win!). The last time NASCAR ran a race with less than 40 was in the mid 90s at North Wilksboro because that track didn’t have enough pit stalls. This is part of the mixed bag that comes with the charters that we’re going to have to watch. The Daytona 500 only have 44 entries which was the least in decades. NASCAR has lost a lot of teams this year, and not just among the part timers. MWR is completely gone now. Levine and Circle Sport merged. Team Xtreme dropped off the face of the earth a couple races after having their car stolen last year. Hillman’s #40 missed a charter, exists only as a sort of extension of Premium. Phil Parsons Racing, famous for Wise’s Dogecar, got bought out by Premium last year and then condensed down to one car, with the aforementioned Hillman assets. BK Racing dropped one full time team. Front Row did the same. Tommy Baldwin did a couple years ago. That’s eight teams which aren’t around anymore from Daytona 2015, ten if you go back a couple years.

This is the reality of what NASCAR has now. ‘Course, we still got a great race this week, but I still feel that the long term health of the sport can be represented by the little teams and how they’re surviving. Two races into the season is not enough to judge the whole charter system by. I think the real test for the system is going to come when someone wants to expand and get into the guaranteed show. That might be a ways off though.

Almirola’s Fiery Wreck

almirola wrecks atlantaI had this picture ready to go and needed to use it. Nothing more. Carry on with your day.