Michigan Round Up

Low downforce. Low downforce. Low. Down. Force.

Dear NASCAR, I cannot say it enough. Low. Down. Force.

The bigwigs from the NASCAR R+D center pegged this past weekend at Michigan and another three weeks out at Kentucky as the tracks to experiment with a different aero package. They did the same thing last year with a “high drag” package which everyone agreed was a drag. (Ha! See what I did there?) This year NASCAR went the experimental route with ridiculously low downforce.

The spoilers were cut down so much, I’ve seen more solid aero packages from hoonigan Honda Civics trolling around Rhode Island.

On the Fox broadcast, DW commented that the spoilers were cut down more than he had ever seen since he started racing forty years ago.

This is fantastic. The race was a great one.

logano wins michiganYeah, Joey Logano kind of housed the field. He led the most laps by a ridiculous margin, but it’s not exactly surprising that a Penske Ford did well at Michigan. They like to go all out for the hometown crowd. Logano led 103 more laps than 2nd place Chase Elliott. No one else led more than ten laps. The funny thing is that Logano wasn’t really keen on the super low downforce package. Guys like Edwards were super stoked to run the low downforce package. A lot of people, myself included, figured that the aero down to only 1660lbs (as opposed to 3500 just two years ago) would fall into the wheelhouse of the ex-dirt races like Larson, Stewart, and Kahne.

Speeds at Michigan topped out around 216mph on the straights and dropped to the 170s in the corners. The 40mph swing really put the race in the driver’s hands a lot more than previous years at the track. For the last couple years, races at Michigan were looking like restrictor plate races. Put the hammer down and hold on, whoever have the most oomph in the engine will win it out. That is a much different style of racing than we got this past week. I’m more than ok with that. Once the drivers got comfortable with how the cars would handle forty on track at a time, there was plenty of passing. Menard led laps after starting 32nd. Harvick finished top 5 after starting 29th. Kurt Busch spent the front half of the day in the 20s and rallied up to tenth.

So despite the dominance of the #22 team up front, the race was a good one. A very good one. I understand a single good race is not a predictor of a season of success, but I think NASCAR should take a hard look at putting a similar package in place for good.

Kyle Busch’s Summer is Not So Hot

kyle at michiganThat’s pretty close to being a weather related pun, but seriously, I’m not going there.

The defending champion has been having an abysmal few weeks. In the last four races since he won at Kansas, Busch’s best finish was a 30th at Dover. Wind at Michigan this past week dropped a lot of trash on the track and hot dog wrappers have been affecting the outcome of races for decades. Toyota engineers said the #18’s engine overheated courtesy of said trash and it blew in a fiery mess. Busch limped it into the garage but his day was done and he finished in the caboose position.

The cynical Twitternauts were saying that after putting three wins in the bank already, the Chase grid format means he can play R+D car for the rest of the season. I’m pretty cynical and there are some drivers where I might believe that… however I don’t think that would sit well with Kyle Busch. He might swing for the fences, go big or go home style, but that’s pretty much how he races anyways on a normal day. Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch hates to lose. This four week stretch at the tail end of the field is eating him up.

Buescher’s Bad Day

buescher at michiganChris Buescher went from Xfinity Champion to a Cup car that can just almost crack the top 20 on a good day. That’s pretty rough. Competition in Cup is tight. There are only 40 seats to go around and a only a dozen of those are perennial contenders. With the speculation that the Michigan aero package would fit the newer driver’s real well, Buescher was actually having a pretty solid day for the Front Row #34. He spent much of the front end of the race in the top 20 and even cracked the top 10 for a while a mid race.

His finish of 20th was actually his second best on the season so that seems good… except I don’t think he should go on twitter for a few days.

On lap 63 he got loose in the turn, as most everyone did on the day, and drifted up the track. He tagged Junior who was stuck in the back of the pack from poor qualifying. Earnhardt and the #47 of Allmendinger pancaked the wall hard enough at 180+ to ruin the day and DNF’s for both. Buescher kept going. Junior’s legions of Twitternauts rage faced. Yeah… Buescher should just not turn his computer on for a while.

Shout Outs!

tony at michiganJust one week after talking about how he’s in trouble, Tony Stewart gets the Shout Out today. This was the kind of week where Tony had his old swagger back. He was racing well and having fun, at one point he messed with his crew saying he was coming in to pit out of the blue then laughed over the radio instead.

Smoke qualified third, his best on the season, and he ran in the top ten all day. A lot of that was in the top five. The #14 got shuffled around a bit in all the cautions and restarts on the back end of the race, but he finished 7th. This is good for Tony, and this is good for NASCAR. Yes there is a youth movement going on in NASCAR not seen since the late 90s, but a jovial Tony Stewart is the best Tony Stewart.

The 7th place finish puts him 45 points off of 30th place Brian Scott. Through the first 15 races, Scott has an average finish of 27.9. Tony has a 19.4 through his seven races since he came back from injury. Let’s call it an average of a 9 point gain every week by Stewart based off the numbers we have already. There are 11 races left until the Chase. The averages are in Tony Stewart’s favor to get in the top 30 in points. With the way his car ran at Michigan, there is reason to believe that Stewart could pull off that win to qualify into the Chase. Of the 11 races left before the Chase cut off, Tony has won at 9 of the tracks. Granted, some were years ago, I was surprised to see his last Bristol win was in 2001, (Chase Elliott was in kindergarten) but he still has a W there. Darlington and Kentucky are the only ones in that stretch he hasn’t won at and Kentucky will have the same aero as Michigan. I would love to see Tony pull this off, qual for the Chase, and retire with a big shit eating grin on his face.

mcmurray mcd colorsSo that was a lengthy Shout Out/Tony Update, but I still want to flag one more Shout Out for Michigan. Jamie McMurray pulled off a stealth run at Michigan. He ran in top 15ish for the first half of the race and once the cautions started flying frequently, he fell back into the 20s. As late as lap 180, he was down in 19th place. Over the last cluster of restarts, Jamie Mac surged to the front and snuck into a 9th place finish in a classic “Where the hell did he come from?” The #1 car is sitting 14th on the Chase grid only ten points to the good above Blaney. He needs these top 10s if he wants to be in the conversation come fall.

Pit Stall 13 Update

truex at doverThe magical pit stall this week went to Martin Truex Jr in the 78 Furniture Row Team.

Truex’s finish of 12th would be good by most people’s standards, however, after the epic beatdown dished out for the Coke 600, I’m sure the team would have expected more. The fact that he did so well is a testament to his crew though. Early on in the race, Truex made contact with Bowyer’s #15 who was running a lap down. He spun but managed to not hit a thing. NASCAR penalized the team though for a flared out fender. Personally, I thought it was an iffy call since it was visibly damage from the contact, but eh, not my call, NASCAR doesn’t pay me to do it. The team rallied to a good finish and frankly, runs like that are the ones that make or break a championship season.

Charterless Update

  • 17th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Ran top 10 at times but contact with the wall dropped him back to a 17th place finish. Still in the Chase grid via points.
  • 27th – #55 Cole Whitt – Still with the swapped numbers for some reason, matched his best non-plate race and finished on the lead lap. That’s a solid day for Premium.
  • 30th – #30 Josh Wise – Ran a couple laps off the pace but not bad for a minnow car.
  • 31st – #98 Reed Sorensen – Attrition helped get them up to this spot

On to Sonoma!

Oh snap! NASCAR is going to turn left AND right next week!

The traveling circus we all love is going west to Sonoma for one of the two road course races. The sport doesn’t really have true ringers anymore when it comes to turning in both directions. Boris Said can’t get a top shelf car and compete for the win anymore when top drivers need to run every race and are much better rounded than back in the day. However…. we do get some different people in the conversation for Sonoma and The Glen than on the circle tracks.

Ambrose and Montoya are gone, but anything short of a W is unacceptable for AJ Allmendinger and the 47 team. His team’s performance has been improving across the board since he joined JTG Daughtry, but the Dinger is the closest we have to a road course ringer in modern NASCAR.

The Dinger’s NASCAR W came at The Glen though. Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch are the only active drivers with multiple wins at Sonoma. Truex won there running for MWR a couple years back and could easily win again. Still, got to throw out the advantage for Allmendinger. The JTG Daughtry team will swing for the fences and expect a home run.

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Kansas Round Up

After the mayhem at Talladega, there’s no place like home.

There. I got the required Wizard of Oz reference covered and out of the way.

I wonder if the people of Kansas get as sick of that as the people of Rhode Island get sick of most of the country not knowing where we are on a map.

In all seriousness, that mayhem from last week isn’t something I really want to see again. I’m more than happy having a “normal” race this week. Normal is good. NASCAR has been spoiled with a big string of epic finishes this year, so I’m sure there are people complaining about the normal race, but I don’t want to see drivers as risk like that again.

kyle wins kansasKyle Busch won for the first time at Kansas and the third time this year. This was never a track he liked before. He’s crashed out multiple times here before, including twice in the fall Chase race at this track. Unlike many Saturday night races where the transition from day to night causes some cars to fade and some to show up all of a sudden, much of the top ten hung out there all day. Busch, Harvick, brother Kurt, Kenseth, Blaney… all stayed in the top ten all day. Newman was in the top 12-ish all race. The only reason there weren’t more in that list is because Truex, Logano, and Larson all had late race misfortune to hose up good runs. (More on that later)

Kyle Busch winning a race isn’t exactly spectacular news at this point. It’s bigger news if he doesn’t win. There were many jokes flying around twitter about him beating up on the field on a Saturday, when the Xfinity races are usually run. But love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is on the verge of a major accomplishment that I do not believe has been done by anyone else in the sport’s history. He has won on 24 of NASCAR’s current 26 tracks on the schedule. The tracks have changed with the eras and all, but at no time has anyone had a clean sweep of all the current tracks. Gordon didn’t do it. Earnhardt never did (much to my chagrin, New Hampshire was on his no win list… there’s a longer story about that one for another day). Parsons, Petty, Allison…. none of them ever held a clean sweep. This is going to be a big deal heading into those tracks this year.

The only tracks left for Busch to get a clean sweep are Charlotte and Pocono. It will be extra fun if he can win the Coke 600 because the first Pocono race is the following week. If he doesn’t win the Coke 600, the other Charlotte race isĀ  during the Chase, so that could be a big storyline.

  • Charlotte – May 29 and Oct 8
  • Pocono – June 5 and July 31

Bad Luck Hits Drivers Who Need Good Finishes

Screenshot_2016-05-07-22-00-24~2Truex has some sort of personal rain cloud that follows him around. He’s had some of the worst luck of any top driver I’ve seen in years, going back to all the shenanigans with MWR and Clint Bowyer’s “itchy arm.” The #78 car had the pole and was absolutely housing the field this week He regularly had four to five second leads on the field. In a race without many cautions, a lot of the pit stops came under green. The second he drove back on track, loose wheel. The second stop dumped him a lap down. Tony Stewart was off sync with the leaders and stayed out leading laps. When he came in for his service, boom caution. Truex was in the lucky dog position… until that second. Bad luck there. He did eventually get his lap back, but was mired in traffic and couldn’t get back to the front. Truex is a class act though and didn’t grouse about it in his post race interview.

Kyle Larson and Paul Menard also got bit by bad luck. Menard was cruising to a 10-15th finish. Likely could have done better on a night when the other RCR cars and affiliates had good finishes. Busted a tire, scraped the wall, lost a few laps for repairs. Not good, but not exactly catastrophic. But then the engine blew. That’s a last place finish. When you get into the Chase by top-15ing the field to death, it’s hard to soak up finishes like that. The #27 got hosed in the disaster filled Talladega race and was one of many with tire issues back at Phoenix. The Neon Chariot needs some good races and fast.

larson at kansasLarson was running “high line and handsome” all race… with massive props to Larry Mac on the Fox broadcast for dropping the Harry Gant reference. Double bonus points because Larson was two years old when Gant retired. The #42 car charged into the top ten and was a staple there most of the race. He charged hard on every restart making big gains but chewed up his tires faster than everyone else. Still, he was heading to an easy top 5. He got caught up in a weird double aero spin with Hamlin and Keselowski. Both of the other cars spun without contact when going three wide with Larson. Keselowski had no damage and managed to finish 10th. Hamlin shoved Larson up into the wall. Running so high on the track meant he had no where to go. It borked his car enough that he went into the books with a DNF in 35th.

Truex, despite his personal rain cloud, is sitting tenth in points. The Toyotas have been showing so much strength, it’s a matter of time before he gets a win. I’d circle Pocono as a good place for that. He’s had road course wins in the past too. Truex and his Furniture Row team will be ok.

Larson and Menard have to be careful though. They’re mired in 21st and 23rd in the points. We’re getting to the point in the season where anymore finishes like that are going to put them in jeopardy of missing the Chase without a win. Larson’s breakthrough win hasn’t happened yet. Menard hasn’t won since 2011. They’ve got to shake off the bad luck.

Shout Outs!

allmendinger at kansasThe first Shout Out goes to AJ Allmendinger.

The Dinger started waaaay back in 29th place and was completely off everyone’s radar until about 30 to go when he crept up near the top ten. He cracked the top ten by staying out and picking up a couple spots when others came in for tires. The older tires held up. The #47 team has now matched their top ten total from last year and we’re only 11 races into the season. A good follow up to the wrecking out of the Talladega disaster last week.

My other shout out this week goes to Tony Stewart.

stewart mug shot at KansasSmoke had an up and down day. He started in the middle of the pack and then fell back somewhat. Midrace, chunks of the field got off sync with pit stops and Stewart led some laps, the only person who really led any outside of green flag pit cycles other than Kyle or Truex. Anyone with any stake in NASCAR should have been happy seeing Stewart up front. He fell back after finally pitting but managed to get back up to a 12th place finish. Combined with Dillon getting the 6th last week as the relief driver, he’s already got 87 points in three weeks back. He’s got 59 points to make up on 30th place Regan Smith in fifteen weeks plus notching up a win to make it in the Chase.

Pit Stall 13 Update

Whoops. Kansas is just like Daytona and Texas. There is no pit stall 13, only 12A. That means the races here don’t count for our season long Pit Stall 13 Standings.

12A did go to Larson this week, and we already talked about his bad luck at Kansas.

Ironically, Larson does lead the Pit Stall 13 Standings with his third place finish at Martinsville. He holds the tie breaker of better qualifying over Kurt Busch’s third place finish from Bristol.

Charterless Update

  • 5th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Top ten all day, he ran a veteran race. The Wood Bros are only going to get better as they get in the swing of running the full season
  • 33rd – #55 Reed Sorensen – Still unsponsored (and I wonder why unsponsored cars tend to be black?).
  • 36th – #30 Josh Wise – Made the field this week since only 40 cars rolled in to Kansas. Bowed out with suspension problems.
  • 39th – #98 Cole Whitt – Went behind the wall for a large chunk of laps but got out of the caboose position when Menard’s engine let go.

On to Dover

NASCAR takes it’s traveling road show back east next week to hit the concrete banking at Dover. I always enjoy watching Dover since it was the first race I ever went to when I was a kid before New Hampshire opened only 3 hours away instead of 8 hours away. Alan Kulwicki and Rusty Wallace wrecked right in front of me in a big cloud of tire smoke while Harry Gant lapped the field in the high line to win the race.

The second trip to Dover in the fall is a Chase race, so there will be lots of crew chiefs with their notebooks out for this one. Harvick won last fall. Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth have the best driver ratings there. I think Truex is going to roll in to Dover as a man on a mission. He hasn’t won at Dover since 2007 with DEI, but where better to ditch that rain cloud of bad luck than at his home track?

Martinsville Round Up

Short track racing!!

When NASCAR rolls into the oldest track on the tour, I always do a little happy dance. Even in the years when the rules package means the racing isn’t top notch everywhere else, Martinsville always puts on a show. Because aero doesn’t mean a damn thing on the paperclip.

NASCAR needs more short tracks. Anyone who watched today’s race would agree to that.

kyle wins martinsvilleThe race this week was way more exciting than the box score would have you think. Kyle Busch finished the weekend sweep, leading over 350 of the 500 laps. That lap stat there makes it seem like he ran away from the field, but there’s the beauty of short track racing, the leader is bumping and banging around on track just as much as everyone else. There were only eight cautions, which big chunks of green flag racing in between. The cool temps at the track meant that the concrete surface never really got any grip, so there was huge tire fall off during a run. I’m more than ok with this. It’s one of those things that makes for great racing.

I feel like I’ve been talking about tire fall off and tire issues almost every week. That’s typical of a place like this or at Atlanta, but the rubber was a big deal at Fontana too. Byproduct of the low aero. (Or the Martinsville no-aero). I really think that NASCAR fans are being seriously spoiled this year in terms of excellent races. Haven’t had a snoozer yet this year really. That’s why when I saw there were empty seats at Martinsville, I thought it was a damn shame. If it wasn’t seven states away, I’d go myself. It’s on my bucket list. There are few guarantees in NASCAR, but a good race at Martinsville is one of them.

This race was full of standout performances that will tell the real story of the race, so before we start calling out those stellar runs, how’d my predictions from last week do?

Pretty much wish I had gone to Vegas with those. Last week, I called early advantage to Kyle Busch. Which was a big duh. I actually didn’t realize though that prior to this weekend sweep, he had never won a trophy at Martinsville. Seems like such a natural fit for him. After checking off this track, Kyle Busch is down to just three on the circuit that he has left on his list, Charlotte, Pocono, and Kansas.

allmendinger at martinsvilleI also hit a home run with calling on Allmendinger to carry the momentum the #47 had been building through the start of the season. Top ten car all day and stormed to the front on the last restart to finish second. The JTG Daughtry team is seriously gelling right now. Yeah, early season gains don’t always last for the whole year, but I find their gains impressive because NASCAR opens the year on a wide variety of tracks. Good finishes at Fontana and Martinsville are two very different things but this little team did both. If they can make similar gains at the cookie cutter mile-and-a-half tracks, this team can be in the mix at the end of the year.

Shenanigans!

Eh, there weren’t much. That was really the one prediction that was a swing and a miss from the last round up post. The only real drama was Austin Dillon getting fired up on the radio. But that’s starting to be a regular thing as is crew chief Slugger Labbe telling him to breathe and get back to racing.

menard at martinsville 2Menard gave Dillon a shove at one point, maybe 2/3 through the race. They were both right around 10th. Lapped traffic. Menard had a run. Just one of those deals at a short track. But with no rubber sticking to the surface of the track, people were getting freight trained on the outside lane and Dillon lost some spots. They were beating and banging on each other for a while but they left it on the track as they should and were cool after the race.

The Worst Caution Ever

I can’t find video of this floating around anywhere yet, it might be too early (since I’m writing this on Sunday night instead of the usual Monday evening), but the worst caution ever came out at Martinsville today.

Sweet Lady Debris shows up from time to time in NASCAR, but maybe the TV cameras just can’t find it. The broadcasters have more important things to cover than scanning the track to maybe find a piece of something on the track. And the cynical among us decry the phantom cautions, but at least NASCAR has plausible deniability. “Just cause *you* didn’t see the debris, doesn’t mean anything.” It’s a good line. Easy to defend.

wise atlantaJosh Wise in the #30, one of those guys I really would love to see in top notch equipment someday, was running a few laps off the pace near Truex in the Furniture Row car. After almost a hundred laps on the tires, things were getting squirrely. Truex went underneath Wise but came up into him. The doorslam put Wise up into the marbles and the caution flew.

Except Wise didn’t hit anything. Or spin. Or even slide. He just went out of the racing groove.

After taking flak for not throwing a caution at the end of the Fontana Xfinity race before the break, someone jumped the gun way too fast here.

Rally Time

I said above that the story of the race is really some of the individual highlights. Let’s look at our finishing order. Edwards had 6th. Newman 10th. Logano 11th. Earnhardt 14th. Good to meh finishes for these drivers. Normally not anything to write home about.

But all four of them spent significant time a lap down.

Edwards started deep in the field and didn’t even crack the top twenty until almost midway. Earnhardt spun for the first caution on lap six and didn’t get it back until 313 for the Wise “caution.” (I’ll be the Tin Foil Hat Crowd loves that) Logano had the pole to start, but dropped like a rock after he chewed up his tires early in a run and had to claw his way back just for 11th. Newman also started and held on longer than Logano, but lost a lap and only got it back at the end.

All of these drivers put in a hell of a lot more effort than their finish would make you think. They showed their stuff out on the track. A rally from deep in the field is always more impressive at a short track. Yeah, there are more opportunities to get your lap back, but you can lose laps even quicker. All part of why short tracks put on the best show.

Shout Outs!

AJ Allmendinger! Yeah, I talked about him above, but how can I not talk about him again? This is a seriously impressive run for him in that car. Martinsville and the short tracks are good to the road racers. The extreme style of braking carries over for both types of racing. The Dinger is always one of the best when NASCAR turns left and right and with his team stepping up their game across the board, he got a chance to show off those braking skills today. He talked about how the little teams need to pounce on good days like this and he certainly did for his #47 crew.

vickers at martinsvilleThe next shout out goes to a guy who isn’t even going to race next week at Texas. Brian Vickers had another week as the fill in for Tony Stewart, but the races with Bass Pro Shops on the hood go to Ty Dillon. He has no clue what any of his racing plans are, although there is talk he may run Indy this year. Vickers started third and ran in the top 15 all day pulling off a seventh place finish for Stewart-Haas. Even going back to his Red Bull Racing days, I’ve always felt his medical issues gave him a raw deal. You can’t blame a team for needing to bank on consistent availability, but I’ve always liked seeing him out perform these part time expectations he’s been forced into.

All of Richard Childress Racing gets a shout out today. Yeah, the Neon Beard and Dillon got into it on the track, but all three cars finished in the top ten. RCR doesn’t have Rousch problems, but it’s been quite a long time for that team to pull that off. That team is going to break the winless drought, likely sooner rather than later, and there are days when it looks like it could be any of the three. Menard in particular needed a good run. He got out front and led laps. Stats guy on twitter said in over eight thousand laps run at the paperclip, it was the first time he ran any of them out front. First laps lead on the year for Menard. The #27 had some bad hands dealt already this season, the ten point penalty for the fender whatevers, the blown tire for the 38th place finish a couple weeks ago, and for a driver who pointed into the Chase, it’s hard to soak up too many bad days like that.

Pit Stall 13 Update

larson bumperThe Pit Stall 13 Update doubles as a shout out this week! Kyle Larson had the magic pit stall this week and as a dirt racer, you’d think short tracks would be his bag, but none of his other four starts at Martinsville resulted in a finish worth calling home about. Larson’s Target car that my kid loves so much had a middling place on the starting grid. He broke into the top ten before a hundred laps were up and never left it.

Larson came home in third place and is leading the Pit Stall 13 standings now.

He’s on the upswing all together this season. I don’t like the term “sophomore slump” at all really, and I think Larson was victim of last year’s crap aero package more than most drivers. He’s improving now in year three though and I think he’ll get his breakout win soon.

Charterless Update

  • 19th – #21 Ryan Blaney – The rookie ran midpack all day, stayed out of trouble, and finished on the lead lap. A+ day for a rookie at this track
  • 30th – #98 Cole Whitt – Finished, but a number of laps off the pace. With the attrition rate lower than usual for short track racing, this was all that just surviving could get
  • 37th – #55 Reed Sorensen – Huh? That’s right, we actually had a full field now that we’re back on the East Coast. It was an extra car for Premium and I had to look that up to even figure out who had that number now.
  • 38th – #30 Josh Wise – Already talked about the Worst Caution Ever, but the car’s engine conked out later on in the race.

Texas Up Next

Big fast track coming up on the schedule next before more short tracking. Expect a lot of references to that giant ass TV screen they have at Texas Motor Speedway cause the culture of that state obsesses with largeness.

Now that we’re settling into the season, expect to see the usual faces up front. Specifically, I think the guys who ran well at Fontana will run well at Texas. RCR historically did well at high horsepower tracks, so I’d like to see them carry the momentum from today, even if the tracks couldn’t be any more different.

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.