Speedweeks – Clash and Pole Day

NASCAR had to wait half a day to get the seasons started thanks to that pesky Florida weather. I’m sure there are plenty of traditionalist who were happy to see the Clash, back with its preferred name, during the day, back at its preferred time (if only accidentally). NASCAR can throw down the Clash whenever it wants as long as we can get a good show.

The end of the race did not disappoint.

logono-wins-17-clashLogano won the Clash with a last lap pass thanks to Keselowski and Hamlin wrecking. Really the whole Clash came down to Penske vs Gibbs. Those two teams are the powerhouses of Monster Cup right now. Yeah, Jimmie won the championship last year, but he had a very un-Jimmie-like season with a lot more ups and downs. Hendrick is close behind in third and would be right there if Kahne was running better.

The Clash looked like it was going to be Hamlin’s to own. Again. The four Gibbs cars got nose to tail and were housing the field. Four fast cars are tough to beat. Kyle Busch, running at the tail of the Gibbs train, would be the most likely to throw down with his own teammates at the end, but no way he could have gotten a run on Hamlin by his lonesome with Suarez and Kenseth behind the 11.

Fortunately for everyone, Penske was there. Keselowski was not going to coast around and let that Gibbs train happen. Things like that are why he is one of the best things to happen to NASCAR. It was a very Dale Earnhardt like bull rush up there to break up the Gibbs train and set up the nice finish.

So Logano got the win. The big teams showed up to play. None of these things are surprising. What else did we learn from the Clash?

dillon-at-17-clashAustin Dillon showed up to race. RCR hasn’t won in a long time (Going back to when Harvick was still on the team) but they tend to finish a little better on plate tracks. Dillon seemed to will his car forward more than once without help. He couldn’t make it up front without dance partners though. His qualifying time was pretty pedestrian later that day, but Newman and Ty (running ECR engines on the Germain team) did well. A couple tweaks and someone to run with and I like to think RCR can be a factor in the 500. We’ll have to see how they run with more cars on the field during the Duals.

bowman-at-clashAlex Bowman is solidifying my opinion that Dale Jr is grooming him to be his hand picked replacement when he finally does retire (hopefully on his own terms). The chaos at the end of the race let him sneak up into a third place finish. He did it without much in the way of drafting help since Jimmie wrecked out and Chase Elliot wasn’t around. Even on Bowman’s BK Racing days, I always thought he outdrove the equipment he had. He’s done very well when he’s been given the top shelf equipment. It’s very unfortunate that he can’t get into a good car full time already.

In a shocking development (sarcasm only mild), Danica actually took advantage of the Danica Rule. Eligibility for the Class was tweaked a couple years ago to say any past Daytona 500 pole winners got in if they didn’t hit any of the other check boxes. The end of race chaos let her sneak into a fourth place finish. So a top five finish in a field of seventeen cars isn’t super impressive, but any time a driver mired in the bottom half week in and week out can sniff the front of the field, it’s positive. This is definitely a put up or shut up year for Danica, and with her sponsor woes, up front TV time is a must.

elliot-dale-jr-17-daytona-pole-dayAfter the Clash rolled up, Pole Day time trials hit the track that afternoon. Showing Gibbs and Penske not to forget about the Chevys, Hendrick swept the front row with Chase Elliot getting back to back Daytona 500 poles and Junior hitting second in his first track action after injury. Kahne even showed up to play, hitting the second round and qualifying eighth fastest.

This year’s rookie class has high expectations. After running well in the Gibbs freight train in the Clash, Suarez managed an okay 15th on time. Erik Jones with the new Furniture Row car could only hit 20th. The only rookie to make it to the second round of qualifying was Ty Dillon who ended up with a 12th place time. Germain Racing this year might as well be another RCR team, the same way that Furniture Row is practically an extension of Gibbs. Good on Ty and Germain Racing for getting a good run in qualifying, but it’s got to be frustrating to RCR that the technical alliance teams keep out performing them. Newman made a top ten time but Menard and brother Austin were both down in the 20s.

Single car runs at Daytona only mean so much though. Things will change a lot during the Can-Ams. (Hey look! I’m finally remembering to call them the correct name and not the Twin 125s)

What am I watching for on the Can-Am Duals this week? The big teams are there to party but that’s not the interesting part for me. The health of the sport is reflected in the health of the little teams so the qualifying bubble is what I want to see.

There are six charterless teams attempting to qualify for the 500 this year. The two fastest on time are guaranteed a spot. Long time Xfinity racer Brendan Gaughan (remember he ran a full Cup rookie season back in 04) in the part time Beard Motorsports #75 is locked in to his second Daytona 500. Tommy Baldwin Racing sold off their charter to Levine Family Racing as part of the off season charter dance, so the 7 car is running as a part time open team. Elliot Saddler locked the car in on Sunday for his 14th Daytona 500, but his first since 2012 as a spare RCR car.

Who’s got to race in?

Reed Sorensen in the Premium Motorsports #55. Premium got a charter when HScott shut down, but they’re using it on the #15 that Michael Waltrip is running his last race in. That team was pretty consistant about showing up and making the show last year with two open cars so I think they will be ok to make the show.

kennington-daytonaDJ Kennington in the part time Gaunt Brothers Racing #96. Kennington, from NASCAR’s cousins to the north in the Canadian Pinty’s Series, is slated to run the restrictor plate tracks. This team isn’t completely out of nowhere even though it is brand new. The owners also build engines as Triad Racing Technologies supplying the non-factory supported Toyotas.

Corie LaJoie in the BK Racing #83. BK downsized to just one charter and will run this car as a full time open team. It will be driven by committee. LaJoie is a second generation racer who’s had a couple starts in Cup back in ’14 and has been picking up some races in Xfinity. He’s looking for his first 500 and only his second start on the track in any series. This might be a tough hill to climb but he does have his teammate in the same Dual and they start nose to tail (albeit at the caboose).

t-hill-daytonaTimmy Hill in the Rick Ware Racing #51. This team is jumping up to Cup from Xfinity and will be racing by committee. They plan to run the whole season but Daytona is going to be a tough bill. The 51 car ran a whole half mile per hour slower than Jeffery Earnhardt’s in the Circle Sport’s Partnership of the Year car.

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2017 Preseason Round Up

Pit Stall 13 is back and the new NASCAR season is upon us and the watchword for the new year is “change.”

Which isn’t exactly that different than almost every year for the past half decade. The nebulous rules package of the last few years for the Sprint Cup… wait… the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (which by the way, I don’t think anyone will use that whole mouthful of a title. It’s Monster Cup) are well documented and this is not intended to be a history lesson. There’s google fu for that.

This is gearing up for the new season. This is excitement. I’m not just spitting out buzzwords. With the Clash this weekend and the 500 in spitting distance, I am excited for the season to start.

So what should we be excited about? Why, I am glad you asked since that’s what I’m here for.

New Series Sponsor: Pleasantly enthused

monstercuplogoI count myself among those who started to get worried towards the end of the season when NASCAR still hadn’t named a replacement for Sprint (who only took seven years to get decent cell service at Loudon). I honestly expected some established tech company to come into the scene. Some company who had the base where a few mil wouldn’t risk the company imploding but pushing the engineering sports hybrid that NASCAR is to get some edge to it. Samsung came to mind even though there would be the rumbles from the …. “ultra traditionalist” crowd… yanno, the same crowd that gives NASCAR the bad name with its Confederate flags. Coca Cola would not have surprised me, or even one of the big hardware chains (Lowe’s and the Depot… Menard’s is the number 3 but doesn’t actually exist on the east coast). The problem with one of them is that their competitors are so entrenched in sponsoring NASCAR, it would have gotten even uglier than the whole Cingular/ATT fiasco on Jeff Burton’s car a few years back.

Monster Energy Drinks came out of left field for this ‘slightly more than casual but not a professional’ observer but it makes absolute sense. They know what they’re getting into with sponsoring motorsports. They’re already doing it with motocross and team sponsorships within NASCAR (the Busch brothers) and teams across other motorsports (V8 Supercars, F1, rally).

Monster Energy. They're not newbs.
Monster Energy. They’re not newbs.

Look, the sport needs energy. Monster brings energy. NASCAR got real huge at the tail end of the 90s and the early 00s. Things were booming. Tracks were expanding. But the sport rested on its laurels too long and stopped innovating. The way people watch sports has changed. 50 inch plasma TVs in ultra high def are commonplace now and when you can get that good of a picture in arm’s reach of your own clean bathroom and all the beer/drinks/snacks you want out of your own fridge… where is the motivation to spend the better part of a whole day at the track? I have gone to a Cup race in New Hampshire every year since the track started hosting them in the mid 90s. It is a 20 hour day. I had a 230am wake up call to drive across three state lines for the race. How do you get more casual fans to want that experience?

Make it more of an experience. Create a festival atmosphere at the track. Give people things to do all day, and I don’t just mean the famous Talladega infield debauchery. NASCAR has been doing some of this the last few years. There’s a fan concourse with displays set up by sponsors and such. Last race I went to had a Miller tent, Toyota showed off its new models, the Air Force had a cut away car to show the internals of Almirola’s 43. Monster can come in and turn all that up to 11. That’s what the sport needs. I am optimistic that it will get exactly that.

The Clash: Finally!

advance-auto-parts-clashI am not an old timer, but as far as NASCAR goes, I am definitely old school. Harry Gant won the first race I saw in person. In an Oldsmobile. I was one of those fans who called the season opening exhibition race “The Busch Clash” because I had been watching it under that same name for a decade before anyone thought to change it. I am not a fan of change for the sake of change, but bringing The Clash back is happy nostalgia. Sometimes NASCAR can be blinded by tradition, but this is a good one to hold on to.

The Playoffs: Good. Also, duh.

Another naming change here. NASCAR dumped the term “Chase.” It’s just the Playoffs now.

This is a good thing. I wholeheartedly approve of the concept of the NASCAR Playoff system. I was never a fan of the naming convention of it though. NASCAR is a sport where the more you know, the more fun it is so the challenge is to get the casual observer over the hump to get in on all the minutiae of the sport. In that, NASCAR is very unlike the stick and ball sports. But NASCAR does not need to be standoffish about its differences. All nonNASCAR outlets would just refer to the Chase as “NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.” Since we are just now calling it the Playoffs, we don’t need to add another new term to the newbie potential fan.

The New Points System: ….there are so many layers here.

monsterwallThe new points system is mostly… good… I think. It’s complicated.

The big thing here is stages.

I am pro stages. This is an amped up version of the halfway money NASCAR used to pay out a few years ago. Cut a big check to the team leading at the halfway mark and yeah, it’s going to make that dash a lot more interesting. This is the same deal but with points. Throw some bonus points to the guys in the top ten at certain laps? Go nuts. I think this will help with NASCAR’s idea to avoid the middle chunks of the race where the field falls into a groove and just logs laps until the 80% mark.

Championship points (being different than regular points)makes this more complicated.

“Competition cautions” at the stage ends are really thinly veiled TV time outs which I think has the potential for abuse.

But in general? The potential for good outweighs my concerns and I think it can work well, although at some tracks more than others. (I’m looking at you road courses!)

Damaged Vehicle Policy: Ugh. Not so much.

allmendinger at talladegaMore than stages, I think this has the potential to cause chaos to the championship standings. Cars aren’t allowed to go to the garage for accidents anymore. They’re just allowed five minutes on pit road. The official reasoning behind this is a bit off for me. One of the NASCAR VPs said repairing wrecked cars is “something we don’t think enhances the show.” They’re worried about cars with “integrity issues”… eh, I’ll give you a little bit of that but only a little. They’re worried about crew guys hustling while around grinders and sparks. That one is total BS. My day job is at a shipyard and as someone who has worked with and around welding and metalwork for 12 years, I can tell you the crew guys aren’t worried about that. You get very nonchalant about being lit on fire after it’s happened a few times. NASCAR is worried about teams spending money on trashed firesuits or extra body panels. Sounds good but I doubt that.

The cynical part of me thinks the TV networks pushed this one. A lot of people (myself absolutely included) rail about Sweet Lady Debris and the proliferation of mystery cautions. I think NASCAR finally got fed up with getting trashed on for mystery cautions and went too far to fix the problem.

dillon at talladegaThis is going to hurt NASCAR at some of its biggest races. Austin Dillon pulling off the third place finish with the duct tape car was one of the rad finishes of last year. Not possible now. The beating and banging of Bristol or Watkins Glen… are they still going to happen if everyone is tip toeing around this new policy? When the Big One drops next week at Daytona, without the potential to make up some laps, how many people will be behind the 8 ball in points right after week one?

I hope this doesn’t cause all sorts of hurt, but I think it will.

New Penalty Structure: Good and needed.

inspectionNASCAR has streamlined the penalty structure. This is a good thing. The old warnings and levels and charts and whatever were complicated. I don’t honestly think that the rule book is any less complicated now. The real story here is that the penalties will be handled faster.

Penalties stacked up from warnings on previous races put the infractions at arm’s lengths. Immediate ramifications from infractions will definitely make them feel the hurt more. Which is what a penalty is designed to do. This will make it easier for the fan to keep track of, which is always a top concern. But I also think it will reign in some of the crew chiefs. A NASCAR team is supposed to push the boundaries. It’s their job. The line in the sand has a bit more sting to it now so tread carefully.

I’ve also heard the possibility of losing laps prior to the start of the race. That’s huge.

Danica’s Sponsor Woes: Eyeroll.

daytona2017danicaSponsorship woes are nothing new in the sport. They just don’t usually happen to someone which such a high profile in the sport.

Stewart Haas Racing and Nature’s Bounty are suing each other after the later cut off funds to the former in the excess of 31 mil. I don’t consider myself a Danica hater. Just to get to Cup level, you have to better than hundreds of other drivers who wish they could run Cup, so not winning a race doesn’t make Danica a crappy driver, but I do think she gets more attention than the perpetual 20-30th place finishes earn her. Like her or hate her, Danica still brings in the sponsors.

Or at least she did.

Losing 26 races of sponsorship is harsh. Gene Haas and Ford, their new manufacturers, have deep pockets, so Danica will still run all the races, but owch. 26 race sponsors are getting less common these days (we won’t even talk about the non existence of full season sponsorships anymore) so when one bows out of the sport for any reason, it hurts. Hopefully, with the new influx of oomph from Monster, the sport can get back in the limelight again with sponsors waiting to cut checks for cars.

2017 Rookies: Hell yes!

rookiesAfter a few lackluster rookie classes, NASCAR has gotten a few in a row with talent which should shine for years. Eric Jones is taking on the second Furniture Row car. Ty Dillon gets the Germain #13, the first time a Dillon has raced for someone other than Childress. Daniel Suarez takes over Edward’s car and becomes the first Mexican driver in Cup and one of the few non-Americans in the history of the sport.

Jones and Suarez are running A level Toyota gear. Germain isn’t an A level team, but they’ve increased their partnership with RCR (duh) which makes me think they’ll up their competitiveness. Couple that with Dillon having more Cup starts (18) than the other two (Jones – 3, Suarez – 0) and I think the rookie of the year race is going to be a very good one, just like last year. These are three guys who we will see race against each other for a long time.

All Star Weekend Round Up

The subtitle for this post is “WTF happened in Charlotte?” with WTF standing for “What’s This For?”

Because no one really had a clue what was going on except for maybe Keselowski since he’s the one that came up with the idea.

Remember what I said last week “there’s some complicated thing involving pit stops that was proposed by Keselowski.” Oh yeah. Complicated didn’t even explain half of what happened for the All Star Race.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. First let’s talk about the Showdown.

Despite getting rained out Friday night and moved to lunchtime Saturday where I caught in on TV by accident, the Sprint Showdown was the most successful part of the whole All Star Weekend. The Showdown (or whatever it’s called in whatever year we’re talking about) has always been broken up into segments. Or at least I think it has been. Look, the constantly changing format makes it confusing and after watching for so many years it kinda blends together.

Anyways. If there is one thing that NASCAR takes out of this cluster of a weekend, is that the Showdown worked perfectly. Win any segment and you’re into the big show. Used to be only one person transferred from the Showdown and one from the Fan Vote. Now three get to transfer from the Showdown and two Fan Votes. NASCAR just made heat races way more fun than the Xfinity Dash4Cash heat races going on this year… because people actually miss the show and it’s not just some glorified qualifying parade.

bayne wins all star segment 1Trevor Bayne won the first with a glorious three wide pass on the last lap of the segment. He won by .005. The man is becoming relevant with some frequency all of a sudden. Biffle won the second in ho-hum fashion proving that not every race is going to be a home run. The second segment featured a lot of people setting up pit/tire strategy for the last one. Kyle Larson put on another high octane show seriously throwing down with Chase Elliott for the win on segment three. They were beating and banging for half a lap before Larson got the edge at the finish line. Thrashed the right side of the car and the #42 crew gets props for having the car ready to go for the big show later that night.

I as actually surprised that Danica didn’t pull the number one spot on the Fan Vote. Sure, she got voted in at number two but Chase Elliott won the Fan Vote. Matt DiBurrito scored third with his surge from that Bristol finish.

allstarrace1

So back to the big show. The All Star Race. Unfortunately it was pretty down hill from there. The complicated segment format involved mandatory green flag pit stops. Then pit stops between segments. Then more mandatory green flag pit stops. Then another round of pits between segments before the last one.

So in 113 laps of racing there were five pit stops. And of course, like any good crew chief, people were trying to game the system in whatever way they thought would work. Some came in wicked early to get it out of the way. Kenseth held out as long as possible. Then a caution flew. Hosed up the whole field. Everyone was a lap down because the #20 hadn’t pit yet. But he was peanalized a lap for not getting his green flag pit in. But no one could take the wave around.

And that’s how you put most of the field a lap down and confused the everliving b’jebus out of all of NASCAR. Except Brad Keselowski.

The only driver in favor of it was Keselowski and a lot took to twitter to make it know. As one is wont to do.

logano all star carAnyways. Once the final segment happened and all the confusing crap was out of the way. Larson showed up again to put on a good show throwing down with the #22. Logano won the All Star Race in the only segment of the big show to make any sense. Larson used up his race car and brushed the wall, hosing up his car and having to bring it in the pits. Afterwards, even Logano said he had no idea what was going on with the format and figured he’d just drive and let his crew chief worry about it.

Keselowski defended his format talking about passes for the lead within the last couple laps and such. I get that. I really do, Brad. Charlotte isn’t exactly known for being a track that produces nail biter finishes. I’m looking to Darlington, the short tracks, or the plate tracks for those. Keselowski is correct when he says that the last few All Star races didn’t have much passing. Frankly, they were snoozers and I’d loaf about reading a book and only half paying attention to the race. We didn’t get a snoozer this time, but Brad, it wasn’t anything to do with your gimmicky format ideas.

Points for trying. Seriously. No sarcasm there. Points for you and NASCAR trying to do something positive. It was a flop. Own up to it and move on.

See, the parts of the racing that were good were the straightforward parts. NASCAR is on that hot streak of epic finishes this year.

larson elliott all starTrevor Bayne didn’t need some weird pit stop format to pull a gutsy three wide pass to win the first segment. Larson didn’t need any gimmicks to thrash is car in an all out effort for the W. NASCAR has put together a fantastic aero package for the cars this year (after last year’s flop) and the competition level is at an all time high. That should have been good enough.

So, keep the Showdown as is. Scrap the ever living hell out of Keselowski’s Folly. Let them race.

Shout Outs!

I covered this already, but Shout Out to Kyle Larson!

Not to dismiss Trevor Bayne’s epic pass, but the Target car is what made the race worth watching. It’s too bad that Larson finished 16th out of 20 in the big show, but it’s a checkers or wreckers kind of race. The Ganassi team is showing up with all their ducks in a row again. Everyone was focused on winning the big check, but it also doubles as a giant practice for next week’s Coke 600. Larson pulling the W there would be epic.

Pit Stall 13 Update

Seems a bit anticlimatic after the slick ranting and raving I already did to just slide into a Pit Stall 13 Update.

Especially since there was none. No one used that pit stall since pit road was working on every other stall drawn by random order.

On to Charlotte

Well, not really “On to Charlotte” since the teams are already in their home base for the All Star Weekend. More of a “Continue to Stay at Charlotte” for the Coke 600.

I am one of the people who advocate for shorter races. 400 miles had worked just fine for Pocono. I’ve been going to New Hampshire since it opened and they run slightly over 300 miles. Look at the drama that the heat races — excuse me, Showdown segments, produced in only a handful of laps. That said, I think the Coke 600 needs to stay the Coke 600. It’s one of the crown jewels of NASCAR and in this instance, I am fulling on board with the traditionalists.

The All Star race always serves as a big preview for who is going to do well for the 600. You’d think that would give the early edge to Logano and Keselwoski since they finished one-two. They’re fast all over and leading the Ford teams.

But I think the real edge goes to Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. Since the Showdown was moved to Saturday during the day, they performed well on the track both in the sun and under the lights.

And of course, the other storyline to watch is going to be Kyle Busch. Charlotte is one of only two tracks he needs to win at for a sweep of all current NASCAR tracks.

Dover Round Up

There is a theme to NASCAR in 2016.

Our theme is epic finishes.

Dover provided this year. Holy moly Dover provided.

The funny thing is, I don’t think anyone expected an epic race out of Dover. I know I expected Jimmie Johnson to roll in and house everyone. Or Harvick. The Big Four teams, Gibbs in particular, have been wicked dominant this year. I really expected a runaway race here and for the opening of the day at Dover, that’s exactly what we got. Clean air meant a lot out front.

Then the track took rubber and the racing grooves opened up.

kenseth wins doverKenseth had to work hard to earn his win this week. I thought Kyle Larson was going to score his first win. Him and Chase Elliot were flying around the track. The ironic part is that if Larson hadn’t needed to hold off Chase, I think he would have had the time to wear Kenseth down. The 20 was slipping and sliding all over the place by the closing laps. Larson was too, but that’s the way he likes it, rim riding around the Harry Gant Lane. He just ran out of time there at the end.

I really did think Larson had him at the end too. Kenseth is a crafty veteran though. Larson could have used the chrome horn too. No one would have blamed him for going all out to score his first win. But Larson made it a point to race clean. “You can see, there’s some drama in the sport, and it takes drivers years to get over it. … I try to race everybody with respect,” he said after the race. Good on Larson for taking the high road. (Also sounds like a bit of a backhanded dig there)

Larson v Kenseth made for a fantastic ending but that wasn’t the craziest part of the race.

IMG_20160515_163037On a lap 355 restart during a race where track position was a big deal, Jimmie Johnson had the outside lane. The lane had been working best most of the day. Truex was behind him having gamed the run off pit road to get the outside lane. The 78 car was wicked fast and it was shaping up to be a showdown between Truex and Johnson. When the green flag dropped, Johnson’s transmission didn’t click. The thing got stuck in neutral. Truex got sandwhiched. The whole lot of them spun out in front of the field. Carnage. Took out a lot of the best cars on the track. Officially eighteen cars were involved, just shy of half the field. More than a couple were down for the count. You don’t think of Dover when you think of “The Big One.”

Youth Shows Up

Chase_Elliott_Road_America_2015-wikiSo I talked about Larson and Chase Elliott but they’re not the only young guys to show up with a strong race at Dover. Take a look of the ages of the top ten. Larson is 23. Elliott is 20. Blaney is 22. Trevor Bayne is 25 and finally starting to live up to his potential. Sometimes people get worried about the future of NASCAR. When I see results like that, I won’t. Add in Austin Dillon, who got crunched by the Monster Mile earlier on with some busted parts, there are five guys who are going to end up in the winner’s circle. Five guys who can carry the sport onward. I love that these guys are getting finishes to go with all the promise they came into Cup with.

Truex’s Doom and Gloom

truex at doverTruex just can’t catch a break. It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned this in 2016. Read that above paragraph. Truex was just the innocent bystander in that wreck. Green flag drops, you gotta go. That’s what he did. The red flag to clean up the big mess was advantageous though. Teams aren’t allowed to touch the cars, but everyone rolls into town with pre-fabbed bumpers and fenders. The Furniture Row team preassembled the new body work and strapped it all down on the car to get the aero functioning again. I get the sense they pretty much hoped for the best with all the internal stuff. They battled back. The car was fast and Truex managed to pull off a ninth place finish.

So I guess this doubles as a Shout Out too.

The Rest of the Shout Outs

Shout out number one… Danica!

danica at doverThat’s right. Giving a shout out to Danica. She dodged the big mess when Johnson’s transmission decided it didn’t feel like working anymore. I snark that she’s not living up to her potential and that someone else should get a shot in that top shelf equipment… and I stand by that. But credit where credit is due. This day at Dover was one where survival was not easy to come by. Many good cars got taken out and success in NASCAR is often determined by jumping at the opportunities that show up. Danica jumped. She actually spent the first two thirds of the race mired a lap off the pace in the 30s and high 20s. Once the cautions started showing up, she got her lap back and when half the field went CRUNCH into the wall, she jumped a lot of positions. A thirteenth place finish on a day like this isn’t anything to scoff at. It’s her best finish of the year and the best since the spring Bristol race of last year.

Shout out number two goes to The Man with the Checkbook.

menard at doverMr. Paul “Fear the Beard” Menard got a much needed decent finish with an 11th place at Dover. When you point your way into the Chase, a string of bad luck can kill off your whole season, something Menard had happen to him in years past with a Truex-style raincloud of doom following him around in the middle of 2014 to hose up his chance at the post season that year. Menard was the caboose last week at Kansas and had two 26th and a 38th already this year. It’s hard to soak up races like that when you’re living and dying by the top 15. Personally, I think RCR is improving as a whole this year even if not all the finishes are showing it. Menard has Michigan, Indy (where he’s won), and Daytona circled as places where the Neon Rocket can roll in and contend for the win. The trick is to keep up the good finishes in the mean time.

Pit Stall 13 Update

kahne inspection at vegasRolling in to the amazing 13th pit stall at Dover was Kasey Kahne. Despite starting well in 11th, he faded fast and spent a lot of the race rolling around midpack in the teens and low 20s. Kahne however, was on the inside lane when the Big One showed up to Dover. He skirted all the mess that happened up in the high line and snuck in with a fourth place finish. That’s good enough for third in the Pit Stall 13 Standings.

Kahne’s performance came with a kicker though. Monday morning announcement over the wire service said the #5 car failed post race laser inspection. NASCAR packed up the car to the R+D center. No word yet on any penalties or whathaveyou. Wait and see on this one.

Charterless Update

  • 8th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Took a decent midpack car and danced into the top ten towards the end of the race
  • 27th – #98 Cole Whitt – The car DNF’d near the end, but survived longer than a lot of people at Dover
  • 36th – #30 Josh Wise – The TMG car had mechanical issues a couple times, finished running though
  • 38th – #55 Reed Sorensen – Crashed out at lap 214, actually had a sponsor again though.

All Star Weekend Up Next

NASCAR heads home for real this time, no Kansas pun involved. The All Star Weekend hits Charlotte and all the glory and shenanigans that come with it. The format has been tweaked … again. I don’t even know what’s going on with it. I’ve heard that NASCAR is trying a new aero package as an experiment and that there’s some complicated thing involving pit stops that was proposed by Keslowski at the Driver’s Council. I tend to not pay attention until I turn it on and see what’s going on. It’s too tough to keep track of.

Frankly, I would love to see the All Star Race rotate locations. Maybe even hit up places that Cup doesn’t normally go to. How awesome would it be to see the Cup guys tear it up at Eldora in a race for money and glory? That would have the potential to be the best thing ever. EVER.

I do get why NASCAR keeps it in Charlotte. Old timers whine about tradition, and there are about five races where I’ll give them that. Really, I think having two weeks at home is the real treat for the NASCAR traveling circus. Except for the guys in Furniture Row being based out of Denver and not Charlotte like everyone else. The sport has three off weekends a year and it’s going down to two next year. Hanging out at home in Charlotte is a big bonus for everyone and I can live with that even if I think the All Star Race would benefit by moving around.

As for what to expect?

Well I seriously hope that someone beats Danica in the fan vote. Josh Wise getting in with the DogeCar was one of the best things ever. I stand by my statements that NASCAR needs internet nerds as fans and poo-pooing the Reddit community that supported Josh Wise and his underdog (under-doge) team was a bad move. Anyways. The fans get to vote in two people this year. The top five are currently Danica, Blaney, Elliott, Larson, and DiBenedetto.

dibenedetto at bristolDanica is kind of a duh to get in. Honestly, I have no idea who will get the other spot. Blaney, Elliot and Larson clearly represent the future of the sport. DiBenedetto is a guy I think out drives the equipment he has and after his run at Bristol and the DiBurrito campaign, he might get some of the Reddit crowd on his side. If I had to pick one to throw down money on, I think I’d have to go with Elliott. He’s getting good finishes and has the second generation built in fans.

I also applaud NASCAR letting in three winners from the segments into the main show. I’ll call on Blaney, Larson and Elliott all as good shots to get in via segment wins. Could leave the door open to DiBurrito.

Talladega Round Up

This year’s Talladega race needs no preamble from me. The carnage is best in the driver’s words…

“I hate it. I’d much rather be at home,” Kyle Busch

“If they’re cheering for crashes, man, it’s not a good thing,” Austin Dillon “I’ve grown up in racing, watched a lot of bad crashes. I don’t think they’re true fans if they like the excitement.”

“You get butterflies in your stomach even thinking about coming here because you don’t know what’s going to happen.” Trevor Bayne

“I don’t know if really anyone in our sport knows the answer,” Keselowski

“Hell, I’m going home,” Earnhardt Jr. said after the second accident. “I’m done. We need to park the car for a while, too.”

“That’s probably the most scared [I’ve been] trying to hop out of a car with a fire on the inside,” Danica Patrick “I closed my eyes and hoped for the best. … It hit really hard.”

“All the time I’m upside down, I’m praying the whole time it lands on its wheels because I think I’ll be pretty claustrophobic if it lands on its roof.” Kenseth

“I am pretty sick and tired of speedway racing at this point,’’ Buescher

Brad Keselowski won at Talladegakeselowski wins vegas in a race where 35 of the 40 cars were involved in accidents. There were three Big Ones within the last 30 laps. The only safe place on the track was up front. And even then, that’s iffy. The first Big One was triggered within the top ten on lap 162 when Kurt Busch tagged Jimmie Johnson and hooked him up the track into Paul Menard.

The only drivers who missed the wreckfest were Keselowski (winner), Kyle Busch (2nd), Elliot (5th), Ty Dillon who took over for Stewart mid race (6th) and Trevor Bayne (10th).

Everyone else wrecked at some point in the race.

The car’s leaving NASCAR’s biggest track looked more like they were leaving Bristol. At 200mph that is a big problem.

Wrecks are part of the sport. The cars are made as safe as possible, in fact, NASCAR’s safety has come a long way in the last fifteen years. But when cars are getting airborne routinely, we are in trouble. Airborne cars became rare after the introduction of roof flaps. As a kid when I watched, any time a car got backwards on a superspeedway, there was a good chance it was going over. NASCAR introduced roof flaps and made the sport safer. They’ve added hood flaps since to allow air to escape the underside of the car better.

buescher talladegaYet for some reason, we are seeing a rash of cars going airborne. During an Xfinity race at Daytona a couple years ago, Larson went into the catch fence on the start-finish line. Last year in July’s Daytona race, Austin Dillon’s car hit the fence and was so thrashed, everyone was surprised to see him walk away from the hunk of metal. Fans were injured that day. This past Sunday, Buescher barrel rolled down the back stretch when he was hooked from behind. Kenseth was in midair heading for the infield camping areas. Harvick slid across the top of the SAFER wall like a skateboarder grinding a stair rail.

Let’s not forget all the other hard crashes.

Edwards car broke and slammed Earnhardt into the wall at full speed, destroying an already wrecked car. Danica hit the wall at close to 200mph, hard enough that she needed chest Xrays to check for broken ribs. Harvick’s skateboard move across the wall put his car on top of Stenhouse and Allmendinger. NASCAR’s tv spots like to keep showing the Talladega race from a couple years ago where Tony Stewart barrel rolled over the hood of Paul Menard.

It’s gotten to the point where I am surprised we don’t have an injury report after every single plate track.

How do we fix this? I dunno. If anyone did, it’d probably be done by now. NASCAR is in a tough spot. This is a sport where the more you know about it, the more fun it is. When you know all the little ins and outs of the sport, it makes the drama on the track better. But NASCAR needs to get eyeballs on the screens and asses in the seats first. Get them hooked so they want to learn. The sport has been gifted a lot of excellent races this year. We haven’t had a single snoozer yet, but TV ratings are still tough to come by. I agree with Austin Dillon’s rant about how if people are only cheering for the crashes, they’re not real fans, but how else can NASCAR sell the sport? Stewart’s barrel roll over Menard’s hood has been a staple of the NASCAR promo spots since it happened. I cringe every time I see it.

A less dramatic crash than all of these killed Dale Earnhardt at Daytona.

A less dramatic crash than all of these killed Adam Petty at New Hampshire.

allmendinger at talladegaThe irony here is that the first half of the race, before the wreckfest, was one of the better plate races that I’ve seen in a long while. With the possibility of rain, the drivers were racing hard and not just logging laps (as happens often in plate races). This year’s Daytona 500 was a great race without all the crashes. It’s just a crap shoot if you going to get them or not.

But, then we had the wreck fest. Cautions breed cautions, no matter the track.

I’ve seen some of the reactions out there. Ideas that, I may not think are good, but are well intentioned and dreamt up out of a love of NASCAR. Jeff Gluck of USA Today said to ditch the banking or use the infield road courses. Hamlin mentioned getting rid of the restrictor plate and let the cars spread out at 250mph. Crazy speeds but no packs.

Personally, I think NASCAR should bring back tandem racing. I have no idea why people hated it so much. I’ve always been in the minority that loved tandem racing at the plate tracks. There was much more passing and excitement than most plate races where big chunks of it involve logging laps. It would succeed in spreading the cars out more to prevent the Big One. But that might not work anymore. There’s a new generation of cars on the track since tandem racing was a thing.

And if I had all the answers, I’d be working for NASCAR, not blogging about it.

Good Runs Busted

One of the non-life threatening problems of NASCAR’s latest wreckfest, is that it hosed up a lot of good runs from people who needed them. Plate races are often where smaller teams get to shine, but this past week, they shined briefly before they were snuffed out by the big wrecks.

menard talladegaECR Engines showed up to party. Menard and Newman were both in the top ten when they were taken out. RCR affiliate Casey Mears was running well at the front end of the race before he got damage early. The other RCR affiliate, Michael McDowell in the Circle Sport-Levine car broke into the top ten a couple times. Whoops. Too bad for all of them they lost the Talladega dice roll.

Danica and Larson led laps. Cole Whitt led laps and was cruising for a top ten before the last Big One. Bobby Labonte in the GoFAS car led laps. Regan Smith made it look like all the kids at Golden Coral might get to eat for free. Not a single one of them got a finish to go with it. (Although for Cole Whitt’s Premium Motorsports, they’ll be happy with the 18th)

Logano and Kenseth… Again

After Kenseth got out of his wrecked car he said to the tv cameras “I thought we were done with that, but maybe we’re not.” Logano and Kenseth were racing for the same real estate on track when Kenseth was shoved out of line and lost a lot of positions. That put him in the back of the pack to get caught up in the mess that flipped his car.

Kenseth was caught on camera later having (angry pointing) words with Logano. Logano meh’d if off.

Frankly, from watching the race, I want to chalk that one up to “that’s racing” and tell Kenseth to deal. There was aggressive racing all day and what Logano did wasn’t any worse than how everyone else was racing. I think if Kenseth had been shoved out of line by anyone else, it would have been a complete non-issue.

Shout outs!

Usually plate racing shout outs go to the little teams with the good finishes. This week it’s more about “did you survive?”

dillon at talladegaThe best “did you survive” story of Talladega goes to Austin Dillon. The front end of his car is more duct tape than sheet metal. Aerodynamically, it imagine it was like a brick. On the last restart, he still managed to power from 17th all the way to a third place finish. If I hadn’t watched the race and you showed me the picture of that car, I would have guessed Bristol. Two wrecks. 17 pit stops for repairs. Dillon drove the wheels off that car and huge props to Slugger Labbe and crew for keeping that rolling heap in a position for that to happen.

Shout out number two goes to one of the few who survived unscathed. Tony Stewart started the race to get the official points, but on the advise of his doctors, (and holy crap, it’s a good thing he listened) he turned the car over to Ty Dillon at lap 50ish. Stewart said afterwards that Ty had been a rockstar for the team. Doubly so today. He kept the car intact which was no small feat this week, and scored 35 points for Stewart who needs every point he can to hit the top 30 and pull a Kyle Busch to get in the Chase.

My other shout out goes to Landon Cassill. He was involved with the wrecks, as was most everyone, and managed to get an 11th place finish for Front Row. I’ve said repeatedly that I want to see him in top shelf equipment. He has become an adept plate racer. Five of his seven top 15 finishes have come at restrictor plate tracks. This week ties his second best finish with his three best races all being at Talladega. Harvick had words about Cassill after the race, but Cassill laughed it off saying Harvick is too “emotional.” (I totally agree and don’t really take anything Harvick says seriously… let’s just say I don’t think I’d hang out with him). After Buescher’s barrel rolls, Front Row will be more than happy with this.

Charterless Update

  • 9th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Did well last year on plate tracks for the Wood Bros. and survived well again.
  • 12th – #55 Michael Waltrip – Waltrip took his old MWR Toyota over to Premium this time instead of BK Racing like he did for Daytona. Led some laps, had the longest most awkward spin ever, and finished well.
  • 17th – #35 David Gilliland – After missing Daytona, he did well in an extra Front Row car. Was one of the first battle scarred car to show everyone the scars didn’t matter much. Finished decent, could have done better with some luck.
  • 18th – #98 Cole Whitt – Look at this, all the Charterless in the top 18. Whitt was doing even better until he was caught up in the final Big One. Spent time in the top ten and led a lap.
  • DNQ – #30 Josh Wise – I’m sure he would have rather been racing than not, but after the mess last Sunday, maybe he was in the best position… home with his kids.

On to Kansas

There’s no place like home. I couldn’t resist, but I think we can breathe a sigh of relief to head back to a sane track.

It’s a cookie cutter mile and a half so expect the power teams to show us all why they’re the power teams. I’ll put my money on the Gibbs cars. They are the team to beat until they show us otherwise. Jimmie Johnson has the best driver rating on the track. I expect Penske to ride some momentum and Kenseth to be all pissy about Logano. Should be a fun race where we don’t have to worry about people not walking away from their cars.

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.