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.

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.

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.

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.

State of the Sport

Recently, when asked about the biggest problem NASCAR faces in the future, all Brian France had to say was “Rain.”

Really? That’s a cop out of an answer. I’ve loved NASCAR for over 20 years but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to the issues the sport faces. I can still be critical of the sport. It’s called being a good fan.

Bob Pockrass over at ESPN dropped a very good article about the state of NASCAR and didn’t go so far as to call France’s answer a cop out, but it does carry a general tone of “Uh… no.” Go take a minute to read the article yourself. It’s a good one. Then come back because much of what I have to say is counterpoint and commentary based off that.

“They won in NASCAR’s developmental series, which still remain too much pay-to-play leagues with a huge disparity between the haves and have-nots that doesn’t give the underdog a realistic shot.”

This. So much this.

I mentioned in a previous post that the Trucks are going to offer crate engines to the teams and I think this is a step in the right direction. Even at the lower levels of the sport, racing costs a boat load of money. No way around it, but NASCAR can do things to take the sting out of it. With Kyle Busch Motorsport’s lawsuit against Justin Boston, who’s family company failed to pay sponsor bills, and some comments Keselowski has made about his truck team, we get a picture that the Truck teams cost a few mil a year to run competitively. Where does that leave room for people to break into the sport? It really doesn’t.

Benning (57) and race winner A. Dillon (39) - Eldora 2013 - via normbenning.com
Benning (57) and race winner A. Dillon (39) – Eldora 2013 – via normbenning.com

One of the greatest things I ever saw in NASCAR was Norm Benning at the first Eldora race. This is a guy who has been plugging away at the track for decades. Since 1989 he’s got 29 DNQ’s in Cup with only four races started. Since 2009, he’s attempted every Truck race with 17 DNQ’s. He has zero top tens. The Last Chance qualifier for Eldora, he was beating and banging around that dirt track with Clay Greenfield. Benning manhandled that truck around that track in one of the single most exciting things I’ve never seen bearing the NASCAR name. Benning became a hero when he won the last qualifying spot for the race and gave the young punk the middle finger on national tv. People from every team descended on Benning’s Truck to prep it for the main event. It was amazing. Go watch a video of that last lap complete with Benning giving Greenfield the finger. (The official video from NASCAR edits out the middle finger)

So the guy can drive. He pulled this off at 61.

His best finish ever was a 12th at Talladega in 2013.

Why? Norm Benning Racing is staffed by him, his wife, and a few of his buddies. Most races, he rolls in with an unsponsored Truck. The truck he put on the amazing show at Eldora in 2013? Ebay. So he could raise cash to run the next race.

He’s got a passion for the sport and every time I see the results from a Truck race, I see if he had a good run.

Norm Benning is also the perfect example of the gulf from the haves to the have nots. But not just Benning. Look at Jennifer Jo Cobb. In a season where only 14 drivers even attempted to qualify for every race, she was 13th. And keeps showing up. And keeps racing.

I don’t think the sport needs to go to the extreme of the old IROC series where everyone drive identically prepped cars but NASCAR can lower the barrier of entry. And then when the barrier of entry is lower, new talent can find its way into the lower levels of the sport. And then encourage the new talent to shine by bridging that gap between the front of the field and the back.

I like to think NASCAR is heading in that direction. The charter scheme is a way to bring down some of the costs of racing. The new lower downforce package in Cup is a way to put the racing back in the driver’s hands and not just the engineer’s. This is just as important, if not more so, in the lower levels of the sport.

Just think of how the garage would lose its mind in joy if Norm Benning could walk away with a trophy.

“NASCAR must add a Cup entitlement sponsor that equally helps teams, tracks and the sponsor itself.”

nascar logosI am afraid this will turn into a big distraction the longer NASCAR goes without signing a new one. They need to tread lightly because the title sponsor is going to set the tone of the sport for a long time for good or for bad.

Personally, while I think Sprint has throttled my T-Mobile service every time I went to NHMS, a telecommunications company has been the right step. Everyone has a phone. Xfinity (the alter ego of one of the most hated companies in America, Comcast) fills a similar niche. Technology based utilities are the kind of product that casts a very wide net

Which is exactly what NASCAR needs.

Unfortunately, they may be kinda hosed there. I’m sure that Xfinity has verbage in their deal which prevents NASCAR from signing on with any of their competitors. Remember all the court battles when Nextel first signed on? Jeff Burton was still sponsored by Cingular and Ryan Newman had Alltel (which didn’t even exist in New England) and it was a headache to the point that Burton ran the #31 in a race with a black and orange base coat and no logos on it.

And speaking of phone carriers… Sprint is out. T-Mobile is really Deutches Telcomm out of Germany so I don’t see NASCAR being their primary focus at all. Verizon already sponsors IndyCar. Apple? Ha. The hipster cult of Apple would never go for that. Microsoft? Eh. They got a lot of money in football.

For the good of the sport, I really hope it is a tech based sponsorship.

“NASCAR desperately needs to add another manufacturer that could create a stronger base of teams.”

Yes!

Dodge backing out of NASCAR when the US economy tanked was a bad blow for the sport. Doubly so since Keselowski won the championship in the same season.

To do it, a car company would have to commit for the long haul the way Toyota did. They’ve got to sink some money into it and back the teams in their camp. Toyota finally got their championship by doing just that. Despite none of the original Toyota teams still existing now that MWR is gone.

hondaThe obvious candidates are Volkswagon and Honda. As a Subaru driver, I really really want to say Subaru, but all their racing involvement is rally based since their thing is all wheel drive. Volkswagon is too tied up in their diesel engine scandal so that leaves Honda. I could see Accords rolling around the track someday with the Camerys and such. It would be very beneficial for the sport for that to happen, but it would all depend on how much money Honda wants to sink into it.

“NASCAR must have a product in which drivers have more options than just knocking someone out of the way in order to pass and not allow its Chase to become the Wild, Wild West again.”

Kenseth via wikipedia
Kenseth via wikipedia

I am surprised that the Kenseth-Logono thing went down the way it did. Oh, not the on track throwdown they had. I’m surprised Kenseth’s suspension was upheld. Why? Look no farther than the NFL and Deflategate. Brady got out of his suspension, not because the panel decided he was innocent, but because the league never codified the penalty in their rule book. (Also, 18-1. Eli > Tom). Kenseth definitely set a precedent there, but I think in the near future NASCAR is going to find itself in an NFL level crap storm if a similar situation comes up.

Codify the penalties. Then if some drivers choose to throw down on the track, or just lose their temper or whatever, they know exactly what the consequences are. NASCAR has operated as a dictatorship since the beginning, usually, a benevolent one. But, like Pockrass said in his article, this isn’t the Wild Wild West age of NASCAR anymore.

I’m ok with the infamous “Boys, have at it” mantra that NASCAR adopted a bunch of years ago. You can’t take the racing out of a race. But NASCAR has been moving to clarify the rule book for the last few years on the engineering side of the house. Yes, there is still room for some subjectivity in the P1 to P5 scale of peanalties but it is better than what it was without any scale. Crew chiefs can and will (and should) still push the envalope and test the limits of the rule books, but they have a reasonable expectation of what will happen if they get caught. The new-ish pit road officiating system with the all the cameras flagging potential violations for human review do the same thing for the pit crews. Remember at Homestead last year Jimmie Johnson’s jackman got busted hip checking the right side to flare out the side skirts for better aero? Or how many more people were getting busted for driving through more than three pit stalls? None of this stuff is new, they’re just getting caught more often.

But they know what the concequences are for it *before* they do it.

I think NASCAR needs to codify the penalties for excessively rough driving are and give us a better rationale for what “excessively rough driving” is. That second part may be the hardest. It may be impossible because after the Kenseth-Logano mess, the officials said it was situational. And it should be. Laps down and take out the leader? Busted. Like woah. Last lap going for the win? I’ll take it.

Overall, I really do think NASCAR is moving in the right direction with things like that, albeit at a glacial pace.