Michigan Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

This is fantastic. The race was a great one.

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

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

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

Kyle Busch’s Summer is Not So Hot

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

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

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

Buescher’s Bad Day

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

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

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

Shout Outs!

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

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

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

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

Pit Stall 13 Update

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

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

Charterless Update

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

On to Sonoma!

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

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

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

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

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Pocono Round Up

NASCAR ran out of luck with the weather man. The fastest traveling circus around got washed out at Pocono over the weekend. I’ve sat through rain delays, watching people try to dry the track. It’s not fun, especially since I remember when it was just old tires dragged around behind pickup trucks. It’s doubly worse when the whole show gets rained out. Locals can skip out another day of work, anyone who travels in is hosed.

I’m sure there are people clamoring for NASCAR to get rain tires. Happens every time there’s a delay. Let’s not push our luck with safety. NASCAR doesn’t need rain tires. Honestly, who the hell wants to sit four hours in the rain? Track promoters have enough work cut out for them. No one needs rain tickets.

kurt wins poconoOnce the rain finally stopped and the race happened for real, Kurt Busch won his first of the year, stretching out his fuel mileage to the max. It may be his first win of the year, but continues an extremely impressive start to the year for him. We’re fourteen races into the year and only two of Kurt Busch’s finishes were outside the top ten (Fontana and Martinsville). I had to double check that stat because he’s sitting second in the points, but it’s been a very quiet second. He’s been a top ten machine even if he hasn’t been mixing it up for wins. Add that up with a pair of pole starts this year and it was only a matter of time before he was going to win again. It’s been almost ten years since he last won at Pocono, but the track has always given him solid results if not a W.

Now, I know fuel mileage races aren’t the most exciting for the outsider (or the NASCAR Twitternauts that need something to complain about), but this is a very impressive fuel mileage win. His crew chief, the old school Tony Gibson, was suspended  because of NASCAR’s omnipresent lug nut drama. The lead engineer for the team, Johnny Klausmeier, stepped in and told Busch he was two laps shy of fuel and to start saving.

That’s not just a little bit short.

He was dropping 40mph of speed in the corners and coasting through them to horde every drop of fuel he could and then put the hammer down on the white flag lap to make sure it all stuck. That’s some fancy driving and a fancy call from Klausmeier to even try to stretch it.

Keselowski and Gordon going at it again

keselowski at poconoSo Keselowski and the #2 team finished third at Pocono. That’s a sweet finish, but early on in the race, Keselowski’s team was penalized in the pits. The jackman pulled one of those hip checks just forward of the rear tire. Pops out the panel, adds more sideforce, and now the car has an aero advantage. NASCAR has been policing this a lot lately. And it may be more just a matter that they’re catching it more with the camera run pit monitors the officials use now. Regardless, Keselowski was irked.

“I don’t know what (NASCAR) saw so it is not really fair for me to say anything about that,” Keselowski said. “I can tell you that every car I saw had some body modifications on it after pit stops out there. I don’t know if ours was more egregious or even if we had one. That is for the team guys to really answer.”

Ok cool. “Every car I saw had some body modifications on it.” I’m going to call a “DUH” on this one. A crew chief, and by extension, the crew, are supposed to push the envelope as much as they possibly can. It’s part of the game. You push and push and push the limits of what NASCAR is going to allow. That’s how you get ahead. With the competition up front being so close, every little bit counts and can be the difference between a W and a 10th, a Championship and a busted season.

Conversely, sometimes the NASCAR officials are going to bite back. Does that make the #2 team a bunch of cheaters? Nope. Not at all. It’s part of the game. That’s how it’s always been in NASCAR, a constant push and pull between teams and The Rules. Like bleeding the air out of the tires last year. It’s also why NASCAR has a sliding scale of penalties. There are the gross and obvious “What the hell were you thinking” penalties and the “You pushed, but this is as far as you can go” penalties. We move on with them.

That’s a whole lot of words without getting back to the bold header of this section but it relates, I swear.

Keselowski called out Gordon up in the booth because Gordon talked about similar crew tactics from the 2 team won in Vegas earlier in the year. Fact checking later, NASCAR didn’t penalize the Penske crew for any body mods at Vegas, it was a speeding penalty on the same stop. Gordon owned up to that one later on ye olde twitter.

jeff gordon mug shotKeselowski does bring up a point about having people biased in the booth. Gordon and Keselowski have a history as drivers. Gordon has been a part owner in Jimmie Johnson’s #48 team since the start of that ride. Keselowski is saying that the commentators need to be neutral parties.

I appreciate Keselowski speaking his mind, I always do even when I disagree with him. Which I do in this case. Having a wholly objective observer sounds better on paper. Ken Squier will always be known as the voice of NASCAR. He was never a driver or team owner. Neither was Mike Joy. But a lot of the best announcers in NASCAR were former drivers. Michael Waltrip still runs restrictor plate races to this day and will do his prerace duties in his firesuit before hopping in the car and running laps. I think Brad Daughtry is one of the better prerace guys and he co-owns Allmendinger’s car. Ned Jarrett in the booth calling the race as his son passed the elder Earnhardt to win the Daytona 500 is ever going to say that was wrong. That’s a classic moment in NASCAR history, in part because of Ned Jarrett being in the booth on live TV.

Where do you draw the line of being “biased” as a commentator? Are we going to say that Rusty Wallace should never do NASCAR commentary because he used to race for Penske? Or his brother Kenny, one of the funniest and well spoken people in NASCAR, can’t talk about… well, half the owners on the track? Should we stop listening to Larry Mac because he used to work for Childress?

Oh and by the way, Ken Squire owns a race track in Vermont and Mike Joy co-owns the Sonoco racing fuel distributor in New England. Does that count?

See the thing is, all these people I’m talking about, they’re professionals in the booth. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be doing this year in and year out. I for one, think that Jeff Gordon is very good in the booth and hope he has a long career in the booth.

It happens in every sport. Being a part of it gives you a leg up when covering the game. Many of the best sportscasters started out as players/coaches in their respective sports. No one honestly thinks John Madden should have gone his career without covering a Raiders game. Or Pat Summerall a Giants game.

Ditto goes for NASCAR.

Tony Stewart Troubles

tony at poconoI hate to say this, but it’s not looking good for Tony Stewart to go out with a swan song. He had his best starting position of the season so far this past week at Pocono and he was running in the top ten, but got tangled up in a wreck… with Danica of all people.

NASCAR is better with Tony Stewart in it. Doubly so when he is the happy, engaging, fiery, Tony Stewart. It’s been rough on the track for him since his come back from injury. Really, it’s been rough on track for Tony for a couple years now. I think a lot of NASCAR would love to see him hit that walk off home run and pull a mic drop by walking out with a championship. Very few in any sport get to do that. Finish 29 laps off the pace cause of a wreck isn’t going to get him very far. Remember, he’s going to finish in the top 30 in points and get a win for his waiver to matter. 34th place finishes aren’t helping.

Rough Day for Jeb Burton

burton at poconoNormally a 29th place finish for the raced-by-committee GoFAS #32 isn’t much to remark on. This week, however, they put a new driver in the seat for Pocono. Jeb Burton got the call to run his first Cup level race since he was a victim of downsizing at BK Racing in the off season. He got the call to run the Richard Petty Xfinity car though so we thought it was good for him. A better car, albeit in a lower tier.

Bad news though, RPM shut down the #43 Xfinity team because their sponsor decided not to pay their bills. Racing takes deep pockets, no matter who you are. Deeper pockets if you want to do it well. Petty isn’t like Penske, or Haas, or Hendrick, or Roush… he doesn’t have an extensive business to fall back on. (Although, just ask James Finch, that doesn’t always work either) Petty’s only business is racing, so when someone doesn’t pay their sponsor bills, there’s nothing left to soak up the hurt.

Frankly, I think this whole thing sucks. Burton is a very promising racer for the future of the sport. He’s got a Truck win and two top ten point finishes in that series. Given the right equipment, he could be one of the future stars to carry the sport like Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney. Doubly so because the traditionalists love a family connection in NASCAR. He had it rough last year with BK racing, DNQ’ing for nine races and then becoming a victim of charter system downsizing. I had figured the Petty Xfinity ride would get him back in a competitive car again and get things back on track. NASCAR’s relationship with the checkbook is a harsh mistress though. I hope he can land on his feet.

Shout Outs

elliott at poconoThis first one hardly seems like a shout out because he is running so consistently, but high five to Chase Elliott. He pulled off his 10th top ten on the season so far. Everyone expected the #24 car to still run well, after all, it’s a Hendrick team that was winning races last year with Gordon, but Elliott is exceeding everyone’s expectations. Still, I have to give a shout out for Elliott leading the most laps on the day, even if he didn’t score his first W yet. Chase is constantly impressing everyone. He’s highest in the points without a win yet at 7th on a season so far. I seriously expect him to win. Soon and often.

ty dillon at poconoThe other shout out on the day goes to another guy who’s going to carry the sport into the future. Ty Dillon got the start in the Circle Sport-Levine ride as an unofficial 4th RCR car. It’s a deal that Childress has been doing with Circle Sport for a few years now ever since the former sold the owner points for the #33 to the latter. Austin Dillon did the same thing before he was officially a rookie, running a few races as an RCR flying the Circle Sport banner. Brian Scott did too when he was running Xfinity for Childress. Ty Dillon is making the most of these starts he gets. In the thirteen starts he’s made at Cup level, his best finish is 14th at Michigan last year. He didn’t top that this past week at Pocono, finishing in 21st, but he led some laps up front. Childress will get him into a Cup car in a year or two and he’ll be leading a lot more laps than that.

Pit Stall 13 Update

headshot via aricalmirola dot comAric Almirola was lucky driver to occupy the glorious Pit Stall 13 at Pocono. It didn’t translate to too much for the RPM #43 car this week though. He had a middling start in 16th and finished 20th. This day wasn’t one where just managing to stay on the lead lap was going to bring home much of anything in terms of finish. He ran as high as 14th and as low as 29th, so a 20th was right about where you figured he’d end up. They did have an “over the wall too soon” penalty pitting on lap 62 which put lost them their midpack position which the car was never fully able to recover from.

Charterless Update

  • 10th – #21 Ryan Blaney – He’s having a very good season, currently in the Chase grid on points, but is frequently overshadowed by Chase Elliott (i.e. like this week)
  • 27th – #30 Josh Wise – This is the best finish for the TMG #30 car this year finishing just one lap off the pace. This little team busts hump every race so it’s nice to see them making gains. Small steps are better than no steps.
  • 28th – #98 Reed Sorenson – The Premium Motorsports drivers swapped cars. Neither has a charter so…. reasons? Sorenson did get his best finish of the year out of it though.
  • 30th – #55 Cole Whitt – Swapped numbers with his teammate and cruised to 30th. Attrition helped.

Onward to Michigan!

Michigan is up next and I think it’s going to be a good race, unlike last year’s high drag debacle. It’s a very fast track with plenty of room to race so here’s hoping the low downforce package creates lots of passing. I think it should.

While not a plate track, this place favors teams that can put down raw speed similar to the plate tracks. I think RCR has this track circled as a place to take a huge swing and hope for a home run, especially the 31 and 27 teams. If they miss here, Newman is eyeing Daytona and New Hampshire, Menard is watching Daytona and Indy. They’ve got to take a big swing and go for a win. Newman could still point his way in, but Menard had a few races with bad racing luck and tire problems. He can’t soak those up and still point his way in. This time of year, look for the Neon Rocket, and plenty of other teams, starting to take big gambles on those W’s.

I also expect Brad Keselowski to run up front here. The best he’s ever finished at the track was 2nd during his championship year, but it really is a thorn in his side that he hasn’t won at his home track. With two wins under his belt and a spot in the Chase lined up, I expect him to go all out for that hometown crowd.

Kansas Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Luck Hits Drivers Who Need Good Finishes

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

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

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

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

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

Shout Outs!

allmendinger at kansasThe first Shout Out goes to AJ Allmendinger.

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

My other shout out this week goes to Tony Stewart.

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

Pit Stall 13 Update

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

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

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

Charterless Update

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

On to Dover

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

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

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.

Richmond Round Up

One last week of short track racing at Richmond before the whole circus packs up and pulls a 180 at Talladega. It’s our last entry in the “I made it up last week” hashtag #ShortTrackRumble. Let’s get our fix in now, cause we won’t have this much sheet metal banging and beating until we hit the first road course race at Sonoma in June.

Let’s get right into this thing.

edwards wins richmondCarl Edwards won with a bump and run on his teammate in the last corner of the race.

I’m going to stress this again. LAST CORNER OF THE RACE!

NASCAR fans are being spoiled this year with one epic finish after the other. Yesterday’s race was the very first time in the history of the series at Richmond. And Richmond isn’t one of those new cookie cutter tracks that opened during the building surge of the late 90s and early 00s. Richmond has been hosting NASCAR Cup level racing since 1953.

Carl Edwards has now gone back to back for the first time since 2010. Joe Gibbs Racing has won four in a row and five of the nine races at the one quarter mark of the season. Edwards leads the points with only one race outside the top seven so far this year (Vegas). The team, and the driver, have positioned themselves at the favorite at this point the season. JGR teammate (and victim of the bump and run), Kyle Busch is the defending champion and all, but I’d still favor Edwards. Yes, Busch has two wins and sits 4th in the points, but he had the adversity of the injury comeback to fuel his focus last year. He’s one of the most talented drivers in the history of the sport, whether you think he’s a hero or a heel, but I still want to see him hold his focus for a full 36 races before I can consider him a perennial contender.

stewart at richmondTony Stewart is back!

One of the biggest news items in NASCAR during the off season was Tony Stewart’s impending retirement followed by the injury suffered during a vacation tooling around in some sand rails out in California. Back injuries are nothing to mess around with so everyone knew it would be a while before he could safely race again. He’s been walking around at the track the last couple weeks playing the role of owner and mentor to his team and the Vickers-Dillon combo keeping his car warm for him. It’s a role that Stewart will excel in just as he has in all his other racing endeavors.

But we’re all happier that Stewart is back in his car for the rest of his final season.

Stewart ran a mid pack race all day, losing a lap, getting it back, beating and banging all day. He tangled with Logano and ended up with a shredded tire fighting for the lucky dog position. It happens. The man was just ecstatic to be on the track again.

Of Lug Nuts and Fines

Of course NASCAR shot itself in the foot and created a PR cluster for themselves by fining Stewart 35k for speaking out about lug nut safety. The crazy thing about the fine is that the statements were very tame by Tony Stewart’s standards. It stems from the rule about not having a NASCAR official monitor that all five lug nuts are secure on each wheel anymore. Junior has spoken out against the same thing. So has Biffle. NASCAR has made it sound like it’s a self policing policy. But teams are paid to push the limits. Three or four lug nuts for an extra tenth on pit road on the final pit stop? Hell yes that’s going to happen. Many drivers feel this is a huge safety risk and are put into a bad position by NASCAR.

hamlin helmet in carWell, the new(ish) Driver’s Council decided to step in and pay off Stewart’s fine. That’s a big deal. NASCAR has never traditionally tolerated dissension in the ranks. Hamlin was quoted as saying “that we just believe that we should have the right to speak our opinion” and not everyone exactly agrees with Stewart’s opinion. The Driver’s Council just sent a shot across the bow.

I think this is a good thing. The Race Team Alliance and the Driver’s Council are a happy medium for the sport between NASCAR doing whatever it wants and having contentious battles between NASCAR and some sort of union. There are too many players with money in the pot to form a full fledged union in NASCAR. Baseball and the NHL have months and whole seasons to union battles and not that long ago. Frankly, NASCAR would not survive something like that. Baseball and hockey barely did. Hell, baseball losing the ’94 World Series to a strike let the NFL swoop in and take the title of the most prominent sport in America, a title the NFL’s billions aren’t going to let up on any time soon. Baseball has never fully recovered. Hockey hasn’t recovered. NASCAR has too many of it’s own issues to ever survive a proper union blow out.

But what the Driver’s Council is doing here is important. NASCAR, the tracks, the sponsors, the TV partners, they’ve all got fat stacks of cash involved with the sport but the driver’s are still the stars. The council makes sure their voices aren’t lost in the shuffle. This is NASCAR’s new reality and it seems like it will be healthy for the sport. People constantly deride the sport for becoming too button up corporate. Guys like Keslowski have said they censor themselves because they don’t want to be fined. But NASCAR needs to let the driver’s be human beings, not machines. We’ve got machines, they’re called race cars.

One Angry Cat

I really have nothing to add here beyond Kyle Busch’s Banfield Pet Hospital paint job will go down as one of my favorites all time. The cat on the right rear looks so pissed at having that thing on its head. I love it.

kyle banfield livery jgr facebook 4-20

Shout outs!

So now that I’ve rambled on about NASCAR’s unnecessary distraction with those Tony Stewart fines, (side note, some day I want to figure out how much in his career he’s been fined… I imagine a lot), time for the Richmond Shout Outs!

My predictions from last week… eh. It was a lot of the usual faces with no huge surprises like last week at Bristol.

kahne at richmond mtn dew blackThe biggest shout out goes to Kasey Kahne.

Richmond was his third top ten and first top five of the year. Although he hasn’t been running as well as he did in the first nine races of last year, Kahne needs more finishes like this. With Chase Elliot out performing his rookie expectations already, he does not want to be mired in a lower tier of performance than the rest of Hendrick Motorsports. Again. Kahne is 14th in the standings at the one quarter mark of the season. That’s not bad per se, but his teammates are 3rd, 6th, and 11th. More races like this will help Kahne a lot. Started 8th and never left the top ten on the day. That is an excellent day for anyone.

The other shout out on the day goes to Chase Elliot.

The rookie started way back in 23rd place after qualifying was rained out and went to practice speeds. He spent over 150 laps running a lap off the pace but managed to get the lap back and claw his way back up to a 12th place finish. Twenty six cars finished on the lead lap this week, a very high number for a short track even in this modern era of waive arounds. Getting his lap back was a big deal, especially after running so long without it. I think it takes more focus to have the patience and perseverance to get the lap back the way he did rather than running 12th all day long. Chase is showing a veteran temperament behind the wheel again.

Pit Stall 13 Update

ragan at richmondDavid Ragan in the BK Racing #23 was the lucky recipient of pit stall 13 this week. He ended up finishing in the same spot as his number, but the BK team had a solid race anyways. Ragan started 30th after the washout of qualifying but he leap frogged a pile of cars early and stayed on the lead lap the entire race. Ragan raced in the top 20 most of the day. A series of cautions late in the race made the lead lap pretty crowded for a short track so he lost a couple spots near the end, but this kind of race is very good for the little team that could. After Matt DiBenedetto’s epic run last week at Bristol, I’m glad to see BK’s whole performance is getting better.

Charterless Update

  • 28th – #21 Ryan Blaney – Top of the Charterless again, but finished a lap down on a day where a lap down wasn’t going to get you much
  • 37th – #93 Ryan Elis – Running a third entry for BK Racing, this was Elis’ second start at Cup level. He’s got a couple more on the books later in the season
  • 39th – #30 Josh Wise – Survived ten laps off the pace
  • 40th – #55 Reed Sorensen – Survived ten laps off the pace, but actually with a sponsor this time. Also note how all 40 cars finished the race this week.
  • DNQ – #98 Cole Whitt – The primary Premium Motorsports car missed the show after qualifying was set by practice speeds. First race since Daytona where anyone DNQ’d.

The 98 had the lowest speed of the Charterless, a half mile per hour slower than Elis. But notice how I said Charterless. Annett would have missed the race normally since he posted no time after damaging his car earlier in the weekend. Annett, Bowyer, Jeffery Earnhardt in the #32 all posted slower practice times than Whitt.

The irony is that HScott’s charter for #46 was leased from Premium. So the team that missed the race did so to the person they gave up their charter to. Annett got a 36th place finish out of it.

On to Talladega!

We’re done with short tracks until August and NASCAR switches things up as much as they possibly can by hitting Talladega next week. The biggest track in the sport provides a holiday for the state of Alabama. This is the most rambunctious track out there.

We got two big news items already for Talladega. The official race entry list has not been released this early in the week, but Tony Stewart will still run the superspeedway. When talking about his return to the car last week, he said that he’ll start the race to get the points, but will likely hand over the car to Ty Dillon. The big track makes a driver change a hell of a lot easier than most places. I also think this shows Stewart is playing his recovery smart. Spinal injuries aren’t something to mess around with so no need to put more strain on it than he needs. After Talladega, the next race with speeds even approaching that like that won’t be til Michigan in June.

ives twitterThe other item was floating around Twitter this morning. Greg Ives, crew chief for Junior, said that Amelia has been repaired and will return to the track this week. If you don’t know, that’s the name of Earnhardt’s favorite restrictor plate car. He’s won a pile of races with that car but it got banged up. This is going to put Earnhardt way inside his comfort zone and, like his father, he is an ace at the plate tracks.

Earnhardt is instantly the favorite for Talladega. He would be even without his favorite car behind repaired. Other favorites to look out for… Hamlin, first of all. The Gibbs cars are the top in the sport right now and Hamlin won the last plate race in Daytona.

I keep wanting to say to watch out for the RCR cars. That team tends to perform well at the plate tracks, but with Austin Dillon having a rough couple of weeks and Newman and Menard having trouble carrying on with their top 15 parades, I’m putting a big asterisk on the end of that. I really don’t want to. Just like with Roush, the sport is better off with RCR, one of the old school teams, being relevant. At this point though, I think RCR needs to swing for the fences to break their win drought. Talladega is a place to do it.

And of course, we get to see what little team is going to bust out a good finish. That right there is my favorite part of restrictor plate racing.