Articles By Matt Taliaferro
DAYTONA BEACH, FL — A violent ending to Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway marred an exciting race and left numerous fans injured and a sport shaken.
As a pack of cars sprinted to the start-finish line on the event’s final lap, a massive crash broke out when Regan Smith attempted to block Brad Keselowski while racing for the lead. Smith’s car clipped the nose of Keselowski in the tri-oval and impacted the wall head-on. Keselowski also spun, and chaos ensued when drivers took evasive action to miss the accident.
The car of Kyle Larson became entangled with Keselowski and others, spinning into the wall, then catapulting into a crossover gate built into the speedway’s protective catchfencing.
A week of pomp and circumstance is nearly over in Daytona. On the eve of NASCAR’s most prestigious race, the Daytona 500, Cup cars roar around the historic 2.5-mile superspeedway in the final practice session of the week — known as Happy Hour — looking for that last little bit of speed. Or handling. Or integrity. Or answers of some sort.
Kevin Harvick has been the week’s big winner thus far, posting wins in the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race last Saturday and his qualifying Duel 150 on Thursday. But he hasn’t been the week’s big story. Danica Patrick cornered the publicity market on Sunday, when she won the pole for the 500 and became the talk of American motorsports — or more accurately, the face that NASCAR’s marketing machine has been all-too-happy to advertise to the public.
“Can I win? Yeah, absolutely,” Patrick proclaimed. “I feel comfortable in this kind of race situation; I feel comfortable in the draft; speeds are not a problem.”
A bold statement indeed, if not a bit naïve.
Danica was not just a big story for nearly five days, she was the story, as rash claims and inflated tails of hope ran amok, the sport bathing itself in Danica-mania.
That said, it was only after Patrick was assured of the point that FOX sold out its commercial space for the 500, so from a financial standpoint at least, the hype is warranted.
The adoration tempered a bit on Thursday, when the Budweiser Duels set the field for Sunday’s race. Actual cars on the track, actual competition, and actual winners gave all a much-needed change of focus.
Meanwhile, traditional heavy-hitters have skirted under the radar, seemingly content to let a hungry media focus on the week’s trendy topic while they go about the business of figuring out a new car. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been as invisible as Dale Earnhardt Jr. can be. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin … nary a word. It took Brad Keselowski giving what NASCAR deemed a “we need to talk, son” interview with USA Today to get the defending champ some serious pub.
With that in mind, it’s well past time to seriously examine which drivers have a realistic shot at winning stock car racing’s most celebrated race. When the engines fire at 1:19 pm EST on Sunday, the media-run of the prior week, the pomp and circumstance of a marketing-driven sport, will fall prey to the reality of performance.
The aforementioned Harvick has a sterling record thus far in 2013, though points aren’t paid until Sunday. Harvick has been the pied piper of the low groove that most have been unwilling (or unable) to utilize. He has dexterously maneuvered through the field on two occasions, finding the point and holding off all comers.
“I think it's a matter of how you came down here with the balance of your race car,” Harvick said after his Duel triumph. “Gil (Martin, crew chief) and I talked about what we thought we needed coming down here after the (January) test, went a particular direction. It's worked out for us.”
Don’t be misled — Harvick’s deftness in the draft has worked to his advantage, as well. And should again on Sunday. However, no driver has come to Daytona and pulled the trifecta — winning the Unlimited, a Duel and the 500 in the same season. But this team seems primed.
“You're going to have multiple pit stops and you're going to have to change fours tires at some particular point,” Harvick says. “You're going to see the field get mixed up because people are going to be on varying strategies.
Despite Harvick’s excellence, no driver is a more popular pick for Sunday than Tony Stewart.
Confident to the point that he sat out Happy Hour on Saturday, Stewart has displayed a calm swagger throughout Speedweeks even though he has yet to finish among the top 3 in … well, anything.
Still, his Stewart-Haas Racing team appear ahead of the curve with the new car, showing impressive speed. And apparently he’s found the feel.
“I’m really happy with my car,” Stewart said after Saturday’s second practice session. “I got out and looked at Steve Addington (crew chief) and he’s like, ‘I’m content if you are.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know what else to ask for with the car.’
“It’s a good scenario — there’s not a scratch on it and it’s ready to race. It’s a position that I don’t know we’ve ever been in — I think we’ve always run final practice.”
Shut out in 14 attempts in the Daytona 500, Stewart hasn’t quite reached a Dale Earnhardt-esque frustration level, but at the moment, this race tops his career bucketlist.
The pieces are in place for a win, but the 500 is wrought with pitfalls.
Kenseth makes any list of favorites on his 2012 plate brilliance alone. The winner of two of the last four 500s, Joe Gibbs Racing’s heir to the coveted No. 20 averaged a 2.0-place finish on the plate tracks last season.
The Wisconsin native was racy in the Unlimited, leading 26 laps, and was running second late in his Duel before being shuffled to fifth at the finish. Kenseth’s big problem throughout Speedweeks hasn’t been speed or handling, but a lack of dancing partners. One would think with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch serving as teammates, he’d have plenty of help. But more often than not, he’s been the man overtaken with a lack of help than the driver doing the passing when the money’s been on the line.
Like Stewart, Kenseth passed on Happy Hour, which speaks to the strength and confidence of his bunch. Ever the silent assassin, this is the guy who could very well spoil Harvick’s and Stewart’s fun.
The theme of NASCAR Speedweeks in Daytona thus far?
New cars that do not line up square and are volatile in the draft; a supposed lack of quality body parts back at the team shops in North Carolina; valued information gleaned on specific cars that crew chiefs don’t want sacrificed.
For these reasons — and possibly because there’s no need to show one’s hand just yet — the action has been relatively staid at Daytona International Speedway.
In Thursday’s Budweiser Duel No. 1 — historically the crazier of the two — the much-ballyhooed No. 10 car of Danica Patrick led the field to green and, with teammate Tony Stewart, promptly drifted to the rear of the pack — part strategy play, part over-adjusted car.
Trevor Bayne inherited the lead and the field largely ran in formation in the high groove until lap 32 of 60, when Kevin Harvick led a train on the inside that propelled him to the lead with 14 laps to go. Like Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, when Harvick grabbed the point with 13 laps remaining en route to the win, it was a lead he would not relinquish.
He was forced to fight for it, though.
On lap 52, Denny Hamlin’s Toyota abruptly broke loose off of Turn 2 and collected Bayne, Carl Edwards and Regan Smith, setting up a four-lap dash when the green flag waved.
But with Jimmie Johnson planted on his bumper, Harvick held the lead, again utilizing the high groove after the restart. Greg Biffle and Juan Pablo Montoya tried in vain to mount separate assaults, but as in Saturday’s event, the No. 29 Chevy was too strong out front.
“Today, both lines were side-by-side and you were able to kind of feed each line a little bit of air (while leading) and try to keep ’em even,” Harvick said. “That's the best way to keep them at bay is keep them side-by-side.
“If we can get to that point and be able to dictate whether you need to block, move up, move down, side draft … you have options as the leader. That's the position I want to be in.”
Harvick, for certain, looks strong. In his final year with Richard Childress Racing, he’s started the year off by leading 40 of 75 laps in the Unlimited and 23 on Thursday, making him a favorite entering Sunday’s Daytona 500. He’ll do his best to downplay it, though, knowing the unpredictable nature of restrictor plate racing.
“We've been fortunate to win the first two races of Speedweeks," Harvick said. "We just got to keep a level head on our shoulders, not get too high over what we've done, just do the same things that we've done. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I think we definitely have the car and team to be in contention to do that.”
Setting the starting lineup for the Daytona 500 can be a trial of confusion for those that choose not to read the syllabus. And let’s be honest, that’s why you’re reading this, right? You want the CliffsNotes.
Fair enough. So allow me to explain this as painlessly as possible.
In the beginning — in this case, Sunday — a battery of 45 cars took to the track in qualifying, yet only two machines locked in their spots on the grid. In case you hadn’t heard, Danica Patrick qualified her No. 10 Chevy on the pole with a lap of 196.434 mph. She, along with Jeff Gordon (who posted the second quickest time) will, by history’s standards, comprise the front row. Note that if either has to go to a back-up car after Thursday’s Duel races, they’ll be forced to start at the rear of the field in the 500.
“Duel races?” you’re asking. “What are they and how do they factor?”
OK, qualifying for the Daytona 500 is a bit different from any ol’ weekend on the NASCAR circuit. For the 500, two Duel races will determine positions 3-32. Yes, they actually split the 45 cars that have shown up into two groups (based on even and odd positions in Sunday’s qualifying times) and cut ’em loose for 150 miles.
In those two races, the highest finishing 15 cars from each race (excluding our buddies Danica and Jeff) earn their spots for the big show. The top 15 finishers in the first Duel will line up in the inside lane for the 500; the top 15 in Duel No. 2 occupy the outside lane.
“Now wait,” you’re saying, “Danica and Gordon … do they have to race in those events? After all, you told us just a minute ago that they’re locked in up front.”
True enough. And yes, they do. However, they don’t have to play it fast and loose. In fact, with front row spots all but locked in, each may be wise to drop to the rear of the field and let the chaos happen well in front of them. However, that’s another column for another day.
“OK, so we’ve got a field of 32. Isn’t this a 43-car race?”
Yep. And it gets even more fun here. Positions 33-36 are awarded to the four fastest cars from qualifying that have not yet earned a spot. A hypothetical: Ryan Newman, who had the fourth fastest time on pole day has a tire go flat in his Duel and drops a lap down, eventually finishing 19th. Since he did not qualify via the Duel, yet had a fast qualifying time, he’s in.
“Gotcha. So there’s 36 cars … can it get any more complicated?”
Not too much, but positions 37-42 are called “provisionals” and go to the highest six cars in 2012 owner points not already in. And as for the 43rd? That can go one of two ways: Either a past series champion who made a start in 2012 (and not already qualified) gets it, or — if there’s no past champ — it is assigned to the next highest car in owner points from 2012.
“I suppose. So how do they go about setting the field next week at Phoenix, and the week after in Las Vegas?”
Oh that. Yeah, it’s this astonishingly simplistic method of just taking the fastest 36 and assigning the rest via provisionals. How arcane, right?
A certain champion-to-be fired off a now-famous tweet during the 2012 Daytona 500, but long before @keselowski, there was @dennyhamlin. Since he’s still active and engaged on Twitter, we figured the most natural way to conduct an interview with the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry (circa 2013) was through the use of 140-character questions and answers.
They’re the best of the best and worst of the worst in NASCAR. The pretty and the ugly, the cool and the lame. They made us cheer, laugh and, as Robert Plant once said, taught us “to weep and moan.”
They are the recipients of the Athlon Awards — back by popular demand — recognizing excellence (and lack thereof) from the 2012 NASCAR season. Some are fairly obvious, others off the wall. But none pull any punches. So, without further ado, the Athlon Awards.
Daytona Beach, Fla., is steeped in motorsports history. Known as “the birthplace of speed,” land speed records have been set on its white sand beaches. Drivers from a variety of disciplines have visited its victory lanes. One of the world’s great monuments to auto racing, the Daytona International Speedway, sits nestled within the city limits. Even North America’s most popular racing series — NASCAR — was founded at the Streamline Hotel, just off the beach in 1947.
On Sunday, Daytona Beach played host to another motorsports first when Danica Patrick became the first female to win a pole in 65 years of NASCAR competition. And she did so for the sport’s most prestigious event, the Daytona 500.
Patrick, who was the eighth of 45 cars to qualify, posted a lap of 196.434 mph. She held off Jeff Gordon (196.292 mph), who will start second and is the only other driver to be locked into a qualifying spot on the gird. The remainder of the field will be set in Thursday’s Duel 150s.
“It was a fast Chevy,” Patrick said of her No. 10 GoDaddy.com SS that also paced the field in Saturday’s qualifying practice session. “If you’re anywhere but the front row, it’s hard to see on race day. This just speaks volumes about Stewart-Haas Racing — I thought we were going to be 1-2-3 for a while.”
Indeed, Patrick’s three-car operation, co-owned by Tony Stewart, was impressive on pole day. It was Stewart whom she knocked off the top spot and teammate Ryan Newman who shared the front row with the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year candidate for much of the session. Newman’s time of 195.946 mph eventually landed him fourth (2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne was third), while Stewart was fifth. Hendrick Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne was sixth, the final driver to be guaranteed a spot in the field based solely on Sunday’s qualifying session.
“I think it shows how hard Stewart-Haas Racing has worked on this new car,” Patrick said of what NASCAR is billing as its “Gen-6” car, that boast bodies unique to each manufacturer. “And obviously, Hendrick has done a great job giving us good engines.”
Hendrick Motorsports supplies SHR with engines, chassis and other technical support, serving as a mothership of sorts for the five-year old organization. Stewart acknowledged the pure speed Hendrick’s powerplants supplied, saying, “I wish I could say it was her, or myself or Ryan today, but it’s those guys in the engine shop.”
Of course, a car going fast by itself and being competitive in a pack — which horsepower-sapping restrictor plates at Daytona dictate — are two different things. That was apparent in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. In that event, Stewart, along with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth, appeared to have the strongest cars in the 19-car field. However, it was Kevin Harvick who emerged with the win after throwing blocks on Stewart and Ford’s Greg Biffle on the final lap to secure victory.
And the last pole-sitter to win The Great American Race? Dale Jarrett, over a decade ago, in 2000.
But for the next week, Patrick will enjoy the history she made on Sunday. A history that was a long time in the making, as the previous highest qualifying female in a Cup race was Janet Guthrie, who qualified ninth at Bristol and Talladega in 1977.
“It’s nice to hear families talk about the fact that a little girl might say, ‘But Mommy, Daddy, that’s a girl out there.’” Patrick said. “Then they can have the conversation with their kid about you can do anything you want and being different doesn’t, by any means, allow you to follow your dreams. I love to think that conversation happens in households because of something I’ve done.”
by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
It’s been a unique start to Speedweeks in Daytona for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Though technically, I guess most starts are unique. This one, however, has taken a new (if not predictable) turn since Danica Patrick went public concerning her relationship with fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to re-hash, quote-for-quote, the events of the week.
Peppered with questions on Media Day — coincidentally held on Valentine’s Day this year — the couple, as well as most all other drivers, answered a bevy of most un-race-oriented queries largely in stride. The mere existence of questions, of course, drew the ire of many fans and media members alike, though in defense of those interested there hasn’t been much else to talk about.
After all, a similar “Media Tour” was held just three weeks ago in Charlotte with the sport’s principles. Then, drivers, crew chiefs and owners dutifully answered competition-related questions. On their teams’ 2013 outlook, drivers were “excited;” on the new cars, crew chiefs toed the NASCAR line, praising the new body lines, noses and whatever else makes this new “Gen-6” car unique (there’s that word again) from homogenized models used since 2007. Owners smiled, talked of optimism in filling out sponsorship livery, practically giddy in how new personnel were coming together to make this season what’s sure to be their best yet.
Patrick waited until after the Media Tour to admit to the Associated Press that the long-circulated rumor of a budding romance with Stenhouse was, in fact … uh, fact. And with only closed team tests in the two weeks that followed, there honestly hasn’t been much from a competition perspective to reveal, aside from prognostication and conjecture.
The 2013 NASCAR Speedweeks at Daytona schedule with start times for races, qualifying sessions and practices, as well as TV listings:
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season will be revving up this month, so we decided to give you a look at the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule in 2013, along with the previous year's winners and our predictions for the 2013 race winners. As you know, nothing’s harder to handicap than a NASCAR race; especially 38 NASCAR races before the season even starts. But we're giving it a shot.
Brad Keselowski entered Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 20-point lead in NASCAR’s Chase standings.
Problem was, his competition came in the form of a five-time champion.
Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team enjoyed a reign that lasted from 2006-10, and they won the championship in every way imaginable in that time: Going away, coming from behind, with consistency and utilizing a glut of wins.
So by no means had anyone conceded the 2012 edition of the sport’s playoff to Keselowski’s upstart No. 2 Penske Racing outfit. Yet, as Championship Week in South Florida drew on, it appeared that even in the face of Johnson’s strategically-placed smack talk, the Michigan native remained focused on the task at hand, which was to finish 15th or better in the finale.
That he did — in fact, he finished 15th — in the 400-miler. But not before some mid-race curveballs found Johnson on the brink of overtaking Keselowski.
The architect of Johnson’s five titles, crew chief Chad Knaus, employed a pit scheme that would allow the No. 48 team to make one less stop than the incumbent No. 2 bunch. And if the race were to play out caution-free, Keselowski may have been stuck one lap down — with no guarantee of finishing worse than 15th, but on thin ice, nonetheless.
The story began to play out with 61 laps remaining when Keselowski ran out of fuel on his way to pit road for a scheduled stop. Though all went well once in his pit box, the time lost dropped him to 24th, one lap down to Johnson, who was leading.
However, just 10 laps later Johnson’s regularly-scheduled green flag pit stop threw the favor back in Keselowski’s court. A missing lug nut by the No. 48 crew precipitated a penalty that knocked the Hendrick team one lap down, in 25th.
The coup de grace occurred a handful of laps later, when a rear-gear failure on Johnson’s Chevy relegated it to the garage and, ultimately, a 32nd-place finish.
“I knew it was big,” Johnson said of when his car started leaking fluid. “We were in the cat bird’s seat. We were in position to win the race. We were ahead of the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the 24 won the race.”
From there, Keselowski cruised while Gordon, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer vied for the race win. Gordon came out the victor — outrunning his newly minted rival Bowyer — scoring career Cup win No. 87.
Bowyer’s runner-up finish vaulted him past Johnson in the final championship tally, but a distant 39 points behind Keselowski.
For team owner Roger Penske, the title was a rare first in an illustrious motorsports career. For all the success he has achieved in open-wheel racing (12 IndyCar championships, 15 Indianapolis 500 wins), he had yet to win a title in NASCAR’s premier series.
“I feel amazed that I’ve been able to achieve this in racing,” Penske said. “I’ve lauded the people that have been on that (championship) stage for so many years and to be able to join this elite group and say that I’m a champion in NASCAR means a lot.”
Penske’s Cup program received its catalyst in the form of Keselowski in 2010, when he ran his first full season on the premier level. A natural leader, Keselowski had a vision to take the organization from race-winner to titlist. The team he helped put together persevered through a rough initial season. That’s when Keselowski’s Nationwide Series crew chief, Paul Wolfe, was asked to step up.
Having won the 2010 Nationwide title together, driver and crew chief spearheaded a three-win Cup campaign in 2011 and came out like gangbusters in 2012, winning five races en route to their second NASCAR championship in three years.
Even more challenging for the duo over the course of the Chase was knowing that Penske’s affiliation with manufacturer Dodge ended when the checkered flag fell in Homestead. Making the switch to Ford in the offseason and with Dodge on its way out of the sport altogether, many questioned how the No. 2 team, with no real help in the form of a teammate, would outlast a rival as battle-hardened as Johnson’s No. 48 squad.
The answer, as Keselowski stressed afterward, was through the strength of team and the attitude with which he approached the task.
“Throughout my whole life I’ve been told I’m not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough and I don’t have what it takes,” Keselowski said. “I’ve used that as a chip on my shoulder to carry me through my whole career. It took until this year for me to realize that that was right, man, they were right: I’m not big enough, fast enough, strong enough.
“No person is. Only a team can do that.”
With a team that is now not only battle-tested, but title-winning, a driver and crew chief in their respective primes, and a new home at Ford Racing awaiting in 2013, the Penske organization can now look forward to many more nights like Sunday’s celebration in South Beach.
by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
NASCAR reacted this week to Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer at Phoenix and the melee between the crews, but was its penalty enough? Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council debate what should have been done and what they would do if Bowyer exacts revenge this weekend at Homestead. Those are just among a few of the topics the Fan Council debated. Here’s what they said:
What should NASCAR have done in regards to the Jeff Gordon-Clint Bowyer incident on and off the track?
On Monday, NASCAR announced it had fined Jeff Gordon $100,000, docked him 25 points and placed him in on probation until Dec. 31. NASCAR did not penalize Clint Bowyer but fined Bowyer’s crew chief, Brian Pattie, $25,000 and placed him on probation until Dec. 31 (crew chief is responsible for the team). Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, was placed on probation until Dec. 31. Fan Council members were asked what they would have done:
33.7 percent would have suspended Jeff Gordon for Homestead
23.3 percent would have issued no penalties at all
16.5 percent would have fined Gordon, Bowyer & crew members
12.6 percent would have done “other”
7.4 percent would have suspended Gordon and instigators of melee and fined Gordon, Bowyer and crew members
6.5 percent would have suspended instigators of the garage fight for Homestead
What Fan Council members said:
• Jeff Gordon needs to be suspended. And that is coming from someone who got into the sport because of him. Kyle Busch got "parked" for wrecking Hornaday at the Texas Truck race last year. Gordon didn't just take out Bowyer, he also took out Joey Logano and Aric Almirola, who had nothing to do with the feud. Fining Jeff won't do anything, since he’s earned more than just about anyone in the sport's history. $100,000 is chump change for Gordon. Sit him out.
• Boys have at it. ENOUGH SAID!
• Donate $50,000 to each of Jeff and Clint's charities and throw a ticker-tape parade in their honor for waking us all up from a season-long slumber and giving sports outlets not known for their coverage of NASCAR to realize it exists! At the most, I'd pick the "fine everybody" option. But I still say this is what NASCAR needed.
• I think what Gordon did was unacceptable and not appropriate at all. He should be suspended for one race with a $100,000 fine.
• Make Gordon and Bowyer pay the expenses for the 20 and 43 cars.
• Gordon is not one to do this type of thing often, the crew members were charged up and lost control and the melee ensued. I don't think that penalizing them will do any good. I'm not sure you could tell who the instigators were of that mess. Just let it be and move on.
• Gordon's blatant disregard for NASCAR's black flag definitely needs to be addressed. As well as whomever it was that "jumped" Gordon in the garage area. As far as Bowyer's alleged contact with Gordon on track, chalk that up to competitive racing — incidental and lacking true malice. To lie in wait, however, speaks to intent and the collateral damage that could have been avoided is inexcusable.
• Without a Kyle Busch-like rap sheet, I feel all they can do is put Gordon on probation. If Bowyer pays him back next year, then it's deserved ... as is probation at that time for him as well.
If you were NASCAR, would you be OK with it if Clint Bowyer retaliated and wrecked Jeff Gordon at Homestead this weekend?
51.7 percent said No
48.3 percent said Yes
What Fan Council members said:
• They did say "Boys have it" so I think Bowyer would be within his rights to retaliate.
• If I were NASCAR ... no. Drivers shouldn't use their cars to retaliate. As a fan ... you bet I want to see Bowyer retaliate. :D
• I don't really believe any driver should retaliate with their car. If you're pissed off someone ruined your day, when you get out of the car, go find them and settle it face-to-face, man-to-man, or fist-to-face. The fighting was the most exciting part of the whole race! At least Clint wanted to settle it right. As exciting as it might be to have him dish out some payback, I really hope he doesn't do it on track.
• I would be OK with it. Emotions ON THE TRACK are very good and needed in this sport. All anybody does these days is talk. People watch when there's controversy like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick or Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards.
• Two wrongs don't make a right; someone will eventually get hurt.
• Premeditated retaliation at a high-speed track is unacceptable. Gordon's actions were heat of the moment. A calculated act carried over to another event should be a more serious offense.
• I would be fine with it. An eye for an eye, right?
The first time Brad Keselowski asked Paul Wolfe to be his crew chief, Wolfe didn’t flinch.
“He looked me in the eye and said, ‘No, I don’t want to do it,’” Keselowski said. “I think he was kind of mad at me because I had wrecked (his car).”
It was Aug. 2009 when Keselowski posed the question to Wolfe, a former driver turned crew chief working for CJM Racing.
A few months later, as Keselowski and Penske Racing officials made plans for the following season, they told Keselowski they were considering Wolfe as his crew chief.
“I kind of laughed and said, ‘good luck,’” Keselowski said. “They said, ‘We’ve been talking to him the last two weeks and he wants to do it.’”
So, what changed? What led to the pairing of a driver and crew chief on the cusp of winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship this weekend at Homestead?
Simple, the funding for Wolfe’s team wasn’t there. He had said no to Keselowski because of his loyalty to CJM Racing but with the lack of funding a question, Wolfe considered other options, including Penske.
“As I sat down and looked at them, I had raced with Brad and seen what he was able to do,” Wolfe said. “I felt like together, him and I, could hopefully win races and contend for championships. The opportunity was here at Penske to do that.”
Keselowski says he first approached Wolfe to be his crew chief because he saw something most outside the sport couldn’t see in what Wolfe was doing.
“He was a guy who outperformed his resources,” Keselowski said. “In this sport excellence is defined by the media and the fans as those who win. Those inside the sport, those who actually compete, define excellence as those who outperform their resources. So if you’re running 20th in 30th-place equipment, that’s how we would define excellence as a driver or as a crew chief you’re putting together race-winning cars with a team that has C- or D-level budget. That’s how you define excellence. That’s what I saw in Paul. That’s what he saw in me.”
Now, they are on the verge of winning the Cup title two years after they combined to win the Nationwide championship.
TITLE RACES Here’s a look at the clinch scenarios for each of NASCAR’s three national series this weekend in Homestead.
Sprint Cup: Brad Keselelowski has a 20-point lead on Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski wins the title, regardless of what Johnson does, by finishing at least 15th. Keselowski also can clinch the title by finishing 16th and collecting a bonus point for leading a lap or by finishing 17th and adding the bonus point for leading the most laps.
Nationwide: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has a 20-point lead on Elliott Sadler. Stenhouse wins the title, regardless of what Sadler does, by finishing 16th or better. Stenhouse also can clinch the title by earning the bonus point for leading a lap and finishing 17th or by adding the bonus point for leading the most laps and finishing 18th.
Camping World Trucks: James Buescher has an 11-point lead on Timothy Peters. Buescher clinches the title, no matter what Peters does, by finishing seventh or better. Peters also can clinch by securing the bonus point for leading a lap and finishing eighth or adding the bonus point for most laps led and finishing ninth.
NATIONWIDE SCHEDULE RELEASED Mid-Ohio will replace the Montreal road race on the 2013 Nationwide schedule, series officials announced Tuesday.
The Mid-Ohio race will be Aug. 17. It marks the first time the series has run on the 2.4-mile, 15-turn course. Mid-Ohio will be one of three road courses on the schedule, joining Road America (June 22) and Watkins Glen (Aug. 10).
Mid-Ohio was added after the Montreal race promoter decided not to renew its contract with NASCAR since it could not get a Sprint Cup race. The Mid-Ohio course is located about an hour drive from Columbus, Ohio, which is home of series sponsor Nationwide Insurance.
The 33-race Nationwide schedule for next season features six standalone races — Iowa (June 8 and Aug. 3), Chicagoland Speedway (July 21), Kentucky Speedway (Sept. 21), Mid-Ohio and Road America. The remaining 27 races will be run on the same weekend with the Cup Series.
The Nationwide season will open Feb. 23 at Daytona and end Nov. 16 at Homestead.
STREAKING As NASCAR’s top three series head into the final weekend of the season, a few drivers are trying to keep streaks alive. Among them:
Ryan Newman is seeking to win a Cup pole for a 12th consecutive season. Only Jeff Gordon (20 consecutive years) has a longer streak among active drivers.
Kurt Busch is looking to win a Cup race for the 11th consecutive season. Only Tony Stewart (14 years in a row) and Jimmie Johnson (11) have longer streaks among current drivers.
In the Nationwide Series, Kyle Busch seeks a win to extend his streak of consecutive seasons with at least a victory to nine.
In the Camping World Truck Series, both Kyle Busch and Ron Hornaday need a win to extend their streak of consecutive seasons with at least a victory to eight. Hornaday’s streak of seven consecutive seasons with at least a pole will end if he doesn’t win the pole this weekend.
PIT STOPS Tony Stewart will make his 500th career Cup start Sunday at Homestead. He’s scored 47 wins, 174 top-5 and 282 top-10 finishes in his first 499 career Cup starts. ... Homestead will mark Jeff Gordon’s 689th consecutive start, third on the all-time list. Ricky Rudd holds the record with 788 consecutive starts and Rusty Wallace is next at 697. With the current schedule at 36 races, Gordon could pass Rudd late in the 2015 season.
by Dustin Long
Follow Dustin Long on Twitter: @DustinLong
Once the smoke cleared, the cars (or what was left of them) were loaded and the Sunday sun set over Phoenix International Raceway, a new championship landscape had emerged in NASCAR. But tempers as hot and raw as the surrounding Sonora Desert shifted the focus of the Sprint Cup Series’ AdvoCare 500 from said title battle—and the race’s previously-MIA winner—to wrecked racecars, fist fights and talk of on-track payback.
Kevin Harvick, last seen in Victory Lane following a Cup Series event in Sept. 2011, led the final 15 laps to notch his third career Cup win in Avondale, Ariz.
However, a shakeup atop the Chase standings took center stage when Jimmie Johnson—the points leader entering the race—spent over 20 laps behind the wall after his right front tire’s bead melted, resulting in a hard hit to his No. 48 Chevy. That opened the door for Brad Keselowski to execute a 27-point swing by finishing sixth in the event while Johnson limped to a 32nd-place showing, and regain the points lead by a daunting 20 markers with one race remaining in the 2012 campaign.
But a dose of on-track retribution and off-track fisticuffs trumped even the championship fight, as Jeff Gordon wrecked Clint Bowyer with just over one lap remaining in the scheduled 312-lap event. Gordon, upset with Bowyer for contact that wounded his No. 24 moments earlier and for incidents that he deemed had “escalated over the year,” waited on the latter and hooked him into the Turn 4 wall. The crash also swept up Aric Almirola and Joey Logano and nearly involved Keselowski, who was able to scoot low to avoid the mess of tangled cars.
As Gordon exited his demolished car in the garage, Bowyer’s team rushed to the scene and engaged the No. 24 team in what resembled a Wild West bar room brawl in Tombstone.
Gordon was ushered into his hauler without contact while Bowyer emerged from his injured vehicle on pit road and sprinted into the garage where he attempted to confront Gordon but was unsuccessful.
“Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me,” a curt Gordon said as he exited the track. “He got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I had it. That was it, and I got him back.”
Said Bowyer: “I barely touched him and then I feel him get into Turn 3 and try to turn me and he missed and then next thing I know Brett’s (Griffin, spotter) telling me on the radio that he’s waiting on me. It’s pretty embarrassing for a four-time champion and what I consider one of the best this sport’s ever seen. To act like that is just completely ridiculous.”
Clint Bowyer’s run-in at Phoenix International Raceway — and the infield fallout — has the NASCAR world buzzing. One clever fan took Bowyer’s 5-Hour Energy commercials to a new level with this hilarious and fitting tribute to the energy drink's promotions that flood television sets across America each NASCAR weekend.
Say what you will about the events that unfolded on Sunday between Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and both driver’s crews, but don’t tell us this video isn’t hilarious.
Is Sunday still the best day to run NASCAR Sprint Cup races? Or is it time for NASCAR to admit defeat to the NFL and move the Cup races to Saturday as a writer suggested this week? Or what about mid-week races—would that work and would fans attend those events? Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council debated those issues and last weekend’s Texas race. Here’s what they had to say:
Should Cup races move to Saturday afternoon to avoid conflicts with the NFL?
Jim Utter of The Charlotte Observer, citing declining TV ratings for many Chase races, suggested that NASCAR should run those races on Saturday to avoid going head-to-head against NFL games. Fan Council members were asked about that idea:
46.0 percent said they’d rather see more Saturday night races
33.5 percent said that was a bad idea: NASCAR’s tradition is Sunday racing
14.8 percent said they’d be for some Saturday afternoon Chase races but not all
5.7 percent said Saturday afternoon Cup races was a great idea
What Fan Council members said:
• Can anyone say “duh”? While NASCAR on a Saturday night would have to fight a premier College FBS game, the decline would be mitigated to one or two regions in the country instead of nationwide.
• The problem is not going head-to-head with football, as they’ve done it before and saw huge ratings and attendance numbers. The PROBLEM IS THE RACING!!!! Why does everyone, especially in the media, ignore this fact? The “racing” is horrendous! F1 has better battles and more drama! I’ve grown up and lived in and around NASCAR and it’s sad that I’m looking more forward to the F1 race in Austin than I am NASCAR in Homestead.
• I don’t think there is any need to do anything too rash until we see what happens with the 2013 car. Regardless, if NASCAR fans are watching NFL games instead of NASCAR races then there is something wrong with NASCAR that isn’t fixed by moving race times around.
• I’ll admit I’m one of those watching more NFL this year than NASCAR. Moving the Chase races to Saturday night would be good in one way, but they would also be competing with the big college football games.
• If you really want to avoid the football conflict, shorten the season so it ends Labor Day weekend.
• Cup racing is a Sunday tradition. Leave it alone!
• Why not try it? Got nothing to lose. But Saturdays has college football, so I’m not sure what is a good time slot.
• That would put NASCAR races up against college football games and honey-do lists. I think that would cut the audience considerably. The average person spends more time outside the home on Saturday than on Sunday. Kids activities, errands, home improvement tasks, college sports and travel often consume the average person’s Saturday. Sunday afternoons are typically devoted to family time and televised sporting events. I believe there’s a better chance to get people to watch on the day of the week there are fewer distractions. I think Saturday night might offer a larger audience than Saturday afternoon, but I believe the audience would be less inclined to watch NASCAR.
• I love the idea. You’d still have college football to go up against, but most people will only watch the great CFB matchups or when their team is on—not near as much competition as the NFL poses. The only thing that gets me thinking is what about the Nationwide race? Would you put that on Sunday against the NFL and have no one watch it? Or have that in the morning/early afternoon and have the Cup race late afternoon/evening?
• Can’t compete with the NFL. Chase or no Chase, Sundays from September to February belong to the NFL. All other sports recognize this, so why can’t NASCAR? Many local tracks are done with their schedules by the time the Chase heats up. Continuing to go head-to-head against the NFL is pointless and as long as NASCAR continues to try and do that, they will always take a back seat to it as far as coverage and ratings.
Mid-week Cup races: Would you be able to attend those if the schedule changed?
Some have called for NASCAR to hold a race or some races during the week instead of the weekend. If the race you were going to was scheduled to be run between Monday-Friday instead of the weekend Fan Council members were asked if they would still be able to go?
66.7 percent said No
33.3 percent said Yes
What Fan Council members said:
• I think it would decrease attendance. Not everyone can just take time off during the week. I use vacation time to go to the race, so it would not make a difference to me.
• If I’m headed to a race I’m all in, taking a week off to really enjoy it.
• Yes, BUT it would drastically decrease the amount of time I could devote to the race event. As it stands right now I only have to use one vacation day from work to enjoy a full race weekend at my local track. If the same events were held during the week it would require at least three and up to five or more days of vacation time. Since I only have a total of 10 vacation days per year, that would significantly impact my annual leave just for my local race. I love NASCAR, but I would prefer to see many races at different tracks with my time off, rather than one or two due to the time requirements.
• Nope. The ratings/viewership would really tank if they went that route. It must be on a weekend to get max viewers and attendance. Most job holders and anyone who attends school/college would be alienated. Not only that, a lot of fans attempt to make a full day or even a two or three-day weekend out of a NASCAR race. Now you’d be asking the fan to take two-three days off from work for a race in this economy? Good luck.
• Top-tier racing has always been on Saturday or Sunday. Races during the week would be a bad idea and cheapen the NASCAR product.
• I think that would be an interesting change. It might be a good idea for NASCAR, and I could see it getting higher ratings.
• Primetime during the week would be AWESOME. Daytona was fun on Monday night.
• Less likely to be able to attend live, but I would watch on TV.
• I live in Canada. Almost any race I decide to attend requires taking time off. With limited holidays, the weekend helps to maximize time off.
• Most tracks that I travel to require several hours of driving or a plane flight. I would not attend races during the week. I don’t mind giving up a Friday or a Monday vacation day for travel, but not several days out of my week.
Grade Sunday’s Cup race at Texas:
46.4 percent called it Good
26.4 percent called it Fair
21.1 percent called it Great
6.1 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• This is honestly the first race I’d rate as “Great” I think for the whole season. Not too many wrecks, and some good old fashioned, hard, honest racing. I really enjoyed (it). Rooting for BK, I, of course, disliked the ending but it still was incredibly exciting to watch. NASCAR’s problem, which is to me the same as hockey’s, is that the sport is much better live than on TV.
• First 3/4 of the race pretty boring. Last ¼ … holly hell, that was great.
• Having the two championship finalists starting 1-2 in a GWC restart is about as “great” as a race can get. Lots of interesting racing going on throughout the pack—but we were there live so it was easier to see it. Not sure what the race looked like on TV.
• How many ways can you say boring?? Just to be sure I remembered correctly, I went back through my Twitter timeline. Not only were fans making jokes at the lack of any fun whatsoever, but the NASCAR media was asking for suggestions on making the race more entertaining. Many of the drivers’ PR people and wives/girlfriends (who usually provide updates) were discussing anything BUT the race. I think that’s a pretty good indication of what kind of race it was. The only race-related tweets were to say someone blew a tire, someone blew up or someone was sent through the grass. No mentions of passing or side-by-side racing or anything else. If there was any at all, not only did ESPN not show it, but the folks who usually tweet it didn’t see it either.
• The ending was amazing. Even if you complained about the first half of the race, you’ll admit you were glued to the TV for the last few laps.
• Unbelievably boring. For the life of me I cannot figure out why TMS has two races. I slept through most of this one.
• Excellent race. Need to make more 1.5-mile tracks 500-milers.
• The end of the race was great. I actually cheered for JJ all the way at the end, and am so grateful for the help he sent to my area for Sandy.
• Side-by-side racing, passing, beating and banging, GWC finish, fuel mileage, pit strategy, tires wearing out over the run—TEXAS is racing!
• Aside from the excitement at the end, this was a real snoozer. It’s amazing to me that we have cars that are supposed to be so close, but after 10 or 12 laps the top 10 are eight or more seconds apart. That, my friend, is not close racing.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at email@example.com.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
A Goodyear tire test Tuesday and Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway could provide a clue as to how racy NASCAR’s 2013 Sprint Cup car can be.
While the focus will be on tires at the test, NASCAR also will experiment with the car in hopes of making it easier for drivers to run closer together. One of the reasons mentioned this year for the relative lack of cautions was that it was so hard to race close together for a stretch, although Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski showed it can be done late in last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition, said Monday that “there are some things that we are working on that show promise” and could create tighter racing when the cars debut next season.
He noted that officials are experimenting with the car’s underbody, along with the front of it and the rear spoiler.
Andy Graves, Toyota’s Cup manager, notes that when a car is alone in clean air, it has maximum downforce, thus is compressed and as close to the ground as possible. When two cars are running near each other, the trailing car loses some of that air pressure and the car rises.
“If the car is very pitch-sensitive and very ride-height sensitive, then, unfortunately, you lose more downforce when you’re behind someone,” Graves says.
“We’re trying to develop from the splitter, the spoiler, studying the data, looking at wind tunnel information that is more advanced than it’s ever been; we’re trying to understand and come up with some characteristics that performance stays the same whether you’re all by yourself or in traffic. That is going to help the racing.”
Pemberton said he’s confident that the new car will be better than when the current car debuted as the Car of Tomorrow in 2007.
“It goes back to us spending more time getting the car closer developed when we hand the car off,” he says. “It will be a far, far, better racing car to start off with and then the teams will take it to the next level.”
Brad Keselowski suggests not judging the car’s performance too early next season, though.
“The odds are that this car is not going to come out of the gate perfect,” he says. “It’s going to take time. But much like if you unveiled a new iPhone and rolled it out and said, ‘In a year we’ll have it working right,’ your customers probably aren’t going to be happy about that. I think we all know that and are braced for it, but we know long-term that this car is going to be part of the solution for getting NASCAR as strong as it possibly can be.”
If everything goes as NASCAR hopes, Graves says the cars should be easier to drive than the current cars but says the driver ability will still matter.
“Making cars hard to drive, that’s not what separates talent on the race track,” he says. “It’s all the other intangibles. It’s operating in traffic from setting someone up for the pass, it’s managing your tires, managing the race, understanding fuel mileage. There’s a lot of different aspects, in my opinion, rather than making the cars hard to drive and say the best driver is going to be the guy that best manages that.”
NEW FAVORITE At one point during last weekend’s race at Texas, the crowd roared when Brad Keselowski took the lead. He missed that.
“I would have liked to have heard that,” Keselowski said. “That’s one of my biggest regrets of being a race car driver is missing out on those moments. In other sports, like football or basketball or baseball when they do something and the crowd cheers, you really feel it, (but) racing, you’ve got none of that. It’s really a big bummer because I would have loved to have heard that.”
Keselowski knows that he’s gained fans during this Chase as he battles five-time champion Jimmie Johnson for the championship.
“I think I have a lot of Jimmie-hater fans,” said Keselowski, who trails Johnson by seven points with two races to go.
“I’m not sure how I feel about it. I try really hard to engage a very informed and positive fan base. That might not be necessarily along those lines, but I’ll take every fan I can get.”
Keselowski understands why some fans feel the way they do toward Johnson.
“It’s American culture, build somebody up just so you can tear them down, whether it’s the president or sports star,” he said. “It’s just American culture. Maybe one day I’ll be so fortunate as to be torn down.”
CHARGING Although not a title contender, Kyle Busch has scored 274 points in the Chase, fifth-most among all drivers. Busch is coming off a third-place finish at Texas last weekend, his fifth top-5 finish in the Chase.
“I wish we were in the deal,” Busch said after last weekend’s race at Texas, “but that’s what next year is for.”
TITLE RACES With two races to go, Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse are tied for the points lead in the Nationwide Series. Austin Dillon is third, 21 points behind them.
In the Camping World Truck Series, James Buescher has a 15-point lead on Ty Dillon with Timothy Peters 25 points back and Parker Kligerman 27 points out with two races to go.
PIT STOPS NASCAR announced Tuesday that comedian Howie Mandel will host the Sprint Cup Series Awards program on Nov. 30 in Las Vegas. ... Donny Schatz won the World of Outlaws championship driving for Tony Stewart’s team. ... Kyle Larson, a development driver for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, won the K&N Pro Series East championship last weekend with a sixth-place finish in the season finale at Rockingham Speedway. ... Sunday’s Cup race marks Danica Patrick’s 10th and final one of the season. She is coming off her career-best Cup finish of 24th last weekend at Texas. ... Jimmie Johnson, victorious last weekend at Texas, has won 22 races in the Chase. Next on the list is Tony Stewart with 11 Chase victories.
by Dustin Long
Follow Dustin on Twitter: @DustinLong
Times are a-changin’ in NASCAR but will fans see a change in who has been the champion most often in recent years? With starting times for the remaining races pushed back, members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council were asked if they liked the move, along with who now is their pick to win the title with three races left and what they thought of the Martinsville race. Here’s what they had to say about those issues and more:
Later start times for the final three races: Good or bad?
Starting with Sunday’s race at Texas, the final three Cup races will begin at 3 p.m. EST, an hour later than the other day races in the Chase. Fan Council members were asked what they thought about the later starting times:
45.7 percent said they were “neutral”
31.7 percent said they hate it
11.9 percent said they love it
10.7 percent said they like it
What Fan Council members said:
• Morning, noon, or night I will watch my NASCAR races.
• I wish NASCAR would stop changing the start times!!!! Real NASCAR fans will watch regardless of the start time, but quit trying to change the start times to fit the network!!!
• Most NFL games will be in the third or fourth quarter, then you have the rest of the 4:00 games. This is bad for NASCAR, especially considering the lack of passing we saw at Texas in the spring. Most people may be tuned out before the green flag ever waves. As a person on the East Coast, I hate the long wait.
• I will record the race and watch it when time permits. The 3 p.m. start time will cause me to turn on a football game and why stop watching something to start watching something else?
• What happened to the standard start times??!! NASCAR has to stop worrying about what other sports are doing and what times they are on. Do your own thing. If you want to compete with the big boy sports then start at 1 p.m. and go up against them!! I feel the fans prefer the 1 p.m. start time. NASCAR, if you believe in your fans start the races at 1 p.m. those that want to watch it will.
• By starting the race at 3 p.m. I am home from church and can see the green flag and also hear some of the pre-race show and comments.
• I'll miss the ending of most of them due to work. The 2 p.m. EST start time worked perfect for me. Oh well. Leave it to NASCAR to make random changes at random portions of the season.
• I love NASCAR and I'll be watching whatever the time. American football season doesn't start until the week after Homestead for me. UEFA football is on early. The NHL is on strike. There's nothing better or more important on television than the final Cup races in my household.
• Perfect time to start the race. Lets our West Coast viewers tune in at a decent hour. Love races that start in the day and end at night.
• Don't care, as I DVR all races. I then watch a condensed version skipping the commercials, and the spread out green flag parading. Usually I can watch the whole race in less than an hour.
Brad Keselowski is not supposed to be challenging for a NASCAR Sprint Cup title. At least this year’s title. Many expect him to be a championship contender for years to come but the prevailing thought entering the Chase was that this wouldn’t be his year.
The reasons varied:
• Dodge, the team’s manufacturer, is leaving NASCAR after this season.
• Keselowski hadn’t truly been in a race for the Sprint Cup title to the final race.
• Others viewed Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin as having a better shot.
Yet, with three races to go, Keselowski trails Johnson by two points. No other driver is within 25 points of Johnson. Unless something unexpected happens, the championship race is between Johnson and Keselowski.
So, how has Keselowski gotten to this point?
Crew chief Paul Wolfe says that the team has “put blinders on all of that and not really focused on the things around us.
“I think we’ve shown growth in this team. We’ve shown improvement from the beginning of the season. I think we were lacking speed earlier the season. We were able to run well and get good finishes and win some races, but we didn’t have dominant race cars. We continued to work on our stuff and as we got closer to the Chase and, as we’ve been in the Chase, there have been tracks where I feel we’ve been dominant or as good as anybody here and that’s the improvement part I see of having the speed in the car.”
The team also has shown little impact in Dodge’s announcement that it won’t return to the sport next year and that Penske Racing will switch to Ford. Keselowski has been fast and also benefited from Wolfe’s pit strategy to win two Chase races (Chicagoland and Dover).
Another key is how the team benefited from last year’s Chase even though its title hopes ended before the season finale. The No. 2 bunch was third in the point standings with four races to go in 2011, heading to Martinsville. Keselowski was sixth in that race when he was collected in a chain-reaction incident in the final laps. NASCAR didn’t throw a caution and it cost him about 10 positions, dropping him further behind Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards and all but ending his title hopes. Although Keselowski didn’t challenge to the end, Jeff Gordon recently said he thought that was a valuable experience that has helped that team for this season.
Such experience has helped even when things have not gone as planned in the Chase.
Keselowski stayed out an extra lap at Charlotte but ran out of fuel in a race he was dominant but finished 11th. They struggled at Kansas but still managed an eighth-place finish. Qualifying has been an issue, as Keselowski has not started in the top 20 in the last four races. Each time the team didn’t panic.
It’s why Keselowski is so close to winning the Sprint Cup championship.
“It shows the potential we have together and that we’re still growing together,” Keselowski said after finishing sixth at Martinsville last weekend. “I believe that we can do this, I really do. We’ve got work ahead of us, and I know that, but we’re doing all the right things. If you do that long enough, good things will happen to you and good things are happening to us.”
HITTING THEIR STRIDE Jimmie Johnson said his title run began months ago.
“I feel kind of mid-to-late summer we started hitting on all eight cylinders,” he says. “I guess the Indy weekend (in late July) would be a good landmark weekend for us.”
Since Indy, where he won, Johnson has scored nine top-10 finishes in 14 races. He’s led in all but two of those events.
“We were around it, hitting on things, but starting at Indy, everything started clicking really, really well for us,” Johnson says. “I feel as focused and prepared as I’ve ever been in my career. We have some very smart guys with experience. Everybody is managing their emotions well, working very hard on their individual positions and executing.”
BEST OF THE REST Kyle Busch’s runner-up finish at Martinsville continued his strong run. Although he didn’t make the Chase, he’s had five top-10 finishes, including four top 5s, in the last seven races.
The 232 points he’s scored in the Chase is more than what seven title contenders have tallied in the same period. He’s outscored Denny Hamlin (230 points), Martin Truex Jr. (228), Matt Kenseth (223), Greg Biffle (216), Tony Stewart (211), Kevin Harvick (203) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (148), who missed two races because of a concussion suffered at Talladega.
Jimmie Johnson has scored the most points in the Chase at 282 with Brad Keselowski next at 280.
Non-Chase drivers who have scored the most points in the Chase are Busch (232 points), Joey Logano (207), Ryan Newman (202) and Carl Edwards and Paul Menard (190 each).
AT THE TOP Michael Waltrip Racing has placed one of its drivers in the top 5 in eight of the last 10 races.
All four MWR drivers have scored at least one top-5 finish during that stretch. Clint Bowyer has four top 5s, Martin Truex Jr. has two, Mark Martin has two and Brian Vickers has one.
Only Hendrick Motorsports can top MWR’s streak of races with at least one driver in the top 5. Hendrick has had a top-5 finisher in 15 consecutive races.
CREW CHIEF SHUFFLE Richard Petty Motorsports announced Tuesday that it has hired Drew Blickensderfer to be the crew chief for Marcos Ambrose, replacing Mike Ford.
Blickensderfer moved over from Richard Childress Racing where he had been Jeff Burton’s crew chief this season. Shane Wilson will replace Blickensderfer for the season’s final three races. Luke Lambert, who is serving as Elliott Sadler’s crew chief for RCR in the Nationwide Series, will be Burton’s crew chief next season.
Is it time for NASCAR to look in a different direction to run a race? Maybe something old school. You know, some place dirt-y? Of all that happened last weekend in Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas, what was the most impressive feat? Members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council debated those and other questions this week. Here’s what they said:
Should the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on a dirt track?
Tony Stewart admits he'd be “ecstatic” if NASCAR ever ran a truck race on his dirt track, the half-mile Eldora Speedway. Fan Council members were asked if they thought it would be a good idea for NASCAR to run the truck series at that track or another dirt track?
80.4 percent said Yes
19.6 percent said No
What Fan Council members said:
• I would absolutely LOVE to see a truck race at Eldora!!!!! Truck racing is just about the best racing there is in NASCAR now and to put them on dirt would be unbelievable!!!
• It would be AMAZING … A breath of fresh air that this sport desperately needs.
• The fan in me is screaming “YES!” but the realist in me thinks it would be too difficult, too problematic, to stage. There would be no pit stops, special rules and other stuff that would hurt the credibility of the series. Also, it seems a little gimmicky. Love to see it, but I give it less than a two percent chance of happening.
• Absolutely! The Truck Series ran mostly short tracks and are set up for those tracks. If ARCA can run dirt, why can't NASCAR? The trucks shouldn't have a majority of 1.5-mile tracks scheduled in the first place and neither should Nationwide. Run them in a doubleheader at Eldora and they would draw better than most races all year.
• Any time we can add a new track, let alone a short track, to a schedule would be AWESOME!!!! Short track racing always produces that best racing and drivers love it, as do the fans! I say send the Trucks and Nationwide to Eldora (to start with).
• I would really like to see the Truck and Nationwide series return to their roots. Rockingham, South Boston, Myrtle Beach, Hickory, Orange County, the Nashville Fairgrounds … those are the tracks I'd like to see. Eldora would be very cool, too. I think the old complaint of these old tracks not having enough seating is out the window now. When they run at the big Cup speedways, the seats are 80 percent empty anyway. If they are going to run Eldora, they should also run a few other dirt tracks to go along with it.
• Bring it on!! NASCAR bills them as the "Worlds Greatest Drivers” … make them prove it by showcasing them in all disciplines. ARCA cars run on dirt, why not the NASCAR series?
• I'd watch it out of curiosity, but trucks on a dirt track are a mismatched idea. It will not bring down the cost of racing trucks. I think this idea may have been conceived in a bar.
• Tony is just looking at the $$$ aspect. That would be going backwards. Don't do it!
• You can always go home. Go back to your roots, NASCAR. You might be surprised how many people find that impressive.
Grade Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas:
58.4 percent called it Good
25.1 percent called it Great
13.7 percent called it Fair
2.7 percent called it Poor
What Fan Council members said:
• This had to be the best race of the year. There was constant action on the track, there was retaliation, retaliation gone wrong, super-fast cars, lots of great restarts. I wish all races were like Sunday's race!
• I don't care what people say. In the era of follow-the-leader racing, multiple cautions are awesome. That was the only thing that made it possible for teams to make the huge comebacks they did.
• Prior to halfway, I thought the fans in attendance had already gotten their money’s worth. However, the rest of the race was INSANE! Finally we got some excitement from a 1.5-mile track. Drivers slippin' and slidin', drivers mad at one another, and side-by-side racing was back. I enjoyed every second of it.
• There was NO side-by-side racing other than when there was a caution. And if that’s the way you have to have side-by-side racing, well then I would check this track off the list of tracks I want to see a race at.
• The race had drama. That is all I ask.
• I truly didn't expect it to be very interesting but I was glued to the TV the whole race. It was full of surprises, racing side-by-side and strategies. Loved it!
There were too many wrecks and barely any passes for the lead. Only the varying pit strategies made it interesting.
• I don't know how people can say there is “too much green flag racing” when this seems like the alternative. The middle part of this race was fairly unwatchable. At least nobody got hurt that we know.
What was the most impressive performance in Sunday’s Cup race?
53.7 percent said Jimmie Johnson finishing 9th after crashing
23.5 percent said Regan Smith finishing 7th in the 88 car
11.0 percent said Matt Kenseth winning
6.7 percent said Martin Truex Jr. finishing 2nd and giving MWR its fourth top-4 finish in the last five races
5.1 percent said “other”
What Fan Council members said:
• All of the above, really. But for the 48 to fix THAT much damage without losing a lap and finishing top 10?!?! Part horseshoe (nothing major broken), part “The Genius of Chad and the team.”
• I thought when JJ hit the wall it was a 30th-place finish. However, the team had enough caution laps to work on the car and fix the damage and turned the day into something positive. I hate to say it, but that is a championship run.
• Tony Stewart keeping his car off the inside wall after his spin was the best save I've ever seen. Period.
• The 48 CREW deserves an award for the way they fixed that car. Don’t know about it being Jimmie Johnson’s performance. Definitely the over the wall gang.
• Some lame duck, huh? I'm so happy that Matt has been able to get some wins after mechanical issues gave him a bad start to the Chase, and both he and his team were impressive at Kansas. Having run so many races with just his manufacturer's sponsorship, it was nice to have the beautiful Zest car in Victory Lane.
• Without a doubt, it was the performance of Regan Smith in that 88 car. It goes to show that the kid CAN drive a racecar and that leaving Furniture Row Racing and getting this opportunity in the 88 is showcasing what he can truly do for a top-notch team if given the shot.
• Tough choices there—all good performances. Not to mention AJ’s and Almirola's temporary, but otherwise strong, showings.
• Matt winning. Any win is impressive. I'm sick of everyone being obsessive over Jimmie coming back. IT WAS EXPECTED. They are five-time champions. It was also expected for Regan to run good in good equipment.
Did Kansas change your opinion about 1.5-mile tracks?
Sunday's Cup race featured a season-high 14 cautions. Saturday's Nationwide race saw a driver come back from two laps down to win on the last lap. Fan Council members were asked if their opinion of 1.5-mile tracks changed after this weekend:
71.7 percent said no
16.7 percent said they look at them slightly more favorably
11.6 percent said they look at them more favorably
What Fan Council members said:
• It was the exception to the rule. It will continue to go back to the follow-the-leader who has a 4.5-second lead on second place ... Hopefully next season, with the return of testing, the cars won't be so equal and impossible to pass on the cookie-cutter tracks.
• No, the repave was the main cause of this. Fuel mileage races seem to occur more at 1.5-mile tracks, but all of the cautions were primarily from track conditions and teams that either went too far on camber (causing the right front blown tires) or the driver making a mistake on the new asphalt.
• I was very impressed by Ricky's win. I'm not a big fan of 14 cautions in a race. But then again, I never liked road courses until recently ... I just like to watch racing, doesn't matter to me what track they are on. I have season tickets to Daytona and sometimes those races are incredibly boring until the end. But to me, I'm watching NASCAR—that makes me happy enough!
• The ONLY reason these two races were so “exciting” is because of Goodyear bringing an incredibly hard tire with no grip to try to cope with high speeds on a new surface. 1.5-mile racing will continue to be horrid unless the cars are slowed down about 15-20 mph and Goodyear can bring a softer tire that actually wears out.
• Certainly does wonders when a track gets repaved. Wish they all would get repaved so the racing would be so entertaining!
• The only thing wrong with 1.5 mile tracks is... There are too many of them! NASCAR need more short tracks.
The Backseat Drivers Fan Council was founded and is administered by Dustin Long. Fans can join by sending Dustin an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include the following information:
Name, city, state, Twitter name, e-mail address and favorite driver.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to race this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports announced Tuesday.
Earnhardt missed the past two races after suffering a concussion Oct. 7 in a last-lap crash at Talladega Superspeedway. It was his second concussion within six weeks. He suffered a concussion in a crash during an Aug. 29 tire test at Kansas Speedway.
Earnhardt’s rehabilitation program was directed by Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, who also consulted with Dr. Micky Collins, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
“Dale Jr. has done everything asked of him,” Petty said in a statement issued by Hendrick Motorsports. “He hasn’t had a headache since Oct. 12, and we have not been able to provoke any symptoms since that time. I have informed NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports that he is medically cleared for all NASCAR-related activity.”
Earnhardt sought Dr. Petty because of lingering headaches after the Talladega race.
“The one symptom that is more important than all the tests is headache, and as long as there’s any headache, the brain is not healed,” Petty said Oct. 11 during a press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway announcing that Earnhardt would miss the next two races because of a concussion.
“We want him to have four or five days after he has no headache, and then we'll give him some sort of test like to get his pulse rate up, see if we can provoke a headache, and then if we can't, we'll let him go out and drive a lap or two and see how that goes, and if that goes well, we'll probably clear him to race.”
Earnhardt drove 123 laps in a Sprint Cup car Monday at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga., without any issues.
Crew chief Steve Letarte wrote on Twitter after the test that Earnhardt “looked great and ran some awesome laps.”
Petty monitored the test. He cleared Earnhardt Tuesday morning after a final neuropsychological evaluation in Charlotte.
On Sunday at Kansas Speedway, car owner Rick Hendrick said that it was never a consideration to hold Earnhardt the rest of the season.
“He’s burning up to get in the car,” Hendrick said. “He wanted to run this weekend. He’s very anxious. He wants to get back. No way you’re going to hold him out unless the doctor wouldn’t clear him, but he’s good to go.”
While Earnhardt was out, Regan Smith drove his car. An engine failure left Smith with a 38th-place finish at Charlotte, but he placed seventh at Kansas last weekend.
Earnhardt is the second driver in NASCAR’s national series to suffer a concussion and miss races this season. Eric McClure suffered a concussion, along with other injuries, in a crash during the May 5 Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. McClure, who suffered his third concussion in less than two years in that incident, sat out five races before returning.
Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement did not include a statement from Earnhardt. He’s scheduled to talk to the media Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway before practice.
There is typically one race in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship that throws the Sprint Cup field the proverbial curveball.
The perils of Talladega are well known, so drivers and teams approach it with a survivalist’s mentality. The 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway appears staid when compared to the aforementioned 2.66-mile behemoth or even the cramped confines of the half-mile Martinsville Speedway. But with a fresh coat of new asphalt, a narrow groove and changing weather conditions throughout the weekend, Kansas proved to be anything but normal.
Ill-timed pit stops, spins, hard crashes, paybacks and an emotional winner highlighted the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Matt Kenseth, on his way out at Roush Fenway Racing after a celebrated 14-year tenure, proved the “lame duck” tag doesn’t apply to him or his No. 17 team. Kenseth survived a harrowing moment early in the race to lead the final 49 laps en route to his third win of the 2012 season, and second in the last three weeks.
“It means lot,” an emotional Kenseth said in Victory Lane. “I just have to thank God for the opportunities he has put in front of me and the guidance he has given me throughout my whole life. I have to thank Jack Roush and (competition director) Robbie Reiser and (former teammate) Mark Martin. Without them, I would have never been at Roush Fenway Racing.”
Kenseth’s road to the winner’s circle was an arduous one. He slapped the wall on lap 173 of 267 while attmpting to miss a spinning Aric Almirola. That dropped him to 24th on the ensuing restart, deep in a field that had proven to be aggressive.
However, as Kenseth steadily advanced his position, others saw their hopes dashed.
Chase contenders Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart each spun, while Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman were involved in an altercation that will most certainly be continued before the season is over. Even Danica Patrick got into the action, spinning Landon Cassill and, in the process, wrecking herself, when she took exception to his on-track methods.
Kansas’ newly repaved surface narrowed the racing groove, forcing drivers to take advantage of any opportunity presented to them. A Kansas record 14 cautions was the result, as aggressiveness seemed the order of the day.
“The restarts were pretty wild,” Johnson said. “You had to run so hard that when something happened and you lost grip, the car just stood up on the tires and would take off and you couldn't control it, and guys were sliding everywhere.”
Johnson would know. He backed his No. 48 Chevy into the wall on lap 137. His team responded as title contenders do, furiously working on the car under yellow while remaining on the lead lap. Johnson finished ninth, one spot behind points leader Brad Keselowski.
“I’m glad I survived the carnage and brought back a decent car,” Keselowski said of his eighth-place run. “I dodged a bullet of a race.”
Keselowski’s lead over Johnson in the point standings remains at seven, while third-place Denny Hamlin lost five points due to a 13th-place showing. He sits third in the title hunt, 20 points back.
Clint Bowyer (sixth) finds himself still in contention, just 25 markers behind Keselowski. Kasey Kahne (fourth) has moved to within 30 points of the lead.
But while the championship continues to sort itself out—eyeing a final-race shootout in Homestead, Fla., Sunday was about Kenseth and the team that continues to give up.
“We still have some races left we want to win,” Kenseth said. “It says a lot about these guys—how hard they work to give me the best stuff and give me a chance to win every week.”
by Matt Taliaferro
Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
Denny Hamlin began Thursday playing the role of NASCAR Chase contender. How’d he end it?
Trying to avoid the label of tragic footnote.
Smashing his car into the Turn 1 wall at a reported 202 mph, a test at the repaved Kansas Speedway turned into a headache—literally—as Hamlin fought dizziness to the point he made a second trip to the infield care center for further evaluation.
“It was the first time I really had some dizziness after a hit,” Hamlin told ESPN afterward. “Usually I’m sore or your jaw hurts from clenching your jaw. This is the first time I really got dizzy.”
His car was totaled, the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team forced to pull out a backup for Sunday, but that was minor compared to the possible head injury this track had given a second title contender in less than two months.
Hamlin, who claims he’ll be fine for the race, was showing signs of concussive-like symptoms, ones that will be monitored closely the next 48 hours as NASCAR is suddenly making the NFL’s measures look tame by comparison. Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered head injuries after a 40 G impact during a tire test Aug. 29 at the same track that will keep him out of the No. 88 car for the second straight race. As the show goes on, amd with virtually the entire field shattering Kansas’ qualifying record of 180.856 mph in testing, record speeds are leading to serious concerns about both the tire compound and the ability for drivers to race effectively.
Sound familiar? Welcome to NASCAR’s Cookie Cutter Crisis, 2012, a drama-less disaster of parade laps, aerodynamics and injury risk that’s threatening to suck the life out of what once was the second-most popular sport in America. Kansas is the latest example of one of these, an “intermediate track” at 1.5 miles in length whose shape and size reflects the majority of ovals the series competes on. Five of the 10 Chase races are at intermediates (add Charlotte, Chicagoland, Texas and Homestead) while a whopping 14 of 36 races overall take place at facilities 1.5 to 2 miles in length. It’s the highest percentage for any track type on the circuit, a tough reality considering they don’t deliver enough excitement to keep a local librarian awake.
Example No. 1? Last weekend’s Charlotte’s race, which was so focused on fuel mileage that cars were dialing it back, running at 80 percent throttle for up to one-third of the race in order to conserve precious Sunoco. It was taking the gas game to a new level, slowing down in between multiple pit stops because teams felt the only way to reach Victory Lane was not to pass, but stay conservative over a long, green-flag run. The result? An ugly series of parade laps where every car ran slower than race pace, hesitant to challenge cars in front while crossing their fingers in hopes that less time on pit road would give them the position instead.
The winner, Clint Bowyer, was really the fifth-fastest car but used that strategy—plus the 20-second “I’m out of gas on the backstretch” drama of Brad Keselowski in front of him—with 58 laps remaining to “coast” to the victory. He beat fellow Chaser Hamlin, both of them more concerned about the points lost for running empty themselves that they’d probably have drafted up on each other, nose-to-tail rather than taken any sort of side-by-side risk to fight for first place.
Imagine if you’re trying to explain that race to a possible new NASCAR fan on Monday.
“Hey, what’d you do Saturday night?”
“Watched the race.”
“How’d it go?”
“Oh, just waited to see if cars were going to run out of gas for an hour and a half.”
Who other than your single, middle-aged aunt who hangs on every word you say is going to find that conversation exciting? Sitting on a hill watching cars drive around your local highway might be a better option; no wonder why, halfway through the postseason, we’re on track for the least-watched Chase since the inception of the sport’s playoff format in 2004.
Boredom wasn’t always the norm with NASCAR’s intermediate ovals. A decade ago, Charlotte was one of the sport’s signature tracks, every bit deserving of its hometown label as three different grooves often turned the sport’s two races, plus the All-Star event, into “must see” TV. But then track owner Bruton Smith, inciting a trend that’s hit far too many tracks of late, began a repaving process that changed the way drivers race the facility. New asphalt meant record speeds, putting the pressure on Goodyear’s tires to the point holding up under a long green-flag run was simply impossible. Even the best engineers, when dealing with the science of physics, can’t find a way to outfox nature. In the end, there’s a limit to how fast cars can go while turning left.
Sadly, NASCAR and its longtime tire company found out the hard way as the crisis peaked in an Oct. 2005 event that was nearly cut off early from tires blowing virtually every 20-25 laps. Ever since, steps have been taken to keep speeds in check while Goodyear’s tire compound has been made more conservative than a Rick Santorum stump speech.
Why does that matter? It means no wear over the course of a run, leaving every driver to run the same speed on new asphalt that makes the track “easy” to drive. Let’s review: similar engines among the top teams, no way to beat someone through managing your equipment and it’s difficult-to-impossible to “outbrake” someone in the turns when you’re, well, not doing much braking in the first place.
No wonder drivers are banking on fuel mileage. It’s the best way to gain spots.
Higher speeds have led to other unintended consequences, making the sport far too predictable and prosaic. As technology evolves, pinpoint engineering has left these cars sleek but sideways the second they get close to another car around them, a phenomenon known as “aero push.” The second you’re underneath another car, handling goes from a 1 to a 10 on a scale of difficulty, making it even harder for drivers to adjust since they’re not fighting the car as much in clean air. The result has been some horrifying wrecks (see, Jimmie Johnson last fall) that will come under greater scrutiny in the wake of Earnhardt’s concussion problem. When the risk is your health, drivers these days are willing to take a step back and preserve it.
Perhaps that explains why, over the course of 11 intermediate races this season, we’ve seen an average of just over two cautions for wrecks. If you take out the 10 yellows from the repaved Michigan Speedway—where Goodyear again struggled with the correct tire compound—that number drops to an astounding 1.6. Those low numbers have occurred during the same time equipment is holding up better than ever; with millions spent on fine-tuning parts, engine failures among the top teams have almost disappeared within the course of a 500-mile race. The result is long green-flag runs spreading out the field, forcing NASCAR to try and engineer mystery debris cautions in order to keep the racing close enough where more than a handful of cars wind up on the lead lap.
But manufactured excitement can only go so far. Drivers have caught on to the only ways they can win at these ovals: track position, gas mileage and keeping their nose clean. Even double-file restarts now sort out quickly, as drivers hold their position and wait for pit stops to come so they can pass cars quicker than being stuck behind them for 20, 30 or 40 laps on end. The risks come from the pit box now, not on the speedway, as Cup races on intermediates now resemble a game of high-speed chess.
Don’t get me wrong, chess is a fine hobby, but that also raises two major concerns. One: chess is not a game you see people spend $300 million annually to televise. Two: the average chess game doesn’t typically last over three hours. Even in a shortened race, like Kansas’ 400-mile affair this Sunday, you can’t expect people to wait that long to see if their driver simply runs out of gas or uses a late-race, two-tire stop under a debris caution to gain the track position needed for a top-5 finish.
No, to solve NASCAR’s “cookie-cutter” crisis big swings are needed, a way to slow down the cars further, eliminate the aero push and bring a tire compound that’s more competitive and on the ragged edge, yet doesn’t put a driver’s health at risk. Oh, and did I mention NASCAR must make the cars difficult enough to drive so handling comes back into play?
It’s a complicated physics problem, one that has no easy answer and that the 2013 car can’t possibly solve in one fell swoop. But as the pressure heats up on the sport from all fronts, it’s one NASCAR can no longer ignore if it wants to keep the fan base paying attention.
by Tom Bowles
Follow Tom on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
With Dale Earnhardt Jr. missing last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway because of a concussion, members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council had much to discuss from what should NASCAR do about concussions to if Fan Council members would still watch a race if their favorite driver was injured and not competing. Here’s what members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council said:
What do you think NASCAR should do about concussions?
After news that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would miss two consecutive races because of a concussion, Jeff Gordon said that if he were battling for a championship and thought he had a concussion, he would conceal it. Mark Martin stated that, "I hate the day when somebody like a doctor tells you whether you can or you can't (compete).” Fan Council members were asked what NASCAR should do:
61.4 percent said more stringent guidelines for examining a driver after a wreck and follow-up if necessary
21.5 percent said nothing, drivers know their bodies and know if they have a serious problem
11.6 percent said change the points structure where a driver could afford to miss a race because of injury
5.6 percent said "Other"
What Fan Council members said:
• If NASCAR insists on random drug testing under the premise that possible impairment from drugs is a safety threat to other drivers, how can they not consider potential brain injuries as an equally important safety threat?
• I don't know how to answer this, so I'll put it this way: Common sense tells you that if you are hurt, you shouldn't be out there. The right call is to stay home until you are healed up and come back stronger than ever. I'm not a race driver, but I can tell you this: If I was (hurt) and I had the chance to win the title (which I don't think Junior had anymore, by the way), there is no way in hell anybody would get me out of that car until after Homestead. I would look into the eyes of anyone who asked me how I was feeling and lie through my teeth.
• I understand how competitive the drivers are, but when football and hockey players who have played with concussions and other injuries start dying, you have to evaluate if it's really worth it. Way too many suicides, heart attack and early deaths. Junior did the right thing.
• I'm sorry to hear the position some drivers and others have taken on concussions. I applaud Dale for stepping up and speaking out. I am involved in the game of football, and have had extensive training in concussions, signs and symptoms, as well as their short- and long-term effects, which are scary to say the least. Concussions themselves are bad, but what compounds the problems are what happens to the brain if an athlete comes back too soon and suffers another blow to the head.
• NASCAR implements various safety measures because they are well aware of the risks the drivers would willingly take with their health and safety in order to win a race. The concussion issue is another instance in which NASCAR needs to accept responsibility for drivers' safety. The drivers fought against the HANS device. NASCAR mandated it for their safety. Many drivers—Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin included—applaud NASCAR for their aggressive approach to driver safety. In our society we have a responsibility to protect those who are unable (or unwilling) to do so. In NASCAR society, the sanctioning body has the same responsibility.
• They are independent contractors, right? Their decision.
• The point system is so stringent that a driver cannot miss a single race and still compete for the championship. This should be changed. If not, the drivers will continue to hide their injuries and keep driving while hurt.
• If you change the points structure so a driver could miss a race, you run the chance that a driver will “claim injury” for a track he just doesn't run well at.
• The letter Fred Lorenzen’s daughter wrote to Dale Jr. in care of Jim Utter should be required reading for all NASCAR drivers, owners and crew chiefs. A macho man isn't worth a darn when they have dementia or one of the other incapacitating illnesses.
Would you watch a NASCAR race if your favorite driver was injured and not competing?
94.0 percent said Yes
6.0 percent said No
What Fan Council members said:
• I'll be honest, if you consider yourself to be a REAL NASCAR fan, you should watch the race if you had planned to before, no matter what driver is in it. I consider myself to be a real NASCAR fan and I would watch any race, even if Jeff Gordon (my favorite) wasn't in it.
• I answered yes, but I only watched five percent of Saturday night’s race. If Junior had been racing I would have stayed home to watch, but without him I wouldn't clear my schedule just for the race. If I had no other plans then I would watch regardless.
• That's exactly what happened this weekend: I sat in those cold stands and watched every single lap even though it wasn't my driver behind the wheel of the 88. I'm a race fan. It's what I do.
• My favorite driver was NOT competing Saturday night and while it broke my heart, I would rather have him around for years to come than to risk it for a few races right now. I DID watch the race, granted not with as much enthusiasm, but pulled for Regan to do well in (Earnhardt’s) car. After all, it was still Dale's TEAM that was competing and wanted the best for all those guys who have worked so hard this year.
• I was shocked to hear that people were leaving because Junior wasn't racing. They paid all that money, took time off of work, etc., and left the track? They aren't true NASCAR fans. Then again, maybe this is why I personally have several favorite drivers/teams that I follow.
• Won't watch a race until Junior is back in the car. Some people think it's wrong to be like that but I tried to watch it (Saturday) and couldn't. I love racing and NASCAR, but I need someone to follow, someone to be my driver. I felt the same way in 1993 after Davey Allison passed. I had no one to follow and didn't consistently watch NASCAR races again until 1998 when I happened to catch a Busch race from the Glen and saw Junior racing. I was impressed at how well he did on a road course and found a new reason to watch consistently again. I've watched every week since then—until (Saturday).
• Love me some Tony Stewart, but I also enjoy the overall competition and have secondary drivers to follow. I enjoy the pageantry and tradition to each race beyond just the competition on the track.
• I am a huge Dale Jr. fan and still watched the race. It was strange, but I was rooting for my other drivers, as well.