NASCAR

Pennell’s Picks: Fantasy NASCAR Trends at Martinsville

Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's race at Martinsville
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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Jay Pennell looks at favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.</p>
2012

by Jay Pennell

Few sports crisscross the United States quite like NASCAR, and with that, the Sprint Cup Series returns to the East Coast this weekend for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Chad Knaus Penalty Overturned

Suspensions, point penalties to 48 team reversed

by Matt Taliaferro

The National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer, John Middlebrook, reduced a penalty handed down by NASCAR to Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 team on Tuesday. Middlebrook rescinded the loss of 25 owner and driver points and the six-race suspension of crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec. The $100,000 fine remained in place.

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<p> National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook overturns NASCAR penalty levied against Hendrick Motorsports.</p>
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The Long and Short of It: Keselowski sees benefit in running Nationwide Series

Dustin Long Takes a Spin Around the NASCAR Circuit

by Dustin Long

What some fans say is wrong with NASCAR is what Brad Keselowski says was right for him. Keselowski credits running against Cup drivers in what was then called the Busch Series for his current success and helping him win on a variety of Cup tracks.

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<p> Following another highly entertaining Bristol weekend, Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>

READY TO GO Although points leader Greg Biffle saw his string of third-place finishes end at Bristol (he finished 13th), it doesn’t dampen his excitement heading to Auto Club Speedway this weekend.

“I am really excited about Fontana,’’ Biffle said. “We have a brand new car that has really good wind tunnel numbers and are really happy with the car. We feel it’s our best car in our fleet so far to date. I am really pumped up about going to California and seeing how this car drives. With the new fuel injection and all the data we will be able to keep a better eye on not burning our engine up, which is what we did there that one time. California is going to be a good race track for us. We will run very well there.”

CHANGE OF PLANS Travis Pastrana announced this past weekend at Bristol that he’s altering his plans to run the full NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule.

Pastrana is adding the Global RallyCross series to his schedule. Three of the series’ six events will conflict with K&N races for Pastrana.

“NASCAR's where I want to go, but unfortunately, or fortunately, my background in Rally, the sponsors know that I can do well,’’ Pastrana said. “I've had a proven record in Rally.

“We're funding a lot of the NASCAR races through the Global RallyCross and, I tell you what, that's a fun series. The problem was GRC actually just announced their schedule as of a couple of weeks ago, so it changed. Unfortunately, I won't be able to make three of the K&N races and the initial plan was to do the entire K&N championship, so that was very disappointing.’’

PIT STOPS All four manufacturers have won a race after four events in the Cup season. Ford won at Daytona with Matt Kenseth. Toyota won at Phoenix with Denny Hamlin. Chevrolet won at Las Vegas with Tony Stewart. Dodge won at Bristol with Brad Keselowski. It wasn’t until race 13 last year that each make had at least one Cup win. ... In 17 career starts at Auto Club Speedway, Jimmie Johnson has five wins and 12 top-five finishes. His average finish at the track is 5.1.

Follow Dustin on Twitter: @DustinLong
 

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The New King of the Mountains

Brad Keselowski outlasts Matt Kenseth for second straight Bristol win

by Matt Taliaferro

There’s something about the half-mile Bristol bullring in East Tennessee that lends itself to certain drivers.

NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough (nine wins), Darrell Waltrip (12) and Dale Earnhardt (nine) each went on dominant runs at Bristol in the 1970s and ’80s. Rusty Wallace won nine of his own from 1986-2000. Jeff Gordon won five events from 1995-2002, while the Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle, also have five wins each.

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<p> Brad Keselowski wins the Food City 500 from Bristol Motor Speedway.</p>
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Oh, Say, Can You C-Post

A possible Knaus/Malec suspension will not derail the machine that is Team 48

by Vito Pugliese

You could forgive team owner Rick Hendrick if he now believes NASCAR really is an acronym standing for “Never Appeal Suspensions for Chad And Ron”.

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese believes that not even a six-week suspension to team principles Chad Knaus and Ron Malec can derail the machine that is Team 48.</p>
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Backseat Drivers Fan Council

Qualifying feedback, rating Las Vegas and NNS viewership

by Dustin Long

Does qualifying matter? Are fans watching? Is there a better way? Those were among some of the questions members of the Backseat Drivers Fan Council debated this week, along with rating last weekend’s Cup race at Las Vegas and if what is happening in the Nationwide Series is leading them to watch more of that series.

Here’s what Fan Council members had to say this week:

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<p> The Backseat Drivers Fan Council gives its input on qualifying, the Las Vegas race and watching the Nationwide Series.</p>

What about qualifying races?
Daytona holds qualifying races to help set the lineup for the Daytona 500. Fan Council members were asked what would they think if NASCAR set the field at some tracks via a qualifying race.

34.7 percent Loved the idea
26.3 percent Liked the idea
24.2 percent Hated the idea
14.8 percent said they Don’t Care

What Fan Council members said:
• In my opinion, NASCAR (and specifically, the Sprint Cup Series) is the top of the food chain when it comes to American motorsports. Let's leave the qualifying and heat races to local tracks. In this economy, teams can't afford to tear up and replace equipment in preliminary events.

• Love the idea for Daytona 500 and love it for other tracks as well!! The more racing the better and it would give it a grassroots type feeling....like Saturday night dirt track racing where you qualify and then you race your feature.

• I like the opportunity for more races. That way, you know that the best cars that will race will be racing on Sunday. Also, if NASCAR decides to go this way, allow a backup car for the race with no penalty if they wreck in the qualifying race.

• No! No! No! Hate the idea.

• I love the idea of it, but with the top 35 rule, it is blunted somewhat.

• More racing = more fun. I'd rather watch them race each other. It would probably increase the need for backup cars.

• Stop trying to change things that are not needed...

• They do that at Daytona for the 500, and it is STUPID! Why qualify 3rd and have to start 28th?

• That would be FANtastic!

• I'd actually prefer <GASP> the F1 style of qualifying. Some type of knockout qualifying under race conditions as opposed to one car on the track at a time.

Rating Sunday’s Las Vegas Cup race
64.7 percent
called it Good
17.6 percent called it Fair
12.9 percent called it Great
4.7 percent called it Poor

What Fan Council members said:
• The middle part of the event was a typical 1.5-mile track race; not much excitement. The battle at the end, between Stewart & Johnson made up for it.

• I thought it was pretty good as I attended the race, not sure how it looked on TV. It seemed like the race had a dominant car leading for each quarter. First it was Junior, then Kenseth, Johnson, and finally Stewart. These EFI issues are scaring me though.

• Track position is way too important on mile-and-a-half tracks nowadays, and this showed again on Sunday. It's not fun to see a car lead a large portion of the race and then not be able to pass cars on older tires once back in traffic. Good cars should be able to come to the front.

• Oh here it comes.. You'll get a bunch of boring comments. It wasn't!!! I watched a lot of drivers pass a lot of cars. That is racing! I liked it!!

• I actually found it boring until the last 10 laps. No action.

• Very boring race up until the final 20 laps. Cookie Cutter tracks are always snoozers and I'm glad Las Vegas doesn't have a second race.

• I'm only giving it a good rating due to the way the race ended. There was some serious driving going on behind the wheel of that number 14 and the number 48 and it made for one hell of a show towards the end. The first 240 laps though...well there's a reason the term cookie cutter keeps being brought up with these tracks. They are all different we know and they each drive different but the viewing experience of tracks like Vegas, Kansas, Chicagoland, Kentucky, Michigan, and California are always the same and produce the same results when you watch.

• I thought Vegas was as good as you could get at a 1.5-mile track that isn't Atlanta.

Nationwide Series viewership
The first three Nationwide races have been won by non-Cup regulars with James Buescher winning at Daytona, Elliott Sadler winning at Phoenix and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning at Las Vegas. Fan Council members were asked if seeing the Nationwide regulars win makes them want to watch more of the races in this series.

58.3 percent said Yes
37.3 percent said their decision to watch Nationwide races is not impacted by this
4.3 percent said No

What Fan Council members said:
• This is exactly as it should be! Great job by NASCAR and some of the Cup team owners to take focus in the NNS off NSCS drivers.

• I love the Nationwide regulars are putting on a show. Since Kyle Busch isn't such a factor at the beginning of this year, others have a chance of showing what they got. It's exciting, and I love they get the spotlight. It's also fantastic we get to see some new faces and see who the next stars of this sport are going to be.

• I absolutely believe there should be no Cup drivers in Nationwide (and I'm a Kasey Kahne fan.) So I have been thrilled to see non-Cup drivers win in their own series!!!

• I used to watch every Nationwide and Truck race, but once Kyle Busch took over I stopped watching those where he was entered. The more I see the non-Cup regulars win, the more I want to start watching again.

• I don't care whether a Cup guy or a non-Cup guy wins. I think this shows the folly of NASCAR trying to push Cup guys out of the series through their "declare which championship you are running for" rule. Every Cup guy who normally runs Nationwide races except Carl Edwards was in those first three races this season. Things like that just work themselves out.

• There are two reasons for me NOT to watch the Nationwide races this year... one NO Carl Edwards and two TOO much Danica.

• Ever since Danica Patrick has decided to be full time in Nationwide, I started watching every race. Last year, I could care less who won in Nationwide unless Danica won it.

• I honestly could not care less about Elliot Sadler, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or even Austin Dillon. I watch Nationwide races because they are on, not because I have interest in anyone running for a Nationwide championship. You could put 43 monkeys in the drivers seats and I would still watch because it is a race.

Follow Dustin on Twitter: @DustinLong
 

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Hendrick Penalty Upheld

National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel upheld NASCAR penalties against Hendrick Motorsports

by Matt Taliaferro

The National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel upheld NASCAR penalties against Hendrick Motorsports and crew chief Chad Knaus on Tuesday.

Knaus was fined $100,000 and, along with car chief Ron Malec, suspended six races for unapproved C-posts on the No. 48 Chevy driven by Jimmie Johnson prior to inspection for the Daytona 500. The No. 48 team was also levied 25-point fines in the championship and owner standings.

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<p> The National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel upheld NASCAR penalties against Hendrick Motorsports and crew chief Chad Knaus on Tuesday.</p>
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The Long and Short of It: NNS Renaissance, Gordon's Flip & Baby Otis

Dustin Long Takes a Spin Around the NASCAR Circuit

by Dustin Long

Have you noticed the oddity already taking place in NASCAR this season?

Don’t see it?

Look at the Nationwide Series where all three races have been won by drivers not competing full time in Cup this year.

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>

HOLD ON TIGHT  Jeff Gordon was asked what it was like inside his car when it went upside down during his crash in Daytona. Gordon gave a detailed answer that I thought might give you a sense of what drivers experience in such a crash.

Here’s an edited version of what Gordon said:

“You hold on tight and you just hope that it ends soon. You hold onto the steering wheel, but you basically just brace yourself for any impact that may be coming. The one thing about when you are flipping upside down, you really don’t know what’s coming next because you can’t see. You’re spinning around and you’re seeing the sky and the track and the sky and the track and it’s all happening pretty fast.

“There are only a few split seconds through that whole experience where I was nervous. One was when I was sliding on the door. I was more concerned with if those sparks turn into fire and I need to get out, how am I going to go through the other window? I knew some cars had gotten into me and I thought the car might be stuck like that. That didn’t last for very long because I started flipping. Then I was like, ‘Please don’t land upside down.’ Then it landed upside down.

“When it landed upside down, everything was fine. I told the team I was fine, but now it’s like how am I going to get out? The longest part of that entire wreck was waiting for (rescue crews) to get to the window and going through the process of whether or not we should flip it over or not. That seemed like it took forever and I wish I would have waited longer because I wanted to get out in a hurry and they wanted to wait and flip the car over.

“I wish I had waited because I tried to get out and that was the only time I was scared. I was stuck inside the car when I tried to unhook. That was the part that wasn’t much fun. As far as coping with it, maybe it’s just the mentality you have to have to be a race car driver. I was ready to get back in the car as fast as I possibly could and go out there and go race.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME  Kevin Harvick and his wife DeLana have a name for their son due this July, they’re just not telling. Instead, they’re calling the child, for now, Otis.

“It is just something silly that we came up with as we have gone through the few months,” Harvick said. “That has been the most common question as to what we are going to name the boy. We don’t really want to tell anybody until it’s time so we just came up with a code name and that is what we came up with.

“It’s really (Ryan Newman’s wife) Krissie Newman’s fault to tell you the truth. She calls me that every once in a while, so we just called it ‘Baby ‘Otis’. At least it has some kind of name; you can refer to it as something. I keep wanting to call it ‘it’ and DeLana gets mad at me. She’s like ‘you can call it ‘son or boy’? So we just came up with ‘Otis’.”

PIT STOPS  Trevor Bayne’s ninth-place finish last weekend at Las Vegas was his best finish in Cup since winning last year’s Daytona 500 ... The car Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet dryer at Daytona now resides on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s property among a collection of destroyed race cars.

Follow Dustin on Twitter: @DustinLong
 

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NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Greg Biffle rides consistency to top

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Greg Biffle  Biffle’s team was the one under the Roush Fenway banner that laid low during the offseason. The result has been third-place finishes across the board. Bristol is usually good to them, too.

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<p> Greg Biffle tops Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  The dominating run in the first half of the Vegas race was encouraging, but fading to 10th was all-too-familiar. Bristol should be another top-10 performance, though.

10. Kyle Busch  “Rowdy” is ranked here more on 2012 potential than 2012 accomplishment. Bristol may change that.

11. Joey Logano  So far, so good for the new Logano/Jason Ratcliff pairing. Wonder if he’ll be looking for the 24 this weekend?

12. Brad Keselowski  A fifth is sandwiched between two 32nd-place finishes. Again, potential/accomplishment. And again, that could change this weekend.

13. Paul Menard  Has quietly enjoyed two top-7 runs at Daytona and Vegas. He was fifth in last year’s spring Bristol race.

14. Martin Truex Jr.  If this team ever learns how to finish a race, it’ll be dangerous.

15. Marcos Ambrose  An excellent Bristol darkhorse, Ambrose has three top 10s in six Cup Series starts.

Just off the lead pack: Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
 

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Tony Stewart Hits Jackpot in Vegas

Stewart grabs win in Kobalt Tools 400

by Matt Taliaferro

It took 27 races for Tony Stewart to find Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last year. Four additional wins followed in the remaining nine weeks and Stewart earned his third Cup championship in one of the more dramatic finales in the sport’s history.

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<p> Tony Stewart won the Kobalt Tools 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p>

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