NASCAR

Danica Coming to NASCAR Full-Time

Patrick will run full Nationwide, Partial Cup Series schedules in 2012

by Matt Taliaferro

Dancia Patrick is coming to NASCAR full-time. The current IndyCar Series driver and “GoDaddy.com girl” announced on Wednesday that she will leave the open-wheel series at the conclusion of the 2011 season to drive the JR Motorsports GoDaddy.com No. 7 Chevrolet in a full Nationwide Series campaign in 2012. JR Motorsports is owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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<p> Danica Patrick announces her intention to run a full NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule in 2012, as well as a partial Sprint Cup schedule.</p>

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NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Kyle "The Surgeon" Busch speeding away from the competition

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Kyle Busch  “The Surgeon” begins to pull away … kind of like he’s going 128 mph and the rest of the field is doing the 45 mph speed limit.

2. Jimmie Johnson  To those harping about how Johnson is ripe for the taking, take notice that he has only six finishes worse than 11th (in 23 races) this year and sits second in the point standings. Blue 48, prepare to make your Chase run.

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<p> Kyle Busch begins to pull away from Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the field in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

7. Ryan Newman Newman is very quietly putting together a solid season. He’s no Kyle Busch, but if things continue along the current path, he could make a respectable showing in the championship standings.

8. Kevin Harvick Harvick has been awful quiet lately. Too quiet, in fact. Makes me wish for the days of his grandstanding with Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Rudd, Carl Edwards ... am I leaving anyone out?

9. Kurt Busch Wonder if, after 38th- and 34th-place runs, Kurt is wishing he was still behind the wheel of the Miller Lite Dodge? After all, his scripted sponsor plugs worked better then. Kind of.

10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior sits 10th here not because of his impressive performances, but because no one else has wrested it from him. And at this point, that wouldn’t be hard to do.

11. Mark Martin  Showing real signs of speed the last few weeks — and there’s still time to sneak into this Chase.

12. Tony Stewart  His cars aren’t handling right, he’s frustrated, Bristol is up next and he’s on the Chase bubble. NASCAR media beware!

13. Denny Hamlin  Sometimes you get the feeling Denny gets inside his own head.

14. Greg Biffle  At least he’s qualifying better these days ...

15. Clint Bowyer  Somehow still hanging in at 11th in the standings, which may speak to the competition down there.

Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard, Martin Truex Jr.
 

Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro

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Kyle Busch Wins in Michigan

Kyle Busch muscles to Win No. 4 of 2011, takes points lead

by Matt Taliaferro

There was no fuel mileage or weather-related strategy involved in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway — only pure, unadulterated horsepower. And Kyle Busch had the most of it, pulling away from Jimmie Johnson on a green-white-checker restart to win his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of 2011, and in the process, take the lead in the championship standings.

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<p> Kyle Busch pulled away from Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checker finish at Michigan International Speedway to win the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday.</p>

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A Return to the Rock?

Rockingham moves a step closer to returning to the NASCAR fold

by Mike Neff

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Mike Neff examines the planned improvement so the historic North Carolina Motor Speedway — Rockingham — and how it may effect the return of NASCAR to the Sandhills of North Carolina.</p>

Rockingham has been working to return to national prominence since it reopened in 2008 with a much-ballyhooed ARCA race featuring Ken Schrader and Joey Logano. A huge crowd — in ARCA terms — filled the stands to celebrate the return of active racing to The Rock. Since then, track owner Andy Hillenberg and his group have hosted several races for the benefit of fans in the Sandhills region of North Carolina, from regional to national touring series. However, they have not been able to secure a NASCAR touring series date in any of its top three series. One of the big stumbling blocks has been the lack of SAFER barriers, which are required by NASCAR’s sanctioning body for a national touring division race.

The second step, and by far the bigger stumbling block for Rockingham to get back on the NASCAR national schedule, is the testing ban at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks. The niche that Rockingham has established for itself is that it’s a testing destination for the locally-based NASCAR teams. Between the big track and “Little Rock” — the Martinsville-esque half-mile also on the grounds — there is testing taking place at Rockingham hundreds of days a year. This testing has been the lifeblood of the track since the ban was implemented. Foregoing all of that testing is going to be a major revenue hit for the facility that will most likely be too big of a pill to swallow. Provided an agreement can be worked out where teams can still test at Little Rock, the move might make sense for Hillenberg.

The ultimate question for Rockingham is whether the fans are going to come out and support the track. We constantly hear complaints that NASCAR has turned its back on the shorter, local tracks — particularly in the Southeast — but when push comes to shove, the fans have not shown up when the opportunity has been presented. The UARA/Pro Cup doubleheader that was held at Rockingham earlier this year saw roughly 500 people in the stands. Another track, Nashville Superspeedway, has shut down because crowds continued to shrink after the initial boost from the opening of the track. North Wilkesboro Speedway was reopened and, while crowds were continuing to grow with each event that took place, the stands were far from full. In order for these tracks to survive, thrive and ultimately regain a position on the NASCAR touring schedules, the fans must support them with their attendance.

Putting on a Truck or Nationwide Series event is a major financial commitment for a racetrack. The overhead on race day is far greater than the kind of expense involved with hosting a UARA race. From a safety perspective, there isn’t much difference because the safety provided to competitors during a race is the same no matter the series; however, the additional financial obligation is far greater. More ushers, concessions workers, traffic directors, law enforcement officers, supplies and myriad other things are required to stage an elite-level event. On top of those expenditures, there are sanctioning fees that have to be paid to NASCAR, which balloon into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. When considering all of the expense involved — piled on top of the revenue that will be lost by not having testing at the big track — it is easy to see what a gamble it is for Rockingham to host a Truck or Nationwide race.

Fans have paid lip service for some time to the lack of respect for history and tradition NASCAR has shown over the last 15 years. As the economic recovery has struggled to take shape and tracks have been forced to allow national touring events leave their facilities, it has come to the point where the opportunity is presenting itself for the race fans to put up or shut up. If Rockingham chooses to put on a Truck or Nationwide race in the near future it will be up to the fans to prove to NASCAR the track’s worth by showing up in strong numbers for years — not just on opening day.

Fans can honestly affect the future NASCAR schedules by showing support for a small-market track. If the fans fail to show up for a race like that at Rockingham, they have no one but themselves to blame when tracks lose dates to shiny, newer facilities in bigger markets.

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Michigan International Speedway

Previewing the Pure Michigan 400

by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush

Race: Pure Michigan 400
Location: Brooklyn, Mich.
When: Sunday, Aug. 21
TV: ESPN (1:00 p.m. EST)

2010 Winners: Denny Hamlin (June), Kevin Harvick (Aug.)
June 2011 Winner: Denny Hamlin

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<p> Athlon Sports previews this Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.</p>

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NASCAR Horsepower Rankings

Is Keselowski Brewing Up a Chase Run?

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Kyle Busch  Leads the series in top 5s (12) and is tied for the lead in wins (3) and top 10s (14). He also leads all drivers in best looking wife/girlfriend (and there’s some stiff competition there).

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<p> Kyle Busch still sits atop Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings, but a new threat is gaining ground fast.</p>

5. Brad Keselowski  Is this ranking too high for Keselowski? Maybe, but there’s no doubt the boy is delivering on his potential — busted ankle and all — and could make for a nice darkhorse title contender (and no, none of his product was consumed in the writing of this article).

6. Kevin Harvick  Scores his first top-10 finish at Watkins Glen since the July Daytona race. That said, he’s somehow pulled a Carl Edwards and stayed firmly entrenched in the top 5 in the standings. Doesn’t he just seem to disappear sometimes?

7. Kurt Busch  It’s hard to recall the last time a lapped car gave the leader the boot, but that’s what we saw out of Busch at the Glen. Let’s see — Kurt would now be wise to steer clear of Johnson and Allmendinger for a while.

8. Matt Kenseth  Random stat of the day: Matt Kenseth — not especially known for his road racing acumen — has six straight finishes between 12th and 14th on the roadies. I don’t know how to interpret that, but there it is.

9. Ryan Newman  The circuit returns to Michigan on Sunday, where Newman scored a sixth-place finish in June. Expect about the same out of a team that’s been trending upward in the season’s second half. And expect some sarcastic response to a reporter during his Friday media availability for good measure.

10. Tony Stewart  A solid top 5 at the Glen was spoiled late. The resulting 27th dropped him in the standings to the edge of the Chase cliff. That oughta put Tony in a real good mood in Michigan.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  A 15th at the Glen? Yeah, Junior will gladly take that and move on to the site of his last win.

12. Denny Hamlin  We’re all just glad Denny walked away from that one. It’ll be interesting to see what a new engine package does for his team moving forward.

13. Paul Menard  A blown tire late at the Glen ruined what was another pretty decent run for Menard. I’m sure if you asked him about it, he’d give you a very leveled and somewhat emotionless response.

14. Joey Logano  That road course training Joey got from Max Papis paid off to the tune of a fifth-place run. Man, this kid is still all over the board.

15. Greg Biffle  This may be premature, but Biffle could very well rocket up these ranking after he wins Michigan this weekend.

Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin

 

Agree with Matt’s rankings? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Matt on Twitter @MattTaliaferro

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Another First-Timer!

Marcos Ambrose Scores First Cup Win in a Wild One at Watkins Glen

by Matt Taliaferro

A green-white-checker finish, savagely wrecked racecars, a fight in the garage and a first-time winner in the Sprint Cup Series.

No, this wasn’t Bristol, it was Watkins Glen — one of two road courses, which have become NASCAR’s new destination for can’t-miss excitement. And the person most excited following Monday’s rain-delayed Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen was Marcos Ambrose.

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<p> Marcos Ambrose picked up his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup win in a destructive affair at Watkins Glen.</p>

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Watkins Glen

Previewing the Hulva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen

by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush

Race: Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen
Location: Watkins Glen, N.Y.
When: Sunday, Aug. 14
TV: ESPN (1:00 p.m. EST)

2010 Winner: Juan Pablo Montoya

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<p> Athlon Sports previews Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International.</p>
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Horsepower Rankings

Pocono Rain Doesn't Dampen Spirited Finish

by Matt Taliaferro

1. Kyle Busch  For the second race in a row, Busch overcame issues that hindered his early-race gains to post a top-10 finish. The runner-up at Pocono finds him just 11 points out of the points lead.

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<p> Edwards is signed, Johnson is gearing up for his run and Gordon is, well, Gordon. But Kyle Busch is still the man to beat in Athlon Sports' weekly Horsepower Rankings.</p>

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