Friday, October 17, 2014

Harvick Feeling No Pressure... Until Next Week

With a win in hand and a transfer spot assured to the Eliminator Round of the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Kevin Harvick is a man without worries.

The Budweiser Chevrolet driver said today at Talladega Superspeedway that he will sleep well tonight, in advance of the season’s most unpredictable race.
“It takes a lot of pressure off by not having to worry about a strategy,” said Harvick today. “You just go race. These guys have worked hard on the cars to make them as good as they can (and) we owe it to them and the fans to race as hard as we can and take the same approach as we have all year. (We will) try to run well in practice, qualify well, lead laps and win a race.
“If it works out, it works out. That’s the thing that comes out of last week. If it works out, fine and if doesn’t, fine. Just race hard.
Harvick admitted, however, that there are still concerns associated with racing at Talladega.
“There are obviously still a lot of things to worry about coming to Talladega,” he said. “No matter if you’re on the good side, the bad side, or in between. Hopefully, (we’re) getting to a refined point that is where you need to be to race for a championship. Last week was kind of the beginning of that and hopefully we can close out the last several weeks at the same level. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Harvick said last week’s win actually makes him more likely to wind up in Victory Lane again soon.
“The mindset went to completely aggressive after the win last weekend,” he said. “Everyone is relaxed and it really doesn’t matter what the outcome is, unless you win. It’s very important to win, just (to) keep someone else from winning. Obviously, there are some people who are in a pretty vulnerable spot unless they win. Being aggressive, trying to lead laps, taking those points away, winning the race and not allow that automatic bid going forward is really (our) main goal.”
He also pulled no punches about his desire to see title contenders Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., fall by the wayside Sunday, saying, “Anytime you see people in a vulnerable position where they could not advance to the next round, you want to do everything you can do to try and keep an upper hand.
“In the end, you want the best scenario for your team to win a championship from a pure greed standpoint. That’s what we’re here to do -- win the championship -- and you want the best scenario for your team. It will be an interesting weekend regardless of how it all shakes out and who wins the race. There are just so many variables in what could happen. I’m excited for the sport and looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out.”

Johnson Ready For Talladega Test

Despite effectively needing a win Sunday to advance to the Eliminator Round, Johnson spoke optimistically of his chances.

“I’m excited to go racing,” he said. “Our plate program has been pretty strong and our car has been fast. We won a few plate races last year and we certainly need to do that this (weekend) to keep my championship hopes alive. When I reflect back on the Chase so far, we’ve certainly not had the speed that we wanted in our cars. But… we’ve kept ourselves in the mix when we had two bad races. Two bad races would have eliminated me from any opportunity of winning a championship in each previous format, so I feel like I have a third opportunity this weekend.
“Granted, it’s a tough one and a lofty goal,” he said. “There are many other guys out there with the same goal, not only from a Chase situation but also trying to win a race this year. I’ve got a lot of work ahead for myself and this team this weekend, so we’re ready for the challenge. We’ll get out there to work and see what happens.”
In terms of strategy for Sunday’s race, Johnson said he will be forced to play it by ear.
“I’ve put a lot of time and thought into my approach for this weekend (and) there really isn’t a clear vision for how to make it work,” he admitted. “Racing for it can get you in trouble. If you ride, at some point, you have to go to the front.
With this rules package, it’s much more difficult to get track position. It seems like with maybe three pit stops to go, you need to have control of the race and maintain it; least be in first or second (in) line and give yourself a chance to win. I don’t know… I really don’t. Maybe being cautious early will buy us some time and keep us on the road. (but) from the halfway point of the race on, you have to fight for track position if you want to win.
Johnson and Knaus: peaks and valleys
“I can promise you that with four guys needing to win to transfer, at the end of the race there will definitely be some racing,” he said. “It may be the four of us on the bottom trying… to get to the front. But there are at least four that have a really good reason to take chances, be aggressive and try to win. I’d guess it will be an exciting race but again we just don’t know until we get out there.”
Asked about the current relationship between himself and crew chief Chad Knaus, Johnson said, “Frustration is high, for sure. Chad and I have had peaks and valleys in our relationship. We’ve had times where there has been plenty of frustration on the radio, but who we are, what we are as a team and the way our relationship works… things are still as they have always been.
“It isn’t fun, and… last weekend there was plenty of color on our channel. It just comes with the territory. We’re not happy with where we’re at, and I don’t know why we would be. It’s unfortunate that sometimes those things are aired on the radio and innocent bystanders hear them – children and others – but that’s just part of it.”
Johnson understands there is a chance he will fail to advance into next week’s Eliminator Round, and said the events of Sunday afternoon will determine how he approaches the remainder of the 2014 campaign.
“Depending on how this weekend goes, we’ll know what the rest of the year looks like for us,” he said. “If we don’t win, it will be in our best interest to look at 2015 and what we need to do on all fronts, including the rules package. Our vision will shift at that point and try to get a head start on the field and start where we need to be.
“At the end of a race... I have to win. My quest to win a seventh championship is the thing I’m most concerned about. I know my teammates are going to think the same way and have the same approach. We’re out there to win for our teams and ourselves to move on and have a shot at the championship.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brandon Jones Teams With GMS Racing

Seventeen-year old driver Brandon Jones will join GMS Racing for the remainder of the 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season. Jones, a former winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, will pilot the No. 33 Chevrolet Silverado in two NCWTS races this season beginning with the Kroger 200 on October 25 at Martinsville Speedway. The Atlanta, Ga native will also make his track debut in the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 7. Jones’ 2014 campaign will be led by crew chief Shane Huffman. 

“I couldn’t be more excited to continue our NCWTS efforts this season with GMS Racing at Martinsville and Phoenix”, Jones said. “The opportunity to start our relationship at a familiar track like Martinsville is a great benefit and I’m incredibly excited to tackle Phoenix for the first time. GMS Racing has had impressive performances this year and I can’t wait to get back on track working with Shane Huffman and the entire organization.” 
Jones has made six career NCWTS starts since 2013 with a best finish of fourth at Dover International Speedway earlier this year. In addition to his NCWTS efforts in 2014, Jones campaigned full-time in the NKNPSE where the talented driver finished fourth in points and earned a victory at Iowa Speedway in Newton. Jones also competed in three ARCA events and claimed victories at Winchester Speedway and Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Clermont, IN. 
“Everyone at GMS Racing is thrilled to welcome Brandon into the fold of the No. 33 Chevrolet Silverado,” said Nic Moncher, General Manager of GMS Racing. “He has shown a great deal of talent this season across every series he has competed in, and we’re looking forward to great performances together at both Martinsville and Phoenix. Brandon has all the tools you like to see in a young driver and he will be a great asset to our Truck Series program.” 
The Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway will mark Jones’ third start at the legendary short track and his fourth start of 2014. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Daytona Rising Reaches Halfway Point

Daytona International Speedway held a topping out ceremony today to install the highest piece of steel associated with its $400 million DAYTONA Rising project and celebrate the halfway point in the project. Florida Secretary of Commerce Gray Swoope and Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Director Jesse Panuccio were in attendance for the important milestone.  

As part of the event, members of the France family signed and unveiled a special commemorative plaque that was placed at the center of the steel beam (previously signed by the project’s construction team). International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy also spoke about the significance of the DAYTONA Rising project. 

“Daytona International Speedway is a special place and we’re honored to continue its legacy through the DAYTONA Rising project,” said France Kennedy. “We’re literally building history and creating an unprecedented motorsports experience. I can only imagine how exciting it must have been for my grandfather to turn his vision into reality when he built the Speedway more than 50 years ago.”  

Utilizing special DAYTONA Rising whistles, Barton Malow (design-builder for DAYTONA Rising) joined International Speedway Corporation employees as well as Daytona International Speedway employees and longtime ticket holders for a ceremonial command to raise the steel beam. To honor construction traditions, a tree was attached to the beam along with a massive American flag, Florida's state flag as well as flags honoring Daytona International Speedway and Barton Malow. 

“Today was a great opportunity to celebrate our collective accomplishments to date,” said Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III. “We’ve enjoyed the journey thus far and look forward to continuing the momentum during the months ahead.” 

At the halfway point, the DAYTONA Rising construction project has surpassed one million man-hours, installed 89 percent of the total steel, poured more than 105 million pounds of concrete and installed 26 escalators and four elevators. 

Hamlin's Jack Man Out For The Season

Denny Hamlin will run the remainder of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series without a key member of his over-the-wall pit crew.

Nate Bolling, jack man on the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Sprint Cup Series team, underwent successful surgery on a torn right triceps muscle this morning and is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2015 Daytona 500. 
Bolling was injured on the second pit stop in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The surgery was performed by Dr. Patrick Connor of OrthoCarolina. 
JGR backup jack man Kenneth Purcell filled in Saturday night for Bolling and will continue in that capacity for the No. 11 FedEx team for the remainder of the season. Purcell is a veteran in the sport and was part of four championship seasons with the No. 48 team.

Rockingham Avoids Financial Receivership, New Deal Gives Hope For Track's Survival

Andy Hillenburg
Like a real-life Rocky Balboa, Andy Hillenburg refuses to stay down.

After spending the last seven years battling to revive the legendary Rockingham (NC) Speedway, the former ARCA racing champion has taken his share of lumps. Hillenburg and his partners returned NASCAR racing to The Rock in 2012, when the track hosted an event on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The Trucks raced there again in late 2013, but a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event scheduled for November of last year was cancelled, with the sanctioning body saying that the track “failed to meet its obligations.”

Since then, there has been little in the way of good news from the Richmond County oval. Until today.

Battered, bloodied, but unbowed, Hillenburg climbed off the canvas yet again this morning, confirming that after a hearing in Richmond County (NC) Superior Court, a new plan is in place to save the track from financial receivership.

Farmers and Merchants Bank of Salisbury, NC, had asked that the track be placed into receivership as a first-step toward seizing control of the facility and putting it up for auction. However, with the assistance of a group of advisors, Hillenburg has assembled a new business plan that he hopes will put the speedway back on solid financial ground.

 “We went in front of a judge recently and presented our proposal,” said Hillenburg. “We explained that we need 90 days to perform the necessary due diligence, and he issued a Bridge Order to continue the case until today. Now, he has approved our request, and the speedway will remain in our hands.”

Hillenburg declined to identify his new advisors by name, saying only, “They are not racers. They are businesspeople who know my reputation and work ethic, and see an opportunity to create new partnerships  that will prove beneficial to all parties, allow Rockingham Speedway to survive and prosper as a racing facility and produce critical economic development opportunities in Richmond County,”

Hillenburg revealed that those investors stepped forward only recently, saying, “When word (of the receivership hearing) got out a week or so ago, people began offering to help.”

Hillenburg and company – doing business as Rockingham Racing Park LLC – purchased the speedway in 2007 for $4 million. Court records say they owed $4,532,796.23 to F&M Bank as of August 8, 2014. The 244-acre site on which the speedway sits is valued at approximately $2.5 million. In recent years, Rockingham has served as a test venue for NASCAR’s three national racing series, hosted Hillenburg’s Fast Track High Performance Driving School and been featured in numerous scenes in the 2006 film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Hillenburg stressed that the deal is not yet complete, saying, “Our request was for the procedings to be delayed, in order to allow us to assemble a new financial plan. We now have until Jan. 1, 2015 to finalize a workable financial plan with our new partners. Our goal is to return racing to The Rock, put the track on solid financial footing and continue to make a positive contribution to our community.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NASCAR Docks Keselowski, Stewart For Charlotte Infractions

NASCAR has assessed behavioral penalties to drivers Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart for their involvement in post-race incidents on Oct. 11 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

Keselowski has been fined $50,000 and placed on NASCAR probation for the next four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship events through Nov. 12 for violating: 

• Section 12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing

• Section 12-4.9: Behavioral penalty -- involved in post-race incidents 

Stewart has been fined $25,000 and placed on NASCAR probation for the next four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship events through Nov. 12 for violating: 

• Section 12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing

• Section 12-4.9: Behavioral penalty -- involved in a post-race incident 

"These penalties are about maintaining a safe environment following the race," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR senior vice president, competition and racing development. "We knew that the new Chase format was likely going to raise the intensity level and we want our drivers to continue to be themselves. However, the safety of our drivers, crew members, officials, and workers is paramount and we will react when that safety could be compromised."

Monday, October 13, 2014

COMMENTARY: ABC/ESPN Backhands NASCAR Again

NASCAR’s media partners in Bristol, Conn. did it again Monday, continuing the season-long process of scraping the sport off their collective shoe. 

In the aftermath of a post-race imbroglio at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night that saw a number of drivers play Demolition Derby on pit road before a widespread bout of pushing, shoving and questioning of parentage, ESPN and its parent company, ABC, once again plumbed new depths in yellow journalism. Utilizing a team of reporters who wouldn’t know a panhard bar from a tiki bar, ABC’s Good Morning America variously misrepresented the incident as a “brawl,” an “epic brawl” and a “chain reaction rumble,” despite the fact that nary a punch was thrown. 

“Now to the brawl on a NASCAR race track,” said GMS anchor Robin Roberts, by way of introduction. “Some of the sport’s top drivers were involved, including Tony Stewart; his first incident since that deadly accident over the summer.” 
 
GMA's Robin Roberts
“That deadly accident,” of course, was the August 9 incident at New York’s Canandaigua Motorsports Park that saw Sprint Car driver Kevin Ward, Jr. die after being struck by a car driven by former Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. The self-anointed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” ran footage of Ward’s death repeatedly over the 72 hours that followed, reporting – almost gleefully at times -- on Stewart’s status as a “NASCAR bad boy” and a loose cannon.  

GMA leveled the crosshairs on Stewart yet again Monday, despite the fact that he played a minor role in the on-track car wars, and no role whatsoever in the post-race wrestling match. Reporter Gio Benitez breathlessly described the incident as “a chain reaction rumble involving several racers, including Tony Stewart, who’s under NASCAR’s microscope.” 

Benitez failed to define “NASCAR’s microscope,” almost certainly because the sanctioning body has taken a hands-off approach to the case, leaving it in the hands of law enforcement, the Ontario County (NY) District Attorney and a grand jury, all of whom declined to file any charges against Stewart.  

“Watch as Kenseth and Keselowski get into an epic brawl,” said a breathless Benitez, “one even putting the other in a choke hold.” 

He declined to identify which driver was which, probably because he had no idea. Still not satisfied, GMA rolled out USA columnist Christine Brennan to pick at the Stewart scab one final time.
 
“With everything the sport has been through,” she huffed, “and everything Tony Stewart has been through in the wake of that fatal accident, to have this kind of nonsense going on is really unconscionable.” 

No actual race results were given during GMA’s two-minute NASCAR segment. Kevin Harvick was not identified as the winner of the race and no mention was made of the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. Stewart, meanwhile, was mentioned a total of five times. It was like covering a fight between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals, but declining to give the final score. 

For at least the second time in recent weeks, ABC/ESPN has made it clear that it has no respect for NASCAR, its competitors and fans, multi-year contract be damned. Clearly, their only desire is to continue the ongoing campaign of demonization against Stewart, with or without any actual facts to back it up.
 
In this writer's personal opinion, they cannot be gone soon enough.
 
 

Underdog Busch Making Best Bid Yet For Sprint Cup Title

Who are you, and what have you done with the real Kyle Busch? 

After five races in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, fans can be forgiven for not recognizing the driver of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 M&Ms Toyota. In years past, Busch has been the poster child for self-destruction in the Chase, struggling on the race track – and melting down off it – en route to early elimination from the title picture.

This time around, however, Busch has been a model of consistency. A fifth-place finish in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was his fifth consecutive Top-10 Chase showing, and kept him solidly second in the championship standings. With an average Chase finish of 6.6, Busch bears little resemblance to the emotionally fragile driver who has repeatedly wilted under the pressure of prior title runs.  

Neither Busch nor JGR ranked near the top of the pre-Chase favorites list. He staggered into the postseason party with four finishes of 35th or worse in six starts, and a best finish of 14th. Joe Gibbs Racing has struggled to find speed, battling horsepower and aerodynamic issues that often left them a half-step behind the competition. But while the indicators were all there for yet another postseason flame out, Busch has maintained his focus in the face of adversity. 

Saturday night, Busch made the most of a car that was good, but not great. He led three times for a total of 41 laps and brought the M&Ms Toyota home fifth, in one piece. After the race, when all around him seemed to be losing their minds, he stood calmly on the sidelines and watched it all unfold. There were no harsh words, no physical confrontations, no scathing critique of his team, or others. Just the calm, self-assured smile of a man who has established himself as a solid contender for the championship at the halfway mark of the Chase.

All Busch needs now is a decent day at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday to advance to the penultimate Eliminator Round, with one of only eight available slots in the championship bracket. While Toyota still has some catching up to do, Busch is keeping himself in the hunt.
Ironically, he is in better shape to win the championship today than at any point in his 12-year Sprint Cup Series career. Late Saturday night, as he basked in the afterglow of his latest Top-5 showing, Busch made it clear that he will play it smart on the treacherous, 2.5-mile Talladega tri-oval.
"(I’ll) run dead last all day (and) survive," he promised.  "If there's one big wreck, it puts us in and we're good."

Sunday, October 12, 2014

COMMENTARY: After Charlotte Melee, Title Contenders In Dire Straits

It’s as simple as this.

When it’s all over and done Sunday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway, three pre-Chase favorites for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship are likely to find themselves on the outside, looking in.

After crashing their way onto the endangered species list at Kansas Speedway a week ago, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson coughed up blood yet again at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night, finishing 16th, 17 and 20th, respectively. Back-to-back bouts of underachievement are a recipe for disaster in the year’s Chase, where life and death are meted out in three-week increments. And now, three drivers who appeared in millions of pre-Chase “Final Four” brackets are a week away from finding themselves spectators.
When the shifter in Earnhardt’s Diet Mountain Dew Chevy snapped in his hands early Saturday night, it did not necessarily signal the end of his hopes. His Hendrick Motorsports crew made the requisite repairs and pushed their driver back into the fray, but an ill-handling race car never allowed him to make up for lost time. He languished on the “lap down” list for the remainder of the evening and finished 20th.
Unlike Earnhardt, Johnson appeared ready to dig out of his Kansas hole, until pit strategy and a frenetic final restart doomed his hopes yet again. The six-time series champion was fourth when the final caution flew with just seven laps remaining. Crew chief Chad Knaus went for the win instead of the points, calling Johnson to pit road for four fresh tires than left him 10th on the ensuing restart. The Lowes Chevrolet went inexplicably backward at the drop of the green flag, recording a crushing, 17th-place finish that left Johnson 11th in points.
Keselowski was fifth on that final restart, but tangled with fellow-Chaser Denny Hamlin in the first turn. Like Johnson, he plummeted through the field to finish 16th, then expressed his frustration by running into everything but the Pace Car on the cool down lap.
He clipped the rear of Hamlin’s Toyota after the checkered flag, then sideswiped Matt Kenseth as they entered pit road. Either he or Kenseth then caromed into Tony Stewart’s stopped Chevrolet, prompting Stewart to back into Keselowski’s Ford in protest. After a considerable period of pushing, shoving, shouting and gesticulating, the stage is now set for a Talladega finale long on pressure and short on patience.
Kenseth now trails Kasey Kahne by just one point for the final transfer spot to the Eliminator Round. Keselowski is 19 points out, with both Earnhardt and Johnson a whopping 26 points in arrears. Sunday’s Talladega winner will receive a free pass to the Eliminator Round, but there’s only one Golden Ticket available, and four prime time players in serious need of help. In addition, a number of Chase contenders are decidedly unhappy with each other after a wild CMS finale.
Hamlin blasted Keselowski’s tactics after the race, calling the 2012 champion, “out of control” and “obviously desperate. He just plowed into us,” said Hamlin. “Either four or five of us are wrong or he's wrong, because he's pissed off everyone.”
Kenseth also had angry words for his Penske Racing rival, saying, “I had my HANS (device) and seat belts off and everything. He clobbered me at 50 (mph). If you want to talk about it as a man, do that. But to try and wreck someone on the race track, come down pit road with other cars and people standing around… and drive in the side of me? It's inexcusable. He's a champion (and) he's supposed to know better than that."
For his part, Keselowski said Hamlin “stopped in front of me and tried to pick a fight. I don't know what that was all about, and he swung and hit at my car. I figured if we're going to play car wars under yellow and after the race, I'll join, too.

"Those guys can dish it out, but they can't take it,” he said. “I gave it back to them and now they want to fight, so I don't know what's up with that."

For Johnson, Keselowski and Earnhardt, there is now only one realistic path to salvation. Buckle your chinstrap and tug those seatbelts tight. Ignore the pressure and channel your desperation into a season-saving win at Talladega; the one track in all of NASCAR where virtually anyone can win.
Triumph in the face of extreme adversity, or resign yourself to watching someone else hoist the championship trophy at Homestead Miami Speedway next month.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Compare: Henry Ford's 1901 Race Winner vs 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup

Ford Motor Company PR -- Today marks the 113th Anniversary of Henry Ford’s first and only victory on Oct. 10, 1901 when he beat Alexander Winton in a race that served as the official start of the Ford Racing program and a springboard toward the formation of The Ford Motor Company in June, 1903.  Ford’s race, which was the only event in which he ever competed as a driver, took place at the Detroit Driving Club in Grosse Point, Mich., and was witnessed by a crowd of approximately 8,000 people. 

So how does Henry Ford’s Sweepstakes of 1901 compare to the Ford Fusions that will be racing around Charlotte Motor Speedway tomorrow night?  The specifications below tell that part of the story. 

1901 Sweepstakes Car Specifications:                                          
Frame: Ash wood, reinforced with steel plates                                 
Wheelbase: 96 inches                                                                     
Weight: 2,200 pounds                                                                     
Engine: 2-cylinder, horizontally opposed, water cooled                    
Displacement: 538 cu. in.                                                                
Horsepower: 26 (estimated)                                                            
Maximum RPM: 900                                                                       
Wheels: 28 inches                                                                          
Tire Width: 4 inches                                                                        
Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons                                                                 
Top Speed: 72 mph (estimated)

2014 NASCAR Fusion Specifications:                                            
Frame: Metal                                                                                  
Wheelbase: 110 inches                                                                   
Weight: 3,300 pounds                                                                     
Engine: FR9 OHV V8                                                                      
Displacement: 358 cu. in.                                                                
Horsepower: 850 (estimated)                                                           
Maximum RPM: 9,000                                                                     
Wheels: 15 inches                                                                          
Tire Width: 12 inches                                                                      
Fuel Capacity: 18 gallons                                                                
Top Speed: 200 mph (estimated)

Race Facts from Oct. 10, 1901
Laps: 10
Number of Participants: 2
Avg. Speed of Race: 46 mph
Attendance: 8,000 (approximate)
Winner’s Purse: $1,000
Trophy: Cut-Glass Punch Bowl
Location: Detroit Driving Club
Track Type: One-Mile Oval
Surface: Dirt
Team Members: 4 (incl. driver and riding mechanic)

Bank of America 500 Race Facts
Laps: 334
Number of Participants: 43
Avg. Speed of Race: 158.308 mph (2013)
Attendance: 100,000 (approximate)
Winner’s Purse: $319,441 (2013)
Trophy: Bruton Smith Piston Trophy
Location: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Track Type: 1.5-Mile
Surface: Asphalt
Team Members: 20 (approximately)

Suarez Set For Talladega Truck Debut

Win-Tron Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing announced today that Monterrey, Mexico native Daniel Suarez will drive the No. 35 ARRIS Toyota Tundra in next weekend’s Freds’ 250 powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega Superspeedway. 

Suarez, currently competing full time for Escuderia TELMEX in the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series, will use his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut to prepare for restrictor-plate racing, ahead of his upcoming full-time campaign in the NASCAR XFINITY Series next year. Suarez, a product of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, will also make select starts in the NCWTS in 2015.  

The former NASCAR Next member has spent time this season in both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Suarez won the first two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East events this season driving the No. 6 Toyota Camry for Rev Racing.  

Additionally, the 22-year old made his debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in May at Richmond International Raceway, driving the No. 20 Silent Circle/Telcel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. Most recently, Suarez made his intermediate track debut at Kentucky Speedway in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, where he finished fifth, driving the No. 66 ARRIS Toyota Camry for Venturini Motorsports. 

“We’re ecstatic to establish this partnership with Daniel and Joe Gibbs Racing for Talladega,” said Win-Tron Racing co-owner Nate Thiesse. “Daniel firmly represents everything that Win-Tron Racing is made of and we feel that he’ll excel in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut.”  

Kevin Cywinski, Thiesse’s partner at Win-Tron Racing echoed his sentiments, saying, “This is a big opportunity for us at Win-Tron Racing. Daniel is a talented race car driver and obviously a future superstar in this sport. We’re honored to host him for his truck debut. We’ve been working extremely hard on the No. 35 ARRIS Toyota Tundra the past few weeks and we can’t wait to unload it next week and see what Daniel can do.”   

Mark Rette will serve as crew chief for Suarez.

Kyle Flies To Charlotte Pole As Johnson, Keselowski, Kahne Struggle

Kyle Busch turned the fastest lap in the final round of NASCAR sprint Cup Series qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway last night, claiming the pole position for Saturday’s Bank of America 500. 

Busch’s fast lap of 27.357 seconds at 197.300 mph edged Jeff Gordon for the Charlotte pole by just 24/1000ths of a second. It was his third pole of the 2014 season and the 16th of his career. Denny Hamlin will start third Saturday night, followed by Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. 

Busch did not record the fastest lap of the night, however. That honor belonged to elder brother Kurt Busch who shattered Hamlin’s track record with a lap at 198.771 mph in the second of two qualifying rounds. Kurt was only 11th-fastest in the final go-round, however, on a night when 21 drivers bested Hamlin’s previous track record of 195.624 mph, set in May of last season. 

“It seemed like the guy that was the most consistent was able to win the pole tonight,” said Kyle Busch afterward. “I think we had a 27.38, then a .33 and then a .36 -- so (those were) pretty good laps there. We'll see how this weekend goes, and hopefully we can come out of here with a solid weekend and put ourselves in the right spot for continuing on in our Chase.” 

Busch comes to Charlotte second in the championship standings, just six points behind leader Joey Logano. Thursday night qualifying was not kind to a pair of Chase contenders badly in need of a strong performance. Brad Keselowski was only 17th-fastest Thursday, but expressed confidence in his race set-up.  

“We’ve been off a little bit in qualifying trim since we’ve been here,” he admitted, “but I thought our race trim was really good in practice. That’s the most important thing, so we’ll keep working.” 

Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson struggled to find speed for the second consecutive week, and will start 21st Saturday night. 

“(We) just didn’t have the speed on that final run,” said Johnson, who stands 11th in points and – like Keselowski -- is in danger of being eliminated from title contention next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. “I thought we had some hope after the first round… but (we) just didn’t have any more through Turns 3 and 4. I had to let off a little bit so I didn’t get into the outside wall. It’s disappointing.”  

 Kasey Kahne qualified 19th, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. ninth.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Earnhardt On Title Hopes: "We're Still In It"

After a disastrous, 39th-place finish last Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., has his back against the championship wall. Currently 11th in the Chase standings -- 24 points from advancing – Earnhardt will need a win at Charlotte or Talladega, or up-front finishes in both events to advance to the Eliminator Round.

Earnhardt said today that while unhappy with last week’s results, he is comforted by the week-in, week-out speed of his race cars.
“I’m really excited,” said Earnhardt. “I was thrilled with how we ran last weekend. Super-fast car (and) this place is a bit similar.  The last time we raced at Chicago was a while ago and everybody in the sport has learned a tremendous amount since that race.  You can’t come into this race going, ‘Alright, we ran good last time we were here, so we should be good this time.’ You’ve got to look a little shorter down the road and our best opportunity to look at a track that compares was last week. 
“I feel like we should be competitive this weekend,” he added. “We obviously know what the situation is with the points and how important it is for us to come in here and win the race.  I have been winless at Charlotte in a points-paying race since I started my career, so it’s bound to happen sooner or later.  I always win at the weirdest times, in the oddest circumstances. 
“So I feel like everything is lining up. I feel real good about this weekend.”
Earnhardt said this year’s Chase format actually allows him to dig out of last week’s hole, as opposed to last season when a poor start in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway doomed his championship effort.
“We were pretty much out of it last year at that point,” he recalled. “We still feel like we have a shot. There is a chance.  That is all you want to be able to go out there with a good attitude and try to make it happen. (It) would be amazing for us to go ahead and get it done with the circumstances we’ve got.  With this system, we still feel like we are in it.  If we believe in ourselves and believe in what we are doing, we can go out there and get in the mix.”
Earnhardt said he is unconcerned with having three major title contenders mired with him at the bottom of the standings.
“I can’t worry about them,” he said. “I can’t say what are my odds, what are Jimmie’s and what are Brad’s.  I just have to go try to win this race (and) I know that’s what they have to do.  I’ve got to throw them into the mix with every other driver out there, because it’s really not a matter of who is going to climb out of the hole.  It’s who is going to show up Saturday night and win the race. 
“You can’t really go into Talladega with the same confidence, because it’s such a lottery there.  I want to make it happen now.  I feel like I’ve got a better chance this week than I do in Talladega, even with the success we’ve had there. 
“There are two kinds of approaches and they are both equally as nerve racking,” he added. “One approach is to run well and hope that nothing bad happens, and the other approach is (to) just go for broke. I feel less pressure now than I did before the race at Kansas. I think we have a shot and I feel good about it. 
“I think our team is good.  I think we are good enough.  I think we should go out there and win.  I believe we will.”