Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chase Elliott Prepping For Return To Rockingham

Elliott ready for The Rock
For most 17-year-old NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookies, 200 laps on the tough, one-mile Rockingham Speedway would be quite an intimidating experience. But Chase Elliott isn't your average rookie. Before he could legally drive on the street, he had two victories on the track where his father, 1988 Winston Cup champion Bill Elliott, won his last race. 

"We won the 2011 Pro Cup race at Rockingham," said the younger Elliott, "and I think that was my most memorable time at the track. That was a big race, and it was cool because dad had won there in the Cup car right before the series stopped racing there.
"I remember being in Victory Lane with him when he won, so it was cool to get back there on my own."
Chase also won in a Sunoco National Tour race at the track in 2010, at age 14.
"The biggest thing is that Rockingham is unique when compared to other race tracks," said Elliott. "You can run all over it, and that something you don't see often in racing today. You can run from the white line to the wall and win races running. It puts on some great shows and I think it's going to continue to do that."
Despite his success at the track, Elliott expects the competition to be tough when the NCWTS returns to Rockingham for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at The Rock presented by Cheerwine on April 14.
"I think everyone is going to be on a pretty equal playing field," said Elliott, who makes his series debut April 6 at Martinsville. "They know what they're looking for in the trucks and we'll still be kind of new in that series. Those guys having laps in a truck in general, and having run there last year - they'll have some knowledge.
"A lot of guys will be tough, but hopefully we can be right there with them."
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be joined by the UARA-STARS Late Model Series and the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Nationals on the weekend card. The UARA and FKSSN will compete on Saturday, April 13, with qualifying on Friday, April 12. The trucks will practice on Saturday with qualifying and racing on Sunday, April 14.
Tickets, suite packages and camping accommodations for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at The Rock Presented by Cheerwine are now available at or by calling 910-205-8800. Saturday general admission tickets are $15 in advance ($20 at the gate), with grandstand tickets for Sunday's main event beginning at just $20.
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Johnson Ready For A Nap Before Phoenix Doubleheader

Jimme and Dave talk racing...
To say it’s been a long week for Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson would be a colossal understatement. 

While the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet has had precious little rest in the four days since hoisting the Harley J. Earl Trophy, Johnson insists it was well worth the chaos that ensued. 

Highlights of the week include visits to the Late Show with David Letterman and Good Morning America, cupcake making in Los Angeles, stops in Las Vegas, Dallas and New York, a contract extension with Johnson’s longstanding sponsor, Lowe’s and a late-night video that went viral with the 48 crew dancing on the front stretch of Daytona International Speedway in a spirited rendition of the Harlem Shake.  

Following his second career Daytona 500 win Sunday, Johnson went on a whirlwind tour organized by NASCAR that included stops in eight cities over four days. 

· Monday – Daytona 500 Champion’s Breakfast at the Daytona International Speedway Tours and Tickets office; flew to Charlotte for “car wash” at SPEED; flew to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., for another “car wash,” which included co-hosting a half hour of the evening SportsCenter broadcast. Radio interviews with The Jim Rome Show and The Dan Patrick Show. Ended the evening by flying to New York City in preparation for Tuesday’s media. 

· Tuesday – Started the day with an appearance on Good Morning America, followed by appearances on Morning Express with Robin Meade, CNN, Fox Business and the Late Show with David Letterman. Also visited the SiriusXM studios, where he joined several shows including a guest-hosting spot on The Morning Drive and The Spectrum. The appearance included Johnson picking some of his favorite songs from artists such as Jack Johnson, Neil Young, Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. The guest DJ session is scheduled to air Friday at 10 p.m. EST and will be rebroadcast at noon Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday. Johnson also chatted with the Huffington Post, TMZ and Fox Sports’ Jay Mohr Sports, participated in a NASCAR media teleconference and an online chat through Reddit called Ask Me Anything. His Tuesday ended with a late flight to Dallas. 

· Wednesday – Johnson attended a fan event for Texas Motor Speedway, which included media interviews in the local market. He then flew to Los Angeles for an event for Auto Club Speedway, before ending the evening in Las Vegas with more than 5,000 Lowe’s store managers at the Lowe’s National Sales Meeting. 

...and briefs the media in Las Vegas
· Thursday – He left Las Vegas and flew back to Los Angeles to conduct more media interviews, including chats with Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews and Good Day L.A. He is scheduled for a Thursday-evening event in Phoenix hosted by the track and is then scheduled to drop the puck at the Phoenix Coyotes hockey game, where he was to appear in the game broadcast. He will then head to PIR, where he is expected to promptly collapse and get some sleep in preparation for a weekend of Nationwide and Sprint Cup racing. 

“(It was) definitely a great start for the team,” said Johnson of his Daytona win. “When we were discussing things before the season started, we felt good about the 500, but we’re really excited for everything after the 500. So we’re very hopeful and excited that our No. 48 car will be really fast in Phoenix and Vegas, moving forward. I think it’s going to be a very strong year for us.” 

Now, a little rest is in order, as Johnson resumes his day job tomorrow morning at Phoenix International Raceway. His victory in the “Great American Race” has him atop the Sprint Cup Series point standings, and while it’s a precarious lead, he hopes to keep it as he visits the mile oval in the Arizona desert. 

Johnson’s record has been strong at Phoenix. He has 12 Top-5 finishes and 15 Top-10s in 19 starts. In typical Team 48 fashion, however, he is determined to improve on those statistics. In fact, the five-time series champion is slated for double duty, driving the No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet fielded by JR Motorsports in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
Photos: CBS/Jeffrey R. Staab

Stremme Set For Phoenix Return

David Stremme returns to the No. 30 Swan Racing Toyota at Phoenix International Raceway this week, after Michael Waltrip began the season with a 21st place finish in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in the team’s renumbered No. 26 Sandy Hook Memorial Fund Toyota. 

Stremme will compete for Swan Racing in the remainder of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, with no plans to "start and park" as he has been forced to do in past seasons. New owner Brandon Davis stepped in late last year, creating Swan Racing and stating his intention to “race hard, every lap of every race” going forward. 

"We are going to build a championship contender over time,” said Davis, “and we'll do it by competing against the best drivers in the world, not by packing up early." 

"It's a new day for the No. 30 Toyota and we'll be mixing it up all season, said Stremme. Drivers are competitive by nature. We feel the need to compete in everything we do. I will get the most out of this Toyota all season starting at Phoenix International Raceway." 

Stremme and Swan Racing represent an "old school" approach to racing, stretching every dollar to put the car on track each week.  

"This is old school racing here at Swan,” he said. “We all pitch in to build the cars at the shop each week and race hard on the weekends.” 

Swan Racing had a busy offseason building a strong foundation for the team's success. Several key hires were made that signal Swan Racing's commitment, including former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski as a minority owner, new competition director Steve Hmiel, crew chief Tony Eury Jr. and spotter Rocky Ryan. Swan Racing has also attracted new sponsorship from Nutrition53, a health supplement company which will feature its Lean1 product on the car as a primary sponsor for 10 races beginning at Texas Motor Speedway. Lean 1 will serve as an associate sponsor the remainder of the season.

Clements Suspended For "Intolerable and Insensitive Remark"

Jeremy Clements
NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Jeremy Clements was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR today for violating the sanctioning body’s Code of Conduct. 

On Feb. 23 at Daytona International Speedway, Clements violated Sections 7-5 (NASCAR’s Code of Conduct) and 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing). 

NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations Steve O’Donnell commented on the suspension, saying, “During the course of an interview, Jeremy Clements made an intolerable and insensitive remark. NASCAR has a Code of Conduct that’s explicitly spelled out in the 2013 NASCAR Rule Book. We fully expect our entire industry to adhere to that Code.”
The sanctioning body declined to provide details on Clements’ remark.

UPDATE: Jeremy Clements has commented on his indefinite suspension from NASCAR, saying, “I apologize and regret what I said to the NASCAR writer and to NASCAR, my sponsors, my fans, and my team. NASCAR has a Code of Conduct that everyone must follow and I unintentionally violated that code.”

Multiple sources say Clements’ uttered a racial slur in an interview with a reporter at Daytona International Speedway, but the driver declined to characterize his comments. “I will not get into specifics of what I said, but my comment to the writer was in no way meant to be disrespectful or insensitive to anyone or to be detrimental to NASCAR or the NASCAR Nationwide Series,” Clements said. “I will do what I need to do in order to atone for my error in judgment."
The 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series rule book prohibits public statements that criticize, ridicule or otherwise disparage another person based on race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age or handicapping condition.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 Apologizes For RaceView Issues sent an email apology to customers this week, after many subscribers were unable to utilize the website’s NASCAR Raceview technology throughout Speedweeks 2013.

“We at acknowledge the continuing access and performance issues associated with RaceView Premium for PC and RaceView Audio for PC,” said the email. “Prior to the Daytona 500, we attempted to implement several technical solutions in order to provide a working product. While many subscribers were able to successfully enjoy RaceView during the race, we understand there were many who continued to have problems.
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Petty Blue Returns In 24 Races This Season

Richard Petty Motorsports and sponsor Smithfield Foods announced today that the traditional Petty Blue color scheme will return for a majority of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Smithfield Foods and its family of brands -- including Eckrich, Farmland, Gwaltney and Smithfield -- will showcase the historic color on the No.43 Ford driven by Aric Almirola in 24 races this season; the first time in over 40 years that the Petty Blue color will be primarily featured on the No. 43 for nearly the entire race schedule.

The color, introduced by the Petty family and then made famous by "The King" Richard Petty, has come to define the winning tradition and heritage of the Petty family and the famed No. 43. The legions of Petty race fans have long waited for the return of the famous Petty Blue paint scheme. Smithfield Foods is proud to return the tradition and winning heritage back to the track.
"We want to connect the tradition and history of Richard Petty and Richard Petty Motorsports fans to our Smithfield Foods family of brands," explained Larry Pope, chief executive officer of Smithfield Foods. "There is no better way to do that than to bring back the Petty Blue color scheme that all race fans recognize and relate to on the No. 43 Ford. We will now make sure that each time we race this season, our fans will be able to easily recognize Aric (Almirola) on the track and the strong heritage that the Petty and Smithfield Foods brands represent."
The first Petty Blue scheme will adorn the No. 43 this weekend when Almirola will race the Famland Ford at Phoenix International Raceway. This car, along with the Eckrich and Smithfield (Gwaltney) Ford were unveiled today by team owner Richard Petty and Smithfield Director of Public Affairs, Dennis Pittman.
"I'm really humbled by everyone at Smithfield and all their companies to decide to make this change," said team owner Richard Petty. "They have been great partners for us as a company and this really proves that. Our fans will now be able to easily recognize the No. 43 Ford and Aric on the track throughout the season. It will also bring back a lot of good memories for me each time I see it."

Cassill Lands At Circle Sport Racing

Circle Sport, LLC, today announced that Landon Cassill will drive the No. 33 Circle Sport NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet beginning this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Cassill, a 23-year-old former development driver for Hendrick Motorsports, will pilot the No. 33 Moon Shine Wildfire Camo Chevrolet SS in Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500. He enters the weekend with 84 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, in addition to 33 NASCAR Nationwide Series and eight NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of helping advance Circle Sport to the next level of competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series,” said Cassill. “I have been a part of and understand what it takes for an upstart organization to compete in the Cup Series. They have an established relationship with Richard Childress Racing that I believe will help us, and with the right marketing partners – a company that wants to grow their involvement in the sport – I believe we have just the right opportunity for them with the No. 33 Chevrolet.”
Cassill, who competed in all 36 Sprint Cup Series races last year for BK Racing, will mark his 2013 Sprint Cup Series debut in a specially outfitted camouflage Chevrolet SS designed by Moon Shine Attitude Attire. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native will be led by NASCAR veteran Mike Hillman, Sr., who has won three NASCAR championships with drivers Tommy Ellis and Todd Bodine. Circle Sport enters its second season of NASCAR competition in 2013 and continues to be owned by Joe Falk, a Virginia businessman who has been a part of the sport since the late 1990s. Falk previously fielded the No. 91 Sprint Cup entry for drivers Dick Trickle, Greg Sacks, Kevin Lepage, Mike Wallace and Todd Bodine, which included a top-five finish in 1998 season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I have watched Landon progress as a race car driver, and it was his qualifying efforts in our Cup car in 2010 and 2011 that caught the eye of James Finch and earned him his first big break in NASCAR’s premier series,” Falk said. “Landon has a tremendous amount of potential and we believe we’re building a program that will allow him to showcase his talents. He has driven for the likes of Hendrick Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and we feel that his experience will help our transition to the new Gen-6 race car. As we continue to build our program, we are still actively seeking marketing partners that want to grow with us and reach NASCAR’s 75 million fans through our various price points and sponsorship options.”

Lowe's Signs With Hendrick, Johnson Though 2015

Lowe’s will continue its successful relationship with Hendrick Motorsports after signing a two-year contract extension that secures the full-season primary sponsorship of the #48 NASCAR Sprint Cup team and five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson for 2014 and 2015.

Announced today to more than 1,700 store managers at the Lowe's national sales meeting, the agreement builds upon a partnership launched in 2001 when Johnson was selected to drive for the then-new #48 Hendrick Motorsports team. Now in its 12th full season, the sponsor-driver-team relationship has become one of the most successful in NASCAR history.
On Sunday in his 400th Cup race, Johnson drove the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet SS to his second career Daytona 500 win. In the process, he became just the second driver (teammate Jeff Gordon is the other) to have the same primary sponsor for all of his first 400 Cup starts.
Led by crew chief Chad Knaus, the #48 Lowe's team has now scored at least one Sprint Cup Series victory in 12 consecutive seasons

Derek White Joins SR2 Motorsports

SR² Motorsports announced today that NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Canadian Tire Series driver Derek White has joined the Buford, Ga.-based Nationwide Series team as a minority owner.

White's stake in the team has already paid dividends. He has secured a multi-race sponsorship with HEADRUSH Apparel, which will adorn Jason White's No. 00 Toyota Camry this week at Phoenix International Raceway. HEADRUSH Apparel will back the team in select races throughout the 2013 season.
White, a North American Indian from Kahnawake, Quebec brings a strong combination of racing passion and experience to SR² Motorsports. He began driving in racing's top levels in 2009, making five starts as an owner/driver in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and two starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He followed the season up by winning the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series Rookie of the Year honors in 2010. In 2012, he broke into the Nationwide Series, competing with SR² Motorsports in four events, finishing a season-best 18th-place at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. White is excited to return to the three-car team as a partner in 2013.
"I'm very excited to continue my relationship with SR²Motorsports," said White. "I enjoyed working with them last year and was very impressed with what they achieved in their first season. They've made several improvements in the off season and I'm glad that I can continue to be a part of the organization as it goes forward."
SR² Motorsports began as a two-car team in the Nationwide Series last season. They acquired McDonald Motorsports to become a three-car team for 2013. Sciavicco is pleased to have White remain with the team as it progresses.
"We're very excited to have Derek White join our team in a larger role," said Sciavicco. "His experience will be very valuable to our organization. He's already made a tremendous contribution by bringing HEADRUSH Apparel on board as an SR² Motorsports partner. We're poised to have a terrific 2013 season and know that Derek will play a big part in that."

COMMENTARY: NASCAR Fixes Flawed All-Star Format

Finally, a Sprint All-Star race format that rewards drivers for driving hard, going to the front and staying there!

In the beginning, NASCAR’s annual All Star Race was a masterpiece of simple, straightforward beauty. Line up all the winners from the previous season, trim the distance to a mere heat race, guarantee the winner a million dollars in cold, hard cash, then throw the green flag and watch the sparks fly. 

The system worked extremely well for many years, producing memorable moments like Dale Earnhardt’s 1987 “Pass in the Grass,” Davey Allison’s crash-marred checkered flag in 1992 and Darrell Waltrip’s “I hope he chokes on it,” Victory Lane interview in 1989.  

Sadly, television producers and advertising executives soon got their hands on the recipe, remaking the All Star Race into a baffling amalgam of segments, contrived pit strategy and fan voting. Like a motorized version of reality TV queen Heidi Montag, the event was nipped, tucked, tightened and trimmed into a product that longtime fans no longer recognized. 

The race’s all-time low came last season, when Segment One winner Jimmie Johnson and Segment Two winner Matt Kenseth spent the rest of the evening lollygagging at the rear of the field, saving their cars for a guaranteed, up-front starting spot in the final, decisive 10-lap segment. Fans responded with justified disdain, prompting NASCAR to rework the format for this year’s event, yet again. 

In 2013, the Sprint All- Star Race will reward hard driving, rather than lollygagging.  At the conclusion of the fourth segment, the field will be realigned based on each driver’s average finish in the previous four segments. Hard chargers will be moved to the front of the field, with back markers banished to the rear.  Once the field is realigned, pit road will open for a mandatory, four-tire pit stop. The order in which the cars return to the track will determine the starting order for the final, 10-lap segment.  

At its base, stock car racing has always been a simple sport. Line `em up, drop the rag and reward the man (or woman) who busts their way to the top of the heap in time to take the checkered flag first.  

Any format that rewards going slow is a faulty format, and any system that rewards lollygagging over speed is a fool’s errand.

Congratulations to NASCAR on finally seeing the light, once again.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bruton Sweetens The All-Star Pot

SMI's Bruton Smith
When the money’s on the line, NASCAR’s best drivers better keep their foot on the gas.

With a $1 million payday, the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway already offers the richest per-mile winner’s purse in motorsports, at more than $7,400 for each mile raced. But this year, the pot gets even sweeter with the introduction of Bruton’s Big Bonus.
When NASCAR’s best take to the high banks of the legendary 1.5-mile superspeedway, drivers will have a million more reasons stay up front from the first green flag until the checkered falls. If one driver wins all four 20-lap segments and bests the field in the final 10-lap shootout, he will double his winnings and take home Bruton’s Big Bonus of an additional $1 million.
“My dad, Bruton Smith, says that three things motivate people – love, fear and money,” said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “These drivers love to race and they fear losing with backyard bragging rights on the line. Now we are doubling down with $2 million up for grabs. This is motivation like never before to get up on the wheel for the fans.”
The May 18 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race will consist of 90 total laps; four 20-lap segments followed by a mandatory four-tire pit stop and a 10-lap sprint to the big-money finish.
"I don't have a strategy, but to win," said Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford, when he helped unveil the additional $1 million bonus. "I'll let the crew chief figure that stuff out. I'm just going to go out there and race as hard as I can to lead every lap, win every segment. And now it looks I've got reason to do so."
Drivers currently eligible for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race are Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Keselowski, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart. In addition, the top two finishers from the Sprint Showdown and the Sprint Fan Vote winner will be added to the field, plus any additional driver who wins a Sprint Cup Series race prior to the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
Photo: David Griffin/Icon SMI

NASCAR Tunes Up All-Star Format

Reinforcing the need to race all-out for the win, NASCAR announced today a new format for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race that will put added emphasis on finishing well in each of the five segments. The annual classic is set for Saturday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

The sanctioning body announced a new wrinkle that should keep fans and the competitors excited. The field will be realigned at the completion of the fourth segment (Lap 80), based on each driver’s average finish for the first four segments. Once the field is aligned behind the caution car, pit road will open for a mandatory four-tire pit stop. The order in which the cars return to the track will determine the starting order of the final segment.  

Ties will be broken by the finish of the fourth segment; placing a premium on making every lap count prior to the final, 10-lap shootout where the winner will earn a $1 million pay day from Sprint. 

“Having the average finish through the race’s first four segments determine how the cars come down pit road for the last mandatory four-tire pit stop takes the competition to an even higher level,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition. “The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is truly a showcase event for our sport and this format should bring out the best in our drivers and our teams.” 

The race will continue to be run in four, 20-lap segments and one 10-lap final segment. All laps will count in Segments One through Four. In the fifth and final segment, only green flag laps will be counted. There will be optional pit stops during the break following each of the first three segments, with the field set by the pit stop/stay out positioning during the five caution laps. 

“The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race is the highlight of our season,” said Tim Considine, director of sponsorship marketing for Sprint. “These added elements help continue the tradition of this being one of the most unique and compelling races on the NASCAR Sprint Cup calendar.” 

Eligibility criteria for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race remain the same:

· Drivers who have won NASCAR Sprint Cup races in the current and preceding year. Interestingly, if a driver leaves a team after winning a race, he or she remains eligible. The team does not.

· Drivers who are past NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race winners in the past 10 years

· Drivers who are past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions in the last 10 years

· The top two finishers in the Sprint Showdown, the 40-lap race that precedes the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race

· The top Sprint Fan Vote driver who finishes on the lead lap of the Showdown and whose car is in “raceable” condition as determined by the series director

The 2013 Sprint Fan Vote runs from March 20-May 18. Fans may vote by using the NASCAR Mobile ’13 application or online at NASCAR.COM. Votes cast from the NASCAR Mobile ’13 application count double. 

This will be the 29thrunning of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Five-time series champion and reigning Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson won last year’s race. 

NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race weekend ticket packages including all Friday and Saturday activities start at just $99, including scanner rental. Fans should call 1-800-455-FANS or visit for details.

Annett Out Indefinitely After Daytona Crash

After further evaluation by two different doctors in North Carolina, it has been determined that Richard Petty Motorsports driver Michael Annett suffered a fractured and dislocated sternum in a late-race NASCAR Nationwide Series crash at Daytona International Speedway Saturday.
Annett (yellow car) was hurt at Daytona
Annett will undergo immediate surgery for his injuries in Charlotte, NC, and will be sidelined from competition for an indefinite period of time while he heals from the surgery. Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola will drive the No. 43 Pilot Flying J Ford this weekend at the Phoenix International Raceway, as the team evaluates its options moving forward.
A statement from Richard Petty Motorsports said the team’s primary concern is the health of Annett and getting him the proper treatment he needs for a full recovery.

Surprising "Hots" And "Nots" Heading To Phoenix

McDowell is heading home
Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley have a few things in common. 

They’re both from the Phoenix area. Yeley’s hometown is Phoenix; McDowell hails from nearby Glendale. 

They’re both driving for teams with two or fewer cars. Yeley drives for Tommy Baldwin Racing, McDowell for Phil Parsons Racing.  

They both scored Top-10 finishes in the Daytona 500 and ride into Phoenix International Raceway this weekend on a wave of momentum.  

McDowell finished a career-best ninth in The Great American Race. That effort far exceeded his previous best finish, a 20th at Richmond International Raceway in 2008. Yeley’s 10th-place Daytona 500 showing was the eighth Top-10 of his career and first since June of 2008.  

Danica Patrick is an honorary Phoenix native, as well. Though born in Roscoe, Ill., Patrick maintains dual residences in Phoenix and Chicago. And clearly, she enjoys the home-track advantage. A 17th-place finish in last November’s race was her career best at the time, trumped just last Sunday with an eighth in the Daytona 500. Last year’s PIR race remains her best Cup Series performance on a non-plate track. 

Yeley 10th at Daytona
Patrick made plenty of history Sunday, becoming the first female to leads laps in the Daytona 500, the first female to score a Top-10 in the 500 and the 13th driver to lead both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Patrick led five laps Sunday, becoming one of only six drivers who have led five laps in both races. A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Robby Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart are the others. 

While Yeley, McDowell and Patrick come to the Valley of the Sun on high notes, Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 offers several other drivers an opportunity to regain momentum that vanished abruptly at Daytona.  

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were all fast enough to win the “Great American Race” before misfortune – accident or engine failure – dictated otherwise. 

Each has tasted success at Phoenix International Raceway in the past. 

Harvick (29) was out early Sunday
On the verge of going winless last season after two championship “near misses,” Harvick drove his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to victory at PIR in November. He has now won three times on the one-mile oval, posting six Top-five and 10 Top-10 finishes.

Busch set a one-lap qualifying record (138.766 mph, 25.943 seconds) when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visited Phoenix last fall. Busch, whose Phoenix victory came in 2005, owns the track’s third-best Driver Rating (99.9). 

Stewart is also a former Phoenix winner, but a third-place finish in the fall of 2011 was crucial in his third NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. He has a second-best average running position of 10.2, but failed to record a Top-15 finish at Phoenix last season. 

Kenseth led the most laps in the Daytona 500 (86) before being sidelined by engine failure. He’ll make his first Phoenix start in a Joe Gibbs Toyota as teammate to last spring’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 winner, Denny Hamlin. Kenseth’s lone Phoenix victory came in 2002.

Allmendinger Will Return At Phoenix

A.J. Allmendinger will return to the Phoenix Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team in the Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway.  

Allmendinger will drive the No. 51 Guy Roofing Chevrolet in his fifth Sprint Cup Series start with team, one week after Regan Smith steered the car to a seventh-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. 

Allmendinger is no stranger to Phoenix International Raceway. He has eight previous Sprint Cup Series starts at the one-mile oval and has driven to four Top-15 finishes and two Top-10s. He has three career front-row starts there, including a pole in 2010. Phoenix Racing has made 16 Cup Series starts at Phoenix with a best finish of ninth in 2005 with driver Johnny Sauter. 

"This will be good,” said Allmendinger. “It's been a few months since I've been in a stock car. I haven't been in one of the Gen-6 cars yet, so it will take a little time to get acclimated. Phoenix International Raceway is a great place for me to get back behind the wheel. I've always enjoyed the race track. It will definitely feel different, but I'll be ready to go.  

"It definitely helps to go to a track that I enjoy already,” he said. “It's a tough race track, especially with the repave. It starts off slick when we make our first few laps, then it gains grip. It picks up a ton of grip pretty quickly, then goes back to being slick for the race. It's definitely a challenging race track.  

“I know the guys will have a good race car ready for the weekend,” said Allmendinger. “I was really impressed with their run last week at Daytona. It showed that they're putting together solid equipment and have a good feel for the new car. I think I'll have to ease into it for the first 30-45 minutes and get used to the new car. But after that, I'll be up to speed and ready to go.” 

The California native said PIR is one of the most technical and challenging tracks in NASCAR. 

“It takes finesse and you have to hit your marks perfect every time,” he said. “There's barely any banking, which means it's easy to slip and slide if you come into the corners too hot. You also have to be mindful of your brakes. It's easy to use them up in the early stages of the race and not have any left for the end.  

“I think that's what I enjoy so much about the track,” he said. “You have to be on top of your game to have a good day there. I'm really looking forward to hopping in the Guy Roofing Chevy this weekend."

Random Thoughts From Speedweeks 2013

Patrick had a solid Speedweeks
A few more races like Sunday’s and Danica Patrick may finally succeed in being viewed as a racer, rather than a female racer.

Speedweeks 2013 produced a series of Patrick-produced firsts. She became the first woman to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole, the first woman to lead the Daytona 500 and the 13th driver to lead both the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500. "I'm honored," said Patrick, “but these are things that just happen along the way.

“I'm on a quest to be the best driver, run up front and get to Victory Lane. These other things happen and I'm proud, but they're not the ultimate goal."
Her inexperience showed on the final lap, when Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Regan Smith all freight-trained her Chevrolet on the inside line. An eighth-place finish left her two spots short of Janet Guthrie for the best-ever finish by a woman in a Cup Series race, but Earnhardt gave her high marks after the race, saying, “"She's going to make a lot of history all year long. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch her progress.”
Can you identify this man?
Pop Culture Central: Sunday’s Daytona 500 rivaled the front row at an LA Lakers game as the place to see and be seen for Hollywood glitterati. NASCAR President Mike Helton needed nearly 10 minutes to introduce all the movie stars, singers, rappers and politicos in attendance at the pre-race driver’s meeting; an A-List gathering of Beautiful People that included rappers 50 Cent and T.I., actor James Franco, golfer Jim Furyk and numerous others I couldn’t pick out of a police lineup if my life depended on it.
Not So Great, Or Powerful: Speaking of Franco, the “Oz, The Great and Powerful” star would have been better off staying in bed Sunday. As Grand Marshal for Sunday’s Daytona 500, Franco was apparently torn between the traditional, “Drivers, start your engines” command and the infinitely wittier, “Gentlemen, and Danica” variant.

Inexplicably, he blurted out a semi-insulting amalgam of both, commanding, "Drivers and Danica, start your engines!" The gaffe was seen as a sexist snub by some, triggering a nasty beating from the social media pundits. But hey, he's used to getting panned after his awkward turn as host of the Academy Awards a few years back.
Even poor Tony Stewart had a better day.
"I got yer practice right HERE!"
We’re Talkin’ Practice: Jimmie Johnson joined former Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson on the list of professional athletes who prove that practice does not, necessarily, make perfect. While the vast majority of Sprint Cup Series teams ran endless laps of practice during Speedweeks 2013, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus blazed their own trail. They did very little practicing and absolutely no drafting, staying far removed from the pack while making a series of solo, single-lap runs. Despite having only 74 laps of drafting under his belt at the start of the Daytona 500 – all of it coming in the Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel races – Johnson made all the right moves at the end of the Great American Race, playing traffic like a Steinway piano en route to his second career Daytona 500 victory.
“An eight- to 15-car draft does nothing for you,” said Johnson of his practice regimen. “You’re taking a risk of tearing up your racecar (under) conditions that are nothing like whatyou see in the race with 43 cars on the track. We have been in drafting practice and lost cars over the years."

Calamity Carl: Carl Edwards came to Daytona ready to put a disastrous 2012 season behind him. Instead, “Cousin Carl” demolished four different race cars in a thoroughly disastrous Speedweeks effort that left many observers wondering if he will ever recover from the karmic calamity of his lost 2011 championship. A dismal, 33rd place finish left Edwards 30th in championship points, facing a major deficit for the second time in as many years.

Kenseth's bid goes up in smoke.
Same Old Song And Dance: With 50 laps to go, Joe Gibbs Racing held the top three positions in the Daytona 500. With 48 to go, both Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch were behind the wall after being sidelined by engine issues.
“I thought we did all the right things,” said Kenseth, who appeared to have the dominant car before smoke began billowing from the engine compartment of his Dollar General-sponsored Toyota. “We had a great strategy (and) our Toyota was really fast. We had all the right things -- we just didn’t make it to the end.”

“We just broke an engine for some reason,” echoed Busch, a consistent critic of JGR’s decision to farm-out its Sprint Cup engine business to Toyota Racing Development a year ago. “It’s unfortunate that this team has got to go through this stuff. I hate it for this whole team. These guys do a great job and work too hard.
“It sounds a lot like 2012 already.”
Busch won his Budweiser Duel qualifier earlier in the week, but engine malfunctions ended promising runs in both the Daytona 500 and NASCAR Nationwide Series “Drive 4 COPD 300.”
Tell Us How You REALLY Feel: Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano seemed friendly enough during their four-year run as teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. After Sunday’s Daytona 500, however, Hamlin blasted Logano on Twitter, blaming the Penske Racing driver for “messing up the inside line” and preventing him from contending for the win.
“Sorry I couldn't get close to you cuz your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time,” tweeted Hamlin to defending series champion Brad Keselowski after the race.
Logano responded quickly, tweeting, “I remember when you were MY genius teammate. #LoveYouMeanIt
Photos: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images