Monday, June 30, 2014

Drive Your Car At Talladega!

Have you ever imagined seeing the view Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and the other top stars in NASCAR have when driving around Talladega Superspeedway?

Well, fans will have that special opportunity to tour the 2.66-mile venue – complete with 33-degrees of banking in the turns – in their own personal car during “Fan Track Drive,” a fundraising event for the American Red Cross on Saturday, July 26.  

The “Fan Track Drive” event will run from 9 am until 2 pm and will allow guests to drive their passenger vehicle two laps around the Talladega Superspeedway for a $50 contribution. Each vehicle will closely follow one of Talladega Superspeedway’s Emergency Services vehicles, which will lead the field at highway speed. Currently, there are no other fan “drive” events planned for the remainder of 2014 at Talladega. 

“We are proud to host the American Red Cross at Talladega Superspeedway for the upcoming ‘Fan Track Drive’ event,” said track Chairman Grant Lynch. “The American Red Cross does wonderful things in our area that save peoples’ lives each and every day.  We are more than happy to contribute as much time and effort as we can to help them do their job.” 

In addition to the “drive,” guests can take a high-speed ride around NASCAR’s Most Competitive Track in one of the speedway’s official pace cars – the Ford Mustang or the Chevrolet Camaro – at a cost of $100. All money for rides will be directly donated to the American Red Cross Talladega-St Clair Chapter. Photo opportunities will be offered in Gatorade Victory Lane to capture guests’ memorable time at the historic track, which turns 45 years old with the running of the GEICO 500 and Fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola, Oct. 17-19. 

Upon arrival at the main entrance to the property off Speedway Boulevard, fans will be greeted by track staff to will take payments, have participants sign a waiver to drive, and give directions to go inside the track.  

The “Fan Track Drive” will be limited to passenger vehicles only. No motorcycles, recreational vehicles, tractor trailers, etc. will be allowed on the track. Passing on the track is not allowed. Drivers must be at least 18 years of age and provide a valid driver’s license. All participants must abide by TSS rules or be removed from track property. Some restrictions include: dropping back or lagging behind and exceeding the paced highway speed, and driving in the top groove/lane of the track. 

Also on the horizon for the American Red Cross at Talladega Superspeedway is the annual “Laps for Life” blood drive, slated for September 11. Details will be available in the near future. The American Red Cross recently recognized the speedway for its outstanding contributions and support of the organization. 


The American Red Cross, Blood Services, Alabama and Central Gulf Coast Region, which supplies blood to approximately 100 hospitals, needs 600 blood donors each day in order to meet the needs of patients in the region. Blood donors must be at least 17 years old (16 with parental consent) and weigh at least 110 pounds. Please call 1-800-RED-CROSS or visit www.redcrossblood.org to make an appointment to donate blood or platelets. 

COMMENTARY: "Good Points Day" Coming Back Into Play

Matt Kenseth is in good shape...
With just nine races remaining until the start of the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the lay of the land is beginning to change.
  
With no new winners in the last six events, it appears certain that NASCAR will not reach the magical “16 winners” plateau by the time the regular season ends on Sept. 6 at Richmond International Raceway. If the regular season ended today, no less than six winless drivers would qualify for the Chase based on championship points; Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Kyle Larson, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer. 
  
Until now, the Sprint Cup Series garage has been completely and totally focused on winning. With a Chase berth guaranteed by a single victory, the term “good points day” had become a thing of the past, as teams risk all in pursuit of the almighty `W.’ 

Now, at least for a while, the “good points day” is back in play. 

...as is Ryan Newman.
For a select handful of drivers, a trip to Victory Lane is no longer a necessity before the end of the regular season. Solidly ensconced in the Top-10 in points, Kenseth and Newman can now make the Chase with nothing more than consistent showings in the next nine races. While both will continue racing for the win – and the three-point per victory winner’s bonus at the start of the Chase -- there is no longer a realistic rationale for them to take wild gambles; either on the track or on pit road. 

Further down the points table, however, things are less cut and dried.  

The gap between current Chase qualifier Bowyer and first-man-out Kasey Kahne is presently just eight points, and five other drivers lurk within 22 points of Kahne. With a maximum of 48 points available each week, the gap between “in” and “out” of the Chase field is razor-thin and getting thinner. 

Over the next nine weeks, non-Chase qualified teams will be forced to serve two masters at the same time; racing for points while also racing for the win. Their level of aggression will depend in large part on where they stand on the championship leader board from week to week, or even lap to lap. Uncertainty will be the order of the day, as drivers, crew chiefs and fans all trying to toe the line between “too much” and “not enough.” 

Then we’ll set the Chase field at Richmond, and the real pressure will begin.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Caterpillar Extends With RCR, Newman

Add caption
Caterpillar Inc. has announced the renewal of its sponsorship of Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chevrolet and driver Ryan Newman.


Caterpillar began its NASCAR involvement as a team sponsor in the NASCAR Nationwide Series from 1995 to 1996, before moving to what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 1997. Its relationship with RCR began in 2009, with Newman assuming the driving duties of the Caterpillar Chevy SS this season. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Latest Verse, Same As The First: Harvick Unhappy Again

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Kevin Harvick left Sonoma Raceway Sunday unhappy with his team’s inability to turn a lightning-fast race car into a winning race car.
Harvick led 23 laps in Sunday’s race, but he and his Budweiser Chevrolet team waited until late in a fuel run before making a critical pit stop, then gave away positions on pit road waiting an extra 2-3 seconds for the fuel cell to fill. He restarted 11th -- venting his spleen over the in-car radio about lengthy pit stops that are “getting old” -- then promptly got swept-up in a crash triggered when Clint Bowyer spun off the front bumper of pole sitter Jamie McMurray.
“Today was just another day with the fastest car,” grumbled Harvick after a 20th-place finish. “We had a chance to win the race and kind of flubbed it up again. (We) just got ourselves bad track position and crashed.”
Harvick’s unhappiness is understandable. With a minor twist of fate – or increased expeditiousness on pit road – he could easily have four or five victories this season, instead of just two. While happy with the performance of their race car, he and crew chief Rodney Childers have to wonder how many opportunities they can squander before costing themselves what should be a golden opportunity to race for the championship.
There’s another problem, as well.
If Harvick continues to lambast his over-the-wall crew on a weekly basis, it’s only a matter of time until someone takes offense. Justified or not, nobody enjoys being dressed down on national television. Crew members seldom (if ever) have an opportunity to turn the tables, grabbing the nearest microphone and bad-mouthing their driver for a lousy final restart, or sticking it in the SAFER barrier while leading.
Criticism – or at least the kind of criticism that takes place outside the weekly competition meeting – is decidedly divisive, no matter how many times you mouth the cliché about “winning as a team and losing as a team.”
Finger pointing never works over the long haul, especially when the same fingers get pointed, week after week. Harvick expects a high level of performance from his team, and he is entitled to do so. His concerns have almost certainly been voiced behind closed doors at Stewart Haas racing this season, apparently to no avail. At this point, publicly poking the open wound is the only way for Harvick to draw attention to the issue and spur a change.

Until that happens, expect additional verses of the same race day refrain.

Report: ESPN Drops "NASCAR Now"

Five months before leaving the ranks of NASCAR television partners, ESPN has cancelled "NASCAR Now."  

The daily NASCAR news show debuted in 2007, but network spokesperson Andy Hall told Motorsports.com today that the network “just decided to make a change in the programming schedule.”  

ESPN ends its run as an official NASCAR broadcast partner at the end of this season – giving way to FOX and NBC – but Hall called the move “totally unrelated to our telecast of NASCAR races.” In his words, “We will continue to aggressively cover NASCAR across our news platforms, including SportsCenter, ESPN.com and others.” 
 
"NASCAR Now" has been pre-empted in the last two weeks for coverage of the FIFA World Cup, and prior to that, frequently aired in the early morning hours.

Gambler Gaughan Scores At Road America

Brendan Gaughan knows a thing or two about gambling.

His late grandfather, Jackie Gaughan, was a pioneer in the Las Vegas casino industry and once owned more than 25 percent of the available real estate in downtown Las Vegas. His father, Michael Gaughan, currently owns the South Point Hotel and Casino and was enshrined in the Gaming Hall of Fame in 2009.

Saturday at Wisconsin’s Road America road course, the latest chapter in the “Gambler Gaughan” saga was written, as Gaughan rolled the dice and came up a winner in the Gardner Denver 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race. It was Gaughan’s first Nationwide win in 98 career starts, and like a five-card blackjack win, it did not come easily.

Delayed nearly two hours by rain showers that dampened the course too much for NASCAR’s traditional racing slicks, but not enough to allow the use of wet-weather tires, Saturday’s race played out in three distinct parts. The first 25 laps were run under overcast-but-dry skies, with pole sitter Alex Tagliani, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Gaughan all spending time at the front of the pack. Rain began to fall in earnest on Lap 25, however, forcing NASCAR to call the field to pit road and bolt-on the treaded, wet-weather tires. After a lengthy period of slipping and sliding, the rain abated and the sun actually broke through, forcing drivers to tiptoe through the final laps on rapidly deteriorating tires.

It was a situation tailor-made for a born gambler like Gaughan.   

“I love racing in the rain,” said Gaughan, who was outside the Top-20 when the rain came, due to an early pit stop and a minor off-road excursion. “When it started to rain, I smelled blood in the water.”

He immediately began knifing his way through the field, despite a malfunctioning windshield wiper assembly that severely impacted his vision.

"Even without the wiper blade problem, I said, ‘I’m coming to the front,’” he recalled. “That’s something I’ve been lacking lately; that killer attitude. But I’ve done a lot of racing in the rain, and while a lot of guys were struggling today, I was right in my element.”

Gaughan made a spellbinding charge through the field, passing cars at will while throwing huge rooster tails of spray out the back of his black-and-gold South Point Camaro. With a lap to go, however, he was still a distant second to Tagliani. The racing equivalent of drawing to an inside straight, he seemed destined for the latest in a maddening series of “close but no cigar” NASCAR moments.
Then, like a riverboat gambler in a white linen suit, Gaughan drew the one card he needed most. Justin Marks ran out of fuel, bringing out a caution flag that punched the field and put Gaughan a bumper away from the lead. Tagliani’s fuel cell then ran dry while awaiting the decisive green-white-checkered flag finish, handing the lead to Gaughan.
He kept the field at bay over the final two laps, pushing his deteriorating wet-weather tires to the limit with repeated banzai charges on the now-dry race track. Despite plumes of smoke billowing from his right-front tire, he led a resurgent Tagliani to the stripe by .820 seconds to claim his first-ever Nationwide Series win and his first NASCAR score of any kind since 2003.
“I can't thank these Richard Childress Racing guys enough,” said a teary eyed Gaughan in Victory Lane. “(Crew chief) Shane Wilson never quit on me, even when I got off course a couple of times and tried to screw up his strategy. They’ve been with me through thick and thin, and this win is for them.”
Saturday’s race had it all; speed, drama, twists of fate and a finish straight out of the Sci-Fi Channel. And in the end, Gaughan stood beaming in Victory Lane, soaking up the accolades for a win that was absolutely too long in coming.
“I don’t know how much more drama (people could ask for),” he said. “I don’t know what it looked like on TV, but from the driver’s seat, it looked pretty cool to me.”
Pretty cool, indeed.
 
Grandpa Jackie would have been proud.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Logano: Expect Hurt Feelings At Sonoma Sunday

Joey Logano makes no bones about the fact that he expects some beating and banging in Sunday’s road course event at Sonoma Raceway in California.

Speaking with reporters Friday afternoon, the Team Penske driver said the payout of the track demands a certain degree of aggression. “Speeds are low and you’re trying to pass people into braking zones,” he said. “You’ve got to get right up on them on (corner) exit and then you’ve got to out-brake them. You’re both braking with everything you’ve got (and) you’re trying to go a little further to get him.
“It’s not really there,” he admitted. “It’s not possible. Your tires are wearing and your brakes are getting hot. Everything gets worse throughout the race, so at the end of the race when the intensity level is up and everyone’s car is not handling as well, we run into each other.”
The Shell/Pennzoil Ford driver said that in marked contrast to the Golden Rule, drivers generally want to do unto others at Sonoma before someone does unto them.
“You want to be the guy that’s being aggressive,” he said, “and not the one that’s getting pushed around. That’s important. That’s why you want to make sure you have a fast race car and you’re good in the right areas (of the track). That’s why practice is so important here; to make sure we’re good in the areas that are danger zones on this race track.
“I think everyone has gotten spun out at this race track at some point,” said Logano. “That just happens. When you’re trying to slow down these cars… think about the way you get into (the turn), how fast you’re going (and) how slow you’ve got to get this thing whoa-ed up. There’s a lot of wheel-hopping and you get a lot of issues.”
With so many variables at work, Logano said contract between cars at Sonoma is inevitable. Repeated contact, however, often leads to overheated tempers and rumpled race cars.
“The first (hit) is always an accident,” he laughed. “After that, I don’t know how much is an accident. I think it depends on what’s going on. Usually, we all try to start the race calm, cool and collected. Everyone is just running their deal, then one person gets hit and knocked out of the way. (Now) he’s mad and he hits someone else. Now the next guy is mad, and that just triggers it.
“Everyone starts with the right attitude, (but) at the end, all manners are out the window and it’s about getting those positions. There are four or five people that are pretty calm (and) might not have a mark on their race car, (but) everyone else is going to get beat around. And when you get beat around, you get ticked off. It happens.”
The Connecticut native added that this year’s revised Chase system has added additional fuel to the fire.
“Look at the guys that are good at these road courses and look at the guys that haven’t won yet this season,” he said. “They’re starting to get desperate, I’m sure. They’re starting to get into panic mode at this point in the season, and if this is one of the race tracks you feel you can capitalize on, (you’re) going to be desperate and do some crazy things out there. 
“That’s why it’s so important to be on the aggressive side. I want to be the guy pushing. I don’t want to be the guy getting pushed around. If you’re running up front and you look at the top three, four or five cars, they will be the ones that don’t have many marks on them.
“You’ve got to be patient,” he stressed. “You can’t get too fired up, but you’ve got to be the aggressive one. And I think the guys that haven’t had a win are going to get desperate.
“It’s going to be either checkers or wreckers for them. Hopefully, I’m far enough ahead that it’s not a problem.”

Source: M&Ms Will Remain With Busch In 2015

As always, there are at least two sides to every story.

Just 24 hours ago, reports surfaced that Carl Edwards will leave Roush Fenway Racing to drive an M&Ms-sponsored Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing beginning in 2015, with Kyle Busch driving a JGR Camry backed by Monster Energy Drink.

Now, however, reliable sources say the M&Ms sponsorship will absolutely remain with Busch next season, and beyond.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a JGR insider said there is no truth to yesterday's rumor that M&Ms will back Edwards next season, rather than Busch.
 
“Kyle is M&Ms guy,” said the source, “and it is going to stay that way.”

Edwards’ remains characteristically tight-lipped about his ongoing contract negotiations, and no one at either Joe Gibbs Racing or Roush Fenway Racing have commented on reports of his impending move. If he does jump to JGR, however, it appears that it will not be with the support of M&Ms.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

COMMENTARY: Edwards To Gibbs Makes Perfect Sense

Is Edwards the new Candy Man?
Published reports from Motorsport.com's Lee Spencer are making public today what’s been discussed around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage for months now. Carl Edwards will leave Roush Fenway Racing to drive a fourth Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing next season, with sponsorship from M&Ms.

The deal makes perfect sense, for a number of reasons.

At age 34, Edwards is hardly long in the tooth as NASCAR drivers go. However, statistics show that racers tend to peak in their early 30s, meaning that the Missouri native’s best years could already be behind him.

Roush Fenway Racing is in the midst of a severe competitive spiral, their second such downturn in the last six years. Last time around, RFR and Ford Motor Company calmed Edwards’ contractual nerves with promises of improved performance and a generous weekly paycheck. After failing to follow through on those competitive promises last time around, Jack Roush is unlikely to get the benefit of the doubt from Edwards again.

Unleash The Beast!
From this vantage point, it is impossible to assess how long RFR may need to regain its competitive form. Those inside the walls, however, seem pessimistic about the team’s ability to become a title contender again, any time soon. Matt Kenseth bolted the RFR stable two years ago for a spot at Joe Gibbs Racing, promptly enjoying one of the best seasons of his NASCAR career. This year, both Edwards and teammate Greg Biffle have seriously investigated leaving the Roush fold, as well.

When the rats start jumping overboard, it’s generally a sign that the ship is taking on water, and nobody knows more about the state of affairs at Roush Fenway Racing than people like Kenseth, Edwards and Biffle, who enjoy an insider’s view. And while it appears that Biffle will re-sign with RFR after all, that decision is less an affirmation of Roush Fenway’s future than an admission that no better offers were available. Edwards has earned just three checkered flags in the last three seasons, and with no immediate improvement in sight, it is difficult to imagine him signing-on for more of the same.

When Edwards bolts the RFR camp – and he will -- there is only one logical destination; Joe Gibbs Racing. No other Ford team will poison its own well by poaching Edwards away, and a move to Richard Petty Motorsports or Michael Waltrip Racing would be lateral, at best.

JGR has said repeatedly in recent years that they will field a fourth when (and only when) the sponsorship becomes available. And with the possible addition of Monster Energy Drink to JGR’s Sprint Cup sponsor lineup, the backing in question could finally be at hand.

But why would Mars, Inc. – parent company of M&Ms – hitch their chocolate candy brand to the wagon of a well-known health nut like Edwards?

In a word, marketability.

Edwards has amassed 22 victories in 352 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, and ranks as one of the sport’s most visible, popular and successful drivers. He has four Top-5 finishes in the championship points -- including a pair of runner-up showings in 2008 and 2011 – and in `11, actually tied for the series championship, losing the title to Tony Stewart in a tiebreaker.  

Busch has won 25 Sprint Cup races under the M&Ms banner, and is also one of the circuit’s most prolific winners. He is notorious, however, for wilting under the pressure of the postseason title chase; never finishing better than fourth in the championship standings and recording only two Top-5 point finishes in his 11-year career.

Perhaps more important, the Las Vegas native has a knack for generating negative publicity for both himself and his sponsors. In 2011, NASCAR took the unprecedented step of barring Busch from a Sunday Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, after the mercurial driver crashed former champion Ron Hornaday, Jr. under caution during that weekend’s Camping World Truck Series event. The crash ended Hornaday’s championship hopes, and prompted Mars to pull their sponsorship from Busch’s No. 18 Toyota for the final two races of the season.

Most sponsors shy away from that kind of unpleasantness. In Monster Energy Drink, however, Busch has found a backer that actually embraces his occasional bouts of “on the edge” behavior. Monster Energy’s prime demographic is the younger, flat-billed baseball gap crowd. Their current advertising slogan urges consumers to “Unleash The Beast,” and they not only understand the urge to buck authority from time to time, they identify with it. Rumors have circulated for months that Monster might be ready to upgrade its NASCAR program to the Sprint Cup level, but only with Busch as their driver.

Now, with a popular wheelman like Edwards available to carry the M&Ms colors, Joe Gibbs Racing may finally experience the perfect sponsorship storm.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Allmendinger Optimistic Heading To Sonoma

With two Top-10 finishes in five career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Sonoma Raceway, Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 could rank as AJ Allmendinger’s best opportunity yet to win a race and qualify for the 2014 Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Despite those numbers, however, Allmendinger insists that Sunday’s race is not all-or-nothing for his JTG Daugherty team.

“We can’t put every egg in one basket and say we have to win this race,” he said. “Because if we do, then it’s just disappointing if we don’t (win). If we go there, have a solid day and have a chance to win the race, that’s all we can do.”

Allmendinger said he tested at Sonoma recently and came away encouraged about his changes at the Wine Country circuit.

“With our race team being as small as we are, we don’t get much test time,” he said. “So any track time we get helps us focus on the weekend and future. These tests are good because as a driver, you don’t have to focus on other people. You just focus on your car and what feels good.

“We had two days of testing there and we had really good speed in the Kingsford Chevrolet.”

Allmendinger said success at Sonoma boils down to two variables; grip and horsepower.

“It all comes down to rear grip at Sonoma Raceway,” he said. “ECR Engines have a lot of horsepower and you want to put it down to the racetrack. Especially if it gets hot, it’s so easy to burn off the rear tires in five or six laps. Then it’s a long stint when you do that.

“You have to just ease the rear tires. If you can make your rear tires last longer than most people, then you have a shot to win the race.”

The JTG Daugherty driver said there are differences between Sonoma and the other road course on the Sprint Cup Series schedule, Watkins Glen International.

“Sonoma is narrow and slick and it is so easy to make a mistake,” he said. “I think it’s about not locking up the tires, because if you lock up a tire in the brake zone, it just kills the tire. Other than that, if you have a fast car, you have a shot to win it. That’s all you can really ask for during your day at Sonoma.”

The California native said that road racing demands more of a driver, and rewards those who can manhandle their car through the demanding Sonoma turns.

“In road-course racing, you can wring a bit more out of the car,” he said, “whether it’s braking, or how you use the curbs or the lines you choose. That’s why I enjoy it and that’s why I feel like we can come here and have a shot to do well.

JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Tad Geschickter said the track’s location also makes it an important venue for his team.

“Sonoma Raceway is not far from the home office of one of our largest sponsors -- The Clorox Company -- and it's a home track for AJ", he said. “We will have all of them out there cheering for us and we want to do well in front of a group of people that have supported us through thick and thin for nearly two decades. 
“We’ve almost won that race before,” he said. “We would like to give them something to cheer for again this time with AJ.”

Team co-owner Brad Daugherty agreed, saying, “AJ is really good at Sonoma Raceway. We feel like it’s one of the racetracks – and there’s several, not just the road courses - - that AJ and our team can win. We’re going to go out and be as prepared as we can possibly be. We built him a car specific to Watkins Glen last year and we had a great run there. We feel if we do the same for Sonoma, it gives him a great opportunity.

“We need to qualify well, run up front all day and have great pit stops. All we need is a chance on that last green-white-checker to have an opportunity to race to the checkered flag."

Panasonic Signs Multi-Year Deal With Hendrick

Panasonic has expanded its relationship with Hendrick Motorsports with a new multi-year agreement that includes primary sponsorship of the No. 24 team of four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and current points leader Jeff Gordon.

Panasonic will be featured as a primary sponsor of the No. 24 team in two Sprint Cup races annually and as an associate-level partner in all other events. It will mark the first on-car branding for Panasonic since joining Hendrick Motorsports as a technology partner in 2007. The agreement covers the 2014, 2015 and 2016 NASCAR seasons.

Gordon’s No. 24 Panasonic Chevrolet SS will debut this weekend at California’s Sonoma Raceway and will again appear Aug. 31 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Panasonic’s Toughbook brand will be featured on the car’s quarter panels at Sonoma.
 
“To maximize the value of a NASCAR sponsorship, you need to partner with proven teams and drivers that exemplify your brand,” said Rance Poehler, president, Panasonic System Communications Company of North America. “Hendrick Motorsports and Jeff Gordon have a record of excellence that is a perfect fit for Panasonic and its Toughbook brand. We've been a technology partner of Hendrick Motorsports for many years, and as our business evolves to solutions and deeper partnerships with our customers, it is an excellent time to extend our relationship from behind the scenes to the car on the track.”

Panasonic will leverage the partnership to promote technology solutions and products for business. Hendrick Motorsports currently utilizes Panasonic technology throughout its Concord facility, including cameras, electronic displays, televisions, digital signage, Toughbook computers and projection units. The team also uses Panasonic’s professional video products to support its in-house video production capabilities.

“Panasonic has a combination of world-class people and products,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “We use their technology across the organization, and it provides the best possible tools in every area, from competition to marketing to IT. To have them see more opportunities for their business and want to grow the relationship sends a very positive message.”

Gordon, 42, is one of the most accomplished drivers in NASCAR history. He is a four-time Sprint Cup champion, and his 89 victories rank third on the all-time wins list. In 15 races this season, he has posted one victory, five top-five finishes and a series-best 11 top-10 finishes.

“We’re looking forward to working with Panasonic in a new way, and I can’t think of a better place for their debut with the No. 24 team,” said Gordon, who has posted a record five Sprint Cup wins at Sonoma Raceway and grew up in nearby Vallejo, California. “This is the next step in what’s already been a successful partnership, and it’s going to be fun to take it to another level. We hope to kick it off with a win this weekend for Panasonic and Toughbook.”


Monday, June 16, 2014

Hendrick Tightening Its Grip On Sprint Cup Dominance

"They're a full season ahead."
As NASCAR heads into its annual summer stretch, Hendrick Motorsports is on a roll. With five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories, including three by six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, if you’re not working with HMS, you’re working at a disadvantage.

In the aftermath of another beat down Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Hendrick’s performance edge has the competition worried – maybe even panicked – about what lies ahead.

"It's pretty obvious that the Hendrick engines are way ahead of everyone else," said former series champion Brad Keselowski, after chasing Johnson and HMS-affiliated Kevin Harvick to the checkered flag in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400. "As far ahead as they are right now, they're probably a full season ahead of everyone.”

Read that again. One full season ahead of everyone. Twelve long months of catchup ball before anyone can realistically hope to upset Hendrick’s apple cart.

Keselowski was strong Sunday, but had little for Johnson or Harvick at the end. And in truth, his third-place finish was one of the few bright spots for anyone not wheeling a Chevrolet SS. Ford Motor Company’s longstanding stranglehold on Michigan’s Victory Lane was broken with authority Sunday, with Keselowski and Team Penske teammate Joey Logano the only Fords in the Top-10. Rival Toyota fared even worse, with only Clint Bowyer claiming a spot (the final one) in the Top-10.

Get used to this sight...
After decades of domination in the Irish Hills, Roush Fenway Racing was struggled mightily Sunday. Jack Roush failed to claim a Top-10 finish at his home track for the first time in 14 years, with Greg Biffle finishing 20th, Carl Edwards 23rd and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 27th. Joe Gibbs Racing was only marginally better, managing a 14th-place finish from Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin’s 29th and a 41st from Kyle Busch. Busch was hindered by right-rear hub issues, but Kenseth and Hamlin were just plain slow and never a factor for the win.

"We just don't have it," admitted Kenseth, who remains winless this season after claiming seven checkered flags a year ago. "I don't know how else to explain it. We just can't fix it on pit road (and) we can't get close enough (to) the leaders to be able to hang on to a position, even when the team gives it to me (with a fast pit stop)."

With Hendrick performing at peak efficiency and most of its major challengers struggling, it could be a long summer for Ford and Toyota fans.

"I don't really think there is anybody in the wings," said Keselowski when asked who might be able to derail the HMS juggernaut. "I think where we are right now is where we're going to be for the remainder of the year. You might see some small gains from some teams, but I don't see anything significant coming.

“The Penske cars are probably the best when it comes to balance,” he said. “The Hendrick cars are probably the best (on) power. Kevin Harvick’s team is probably the fastest, (and) I don't really see that changing for the duration of the season.”

Even Harvick, who has access to the full complement of HMS chassis, engines, technology and set-up advice, responded snappishly Sunday when asked about Hendrick’s dominance, saying, “I think it's pretty obvious."  
When he’s right, he’s right.

Hendrick Motorsports is unquestionably the team to beat in 2014. With six victories in 14 starts – and three more for their Stewart Haas Racing affiliate – they have a firm grasp on the Sprint Cup Series’ collective windpipe.

“We've got 12 weeks until the Chase starts,” said Keselowski, doing his best to sound optimistic. “At Penske, I think we're right there, just half a nose behind the Hendrick‑powered cars. We need just a little bit more, and if we can do that, we have a shot at running for the championship.


“But we've got work to do to get there."

Ray Fox Dies At Age 98

Fox (L) with David Pearson 
Former NASCAR team owner, engine builder and master mechanic Ray Fox died at Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla. Sunday at age 98, after a lengthy battle with COPD.

Fox fielded winning entries for NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson, David Pearson and Buck Baker, and won 14 times as a car owner at NASCAR’s highest level. His biggest win came in the 1960 Daytona 500, with Johnson at the wheel.

He remained active as a NASCAR engine inspector into his 80s and has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.


Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III commented on his passing today, saying, “We are saddened by the news. Ray was a legendary wrench man who led Junior Johnson to victory in the 1960 Daytona 500 and also called Daytona Beach home. Since his retirement, he was a frequent visitor at the track and his presence will be missed. We extend our thoughts and prayers to the Fox family.” 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Harvick Soars To Michigan Pole

Kevin Harvick took the field to the woodshed Friday at Michigan International Speedway, demolishing the track record with a lap at 204.557 mph en route to the pole position for Sunday afternoon’s Quicken Loans 400.

Harvick’s lap mark better Joey Logano’s 203.949 mph track record set last August, and was the
fastest Sprint Cup pole qualifying lap since Bill Elliott went 212.809 mph at Talladega in May 1987, and the fastest non-restrictor plate qualifying lap of all time.

“You just have to relax and really pay attention to not overdrive,” said Harvick of his fast lap. “It’s so easy to miss your line on the entry to the corner. My guys are doing a great job and we just have to keep doing everything we’ve been doing.”
Harvick called his pole run, “a credit to our Budweiser/Stewart-Haas race team for putting fast race cars on the track. Together with the Hendrick Motorsports engine package, it creates a lot of speed and it makes coming to these places a lot of fun. I’m really excited to start on the pole and get that first pit box, and hopefully we can put the whole day together on Sunday.
Harvick is statistically tough to beat when he starts from the pole. In eight career starts from the top spot, he has collected four wins. This is his third pole of the 2014 season.
Jeff Gordon will start outside the front row, after a 203.776 mph effort that he called, “up a heck of a lap, (but) just not enough to get Harvick.”
Pocono winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start third alongside Aric Almirola, with Paul Menard and Brad Keselowski in Tow Three. Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Brian Vickers completed the Top-10. Ryan Truex was the only driver who failed to make the race, after fuel pump issues hindered his qualifying effort.

Kahne Not Interested In Mending Fences With Kyle Busch

Kahne crashed hard at Pocono
Kyle Busch emailed Kasey Kahne this week in the aftermath of their latest tangle at Pocono Raceway last Sunday. That email will apparently go unread, after Kahne said today that he has no interest in anything the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has to say.

“He did write me an email,” said Kahne to reporters at Michigan International Speedway. “But I don’t really care anymore. I don’t care to talk to him, or anything.”

Sunday’s incident occurred when Busch appeared to squeeze Kahne into the outside wall on Pocono’s lightning-fast Long Pond Straightaway, leaving Kahne’s Great Clips Chevrolet unable to continue en route to a 42nd-place finish.

Kahne expressed anger immediately after the race, saying, "That's just Kyle being Kyle. He was probably pissed off because his car was slow. He just floored it, didn't care there was someone out there and ran me right into the wall.” 

Kahne and Busch have history
By some counts, Sunday’s crash was the fourth involving the pair in the last two seasons. After tangling last August on the road course at Watkins Glen International, Kahne tweeted that he was "headed to Joe Gibbs Racing to talk to whoever will come out front."

Today, Kahne said there has been a common denominator in all the crashes; Busch’s over-aggressiveness.
“I had already passed Kyle,” he said. “The reason he passed me back was because I was passing Ryan Newman and (our) two cars… going down the straightaway side-by-side gave him an opportunity to get a big draft and stick his nose in when we got to Turn One.

“He knew if he didn’t clear me, that he would be a position behind. So he just floored it.

“If it’s close, someone is going to (have to) lift,” said Kahne. “When you put someone in that position, it’s up to the guy on the inside. His spotter was telling him ‘outside, outside, outside.’”

Kahne said he is not interested in discussing Sunday’s wreck with Busch, adding, “I talked through every situation with him last year when we had them. And to this day, I’ve still raced him the exact same way. For him to do that (Sunday)… I knew it was coming as soon as he floored it in the corner.

“I was like, ‘You can’t (race that way)! You’re going to run me right in the wall!’  I think he was having a bad day and he just loses it.”