Friday, July 31, 2009

Four Hendrick Drivers Top Practice; Qualifying Cancelled

by Micah Roberts

As the clouds were forming, it became quickly apparent that the first practice session would be all that happened on Friday for this weeks Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 race weekend at Pocono. After the first session, rain came abound and the lineup was set by points giving Tony Stewart his second start upfront of the season at Pocono.

In June Stewart won the first Pocono race of the season off the pole, but it wasn’t all that simple for Stewart because he wrecked his primary car and was relegated to the back of the pack with his back up car. Despite the major inconvenience, Stewart went on to win a fuel mileage race with the back up car and became unofficially the furthest back starter to win the win the race.

The official worst starting position to win a race was in June of 2005 where Carl Edwards won the first of his two career Pocono wins with a twenty-ninth starting spot.

The first practice session was used primarily as a practice for qualifying with most teams using their qualifying set-up. The top times of the day were from the stables of Hendrick Motorsports, not just one or two drivers, but all four.

Mark Martin was again fastest in practice just as he was last week at Indianapolis and was likely on pace to win his fifth pole of the season. After running only four laps, Martin reeled off his fastest speed of 169,354 mph on his final lap run which was over a whole mph faster than his teammate Jimmie Jonson.

Following Johnson was Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon with former Hendrick driver Kyle Busch just behind in fifth. Stewart-Haas teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman were sixth and seventh fastest in the session continuing their stellar run from last month.

Ryan Newman had the arguably the best combined practice sessions last June prior to the first Pocono race. Stewart was strong also in both his primary and backup cars during the session.

The only Ford to crack the top-11 was Greg Biffle who has been the top preformer at the combined like-tracks of Indy and Pocono. Biffle has a strong practice at Pocono that turned into an eleventh there and than finished fourth last week at Indy.

Biffle’s teammate, Edwards, was twenty-fourth fastest in practice, but looks to get his first win of the season in the same chassis that he finished second with at Pocono last June. Edwards is a two-time Pocono winner and right there for the ripe plucking of a win should Stewart have ran out of fuel in the final laps of that June race.

The Hendrick four atop the charts should come as little surprise considering how strong they all were at both Pocono and last week at Indy. Last week at Indy, Johnson and Martin finished 1-2 with Gordon in ninth.

Johnson will be bringing his Pocono chassis that he finished seventh in while Earnhardt Jr will be bringing the same chassis he ran with last week at Indy. Junior was highly competitive for the better part of that race in the first chassis built entirely by new crew chief Larry McGrew.

Saturday’s practice sessions will give a better glimpse as to who will be good for Sunday’s race. The first session begins at 10:00 am with happy hour immediately following at 11:20 am (EST).

Practice #1 Top 5 Speeds
1) #5 Mark Martin 169.354 (4 laps)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson 167.604 (3 laps)
3) #88 Dale Eranhadt Jr 167.470 (3 laps)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon 166.799 (3 laps)
5) #18 Kyle Busch 166.257 (16 laps)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pocono Preview

by Micah Roberts

Kyle Busch, Get it Together!
This weeks race at Pocono marks the halfway point in the Race to the Chase. Only six races remain until NASCAR’s ten race playoff format starts. If the Chase for the Championship started today, Las Vegas’ very own Kyle Busch would be outside looking in.

Last week’s awful 38th place showing at Indianapolis plummeted Busch four positions from tenth to fourteenth. Only the top-12 make the chase and as hard as it seems to believe, Busch is in serious danger of not making the Chase if he doesn’t get things turned around.

We are going into race 21 of the season and but Busch has been mired in a ten week slump. May 2nd was the last time Busch had a top-5 finish. May 2nd? Kyle, are you kidding? A driver of Busch’s stature with all the great Joe Gibbs Racing equipment should be able to run in the top-5 consistently, but it seems like Busch’s style of driving that has made him so good is having the reverse effect now.

Busch runs so hard on each and every lap trying to be the fastest, even if the car may not be capable of keeping up with his desire. Last week at the Brickyard is a perfect example. Busch had a car that was maybe a top-15 car, but Busch tried to get a win by going all out. All the great drivers in NASCAR have been able become great simply because they can feel the car’s limitations and get the most points possible out of it.

Maybe all the hype has gone to Busch’s head. He’s been called the next Dale Earnhardt because of his style and has taken on the villain role with open arms. He has shown his immaturity on several occasions by taking verbal jabs at the struggling Dale Earnhardt Jr, the driver that forced Busch out of Hendrick Motorsports.

In the process through all his antics, Busch’s focus on driving his Cup car has struggled. Now, more than ever, all the anti-Busch fans have more to cheer about because he finishes so poorly these days.

Perhaps part of his struggles could be that he’s spending too much time driving his Nationwide car. He currently leads in points in the lower level NASCAR Series and seems very focused there, but it’s not helping him in the big leagues.

He’s now got six races left to get his act together, make the Chase, and make a run for the Sprint Cup Championship. Titles are why each and everyone of these drivers play the game. Right now, Kyle is playing a totally different game, and he’s losing.

Pocono - Race 21: Sunday, August 2, 2008
Just about every team who had decent runs last week at Indy will be bringing the same chassis
to Pocono this week. All the data and information collected from Indy and last Pocono race run in June is very relevant for this week.

Four drivers have finished in the top-10 from both races, and a few others were very close to making the list. Tony Stewart tops the chart due to his Pocono win and third place finish last week at The Brickyard. The current point leader is in cruise control and got his series leading twelfth top-5 finish as well last week.

Last weeks winner, Jimmie Johnson, has the most impressive streak of anyone coming into this week using the Indy-Pocono mix. Not only has Johnson finished in the top-10 in the two races this season, but his streak extends to all of last seasons races as well giving him five straight. During his steak, Johnson has two wins.

With his win last week, Johnson also moved into second position in points passing his teammate Jeff Gordon. This is usually the time of year he takes it up a notch. Points mean little going into the Chase because start position is determined by wins. Right now Johnson would start the Chase in second as a result of his three wins on the season. Mark Martin’s four wins would make him the leader. Kyle Busch has three wins and would start right behind Johnson, but doesn’t qualify at the moment.

Jeff Gordon finished fourth last month at Pocono and ninth at Indy and has finished in the top-10 in four of the five last events run on those tracks. His last win at Pocono came in 2007. Gordon’s approach and style is one driver that Kyle Busch should take notice of. Gordon sitting third in points has the advantage of being older and wiser with all his race experience, but he only takes what the car gives him and that style could possibly net him his fifth Cup title.

The surprise of the group of top-10 finishers at both tracks this season is David Reutimann.
While fuel strategy at Pocono in June may have played a role in getting his third place finish there, his eighth place last week at Indy was just flat out good driving in a really good car. He already has a win this season, but still continues to be offered by Sports Books in the 60 to 1 or higher range. This week might be a good week to try and catch a shooting star.

Ryan Newman looked to be the car to beat the last time the Cup series went to Pocono. He was extremely fast in practice, but it only translated to a fifth place finish. At Indy, Newman was just as good in practice, and even turned the fastest lap late in happy hour there, but settled for a fourteenth place finish. We know he’s got the goods to get it done and get his first win of the year at some point, and this week at Pocono seems like a good fit.

Carl Edwards finished second in the first Pocono race, but only finished fifteenth at Indy. His poor qualifying session at Indy doomed him, even though he looked to have the 2nd best car to Johnson’s during happy hour. The long green flag runs and jumbled traffic made it tough for Edwards to make a move with a car that was very good. In nine career starts at Pocono, Edwards has two wins and three other top-5 finishes.

Kasey Kahne was solid at Indy with a seventh place finish to go along with a great happy hour session there. He should be all set for a similarly good run this at Pocono, a gtrack he won at last season. Like Gordon, Kahne has finished in the top-10 in the last four of five races combined on the two facilities.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s story last week at Indy is a sad one because he was on his way to what looked like a runaway victory almost in the same dominant fashion as his 2000 Indy 500 win. However, Montoya got a little antsy on pit road and was caught speeding and had to come back to the pits and serve a penalty that ultimately cost him the race, or at least a top-3 finish. He ended up finishing eleventh and when mixing in his eighth place run last month at Pocono, Montoya looks like a nice stab this week at 25 to 1 odds.

The mystery driver this week is Denny Hamlin, winner of both Pocono races in 2006. That car he won with is long gone, but Hamlin has shown an extreme like for the flat tracks on the circuit, this year however, he doesn‘t have the results to show it.

If practice times actually won something, Hamlin would be leading the league based on his two pre-race sessions at Pocono and Indy. In each of those instances, Hamlin wasn’t able to get it done in the actual race. He’s got the car capable of winning and his set-up is perfect, but it’s somewhat risky based on what he’s trending in like-instances. For that risk, the sports books should give a nice price.

Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
2) #14 Tony Stewart (6/1)
3) #9 Kasey Kahne (15/1)
4) #99 Carl Edwards (10/1)
5) #11 Denny Hamlin (13/1)

Pocono Raceway Facts

compiled by Mike Forde - NASCAR Media Services

At Pocono Raceway:
*Opened in 1968 as a three-quarter-mile track, Pocono Raceway held the first race on the 2.5-mile track in 1971.
*The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was in 1974.

*There have been 63 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono Raceway.
*There was one race from 1974 through 1981, and two per year since.
*All NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Pocono have been scheduled for 500 miles.
*Buddy Baker won the first pole at Pocono.
*There have been 35 different pole winners at Pocono, including David Pearson who won the pole there in June 1984 but did not race. Only 15 drivers have more than one pole there.
*The pole has been swept just three times: Bill Elliott (1985), Ken Schrader (1993), Denny Hamlin (2006).
*Richard Petty won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono.
*28 different drivers have won races at Pocono, led by Bill Elliott with five victories; 20 drivers have won more than once there.
*There have been six season sweeps at Pocono, including two of the past five seasons.
*Bobby Allison and Tim Richmond each won three consecutive races at Pocono.
*46 of 63 Pocono races have been won from a top-10 start; 14 by the pole winner, including Tony Stewart, who won this season’s June race – his first as a driver-owner (qualifying was canceled in June).
*The June 2005 race was won by Carl Edwards from the 29th starting position, the deepest in the field that a race winner has started.
*Rick Hendrick leads all car owners with 11 Pocono victories.
*There have been two green-white-checkered finishes: June 2005 (201 laps) and July 2005 (203 laps).
*Denny Hamlin won his first two races at Pocono, claiming both victories from the pole. His last two races there, though, resulted in finishes outside the top 20 (23rd in 2008 and 38th in June).
*Mark Martin leads all drivers in top fives (19) and top 10s (31), but has yet to win at Pocono. His best finish was second, six times (most recently in August, 2004).
*Jimmie Johnson has an average finish of 9.6, the only active driver with more than one race there who has an average finish in the top 10.
*Marcos Ambrose finished sixth in this season’s June race, his only Pocono start.

NASCAR in Pennsylvania
There have been 98 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Pennsylvania.
137 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Pennsylvania.
There are three race winners from Pennsylvania in NASCAR’s three national series:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Johnson wins Brickyard for third time; First Ever Back to Back

by M Roberts

Jimmie Johnson won his third Brickyard 400 Sunday and became the only driver ever to win back to back NASCAR races on the famed track of Indianapolis Motor Speedway celebrating it’s centennial anniversary.

Johnson parlayed a great week of practice along with some luck, and misfortune by Juan Pablo Montoya, to gain his third win of the 2009 season.

Juan Pablo Montoya had led three separate times for116 laps of the 160 but was caught for speeding late in the race on pit road making him lose position and come into pit road for a mandatory stop. Johnson, who had been within the top five for much of the day was the beneficiary of Montoya’s speeding.

A caution had come out just after the final scheduled pits stops and when they restarted, Johnson dragged raced leader Mark Martin down the front-stretch to get first position and with fresh air in front of him, Johnson sealed the deal for the final 25 laps.

Montoya, the 2000 Indy 500 winner, led the most laps but wasn’t very happy about the penalty for speeding. He told his crew that he “swore on his kids life” that he wasn’t speeding and called out NASCAR President Mike Helton to review the pit road speeds.

Pole sitter Mark Martin gave a valiant effort in the late stages, but Johnson was too good off of turn four to make up for Martin’s advantage on turn two.

Following Johnson and Martins 1-2 Hendrick finish was two-time Brickyard 400 winner and current points leader Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, and Brian Vickers.

Montoya eventually finished eleventh and continued his consistent run during the race for the chase, but he wasn’t happy by any means.

The race is in the books and if there is any silver lining in anything, Montoya gets a chance to prove himself once again at the similar layout of Pocono next week with what was a stout car for Indy.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Newman Fastest in Brickyard Happy Hour: Johnson and Edwards Look Better

by M Roberts

There were originally two practice sessions scheduled Saturday for Sunday’s All-State 400 at the Brickyard, but due to a lengthy rain delay prior to qualifying, one session was cut short leaving only happy hour as a means for the drivers and teams to get their final race trims straight.

Many of the teams in Friday’s practice session utilized those two sessions keying primarily on their qualifying trim knowing they still had two sessions on Saturday to get their race set-up.

Needless to say there was a mad scramble for many of the teams to get prepared and tinker for the final time until race day, in particular to do so early on in the session because the track temperature at that time was closest to race day conditions.

Right out of the gate, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards laid down the two fastest laps early in happy hour. They were the only two drivers to crack speeds of 176 until a few more much later in practice when the track was cooler and faster.

Before Saturday’s qualifying not many would have been surprised by either running so fast, but after Edwards came in with a qualifying lap time that only five others drivers were worse than, things weren’t so upbeat in the Edwards camp.

The two drivers are also linked as being the only drivers that have finished in the top-10 during the last four combined consecutive races of Pocono and Indianapolis. Because of the similarities in banking, turns, and long straight-aways, the teams that are dialed for one track are generally good on the other.

Tony Stewart falls into the Pocono-Indy category as well, however it isn’t for excellence in four straight races, it’s simply for winning the last one.

Stewart’s Pocono coupled with his great qualifying session, and 11th fastest lap in happy hour times make him one of the favorites to win Sunday. Being from Indiana and a two-time winner on the track is a small bonus as well. The last driver to win at Pocono and Indy back to back was Bill Elliott in 2002.

Pole sitter Mark Martin ran the fifth quickest lap late in the session, but more importantly had great average lap times early and throughout. Martin will be looking for his first Indy win ever in 15 career starts. His best finish has been second place.

Ryan Newman is an Indiana native just like his boss, Tony Stewart, had the fastest lap overall in happy hour.

Prior to gaining the top speed, Newman still was sitting fourth for most of practice in conditions closer to race time. Newman also fit’s the profile of having a great all around Pocono race last month in both practice and the race itself with a fifth.

Jeff Gordon is another Indiana native, depending on what race he’s running, who had a good final practice with the twelfth fastest lap and fast average lap times. The four-time Brickyard 400 winner has the look of a winner this week just like he did prior to his Brickyard wins in 2001 and 2004 when he didn’t dazzle anyone then after practices.

Kasey Kahne finished ninth fastest in practice and continued his momentum from Friday’s late practice where he was third fastest.

Kahne finished 15th at Pocono in June, but didn’t have the practice times like he has this week.

If we go back to last season, Kahne joined Edwards and Johnson as the only drivers to finish in the top-10 in all three races of Indy-Pocono. In each one of those races, each one of the three drivers captured a win. Kahne looks like he should be in that top tier category this week.

Denny Hamlin started his career out by sweeping Pocono in 2006, but hasn’t captured anymore there since despite having cars capable. This week at Indy, Hamlin had the best overall average lap times in happy hour, a huge stat for showing who will be the best equipped on long runs. He ran the second quickest lap in the final minutes of practice.

He was equally spectacular, if not better, in Pocono’s practice sessions but failed to capitalize as he fell out early.

Top 10 Happy Hour Times:
1) #39 Ryan Newman 176.706 mph—AVG 37 laps @ 172.875
2) #11 Denny Hamlin 176.678 mph—AVG 38 laps @ 173.719
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson 176.571 mph—AVG 39 laps @ 172.668
4) #99 Carl Edwards 176.571 mph—AVG 35 laps @ 172.585
5) #5 Mark Martin 176.049 mph—AVG 39 laps @ 173.056
6) #83 Brian Vickers 176.012 mph—AVG 37 laps @ 172.776
7) #20 Joey Logano 175.871 mph—AVG 43 laps @ 172.777
8) #18 Kyle Busch 175.829 mph—AVG 22 laps @ 173.467
9) #9 Kasey Kahne 175.757 mph—AVG 43 laps @ 172.829
10) #16 Greg Biffle 175.517 mph—AVG 38 laps @ 172.725

Top Rated Drivers for All-State 400 at The Brickyard following all Indy practice and qualifying sessions using a slight mix of recent history at Pocono and Indy:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson
2) #99 Carl Edwards
3) #14 Tony Stewart
4) #11 Denny Hamlin
5) #39 Ryan Newman
6) #5 Mark Martin
7) #9 Kasey Kahne
8) #24 Jeff Gordon
9) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya
10) #18 Kyle Busch

Martin on Pole at Brickyard: Fourth Pole in 2009

by M Roberts

After being nearly four hours delayed, qualifying for Sunday’s All-State 400 at the Brickyard was case of all the youngsters not being able to catch the old man.

Mark Martin set the pace early in qualifying with a blistering lap of 49.44 seconds and joked on his headset to his team that he might have hit 49.00 flat if he weren’t so old. Martin won his fourth pole of the season and first ever at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Martin is one of only four drivers to race in all previous 15 NASCAR races run at the Brickyard. His best career finish was second in 1998 and has a total of nine top-10 finishes in the 15 races. His best start position previously was second which he did twice, once last season and the other back in 1996.

Starting on the front row outside of Martin will be Juan Pablo Montoya who came in with the second fastest lap of 49.78 seconds. The 2000 Indy 500 Champion had a spectacular first day of practice on Friday in both qualifying and race trim set-ups and was able to keep the momentum going in qualifying.

The most pleasant surprise of the day for many was finally seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr qualify well with the third best time of 49.84. Earnhardt Jr ran the fast lap in a brand new car, the first completely re-hauled chassis by his new crew chief Lance McGrew. Junior has been fighting stomach sickness for the last two days and there is a possibility that Brad Keselowski may have practice the car if he’s not feeling better, and possibly be ready for Sunday as a fill in driver.

Former Brickyard 400 winner, Bill Elliott qualified fourth and David Reutimann rounded out the top-5 with a strong lap to start fifth.

This seasons top pole winner, Brian Vickers will start sixth and he’ll be followed by two-time
Brickyard 400 winner and current points leader, Tony Stewart. Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson, and Clint Bowyer finish out the top-10 start positions.

Last seasons winner, and two-time Brickyard 400 winner Jimmie Johnson will start 16th, while his teammate and four time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon starts 22nd.

The two surprisingly poor qualifiers of the day were Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards who came in a with disappointing 40th and 41st best time. Edwards plainly said, “It’s bad, but optimistically added, “ luckily, we were faster than that in race trim yesterday“.

Final practice sessions are scheduled to begin shortly after qualifying which should be further telling in who will be the top contender to win on Sunday.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Indy Practice: Montoya is Looking Good on the Bricks

by M Roberts

The boys of NASCAR are out ripping again after a week off, and thank goodness. What a terrible week it was last week without the elite stock car drivers in the world going at. This week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway gives fans everywhere an extra bump in adrenaline for the week off because they have four practice sessions along with an early morning qualifying session on Saturday.

On Friday, the Cup series ran two of their practice sessions at Motor Sports’ ultimate racing facility which has been in existence since 1909. In the first practice round many of the drivers came out with their race trim on, which could be helpful in determining who will run well in Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

Because they still had an extra session on Friday before Saturday’s qualifying, most teams went all out with an early game plan of accumulating as much information as possible prior to Friday’s final session, which most reserved for Qualifying trim set-up.

In the first session, the most impressive of all the drivers was Juan Pablo Montoya who was sporting a retro paint scheme reminiscent of his 2000 Indy 500 win with Target on the side of his car splashed with a yellow swoop on the side.

Montoya ran the second fastest lap overall in the session while running eighteen laps. Montoya stands out early because he was fast throughout, and then just as good in the charts following the second run while in qualifying trim.

Greg Biffle was the first sessions leader in time, but did it with qualifying trim on the last of his seven laps run. In the second practice session, Biffle was 23rd quickest when most of the drivers were in qualifying trim.

Mark Martin was fastest in the second practice session which should make him a top candidate to win the pole position on Saturday. Martin ran only five laps in the final session, got the best time on lap five, and took the car to the garage to rest for Saturday.

Ryan Newman was very impressive during the first run as he settled in with the fifth fastest run while taking in 23 laps. The combination of quality a Pocono run last month which is a similar set-up, and Newman being from Indiana make him a nice choice early on to contend for Sunday’s checkers.

Friday’s session were more a practice for qualifying than anything, but there was a lot of things that came out of both sessions that could be telling for the race on Sunday. Montoya stands out above all drivers as one who is doing better in times during race trim than what was expected.

The top drivers expected to do well coming into this weekend were Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Ryan Newman. Saturday’s two sessions will further divulge who will be good on Sunday. See you then!

Friday's 1st practice Speeds:
#16-Biffle 177.075
#42-Montoya 176.630
#21-Elliott 176.547
#83-Vickers 176.481
#39-Newman 176.187
slowest: #75-Cope 167.202 and #34-Andretti 169.584
no speed listed: #08-Labonte
incident: #48-Johnson scraped the wall and did very minor damage to the #48.

Friday's 2nd practice Speeds:
#5-Martin 180.643
#42-Montoya 180.151
#9-Kahne 179.860
#29-Harvick 179.727
#43-Sorenson 179.716
slowest: #75-Cope 170.338 and #08-Labonte 172.236

Monday, July 20, 2009

Brickyard 400 Preview

by Micah Roberts

It seems like forever since the NASCAR Sprint Cup series ran a race even though it’s only been one week off. At this time of the year, finding sports entertainment is scarce and NASCAR on the weekend is something for everyone to look forward to.

However, the wait is well worth it in this instance considering the gem on the horizon is The Brickyard 400 at the storied racing grounds of The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

This Sunday’s Brickyard 400 will be the sixteenth NASCAR event held at the facility that has been the center of the racing world since 1909. Due to the historic nature of the track and most of the drivers childhood dreams centering around racing on the track, this race’s prestige ranks right up there on par with the Daytona 500.

For some drivers, winning at The Brickyard is a dream fulfilled that may even surpass winning the Daytona 500. Six drivers on this weekend’s entry list hail from Indiana, with two of them, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, having won on the bricks.

Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994 in his second year on the series. It was his second career win, but perhaps still remains the biggest win of his career because of how it launched him into mainstream America. At the same time, NASCAR also was in the beginning stages of evolving where they are today.

Over his career, Gordon has four career wins at Indy, twice as many as anyone else. He also has three career Daytona 500 wins, which is the highest rated and largest purse race of the season.

Without actually committing to which race is most dear to him to not diminish either race, we’ll do it for him just based on his roots. His family moved to Indiana when he was a kid to get him involved in more competitive racing with the eventual goal to race in the Indy 500 driving Indy cars.

Opportunities knocked from NASCAR and he ran with it; the rest is history. He never got that chance to run in the Indy 500, but the Brickyard 400 has suited him fine. In all stages of Gordon’s career, he has won at Indy. He currently is in the longest drought from winning at Indy going on four years straight.

Tony Stewart was on the same path as Gordon in Indiana but went through with the plan of driving Indy cars where he won a season title in the IRL. His best performance in the Indy 500 was 5th in 1997. After a move to NASCAR, Stewart still raced in the Indy 500 but couldn’t get the elusive win.

In 2005 Stewart finally lived out his dream of winning on the Bricks and proclaimed it his greatest win ever and that not even the Daytona 500 could beat it. Even before the win, Stewart stated his biggest prize was Indy. Two years later, Stewart won it again. He hasn’t win the Daytona 500 yet, but it’s likely the jubilation from that first win will never be matched, just as Gordon’s won’t.

A win this week by Stewart, who currently leads the standings in points, with his own team might rival his greatest win ever. His win last month at Pocono is a great measure to use in determining why he is the favorite to win this week.

We like to use Pocono as a barometer because the tracks are similar in distance and banking which means that whoever did well in June’s Pocono’s race should be just as good this week at Indy. Each track has long drag strips that require lots of horsepower. The sweeping tight turns also require similar setups in balance and weight distribution.

As an example of how correlated these tracks are, of the three different winners at both Pocono races and Indy last season, they were the only three drivers to finish in the top-10 in all three races. Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, and Jimmie Johnson stood alone as the most consistent set-ups and performances for all combined races and they were rewarded each with a win.

If we transfer last years finishes to this years June Pocono race, two drivers, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, stood out with top-10’s in that race. One driver that barely missed making top-10’s in all four races was Jeff Gordon who finished fourteenth in the June Pocono race last season.

After this years practice sessions at Pocono, the best cars looked to be Ryan Newman, who finished fifth, Jimmie Johnson, who finished seventh, and Tony Stewart, who ran with a backup car and started last but eventually won.

Ryan Newman is currently sitting seventh in points and could be a nice look this week at 30/1 odds. Unlike his teammate Stewart, Newman has a win in the Daytona 500, but doesn’t have a Brickyard win. He too, like Gordon and Stewart, is from Indiana and had his career all set on track to become an Indy car driver but NASCAR came calling for him as well. Needless to say, Newman will be looking to make the most of his opportunity this week and build off the success they had in Pocono.

Carl Edwards led the most laps at Pocono this year and was waiting for Stewart to run out of fuel in the last few laps of the race so he could swoop in for the win. A poor pit sequence late in that race allowed Stewart to get ahead and stay for the remainder of the race. Even though none of Edwards success from last year has carried over on other tracks, Pocono remains the only one that is comparable. Jack Roush has never won at the Brickyard before and it would be very fitting to see the Cat in the Hat be able to mark off the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 on his checklist of things to do in 2009.

Jimmie Johnson has won two of the last three Brickyard 400’s and has everything pointing in his direction to possibly do it it again which is why he’s a co-favorite to win the race with Stewart.
He won last years race that was marred with tire issues throughout the race. He currently sits third in points and with races running out until the Chase starts, Johnson needs a couple more bonus points for winning races to set himself up nice. There will be no points racing here because he’s firmly entrenched. It’s all about the wins now!

A nice long shot look this week could be David Reutimann who is offered at odds of 60 to 1 or higher. He had a nice series of Pocono practices and finished third in the race. Based on the way this season has gone with long shots cashing in, including Reutimann’s win at Charlotte, we can’t look the other way as usual with some of the longer odds out there.

The one thing going against a long shot winning this week at Indy is that it just doesn’t happen there. Of the fifteen races run there, only two have been by drivers that haven’t won a season Championship. Ricky Rudd won in 1997 and Kevin Harvick won in 2003, and the rest are the best of the best. Despite all that, we’ll go with Edwards this week, who we think will eventually win a title someday.

Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #99 Carl Edwards (10/1)
2) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
3) #39 Ryan Newman (30/1)
4) #14 Tony Stewart (6/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Facts

compiled by Mike Forde - NASCAR Media Services

Indianapolis Motor Speedway has existed since 1909, and is the original "Speedway," the first racing facility to incorporate the word into its name.
With a permanent seating capacity for more than 250,000-plus people and infield seating that raises capacity to an approximate 400,000, it is the largest and highest-capacity sporting facility in history.

There have been 15 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since the first race was held there in 1994.
Five drivers have competed in all 14 races at IMS: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin.
Rick Mast won the first pole in 1994.
Jeff Gordon won the 1994 inaugural race.
There have been nine different pole winners.
Jeff Gordon leads all pole winners with three.
Nine drivers have won, led by Jeff Gordon with four.
Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jarrett and Tony Stewart (two apiece) are the other multiple winners.
Hendrick Motorsports has won six races, more than any other organization.
Eight races have been won from a top-five starting position.
The furthest back a race winner has started at Indianapolis was 27th, by Jeff Gordon in 2001.
Two drivers have won from the pole: Kevin Harvick in 2003 and Jimmie Johnson in 2008.
The only time in the modern era that three brothers led at least one lap in the same race occurred in the inaugural race at Indianapolis (1994): Geoffrey, Brett and Todd Bodine.
Dale Jarrett (1996) and Jimmie Johnson (2006) are the only drivers to win both the Daytona 500 and the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard in the same season.
Jeff Gordon has an average finish of 8.6 in 15 Indianapolis races, the best of any driver with more than one race.

The winner of the Indianapolis race has won the championship in the same year seven times in the 15 years the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has raced there:
2008: Jimmie Johnson 2006: Jimmie Johnson 2005: Tony Stewart

2001: Jeff Gordon 2000: Bobby Labonte 1999: Dale Jarrett 1998: Jeff Gordon

NASCAR in Indiana
There have been 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in Indiana.
76 NASCAR national series drivers (all-time) have their home state recorded as Indiana.
There have been 10 race winners from Indiana in NASCAR’s three national series.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Edwards Winless '09 Should Get Boost At Brickyard

by Micah Roberts

From the end of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season to the time leading up to this weeks Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards has gone through a wild ride for the last eight months.

Between getting lost in the New York subway system during NASCAR’s season ending award ceremonies, planning a wedding, actually going through with the wedding, honeymooning in Thailand, or cycling through the thousands of Thai commuters on bikes, it’s been wild year. And the season hasn’t even started yet.

But why not take things up a notch? Edwards just came off a remarkable season and there was no reason to think that 2009 would be any different. He had the most dominant car for the entire season capturing mores wins, top-fives, and top-10s than anyone else.

He started the 2008 chase first in points and maintained it through the first two races. He even had more top-five finishes in the chase than anyone with eight.

His only slip in the chase happened in back to back races at Talladega and Charlotte with an average finish of 31st in both which were his only non top-fives in the chase. Eventual Chase winner Jimmie Johnson only had six top-fives, but won because his worst finish was 15th.

Prior to the 2009 season the entire pool of National NASCAR writers voted by a two to one margin that Edwards would capture the 2009 Championship. That is a lot pressure to put on his shoulders, but he did it to himself.

He raised the bar so high and performed at such a high level of excellence in the series that going up is the natural progression. Maybe not in wins because nine is such a high number, but definitely a driver that look like a Cup Champion.

Fast forward to this week leading into the Brickyard 400 and reality has surpassed the expectations with 19 races run in the 36-race season. Edwards currently sits a respectable sixth in points, but the most shocking surprise of the season is that he doesn’t have any wins.

At no time in NASCAR history has any driver had as many as nine wins in a season and not win in their next season while running every race. Not the type of dubious honor Edwards wants, but the physically fit, self motivated Edwards knows his time will come.

“I feel like we could’ve won, maybe should’ve won at Texas, and we had a little trouble at Talledega, we were a couple of hundred yards from winning, Edwards said. Martinsville, had an extremely fast car. So, I’m not too worried about that fact that we haven’t won, because I feel like we’ve performed well enough to have won two or three different races.”

A little trouble at Talladega? That’s putting it mildly, however spectacular the wreck was down the stretch, Edwards was just being Edwards in one of the classic NASCAR moments when jumped out of his mangled car and jogged to the finish line in an impromptu re-make of the Talladega Nights movie.

He’s always thinking about fitness even in the most dire moments.

His 2009 campaign is very similar to his 2006 season in regards to expectations. Following his first full season of 2005 when he captured fans everywhere doing his trademarked flips following a win three times ultimately finishing third in points, 2006 was supposed to be his year. Instead, he went winless the entire season finishing 12th in points.

“What happened in ‘06, with huge expectations after ‘05, and we just didn’t have a stellar year at all in ‘06, and I learned right there that hey, this is a tough sport, Edwards said. You can’t rest on anything you’ve done. You have to keep going and working. Last year, at the beginning of the year, we set out to win 10 races and the championship.

"That was our goal amongst myself and my crew chief. We won nine and finished second, so we were close. This year, the goal is simply to win the championship. So, whatever happens, happens. I guess expectation is what it is. Nobody has higher expectations than I do, on myself. That’s how it’s always been.”

So when will Edwards get that first elusive win of 2009? If all things were equal from last year, it would be easy to suggest one of the high banked 1.5-mile tracks of Atlanta, Charlotte, or Texas.

But things aren’t equal by any means, and that goes for the entire Fenway-Roush organization who thrived on those type of tracks. Following back to back season opening wins by Matt Kenseth, the entire organization has gone winless.

The one bright spot on Edwards season was his best finish of the year at Pocono where he was second. Of all the races run this year, Pocono’s finish was the only one of 2009 that was equal, or on par with 2008 on similar tracks. He led the most laps in that race last month and almost got fuel mileage win ahead of Tony Stewart who crossed on fumes.

Last season, Edwards finished ninth and first in the two Pocono races, sandwiched in between a second place finish at the Brickyard. Because of the long straightaways and tight, flat turns, Indy and Pocono are very similar in regards to set-up. Throughout the history of Brickyard races, drivers who do well on one always do well on the other.

From 2008 through 2009 when combining all Pocono and Indy finishes, only two drivers have finished in the top-10 in all four races. It’s little surprise that the two are Edwards and Johnson.
Last season, Kasey Kahne finished in the top-10 of all three of those races run. Edwards, Johnson, and Kahne each got a win in one of those races.

If there is any week that points to Edwards getting his first win based on what he’s done this season as a link to 2008, it’s this weeks race at the storied grounds of the Brickyard.

“I can’t wait,’’ he said. “It’s going to feel good when we get a win.’’

After he gets past any of the possible anxieties that go along with not meeting expectations by finally getting that win, he can attempt to get fully geared and focused for the Chase to the Championship.

In an entire seasons span he could go from being the overwhelming favorite to win it all, to not meeting expectations, and then finally being called the improbable winner.

Now that is one heck of a ride.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mark Martin Wins at Chicago; Fourth Win of 2009

by M Roberts

Mark Martin held off all of NASCAR’s young heavy hitters to win his fourth race of the season at Chicago Saturday night. At the young age of fifty, Martin became the winningest driver for the first nineteen races of the 2009 season. Not bad for a driver that hadn’t won a Sprint Cup series race since 2005 at Kansas.

Martin led the most laps during the race and looked to clearly have the best car, but had to hold off racing‘s best like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in a series of double file re-starts. The old-timer showed that he could still be just as quick as the youngsters in the drag race of re-starts to the green flag.

The win also moved Martin into the Chase’s top-12 at eleventh position. Prior to the race, despite having three wins, Martin had been in thirteenth position and outside looking in. Martin has never won a Cup Championship before, but if the Chase started this week, Martin would positioned in first because of his series leading four wins. If it all unfolds that way, Martin would be as close to the title as ever in his career at that late stage of a season.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Chicago Final Practice Almost Carbon Copy of Michigan

by M Roberts

Many Crew Chiefs who had success at Michigan brought the same Chassis for this Saturday Night’s 400 at Chicago Speedway. Friday’s two practice sessions were the final tune-up prior to Saturday night’s race and if the times are any indication at all, Michigan‘s top performers from last months race are all equally as good as they were then.

The pole sitter for Michigan is again atop the qualifying charts for Chicago. While in race trim, Vickers is just as fast managing a ninth fastest lap in the first session averaging the second fastest lap times among all drivers who ran at least twenty laps.

During happy hour, Vickers came out with the third fastest lap on the first of thirty-eight laps run. Vickers was very good at Michigan as well before the race, but settled for a ninth place finish which had to be somewhat disappointing considering how good they were in practice there.

The top three cars from Michigan combining practice and actual race performance were Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, and Mark Martin. Johnson led the most laps while his Hendrick teammate had the best practice sessions. Greg Biffle had a great practice and race as well.

Johnson was dominant in leading the race but ran out of fuel just prior to getting the white flag.
Greg Biffle was in second and had about two seconds of excitement as being the leader and then he then ran out of fuel on the last lap enabling Martin to get the win.

If we look at the practice times from Friday, sitting at the top of each session are the Hendrick teammates again. Johnson led the first of the day and had the fastest average times among all those that ran at least 20 laps. Martin was fastest in happy hour, the final session, just like he was in Michigan.

Biffle, who had been fourth fastest in Michigan happy hour, turned out to be fifth quickest in Friday’s first session making the entire Chicago race look like a serious case of Deja-vu.

Clint Bowyer had a very good couple of sessions Friday, just as he had at Michigan. More encouraging for the struggling Childress group, beyond Bowyer’s second fastest lap in happy hour, was seeing Jeff Burton run the fifth quickest lap in the final practice. Disappointing however, were the lap times of two-time Chicago winner Kevin Harvick who was twenty-sixth and twenty-fifth fastest.

Two very good runs, that came somewhat as a surprise, come from the Toyota’s driven by David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose. Reutimann was solid in all his average lap times and was fourth fastest in the first practice. Ambrose was consistently good in all sessions, running smart fast laps, especially on older tires.

Last Years Chicago winner, Kyle Busch, came out possessed in both Friday practices and ran the most combined laps of all the teams. Busch finished with the seventh fastest lap in each of the sessions. It is a normal occasion for Busch to run several more laps than others, but the pressure is building for the No. 18 team and it is likely there is a sense of urgency to at least get a top-5 finish, let alone a win. Busch has gone eight consecutive races without a top-5 finish. His last one was a win at Richmond.

The two drivers who showed up strong that could really mess up this week’s Deja-Vu party is Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne who led happy hour with the fastest average times. Gordon is a past Chicago winner who really needs to get that next win and carry momentum into the Chase.

Kasey Kahne has a new engine, a win under his belt, feels good, is fast on long runs, and is currently in the Chase after it looking impossible several weeks ago. Things are definitely looking good for Kahne this week.

Biffle and Carl Edwards were the top performing Ford’s who are looking to get manufacturer it’s first Chicago Cup win ever. As good as Roush-Fenway has been on all the 1.5 mile tracks along with Michigan and California, it is very strange to have not seen a Ford in the winners circle in a period in which Roush had dominated.

Happy Hour practice - Practice #3 - Fastest Times:
#5-Martin 175.861
#33-Bowyer 175.547
#83-Vickers 174.899
#24-Gordon 173.823
#31-Burton 173.796
slowest: #96-Labonte 170.627 & #09-Bliss 169.972

Best “Average Speeds” among those running at least 30 laps:
1) #24 Gordon 171.161 (55 laps)
2) #9 Kahne 170.607 (53 laps)
3) #48 Johnson 170.572 (35 laps)
4) #18 Ky. Busch 170.471 (65 laps)

First Friday Practice - Practice #2 overall - Fastest Times:
1) #48-Johnson 177.200
2) #99-Edwards 176.881
3) #11-Hamlin 176.725
4) #00-Reutimann 176.091
5) #16-Biffle 176.039
slowest: #71-Gilliland 170.138 & #96-Labonte 169.534notes: The session was cut down from 45 to 35 minutes so NASCAR could get 2 practices in before the Nationwide race.

Best “Average Speeds” among those running at least 20 laps:
1) #48 Johnson 171.220
2) #83 Vickers 171.214

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Vickers Blistering Fast in Thursday Practice and Qualifying

by M Roberts

Because of this weeks NASCAR Sprint Cup series race being run on Saturday night, NASCAR held their first practice session and qualifying on Thursday night. Brian Vickers led both sessions and will be on the pole for the 400 on Saturday after laying a blistering fast lap over a second faster than the second qualifier.

The annual Chicago races fall into a category for most teams as being completely different from most tracks because of the banking. The 1.5 mile configuration and layout is very similar to Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks like Las Vegas, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Atlanta, but compared to their 24 degrees of banking, Chicago’s 18 degrees makes a world of difference in the set-up.

Chicago’s sister track at Kansas would appear to be the similar in configuration and banking, but the 15 degrees of banking on that track make all the difference into being completely different as far as set-ups go. Over the course of the short history between the two tracks, there hasn't been any real correlation in driver trends between the two.

Most of the Cup teams coming into this week have brought their Michigan chassis’, at least if they did well in Michigan, because the banking is very similar despite the difference in distance being a half-mile between the two facilities.

Seeing Brian Vickers roll out to the front of the charts makes complete sense when piecing the puzzle together in this track that is somewhat odd from all trends, because he sat on the pole at Michigan, along with being second fastest in Michigan’s first practice and third fastest in happy hour there.

The individual lap times were very good for Vickers in practice, but as the race ran, Vickers was not a contender, in particular on the long runs. Vickers finished ninth at Michigan and never led a lap.

The driver that had the biggest impact at Michigan during the actual race was Jimmie Johnson, who came out firing this week as well. Johnson led 154 of the 200 laps at Michigan this year but ran out of fuel just as he was about to take the white flag. Johnson finished just ahead of Vickers in the first Michigan practice and then qualified third.

Thursday night, Johnson practiced fourth best and qualified third while driving the exact same chassis that saw him dominate Michigan.

If looking to explore the Michigan theme a little more, Mark Martin and Greg Biffle had the second and third best cars overall in that race that Martin eventually won. Biffle ran out of fuel on the last lap of the Michigan race, while Martin cashed in brilliantly with his third win of the season.

At this stage, average times from the first practice are somewhat irrelevant because so many were in qualifying trim at different stages of practice, which makes single lap times considerably faster.

The top surprise runs from practice were Vickers teammate Scott Speed who was third along with Johnsons’ alleged teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr who was sixth.

Thursday Practice Session #1:
1) #83 Brian Vickers 180.234
2) #5-Martin 180.180
3) #82-Speed 180.060
4) #48-Johnson 179.766
5) #24-Gordon 179.766
slowest: #96-Labonte 173.700 & #51-Bean 172.678#71-Gilliland brought out the caution early when he lost an engine and dropped fluid on the track.

TOP 5 Chicago Qualifiers
1) #82 Brian Vickers 184.162
2) #83 Scott Speed 182.958
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson 182.217
4) #11 Denny Hamlin 182.162
5) #33 Clint Bowyer 182.100
DNQ: Mike Wallace, Dexter Bean, and Tony Raines

Monday, July 6, 2009

Chicago Preview: 400

by Micah Roberts

After eighteen races thus far into the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup series, there have been eleven different winners. Last season, for entire thirty-six race schedule, only twelve drivers made it to victory lane. Of the drivers currently in the top-12 after two races in the Race to the Chase, five of them have not won yet.

Some of the top names in NASCAR like Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, and Greg Biffle have yet to win this season despite running well enough to be deeply entrenched in the top-12. The three drivers combined to win twelve race last season led by Edwards nine wins alone.

Edwards lack of horsepower this season, at least the kind close to what he had last season, is a mystery thus far. The entire Roush-Fenway organization has struggled to get close to winning ever since Matt Kenseth won the first two races of 2009. In Edwards case, other than horsepower, the only other major change is that he that he got married in January.

Coming into this weeks race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL, things don’t look to get any better for Edwards and the rest of the Roush-Fenway team. Despite it being a 1.5 mile medium banked tri-oval, a type of track typically well suited for the Roush set-up in the past, they haven’t been able to win on the track in the eight seasons the race has been run.

Usually we have a basis, or like-track analysis we can compare from one track to another, but
Chicago’s facility stands alone and doesn’t correlate with any other track trends. The 1.5 mile layout is identical to Texas, Atlanta, Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Kansas from the naked eye above, but the degree in banking at 18 degrees makes it completely different. While Kansas would be the closest in banking, there is no solid correlation between the two regarding drivers in the same season.

Last seasons winner, Kyle Busch, will be one of the favorites again this week. Last week in Daytona he got beat up pretty badly on the last lap while trying to hold off Tony Stewart for the win. Busch not only didn’t get the win, but the Daytona wall, Kasey Kahne, and Joey Logano all violently crashed into Busch. He was able to walk away without injury, but he was a bit wobbly and shaken.

A lot has changed from this season to last when Busch dominated at Chicago. After nineteen races, Busch was leading in points and had seven wins and had twelve top-5 finishes. This season Busch has three wins, but has only one other top-5 finish. His Daytona run and gamble with a late block attempt on Stewart is a perfect example of what is costing Busch in his all out mentality. That kamikaze all out style is also what got Busch into trouble as the Chase started last season and cost him a possible title.

Tony Stewart extended his points lead by 180 points over Jeff Gordon with his second victory of the season last week at Daytona. He leads everyone in the series with twelve top-5 finishes and has now made believers out of everyone that not only can he contend, but he is becoming the driver to beat every week on all tracks.

We have gone through the first wave of the season and seen just about every type of track and if Stewart’s team is that good the first time out with his new team, how good will he be when they start visiting tracks for the second time. In his first attempt at seeing a track for the second time this season last week, Stewart got the win and pretty much dominated in doing so.

Stewart has the luxury of also being one of two drivers to win multiple races at Chicago with the last being in 2007. In eight career starts at Chicago, Stewart has six top-5 finishes. Couple his history on the track with the current state of the teams’ operation and it’s easy to see why Stewart is the favorite to win this week.

Jimmie Johnson doesn’t have any wins in Chicago, one of the few non-road course tracks that he has yet to win on. However, Johnson does have five top-5 finishes in his seven career starts and is third all time at Chicago with an average finish of 8.1. Johnson has crept closer and closer to passing teammate Jeff Gordon for second in points and sits only 194 points from Stewart at the top.

Johnson is just a machine! The defending three-time NASCAR Cup Champion has just been hanging around, running well, and being very business like week after week taking only what the car will give him and no more. What is truly amazing about Johnson is that he could be looking at going for six straight titles this season because he could have easily won the two previous years before stating his record breaking streak of titles.

Looking at a comparison in styles just between Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson and you could use football as an analogy. Busch is the high flying offense that scores lots of points, but allows lots of points scored en route to a 9-7 season. Johnson uses a solid defense to set the foundation and tone for every game plan and uses it to go 12-4 each year.

Kurt Busch is only 304 points out of first and sits fourth in the standings. The elder Busch is running a smart season and has compiled quality finishes all year. He had only one race where his car was the best on the track in Atlanta, and all the others he’s just been smart and looking at the broader picture. If there is one thing that can get Kyle Busch motivated, it’s seeing his brother do better than him each week.

Matt Kenseth leads NASCAR’s loop data for the last four seasons of races at Chicago. Helping his rating is his two second place finishes over that time span. Those two second places finishes are Kenseth’s only top-5 finishes at the track in his eight career starts. Kenseth only has two other top-10 finishes at Chicago, but has still averaged a finish of 9.8 over his career. Look for Kenseth to continue the trend and get himself another quality Chicago finish.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
2) #14 Tony Stewart (6/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
4) #2 Kurt Busch (15/1)
5) #17 Matt Kenseth (15/1)

ChicagoLand Facts

compiled by Mike Forde
NASCAR media services

At Chicagoland Speedway:
• Construction of the Chicagoland Speedway began in August 1999.
• The first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicago was July 14, 2001.
• The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was held on July 15, 2001.

• There have been eight NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Chicagoland Speedway.
• 14 drivers have competed in all eight races.
• Todd Bodine won the first pole.
• There has been a different pole winner after every qualifying session (qualifying was canceled in 2008).
• Kevin Harvick won the first two races.
• Six different drivers have won races, led by Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, each with two.
• Kyle Busch won the 2008 race from the pole, the first time a driver won from the pole. It was also the first time a driver had won from a top-five starting position. Kevin Harvick won the 2002 race from the 32nd starting position, the deepest in the field that a race winner ever started at Chicago.
• Kevin Harvick has a 7.4 average finish in eight races, the best of any driver with more than one start there.
• One Chicago race has gone beyond the scheduled distance (2006 – 270 laps).

NASCAR in Illinois
• There have been 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Illinois.
• 71 drivers all-time in NASCAR three national series have their home state recorded as Illinois. • There have been four race winners from Illinois in NASCAR’s three national series:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

TNT's Wide Open Coverage: Fantastic!

by M Roberts

In the aftermath of the spectacular ending to Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, not much has been said about the fantastic “Wide Open Coverage” TNT offered to NASCAR fans home across the country.

Saturday’s race was the third straight season TNT has offered the coverage of the summer Daytona race as a means to give the fans uninterrupted coverage of every green flap lap during the race.

In 2007 and 2008, despite the attempts, TNT missed a combined 12 green flag laps. On Saturday night, TNT didn’t miss any. We viewed the entire race uninterrupted and it was wonderful.

Much to the dismay of NASCAR fans everywhere on a normal week, there is nothing more irritating when watching a race that goes to commercial and when they finally come back, the announcer says, “While we away, we have a new leader” or “While we were away, a big crash on turn three”, and that’s after they go through thirty seconds of sponsors on graphics leading back into coverage from the break.

Unfortunately, the ’Wide Open Coverage” is a one race and out deal with Daytona. The deal was struck as part of the original NASCAR negotiated package deal with the networks, which at least shows NASCAR understands their fans wishes. However, going back to the standard coverage is like letting someone drive a new Mercedes for a day and then telling them to go back and enjoy their daily routine in a Pinto with no air conditioning.

The real question is how did this standard coverage with commercial breaks going on during live action begin, and how has it been allowed to go on for so long. NASCAR remains the only major and minor sports broadcasted on television that goes away while play on the field, court, track, course, or pitch is live. Bowling and Darts get continuous action, why not NASCAR which is paid a little bit more for their coverage?

The theory I come up with most, beyond the obvious of NASCAR being paid heavy to litter the races with commercials, is that all the other major sports were around when television made it’s sports debut in 1939. Fans were delighted to be able to watch every play from their home and the few networks there were made it a point to get better each year with their coverage.

Fans got used to the coverage and then sponsorships got on board with a product that was already in place and set by the Networks.

NASCAR came on board to network TV with only a few laps being shown of each race on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. It was a concession that NASCAR was glad to make just for the coverage and exposure.

Then came the 1979 Daytona 500 on CBS which became the first Nationally televised race from start to finish. Again, NASCAR was happy to just be there and made concessions with their product for the sake of coverage. They didn’t have a lot of leverage.

After the great returns of that race with a fantastic infield fight between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarbrough, NASCAR was on it’s way with the Networks.

The first major Network deal began with a $2.4 billion six year deal beginning in 2001 and that was followed by a gigantic $4.6 billion eight year deal that currently exists. Through that whole time span, the Networks crammed more commercial breaks than ever to get the most out of their deal. They marketed NASCAR fans loyalty to sponsors everywhere with pie-chart comparisons to other sports about brand loyalty and it worked.

Prior to the big contract deals, NASCAR coverage still had commercial breaks while racing was going on, but not like today. ESPN and The Nashville Network did nice jobs on their coverage and gave the fans more live racing, but NASCAR wasn’t getting the big bucks from them.
So essentially, NASCAR’s growth and desire to get the big money diluted the coverage for the fans and they were fully aware that their product wasn’t going to be properly covered.

With the way the current ratings have decreased all season long in 2009, It’s likely that more concessions will have to be made in order for NASCAR to better their last contract with the Networks.

The one hope NASCAR fans may have for better coverage is the rating results from Saturday’s Daytona race. The last two seasons of ratings from TNT’s “Wide Open Coverage” have risen from a 3.7 share in 2007 to a 4.5 share in 2008. If the trend continues for the cable network after Saturday’s race, which had a drama filled ending, some of the suits at the Networks may take notice and say this is the way to future success in covering NASCAR and a win-win for the fans and sponsors.

If the NASCAR fans hold to their stereotypical loyalty for the ten sponsors of the “Wide Open Coverage”, that coupled with ratings increase could see changes in how NASCAR is covered.

Stewart Brilliant and Classy in Daytona Win

by M Roberts

NASCAR’s recently implemented double file restarts was thrust into action to create some excitement at the end of races, and Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona was the perfect platform for a captive National audience to watch it results unfold on America’s Independence Day.

With just over one lap remaining, Kyle Busch had taken the lead from Tony Stewart who led most of the night. Busch got a great push from teammate Denny Hamlin that propelled him to the lead. Just as Busch was coming out of turn three of the last lap, he had Stewart all over his rear bumper.

As Stewart made a move for the pass inside, Busch blocked the move near turn four, but then Stewart moved outside and had position. Busch attempted to block again moving up on the track and into Stewart which then propelled Busch into a succession of cars piling into him with several violent hits.

Tony Stewart raced to his second victory of the season, but was very somber and apologetic after the race despite it being just hard racing and a product of today’s restrictor plate racing. He stated that he hated to see Busch have his day end that way because Busch was working well with him all night in the draft and helped him get the win.

Stewart was a class act afterwards in press interviews and had genuine concern for Busch's health and final finish position. Busch was upset and refused to talk with the media afterwards, which was likely a good decision because of some of his past rants.

Busch was taken to the medical infield care center and treated for a headache, which if seeing the plows his car took from the front by the wall, the back end by Kasey Kahne and then being T-Boned by teammate Joey Logano, Busch looked to have surely had more trouble than just a headache. The Car of Tomorrow did a great job on this night for sure.

The ending to this race was almost identical to the ending in NASCAR’s other restrictor plate race in April at Talladega that saw Carl Edwards flip air born in the same type of block move on rookie Brad Keselowski. While many of the drivers have openly complained about the current state of plate racing and how the cars being bunched up so tightly makes the spectacular crash inevitable, things aren’t likely to change.

Preliminary television ratings aren’t available until Monday, but the combination of a spectacular finish and great continuous coverage with all live action shown, the ratings are likely to be high compared to the downward trend seen all season. The sinking television ratings could be the reason for the sudden change in double file restarts as a measure to spice things up, and it looks like it worked.

After the dust settled among all the cars piled up near the finish line, Jimmie Johnson finished second followed by Denny Hamlin, Edwards, and Kurt Busch.

Unofficial Coke Zero 400 Results:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Daytona Post Practice; Nothing Very Telling

by M Roberts

In thirty-two of the thirty-six NASCAR Sprint Cup series races, the practice and happy hour sessions prior to the race are pivotal and telling to who will do well on race day. Average lap times over a distance and finding out exactly what a team was trying to accomplish in those practices go a long way into sifting through the legitimate candidates to win.

The four races where the practice sessions should be looked at and treated with little fan fare to any equation in determining who should win the race are at Talladega and Daytona. The times mean very little and are heavily clouded from teams that were spending lots of time in and out of the draft. When cars are in the draft, their speeds are drastically higher than out of the draft.

Usually, I like to post what I saw in the practices that could lead to finding some drivers to do well for either your fantasy team or betting, but this is one of those weeks where practice means little.

However, a few observations couldn’t hurt. I came into this week’s Coke Zero 400 feeling really good about the Roush Fords, the Dodges, the Chevy’s of Childress and DEI, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A major shift in plate racing has occurred over the last two seasons where the only Chevy to win, after a seven year dominant stretch, was driven by Brad Keselowski for a single car team; no Team Hendrick, Childress, DEI, or Stewart/Haas. Since last years Daytona 500, we have seen every manufacturer win a plate race.

Even though Matt Kenseth doesn’t have his winning car from the Daytona 500 because it’s on display for a year at the Daytona Experience, he looks pretty fast in and out of the draft. The Roush Ford’s should all be fast Saturday night as Ford looks to get it’s first sweep of Daytona since 2000. If looking at the speed charts as a normal week, we’d be salivating over David Ragan and Jamie McMurray’s first practice times where they both finished in the top three.

Casey Mears and Kevin Harvick switched teams a few weeks ago with Mears team responding a little better than Harvick’s, but both will excel Saturday night. For whatever it’s worth, Mears was second fastest in both practice sessions driving a new chassis. I bring up the new chassis, because Harvick had his best 2009 finish in the Daytona 500 with second place and if there might be one race to use the Harvick stuff, it would be this one.

Kyle Busch has had the best restrictor plate car on the track for the six plate races he’s run for Toyota. He only has two wins to show for it, but is easily the favorite to win this week.

Dale Jr led the most laps in this race last season and in the last plate race run at Talladega, Junior took second. Each and every sign out there points to Junior getting the win Saturday. I don’t choose him to win much, but the last time I had a feeling about Junior winning after a slump was in this race back in 2001.

First Practice: Top Five Speeds
1) #6-Ragan 190.714
2) #07-Mears 190.666
3) #26-McMurray 190.460
4) #20-Logano 190.166
5) #83-Vickers 189.398
slowest: #64-Wallace 181.965 & #37-Raines 180.926

Happy Hour: Top Five Speeds
1) #00-Reutimann 192.135
2) #07-Mears 192.061
3) #29-Harvick 192.029
4) #83-Vikers 191.980
5) #42-Montoya 191.591
slowest: #66-Blaney 183.760 & #64-Wallace 182.994
notes: #77-Hornish and #16-Biffle were involved in Turn 2 late in the session. Both drivers will go to a backup car. The session started over an hour late after a rain shower move across the track.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Daytona Preview: Coke Zero 400

by Micah Roberts

This Saturday night the NASCAR Sprint Cup series goes under the lights for restrictor plate racing at high speeds in Daytona for the Coke Zero 400. There have been a few other sponsors other the years, but the summer Daytona race will always remain the Firecracker 400.

While spending a holiday weekend with family and friends celebrating the United States Independence and Freedom, there isn’t anything much more of an American tradition than turning on a stock car race from Daytona.

This fourth of July, Daytona will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Richard Petty’s last and final win of his career, win number 200, a nice round even number that stands out among all others drivers in the history of NASCAR.

On that day in 1984, NASCAR royalty and “The King” were cheered by the thousands of followers. That day also marked the first time an acting U.S. President visited a NASCAR race.

Ronald Reagan was on a re-election campaign and thought it might be a good idea to see if they could win some NASCAR dads over, a republican trademark that continues to this day.

The way Richard Petty see’s it, That marked a major stepping stone to where NASCAR is today in mainstream America.

“I always figure that we went upstairs, and we’re still going upstairs,” Petty said of NASCAR.

“You know, we got the president of the United States on the sports page, and the president of the United States got us on the front page. So it was a pretty good tradeoff.”

The favorite to win this weeks race is Kyle Busch, who won this race last year. Ever since joining Joe Gibbs racing in his Toyota, no one has been better than Kyle Busch at Daytona. We could be discussing how he’s won three in a row there, but has had trouble in each of the last two Daytona 500’s.

Last season in the Daytona 500, while Busch and teammate Tony Stewart were jostling for late positioning and battling for what seemed to be their race to win, Ryan Newman and his teammate Kurt Busch worked together pushing Newman to the win.

This season in the Daytona 500, Kyle Busch led the most laps and was cruising to what looked to be a well deserved win for the Las Vegan, but then some thing got in the way. A lapped car driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr got over-aggressive on the re-start causing a giant wreck up front where many of the leaders, including Busch, had their day finished.

This weeks race may not have that type of pile up on a restart, at least caused by a lapped car, because of the new double file restarts which puts the leaders side by side up front. We’ll still have some aggression early on, but consequences are much more damaging for a leader than a lapped car which is taken into consideration before making a move like Junior did in February.

Speaking of Junior, this could be a race where he gets himself going in the right direction after getting a new crew chief. So far, the new marriage hasn’t reaped any rewards yet, but things looked encouraging last week at New Hampshire as Junior was competitive for a change running in the top-10 frequently in that race.

In this race last season, Junior led the most laps before finishing eighth. He has two wins all time at Daytona to go along with his five restrictor plate wins at Talladega. His first win at Daytona came in this race in 2001. It was Junior first win following his father’s passing and was on the same track where he died. It was a one the great moments in NASCAR and solidified Junior’s fan base to a plateau that no one may ever get to.

Junior’s other Daytona win came in the 500 in February of 2004. I remember the race vividly because I watched most of it stuck on the concourse by the beer stand. Another President winning favor of NASCAR dads made the visit that day. George W. Bush and a brigade of about 30 black Chevy Tahoe’s came rolling up through the concourse and everyone had to freeze as he was going to the television booth.

The race had just started and I was in line again for another Ice Cold Bud Light when all these Tahoe’s pinned me in and we were told not to move. We couldn’t go to our seats or anything as sharp shooters dressed in black SWAT gear peered through the cracks of the windows in the cars. It wasn’t all bad; I mean I had beer I could I buy, a monitor to watch the race in front of me, and I could still hear the cars, and smell the fuel and burnt rubber from the track.

Luckily I didn’t have to go to the restroom until they left. Unluckily, however, is that GW didn’t even flip me a drink ticket or a sawbuck for the inconvenience. He could have bought me a beer, right?

In the last two Daytona 500’s we saw a lot of different occurrences than we have from the past.

Generally, Chevy has had the dominant teams in restrictor plate racing led by Hendrick, DEI, Childress, and Joe Gibbs when they drove Chevy’s. They weren’t a lot of intruders to the Chevy bow-tie part in plate races over the last 8 seasons. That all changed last year when Newman won in a Dodge with only one Chevy making the top-10.

This year, Matt Kenseth won in a Ford and only two Chevy’s cracked the top-10. Four Dodges, three of which run for Richard Petty made the top-10 also. Couple all that with Kyle Busch having the most dominant car in a Toyota, and it’s clear to see that Chevy is no longer a serious player in the restrictor plate race any more.

Some of the best in plate racing, like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, haven’t even cracked the top-10 at Daytona in their last three starts. Johnson hasn’t even sniffed a top-20 in that span. The best Chevy team right now mat be the Childress drivers, who are struggling everywhere else currently.

Despite the lack of Chevy success recently in plate races other than Brad Keselowski at 100 to 1 odds winning at Talladega, I’ll go with the fan favorite this week in Dale Jr and hope that he gets things back on track. He finished 2nd at Talladega and saw enough of him in that race to believe between his desire, struggles, and legacy on the line, he’ll show up for a big performance.

No President this week however. Though a great sports fan, he sticks to football and basketball and hasn’t warmed up to NASCAR yet. Maybe in 2012 he’ll make a visit on the campaign trail.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (8/1)
2) #2 Kurt Busch (12/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (5/1)
4) #14 Tony Stewart (8/1)
5) #29 Kevin Harvick (20/1)

Daytona Facts

compiled by Mike Forde
NASCAR media services

At Daytona International Speedway

• Groundbreaking for Daytona International Speedway was on Nov. 25, 1957. The soil underneath the banked corners was dug from the infield of the track and the hole filled with water. It is now known as Lake Lloyd.
• The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona was a 100-mile qualifying race for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20, 1959.
• The first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona was held on Feb. 13, 1982.
• Richard Petty won his 200th career race on July 4, 1984 at Daytona.
• Lights were installed in the spring of 1998. However, the race was delayed until October that year due to thick smoke from wildfires. The second Daytona race has been held under the lights ever since.
• The first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona was held on Feb. 18, 2000.

• There have been 124 NASCAR Sprint Cup points races at Daytona International Speedway since the track hosted its first race in 1959: 51 have been 500 miles, 46 were 400 miles and four 250 miles. There were also 23 qualifier races that were points races (one in 1959; two from 1960-1971).
• Fireball Roberts won the inaugural pole at Daytona.
• Bob Welborn won the first race at Daytona, a 100-mile qualifying race for Daytona International Speedway.
• Lee Petty won the inaugural Daytona 500 on Feb. 22, 1959.
• Fireball Roberts won the first 400-mile race at Daytona, the 1963 Firecracker 400.
• 52 drivers have posted poles at Daytona; 19 have more than one.
• Cale Yarborough leads all drivers with 12 poles at Daytona.
• Bill Elliott leads all active drivers with five poles at Daytona.
• 54 drivers have won at Daytona; 24 have won more than once.
• Richard Petty leads all drivers in victories at Daytona, with 10.
• Jeff Gordon has six victories at Daytona, more than any other active driver.
• The Wood Brothers have won 14 races at Daytona, more than any other car owner.
• Fifteen full-length races at Daytona have been won from the pole. Thirteen have been won from the second starting position – a total of 28 race winners from the front row.
• A driver has swept both races at Daytona only four times, most recently by Bobby Allison in 1982.
• Matt Kenseth won this season’s Daytona 500 from 39th, the deepest in the field that a Daytona race winner has started.
• Other than qualifying races, there have been four Daytona races run caution-free: 1959 spring, 1959 summer; 1960 summer; 1961 spring; 1961 summer and 1962 spring.

NASCAR in Florida
• There have been 160 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Florida.
• 154 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Florida.
• There have been nine race winners from Florida in NASCAR’s three national series: