Monday, August 24, 2009

Kyle Busch is Back: NASCAR Nation Loving It Too!

by Micah Roberts
Gaming Today

Just when we thought Kyle Busch was done, he goes off and wins a race. Last week’s win by the Las Vegan at Bristol was his fourth of the year, but first since early May at Richmond. More importantly, Busch closed the gap of being outside looking to the Chase from 70 points to 34 points with two races remaining.

The win seems to have invigorated the slumping Busch’s attitude, along with reviving his team’s morale after starting the season off so dominant with three early wins in the first ten races.

“No pressure on us yet!” his team radioed after he crossed the finish line. “This 18 is not going down without a fight!”

Busch was quiet in the moments after winning before celebrating with his trademark smoky burnout on the frontstretch and then gave his traditional bow to the booing crowd.

Busch then got out of his car, grabbed the checkered flag from a NASCAR official, but instead of waving it to the crowd in his car as he normally does, he gave it to a fan through a hole in the fence.

“I hope this just isn’t a fluke to get in the Chase,” he said in Victory Lane. “We need to run well at Atlanta and Richmond.”

Chances are, Busch will run well in the next two races, and it might be better than most of the drivers ahead of him. He currently sits 13th in points, but he’s only 84 points behind seventh place Ryan Newman.

The next two races in the Race to the Chase are at Atlanta in two weeks and then onto Richmond, site of his last win prior to Saturday night. Of all the drivers fighting within 162 points of each other from seventh position to 15th, Busch has the best recent history of performance on those tracks.

The top candidates as drivers that could take the wrath of Busch’s charge into making the Chase look to be either Matt Kenseth or Kasey Kahne. Of the two, Kahne would seem like choice to miss just because of past history between the two regarding the Chase. Kenseth has never missed the Chase, while Kahne always finds some way to miss it.

In Kahne’s five years on the circuit, he’s only made the Chase once. In two of the four seasons he didn’t make it, he bowed out late when the pressure was on while being in the position lke he is now. Don’t think that wears on him a bit. It has to be playing games within his own mind.

A candidate to make the Chase who Busch passed last week for the 13th position was Brian Vickers, who won two weeks ago at Michigan. Vickers once again popped off about Busch last week and tried to talked to the media about Busch as if he was a psychologist. He even made an indirect comment towards the Busch parents, because of how he perceives Busch.

“I hate that he lives in such an angry place. It must be miserable to live like that,” Vickers said Friday at Bristol in the wake of a feud that began on the final lap of last week’s Nationwide race at Michigan where the battled for lead and Vickers pinned Busch to the bottom of the track while third place Brad Keselowski passed them both.

And that miserable existence Vickers described? Maybe he was confused by Busch’s passion for winning, something that has eluded Vickers in his Cup career for the most part.

“I am a guy who loves to win,” Busch shrugged. “There’s nothing else to me but the feeling of winning.”

It was very poetic and fitting that following Vickers Michigan win on a weekend, where the feud began because of his own stupidity, that Vickers still felt the need to drag it out the following week.

Maybe he was feeling chippy and sprout since getting his first win that didn’t involve him bumping out the leaders like he did at Talladega in 2006 to gain his first and last win prior to Michigan.

Busch not only responded, by maturely not responding to the media, but he went on to win Bristol and pass the puffy-chested Vickers in points. He made his statement on the track.

For Vickers, he should have a decent run in Atlanta, but will likely have issues at Richmond as has been his past history trend at the track.

It’s good to have Busch back in the limelight and doing well again, because he stirs so many emotions within the entire NASCAR Nation that keeps people glued to see what he does next whether they like him or not. Many of the fans who like to boo Busch weekly haven’t had much to cheer for lately because he’s been on a three month slump.

Get ready fans, time to get your throat lozenges for the constant booing, because the villain in black is back and he’s about to make a big run the next two weeks.

After all his troubles, if he makes the Chase, Busch’s four wins will put him in first position with Mark Martin to start the Chase on the basis of wins.

Go get em’ Kyle! Vegas has got your back!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Busch Wins for First Time Since May in Richmond

By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP)—Kyle Busch was finally able to shake that anger.

Derided all week by rival Brian Vickers as a generally unhappy human being, Busch had reason to celebrate Saturday night when he held off Mark Martin over a frantic four-lap sprint to the finish at Bristol Motor Speedway. His fourth victory of the season put him back in contention for the Chase for the championship.

And that miserable existence Vickers described? Perhaps he was confused by Busch’s passion for winning.

“I am a guy who loves to win,” Busch shrugged. “There’s nothing else to me but the feeling of winning.”

Although he grabbed wins in the lower-tier NASCAR series— including Wednesday night in the Truck race at Bristol—he’d come up empty in 13 consecutive races in the premiere Sprint Cup Series. It was a healthy slump for a guy who won races at a rapid pace last season, 21 in all spanning all three series.

The struggle to accept defeat had been seemingly too much for Busch to handle of late.

“I hate that he lives in such an angry place. It must be miserable to live like that,” Vickers said Friday at Bristol in the wake of a feud that began on the final lap of last week’s Nationwide race at Michigan.

Busch knew his emotions were getting the best of him. His feedback during races had fallen off, his mood was often sour even outside the race car and it seemed to be affecting his performance.

The top seed in last year’s Chase entered Saturday night’s race 15th in the standings and in need of a flawless run to save his season.

He delivered by smoothly working his way to the front, then holding off the veteran Martin in a series of restarts over the final 50 laps. It helped him climb off the ropes and keep his title hopes alive.

His fourth win of the season—tied with Martin for most in the Sprint Cup Series—jumped him two spots in the standings to 13th.

With two races to go before the 12-driver field is set, Busch trails 12th-place driver Matt Kenseth by just 34 points.

“No pressure on us yet!” his team radioed after he crossed the finish line. “This 18 is not going down without a fight!”

Busch was silent for a few seconds before celebrating with a smoky burnout on the frontstretch and his traditional bow to the crowd. He then grabbed the checkered flag from a NASCAR official, but gave it to a fan through a hole in the fence.

“I hope this just isn’t a fluke to get in the Chase,” he said in Victory Lane. “We need to run well at Atlanta and Richmond.”

Martin, the pole-sitter, finished second in the 1,000th start of his career. Just like Busch, he improved his Chase chances and moved up two spots to 10th.

But he could have moved Busch out of his way several times over the final 50 laps, including the dramatic four-lap sprint to the finish.

Instead, he raced him clean and defended his decision not to use his bumper on Busch.

“Anyone who thinks I was soft out there on the race track wasn’t watching,” Martin said. “I raced my guts out.”

Martin led 240 of the 500 laps, and Busch could commiserate with his bridesmaid showing.

“Mark Martin, what a class act. He deserved to win this race,” Busch said. “I’m sorry he got second. I know how he feels. But man, I drove as hard as I could. He had a chance, could have done it, he raced me clean.”

It broke a 13 race winless streak in the Cup series, which is an eternity for Busch since he joined Joe Gibbs Racing last season. But he’s been struggling to regain the momentum he had most of last year, and his confidence at times has seemed shattered as he struggled to accept defeat.

“We didn’t have the best car, but had a car capable enough to doing it if I can drive it hard enough,” he said. “I gave it everything I had. It’s crazy.”

Marcos Ambrose was third, while Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five. Hamlin came back from an early tire issue to grab his top-five finish.

Ryan Newman was sixth and was followed by Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth.

It was a mixed night for the Chase contenders. Points leader Tony Stewart had an early radio problem, an issue with his power and a generally miserable night as he finished 33rd. Kasey Kahne was 28th, and Carl Edwards was 16th.

Juan Pablo Montoya moved as high as second on the track at one point, but a tire problem dropped him like a rock through the field and he lost six positions before he was finally saved by a caution.

“Good! What has changed on this thing?” Montoya asked. “We’re going to wreck.”
Fighting for his own Chase berth, he was urged to stay calm by crew chief Brian Pattie.

“Dude, you’re going to be fine. You’re still P8,” Pattie said. “Just get a top 10 like we talked about.”

But when racing resumed, Montoya continued to slide backward, finally heading to the pits to change what he suspected was a flat right-side tire. He finished 25th and fell to ninth in the standings.

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon struggled and finished 23rd, while Johnson put himself in position to cross Bristol off the list of six active tracks where he has yet to win. Instead, a loose wheel on a late tire change sent him back into the pits and he dropped from race-winning contention

Friday, August 21, 2009

Martin on Bristol Pole: Fifth Time of 2009


Martin wins pole at Bristol:
#5-Mark Martin won the Coors Light Pole Award for the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway with a lap of 124.484mph for his 5th pole of 2009 and 46th of his career [10th best all-time] and Martin's 9th at Bristol, which ties the record.

#16-Biffle will start 2nd followed by #82-Speed [the fastest of the go-or-go-homers], #66-Blaney, #17-Kenseth, #33-Bowyer, #07-Mears, #20-Logano, #39-Newman and #43-Sorenson. Points leader #14-Stewart will start way back in 30th. 2nd and 3rd in points, #24-Gordon and #48-Johnson will start 33rd and 21st respectfully.

The non Top-35 drivers who made the race: #82-Speed, #66-Blaney, #71-Gilliland, #08-Labonte, #4-Wimmer, #78-Smith, #37-Raines and #87-Nemechek.The three drivers who failed to qualify: #36-Skinner, #13-Papis, #64-Wallace and #09-Almirola.See the full qualifying results, starting linup, pole progression on my Bristol Starting Lineup/Qualifying Page.(8-21-2009)

Johnson Paces Bristol Happy Hour: Seeking First Win

by M Roberts

Jimmie Johnson doesn’t have a Bristol win among his 43 career NASCAR Sprint Cup wins, but after Friday’s final practice sessions for Saturday night’s Sharpie 500, he may well be on his way to crossing Bristol off his small list of tracks he’s never won at.

Johnson paced Happy Hour with a fast lap of 123.316 mph late in the session followed by Mark Martin, Marcos Ambrose, Jeff Gordon, and Greg Biffle to round out the top five.

Throughout the day during both practices, the track was extremely slick with several drivers almost hitting the wall coming out of the turns.

This will be the fifth race run on the new layout of Bristol. The banking was decreased by six degrees and in the process, it created an outside groove that that had never been there before. In the past, the only way to pass a stubborn driver in front of a faster car on the bottom was to bump him out of the way.

Those type of days appear to be gone, or at least diminished somewhat. Even though it’s still difficult to pass making start position as critical as it ever was, the additional groove has made the drivers less antsy, which in turn has lessoned the famous Bristol road rage.

The one change for this race that might see some good old fashioned Bristol Road Rage that we didn’t see as much of in the first four races since the change is the double-file restart. The bottom of the track is still the preferred spot, so the battle on each restart should be interesting to see.

Some of the top teams brought their Dover chassis’ from May rather than their March Bristol chassis’. The banking and grooves make it now similar to Dover in weight placement set-up despite Dover being twice as big in distance.

One of the few drivers to bring their Bristol chassis from the March race was Jimmie Johnson, who finished third in the spring tying his best career Bristol finish. The choice must have been a tough one for crew chief Chad Knaus since Johnson won at Dover in May in a different car.

Greg Biffle, who was fifth fastest in Friday’s Happy Hour, was one of the others to bring his Chassis from March’s Bristol race. However, the Dover connection is there because it’s the same chassis he won at Dover with last year in the fall. Biffle qualified well at Bristol in the spring but had engine trouble and finished 39th. Biffle should contend for the win Saturday night.

On an on going trend over the last few weeks has been the continued performance of Joey Logano in practice. He’s running with the upper-echelon of drivers and getting great times in single lap and average times. Friday was no different as he ran equally well on the high and low side for the seventh best overall time.

Meanwhile, as Logano runs well, his teammate, Kyle Busch, continues to struggle with his car.
Busch wasn’t happy at all in either practice session and almost flattened the back end while getting loose around one of the turns. The real mystery with Busch is why the team didn’t bring their winning chassis from the May Bristol race. They chose to bring their Phoenix car, which they ran well in, but the banking difference between the two tracks is pretty substantial.
It doesn’t look like Busch is equipped to run his best this week and the timing couldn’t be worse for him as he has only three races left to make up 70 points and make the chase.

Tony Stewart didn’t have a good practice at all, at least on the clock, and was 32nd quickest. On several occasions this season, Stewart has practiced much more than just being fast and his times on paper have suffered. However, when it comes to race day, Stewart has his game face on and usually gets himself a top-5.

Stewart ran the most laps in Happy Hour by a substantial margin. He ran 99 laps and used the majority of both practice sessions in race trim.

Final Bristol Practice (Happy Hour)
1) Jimmie Johnson 123.316 mph - AVG 20 laps @ 120.856
2) Mark Martin 122.874 mph - AVG 6 laps @ 122.145
3) Marcos Ambrose 122.874 mph - AVG 46 laps @ 118.567
4) Jeff Gordon 122.858 mph - AVG 42 laps @ 117.119
5) Greg Biffle 122.803 mph - AVG 64 laps @ 117.598
6) Joey Logano 122.693 mph - AVG 64 laps @ 117.946
7) Scott Speed 122.646 mph - AVG 49 laps @ 118.266
8) David Reutimann 122.552 mph - AVG 46 laps @ 117.831
9) David Gilliland 122.435 mph - AVG 23 laps @ 118.653
10) Kurt Busch 122.435 mph - AVG 56 laps @ 117.711

First Bristol Practice Session
1) Martin Truex Jr 122.014 mph - AVG 65 laps @ 118.464
2) David Gilliland 121.798 mph - AVG 69 laps @ 117.548
3) Clint Bowyer 121.651 mph - AVG 73 laps @ 117.764
4) Aric Almirola 121.628 mph - AVG 25 laps @ 118.606
5) Scott Speed 121.605 mph - AVG 48 laps @ 117.226

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Bristol following all practices sessions (not qualifying), with a mix or the last four Bristol races, the last three Dover races, and current state of the team.
1) Greg Biffle
2) Jimmie Johnson
3) Kurt Busch
4) Jeff Gordon
5) Tony Stewart
6) Clint Bowyer
7) Denny Hamlin
8) Ryan Newman
9) Carl Edwards
10) Mark Martin

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bristol: Chase Countdown For Kyle Busch at 3

by Micah Roberts

After the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series first visited Bristol Motor Speedway in week five, Kyle Busch had gained his second win of the young season and looked to be picking up where he left off in 2008 that saw him win eight races and dominate the season prior to his disastrous Chase run.

However, things have gone seriously south for the young, brash Las Vegan. Ever since that Bristol win in week five, Busch has plummeted in points like a heavy rock in the depths of Lake Mead. Following week five where Busch was fourth in points with two wins and three top-5 finishes.

Since then Busch has only one more win and two top-5 finishes heading into race 24 of the season this week at Bristol. He currently finds himself outside looking into the Chase in 15th position, 70 points out of the 12th and final position. Last season at this juncture he was leading the entire series in points and had eight win along with 14 top-5 finishes.

My, how things have changed and there really isn’t any explanation for the drop off. Busch continues to dominate the Nationwide Series with consistent abandon week after week while leading the points in that series.

70 points is a lot of points to come back from in order to make the chase, but it isn’t the biggest deficit in Chase history with three races remaining. In 2005, Matt Kenseth came back to make the Chase while being 100 points behind.

Busch has the benefit in the final three races before judgment day of racing on tracks he’s done well at beginning this week at Bristol where he won in week five. In the next race, the Series visits Atlanta where he won last season in the spring and then had one of his best finishes of the chase in fall with a fifth there.

In the final Race to the Chase at Richmond, Busch should also have an advantage because it’s the sight of his last win coming in early May in week 10. He needed a better performance at Michigan last week, but of all the drivers sitting 12th through 15th, Busch looks to have the best chance of making the NASCAR’s version of the playoffs despite being so far back.

This weeks race at Bristol starts this run off with it’s new brand of Bristol racing which resembles a shorter Dover now. Since changing the most unique fast short track in the world, Bristol racing isn’t what it used to be, but it’s still under the lights with almost 200,000 fans hovering above the track, so the excitement level is still sure to be there.

In four weeks, the Chase will be set and three of the current contenders will be left out. Just who might those drivers be? Here are some notes on the contenders and how they may do for the next three races based on a mix of how they are currently going, how they have done on the tracks this year and beyond, and how they reacted under pressure in the past.

7) Juan Pablo Montoya - 2887 pts: He ended his streak of nine straight top-12 finishes last week, but has been a model of consistency all season. He is sitting nice right now and should be real good at the short tracks of Richmond and Bristol where he had top-10 finishes there in the spring.

8) Kasey Kahne - 2884 pts: Of all the drivers currently in the Chase, he is a good candidate to make it despite being in eighth. Kahne has melted under pressure down the stretch in two of his three Chase runs over his career including last season. He’s only made the chase once in his five years on tour. Earlier this year at Richmond, where he has to perform well at, he had a 29th.

9) Ryan Newman - 2845 pts: He has been up and down all year, but his downs haven’t too bad. His best run of the season came in the spring when the series visited Bristol and Richmond where he ran well during a ten race stretch where he had five top-5 finishes along with three other top-10’s. Newman should be good to in making it.

10) Greg Biffle - 2821 pts: He needed a much better run at Michigan to increase his chances of making because now he’s only got Atlanta where he runs very well at. He didn’t run well at Bristol and Richmond in the spring. He should be in, but he’s cutting in close.

11) Matt Kenseth - 2811 pts: Following his back to back wins to start the season at Daytona and California, he has been worse than mediocre and is fortunate to be where he’s at right now. He actually moved a position because of Martin’s poor run last week, but he is not safe at all. He has always run well on these tracks coming up, but this isn’t the same team as in past years. He has never missed the Chase, but is a top candidate to miss it this year.

12) Mark Martin - 2791 pts: He should run very well at all three tracks coming up, but that was supposed to be the case last week at Michigan where he had a great car. He should never be in this position considering how dominant he’s been, but because he’s finished 31st of worse in seven of the 23 races thus far, he’s an all or nothing case. America would like to hope he’s in; who can’t root for a 50 year old to win his first title ever?

13) Brian Vickers - 2779 (-12 pts behind) He’s sitting a nice place right now and wiped off 84 points of deficit with his win last week. His biggest climb will come at Richmond and Bristol where he has been beat up in the past. He may contend for the Atlanta win, but if he doesn’t get top-10’s or close, he’ll be hard pressed to make it. One positive is that he ran well at Richmond in May where his 15th place was his best run there since his rookie season.

14) Clint Bowyer - 2733 (-58 pts behind) This guy knows how to play the game and just happens to run well at all the tracks coming up, especially Richmond and Bristol. He ran a solid eighth last week and likely will run similarly the same in the next three which will likely get him in. He was in the same position last season and ran down Kahne and beat him out in a very cool and calm demeanor it takes to make it when outside looking in.

15) Kyle Busch 2721 (-70 points behind) The good news is that he won at Bristol and Richmond in the spring, the bad news is that he’s only had one top-5 finish since winning at Richmond in May, a span of 13 races. This will be the most compelling and dramatically story for the next three weeks because we have a chance to see a great talent dig deep and race his way in, or we have a chance to see a great talent melt down and go crazy in front of the camera. His chances are slim of making it, but if anyone can do it, it is Kyle. He just needs to get his head straight and focus.

I’ll go against history and wisdom and look for Busch and Bowyer to make it with Kenseth and Kahne falling out.

This weeks race at Bristol takes on extra special piece of fun because of the double-file restarts which was not in place when the ran therein March. Look for the best Bristol race there since they made such a drastic change to the track two years ago.

TOP 5 Bristol Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
3) #39 Ryan Newman (20/1)
4) #14 Tony Stewart (7/1)
5) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)

Bristol Facts

by Mike Forde - NASCAR Media Services

At Bristol Motor Speedway:

• Groundbreaking for Bristol International Speedway, as Bristol Motor Speedway was originally known, took place in 1960. The track was an exact half-mile.
• Bristol held its first NASCAR Sprint Cup race on July 30, 1961.
• In the fall of 1969, the track was reshaped and re-measured to .533-miles.
• The name changed to Bristol International Raceway in 1978.
• The first night race was held in the fall of 1978.
• The first NASCAR Nationwide Series race was held on March 13, 1982.
• The first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol was held on June 23, 1995.
• The track surface was changed from asphalt to concrete in 1992.
• The name changed to Bristol Motor Speedway in May 1996.
• The track was resurfaced between races in 2007.

• There have been 97 NASCAR Sprint Cup races since the first race there in 1961, two races each season.
• All races have been scheduled for 500 laps, except for both races in 1976 and the second in 1977, which were 400-lap events.
• Fred Lorenzen won the first pole.
• The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was won by Jack Smith (with relief from Johnny Allen).
• There have been 42 different pole winners, led by Cale Yarborough (nine); 19 drivers have more than one. Mark Martin needs one more pole to tie Yarborough’s mark. He won his eighth pole in this season’s March race.
• 37 different drivers have won races at Bristol, led by Darrell Waltrip (12); 16 drivers have more than one victory there.
• The race winner has started from the pole 22 times, the most productive starting position.
• 79 of 97 races have been won from a top-10 starting position, including 51 from the first four spots.
• The deepest in the field that a race winner has started was 38th, by Elliott Sadler in 2001.
• There have been seven different pole winners in the past nine races. Qualifying was canceled in the spring of 2006 and 2008.
• Junior Johnson won 21 races, more than any other car owner. His victories came between 1965 and 1986 and were scored by five different drivers, including one himself.
• Only one active driver averages a top-10 finish: Marcos Ambrose. Ambrose finished 10th earlier this season, his only Bristol start thus far.

NASCAR in Tennessee
• There have been 158 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Tennessee.
• 97 drivers all-time in NASCAR’s three national series have their home state recorded as Tennessee.
• There have been 11 race winners from Tennessee in NASCAR’s three national series.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Brian Vickers Wins Fuel Mileage Race at Michigan


Vickers wins at Michigan: #83-Brian Vickers won the CARMAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway for his 1st win of 2009, 2nd of his career, 1st win ever in Sprint Cup for Red Bull Racing, 1st win from the pole for Vickers [after 11 poles] and first ever win at MIS for Toyota.

Vickers is the 13th different winner in 23 Sprint Cup races this season [the record is 19]. #24-Gordon finished 2nd followed by #88-Earnhardt Jr. [1st top 5 since Talladega in May], #99-Edwards, #77-Hornish Jr., #07-Mears, #20-Logano, #33-Bowyer, #00-Reutimann and #11-Hamlin.

#48-Johnson was leading with 2 laps to go but ran out of fuel and finished 33rd. Points leader #14-Stewart finished 17th and increased his points lead to 284 points over now 2nd place, #24-Gordon as Johnson fell to 3rd.

Vickers is now only 12 points out of the Chase with three races to go before the chase, #5-Martin is now 12th after running out of fuel on the last lap and finishing 31st.

There were 7 cautions for 36 caution laps, an18 minute red flag for a light rain shower on lap 8 and there were 25 lead changes among 14 drivers.

Scheduled Race Re-Air: ESPN2 on Monday, August 17 at 3:00am/et; ESPN Classic on Monday, August 17 at 1:00pm/et; and SPEED, Wednesday, August 19 at 12:00pm/et.For race results, awards and more, see my Michigan Race Results Page.(8-16-2009)

First win for #83 since 1988: With Brian Vickers win in the CARFAX 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 16th, it was only the second ever win for a car using the #83 in Sprint Cup Series history. The last and only other time a car using the #83 won a Sprint Cup race was on March 27, 1988, when Lake Speed got his only career win at Darlington Raceway, running the #83 Wynn's Oldsmobile. See more about the history of car number wins on my Wins by Car Numbers page.(8-17-2009)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Vickers and Martin Top Final Michigan Practice Speeds

by M Roberts

The final two practice sessions run Saturday as a prep for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway gave somewhat of a preview of who will do well in the race. Most of the drivers who ran well in the first Michigan race in June had a good showing, with a couple shining much brighter than they did then.

One of the surprises from all the teams that ran well in June was that other than Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, most have brought different chassis’ than they ran then. A portion of the teams have brought their Chicago chassis from the July race. Though the tracks are different in length, the banking in and out of the turns are similar. Others have either brought brand new rides and in a few cases, some have their Indy or Pocono cars.

The star of the day was Brian Vickers who has had some success on these type of horsepower tracks this year, but yet the team still opted to go with a brand new chassis in hopes of attacking the last four races in the race to the chase a bettering their current status of 14th and 96 points behind.

The decision looks to have paid off because if just comparing the June practice times to this weekends. Vickers was fast throughout the June Michigan practices, netted the pole, but finished only ninth, which is the main statistic they look to improve upon this week.

This week, Vickers looks much faster and better suited to captured Red Bull Racing’s first win and more importantly, chop their deficit in the Chase.

In the first session Vickers ran the quickest lap early on and went on to have the second best average speeds among drivers running at least 15 laps. He ended up getting 27 laps in and showed that he should be really good in the critical Michigan long runs.

During Happy Hour, Vickers laid down his quickest lap early which was second fastest overall. Overall, Vickers ran the most laps combined between the two sessions and was consistently fast throughout.

Mark Martin was fastest at Michigan in June’s Happy Hour and won the race. This week, Martin is once again fastest in Happy Hour as he’ll be attempting to win the sixth Michigan race of his career. Martin, surprisingly, didn’t bring his winning chassis from June, but rather his Indy chassis that finished second. For whatever reason that caused the change, this team is dialed in once again and will contend for the win.

Jimmie Johnson had the best car in June’s race leading the most laps, but his team brought his eighth place Chicagoland chassis. He was a faster in practice this time around, but equally good in average times. Michigan has seen Johnson have the best car on a few occasions, but can never seal the deal. It remains one of the few tracks Johnson has yet to win at.

While Johnson will be running hard for win to get bonus points in the Chase, Juan Pablo Montoya will be taking it easy and keeping his goals modest with gaining a high top-10 finish. However, his car looks good enough to contend for the win this week.

Montoya was third fastest in the first session, but the most attractive stat of all in practice was his average times and Montoya was faster than anyone in all combined average laps from both practices. He brought his second place finishing Pocono chassis and used notes from their sixth place Michigan finish in June to re-set it. Should Montoya win, it would be his second career Michigan win, with the other coming in Champ Cars.

Carl Edwards has the best average finish at Michigan among all divers, but his speeds were less than what he did in June when he finished fourth. Happy Birthday Carl!

Greg Biffle looked to have one of the best cars in June when he battled Johnson for the win for the final 10 laps, but struggled in both sessions today despite bringing the exact same chassis. Chances are based on their past at Michigan, Biffle’s team will make the needed changes to be better as the race goes on.

Jeff Gordon had a strong final practice in average laps times between both sessions where he came close to Montoya’s times. The most consistent area of Gordon’s 2009 campaign has been on the 1.5-mile and two-mile tracks. At Michigan in June, Gordon didn’t lead a lap, but he did finish second. He’s in that comfortable mode right now where he could let it all hang out for bonus Chase points and go for the win.

Dale Earnhardt Jr brought the chassis he ran at Indy and Pocono this week to Michigan and had a great Happy Hour with the eighth quickest lap. He ran 36 laps and was very competitive with the leaders in average lap speeds.

Kyle Busch is starting 39th and needs to have a good run to help erase his 56 point deficit in the Race to the Chase where he sits in 13th. Busch brought himself a chassis for this race in hopes of breathing some fresh air into the garage, but unlike Vickers, Busch’s practice times Saturday didn’t show much improvement from their June Michigan practice.

This may be a race where Busch has to bite the bullet and shoot for a top-15 finish rather than push the car more than it can do. He still has Bristol and Richmond coming up where he should run well considering he won their in the spring, so the best thing to do right now is points race, stay out of trouble, and stay out on a caution to lead a lap gaining five points.
Saturday Happy Hour: Top 5 Speeds
1) Mark Martin 181.717 mph - AVG 37 laps @ 175.414
2) Brian Vickers 181.621 mph - AVG 46 laps @ 176.653
3) David Ragan 180.519 mph - AVG 39 laps @ 175.650
4) David Stremme 180.451 mph - AVG 30 laps @ 175.286
5) Jimmie Johnson 180.419 mph - AVG 38 laps @ 176.650

Saturday’s First Practice: Top 5 Speeds
1) Brian Vickers 184.909 mph - AVG 27 laps @ 178.063
2) Tony Stewart 184.838 mph - AVG 18 laps @ 177.364
3) Juan Pablo Montoya 184.696 mph - AVG 13 laps @ 179.395
4) Joey Logano 184.544 mph - AVG 22 laps @ 177.939
5) Mark Martin 184.488 mph - AVG 22 laps @ 175.202
Top 10 Driver Rating for this weeks Michigan race following all practice and qualifying sessions with a slight mix of June’s Michigan race, current team situation, and overall Michigan track history.
1) Jimmie Johnson
2) Mark Martin
3) Brian Vickers
4) Juan Pablo Montoya
5) Jeff Gordon
6) Carl Edwards
7) Kurt Busch
8) Tony Stewart
9) Clint Bowyer
10) Greg Biffle

Vickers on Pole at Michigan: 6th Pole in 2009


Vickers wins pole at Michigan:
#83-Brian Vickers won the Coors Light Pole for the Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway with a speed of 187.242mph for his 6th pole of the 2009 season, 11th of his career and 3rd straight at MIS.
Starting 2nd is #5-Martin, #42-Montoya, #48-Johnson, #1-Truex Jr., #2-Busch, #39-Newman, #20-Logano, #21-Elliott and #9-Kahne. Points leader, #14-Stewart starts 18th. #88-Earnhardt Jr. 15th and #18-Busch is way back, starting 39th.
The non Top-35 drivers who made the race: #21-Elliott, #82-Speed, #25-Keselwoski, #09-Bliss, #71-Gilliland, #87-Nemechek, #66-Blaney and #36-Skinner.
Missing the race (1): #37-Raines.(8-14-2009)

Qualifying Fast Facts - Michigan International Speedway:
#83-Brian Vickers won the Coors Light Pole Award for the Michigan 400 with a lap of 38.453 seconds, 187.242 mph.
This is his 11th pole in 195 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
This is his sixth pole and 11th top-10 start in 2009.
This is his third pole in 12 races at Michigan International Speedway.
#5-Mark Martin (second) posted his 11th top-10 start of 2009 and his 24th in 48 races at Michigan International Speedway.
#42-Juan Pablo Montoya (third) posted his second top-10 start at Michigan International Speedway. It is his 10th in 23 races this season.
#20-Joey Logano (eighth) was the fastest qualifying rookie.(NASCAR Statistics)(8-14-2009)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Newman Rockets to Top of First Michigan Practice

by M Roberts

The NASCAR Sprint Cup series first practice session Friday at Michigan International Speedway was primarily used for qualifying set-ups as the teams get prepared to qualify for Sunday’s CarFax 400.

Ryan Newman topped the first practice with a speed of 189.155 mph and he did so very early in practice. He ran only seven laps in practice which suggests they are pretty happy about what they have set up for Friday’s qualifying.

The majority of the top speeds mirrored the June Michigan race’s first practice. Most of the drivers who were primed and set for that race found themselves in the top-10 as well this week.

The overall speeds were slightly better this time around, but the names remain the same.
If things are similar and equal to June as the first practice may suggest, we could only be so lucky because the late race drama of Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, and Mark Martin was a classic.

Johnson had the ninth fastest lap this time around after setting the top time in June‘s first practice. Martin, who eventually won the June race and had the fastest Happy Hour times before the race, reeled off the sixth fastest lap. Martin only qualified 32nd in that June race, but ended up winning making his starting position the furthest back to win at Michigan.

Brian Vickers, the pole sitter in June, had the tenth fastest lap this time around after being second fastest in the first practice back in June. Despite a good finish in the first race and more at other horsepower tracks, Vickers and the Red Bull team opted to go with a brand new chassis this week hoping to be better in the their Chase run.

The only issue of practice was Kasey Kahne who lost an engine early on that had to be replaced. This is definitely not the type of start Kahne was looking for considering his fall from the Chase last season in the same situation heading to Michigan with four races remaining. Kahne’s back to back 40th place finishes last season, beginning with Michigan, sunk his chances of holding on to a top-12 spot and missed the Chase for the fourth time in his five year career.
Friday’s Top 5 Fastest Practice Speeds
1) Ryan Newman 189.155 mph - AVG 7 laps @ 186.703
2) Joey Logano 187.169 mph - AVG 9 laps @ 185.351
3) Juan Pablo Montoya 187.144 - AVG 8 laps @ 184.646
4) Martin Truex Jr 186.144 - AVG 10 laps @ 184.877
5) Carl Edwards 186.640 - AVG 11 laps @ 182.941

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Race to the Chase Odds; Who's in and Who's Out

by M Roberts

With only four races remaining until the Chase for the Championship, there are only six drivers who are firmly entrenched at being one of the final 12 drivers eligible for NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.

Although no one has clinched, for the sake of making odds on who will make the Chase let’s start with the drivers currently positioned seventh thru 12th in the points because the driver in seventh, Juan Pablo Montoya, is only 154 points ahead of the 13th place driver, who is outside looking in, Kyle Busch.

Montoya’s point position is very unsafe at this juncture and by no means a guarantee that he will get in. In a very unlikely, but possible situation, if Montoya were to finish last this week at Michigan and Kyle Busch won the race, Busch would move past Montoya with more points.

Multiply those possible scenarios, extreme as they may be, with the reality of what may happen based on their current runs, how they ran on the next four races earlier in the year, a little bit of the past track history, and there should be plenty of data to make quality educated guesses for those ten drivers vying for the final six positions in the Chase.

1) 7th 2781 pts - Juan Pablo Montoya (1/15): He has steadily climbed up the charts on the basis of his nine straight top-12 finishes coming into Michigan and doesn‘t look to be see a drop in performance any time soon as he‘s made it clear his team is in a conservative mode in an attempt make the chase.

Looking at his runs earlier this season on the four tracks remaining in the chase, Montoya should be in good shape. His worst run of the four was in Atlanta with a 27th, but settled nicely at Richmond with a 10th, a ninth at Bristol, and sixth at Michigan.

His past history while driving a Dodge in his first two years can be thrown out because they aren’t relative to his current situation. Even more unrelated are his second and first place wins at Michigan while driving Champ Cars.

You won’t make much money betting on Montoya to get in because he s the clear cut favorite to win among the ten.

2) 8th 2754 pts - Kasey Kahne (9/2): Despite Kahne’s point position thus far, his past history down the stretch is what makes him a good candidate to NOT make the chase among the current top-12.

Who can forget Kahne’s melt down last season when he was in almost the identical situation sitting in eighth with four races to go and went Michigan and Bristol and finished 40th in each.
He was all but doomed at that point despite running eighth at California and a lackluster 19th at Richmond.

What Kahne does have going for him right now is quality consistent runs of late finishing in the top-10 over five of his last seven races. Kahne also finished in the top-10 earlier this year in three of the four coming up with his worst run coming at Richmond with a 29th.

If it weren’t for his history of meltdowns, his current state of the team would merit lower odds, but making the Chase only once in his five years coupled with his massive lay-downs in 2004 and 2008 make that history more true than what he is currently doing now.

3) 9th 2727 pts - Ryan Newman (6/5): It’s been over three years since Newman has made the chase and the way he‘s sliding, he may make it four. After a disastrous first four races of the 2009 campaign, Newman’s team put it all together over the next ten races compiling five top-5’s and another three top 10’s.

However, over the last seven races, Newman has struggled and has finished 14th or worse in seven of his last eight races - not the kind of streak a driver wants heading into their most pivotal stretch of the season. The silver lining through the streak is that Newman has been able to avoid the awful finishes and has taken what the car has given.

Newman ran very well at Richmond and Bristol with mediocre runs in Atlanta and Michigan. He should be in good enough shape to accumulate enough points and make the chase.

4) 10th 2718 pts - Greg Biffle (1/6): He was in the exact same position last season and took the bull by the horns and sealed the deal with great runs at Michigan and Fontana. Biffle didn’t have any wins at this junction on 2008 either, but went charging into the Chase full of steam and won the first two Chase races and eventually finished third overall.

Michigan and Atlanta are traditionally good tracks for Biffle and the Roush-Fenway set-up. If he can avoid trouble like he had at Bristol this year and run just a little better at Richmond he should make it with no problem.

5) 11th - 2716 pts - Mark Martin (1/5): It’s an absolute mystery how Martin is even in this position to be fighting for a spot with four races to go. He leads the series with four wins, but his point position lies with his feast or famine finishes in the other 18 races where he’s had six finishes of 31st or worse.

Should he make the Chase, his four wins at this juncture would start the Chase with him in first place. NASCAR Nation, and the entire sports world for that matter, would be the sentimental choice to win his first Championship and do so as a 50 year old. You just can’t make up fairy tales like that.

Martin runs well on all the tracks, and might even be one of the best cars this season at Michigan and Richmond. He ran well at Bristol this year as well, but struggled in Atlanta despite sitting on the pole there. Look for Martin to make it and grab another win either at Michigan or Richmond to increase his lead to start the Chase.

6) 12th 2685 pts - Matt Kenseth (8/1): If there is one driver coming in the Race to the Chase that looks the ugliest, it’s Kenseth. Take away his first two wins to start the season and Kenseth has an awful record of two top-5’s and another four top-10 finishes since.

He is limping down the stretch and looks like a wounded gazelle in the Serengeti, and we know what happens to them. His last few weeks have looked similar to Newman’s, nothing too bad, but nothing too good. Unlike Newman, Kenseth doesn’t have those great runs on the tracks coming up that will require him to perform well in order to get in.

He’s always been good on most of these tracks in the past, and has never missed a Chase, but something has definitely gone south with the team since week three. He is the longest shot of the current drivers in to make it.

7) 13th 2627 pts (-58 behind) Kye Busch (8/5): What a difference a year makes. In 2008, Busch led in points for the final 17 weeks just before the Chase started. This season, Busch has to make a run just to get in. Last week, Busch got his first top-5 finish since winning at Richmond the first week of May. It’s amazing that he’s not further back.

The positive note for Busch is that the few places he did run well at this year are coming up in the next four races which includes wins at Bristol and Richmond. If Busch can swallow his pride a little and points race at Michigan and Atlanta with the goal of finishing well and not running all out, which has gotten him in trouble all season, he should make the Chase.

The likeliest driver that Busch could prey on would be Kenseth. He needs to take it one race at a time, but that is easier said than done for Busch who does things his way once the helmet goes on.

8) 14th - 2589 pts (-96 behind) Brian Vickers (25/1): Considered a long shot, but an outside chance based on his team’s ability to run like one of the best at Michigan and the 1.5 mile track of Atlanta where his horsepower is matched with anyone.

Vickers biggest issue will be Bristol and Richmond where collective over the last two seasons he has had some rough times. The one positive from those two tracks for Vickers may be how well they ran in May at Richmond where Vickers 15th place finish was his best there since his rookie season.

He has to run well, maybe a top-5, at Michigan this week to have a legitimate shot at making it. He has a lot of ground to make up and has to be better than most of the drivers ahead of him.

Tall task, improbable, yes, but not impossible.

9) 15th 2586 pts (-99 behind) - Clint Bowyer (8/1): He’s played this game before and knows how to win. Last season he was 20 points behind at the same juncture and calmly raced himself into the Chase by points racing. Bowyer wasn’t spectacular anywhere, but averaged a finish of 12th over those final four races and made it.

Over his last four races this season, Bowyer has been playing the same game and has averaged a ninth place finish. In the four races remaining that he needs to get in, Bowyer has an average finish of 11th. To make it, Bowyer may have to step it up a little and can do so at the tracks he has traditionally done well at like Richmond and Bristol.

If someone like Kahne falters down the stretch, just like he did last year, Bowyer will be there to scoop up the position, just he did last year.

10) 16th 2530 pts (-155 behind) David Reutimann (500/1): There isn’t much confidence in him getting in, but does have a chance on paper. His chances are severely diminished because of his past performances on the tracks coming up. He would have to have a succession of top-5’s, lead some laps, and get help from the other current contenders. Based on what he’s done this season, it’s not likely to happen.

The way the odds are stacked with all expected scenarios and probabilities, It looks like Kyle Busch is in and Kenseth is out. A longer shot, but highly possible, would have Bowyer making it with Kahne out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

CarFax 400 Michigan Preview

by Micah Roberts

The last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visited Michigan in June, the fans were treated to a fun-filled fuel conservation victory by Mark Martin in one of the better endings of the season that didn’t involve a crash.

Just as Jimmie Johnson was about to take the white flag signaling one lap to go, he ran out of fuel. Just as he started to slow, Greg Biffle sitting in second at the time, must have had his eyes light up in eagerness with the possibility of winning his first race of the season.

Just as Biffle was beginning orchestrate his burn-out and victory lap celebration, he too ran out of fuel with less than a lap to go. Cherry picking just behind Biffle, was the elder statesman of the series, Mark Martin, who went on to win his third race of the season.

Most of the drivers knew that they were going to be short on fuel and went into a cruise control mode in order to save fuel without racing too hard, but Johnson and Biffle battled for the lead with five laps to go and all calculations of making 46 laps till the end of the race, when the fuel window is about 40 to 44 laps, went out the window.

The culprit of the attempting to go so long for the drivers were cautions, and lack of them, which seems to be the case at Michigan because of the 2-mile tracks configuration that has lots of room for drivers to maneuver. Only three cautions occurred that day, and the last came on lap 150.

This years race may, or may not come down to fuel mileage, but what we should do when considering the top candidates to win is analyze the June race and determine just who was the best on that day.

Prior to that race, Martin had the best car in Happy Hour, but during the race was maybe the third best car as he ran in the top-5 for much of the day. During the Race Jimmie Johnson led the most laps, but was beaten off pit road in the last stop by Greg Biffle. Johnson reeled in Biffle with five laps remaining, but could that have been only because Biffle was in conservation mode?

How would have Biffle done in the late stages had he been able to go all out with no worries of fuel strategy? It’s likely that he could have just based on Biffle’s history at Michigan where he owns two wins.

Johnson, for all his greatness on just about every track on the circuit, has never won at Michigan. In 15 career races, Johnson has been able to muster only two top-5 finishes which is amazing considering how good he has been at Michigan‘s nearly identical sister track of California over the same span.

Even though this weeks Michigan race and the one in June are only two months apart, there is nothing set that says those who did well in that race will do equally as good this week. However, in last seasons two races, five drivers finished in the top-10 for each race.

The Fenway-Roush stable of drivers le the charge in 2008 with three of those drivers excelling in both races, and in this race last season, the team was able to place all five of their drivers within the top-10.

This time around in 2009’s June race, only Biffle and Carl Edwards cracked the top-10 with Jamie McMurray in toe in 11th. One of the track’s best performers ever Matt Kenseth struggled with a 20th and David Ragan in 15th. It’s still not bad, but it’s not a top-10 for sure.

Along with Biffle, Edwards should be one to key on the this week because of his dominance on the track over his entire career. He leads all drivers with an average finish of fifth over his career. In June’s race, finished fourth, but wasn’t really a factor or in contention to win.

Towards the end of the June race, Jeff Gordon’s car really came around to being one of the best on the track, nearly as good as his teammates Johnson and Martin. He finished second in that race, which might have been a fourth if not for a few drops of fuel.

Gordon, like Johnson, hasn’t had the type of success he’s had in California as far as wins go. In 33 races, Gordon only has two wins, but does have 16 top-five finishes. His last win came in 2001 which was the last Chevy win at Michigan until Dale Earnhardt Jr won on fumes last season. He has been very happy about his cars for the 1.5 and 2-mile tracks this season, so he should be considered a contender again.

Brian Vickers comes in with four straight top-10 finishes at Michigan dating back to 2007. He sat on the pole in June’s race, but failed to lead a lap giving way to Kyle Busch. He feels confident his team will race a race before the seasons out and this is the type of track where he can let his horses under the hood run full throttle, which is an ideal situation for him.

Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #16 Greg Biffle (12/1)
2) #24 Jeff Gordon (10/1)
3) #99 Carl Edwards (7/1)
4) #5 Mark Martin (10/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)

Michigan Facts

by Mike Forde - NASCAR Media Services

At Michigan International Speedway:

• Michigan International Speedway sits on more than 1,400 acres in the Irish Hills of Southeastern Michigan. Groundbreaking took place on Sept. 28, 1967.
• The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan was held June 15, 1969.
• The track was known as Michigan Speedway during the time Roger Penske was the primary owner (1996-99).
• The first NASCAR Nationwide Series race was held on Aug. 15, 1992.
• The first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan was held on July 24, 1999.

• There have been 80 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Michigan International Speedway since the first race there in 1969. Other than 1973, which had just one race, there have been two races each season since 1969.
• The first race was 500 miles in length; the second was scheduled for 600. The track was re-measured to 2.04 miles for the last race in 1970 and both races in 1971 – with the race distance being 402 miles. All other races have been scheduled for 400 miles.
• Donnie Allison won the first pole.
• The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was won by Cale Yarborough.
• There have been 39 different pole winners at Michigan; 18 drivers have more than one.
• 30 different drivers have won races, led by David Pearson (nine); 18 drivers have more than one victory there.
• The race winner has started from the pole 15 times, the most productive starting position. Kasey Kahne (2006) was the last driver to win from the pole.
• 62 of 80 races have been won from a top-10 starting position, including 45 from the first four spots. However, four of the last five winners have started outside the top 10.
• The deepest in the field a race winner has started was 32nd by Mark Martin in this season’s June race. Last season, Carl Edwards started 27th en route to his victory.
• The Wood Brothers and Roush Fenway Racing both have 11 wins, more than any other car owners.
• Brian Vickers won the pole in this season’s June race and last season’s August race, becoming the first consecutive pole winner at Michigan since Bobby Labonte in 2003.
• Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth are the only drivers to average a top-10 finish. Edwards, who has two Michigan wins, has an average finish of 6.3. Coincidentally, Edwards’ first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start came at Michigan. Kenseth, who also has two victories, has an average finish of 9.7.

NASCAR in Michigan
• There have been 85 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Michigan:
• 95 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Michigan.
• There have been eight race winners from Michigan in NASCAR’s three national series:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stewart Wins for Fifth time at The Glen


Stewart wins at Watkins Glen: #14-Tony Stewart won the The Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen for his 3rd win of 2009, 5th win at Watkins Glen and 36th win of his career.

#47-Ambrose finished 2nd for his career best, followed by #99-Edwards, #18-Busch, #16-Biffle, #42-Montoya, #2-Busch, #13-Papis [career best], #33-Bowyer and #11-Hamlin. Pole sitter #48-Johnson finished 12th.

#24-Gordon and #88-Earnhardt Jr. were involved in wrecks with Gordon finishing 37th and the #88 finished 39th.

Stewart now leads Johnson in the drivers points by 260 points with four races until the Chase. #18-Busch is still 13th in points, but went from 101 points behind 12th to 58 out of 12th, now held by #17-Kenseth.

There were 5 cautions for 13 caution laps, a 19 minute red flag for a wreck and there were 12 lead changes among 7 drivers. By the way, a light rain started just after the race ended.

Scheduled Race Re-Air: ESPN Classic on Monday, August 10 at 1:00pm/et; and SPEED, Wednesday, August 12 at 12:00pm/et.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ambrose Sweeps Fastest Final Practice Speeds at The Glen

by M Roberts

After Saturday’s final practice sessions for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup series race at the road course of Watkins Glen, a few drivers have stood out over the rest with consistent spectacular times during both sessions.

The top road course practice times don’t necessarily produce the winner two times a year, but they do give a great indication of who should be running in the top-10 and at least compete for the win.

The star of the day was Australian Marcos Ambrose who was fastest in both of Saturday’s practices. After running 12 laps with the third best average speed in the first session, Ambrose came out in Happy Hour, ran the fastest laps, and then parked his car after only eight laps signaling that they were good to go for Sunday’s race.

Ambrose has run close to the same practice times In his last two Cup road course races, including this seasons Sonoma race, but this race will be the first time that he won’t have to start from the rear. Because of a great qualifying session, Ambrose will start fourth which surely help his cause to gaining his first career Cup win.

Despite his poor start position in the last two road races, Ambrose still managed to finish third in both. Considering that 16 of the 26 Watkins Glen winners have started within the top four, Ambrose practice times look all the more attractive in making him a top candidate to win this week.

Sunday’s pole sitter, Jimmie Johnson, was third fastest in the early session and second during happy hour. Johnson has never won a road course event among his 43 career victories, but looks to have his best opportunity ever. In all 15 of Johnson’s career road starts, he has never been so crisp and clean, while being so fast, during practice while maneuvering both right and left turns.

Kurt Busch impressed a lot of the teams in the garage with his practices on Friday and Saturday. Busch was fastest in the first session Friday and sixth in Saturday’s happy hour. In the first session Saturday,

Busch had the 12th fastest lap but ran the most laps with the second fastest average times. Between both sessions, no one ran more laps than Busch for the day which means the team should be dialed in for long runs, something road courses present more than most.

Busch has never won a road course race, but his start position at second coupled with his great two days of practice, and stellar long run times make him a great candidate to get that first road win.

Juan Pablo Montoya had a great day of practices coming in fourth quickest early and tenth during happy hour running 19 laps. His one and only career Cup win came on the road course of Sonoma, not to mention he is one of the hottest drivers on the tour.

The guy won Monte Carlo, come on, who can say that?

That accomplishment alone should separate status levels altogether. However, Montoya is playing the NASCAR points race at the moment and is very focused on the making the chase with only five races remaining. If it came push to shove late in the race, it’s likely Montoya makes that move to get the win, but the way the team has been talking, they just want a top five and the points that come with it.

Tony Stewart has the best seven year resume at Watkins Glen of anyone in track history. He had sluggish times on Friday, but came out solid with a 14th best early and then seventh fastest in happy hour. His four wins and two second-place finishes over that seven year span give him more clout for this race as a candidate to win than any of the top drivers in practice.

The key to race is likely to be who becomes the luckiest during their green flag pit stops. There should only be two stops required which means that someone who comes in early just before an ill-timed caution, which always seems to happen, will have position over those who haven’t pitted.

It’s such a long haul around the track that no one up front wants to be that guy stuck out late.
Look for early pit stops before their 30 to 35 lap possibility, and then trying to stretch out that final fuel stop to the maximum possibility to avoid being caught in a pickle. Easier said than done, but that looks to be the common strategy.

Based on the practices with the amount of laps run, drivers like Johnson and Busch stand out as ones who will be really good on that final stretch if in position.

Watkins Glen Top Happy Hour Speeds:
1) Marcos Ambrose 123.021 mph - AVG: 8 laps @ 122.556
2) Jimmie Johnson 122.483 mph - AVG 23 laps @ 121.614
3) Denny Hamlin 122.189 mph - AVG 20 laps @ 121.346
4) Carl Edwards 122.149 mph - AVG 19 laps @ 121.221
5) Boris Said 122.096 mph - AVG 26 laps @ 120.849
6) Kurt Busch 121.963 mph - AVG 26 laps @ 121.370
7) Tony Stewart 121.961 mph - AVG 22 laps @ 121.273

Saturday’s First Practice Speeds:
1) Marcos Ambrose 122.643 mph - AVG 12 laps @ 121.213
2) Sam Hornish Jr 122.379 mph - AVG 15 laps @ 120.890
3) Jimmie Johnson 122.335 mph - AVG 16 laps @ 121.614
4) Juan Pablo Montoya 122.317 mph - AVG 17 laps @ 121.169
5) Max Papis 122.267 mph - AVG 11 laps @ 121.130
Top Rated drivers far as candidates to win Sunday’s Watkins Glen race based on this weekend’s practice, past performances at the Glen, a mix of Sonoma, and current state of their team.
1) Kurt Busch
2) Tony Stewart
3) Jimmie Johnson
4) Marcos Ambrose
5) Juan Pablo Montoya
6) Kyle Busch
7) Jeff Gordon
8) Denny Hamlin
9) Kevin Harvick
10) Carl Edwards

Friday, August 7, 2009

Johnson Captures Pole at The Glen

One of the most vivid memories of Jimmie Johnson at Watkins Glen was slamming violently into the wall while driving in the Nationwide Series for Herzog Motorsports. While the clips are slowly fading into history, his latest accomplishment of sitting on the pole this week becomes the most talked about "Johnson at The Glen" story.

Johnson captured the first road-course pole of his career in qualifying Friday, turning a lap at 123.633 mph in 71.34 seconds over the 11-turn, 2.45-mile circuit to edge Las Vegan Kurt Busch for the top spot for Sunday.

“It’s going to be nice to have a good view from the front,” said Johnson, who has never won a Cup road race. “It’s going to boil down to track position and the pit stops, so hopefully we can stay up there.”

Busch, who won the pole here three years ago, finished just 0.01 second behind Johnson. Denny Hamlin, fresh from an emotional victory at Pocono on Monday, qualified third. Marcos Ambrose of Tasmania was fourth, followed by David Stremme. Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Boris Said, and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top 10.

Penske Trio Tops First Practice at The Glen

by M Roberts

The first practice session for Sunday’s Helluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen was used for several purposes by 46 drivers entered to make the 43 car field. For the top teams, they used the majority of the practice session to get a good feel for a race day set-up, while most of the hired guns and the go-or-go home entries used the session to get the best possible set-up in qualifying trim with hopes of making the field.

The top story of practice was how fast the trio of Penske Racing drivers were, not only in race trim, but later in qualifying trim as well. Kurt Busch topped the charts with a fast lap of 124.362 mph. Prior to the changeover, Busch was running with top-five times and then captured the top time overall in qualifying trim.

Sam Hornish Jr., not known for his road prowess despite coming from IndyCars, was extremely fast in the early part of the session while in race trim and settled in with the eighth quickest lap of practice. Last season was Hornish Jr.’s one and only Cup run at The Glen, where he finished 32nd. In this season’s Sonoma race, he finished 38th, so the No. 77 team should be very happy about their run.

David Stremme wasn’t as good as Hornish Jr. early on in practice, but did come out with a strong run late with the sixth fastest lap.

Richard Childress Racing came out strong in qualifying trim late and got the third fastest lap with Kevin Harvick and the fifth fastest with Casey Mears. For Harvick, the 2006 Watkins Glen winner, things have been looking much better. After not cracking the top 15 since Darlington in May, Harvick has had finishes of sixth and twelfth in his last two starts.

Coming in with the second-fastest lap of the day was Denny Hamlin, who grabbed the that time with only a few minutes remaining in practice. Hamlin has never finished outside of the top 10 at The Glen in his three career starts and has a Mexico City Nationwide series road course win under his belt to boot.

The fastest of the majority of the first session was Jimmie Johnson. Johnson settled in with the seventh fastest lap while most of the top cars were running in race trim. Though Johnson has never won on either of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series road courses, he has become progressively better each and every time out.

At Sonoma in June, the more technical of the two road courses, Johnson finished a very impressive fourth. At Watkins Glen, Johnson has three top fives in his last six races run there with a best of third in 2007.

Last year's winner, Kyle Busch, ran the fourth fastest lap late in practice while hanging around in the top-15 for much of the session in race trim. With only five races to go in the Race to the Chase with Busch outside looking in at the moment, there’s no need to express how important this race is for him.

What will be interesting to see is if he actually changes some of his aggressive tendencies for the sake of accumulating critical points. Not quite sure he has the makeup to pints race yet, but he’d be taking an awful big gamble if he didn’t alter something pretty quick.

Three of the favorites to win this week are Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya had the 11th fastest lap while running only seven laps total. Gordon was 14th fastest, recording 12 laps.

Stewart turned 15 laps, but could only muster the 34th fastest lap overall. Despite the times, it’s safe to say by race time Stewart will be just fine. At Sonoma this year with his new team, Stewart finished second. At The Glen, he has dominated in the last seven years there like no one else ever capturing four wins and two second place runs over that span.

Of the top hired guns during practice, Max Papis was quickest with the 18th best lap while Boris Said was 23rd. Ron Fellows, who likely has more laps on the track than anyone, settled in a disappointing 33rd driving James Finch’s No. 09 Chevy.

Qualifying is set for Friday at 3:10 p.m. ET with the two final practice sessions scheduled for Saturday beginning.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Watkins Glen Preview

by Micah Roberts

This weeks race heads to Northern New York at Watkins Glen for the second and final road race of the season. At Sonoma in June, Kasey Kahne won his first ever road race on the technical course full of elevation changes. This week won’t be as difficult as the race at Sonoma. Most of the drivers on tour don’t like road racing that much, but Watkins Glen is the easiest of the two courses to drive.

Before Kahne had won at Sonoma, all the road course races had been dominated by a select few. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Robby Gordon had won the majority of all road races over the last decade. Kahne’s win on at Sonoma, coupled by Kyle Busch’s sweep of the road course season last year give hope to several of the long shot candidates this week.

Kahne came in as a nice 30 to 1 choice at Sonoma, so the question is, do we have a shot at winning in the same fashion this week. The candidates are slim, but yes, there is a chance of seeing someone winning that pays good odds, especially at the easier of the two courses.

The best shot of winning a road race from someone that has yet to win on one comes from Marcos Ambrose, a driver that hasn’t won a race on any type of track. Despite his lack of wins, Ambrose comes in as a 10 to 1 choice because the bookmakers have seen that Ambrose is a serious contender to win. In his last two road course races, Ambrose has finished third in each.

Jimmie Johnson usually has odds of 5 or 6 to 1 for all of his races, however, on the road courses,
Johnson is given nice odds of 20 to 1 or higher because he’s not known for his road course skills. Of the two road courses, Watkins Glen presents the best opportunity for Johnson to win because it isn’t so technical and has lots of long straightaways. Johnson is getting better on the courses each and every time he races on them. At Sonoma this year, Johnson finished fourth.

Tony Stewart comes in as the favorite this week, not only on the basis of his four Watkins Glen wins, but the fact that he‘s finished second in his last two road course races. He is just so smooth in and out of every turn maximizing his speed at every opportunity when others get too cautious around the unfamiliar right turns.

Kyle Busch won this race last season and if there is any time for him to step up it’s this week with only five races left in the race to the chase. Busch has the tenacity required to win a road race and with his chips down, he may go all-in this week. Look for Busch to let it all hang out and go for the win.

Jeff Gordon hasn’t won at Watkins Glen since 2001, but has four career wins on the track. He leads all NASCAR drivers with nine career road course wins over his career. He has said over the last few years that the team isn’t putting as much emphasis on their road cars just because it only represents two races a year. Whether he’s saying that just because he hasn’t won for some time, or that his car really is inferior, can only be speculated upon, but Gordon’s skills merit him enough to still be considered a top candidate to win. Unlike most seasons though, Gordon’s odds are in the 8 to 1 range. In the past Gordon had been as low as under 2 to 1 to win any road course race.

Juan Pablo Montoya may be the hottest driver on tour right now. He’s finished in the top-10 in three of the last four races and he’s now going to a facility that is plenty to his liking. Montoya finished fourth in this race last season and has his only Cup win on the road course at Sonoma.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #14 Tony Stewart (4/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (8/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (20/1)
4) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya (10/1)
5) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)

Watkins Glen International Facts

compiled by Mike Forde - NASCAR Media Services

At Watkins Glen International:

• After several events were held on the streets of Watkins Glen, a permanent facility was opened in 1956.
• The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was in 1957, won by Buck Baker.
• After a six-year absence, NASCAR returned to The Glen in 1964 and 1965.
• After a 21-year absence, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returned to The Glen, and has run one race a year there since 1986.
• The NASCAR Nationwide Series held its first race at The Glen in 1991.
• The first combination weekend at Watkins Glen International for NASCAR’s national series was a NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event in 1998.

• There have been 26 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Watkins Glen International since the first race there in 1957.
• Buck Baker won the first pole and race.
• Tim Richmond won the first pole and race upon the series’ return in 1987.
• There have been 14 different pole winners.
• The race winner has started first in nine of 26 races, including last season when Kyle Busch won from the pole (he started first based on owner points – qualifying was canceled due to inclement weather).
• Mark Martin leads all drivers with wins from the pole with three in a row between 1993 and 1995.
• 17 of the 26 race winners have started from a top-five starting position.
• 19 of 26 races at Watkins Glen have been won from a top-10 starting position.
• The deepest in the field that a Watkins Glen race winner has started was 18th by Steve Park in 2000.
• 16 different drivers have won races, led by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, with four each.
• Jeff Gordon set the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup record for road-course victories with his victory in 2001, his seventh on a road course. He has since won two more (both at Infineon Raceway), for a career total of nine.
• Three active drivers with more than one start have an average finish in the top 10: Denny Hamlin (6.7 in three starts), Mark Martin (6.9 in 19 starts) and Tony Stewart (5.7 in 10 starts).
• Michael Waltrip is the active leader in starts, with 22. Waltrip will not this race this weekend, instead giving his seat in the No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota to Patrick Carpentier. Carpentier has finishes of 22nd and 20th in his two previous Watkins Glen races.

NASCAR in New York
• There have been 64 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in New York:
• 176 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as New York.
• There have been 13 race winners from New York in NASCAR’s three national series:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Johnson Fastest in Final Pocono Practices

by M Roberts

Hendrick Motorsports continued their strong runs in Saturday’s practice sessions for the Sunday’s Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500. In Friday’s session while in qualifying trim, all four Hendrick drivers topped the charts in consecutive fashion and carried that momentum into in Saturday with hopes of a great run on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson brought the same chassis he finished seventh with at Pocono in June and was better in practice this time around. Johnson led both practice sessions Saturday with not only the fastest lap in each session, but also the best average times of anyone that ran twenty laps. He’s looking like he has his best chance of winning at Pocono since he swept the season in 2004.

Johnson’s teammates, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Jeff Gordon, all had great sessions on Saturday as well. Of the three, Martin looked the closest to Johnson in speeds. He had a great average speed in happy hour along with the third fastest single lap. After a great run last week at on the similar track of Indianapolis, Martin could be dialed in for his first ever Pocono win. In forty-five Pocono starts over his career, Martin has six 2nd place finishes - the most any driver has at one track without winning.

Dale Earnhardt Jr ran the fifth fastest lap in happy hour as their tea, continues their uphill battle. New crew chief Lance McGrew is brought the same chassis they ran last week at Indy, which was the first car built from scratch since he took he over. The changes are obvious in his speeds and Junior may finally have a real Hendrick car this week to contend with this week.

Last weeks heart break story, Juan Pablo Montoya, had the sixth quickest lap in happy hour along with stellar average lap times continuing the pace he set last week. With the tracks of Pocono and Indy being so similar, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Montoya run equally as good as last week.

The biggest improvement from the last time NASCAR visited Pocono was the performance of the Childress cars. Kevin Harvick was second fastest in happy hour while Clint Bowyer was second quickest in the early practice session.

None of the Childress drivers are close to making the chase with six races to go, but a good run this week could make things interesting down the stretch. This is the first sign all season that Harvick, who is looking to change teams after the season, has looked like a legitimate candidate to win based on practice.

The strongest Ford of the day belonged to Carl Edwards who won this race last season and finished second in the June Pocono race. Edwards was third quickest in the early session and hopes to continue his steady performance en route to the chase where he is still looking for his first win of the season.

June’s Pocono winner, Tony Stewart, is looking to duplicate his accomplishment in all facets Sunday. In the June race, Stewart was on the pole but relegated to the rear due to wrecking his car in the first practice.

This week, Stewart sits on the pole due to points because of qualifying being rained out and he had a case of Deja-vu because he wrecked his primary car early in the first practice session and will again be going with a back-up, and going to the rear for Sunday’s race. However, in June’s race, Stewart was very strong in the back-up during practice. In Saturday’s happy hour, Stewart had just the twenty-sixth fastest lap.

Saturday’s Early Practice Session - Top Speeds
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson 167.292 mph - AVG 20 laps @ 159.314
2) #33 Clint Bowyer 166.334 - AVG 20 laps @ 160.829
3) #99 Carl Edwards 165.911 - AVG 16 laps @ 162.230
4) #24 Jeff Gordon 165.908 - AVG 16 laps @ 161.886
5) #29 Kevin Harvick 165.810 - AVG 20 laps @ 158.487

Happy Hour: Final Practice Session - Top Speeds
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson 165.795 - AVG 24 laps @ 162.896
2) #29 Kevin Harvick 165.417 - AVG 21 laps @ 161.998
3) #5 Mark Martin 165.189 - AVG 28 laps @ 162.385
4) #44 A.J. Allmendinger 164.932 - AVG 31 laps @ 161.808
5) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr 164.893 - AVG 24 laps @ 161.470
Top 10 rated drivers for Pocono based on Practice with a mix of Indy and past Pocono practice and results.
1) Jimmie Johnson
2) Mark Martin
3) Jeff Gordon
4) Juan Pablo Montoya
5) Kasey Kahne
6) Clint Bowyer
7) Ryan Newman
8) Tony Stewart
9) Kevin Harvick
10) Carl Edwards