Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Would George Washington Attempt to Woo NASCAR Dad Votes?

by M Roberts

This Fourth of July, Daytona and NASCAR will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of Richard Petty’s last and final win of his career. The significance of that race and The King‘s 200th win in NASCAR history goes further than just being sport, it also marked the first day that an acting United States President visited a NASCAR race.

On that day in 1984, Ronald Reagan tried a new approach to reaching the American Public during a re-election campaign trail in an attempt to reach some of the NASCAR Dad votes out there, a Republican trademark that continues to this day.

Richard Petty would sum up the level of importance of the President’s visit in classic Petty terms.

“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.”

Following Reagan’s eight years as President, the next reigning President to visit a NASCAR race was when George H. Bush attended the 1992 Firecracker 400 at Daytona. Bush was attempting to get re-elected and was looking for support from the NASCAR fan that fit a demographic strategists had said wasn’t fully tapped.

The pie-charts were so strong and convincing in 1992 that the Democratic Party thought they needed to get their slice of the pie for their candidate Bill Clinton. The President took his act to NASCAR on Fourth of July weekend, so Clinton’s staff took him to Darlington for the Southern 500 on Labor Day weekend. The crowd showed they were not a fan of the Arkansas Governor and let him have it.

However, Clinton got his share of the votes despite the boos and won to become our 42nd President.

I had my own Presidential experience at a NASCAR race in 2004 for the Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt Jr won. George W. Bush, who was one of the bigger sports fans among all Presidents, decided to make a visit to NASCAR’s season opener.

Why not? It’s the highest rated event of the year for NASCAR and will be a great opportunity to jump start the re-election campaign trail using this venue like no other President has before him.

I remember the race vividly because I watched most of it stuck on the concourse by the concession stand. There was a brigade of about thirty black Chevy Tahoe’s that came rolling up through the concourse and everyone had to freeze as Bush was going to the television booth.

The race had just started and I was pinned in and all of in line were told not to move. We couldn’t go to our seats 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 all the 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 sawbuck for the inconvenience. He could have bought me a beer, right?

After looking back at NASCAR’s impact and how it’s been used by Politicians for the last 25 years, I started to think back in time at some of our other Presidents and whether or not they would have used NASCAR the way they do today given it was equally popular then as today.

A guy like Richard Nixon would have likely went just to be accepted and loved by his constituents, much the way he used his publicized meeting with Elvis as way to show the American public he was hip.

Lyndon Johnson would have definitely been at a stock car race in Texas. He supported his Texas sports so well that he even became the first President to attend an exhibition game played between his Astros and the Yankees. With Texas Terry and Bobby Labonte in the series and doing very well, Johnson would have surely made an event as a show of support for his fellow Texans.

John F. Kennedy likely would have skipped a NASCAR invite. He had the votes, public support, was from the Northeast, and more into football than anything else. Besides being a very busy man, several accounts say much of the free time he had was spent in Hollywood visiting one of his American supporters.

Dwight D. Eisenhower showed up for Washington Senator games throughout his tenure in office and played minor league baseball prior to West Point. Getting him to come to a stock car race may have been tough, but it’s likely that one of the many armed forces sponsorships of today would have brought the General to a track. I could just imagine the die-cast sales from the Army
Five-Star General Chevrolet on QVC. It would rival one of Dale Jr’s many schemes in sales.

Harry Truman may not have attended a race during his day, but definitely would have in today’s era with drivers like the Wallace brothers, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, and Ken Schrader all participating from his home state of Missouri. Truman loved going to baseball games and being around his people at the events.

Franklin Roosevelt liked baseball and attended a few, but his immobility and attempting to keep it from the American public as much as possible would have kept him away. He loved cars, but his image was very important. Couple that with him being a high society New Yorker and it just doesn’t fit into the stereotypical NASCAR setting.

Woodrow Wilson and William H. Taft spent more time at the baseball ball parks than most of our early Presidents, so it’s likely that given today’s climate with the thousands gathering that they may have found themselves at a NASCAR race with a chance to be around such a festive occasion that would lead to over 100,000 Americans to show up for an event.

Taft loved baseball so much that the only time he cancelled a scheduled appearance at the baseball park was because of required duties following the Titanic sinking in 1912.

Following the Civil war, we didn’t have any southern Presidents until Lyndon Johnson was sworn into office only because America had to, and Texas isn’t even the real south that we all know.

Talk about some serious mistrust and holding a grudge…

It wasn’t until 1976 that NASCAR got a little play in the political arena with Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter campaigning for Presidential votes at an Atlanta NASCAR Winston Cup race.A few months later, Carter was sworn in as our 39th President of the United States and became the first southern President elected since Zachary Taylor in 1849.

Prior to Taylor, eight of the eleven Presidents hailed from southern States with six of them being from the NASCAR rich heritage in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While most of our founding fathers were of the Aristocratic nature, they surely would have supported an event that was so prominently featured in their state with so many of their voters attending. They likely would have led the charge to build luxury boxes in order to keep their distance from the masses, but seen just enough to portray an image and be seen by their public.

Not a lot has changed from now to then as far as attempting to win over votes and giving the public an impression or approving image of themselves. With NASCAR being so popular in today’s America, their fans vote is an important piece of political strategy for any campaign, but the candidate has to pull off and sell himself.

The NASCAR fan has shown over the years to be the most loyal supporters of a wide array of sponsorship brands. If a candidate can strike that nerve the way Tide or Budweiser has in the fans homes, they have won themselves quite a few shares in the market place called America.

So while we haven’t seen Barack Obama at a NASCAR event just yet, despite a standing offer from NASCAR President Brian France, we have seen our 44th President use the tool of relating to his constituents by being excited about sporting things America likes such as the Super Bowl, NCAA Brackets, and the NBA Playoffs.

Come 2012, depending on how things have gone with public opinion, the NASCAR card may have to be played by our President to ensure another term.

So far the NASCAR card has prevailed two to one in favor of the incumbent while visiting a NASCAR event.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Logano Does Rain Dance and Steals Loudon Win

by M Roberts

Joey Logano and his crew chef, Greg Zippadelli, took a gamble near the end of Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and it paid off handsomely for the native New Englander as he got his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup series win.

Logano was nearing the end of a pit cycle and had limited fuel remaining, but Zippadelli saw the dark clouds hovering over turn three and thought it might be a good idea to hang out, conserve fuel by running slower, and wait for mother nature to take over.

Ryan Newman was attempting the same strategy but had to pit as he was running out of fuel while leading. When Newman pitted, Logano took over first place. He was on the same pit sequence as Newman, but conserved better and was rewarded with his first win, a win that makes him the youngest driver ever to win a Sprint Cup race.

The dominant cars of the day were Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart who were all on the same pit sequence. Gordon would have been the leader had Logano pitted before the rain with about 28 laps remaining in what was shaping up to be a great battle between Gordon and Busch down the stretch with a hard charging Stewart in tow.

This is the second consecutive year that the first New Hampshire race ended early due to rain giving a car that was maybe twentieth best the win. Last year Kurt Busch stayed out after all the leaders pitted to get the win in a car that was clearly inferior to the rest of the upper echelon just like Logano this year.

However, a win is a win, and they all look the same in the record book.

Logano’s win also marked the ninth straight New Hampshire race, including the fall dates, that a different driver has won.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Truex Jr Best in Happy Hour: Johnson Tops New Hampshire Post Practice Ratings

by M Roberts

Martin Truex Jr was spectacular in both of Saturday’s practice sessions in preparation for Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Truex Jr ran 37 laps in the early session and was fourth fastest with top-10 average speed times. During Happy Hour, Truex Jr was even better laying down the fastest lap overall at 128.186 mph.

The top times overall shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because Truex Jr has done better on the combined tracks of New Hampshire, Richmond, and Phoenix than other similar group of tracks on the circuit since NASCAR started using the car of tomorrow.

Truex Jr had his second best finish of the season at Phoenix this season with a seventh and if we look at what he did last year in the six combined races, he finished in the top-10 in four of the six starts including both New Hampshire starts.

The biggest surprise of the day easily was the performance of Reed Sorenson who had the fastest single lap and average lap speed in the first session. During happy hour, Sorenson backed up his strong early performance by laying down the fourth fastest lap overall.

Here’s a look at the top rated drivers after all New Hampshire practice sessions are complete using a mix of past history, current history, and a big nod towards Saturday’s practice.

1) Jimmie Johnson brought a brand new car for this race and it was extremely fast in both practice sessions especially on the long runs. He ran the second most laps in the early session with the sixth fastest lap. In Happy Hour, he was second fastest overall with great average times running the most laps.

2) Mark Martin brought his winning chassis from Phoenix to Loudon this week and it looks equally as fast as it did then. He only ran 22 laps in the first practice, but out strong in happy hour with the fifth fastest lap. Hard to believe that Martin could be on his way his fourth win of 2009 after not winning for the previous three seasons, but he is well on his way to doing so.

3) Greg Biffle was the one Roush-Fenway driver to excel in the entire day of practices, which is surprising because of how well they have collectively done in front of the Red Sox Nation crowd. Biffle ran his fastest lap, the third fastest overall, late in the happy hour session and had excellent average times which should carry over on long runs Sunday. He won the last New Hampshire race run there last fall and has a great shot at doing again for his first win of 2009.

4) Kurt Busch ran the most laps in the first session and had the third best average times. In happy hour, Busch came back to run almost identically with running the second most laps and having the best average speeds overall among drivers who ran at least 45 laps. Busch won this race last season thanks to rain, but the chassis he has this week is much superior.

5) Martin Truex Jr - Ran 43 laps in happy hour with fastest lap overall.

6) Kevin Harvick hasn’t been considered a contender in any race other restrictor plate races this season based on practices. Whatever the team did this week, it’s working. Harvick ran the tenth fastest lap in the early practice and then built on that for an exceptional happy hour where they laid down the sixth fastest lap and best average speed overall while running 43 laps. This is a team that desperately needs a great run and he just might get it this week.

Best of the Rest
Juan Pablo Montoya and David Reutimann had terrific practices and could be in for another top-10 run in the midst of their best Cup seasons.

Kyle Busch wasn’t bad in practice, but wasn’t great either. Much was expected out of him this week because of winning at Richmond, but he could muster only the 11th fastest lap in each of the two Saturday sessions.

Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart are in their own class because they are just about the drivers who exceed what they did in practice out on the track on a weekly basis. Just looking at the times, they are very average, but it’s likely that Stewart will finish second again just like at Phoenix and Richmond this season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr gets a mention just because the team shows no signs of getting better. He brought his Richmond chassis and based on the times, it looks like he’ll finish close to 27th just like he did in that race. Hate to see it, but probably not more than Rick Hendrick.

Happy Hour practice top five:
1) #1-Truex Jr. 128.186
2) #48-Johnson 127.795
3) #16-Biffle 127.709
4) #43-Sorenson 127.666
5) #5-Martin 127.662

slowest: #37-Raines 123.743 and #34-Andretti 125.203

Saturday’s first practice top five:
1) #43-Sorenson 128.472
2) #87-Nemechek 128.208
3) #07-Mears 128.135
4) #1-Treux Jr. 128.126
5) #00-Reutimann 128.027

slowest: #37-Raines 124.029 and #34-Andretti 125.463

Friday, June 26, 2009

Kurt Busch Fastest in first New Hampshire Practice

by M Roberts

Kurt Busch led the first practice on for Friday’s only session prior to qualifying for Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire. Busch, last years New Hampshire winner in a rain shortened race, came in with the fastest a lap of 130.667 mph at the very end of the practice session.

Most of the teams came in with a race setup to start the afternoon and then in the final thirty minutes rolled out with their qualifying trim. Prior to the qualifying setup, Busch was fast as well along with Penske racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr.

Hornish finished with the 13th fastest lap overall, but was very fast in race trim which goes along with his success at the similar tracks of Phoenix and Richmond where Hornish is the only driver other than Mark Martin and Tony Stewart to finish in the top 10 in each of those races this year.

Kyle Busch came out fired up and laid down an early fast lap in race trim and continued so throughout the practice. The Richmond winner looks to be equally ready for this week as he was for that race.

Jimmie Johnson has always been good on these type of tracks, but struggled in practice until he put on qualifying trim. Johnson had the fourth fastest lap overall, but struggled earlier despite running the most laps in practice with 61 laps run.

Tony Stewart came out full throtle with the second fastest lap in practice early, but then he had to go to a backup car after crushing his rear into the wall. He’ll be using a backup car, but the backup car has race experience on these types of tracks finishing second at Phoenix. He’ll be fine on race day for sure!

Before qualifying setup came into play, the best looks to be Kyle Busch. Ryan Newman, and Tony Stewart.

It appears that qualifying will be wiped by rain in New Hampshire, so Saturday’s practice session will give further clarification on who looks sharp for Sunday’s race. I’ll update then.

Friday Practice for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
1) #2-Busch 130.667
2) #00-Reutimann 130.011
3) #42-Montoya 129.967
4) #48-Johnson 129.927
5) #43-Sorenson 129.900

slowest: #27-Christopher 124.033 and #51-Bean 125.442
incidents: #14-Stewart smacked the turn 2 wall hard and did a lot of damage to the rear of the car and will go to a backup car, but since it is before qualifying, he will not have to go to the rear. #5-Martin got in the marbles and scraped the turn 3-4 wall and spun around, no serious damage.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New Hampshire Facts

compiled by Mike Forde
NASCAR Media services

At New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
• Groundbreaking for New Hampshire International Speedway, as New Hampshire Motor Speedway was originally named, was Aug. 13, 1989.
• The official opening was June 5, 1990 with the first race being a NASCAR Nationwide Series race on July 15, 1990.
• The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held on July 11, 1993.
• The first NASCAR Camping World Truck series race was on Sept. 9, 1996.
• The track was renamed New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2008.

• There have been 28 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway; one per year from 1993 through 1996 and two per year since.
• Four drivers have competed in all 27 races: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek.
• Mark Martin won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup pole.
• Rusty Wallace won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
• There have been 15 different pole winners, led by Ryan Newman (four). Qualifying has been canceled four times.
• 18 different drivers have posted victories, led by Jeff Burton (four).
• Jimmie Johnson (2003) and Kurt Busch (2004) are the only drivers that have posted season sweeps. Those are also the only back-to-back winners.
• Roush Fenway Racing has won seven races, more than any other organization.
• 15 of 28 races have been won from the top-10 starting positions, including four from the pole.
• The deepest in the field that a New Hampshire race winner started was 38th, by Jeff Burton in 1999.
• There has been one postponed/rescheduled race at New Hampshire. The 2001 fall race was run as the season finale in November, after being rescheduled following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
• There have been eight different pole winners in the past nine New Hampshire races (qualifying was canceled once in the nine-race period).
• There have been seven different race winners in the past seven New Hampshire races.
• There have been three shortened races at New Hampshire: July 2002 (273 laps), September 2002 (207) and June 2008 (284).
• Jeff Burton led all 300 laps raced in the 2000 fall race.
• Clint Bowyer led 222 laps and scored a perfect Driver Rating of 150.0 in the 2007 fall New Hampshire race.

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Hampshire Preview: Lenox Industrial Tools 301

by Micah Roberts

This weeks NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race takes us to Loudon, New Hampshire for race 17 of the season, which is two races away from the halfway point and also ten races away from the beginning NASCAR‘s playoff system, the Chase for the Championship.

Last weeks win by Kasey Kahne on the road course moved him into 13th position in points, only three points away from the 12th and final position for the Chase. Juan Pablo Montoya raced himself into the 12th position, knocking Jeff Burton into an outside looking in position at 14th.

As always, we when we roll into one of the three tracks at Phoenix, Richmond, or New Hampshire, we can use the results from previously run races to get a better jump on who might win. While each of the tracks are different whether it be banking, width, configuration or distance, the crew chiefs normally use the same chassis for one of these races to the other if they had success.

New Hampshire’s layout is a one mile paper clip configuration with relative no banking at seven degrees in the turns. Think of it like a Martinsville with a longer drag strip on the straightaways.

Last Season, Jimmie Johnson won three of the six races on the combined tracks and throughout recent history, one driver has had multiple wins during the year in the six combined races.

This season there has been races run at Phoenix and Richmond already with Mark Martin and Kyle Busch getting the victories. Three drivers this season have finished in the top 10 in each of the two races.

After Martin finished first at Phoenix, he followed that up with a fifth at Richmond. Martin is currently 11th in points, only 12 ahead of Kahne in the Chase. This will be a good opportunity for Martin to get some more breathing room and distance himself from the cutoff mark. Although Martin doesn’t have any career wins at New Hampshire, he has finished in the top 10 thirteen times in his twenty-four career starts.

Tony Stewart and his start-up team got things really going at Phoenix with a strong 2nd place finish. Two weeks later using the same car, he cruised to another 2nd place finish in almost the same fashion where he waited with great patience the entire race, never looking like a solid contender, and then raced hard in the final 100 laps. Because of those great runs and others ensuing, Stewart has pushed himself atop the points lead with a nice comfortable 84 point cushion between him and second place Jeff Gordon.

Stewart’s success at New Hampshire is matched by no one. In twenty career Cup starts on the track, Stewart has finished in the top 5 on ten separate occasions getting two wins. Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon all have more career wins than Stewart at New Hampshire, but Stewart can also claim an Indy Car win at Loudon. The year after winning the IRL Championship, Stewart claimed victory at New Hampshire in 1998 easily making him the only driver to get wins on the track from different national series.

There is little doubt that Stewart is the hottest driver on tour as his standing reflect. Last weeks 2nd place finish gave him four 2nd place finishes on the season and made it eight top 5 finishes overall in the 16 races run. He’s only got one victory to show for it all, but that could change this week.

If Kyle Busch keeps up inconsistent run going, he may miss the Chase. As great as he his with such an outstanding team behind him, Busch only has five top 10 finishes in the 16 races run thus far which is the worst number of anyone currently positioned in the top 12. There are four other drivers outside the top 12 that have at least five or more top 10 finishes this season. Kahne is only 48 points away from Busch in the 13th position.

However, the one thing that no one else has this season ,other than Martin, is three wins. It’s all or nothing for Kyle and it kind or resembles his overall persona that he exudes to the NASCAR public which is either high end admiration or high end dislike for the Las Vegas driver.

Whatever the case may be, Kyle needs to focus on these last ten races and if it takes a win to do it, then so be it. It’s been seven races since he last won and that was at Richmond, which should be a good sign for the similar set-up requirements of Loudon. He only has one career win on the track which came in 2006 while driving the No. 5 Hendrick car, the same one Martin currently drives.

Jeff Burton fell out of the top 12 giving Richard Childress no drivers in the top 12 among all four of his cars. These type of tracks used to be staples in the Childress arsenal, but ever since adding the fourth team prior to this season, the entire organization has been in a world of hurt. We can’t put the entire blame on the team stretching themselves out too far, but it is the one correlation that makes the most sense.

Prior to joining Childress, Burton accumulated four wins in Loudon, a track record that still stands. He was one of the first drivers to start the trend in 1997 of doing well at the combined tracks of Phoenix, Richmond, and New Hampshire. His last win came in 2000.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
2) #14 Tony Stewart (6/1)
3) #5 Mark Martin (12/1)
4) #39 Ryan Newman (20/1)
5) #2 Kurt Busch (18/1)

Kahne wins at Sonoma; Petty first win since 1999

by M Roberts

It had been 37 races since Kasey Kahne had won a race, and of all his nine career wins, none had been more diverse than his winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway on Sunday.

Kahne not only gave Richard Petty his first win as an owner since John Andretti won at Martinsville in 1999, but it gave gave Kahne some validation as a true driver of stock cars. There have only been seven active drivers to win on road courses between the combination of Sonoma and Watkins Glen and Kahne has joined that fraternity of drivers with an excellent performance in holding off one of the best road course drivers, Tony Stewart.

Kahne managed to hold off a succession of restarts in the last 20 laps, including and green, white, checkered finish, to win his first road course event. In the process, Kahne was able to grab his first win since over a year ago at Pocono.

Kahne held off not only Stewart, but Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya down the stretch to get the victory where double file restarts had no bearing at all at the end of the race. On three separate occasions, Kahne held onto his top spot despite the best of the best hunting him down.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sonoma Post Practice Driver Ratings

by M Roberts

After both practices were run Saturday at Infineon Raceway in preparation for Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350, there are several drivers heading the list that don’t get a lot of print time for being considered a contender to win. In a normal week, the discussions are all about Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Carl Edwards and how fast they are in practice.

This week we get to analyze the times of Robby Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Ron Fellows, and A.J. Allmendinger because despite having lesser cars without the financial backing of the mega teams, they themselves are the equalizer. The 10 turn 1.99 mile road course is a welcome site for a few, while some of the traditional NASCAR oval drivers hope to just finish and leave.

For the two sessions, many teams were attempting differing strategies during different segments. Some teams were using older tires in an attempt to simulate longer runs, which made their times lower on the leader board.

Others were attempting fuel conservation strategies by not running so hard to see the difference in times and fuel used. Theoretically, the cars should have to pit every 33 laps, but some of the crews are talking like they can get close to 40 laps on one run which, if were true, would mean that a team could get by with only two pit stops in the 110 lap race. It always looks good on paper early on before the race as a game plan, but never seems to happen.

The ratings below are based on both of Saturday’s practice sessions with an emphasis on average times, mixed in with some of their past road racing history, along with a small pinch of where they start on the track because being up front is so critical.

1) Robby Gordon had the fifth fastest lap in the early session and then the third fastest in the final session. In the final session, Gordon had the fastest average times with 13 laps run which shows that he ’s maintaining high speeds for a longer duration than most and will help him mow down the 21 drivers ahead of him to begin the race.

I loved his confidence before the race regarding his brand new chassis. He’s been talking about it for two weeks since his Road Atlanta test session. The only fault with Gordon has been his parts, which seem to fail him just about every year on the roads since leaving RCR.

2) Ron Fellows has to start from the 29th position, but after some major changes in their set up Friday, they came out strong in both sessions. He laid down the second quickest lap during happy hour, but was also second fastest in average times for both sessions combined. He’s got NASCAR wins in the Nationwide and Truck Series, but hasn’t been able claim a Cup win yet.

3) Juan Pablo Montoya will start from the 17th position and looks to have the best car among all the well funded teams running this week. He was second quickest in the early session and fourth in happy hour with good average times in all. His only Cup win is at Sonoma during his first season and is sitting pretty good to end the drought this week.

4) A.J. Allmendinger has got things figured out after two great practice sessions Saturday. He had a strong upward progression in both practices beginning with seventh fastest early and then reeling out the fastest lap just as happy hour ended. He likely came in to get tires just as the session ended, but after running a total of 17 laps in that session, Allmendinger should be very good Sunday.

5) Ryan Newman may be one of the drivers that can get to the front quickly and maintain a solid position throughout the race. He’ll only have two rows of cars in front of him when the green flag drops and his final practice session was very encouraging for a driver that has good success on the road courses. He had the sixth fastest lap and average time in that session.

Best of the Rest

Tony Stewart didn’t practice well but it might be more about trying some different things with the tires and fuel mileage than what his car can actually do. Before qualifying Friday, Stewart had awful times and then went out and busted out the fourth fastest lap for qualifying. Starting up front will be huge for Stewart early.

Jeff Gordon has never looked worse in any road course practice session as he did Saturday. He stated that the team didn’t treat these races with the same emphasis as the other because there are only two roads, but that has been the case every year. They were one of the teams that tried lots of different strategies during both practices, but being 30th and 20th quickest in the final two sessions are not the Gordon times I have seen from him ever at a place that is considered his home track. I don’t believe the times, so I still consider him a contender.

Kyle Busch swept the roads last year and won at Mexico City in the Nationwide series. Other than running a strong qualifying lap that will start up front, he hasn’t done anything in practice to make me think he’ll hold the lead for very long despite it being hard to pass. Busch also had to change his transmission prior to happy hour with results that weren’t successful. However, I also didn’t think he could win at Sonoma or Watkins Glen last year.

Jamie McMurray has had very good runs at Sonoma and practiced well.
Last years pole sitter, Kasey Kahne, also had a strong practice session.
Clint Bowyer finished fourth at Sonoma last season and ran two great session coming in second and seventh.
Marcos Ambrose was fastest in the first practice but blew an engine and will be going to the back of the field. He came out to run only one lap in happy hour, but it wasn’t very fast.

In all, there aren’t many drivers that have joined the road racing winner fraternity. There are currently only seven active drivers that have won a road race at both tracks combined. This week has a great possibility of having someone join the ranks just because Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch don’t look to be as stout coming in as they have been in the past when they won.

That leaves us with Montoya and Robby Gordon as the top two candidates of past road course winners to win this week. While I’d love to see Ron Fellows finally break through, I think it’s Montoya’s race to lose based on all the variables.

Nemechek Steps down: Speed to drive the 87 at Sonoma

by M Roberts

Red Bull Racing and Joe Nemechek have worked out a deal Friday night to get Scott Speed into the No. 87 Sprint Cup car for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.

Nemechek qualified in the 31st position Friday using one of Red Bull racing’s old chassis from last season. This will be the second time this season that Speed has used a Nemechek qualified car because Speed couldn’t qualify.

Speed had a good run going in Friday’s qualifying session but overdrove his car and went off course, making him one of four drivers who failed to qualify. While Speed has had trouble all season racing on the ovals, there was some excitement within the team for the upcoming road race just because of his extensive road racing skills.

Prior to Speed’s arrival into NASCAR, he drove in Formula One for two seasons. While he didn’t get any podium finishes, he did manage to get two 9th place finishes for a team that was well below the standards of the upper echelon.

Red Bull Racing GM Jay Frye struck another deal with Nemechek to insure their International investment and association with Speed would be represented on the track where he will likely perform well. No specific details were given about what kind of compensation Nemechek would get for stepping down from the ride; as of now it is just a favor that will be paid at a later date.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Team Red Bull Good and Bad; Vickers on Pole, Speed Out

by Micah Roberts

Brian Vickers is the surprise pole sitter for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, despite it being his fourth pole of the season and second straight. Vickers is always a contender to have big runs on the big horsepower tracks, but the perfect lap on the road course of Sonoma is a completely different story.

After finishing 5th in the Friday’s first practice session with a great late run, Vickers was able to carry that momentum over into qualifying posting a lap of 93.678 mph in his Red Bull Toyota.

Lined up right behind Vickers are two other Toyota’s driven by Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose. Tony Stewart shook off a sluggish practice and finished fourth followed by last years Sonoma pole sitter Kasey Kahne in fifth.

The biggest surprise of qualifying with all the hired guns driving, was that former Formula One driver Scott Speed failed to qualify his Red Bull Toyota. The shock is two-fold because he is a very good road course driver and also because his teammate, Vickers, is on the Pole.

See NASCAR.com link in right column for complete Starting Lineup

Ambrose Fastest in Sonoma's First Practice Session

by Micah Roberts

Marcos Ambrose paced the first practice session with the fastest lap on Friday as the drivers prepare to qualify for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma.

Six time Sonoma winner Jeff Gordon laid down the second quickest lap, followed by road racing ace Boris Said, and then a couple surprises is the fourth and fifth position. Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers, not known for the road racing prowess came on strong late in the 90 minute session to get into the top five times for the day.

Most of the drivers began the session with a race set up and then with about 30 minutes remaining, almost all of them put on a qualifying set up. The difference between the two set ups isn’t as profound as it is on ovals, but the times reflected a huge change. For the last 15 minutes of the session, the top 10 speeds were getting rapidly better with Gordon finally getting passed by Ambrose as the practice ended.

Notables who didn’t practice well were Tony Stewart with the 31st fastest speed and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Stewart will be fine as he remains one of the best road course drivers on the circuit. As for Dale Jr., it could be a long day for him Sunday if they don’t improve upon the 40th best lap time because road racing isn’t really his specialty. A combination of bad car and dislike of the road could is a bad mix.

Top 5 Times - First Practice
#47-Ambrose 93.404
#24-Gordon 93.368
#08-Said 93.336
#48-Johnson 93.116
#83-Vickers 92.883

slowest: #34-Andretti 89.511 and #27-Hubert 90.135
incidents: #88-Earnhardt Jr., #31-Burton and #00-Reutimann spun

See the Jayski.com link in the right column for complete list of practice speeds.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sonoma Preview: Toyota / Save Mart 350

By Micah Roberts

Ever since the NASCAR circuit rolled out of Las Vegas in early March with all of it’s gigantic corporate hotels and spas, the NASCAR teams have missed that type of luxurious amenity.

Of course Vegas isn’t the only place that knows how to pamper a guest, but because of Vegas’ nature and with so many stars roaming, folks aren’t too star struck by a driver which makes being away from the track during race week more enjoyable than most for them. They can blend in like no where else on tour.

While the kids and Dads love the energy of Vegas and all the shows, the wives of the drivers always have the middle of June starred on their calendars, because that is usually when the NASCAR tour cruises into Sonoma Valley, California, right in the middle of America’s best wine region.

Other than sampling the best wines before the rest of the wine world gets to at the thousands of Vineyards throughout the region, the Sonoma Valley has also made itself known as one of the best places to pamper your spouse. Between all the world class spa’s with all the calmness and serenity that an agriculturally rich community exudes, one can feel taken away in the same instance like the old Calgon commercials.

It’s got the aristocratic feel of a Beverly Hills without the hustling, bustling snobs, traffic and black Mercedes everywhere. There is no place like it!

The race weekend also stamps a festive occasion at the raceway, where the 1.99 mile, ten turn road course turns NASCAR into something like a Formula One scene in Europe. Instead of beer stands everywhere like at a traditional oval, there is a mix of wine, fresh fruits, cheese and crackers. It really is quite a different scene and a welcomed change.

For most pure racing enthusiasts, the road course events tend to be their favorites because it brings an international flair to the American stock car series which normally just makes left turns all day.

The road course races are the truest test of a drivers individual skills.Of course a fast engine and great set up helps, but it is the drivers show. He is the one responsible for hitting that perfect line in and out of each turn at maximum speed. One little slip up along the ten differing turns and varying elevation changes can be more costly than any error made at any other track.

With everything resting on the driver, it’s easy to see why there is such a small fraternity within NASCAR that actually do well year after year. It’s also a reason we see several ringers, or hired guns take over existing cars for the two road course races. Drivers who normally participate on roads in different racing series always show up for these events because their skills are superior to most in NASCAR on the roads.

The favorite to win this week is Las Vegan Kyle Busch based simply on his road course runs last season at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. He also won at Mexico City in the Nationwide series race there giving him an unheard of total of three wins on the roads in NASCAR’s major series. Through all of his success at the Bull Ring in Las Vegas, who would have known that he was such an accomplished karting racer too. It turns out that his initial beginning into racing at a very young age was in the karts weaving in and out of any course he could find, including one made at his house.

The short list of drivers after Busch to contend for the win this week is Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon, and Juan Pablo Montoya. It’s no surprise that with Busch, they are the only drivers to have won at Sonoma in the last 11 years.

If you add Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick to the mix, the seven of them are the only active drivers to have won a road race at Sonoma and Watkins Glen combined. That is a very short list of winners for the last 16 years of racing in any series.

Mark Martin just got his third win of the season last week at Michigan and could be poised once again to contend for a road course win, which would be his first since 1997. He has a total of four road wins that include three straight at Watkins Glen BJG, which means before Jeff Gordon.

The combination of Roush adding more cars to his operation and the emergence of Jeff Gordon on the road courses made it tough for Martin to win again. Gordon would go on to win nine times between the two courses.

It wasn’t until Tony Stewart emerged that Gordon had any real competition, but at the same time, much like Gordon did to Martin, Stewart kind of took over the role as driver to beat on the roads. Between the two tracks, Stewart has compiled six wins.

Robby Gordon is kind of like the black sheep of NASCAR. He’s always been brash, doesn’t care about what the other drivers think, and walks with a swagger of knowing that he might just be the most complete driver of them all. This guy races everything, and does it well from Rally Races, Off Road events such as the Baja 500 he just won, and even Indy cars.

The series he has the least success in is NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series, however, the road courses are his equalizer. He performs at a very high level with cars that are well below the quality of all the other active drivers who have won on a road course.

I was always on the fringe about Gordon and his brashness, at least until this season when NASCAR visited Las Vegas. A couple fans asked Robby to sign a NASCAR poster for them so they could send to it to a soldier they knew in Iraq.

Gordon not only signed it, he took the poster into the garage and had every driver sign it.Although it has nothing to do with his racing, it has everything to do about his character and who he is.

I am now a Robby Gordon fan and will be rooting for him this week in what will be his best opportunity to win a Cup race since leaving Richard Childress.When asked about his chances at Sonoma this week, Gordon was pretty confident.

"I'm looking forward to Sonoma…but the double-file restarts won't make any difference," Gordon says. "The leader (who gets to chose inside or outside) will take the inside every time and force the outside guy out.

"We've been testing for Sonoma for two months now, and the last time we were this well prepared for Sonoma we won it. So we could do it again."

Go Gettum’ Robby!

Top 5 Finish prediction:
1) #7 Robby Gordon (15/1)
2) #42 Juan Pablo Montoya (10/1)
3) #14 Tony Stewart (6/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (4/1)
5) #24 Jeff Gordon (7/1)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sonoma Facts

compiled by Mike Forde
NASCAR media services

At Infineon Raceway:
• The track opened as a 2.52-mile road course and drag strip in 1968.
• The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held in 1989.
• The first nine races were 300 kilometers and switched to a 350k format in 1998.
• The track was re-configured to 1.949 miles in 1998 with the installation of an 890-foot chute between the original Turns 4 and 7.
• The track was reconfigured to 2.0 miles in 2001 and re-measured at 1.99 miles in 2002.

• There have been 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Infineon Raceway since the first race there in 1989.
• Rusty Wallace won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup pole.
• Ricky Rudd won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
• 12 different drivers have won poles; only three have won more than one.
• Jeff Gordon (five) leads all pole winners. Ricky Rudd has four, including three consecutive (1990-92) and Rusty Wallace has two.
• There have been four different pole winners in the last four races.
• There have been consecutive pole winners three times: Ricky Rudd (1990-92) and Jeff Gordon (1998-99 and 2004-05).
• 12 different drivers have won races; five have multiple victories there – led by Jeff Gordon with five. Ernie Irvan, Ricky Rudd, Tony Stewart and Rusty Wallace (all with two) are the other multiple-race winners.
• Jeff Gordon is also the only driver with consecutive wins, winning in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
• There have been four different race winners in the last four races at Infineon: Tony Stewart (2005), Jeff Gordon (2006), Juan Pablo Montoya (2007) and Kyle Busch (2008). Montoya was a rookie when he won.
• Five of 20 races have been won by the pole winner, including three times by Jeff Gordon. His victory from the pole in 2004 is the most recent.
• The lowest starting position by a race winner was 32nd by Juan Pablo Montoya. Last season, Kyle Busch came close to matching that mark, starting 30th in his Infineon victory.
• Jeff Gordon is the all-time leader in NASCAR Sprint Cup road-course victories with nine. Five of Gordon’s road-course victories have occurred at Infineon Raceway. He has three more victories than any other driver at the Sonoma track. Gordon also heads the all-time pole winners list for Infineon Raceway with five and has led the most laps there with 437 – more than twice the total of Rusty Wallace (171), who has led the second most.

NASCAR in California
• There have been 124 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in California:
• 404 drivers from NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as California.
• There have been 32 race winners from California in NASCAR three national series:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

NASCAR TV Ratings Continue to Slip

by Micah Roberts

Last weeks Pocono race marked the seventeenth consecutive week of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing on television that saw a major decrease from the sports coverage of 2008. The final FOX figures for their fifteen races of coverage this season were down from a 5.7 share to 5.1 in 2009. The average viewers for each race during FOX telecasts dropped from 10 million in 2008 to 8.5 million in 2008.

Track attendance has fallen at tracks all across the country, but those figures are much easier explained by the country’s national unemployment rate of 9.4%. It costs money to go to the track, lots of money. After buying two tickets, taking a stroll through the haulers to buy some gear, and then buy a few beers and hot dogs for two, you’re looking at $300 easy and that’s if you don’t drink that much.

Not many are willing to part with their cash right now and are in a freeze mode with all frivolous activities until things start to get better, and quite understandably wise for all of them.

However, the television ratings are what is really puzzling. All the races on TV are free. It’s not like the other sports where there are pay-per-view packages to watch your teams. Any man and woman can sit on their couch and watch the weekly NASCAR race at their own pace. With the unemployment rate being so high, it might even be possible to expect a rise in viewership with so many sitting at home right now.

So NASCAR can blame the economy for attendance, but what do they have to say to the big Networks that paid big cash to televise a sport that was continually on the rise about why things are so down in 2009? The Networks are losing expected money because now they can’t sell an expected rating time slot to advertisers as promised.

It’s obvious that the recent big change in NASCAR with the advent of a double file restart has something to do with creating an answer to the steep declines for the Networks. Really, who makes major changes in the middle of a season, or rather a third of the way through a season, for a high profile sport on a knee jerk reaction?

Nobody, except NASCAR. They have stated they want to do it for the fans, but it’s in a roundabout way through Network pressure to get the ratings up higher. It’s not like they got a ton of fan e-mails, letters, and voice mails and were enlightened. This process went through several channels of NASCAR brass and the competition committee with the goal of gaining more viewers and helping set themselves up for the next for the next Network deal which expires in 2013.

Not surprisingly the discussions all came soon about after the spectacular crash-finish at Talladega and ratings dipped less than any track this season. So NASCAR and the Networks said, “Yes, we need more than that!”

The only facts I have of any of the above are the ratings, attendance, and unemployment rate. Everything else is speculative, but it does make some sense.

As for NASCAR fans not watching? Maybe there is a little bit of the Junior factor not doing well that has alienated a small portion. He is a big part of the sport, but I know their all still out there because I hear them complain about Kyle Busch every day.

Maybe the Car of Tomorrow and some of the mandated changes in 2005 like the single gear ratio for all cars have had something to do with the quality of racing? Pocono’s race last week was another snoozer despite Tony Stewart becoming victorious for the first time as a car owner, thanks in part because of the single gear ratio rule.

Another casualty of the change is on the two road courses, one of which is at Sonoma next week. No down-shifting on a road circuit? Blasphemous for any motor sports fan!

Or quite possibly maybe it's the coverage of NASCAR by the Network themselves. Who doesn't get tired of seeing the replay of a pass or wreck after coming back from another break. "While we were away" does get irritating when it happens after every break. The IRL could help NASCAR and the Networks out with their coverage.

Only time will how NASCAR and the ratings game unfolds. One thing I know for sure is that TNT’s coverage and rating results from Pocono has already shown us that we can’t blame the FOX mascot “Digger” for the ratings decline.

NASCAR has claimed that they are listening to the fans, yet it only seems to have responded to their wallets. The fans and NASCAR go hand and hand, but in order for the fan to feel their getting a fair shake, NASCAR may actually have to listen, and not just say it.

Michigan a Gas for Martin!

Mark Martin wins third race of 2009 campaign
by RacingOne.com staff

BROOKLYN, Mich. - Mark Martin took advantage of both Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle running out of fuel on the last lap to win Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Johnson and Biffle were battling for the lead over the closing laps of Sunday's 200 lap race when both hit empty on their fuel gauges on the white flag lap.First it was Johnson, who was the leader when the one to go flag flew, went dry followed a half lap later by Biffle, who coasted down the backstretch,That allowed Martin to speed by for the top spot and he was able to keep his engine fired despite also sputtering on his fuel load to take the checkered flag.

"My car was good, but I couldn’t run their pace and save gas,” Martin said. “When Jimmie ran out, I said, `Heck, we’re this close. I’m going to run hard. With three quarters of a lap, what can happen?”’

It was the veteran driver's third win of the 2009 season and 38th in his Sprint Cup Series career.Martin notched his fifth career victory and 29th top ten finish in 47 Cup races at MIS.

"This team deserves to be in the Chase,” Martin said. “We’ve been on the outside looking in with all trouble we’ve had. I went for the points.”Jeff Gordon, who started from the back of the field after blowing an engine in practice, came all the way back to finish second, giving Hendrick Motorsports a 1-2 finish.

Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Biffle rounded out the top five.

"The 48 came up there and ran like we weren’t on a fuel-economy run,” Biffle said. “I messed with him a little bit. It made me use too much throttle and burned up the gas. Unfortunately, he came up there and we cat and moused and used up too much gas.”

Johnson led 145 of the 200 laps but was credited with a 22nd place finish.Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers and Clint Bowyer completed the first ten finishers.The race was slowed for only three cautions that took up a total of 14 laps.Six drivers exchanged the lead eleven times in a race that took a mere two hours and thirty four minutes to complete.

Tony Stewart finished seventh and kept his Sprint Cup Series point lead which is now 47 over Gordon.The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Infineon Raceway for the first road course race of the season next Sunday in the Toyota/SaveMart 350.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Michigan Post Practice Driver Ratings

by M Roberts

In the last Cup race at Michigan in August, the final practice session gave a sneak peak as to who would do well on race day. Carl Edwards went to happy hour and reeled off the fastest lap, by almost a full second over the 2nd fastest lap and then went on to lead the most laps on race day with a win in dominating fashion.

This season’s first go around at Michigan during Saturday’s practice session has all the fingers pointing at Mark Martin as the driver to beat in Sunday’s LifeLock 400.

Martin ran the 2nd fastest lap in the first practice session while running 26 laps, but was almost a mile an hour faster on average times than Matt Kenseth who had the second fastest average times.

During happy hour, Martin took it up a notch and laid down the fastest single lap along with the best average times among drivers running at least 20 laps.

Martin has four career wins at Michigan, all while driving a Ford, and looks to give Chervolet their best opportunity to win at Michigan based on fast practice times since Bobby Labonte swept the 1995 season for Joe Gibbs. Chevrolet could definitely use the boost, not only because of the economic climate, but because Ford has basically owned Michigan since 1985.

The Roush drivers were all too present in the Saturday speed charts as expected. Last season every Roush driver, with the exception of Greg Biffle, experienced top 10 finishes in both Michigan races. That is pure team dominance that really hasn’t been exhibited by anyone to that magnitude in NASCAR history.

Greg Biffle came back to Michigan in the fall to finish 4th which gave the Roush drivers four of the top five finishers in the race, including the winner in Edwards.

All five of the Roush drivers appear ready to go again Sunday in Michigan. Each of hem experienced great success between both of Saturday’s practices. Edwards and Biffle experienced the most success between both practices with David Ragan, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray being very good in one of the sessions.

Michigan Post Practice Driver Ratings:
1) Mark Martin has brought his high banked 1.5 mile chassis that ran at Las Vegas, Atlanta, Texas, and Charlotte. In two of those races, the No. 5 team struggled which began the year with the team scratching their heads. However, the team really started to pull things together in the chassis at Texas with a 6th. This is the car to beat Sunday.

2) Carl Edwards is coming off his best three race stretch of the season. While the horsepower still isn’t quite up to 2008 standards, they are coming closer to their first win of the season. He was 4th and 6th fastest in Saturday practices, including great average times in happy hour.

3) Greg Biffle had the 4th fastest lap in happy hour while running 44 laps. In the first session, Biffle was 5th fastest, but had the 3rd best average speeds.

4) Matt Kenseth had the 2nd best average times in the first session and then worked on long runs in the 2nd session which produced much slower times. Kenseth doing well always at Michigan is something you can just about always count on. He finished in the top 5 in both 2008 races and has a run of finishing in the top 5 in six of the last races there. Overall, Kenseth has an average finish of 9.1 in his 19 career starts.

5) Clint Bowyer was very happy with car after the first practice on 23 laps. When happy hour started, Bowyer went and ran 9 laps, had a top 5 lap, and then parked the car saying their good to go for race day.

6) Brian Vickers ran 52 laps in happy hour and slapped own the 3rd fastest lap. More impressive is the fact that he maintained an average speed of over 180 mph when running so many laps. Last year Vickers started on the pole in the fall race and finished 7th. He was leading with 30 laps to go the race. In the first race there last season, Vickers ran 4th. The nice wide open track should be ideal for Vickers to at least equal last seasons run there.

Best of the Rest:
Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano look very solid and should able to have nice runs on Sunday based on their practice times. Logano looks more comfortable in his car than he has all season and closed out happy hour feeling very good about his strategy for Sunday. Ambrose got better through the day on Saturday and finished strong and ready for Sunday‘s race. Both drivers could be surprise contenders for top 10 finishes.

Jimmie will be Jimmie
Johnson did nothing special in any practice, at least up to the standards he’s set for himself. Despite being the sister track of California where Johnson dominates, it hasn’t translated to success at Michigan, one of the only ovals Johnson has yet to win on. Two top 5’s in 14 career starts looks like stat line more reserved for Johnson at Sonoma than a track like Michigan. At the end of the day, Johnson is likely to have a top 10 finish in business like fashion as he always exemplifies. He definitely doesn’t have the same chassis that saw him lead the most laps in this race last season while also being fast in practice. He brought a brand new chassis specially for this race.

Mears coming Strong
For the third consecutive week, Casey Mears has had a quality practice in preparation for the race. All four Childress drivers looked good, but Mears stands out because he hasn’t traditional been a good practice driver, and also because it has translated over to good runs at Loudon and Pocono. In happy hour Mears was 10th fastest but 2nd fastest in average times.

Dale Junior Fast….
Dale Earnhardt Jr came out swinging to start happy hour and had the 2nd fastest lap overall, and then his times slipped quickly lap after lap. He ran 34 laps and had very mediocre average times. Perhaps he really is fast and he was just practicing late fuel conservation strategy. Why not, It worked last year!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Michigan Preview: Lifelock 400

by Micah Roberts

The atmosphere at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday for the NASCAR race will be a little different than in years past thanks to the American Automobile Industry‘s current plight.

You see, these Michigan races used to be somewhat of the Super Bowl for all the big wigs of the big three auto makers. It was a homecoming of sorts for all the major cars to be on display. It still is special, but it won’t have the same feel and appeal, at least for the bragging big wigs who would sit in their luxury boxes patting each other on the back because of how fast their cars represented on the track were.

The group of Ford suits drinking their mimosa’s would continually discuss their recent domination at Michigan, boasting how they have won 29 races at Michigan since 1985 while GM used three different divisions over the same span and could win only 13 times. Some one asks about Dodge’s record, and the smug Ford Executive says, “Who?”

Over in the GM box, they’re all laughing and having a good time eating quiche. You know, the whole bankruptcy/bailout thing can be so stressful; getting away from the office and laughing at

Ford’s expense is just what is needed. One of the GM executives points over at the Ford box and says, “Should we do it again?”

Another executive asks, “Do What?”

Then he replies, “Let those dummies over there win this race again in exchange for us winning another Championship.”

I’m pretty sure that is the type of banter that goes on, or may be not. But the thought sure sounds funny.

A GM car has won the Cup Championship 19 times since 1984 while Ford has won 6 times. On the flip side of Chevy’s dominance over the course of a season, Ford has dominated on their home track winning 29 times since 1985.

There is no real logical explanation for the continued dominance. Ever since Bill Elliott took six of eight races beginning in 1984, Ford has never looked back in Michigan. They have gone on a tear that has seen the likes of car owners Jack Roush, Roger Penske, and Robert Yates all equally taking rabbit punches at GM.

Since making their re-entry in NASCAR in 2001, Dodge has been successful at Michigan from the very start. They won that first year there and have won a total of 6 times over that span to now. Over the same time period, a Chevy has won only twice.

What is really shocking is that a driver like Jimmie Johnson, who has dominated on the sister track in Fontana, has only two top 5 finishes in Michigan with no wins. It remains one of the few tracks that Johnson has never won on in his brief seven year career. He may have three straight titles, but he doesn’t have any Michigan hardware.

Chevy’s other main Championship contender is Jeff Gordon who has won four titles for the manufacturer, but only has two Michigan wins in 32 attempts over his career. Like Johnson,

Gordon has won at California three times, but the success hasn’t translated over to Michigan. Prior to Dale Earnhardt Jr’s lucky win in this race last season, Gordon was the last Chevy to win at Michigan, way back in 2001.

Even though Michigan and California are almost exactly alike, they run much different as evident by both Johnson and Gordon. However, if you look at what the Roush-Fenway guys are doing on both tracks, you’d say they were in fact very similar.

A Roush driver has won at least one Michigan race a season for the last seven years. At the same time, they have also won five straight California races, including Matt Kenseth’s win there this season.

Last season, the Roush brigade flexed their muscles at Michigan giving the Ford big wigs something to really boast about. In this race, four of the five Roush drivers finished in the top 10 with each of them leading a lap, and all doing so with only thirteen laps remaining. They all had to pit for a splash of fuel while Dale Jr gambled and won by staying out.

In the fall race, Roush took it up a notch further by placing all five of his cars in the top 10, including having four finish in the top 5. Carl Edwards won the race and culminated one of the most decisive whippings Ford has ever laid on it’s competitors.

In all, Jack Roush, who hails from nearby Lavonia, MI, has won at Michigan ten times. Should one of his cars win this week, he’ll tie the Wood Brothers for most wins by an owner at the track.

The driver who ruined a succession of Fords finishing 1-2-3-4 in the fall race was a Toyota driven by Kyle Busch. Now, the combination of Toyota and Busch in Michigan isn’t though of too highly. Busch has thrust himself out there as NASCAR’s villain and Toyota is though of in a negative light because it’s perceived as not being American.

What’s funny about the perception is that of all the cars in the Cup circuit, the Camry is the only car manufactured in America. While Ford, Dodge and Chevy make those models in Canada and Mexico, the Camry is built in Georgetown, Kentucky. That little piece of funny is a constant joke in the Toyota luxury box by their executives who joined the NASCAR party at Michigan just three seasons ago.

Toyota is still looking for their first elusive win at Michigan and it‘s likely that Kyle Busch will be the one to do it when it does happen. He came close last season with the 2nd place run in the fall, but Carl Edwards was just too good.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch - Toyota (6/1)
2) #17 Matt Kenseth - Ford (13/1)
3) #16 Greg Biffle - Ford (12/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson - Chevy (6/1)
5) #99 Carl Edwards - Ford (10/1)

Michigan News & Notes

compiled 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 79 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 Michigan 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 Michigan races have been scheduled for 400 miles.
• Donnie Allison won the first pole at Michigan.
• 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.
• 62 of 78 races have been won from a top-10 starting position, including 45 from the first four spots. However, five of the past eight winners have started outside the top 10.
• The deepest in the field a race winner has started was 28th by Tony Stewart in 2000. Last season, Carl Edwards started 27th en route to his victory.
• The Wood Brothers have won 11 races at Michigan, more than any other car owner. Their last victory was in 1991, with Dale Jarrett as the driver.
• There have been two green-white-checkered races at Michigan: the rain-delayed 2007 3M Performance 400, which was run on Tuesday (203 laps) and June 2008 (203 laps).

Hot Facts
• There have been seven different pole winners in the past eight Michigan races. Qualifying was canceled in June 2008.
• Carl Edwards has finished on the lead lap in all nine of his Michigan races and is the only driver with more than one race there who has completed all of his possible laps.

NASCAR in Michigan• There have been 84 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:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Stewart Worst to First

by RacingOne.com

Tony Stewart was forced to start at the rear of the field in a back-up car but he was able to drive to the front and score his first career win as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner-driver in
Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway.After crashing his primary car in Saturday's practice session, Stewart took the green flag Sunday in a back-up.

He was able to work his way to the front of the field and conserve fuel down the stretch to score his first points win for the Stewart-Haas Racing team.Stewart became the first owner-driver to win a Sprint Cup Series race since

Ricky Rudd turned the trick at Martinsville in September of 1998.Stewart won the Sprint Al-Star Race at Lowe's Motor Speedway last month but Sunday's win was his first points victory since Talladega last october.“It’s just a little different when you’re the one that’s got to be accountable,” Stewart the owner-driver said.“It’s been an awesome weekend. It’s more special because of the group of guys I’m working with. ... It’s just a little different when it’s your own."Carl Edwards came across the line second as several of the lead pack began to run out of fuel in the closing laps."I didn’t think he was going to be a factor,” Edwards said of Stewart. “I was sure he was going to run out.”Edwards, who won last August's race at Pocono, is still winless this year after 14 races.

He led the Sprint Cup Series with nine victories a year ago."I’ll probably be happy later today, but man, to be that close to victory and not win, that was frustrating,” Edwards said. “The points are great though. I’ll definitely take something good out of this.”David Reutimann, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five.Marcos Ambrose and Jimmie Johnson, who did run out of fuel on the final lap and dropped from third place, came home sixth and seventh."At the end, we were just playing the fuel game and I didn’t play it hard enough,” Johnson said.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton and Sam Hornish, Jr. completed the first ten finishers.

The race was the first employing NASCAR's new double file restart policy which went off without incident.Stewart increased his Sprint Cup Series point lead over Gordon to 71 with the victory.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Michigan International Speedway next
Sunday for the Lifelock 400.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Pocono Post Practice Driver Ratings

by M Roberts

The Friday practice session at Pocono was wiped out along with qualifying, so Saturday’s two practice sessions became pivotal for all the teams to get their cars set up right for Sunday’s race. The early session was somewhat of a mini-test session for most teams tinkering and getting ready for the final set up in happy hour.

The happy hour session was the more pivotal of the two Saturday practices and is very telling to who will be fastest in Sunday’s race. Over the last few seasons, Pocono racing has changed dramatically because of the single gear ratio mandate in 2005. It’s a drag race more than ever, and the happy hour times may be more of a barometer to who will well at Pocono than any other track.

Last season in this race is the perfect example of how telling happy hour is. Seven of the top 10 in happy hour times finished in the top 10 on race day. Looking at the list of leaders based on single lap times and average times, it looks like the trend will continue Sunday.

Below is a list of the top rated cars based on those times along with a mix of 2009 history and past Pocono history.

Denny Hamlin brought a new car to Pocono hat will make it’s first start and after running a lot of laps in the first practice session and getting the 4th fastest lap, they laid down the fastest lap of happy hour along with the 2nd fastest average time in their 29 laps run, which was the second most run of the session. This car may not be as good as the one he swept Pocono with in 2006, as if any could be, but they are sitting on a fast car and should be favored to win Sunday.

Ryan Newman ran the 2nd fastest lap in both practice sessions and came up with the best average times in happy hour. Newman should be able to maintain those top speeds for the long runs, likely to be around 30 laps which s the pit window. His last success at Pocono came in 2007 with a 2nd and 7th, and his last win there came in 2003.

Mark Martin is driving the chassis that won at Phoenix this year. He wasn’t overly impressive in either of his practice runs that saw him finish with the 12th and 15th fastest laps in each session. Last season, Martin finished 10th in this race after having the fourth fastest happy hour time. Martin’s has six 2nd place finishes at Pocono, the most seconds by any driver at one track without winning a race there.

Jimmie Johnson is running the same chassis that finished 13th in the All-Star race, which isn’t indicative of the true quality of the ride because he got punted. He was fastest in the first session, and came away with the 5th fastest lap in happy hour, but even better was his average times in the final practice which was third fastest against all drivers that ran at least 20 laps. Johnson was good last season with a 3rd and 6th at Pocono, his best combined Pocono success since sweeping the 2004 season.

Kurt Busch was 10th fastest in happy hour, but it may not be the best his car has as they were thrown off a bit from not having a Friday practice session.

"The biggest thing that we'll be behind on is just qualifying practice for the next time that we come here in August, Busch said. The other thing is that we usually like to take the first half-hour at every race track that we go to this year and use it as a test session and try some off-the-wall things that we learned from last week or that we've wanted to try, just off-the-wall (stuff).
We're behind on just getting a few items off of our check list; we'll try those this morning."
Busch is a two time winner at Pocono, but appeared to happy with just getting a top 10 finish in interviews he did. Don’t like the lack of confidence and it didn’t sound like he was sand-bagging.

Jamie McMurray ran the 8th fastest lap overall in happy hour while running 25 laps, but his average times were just below 162 mph. Despite searching for better handling, McMurray is happy about the horsepower his car is producing.

"We have to make it drive better, McMurray said. It has good speed, but it's really, really loose, and we're going to have to get it tightened up in order to make it good for a long distance."

Greg Biffle was 3rd fastest in happy hour with the fourth best average times. Despite having some pretty fast cars over the last four seasons, it really hasn’t translated to Pocono success. In twelve starts, Biffle only has two top 10 finishes.

Biffle also believes the speeds from happy hour are very relevant to race day based on the conditions.

"A lot of it -- unless the track changes dramatically, but we think the track is going to be pretty similar tomorrow, maybe a little slicker than it is now, Biffle said. So, I really feel like these times are really going to translate over to tomorrow. And, then guys are pretty happy with the lap times -- I haven't had a chance to look at them, but they think we have a top-five car, and that's good for us here. The car’s handling decent. We'll look and see if we can improve it at all for tomorrow, and be ready to go."

Tony Stewart had a great first practice session, but has to go with a back up because he “ripped his whole nose” off the car. In happy hour, Stewart’s back up was almost as good as the primary car. He finished with the 6th fastest time and very good average speeds. Despite coming from the rear, Stewart should still be in contention near the end of the race as he seems to do every week. He finished 2nd in his last race at Pocono and his last win on the track was in 2003.

Best of the Rest

A.J. Allmendinger laid down a great lap in happy hour with the 9th fastest and had great average speeds in the session with 16 laps run.

Carl Edwards had an encouraging happy hour with average times, but is missing something on single lap runs. Big turnaround from 2008 that saw him be fastest overall in happy hour.

Clint Bowyer ran the 4th fast lap of happy hour with moderate average times. He has three top 10 finishes in his last four starts.

Matt Kenseth looks to be in the same boat as Kurt Busch with times. They were almost identical in happy hour average speeds and single lap speeds. Looks like a possible top 10 car.

Kyle Busch doesn’t look well at all, at least by the standards he has set for himself in practice. He was 7th fastest overall in practice, but only good on a single lap, not good on long runs.

Jeff Gordon will be starting from the front and the clean air should be good early for him. He was good in the first practice, but mediocre in happy hour. Gordon is a driver who always seems to defy what his practice times say. He was 17th fastest in happy hour, and 5th in practice one.

Top Rated Drivers after all Pocono Practice Sessions
1) #39 Ryan Newman
2) #11 Denny Hamlin
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson
4) #16 Greg Biffle
5) #14 Tony Stewart

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pocono isn't the Pocono we used to Know

I hate to see any race track lose a date on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, but I’m starting to feel that it’s about time we saw goodbye to one of the two Pocono dates on the schedule. I didn’t feel that way until recently. In fact, Pocono was always on of my favorite tracks because it was so unique compared to all the cookie-cutter facilities popping up in the new age of NASCAR.

Pocono’s triangular shape is an amazing 2.5 mile track with 3 differing degrees of banking in each turn, getting progressively flatter with differing angles each time. The long straights provide a great platform for the fastest cars to drag race their way into position and set themselves up for each of the three turns.

As for the surrounding landscapes itself, maybe only Bristol compares with such natural beauty which makes Pocono a great family getaway for the weekend.

Something happened in 2005 that began my slow disdain for the track to get me to the point where I’m at now, which is hoping a Pocono date goes somewhere else. That something was the NASCAR mandated a single gear ratio for all cars which took several tiers of ingenuity from the Pocono races by both the crew and the drivers.

Pocono used to be called the Superspeedway that runs like a road course, and it actually was. When drivers would come into that tough turn three, the ones with some road course skills would down shift helping keep the RPM’s up, while also helping break around the turn. As of 2005, downshifting was no longer in the mix at Pocono. With NASCAR’s mandate, it took some of the fun out of the race for fans because it took some of the driver skill out of the equation.

Pocono was always a track where a drivers true driving skills came out, almost as much as a road course. Over the years, the past winners of Pocono looked like the winners list from Watkins Glen or Sonoma with drivers like Tim Richmond, Rusty Wallace, Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte, Ricky Rudd, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart, all of whom were great road course drivers. Of course, having a lot of horsepower under the hood helped too, but getting in and out of the turns fastest while holding that perfect line was pivotal.

It all changed in 2005 with Carl Edwards winning the first mandated race and then the next year a rookie swept the season with relatively no one even being close to him. Denny Hamlin had a perfectly set car for both races despite Jason Leffler being awful in the same car the year prior.

In the ensuing years, the quality of racing dissipated for the most part because there wasn’t enough passing. It became strictly a horsepower track where the fastest car won and was rarely challenged. The equalizer in the past was how each driver maneuvered around the turns and how crafty the crew chief was their gear ratio.

Now Pocono is just a beautiful destination with the great racing of yesterday just a memory.

The only problem with hoping for a date being removed is that it’s likely to be moved to a 1.5 mile facility, which would be counterproductive. I know it’s not possible for Rockingham to get a date back, or even give Darlington their lost date back. It’s also not likely that any new proposed sites such as Seattle or Denver would build a one mile or less track, maybe in the Richmond or Phoenix mold.

So, knowing what would be in store with my wish, I detract. Keep Pocono’s dates, but have the competition committee mandate an exception for Pocono and the road courses to make things more interesting for the fans and allow for more passing and competitive racing.

Pocono Preview

Pocono Preview
by Micah Roberts

It’s time to take a stroll through the scenic Pocono Mountains as we get ready for this weeks race on the “Tricky Triangle” of Pocono Raceway. This will be the first of two races held at one of the more popular East coast vacation destinations. The unique thing about Pocono, other than being surrounded by such beauty, is that the 2.5 mile triangular track has a different degree of banking around all three of the turns.

In turn one, drivers can kind of hug the 14 degrees of banking with minimal breaking and fly through on their way to turn two where a little more breaking is needed because of only degrees of banking, but they can run through rather quickly because of the angle of the turn, which is vastly different from the other two. In turn three, there is only six degrees of banking and the turn is as tricky as any of the three. Whoever is able to master all three turns by getting in and out of the turns fastest, along with winning the drag race down each long straight, usually wins the race.

While Pocono’s layout is more unique than any other on the circuit, the cars running on it make it kind of boring. I only say that because I remember how they used to run at Pocono. It used to be called the Superspeedway that runs like a road course, and it actually did. When drivers would come into that tricky turn three, the good ones would down shift which helped keep the RPM’s up, while also helping break around the turn. As of 2005, downshifting was no longer part of the Pocono equation. NASCAR mandated a single gear ratio for all cars which took some of the fun out of the race because it tool some of the driver skill out of the equation.

Now the race is strictly a horsepower track and to better get a feel who the top candidates to win this week, we can look at Charlotte from two weeks ago, but not necessarily the race results. Because the race was rain shortened, the final results don’t reflect who was actually the best car. We’ll base a lot of who we take this on what happened in the final Charlotte practice session along with what teams currently have their acts together.

Kasey Kahne won this race last season from the pole after winning at Charlotte two weeks prior. Kahne led the most laps and was in control for almost the entire race. Fast-foward to 2009 and Kahne’s season is almost mirroring 2008. He didn’t win at Charlotte, although he had a good enough to had it went 600 miles, or even 400 for that matter. Up until Charlotte last season, Kahne had struggled just like this year.

Last week at Dover, Kahne debuted the new Dodge engine for the Petty team that has been run by Kurt Busch and the other Penske drivers. All indications show the engine was a success with a 6th place finish at Dover. We’ve seen a huge change with Busch since Penske switched and the added horsepower should be a welcome sight at Pocono this week. There is some risk however, because of the high RPM’s that will be run at Pocono compared to Dover.

Brian Vickers was fast in Charlotte practice and in the race before it rained. He easily had the best car that day on the long runs and it reflected that way in practice that saw him run the 2nd most laps with great average speed times. Last season he finished 2nd to Kahne in this Pocono race and led the race with 15 laps to go. Vickers’ team has struggled on many of the smaller tracks, but there is no doubt that they have things figured out on the horsepower tracks. They’ll be fast this week and he should be able to run near the top this week.

Tony Stewart is now your new points leader and it doesn’t look like he’s going away anytime soon. He came in with another 2nd place finish last week at Dover giving him six top 5 finishes in 13 races this season. He won the non-points all-star race in Charlotte, but is still looking for his teams first official win. Stewart was one of the drivers who excelled on the old format because he was able to use some of his road course downshifting skills around turn three. He has one win on the track and if he’s to win this week, it’ll likely be in the same fashion as all his other hard charges this year that will see him come from no where in the last 40 laps and push for the win. By the way, Stewart is the first car owner/driver to leads the season points since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.

Ironically, the last year Stewart won at Pocono was the last year his teammate Ryan Newman won there. 2003 was a long time ago, but it’s come full circle again as both cars are running excellent right now. Newman may be a bit more higher rated before this race than Stewart just because of how well they practiced in Charlotte. They ran the most laps of the final practice session and had the best average times over everyone. They didn’t run as well early on in the Coca-Cola as Vickers did, but it may have been that the car was set up optimally for the sun going down. Newman has climbed all the way to 5th in the standings.

The entire Hendrick Motorsports crew will be good this week beginning with last weeks winner, Jimmie Johnson. A Hendrick driver has won four of the last five races up to this point after getting zero in the first eight races of the season.

Johnson swept the 2004 season at Pocono, the last year using the old gear ratio and last season finished 6th and 3rd. This is about the time of year when Johnson kicks it into overdrive and gets into his Championship mode. He’s looking for his 4th consecutive title this season, and what could have been possibly 6 straight because he was the best in the two previous years before finally winning in 2006.

Mark Martin has never won at Pocono in 44 starts, but does have six 2nd place finishes giving him the distinction of having the most 2nd places at a track without a win. Based on how they looked at Charlotte coming into that race, that could change this week. Martin will not be short of horsepower by any means.

Dale Earnhardt Jr has a new crew chief in Lance McGrew who will have a chassis set up perfectly for Junior this week. Getting the car prepared amid the chief change last week was a work in progress last week at Dover, but they still came up with a quality 12th place finish. The entire Hendrick organization is putting their collectve minds together to get Junior into the chase and having cars capable of getting him there. Only 13 races remain until the field is set for the chase and I wouldn’t count them out yet. Look for a good run this week, maybe not a win just yet, but a top 10.

Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin will be the prized Gibbs entries this week. Hamlin swept the 2006 season and Kyle has been in contention several times to get a win for the first time on one of the few tracks he’s yet to win on yet.

TOP 5 Finish Prediction”
1) #83 Brian Vickers (20/1)
2) #5 Mark Martin (12/1)
3) #9 Kasey Kahne (18/1)
4) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)

Pocono Notebook

Pocono Raceway History
• 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.

Pocono Raceway Notes
• There have been 62 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. By design, the inaugural race was run to a length of 480 miles due to the energy crisis.
• 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.
• There have been 21 pole winners in the last 26 races. Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne (two each) are the only repeat pole winners there since 1995. Qualifying was canceled once.
• 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; 19 drivers have won more than once there.
• There have been 14 different race winners in the 18 races since Bobby Labonte swept in 1999. Jimmie Johnson swept 2004 and Denny Hamlin 2006. Kurt Busch won the July race in 2005 and 2007. Carl Edwards won the June 2005 race and the August 2008 race.
• 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.
• 45 of 62 Pocono races have been won from a top-10 start; 13 by the pole winner.
• 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 6.2 average finish there is the best of any driver with more than one start at the track

Monday, June 1, 2009

Jimmie Johnson charges to front at Dover

By RacingOne.com

Jimmie Johnson took four tires on the final pit stop of the day and roared through the field to pass Tony Stewart with two laps to go and went on to win Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Johnson was able to pull away from Stewart after his pass for the lead and went on to score his second win of the season and fourth career triumph at Dover."The strategy at the end was kind of goofy," Johnson said. "We weren't sure if we should stay out, two or four. Fortunately I had such a good car I could run around the top. I got up there in third and started hunting those guys down. My hats off to Tony Stewart. That was one heck of a race. I had to drive so far over my head to get by him. Just very proud of this effort and what we did out there on the race track today."

Johnson led a race-high 298 laps on Sunday en route to his first win at the "Monster Mile" since the fall of 2005."We had an awesome, awesome race car and I can't thank these guys for working so hard to get us cars that drive that comfortable," Johnson said.

"I mean we've been fast, but this was a very special car today. I've got to thank (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and those guys in the engine department and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports."

Stewart was able to score his sixth top-five finish in the season's first 13 races."Just pretty excited about the end of the day there," Stewart said. "It was fun racing with Jimmie like that. Definitely the fastest car. They've been the fastest car all day, so there's no shame in running second to a guy that led the most laps all day. So pretty excited about it."

Stewart now leads Jeff Gordon in the Sprint Cup Series point standings by 46 and is the first owner-driver to lead the standings since Alan Kulwicki won the 1992 series title."Obviously that stat there is pretty cool, to be leading the points standings this early into the new venture," Stewart said. "But really proud of our guys to give us equipment that puts us in this position."

Greg Biffle, who led laps in the closing stages, was able to hang on for a third-place finish. His finish came after he was caught a lap down early in the race."Man, we had a great car, and you know, what really probably screwed our day up was getting caught on Pit Road," Biffle said. "We were running second. I was catching the 48, and we went through the green flag pit cycle, and I ended up a lap down at the tail end of the lead lap or whatever, and the 48 was still the leader with four new tires. So I'm not sure how that all played out. "But we spent the rest of the day getting back all the way to the front, so we ran in traffic all day. Once I got back toward the front, the car started getting loose, and then once I got out front with two tires it was so loose I couldn't drive it. Just really tough to drive out front."

Matt Kenseth and Kurt Bush rounded out the top five.Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Casey Mears and Mark Martin complete the first ten finishers.Dale Earnhardt Jr., in his first race with new crew chief Lance McGrew, finished 12th.

“I’m happier," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I would like to have run better than 12th. We had the car really good there for most of the race. We got it a little too loose, then got real tight trying to fix it. Track position was real important and we didn’t have it at the end of the race. We had good communication and we made the car a little better, by lap 200, I was pretty happy and pleased. We need to keep doing that."

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Pocono International Raceway for next Sunday's Pocono 500.