Saturday, March 31, 2012

Final 2012 Martinsville Goody's Fast Relief 500 Driver Ratings

Micah Roberts’ Top 10 Driver Ratings
Goody’s Fast Relief 500
Martinsville Speedway
Sunday, April 1, 2012 - 10:16 am (PDT)

Rating    Driver     Odds      Practice 1    Practice 2    Qualified    Fall ‘11*

 1. Jeff Gordon 7/1                  1st              1st                 9th          3rd
Seven-time winner with 15 top-5 finishes in last 18 starts; thoroughly dominated practices.
 2. Denny Hamlin 4/1              3rd             27th              3rd          5th
Four-time winner with nine top-5 finishes in last 11 starts; top average speed in practice 1.
 3. Kevin Harvick 10/1            12th           14th              2nd          4th
2011 spring winner with 2.6 average finish in last three starts; great average lap times in practice.
 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 15/1      4th             18th             14th         7th
Two-time runner-up with nine top-5 finishes; using Martinsville runner-up car from last spring.  
 5. Tony Stewart 6/1                7th             23rd             15th          1st
Three-time winner, including last fall and is using the same winning chassis this week.
 6. Ryan Newman 25/1            5th              4th               5th          10th
Strong in practice using winning Loudon chassis that also led 44 laps at Martinsville last year.
 7. Jimmie Johnson 9/2          38th            16th            22nd          2nd
Six-time winner with average finish of 5.5 in 20 starts; using runner-up chassis from last fall.
 8. Brad Keselowski 20/1        11th             3rd               7th          17th
Fresh off a short track win at Bristol two races ago, fast average speeds in both practices.
 9. Clint Bowyer 25/1                9th            17th               4th         19th
Best finish was fifth in 2009, but has consistent 15.1 average finish in 12 starts; good practices.
10. Kyle Busch 6/1                   2nd             29th              8th          27th
Six top-5 finishes, including third last spring. His tenacity always suits him well on short tracks.

* Results from October 30, 2011 Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville, the last race run on the track.

Note: Only two scheduled Friday practice sessions with qualifying run on Saturday.

Odds courtesy of the LVH Super Book.

Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. For more Roberts insights and post-practice analysis on the race, go to, or follow MicahRoberts7 on Twitter.

Hoping for a great Earnhardt Jr run on Sunday (Getty)
Betting Notes:
After watching what Jeff Gordon did on Friday, he has to be at the top of the list in any handicapping equation followed by Denny Hamlin. Drivers with a little higher odds that should compete well include Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski. I will personally make the most cash this week if Junior wins, so that will be who I root for the most.

There aren’t too many surprises at Martinsville over the last decade which is a dramatic change from how things used to be. It wasn’t uncommon to see lower funded teams come in and win races at high paying odds offered by the sports books. Drivers like Ricky Rudd, Bobby Hamilton, John Andretti and Ricky Craven all paid out large odds of 30-to-1 or higher, but since 2003 it’s been the Johnson, Gordon and Hamlin trio that have hogged most of the wins at low prices.

As for Johnson this week, he looks about as bad as can ever be remembered during practice and qualifying at Martinsville. However, when the day is over, you’ll likely still see Johnson somewhere in the top-10 making the most out of what appears to be a sluggish car. I wouldn’t recommend betting against Johnson in match-ups unless the chalk was way overpriced against him.

Match-up of the week: Joey Logano vs. Greg Biffle
The LVH Super Book had this a pick ‘em prior to the weekend and while it’s hard to ignore Biffle’s great start to the season, it’s also hard to ignore both of their past history at Martinsville. This has been one of Logano’s best overall tracks in his three years on tour in the Cup series while Biffle has never had a top-5 finish on the track. Logano’s average practice times went well enough to make the play on him against several drivers, including Biffle, a confident one. 

Martinsville Starting Lineup

Friday, March 30, 2012

Martinsville Practice Notes: Gordon Dominates the Day, Fastest in Both Sessions

By Micah Roberts

Gordon gave us a blast from the past on Friday (Getty)
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Jeff Gordon thoroughly dominate a weekend practice schedule the way he did Friday in preparation for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. In the only two practices of the weekend, Gordon came out on top with the fastest individual lap of each.

Gordon not only had the fastest lap of 97.028 mph in the final session, but it was almost 2 mph faster than the second fastest, Kurt Busch (95.937). Brad Keselowski was third fastest (95.728) followed by Ryan Newman (95.550) and a surprising name in the mix, David Stremme (95.463).

For Keselowski, who just won two weeks ago on the half-mile track of Bristol, he ran the second most laps (113) of the session just behind Kyle Busch (116). Busch came in 29th fastest, well off his second fastest run from the early practice. Newman also showed in practice once again that his car is capable of capturing his first Martinsville win.

Jimmie Johnson, who struggled in the earlier session, improved dramatically to 13th fastest but still doesn’t have the look of past No. 48 practices at Martinsville.

What Jeff Gordon did today is close, or better, to the standard Johnson has set at over the last few seasons at Martinsville. The fact that we rarely see this type of practice out of Gordon should say something about the seven-time Martinsville winner's chances on Sunday. Gordon’s domination in speeds were reminiscent of his practice times from his early years at Sonoma.

Gordon was also fastest in average speeds among all drivers that ran at least 30 laps. Having another good show in this category was Kevin Harvick along with Keselowski, Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer.

For whatever it’s worth, Harvick also had the best 10-consecutive lap average followed by Gordon, Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr, Earnhardt Jr and Johnson.

In short track racing with lots of laps being run on a single tank of fuel, I usually throw out the 10-lap averages because it’s not enough data to go off of in the grand scheme of things. 10 laps is hardly enough data to form an opinion like at the bigger tracks. But in this instance, almost all the speeds correlate with the overall averages.

I’m not a fan of any particular driver, but I must say I was excited for Jeff Gordon giving us a blast from the past on Friday. He has easily surpassed Denny Hamlin, who struggled in the final session, as the favorite to win Sunday. It's also encouraging that Junior looks like he has a car that can win and end his 134-race winless streak. Should be a good show!

Top-5 Practice 2 Speeds
1) Jeff Gordon 97.028
2) Kurt Busch 95.937
3) Brad Keselowski 95.728
4) Ryan Newman 95.550
5) David Stremme 95.463

Practice 2 (Final) Speeds

Gordon Fastest in First Session, Hamlin Best Average Speeds

Jeff Gordon looking for Martinsville win No. 8 (Getty)
With only three minutes remaining in the first Goody’s Fast Relief 500 practice session at Martinsville Speedway, Jeff Gordon laid down the fastest lap of the day at 97.048 mph. The seven-time Martinsville winner eclipsed the lap of Kyle Busch (96.595), who was second fastest, that had stood at the top of the charts for about 45 of the 90 minute session.

Denny Hamlin had the third fastest lap (96.835) at about the same juncture Gordon did in the final stages. Hamlin will be looking for his fifth Martinsville win and if average time is any indicator (it is), he’s well on his way. Hamlin had a session high average speed of 94.077 mph while running 36 laps.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished runner-up in this race last season and all indications from the first practice is that he’ll be right there contending again for his first Martinsville win. Junior ran the fourth fastest lap (96.686) and finished with a very respectable average of 93.798 mph.

Ryan Newman brought his winning New Hampshire chassis from last year in hopes of recreating some flat track magic and finished with the fifth fastest lap (96.376) of the session. Newman also raced this car in both Martinsville events last season and led a combined 44 laps.

The surprise of the entire practice may have been the absence of Jimmie Johnson among the top-10, top-20 and even top-30. Johnson ran a session high 67 laps, but was only able to muster the 38th best time, or better yet, ninth worse among the 46 drivers attempting to qualify Saturday.

Friday’s final session will surely decide the fate of the six-time Martinsville winner and something tells me they’ll be just fine. The car Johnson's using this week is the same one that was runner-up last fall at Martinsville.

A driver who didn’t place in the top-10 during individual lap times, but excelled with his average speed was last year’s winner Kevin Harvick. He was best lap of 96.111 was good enough for 12th fastest, but his average speed of 94.053 was second best to Hamlin’s. Hamlin and Harvick were the only two drivers to average over 94 mph.

The final 90 minute practice session is for 3:30 pm (ET).

Top-5 Practice 1 Speeds:
1) Jeff Gordon 97.048
2) Kyle Busch 96.959
3) Denny Hamlin 96.835
4) Dale Earnhardt, Jr 96.686
5) Ryan Newman 96.376

Practice 1 Speeds

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2012 Martinsville Goody's Fast Relief 500 Preview

By Micah Roberts

Martinsville is now is alone with short track racing 'the way it oughta be'
In the last couple of decades, Martinsville has taken a back seat to Bristol because the higher banked Bristol produced more excitement. Although each track is essentially the same half-mile in distance, drivers at Martinsville go nearly 30 mph slower.

But over the last two seasons a massive change of opinion has shifted with fans all over the country where Martinsville has become the most attractive brand of short track racing in NASCAR.

The main culprit in the perception shift is action, with drivers getting angry with one another and Bristol doesn’t have that anymore ever since they changed the surface in 2007 making it a multi-grooved track.

At Martinsville, the fastest way around the track is on the bottom and drivers fight like hungry wolves to get there, and stay there. If a slower driver doesn’t want to do the gentlemanly thing and let the faster one pass, NASCAR justice occurs in an instant with the slower driver getting bumped out of the way against his wishes. This is where the action happens and the fun begins, and it‘s something that only Martinsville provides making it the most unique track on the circuit.

“It’s still that old short-track feel," Tony Stewart said about Martinsville. "That’s what I like. We run a lot of 1.5-mile tracks during the year and it’s the only place that races like this. We’ve got two half-mile tracks that we race on. This one’s quite a bit different than Bristol, and that’s what makes it fun. You can out-brake guys and you can run the outside if you get a shot. It’s racing the way we all grew up racing.”

Over the last decade, only a select few drivers have been able to master it. The combination of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin have won 14 of the last 18 Martinsville races. Just by playing the odds, it’s likely that one of them will win again this week.

However, we do have last season to account for where neither of the Martinsville Big-3 won. Kevin Harvick won for the first time in the spring and Tony Stewart won in the fall during his incredible Chase run. For Harvick, he’s on a run of finishing fourth or better in his last three starts there. For Stewart, it broke a string of poor finishes there and gave him his third career win on the track.

The driver to key on this week out of all of them has to be Denny Hamlin. It would take a lot of work for the native Virginian not to win this race because of how dialed in this team is. He’s got a Phoenix win under his belt already this season and probably could have won at California last week had it not been for rain because he had the best car on the track.

Beyond all of Hamlin’s past exploits at Martinsville that has seen him capture four wins with an average finish of 6.5, we also have to give him the nod because of new crew chief Darian Grubb. Not only did Grubb set-up cars for Jimmie Johnson’s six Martinsville wins, but he also helped Stewart get there last year. The combination of Hamlin’s natural skills here and Grubb setting up the car will be a formidable opponent for every driver on Sunday.

The one outsider who could break his winless streak of 134 races is Dale Earnhardt Jr. and he's excited about racing there this week.

“I look forward going to Martinsville," Earnhardt Jr. said earlier this week. "I always have a lot of fun there. I think everybody really enjoys running there. It’s a pretty fun track. We’ve had some good success there. I’m hoping to have a good race like we did last year and maybe have an opportunity to try to be in the battle for the win.”

Junior has finished seventh or better in seven of his last 10 Martinsville starts that includes two runner-up finishes, including this race last year. He’s never won at Martinsville, but he’s been running very well this season which should give the team some momentum coming in.

This race ultimately runs through Hamlin and if looking to play anyone else, it’s with the hope that something either happens to Hamlin’s car or the pit crew makes an error late in the race. There is just too much in Hamlin’s favor this week.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (6/1)
2) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (14/1)
3) #24 Jeff Gordon (7/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
5) #29 Kevin Harvick (10/1)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Driver Notes & Quotes for Martinsville Goody's Fast Relief 500

Harvick first time winner at Martinsville in '11
KEVIN HARVICK ON WINNING AT MARTINSVILLE LAST YEAR: “For us it was good to get the win out of our way and getting those solid finishes over the last couple of years has been good for us. We felt like we have always run fairly well there, we just never could put together a complete day.Really, the spring race last year, when we won, we had a tough go at it in the first half of the race, and actually wrecked and got a car tore up and were able to fix it and keep ourselves on the lead lap and make our car a lot better as we went through into the second half of the race. You know, it all worked out in the end.So it’s a race track we feel confident at. All of our cars have run well there in the past. It’s really keeping yourself out of trouble and getting to the end and hopefully by the end of the day you’re in position to do something in the top-five.”

HARVICK CHASSIS CHOICE: Kevin Harvick will pilot Chassis No. 320 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable in this weekend’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500. This former No. 33 racer was transformed to a No. 29 entry during the off-season and will turn its first competitive laps as a Budweiser is Back Chevrolet during Friday’s opening practice session.

PAUL MENARD CHASSIS CHOICE: Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 349 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 27 Chevrolet was last seen on track at Martinsville in October 2011 where Menard finished 24th after starting in the 21st position.

JEFF BURTON CHASSIS CHOICE: Jeff Burton will race chassis No. 329 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable this weekend. This No. 31 Chevrolet, originally built in 2010, has seen significant track time over the last two seasons including Texas Motor Speedway in Nov. 2010 (started-16th, finished-36th), Bristol Motor Speedway in Aug. 2011 (started-21st, finished-15th) and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Sept. 2011 (started-18th, finished-13th). Burton also tallied a top-five finish at Phoenix International Raceway last November, finishing fourth after starting 14th.

JEFF GORDON ON MARTINSVILLE: "The one place on the schedule that has changed the least is Martinsville. I believe the track, the setups and the tires have changed the least here compared to other tracks over the course of 20 seasons. And that’s where experience can really pay off. At other tracks, sometimes you have to reinvent yourself – along with how we reinvent the setups and the aero package that we’re racing – and that’s tough to do. The longer you’re in the sport, the tougher that is to do. Somebody like me – who has a lot of experience and who has also had success at a place like Martinsville – can continue to have that success because it’s not all about aerodynamics. It’s not about a spring and shock and sway bar combination that all of the sudden makes your car fly. I feel like Martinsville is that one place that I can go to every time and give good information back to the team to keep us fast throughout the race.”

JAMIE McMURRAY CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis #1210. Crew Chief Kevin “Bono” Manion and the No.1 Belkin team will bring Chassis #1210 to Martinsville Speedway this weekend. This is a brand new chassis.

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis #1207. Crew Chief Chris Heroy and the No.42 Target team will bring Chassis #1207 to Martinsville Speedway this weekend. This is a brand new chassis.

JIMMIE JOHNSON ON MARTINSVILLE: “I do have a lot of success at Martinsville, but it took me a few tries to get it right. And since then, it’s been a very good track for me. I certainly want to get back to my winning ways there. But at a minimum, we always end up with a real strong finish. When I think of how close we were to victory last fall; it didn’t happen, but we led a lot of laps and was a factor in the end. I’m looking forward to going back and trying to win there again. Martinsville is really rhythm-based. That’s me as a driver, and really takes place at any track, but that is one of the tracks where the rhythm is so important and so specific. And I have a very good rhythm for the race in the long run and have always struggled a little bit with qualifying in the short-run rhythm there. I feel like I get better each year. I did get a pole there at one point and I hope to find that magic once again when we go back because qualifying is so important. But it really is a rhythm race track.”

JOHNSON CHASSIS CHOICE: Will return in the same car (chassis No. 653) that he finished 11th and second with in both Martinsville races last season.

KASEY KAHNE CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Kenny Francis has selected Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 5-651. Built in 2011, Mark Martin drove this car in both Martinsville races last year, collecting a top-10 finish in April.

RYAN NEWMAN CHASSIS CHOICE: This will be the fifth start for Chassis No. 39-645, its first this season and its third start at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The chassis made its first start last April at Martinsville, where Newman started second and finished 20th, two laps down. Newman led three laps and was in the top-10 for much of the first 300 laps of the 500-lap race, but a broken header pipe and a flat left-rear tire caused him to lose two laps. The next start for Chassis 39-645 was in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, where Newman started on the pole and led 119 of 301 laps en route to his 15th career Sprint Cup Series victory. The chassis returned to Loudon in September, when Newman again started on the pole and then led the first 62 laps before finishing a disappointing 25th. A cut tire with less than five laps remaining dropped Newman from 11th to 25th.

The last on-track action for this chassis came at Martinsville last fall. Newman led 41 laps and recovered from a late-race spin and made up 10 spots in the race’s final 25 laps to finish in the top-10. The car has been updated for the 2012 season and returns to action for the first time this weekend at Martinsville.

2 SHR winning cars: Newman NHMS, Stewart Martinsville
TONY STEWART CHASSIS CHOICE: No. 14-587 - This car made its debut in March 2010 at Martinsville, where it qualified fifth and finished 26th. Prior to Martinsville, Chassis No. 14-587 never turned a wheel on the racetrack. With a new body honed in the wind tunnel, it was tested at The Milwaukee Mile June 1 in preparation for its second career start in June at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. There, Chassis No. 14-587 earned a hard-fought second-place finish, for after starting 25th, it fell to 33rd after a lap-36 pit miscue on the team’s first stop. Two late-race cautions allowed Stewart to regain his lost track position, and with a savvy two-tire pit call, Stewart wheeled Chassis No. 14-587 to pass second-place Kurt Busch on the penultimate lap.

The car returned to New Hampshire for the first event of the 10-race Chase for the Championship, where in its third career start, it qualified third before leading three times for 100 laps. But while leading with less than two laps to go, it ran out of fuel. Stewart coasted around the 1.058-mile oval for the final circuit of the 300-lap race and finished 24th, the last driver on the lead lap. Clint Bowyer, who served as Stewart’s primary competition for much of the race, wound up with the victory. Chassis No. 14-587 revisited Martinsville for round six of the Chase, where it qualified sixth and rallied back from two pitroad miscues during the race, but a flat right-front tire with less than 10 laps remaining relegated it to a 24th-place finish.

With another new body, this car made its first start of 2011 and fifth overall at Phoenix International Raceway in February. It started 18th and led four times for 59 laps before an ill-timed caution period late in the race jettisoned solid pit strategy and left it with a seventh-place finish. Chassis No. 14-587’s second start of 2011 came at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway back in April, where it qualified 31st and rallied its way to a ninth-place finish. The car sat idle until returning to Richmond in early September for it seventh career start, where it logged its third straight top-10 finish.

In its final start of 2011, Chassis No. 14-587 went out on top. The site was Martinsville in late October, where it started fourth, nearly fell off the lead lap midway through the 500-lap race, and overcame an unscheduled pit stop on lap 415 to replace a perceived flat tire. Stewart used Chassis No. 14-587 to rally his way from 20th to take the lead from five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on a restart with three laps to go. When the checkered flag dropped, Stewart had his third Sprint Cup win at Martinsville and was on his way to his third career Sprint Cup championship.

This weekend, Chassis No. 14-587 makes its ninth career start, its fourth at Martinsville and first of 2012 in Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500.

KURT BUSCH CHASSIS CHOICE: This weekend’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 will be the first race of the 2012 season for this chassis. The No. 51 Phoenix Racing team competed with this chassis at a number of short-track races during the 2011 season. Prior to the 2011 season, this chassis was used by the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team and driver Jeff Gordon.

DALE EARNHARDT JR ON MARTINSVILLE: “I look forward going to Martinsville. I always have a lot of fun there. I think everybody really enjoys running there. It's a pretty fun track. We've had some good success there. I'm hoping to have a good race like we did last year and maybe have an opportunity to try to be in the battle for the win.”

EARNHARDT JR CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Steve Letarte will unload Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-654 for this weekend's race at Martinsville Speedway. This will be the third time that Earnhardt has raced this car, which he drove last season to a second-place finish at Martinsville in April and a seventh-place finish in October at Martinsville.

CARL EDWARDS ON MARTINSVILLE: “The Roush Fenway Fords were fast at Bristol and fast at California, and we’re going to Martinsville to put a Ford in victory lane. It will be a huge accomplishment for me as a race car driver to get my first victory at Martinsville. We got a top-10 finish the last time we were there and as an organization we’ve put a lot of focus on our short-track program. We’ve got the best cars we’ve ever had.”

EDWARDS CHASSIS CHOICE: RK-791 - This car debuted at Martinsville last fall where it finished ninth.

MATT KENSETH ON MARTINSVILLE: “Martinsville is a challenging track because it’s easy to get caught up in things that are beyond your control and you need to make sure that you try and remain patient. I never like getting run into or running into others during the race but most times, things like that happen at short tracks like Martinsville, I think that’s the most challenging aspect of racing there. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver for position since we don’t really have an outside groove as an option. We have a special paint scheme this weekend honoring USMC Corporal Josh ‘JB’ Kerns and I really hope that we can earn a finish that would make him proud.”

KENSETH CREW CHIEF JIMMY FENNIG ON MARTINSVILLE: “Martinsville is a challenging short track for drivers because it’s a place where there is such limited room to pass since there aren’t long straightaways so qualifying and handling are two aspects that we’ll spend a lot of time on this weekend. The last time we raced here we got beat off the corners a bit so we will also work on making sure our No. 17 Ford has good drive off the corners. My plan is to work on race trim and then switch over to qualifying trim so that we can get a good session working with that set-up as well.”

KENSETH CHASSIS CHOICE: Primary: RK-790 (Last ran at Martinsville, Oct. 2011 FINISHED 31ST)

GREG BIFFLE ON MARTINSVILLE: “Believe it or not, I’m actually looking forward to Martinsville. We have a brand new, super light, great car for this weekend. We’ve been working on brake packages and we feel like we have a great brake package. We’ve actually qualified well, for the most part, in the past at Martinsville. I’m really excited about Martinsville, but even more excited for the week off after.”

BIFFLE CHASSIS CHOICE: Primary: RK-807 Brand new chassis; Backup: RK-759 Last ran Phoenix as the No. 6 – finished 33rd.

MARCOS AMBROSE CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 9 RPM team has prepared chassis No. 754 for the 500-lap race at Martinsville Speedway. This DEWALT Ford Fusion ran in both Martinsville races last season.

ARIC ALMIROLA CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 43 Smithfield Ford will be chassis number 736. The chassis was last used at Phoenix last November and the team finished sixth.

KYLE BUSCH ON MARTINSVILLE: “I didn’t used to like Martinsville but, ever since I started working with Dave (Rogers, crew chief), we feel like we get better every time we go there and we’re getting close to finally winning one. I’ve had some decent runs there, where I’ve felt like we’ve had a car to win and had a shot to win. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the track position toward the end of the race. Jeff (Gordon) is so good there, and Jimmie (Johnson) and Denny (Hamlin) are also good there. They’re probably the three most difficult guys to pass there because they know the place. They know how to get off the corner and how to roll the middle of the corner there. Everything is timing, and their stuff just works, whatever it is.” (NOTE: FOR SOME REASON, BUSCH'S PR PEOPLE HAVEN'T LISTED HIS CHASSIS THE LAST 2 WEEKS)

DENNY HAMLIN ON MARTINSVILLE: “I think we have a great chance to get back to victory lane at Martinsville. We have always been strong there and hopefully will be again this weekend. Darian (Grubb) and the FedEx guys have been giving me fast race cars each week and I think we’re close to another victory. I always enjoy going to Martinsville and being from Virginia, it’s good to get in front of the fans and run well.”

CLINT BOWYER ON MARTINSVILLE: “Martinsville is a great racetrack! I love that place as a driver and as a fan. It’s short track racing the way it should be. Track position is king at Martinsville. You talk about a place where qualifying is a big deal – Martinsville is it. You want to make sure you turn in a good lap on Saturday, because it’s hard to gain ground on race day!

BOWYER CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 15 5-hour ENERGY team will race chassis No. 701 at Martinsville. Chassis No. 693 will serve as the backup. Both chassis are new in 2012.

BRIAN VICKERS CHASSIS CHOICE: Vickers will drive chassis 703 and chassis 694 will serve as a backup car. Neither has raced in 2012.

A.J. ALLMENDINGER CHASSIS CHOICE: and his Todd Gordon-led Penske Racing No. 22 Team will be racing their new "PRS-819" Shell-Pennzoil Dodge Charger this weekend at Martinsville. The "PRS-807" is the backup Dodge Charger for the "Double-Deuce" team. It was in the transporter serving as the backup at Phoenix and at Bristol, but has never seen any track time.

- From team PR releases

Monday, March 26, 2012

LVH Super Book Odds to Win 2012 Martinsville Goody's Fast Relief 500

Junior and Harvick had a nice late duel at Martinsville last year (Getty)




















2012 Martinsville Goody's Fast Relief 500 Storylines

Stewart won his second career Martinsville race last fall
None of what Tony Stewart has accomplished recently makes sense.

For one, he never wins this early in a season. Of his 46 career victories, only six came before June. And only four came prior to race No. 10. Yet, he’s 2-for-5 in this young season.

Two, with seven wins in the last 15 races, Stewart’s on a rare run. Jimmie Johnson ripped off a similar clip in 2009-10, winning four Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 2009 and then three of the first five in 2010. But this has seemingly come out of nowhere for Stewart. Remember, he entered last year’s Chase winless.

Now, the three time – and defending – series champion has catapulted to fourth in the points. Impressive, especially considering Stewart has an average finish of 17.3 in his non-wins this season.

Why stop now? Martinsville Speedway’s on deck, site of Stewart’s thrilling pass – and eventual win – during last year’s Chase. Race No. 6 – the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 – is Sunday at 1 p.m. on FOX.

With much anticipation, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to action this week for its second race, the Kroger 250, on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on SPEED.


Who’s The King Of Martinsville?
Hamlin and Johnson have won 10 of last 18 at Martisnville
Here are the contenders for the crown: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.

Oddly, neither won a Martinsville race last year (Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart did), but that was a rarity.

Every year since 2003, at least one of those three drivers has won a Martinsville race. And even though Martinsville’s history goes all the way back to 1949, the three already reside near the top of the track’s wins list. Gordon has seven wins (tied for third-most); Johnson has six wins (tied for fifth); and Hamlin has four wins (tied for ninth).

Gordon needs the usual Martinsville success most – he currently sits 25th (the lowest points position through five races of his career), 51 points outside the top 10.

If a Gordon victory occurs (or a Johnson, Kasey Kahne or Dale Earnhardt Jr. win), it’ll be Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th win. That scene would be fitting – Martinsville was the site of Hendrick’s first win in 1984. Hendrick would also tie Petty Enterprises from most wins all time at the Virginia short track.

Junior A Fine Pick At Martinsville
Teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson will likely attract much of the "favorites" attention this weekend. But Dale Earnhardt Jr. best not be counted out.

Owning a Driver Rating of 99.0, Martinsville is Earnhardt’s top track in terms of the Loop Data statistic.

Earnhardt has finished in the top 10 in each of the last three Martinsville races, and was runner up to Kevin Harvick in this race last year.

Harvick Milestone Weekend At Track With ‘Happy’ Memories
Kevin Harvick, defending winner of this weekend’s race, will start his 400th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday.

Harvick, currently second in the points, has enjoyed a prolific first 399 races. The Bakersfield, Calif., native has 18 career wins including the 2007 Daytona 500. Harvick will also race in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.

This Year’s Owner Points Now Determine Guaranteed Status
Last season’s top 35 cars in owner points were locked into each of the first five races of 2012. Now, that luxury is gone.

From now until the end of the season, the 2012 owner points determine guaranteed status. That means a tougher challenge for Landon Cassill and the No. 83 BK Racing Toyota. Owner of guaranteed spot in the first five races, Cassill and his team will now have to qualify their way into this weekend’s event at Martinsville.

- NASCAR Media Services

Martinsville Odds & Ends: 2012 Goody's Fast Relief 500

At Martinsville Speedway:
Martinsville Speedway has been running strong in NASCAR since 1949
· Opened in September 1947 by H. Clay Earles, Martinsville, originally a dirt track, is one of the oldest continuously-operating race tracks in the United States.
· The first NASCAR-sanctioned race at Martinsville was on July 4, 1948.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was Sept. 25, 1949.
· The track was paved in 1955.
· The first 500-lap event at Martinsville was in 1956.
· Concrete corners were added atop asphalt in 1976.

· There have been 126 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway, one in the inaugural year and two races per year since 1950.
· Curtis Turner won the pole for the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville in 1949.
· Red Byron won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
· 56 drivers have won poles, led by Darrell Waltrip with eight. Jeff Gordon, with seven poles, can tie that mark this weekend.
· Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Darrell Waltrip share the consecutive pole record, each with three.
· 46 different drivers have won, led by Richard Petty’s 15.
· Jeff Gordon leads active drivers with seven wins. Jimmie Johnson has six and Denny Hamlin has four.
· 19 races have been won from the pole, the last by Denny Hamlin in October 2010.
· Petty Enterprises has won 19 races, more than any other organization. Hendrick Motorsports, with 18 wins, can tie that mark this weekend.
· Kurt Busch won the 2002 fall race from the 36th starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.
· Three active drivers average a top-10: Jimmie Johnson (5.4), Denny Hamlin (6.4) and Jeff Gordon (6.8).
· Youngest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Martinsville Speedway winner: Richard Petty (4/10/1960 – 22 years, 9 months, 8 days).
· Oldest NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Martinsville Speedway winner: Harry Gant (9/22/1996 – 51 years, 8 months, 12 days)

NASCAR in Virginia
· There have been 274 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Virginia.
· 162 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Virginia.
· There have been 18 race winners from Virginia in NASCAR’s three national series.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stewart Beats Hamlin and Rain to Win Auto Club 400

Tony Stewart wins rain shortened Auto Club 400 (Getty)
Tony Stewart didn’t win in the first 26 races last season during his Championship year, but already has two in five 2012 races after taking the rain-shortened Auto Club 400 at California Speedway Sunday. Stewart had no wins in his first 18 California starts dating back to 1999, but has now won two of the last three.

Kyle Busch finished second followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.

The best car of the weekend during practice was Denny Hamlin, and he still may have had the best car during the race, but between the rain and pit strategy his day won’t reflect it. When the first and only caution of the day came out, Hamlin, running second at the time, opted to come to pit row on lap 124 thinking they might have an edge if the race ever re-started. The rain never stopped and Hamlin ended up with a 12th-place finish.

Although Hamlin’s team said their pit stop during the caution was a planned, it did look as if Hamlin was baited into a stop by following Stewart’s lead. Stewart had faked the move to the pits and at the last moment, pulled back out to the lead. Busch, sitting in third, was about to follow as well, but left Hamlin and followed Stewart.

"I don't think that I faked him out," Stewart said of Hamlin. "I'm sure he had made his decision already -- looked good, though."

In hindsight, the Hamlin move looks ill-advised, but Hamlin said it was all part of a plan.

"We were planning on the race going back to green, and if it doesn't, we'll lose some spots, but if we chose to stay out there, we would have to be behind all the cars that pitted [if the race restarted]," Hamlin said as the rain intensified. "[In that case], your chance of winning decreases greatly.

"So you could give up a few spots if it finishes up here and lose a chance to win in the grand scheme of things ...We had finally gotten to [Stewart's] bumper when the rain came."

This is the first California race not finish every lap. It’s a shame that the one weekend out of the year it seems to rain in Southern California has to happen when NASCAR visits. Weather is the reason the west coast has three of their five Cup races a year mashed into the first five weeks of the season.

Auto Club 400 Results

California Post Race Notes:
• Tony Stewart scored his 46th career win in his 467th career race.
• Tony Stewart posted his second career win at ACS in his 21st start; he has won two of the past three races there.
• Tony Stewart scored his second win of 2012, the first driver to win multiple races this season; he has won seven of the past 15 races, dating to Chicagoland (September 2011).
• Tony Stewart scored his third career win in a rain-shortened event: Michigan (June 2000), New Hampshire (July 2000).
• This is the first race to be rain-shortened since June 2009 at New Hampshire.
• Tony Stwart led twice for 42 laps, including the final 22.
• Stewart-Haas Racing posted its 15th career win.
• Chevrolet scored its 12th win at ACS, most of all makes; it has won the past five races there.
• Kyle Busch (second) scored his best 2012 finish; he led a race high 80 laps.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. (third) has finished 15th or better in all five races in 2012.
• Kevin Harvick (fourth) has finished 11th or better in all five races this season.
• Carl Edwards (fifth) matched his best finish in 2012; he also finished fifth at Las Vegas.
• Greg Biffle (sixth) scored his fourth top-10 in five races this season; all five of his finishes are 13th or better.
• Martin Truex Jr.(eighth) posted his best finish and only top-10 in the past seven races at ACS.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Final 2012 Auto Club 400 Driver Ratings Following All Practice Sessions

Micah Roberts’ Top 10 Driver Ratings
Auto Club 400
Auto Club (California) Speedway
Sunday, March 25, 2012 - 12:16 pm (PDT)

Rating    Driver     Odds      Practice 1   Qualified   Practice 2   Practice 3

 1. Matt Kenseth 8/1              11th            15th             2nd             7th
Three-time winner, the last coming in ’09 following a Daytona 500 win; using Texas fall chassis.         
 2. Tony Stewart 7/1              14th              9th              4th           10th
2010 winner with a 14.1 average finish; using new chassis, a clone to winning Las Vegas car.
 3. Denny Hamlin 20/1            5th              1st              1st             1st
By far the best car in all practice sessions, but downgraded due to 19.1 average finish in 11 starts.
 4. Kevin Harvick 10/1            15th             7th              5th            7th  
2011 winner and runner-up in 2010; the Bakersfield, CA native is using a new chassis this week.
 5. Jimmie Johnson 6/1           9th            10th              9th            6th
Five-time winner with track record 5.1 average finish; third or better in eight of last nine starts.
 6. Kyle Busch 7/1                  12th             2nd              6th            5th
2005 winner, his first career Cup win, with nine top-10 finishes in 14 starts; strong practices.
 7. Greg Biffle 12/1                  8th              4th             14th           20th
2005 winner; using new chassis he claims “the best car to ever come out of Roush-Fenway shop.”
 8. Jeff Gordon 8/1                  23rd           21st            17th           2nd
Three-time winner, the last coming in 2004. Practiced very well in the sun, but slow under clouds.
 9. Clint Bowyer 30/1                1st            11th            11th           3rd
2010 fall runner-up with a 10.6 average in 11 starts. MWR driver will soon break through with win.
10. Ryan Newman 30/1           7th              6th              3rd           18th
Two consecutive fifth-place finishes; strong practice 2 long runs. Using ‘11 Michigan chassis.

Note: Although different in size, results the March 11 Las Vegas race can be used as a barometer to help determine what drivers may have an edge this week at California.

Odds courtesy of the LVH Super Book.

Micah Roberts, a former sports book director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. For more Roberts insights and post-practice analysis on the race, go to, or follow MicahRoberts7 on Twitter.

Betting Notes: Boy, this is a tough one. Denny Hamlin is just giving us all kinds of reasons to bet him to win and play him in every match-up. During practice he was fast in the shade, fast in the sun, fast in qualifying trim and fast in race trim. The guy should run away with the race, but the only problem is that we’ve never seen it before.

He won at Fontana’s sister-track of Michigan last year, but at California he has a less than flattering 19.2 average finish with only one top-5. The biggest variable from now to all his past races is his new crew chief, Darian Grubb. Grubb was able to set-up a car for Tony Stewart to get his first career win on the track in 2010, 11 years after Stewart began his career. Grubb was also behind most of Jimmie Johnson’s California success as part of the Lowe’s team.

The Grubb angle is a huge one, especially since they’ve already won this season. The only problem I have personally is being gun shy about the sexiest in practice. The last three weeks Kasey Kahne has looked the best only to see his day cut short by an assortment of issues, mostly operator error.

What’s funny is that I am not betting Kahne at all this week and he has a car good enough to compete for a win or top-5, but I’m tired of beating a dead horse. He will win soon, though.

I’m sticking with the meat-and-potatoes this week and will hope for Kenseth, Stewart, Harvick or Biffle to get the win. If some juicy odds come about on Bowyer or Newman, I may be tempted as well.

Match-up of the week: Michael Watrip Racing drivers vs. anyone, almost anyone
The MWR drivers are on a major upward trend. Clint Boywer, Martin Truex Jr and Mark Martin all have stout cars capable of finishing within the top-10, yet they’ll be paired up with lesser drivers.


Friday, March 23, 2012

California Practice Notes: Hamlin Strong Again, Fastest in Both Saturday Sessions

By Micah Roberts

Hamlin is sick-quick at Fontana (Getty)
Saturday’s final Auto Club 400 practice session was a complete weather change from the day’s earlier session, but the same driver dominated the speed charts. Denny Hamlin, with a lap of 182.034 mph, was fastest once again.

Hamlin’s speed was 4 mph slower than when he had the top speed in the first session, the differences due to the sun shining from behind the clouds. But it’s clear that no matter what kind of weather presents itself on race day -- either Sunday or Monday -- Hamlin’s crew will be prepared better than most.

The only thing standing in Hamlin’s way will be his past history on the track which has seen him finish at a 19.2 average with his only top-5 coming in 2008.

Coming in with the second fastest lap was Vallejo native Jeff Gordon at 181.132 mph. The three-time California winner had appeared to struggle with the clouds out in the previous session, but the team was able show fast consistent laps under the sunlight.

Clint Bowyer has the fourth fastest speed (181.132) with Jamie McMurray (181.132) and Kyle Busch (181.050) not far behind.

It’s no surprise to see El Cajon native Jimmie Johnson high on the charts with the sixth fastest lap since he’s the track’s all-time leader in just about everything. Not only did the five-time winner get his first career Cup win at California, but he also has finished third or better in eight of his last nine starts.

Another California kid, Kevin Harvick, continued his recent mastery of a track that initially gave him troubles. Harvick, who won this race last year and was runner-up the year prior, finished with the seventh fastest lap.

Matt Kenseth was eight fastest followed by Martin Truex Jr and Tony Stewart. Mark Martin had the 11th fastest lap and tied Jimmie Johnson with the most laps run during the session (47).

Kasey Kahne had the 14th fastest lap, but paced the day with the fastest average speeds, even though he ran 9 less laps than Hamlin who was second best.

Hamlin was also fastest in 10-consecutive average lap speeds followed by Kenseth, Busch, McMurray and Johnson.

Should be an interesting race whatever day the green flag eventually drops.

Top-5 Practice 3 Speeds:
1) Denny Hamlin 182.034 mph (35 laps for 176.923 average)
2) Jeff Gordon 181.360 (31 laps for 176.689 average)
3) Clint Bowyer 181.214 (37 laps for 176.805 average)
4) Jamie McMurray 181.132 (34 laps for 176.114 average)
5) Kyle Busch 181.050 (34 laps for 176.357 average)

Practice 3 Speeds - 10 lap Averages

Hamlin Dominates Second Practice Session

Hamlin has 19.2 average finish at Cali in 11 starts (Getty)
One day after capturing the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at California Speedway, Denny Hamlin laid down the fastest lap (186.018 mph) in race trim during Saturday’s first practice session. The speed was almost a full mph faster than Clint Bowyer had in Friday’s practice while in qualifying trim and fell just short of matching Hamlin’s top qualifying speed.

The reason for such fast speeds was because temperatures were in the high 50’s on an overcast foggy day. Some precipitation is expected today putting the final practice in jeopardy. Sunday’s race is also in jeopardy because there is an 80% chance of rain from noon to 9pm (PDT).

With the chance of rain being imminent, teams had to cram everything they could into this session because of the possibility that no final practice will be held.

Matt Kenseth, using a chassis the finished fourth at Texas last fall, ran the second fastest lap (185.209) and looks in great shape to possibly capture his fourth Fontana win.

The Stewart-Haas duo of Ryan Newman (184.928) and Tony Stewart (184.554) finished third and fourth fastest respectively with Kevin Harvick coming in with the fifth fastest speed (184.270 mph).

Most of the top speeds on the day were obtained at the beginning of the one-hour session with the coolest temperatures. Of the best 10 consecutive average laps run, the top-7 speeds all did so from lap 1-10 with Hamlin leading the way in that category as well, followed by Newman, Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards.

For Edwards, his strong day has to be a sigh of relief after struggling the last three weeks in practice. Along with the good average speeds, Edwards also had the eighth fastest single lap (183.636) using a car that finished second at Phoenix last fall.

Most of the cars that were supposed to be fast, were fast. However, with the chance that this race could run Monday (rain expected too) or Tuesday, the data obtained today won't rate in like-instances just because it won't be as cool.

Top-5 Practice 2 Speeds:
1) Denny Hamlin 186.018
2) Matt Kenseth 185.209
3) Ryan Newman 184.928
4) Tony Stewart 184.554
5) Kevin Havick 184.270

Note: Brad Keselowski radioed to his team after practice that his car is the best it's ever been at Fontana. In his three starts, he's finished 21st, 26th and 26th. However, he did have the seventh fastest single lap and also made the same claim last week before winning at Bristol.

Practice 2 Speeds - 10 Lap Averages

MWR's Bowyer and Martin Fastest in First Practice Session

Bowyer fastest in first practice (Getty)
Clint Bowyer jumped out early with the fastest lap of the first Auto Club 400 practice session at California Speedway in his first attempt. The lap of 185.109 mph was enough to hold on to the top speed despite another 85 minutes of practice from all the other drivers. 19 of the 46 drivers attempting to qualify this weekend followed suit with their fastest lap of the day coming in their first attempt.

The strategy for most teams was to get out early in qualifying trim before the track heated up in hopes of getting the top speed which designates when drivers will qualify today. The better their practice, the later they get to qualify and take advantage of a cooler surface in the late afternoon.

Michael Waltrip Racing’s fast cars weren’t limited to just Bowyer. Fresh off having all three of their cars finish in the top-5 at Bristol last week, they had the top two speeds in practice with Mark Martin laying down the second fastest lap of 184.322 mph at almost the same juncture Bowyer had his fastest lap. Martin Truex Jr finished with the 18th fastest lap.

Kasey Kahne was the lone exception among drivers in the top-6 who captured their fastest lap right out of the gate. Kahne had the third fastest speed (183.946), but did it on the last of his 16 laps run on the day. Following Kahne was Brad Kieslowski (183.290), Denny Hamlin (183.187) and Jeff Burton (183.169).

No driver ran 10 consecutive laps or more during the session as they will look to maximize their race set-ups in Saturday’s final two sessions. Friday’s qualifying is set to begin at 4:10 pm (PDT).

Top-5 Practice 1 Speeds:
1) Clint Bowyer 185.109
2) Mark Martin 184.322
3) Kasey Kahne 183.946
4) Brad Keselowski 183.290
5) Denny Hamlin 183.187

Practice 1 Speeds

Starting Lineup

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

2012 California Auto Club 400 Preview

By Micah Roberts

Bristol is no longer the toughest ticket in sports
It will be interesting to see what kind crowd shows up for this weekends NASCAR race at Auto Club (California) Speedway after witnessing the rapid attendance decline at Bristol Sunday. Once the hardest ticket to get in sports, it was disappointing to see a 160,000 seat beast like Bristol only have about 90,000 in attendance. The type of racing Bristol produces on their new surface may contribute to the demise, but there is something more to it.

Does NASCAR cost to much for a family to attend in this still depressed economic climate and is the sport in a decline after seeing monster growth at the end of the 1990’s? The answer to both is Yes.

California seats only 80,000, but because of declining attendance they had one of their two dates stripped from them before the start of the 2011 season. Last season with only one date, the Fontana, CA track was relatively full for the first time in nearly five years. But the problem with a track in Southern California is that there is so much to do on a weekend that always has perfect weather. NASCAR is low on the list that includes beaches, Hollywood and just the overall LA vibe. The people that attend the Fontana races usually aren’t from the area and require folks from elsewhere to fill the seats.

This weeks race is the fifth of the season, but yet west coast fans have already been treated to events in Las Vegas and Phoenix. Fontana will lose out to those two facilities on just about every traveling NASCAR fans' bucket-list. Not even Danica Patrick driving (which she isn’t this week) can change NASCAR’s appeal in SoCal.

Championship looks up for grabs in 2012 (Getty)
But even if we don’t want to go to the race there, we’ll still be watching it on television and betting it at the sports books. The first four races have been fantastic with four different winners, won by four different manufacturers, on four different tracks and not even a hint on who is going to be the driver beat during the Chase. The favorites of Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson both look like they’re still in the midst of working out some issues while longer shots like Greg Biffle and last weeks winner, Brad Keselowski, create some intrigue.

The driver that no one seems to be talking about that has quietly gone about his business is Kevin Harvick who is currently second in points, nine points behind Biffle. Harvick captured his first win at what is deemed his home track last year in this race. He fiished runner-up in this race in 2010. Just because of those two runs he has to be considered a candidate to win.

“I just enjoy how the track has really spread out and the groove you can run from the bottom to the top," said Harvick who will be using a brand new chassis this week. "It’s also fun to race in front of a lot of your fans and friends that get to come to the race track from close to where we used to live.”

With only four races run and not having any track that is similar to go off of, we have to use last seasons race as a barometer along with past history there. We can also use a little bit of the Las Vegas results because both require lots of horse power even though the tracks run completely different.

Having established Las Vegas as part of the equation, we have to include Tony Stewart into all talk about who might win this week. Stewart had never won at Fontana until taking the checkers in 2010. Since 2009, a span of five races, Stewart has finished 13th or better with two top-5 finishes.

Fontana’s all-time leader in wins is Jimmie Johnson with five, including his first Cup win in 2002 during his rookie season. He has a sick 5.1 average in 17 starts that includes five runner-up finishes. Last season was one of those occasions when Harvick passed him late for the win. To take Johnson’s amazing feat even further on a recent basis, he’s finished in the top-3 in eight of his last nine starts there. So what makes him so good there?

Johnson and Harvick have dueled last 2 years at Fontana
“I’ve been really successful at Auto Club Speedway," Johnson said earlier this week. "It’s my home track. We got our first Sprint Cup career win there in ’02, so it’s a special track to me. I definitely always see some friends and family while we are out there. I remember last year, we were very close to victory lane, about three-quarters of a mile away from the trophy, but Kevin Harvick found a way around the outside. So, I know we’ll go there and be very competitive this time."

Johnson should be very competitive, not only because of his past record, but also because of the car he's bringing this week. He'll be using the same chassis that led 197 laps en route to a win at Kansas last season.

Whenever Johnson isn’t winning there, it’s a good probability that Matt Kenseth is. Kenseth is a three-time winner with an average finish of 9.9. We also have some similarities this year from the last time he won in 2009. It was also the same season he won the Daytona 500. Not that the two tracks correlate, but it is unique nonetheless.

“Fontana has always has been a track that I really enjoy racing at but it has changed a lot the last few years," said Kenseth. "It seems like we used to have a better handle on it before it got really rough, the cracks got wide, it wore out and the groove moved up so much. It is a really fun track and really challenging because of the huge cracks in the corners you have to drive around combined with the seams in the pavement. In order to have a good car, you have to get through the corners faster than everybody else. Everyone thinks it is a big horsepower track because it is a two-mile track, but it gets so slick and there is not a lot of grip in the corners as the run goes on. You just need to really have your car balanced well and have that momentum through the corners.”

Kenseth will be driving the same chassis that finished fourth in the fall Texas race last season.

Drivers we can also expect to do well include Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Biffle and maybe Edwards. No one is more scared of how Edwards season has gone thus far than him, except for maybe a bettor who took him to win the championship.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #17 Matt Kenseth (10/1)
2) #14 Tony Stewart (8/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
4) #16 Greg Biffle (12/1)
5) #29 Kevin Harvick (12/1)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 California Auto Club 400 Driver Notes & Quotes

MARCOS AMBROSE ON FONTANA: “After our weekend in Bristol I’m ready to head off to the west coast and start fresh at California. Auto Club Speedway is a fast track and I enjoy going there. It can be hard to get a handle on the race car because the track gets really slick, especially when the sun comes out. I’m excited to go to a two-mile oval, I feel like our intermediate track program has improved greatly since this time last year, and we were really strong at the two-mile tracks in 2011. I’m really looking forward to going to Auto Club Speedway this weekend and seeing what the DEWALT Ford has got.”

AMBROSE CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 9 RPM team has prepared chassis No. 784 for this weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway. This DEWALT Ford was previously run last season at several intermediate tracks.

BRAD KESELOWSKI ON FONTANA: “We’ve run really well with the Nationwide car at Auto Club Speedway over the last couple of years. We don’t yet have a win to show for it, but it gives me a boost of confidence because Fontana has been one of the tougher tracks for me over the years. I’m really looking forward to going back this weekend and having a solid race with the Cup car. The Cup car was a little up and down last year, but it was really fast at times. Everyone on the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge is excited about the car we are taking this weekend. There has been a lot of work put into it and I think it will race well.”

KESELOWSKI CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger team will race chassis PRS-816 during Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway (ACS). This is a new chassis to the No. 2 fleet.

Kenseth won at Cal in 2009 after winning Daytona 500
BOWYER CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 15 5-hour ENERGY team will race chassis No. 727 at Fontana. Chassis No. 721 will serve as the backup. Chassis 721 also served as the backup in Las Vegas. Both chassis are new in 2012.

GREG BIFFLE ON CALIFORNIA: “Bristol didn’t turn out quite the way we planned it, but we do feel better about our finish since we found something wrong with the car after the race. The right-front bump stop failed, so it was down on the splitter for the last 17-lap run. We wondered why we weren’t going forward, we were going backward and unfortunately finished 13th, but kept the point lead. More importantly, we are looking forward to California. We’ve got the best car to ever come out of the Roush Fenway shop. Our California car has the best downforce numbers, it’s the lightest, badest, newest thing the guys can build. It’s a good track for me, I like California Speedway, and so we are looking forward to seeing what we can do.”

BIFFLE CHASSIS CHOICE: Primary: RK-803 Brand new chassis; Backup: RK-786 Last ran Homestead – finished 35th

MATT KENSETH ON CALIFORNIA: “Fontana has always has been a track that I really enjoy racing at but it has changed a lot the last few years. It seems like we used to have a better handle on it before it got really rough, the cracks got wide, it wore out and the groove moved up so much. It is a really fun track and really challenging because of the huge cracks in the corners you have to drive around combined with the seams in the pavement. In order to have a good car, you have to get through the corners faster than everybody else. Everyone thinks it is a big horsepower track because it is a two-mile track, but it gets so slick and there is not a lot of grip in the corners as the run goes on. You just need to really have your car balanced well and have that momentum through the corners.”

KENSETH CHASSIS CHOICE: Primary: RK-787 (Last run at Texas, Nov. 2011, FINISHED 4TH)

KYLE BUSCH ON CALIFORNIA: “It’s a fast racetrack and you just have to be able carry a lot of speed through the corners. You’re in the corner for a long time, but the more the speed you carry through the turn the better it makes your straightaways. It’s a big, fast racetrack and I’m hoping we can get the Interstate Batteries Camry back to victory lane there like we did at Michigan last August for Norm Miller (Chairman, Interstate Batteries) and all of their distributors and dealers.”

“I like California. It’s fun. It’s really wide and it’s kind of flatter than Michigan, so it’s a little harder to kind of get a hold of, but you can really spread out. We’ve been seeing a lot of guys all the way down at the white line. We saw guys all the way up at the wall. It always seems to be a really good race, there. It’s a really fun racetrack. It’s widened out and it’s become where you can race all over it and, with the race being as long as it is, you need to take a lot of time working through traffic and being able to have a good car and all that. It’s the same thing every week. California is just another one of those racetracks that seems to suit Jimmie (Johnson) really, really well. He’s been in contention to win the past eight races there, I think, and he’s probably won four of them. You have to hit it at the right time in these races as far as your adjustments go. Everywhere you go, but at California too, it’s all about the second-to-last pit stop and the last pit stop. I remember California last year – we led the most laps, we ran up front all day long and then the last run of the race we missed a little bit of something. Jimmie caught me, passed me and then Kevin (Harvick) came out of nowhere and passed Jimmie, too. You have to be able to hit it right through the end of the race in order to win these things. It seems harder to do that but we’re hoping we can stay ahead of those adjustments this time and get our Interstate Batteries Toyota to victory lane.”

A.J. ALLMENDINGER CHASSIS CHOICE: A.J. and his Todd Gordon-led Penske Racing #22 Team will be racing their "PRS-817" AAA Dodge Charger this weekend at Auto Club Speedway. It is a brand new race car and Friday's opening practice will mark the first time it has taken to a race track. The "PRS-814" Dodge Charger will serve as the backup race car this weekend. It is a brand new car, also. It served as the backup for the Las Vegas battle.

JEFF GORDON CREW CHIEF ALAN GUSTAFSON ON CALIFORNIA: “It’s more difficult when you visit a track only once per season. Time is obviously a big thing – everything stems off that one event. What has time changed? The track usually. Every year the track changes and when you race there only once you have only half the information. And over a year’s time, the cars and setups evolve significantly. I don’t put much stock in our California notes (from last March). I look at [August] Michigan – a similar track and the notes are way more current.

“If you look at the car we had at California last year and the car we will run this week, they’re very different. We may only race here once a year, but it doesn’t take long to get back in the rhythm. And I love that you can race high, low and everywhere in between here. That gives us the ability to search for a line that works.

PAUL MENARD ON CALIFORNIA: “I know that California (Auto Club Speedway) gets knocked as a race track since it is wide open and generally caution free. Drivers tend to enjoy that, though. You have long runs and can really analyze your car and work on it during pit stops. The track is really wide. You can run top to bottom and everywhere in between. It’s relatively smooth, too, and makes for fun racing for us drivers. If a race fan wants to see crashes and cautions, that’s probably not going to happen there.”

MENARD CHASSIS CHOICE: Paul Menard will pilot Chassis No. 384 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This No. 27 Chevrolet Impala is a brand new addition to the RCR fleet and will log its first laps on the track at during Friday’s practice session.

KEVIN HARVICK ON CALIFORNIA: “I just enjoy how the track has really spread out and the groove you can run from the bottom to the top. It’s also fun to race in front of a lot of your fans and friends that get to come to the race track from close to where we used to live.”

HARVICK CHASSIS CHOICE: Kevin Harvick will race chassis No. 374 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This brand new Chevrolet Impala will be put through its first paces this weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

JEFF BURTON ON FUEL MILEAGE AND EFI: “The biggest issue with an EFI engine is that has to spin to find itself to determine where it is in the spark sequence. If you have power and everything is operating correctly, once it finds its sequence of what cylinder it is supposed to be firing and you have fuel, it’s going to fire up. We have also introduced electronics into a situation where these cars are really hot and have a lot of vibrations. We also have those issues that we didn’t have before. There will be some issues; there always is. Anytime you have something new, there are going to be some issues. We’ve done everything we know how to do, but that doesn’t mean we are going to have problems.”

BURTON CHASSIS CHOICE: Jeff Burton will race chassis No. 393 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable this weekend. This is a brand new No. 31 Chevrolet Impala that will turn its first laps at the Fontana, Calif., track this weekend.

BRENDAN GAUGHAN ON CALIFORNIA, HIS LAST CUP START OF 2012: “I just want to keep improving, this car is totally different than any other NASCAR race car I have raced, so I want to keep improving and end on a high note. I want to score my best finish and improve my driver rating from Bristol Motor Speedway.”

GAUAGHN CHASSIS CHOICE: Brendan Gaughan will pilot Chassis No. 392 from the Richard Childress Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stable. This Chevrolet Impala was built brand new for the 2012 season and will see its first competitive laps this weekend in the 200-lap event.

ARIC ALMIROLA ON FONATNA: “I like going out to California. I have some family out there, my sister actually, and it’s good to spend some time with her. The Los Angeles area is just a lot of fun. We don’t get to go out there a lot, but we’re going to make the most of it. My wife (Janice) and I are going to spend a few extra days out there and visit. But, first we’ve got our work to do at the track.

“It’s a tough track because it’s relatively flat, but it’s still two miles in length and really wide. We’re carrying a lot of speed. Having a good day is all about having a balanced car that can keep your momentum up. If you’re struggling with the car, it can really cost you a lot of time.

“Fortunately, in the Nationwide races I’ve run at the track, I had good cars and good finishes. I know what I’m looking for in the car and I just need to communicate that to Greg. We’re still getting to know each other, but I’m pretty happy with our communication so far. We have to keep working on some areas, but it’s been good so far. Communication will be key this weekend.”

ALMIROLA CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 43 Medallion Financial Ford will be chassis number 752. It’s the first time that it has been raced in 2012, but made three starts last fall at Dover, Atlanta and Texas.

KURT BUSCH CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis No. 578 - This weekend’s Auto Club 400 will be the first race of the season for this chassis. The No. 51 Phoenix Racing team competed with this chassis a handful of times during the 2011 season, with the most recent race being the 2011 AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where driver Landon Cassill earned a 22nd-place finish after starting from 37th.

JAMIE McMURRAY CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis #1120. Crew Chief Kevin “Bono” Manion and the No.1 Bass Pro Shops/Allstate team will bring Chassis #1120 to Auto Club Speedway this weekend. This chassis made its debut last season at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October with a 27th-place finish. The No.1 team also ran this chassis at Homestead-Miami Speedway where it came home in 14th-place.

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis #1119. Crew Chief Chris Heroy and the No.42 Target team will bring Chassis #1119 to Auto Club Speedway this weekend. This chassis first saw track time at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October, where it finished 14thand led two laps. The No.42 team also ran this chassis at Texas Motor Speedway where it finished 18th.

MARK MARTIN CHASSIS CHOICE: Martin will drive a new MWR chassis (No. 726) at Auto Club Speedway this weekend. Chassis 708 will serve as backup. It raced as the #00 at Texas and Homestead in 2011.

DALE EARNHARDT JR CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Steve Letarte and the #88 team will unload Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-711 for this weekend's 400-mile event at Auto Club Speedway. This is a new chassis that has not been raced. By coincidence, Chassis No. 88-711 will feature the convenience store 7-Eleven's logo on the rear quarter panel as an associate partner with Diet Mountain Dew.

MARTIN TRUEX JR ON FONTANA: “The schedule we’ve had this season has been a good test of our entire program. We’ve been able to get a decent measure of our team against the competition at different types of tracks. Obviously going to California at the two-mile track will be a big test for us. It will show us where we stand at the big tracks. So far, our speedway program has been very good. Our short-track program is as good as anyone’s. At Vegas, we showed signs of speed and had the potential to do great things. We are still a work in progress. We still have work to do and know the areas that we can do better as a whole. We just need to keep working on the little things and keep putting ourselves in position to run up front every week. I don’t believe we’ve peaked yet. Our wins are going to come and I hope we can continue our streak this weekend in California.”

Johnson is using Kansas chassis from 2011
JIMMIE JOHNSON ON FONTANA: “I’ve been really successful at Auto Club Speedway. It’s my home track. We got our first Sprint Cup career win there in ’02, so it’s a special track to me. I definitely always see some friends and family while we are out there. I remember last year, we were very close to victory lane, about three-quarters of a mile away from the trophy, but Kevin Harvick found a way around the outside. So, I know we’ll go there and be very competitive this time."

JOHNSON CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis No. 681 serves as the primary for Johnson at California. This chassis won at Kansas last season leading 197 laps. The car also ran at Indianapolis, Chicaho and Texas. Chassis No. 669 serves as the backup.

CARL EDWARDS ON FONTANA: “I can’t wait to run at Fontana. After Bristol I am headed there to win. My team did a great job of getting me back out on the track last week and now it is time to concentrate on Auto Club Speedway. It’s a very fast two-mile track; very similar to Michigan with a lot of room to race. It’s a lot of fun and is great racing. Our team has had a lot of success there and we are very determined to make a good run for Subway and all my fans.”

EDWARDS CHASSIS CHOICE: The No. 99 crew will unload RK-782 this weekend. This car most recently finished second at Phoenix last November. It also ran at both New Hampshire races in 2011 finishing eighth and 13th.

RYAN NEWMAN CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis No. 39-677 - This chassis made two runs last season, which resulted in two top-15 finishes. At the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Newman qualified a disappointing 23rd and was mired in traffic and dirty air for much of the afternoon. Track position proved to be incredibly vital. And while Newman’s car was fast and handling well, he found it difficult to pass other cars. A strategy call with less than 30 laps to go helped Newman score a top-15 finish. Newman opted to pit for three seconds of fuel while many teams opted to gamble. While those cars either ran out or were forced to drastically slow down to conserve fuel, Newman was able to run at full power, which led to the 12th-place finish. The Pure Michigan 400 in August marked the second outing for the chassis. Newman qualified third and ran in the top-10 for the majority of the day. He gained five spots in the closing laps, including four positions on a late-race restart,
to earn a fifth-place finish.

TONY STEWART CHASSIS CHOICE: Chassis No. 14-706 is a brand-new racecar that has never turned a wheel on the racetrack, but it has been wind-tunnel tested numerous times. It is a clone to Chassis No. 14-640, which won two weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

KASEY KAHNE CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Kenny Francis will unload Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 5-713, a new car that has not been tested or raced.

- From team PR releases

California Auto Club 400 Storylines

Jimmie Johnson has an amazing 5.1 average finish at California (Getty) 
After the weekend’s stop in Bristol’s Thunder Valley, NASCAR Sprint Cup \and NASCAR Nationwide Series teams head west for the third time in 2012 for the season’s only visit to the two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The NSCS won’t return west again until the June 24 running of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway’s road course near Sonoma, Calif.

Some questions to be answered at Auto Club Speedway:
· Will Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick duel for victory for the third consecutive season?
· Will Johnson or another Hendrick Motorsports driver post the organization’s milestone 200th victory – or will seven-time ACS winner Roush Fenway Racing spoil the party?
· Can Michael Waltrip Racing add to its unprecedented performance surge?
· Which team(s) will be on the outside looking in after owner points are tallied after the Auto Club 400 for 35 guaranteed starting positions at Martinsville Speedway?
· Will there be a fifth consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series points-eligible winner in Victory Lane following Saturday’s Royal Purple 300? Will points leader Elliott Sadler post win No. 3 or will a California driver step up to celebrate in the Golden State?


Another Golden State Shootout In the Offing?
The last two spring races at Auto Club Speedway have been duels between El Cajon’s Jimmie Johnson and Bakersfield’s Kevin Harvick. Johnson ended up in Victory Lane with the Harvick-dubbed "golden horse shoe" in hand in 2010. Harvick earned the title of "The Closer" a year ago by edging five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Johnson by 0.144 seconds – the closest NSCS finish in the track’s history.

Johnson leads all drivers with five wins at the track followed by fellow Californian and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon of Vallejo with three wins. Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, who finished second in last weekend’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the only other driver with multiple wins.

Gordon, by the way, is one of four finalists for the Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award given to those who have made significant contributions to motorsports from the Golden State. Other finalists are drag racer "TV Tommy" Ivo, Indianapolis 500 roadster builder A.J. Watson and sports car racer Tony Adamowicz. The winner of the award, named in honor of the longtime Los Angeles Times motorsports writer and columnist Shav Glick, will be announced prior to Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Other California drivers expected to compete at Fontana include AJ Allmendinger, Los Gatos; David Gilliland, Riverside; Casey Mears, Bakersfield; Josh Wise, Riverside; and Robby Gordon, Orange.

No Surprise, It’s Hendrick Vs. Roush In Fontana
Will this be the weekend Rick Hendrick and company get its milestone 200th victory? History is on the side of HMS, which leads all organizations with nine wins at Auto Club Speedway. HMS newcomer Kasey Kahne won in Fontana in the fall of 2006 as the driver of Ray Evernham’s Dodge.

That 200th milestone will be out of reach if Roush Fenway Racing has anything to say on the subject. RFR drivers have won seven times at the Southern California track most recently in the spring of 2009 with Kenseth. All three of the team’s current drivers have victories at Auto Club headed by Kenseth’s three trips to Victory Lane. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings leader Greg Biffle has one win (2005) as does Carl Edwards (2008).

Michael Waltrip Racing Rolls; Who Are These Guys?
Three words describe how qualifying for this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ has become incrementally more difficult in 2012: Michael Waltrip Racing. The team, which has yet to send a driver to the Chase, but counts its two full-time members Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer among the top 10 in points after the season’s first four races.

That follows an unprecedented finish of three drivers – Truex, Bowyer and first-time organization starter Brian Vickers – among the top five in Bristol. All three of MWR’s cars (one is shared by Mark Martin and Vickers) are top 10 in NSCS Owner Championship standings.

Martin has the best record at Auto Club Speedway: a win in 1998 among six top-five finishes. Bowyer, eighth in points, finished second in 2010. Truex, hoping to erase a 171-race winless streak dating to the 2007 fall race at Dover International Speedway, posted back-to-back sixth-place finish at ACS in 2007-08. Truex ranks a heady fourth in points, 18 behind leader Biffle.

Biffle’s Top-Three Streak Ends But Veteran Retains Points Lead
Biffle, 13th at Bristol after running among the top 10 most of the afternoon, left Thunder Valley with a pair of successes. His 10th career Coors Light Pole puts him in field for the 2013 Shootout At Daytona. The Vancouver, Wash., driver also retains the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead by nine over Harvick. Daytona 500 winner Kenseth is third followed by Truex and Phoenix winner Denny Hamlin.

Five drivers who didn’t qualify for last year’s Chase rank among the current top 10: Biffle (first), Truex (fourth), Bowyer (eighth), Joey Logano (ninth) and Paul Menard (10th). Last year’s Chase drivers outside the top 10 are Ryan Newman (12th), Bristol winner Brad Keselowski (13th), Edwards (14th), Kyle Busch (15th), Johnson (17th), Jeff Gordon (23rd) and Kurt Busch (27th).

Attention NASCAR Sprint Cup Owners: This Is Cut-Down Week
Last season’s Car Owner Championship standings locked in the top 35 teams automatically qualifying for each of 2012’s first five races. The Auto Club 400 is race No. 5 after which the lock-in will be based upon current points.

Five teams are fighting for a top-35 spot – including the No. 10 of Tommy Baldwin, which has a guaranteed starting spot this week but ranks 36th after last weekend’s Bristol competition. The car is shared by David Reutimann and Danica Patrick. Baldwin trails Thomas Ueberall’s No. 83 by three points and – surprisingly – the 34th-ranked No. 5 of Linda Hendrick (driven by Kasey Kahne) by seven.

Two other teams hoping to make a move into the top 35 this week are Kevin Butler’s No. 30 (38th, 10 points behind Ueberall) and the No. 26 of Jerry Freeze, 39th, with an 18-point deficit).

Teams with cars outside the top 35 beginning with the April 1 race at Martinsville Speedway must qualify for the fields based on speed.

Each Series Manufacturer Boast A Winner After Four Races
Keselowski’s second consecutive victory at Bristol Motor Speedway completed the cycle for the four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series manufacturers. Dodge followed Chevrolet (Las Vegas), Toyota (Phoenix) and Ford (Daytona) into Victory Lane matching a feat last achieved in 1986 when the season’s first four races were won by four different nameplates (Chevrolet, Ford, Oldsmobile and Buick).

Keselowski, at age 28, is the season’s youngest winner. The Food City 500 marked the Michigan native’s fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup win.

Keselowski has yet to finish higher than 21st in three NSCS trips to Auto Club Speedway. He was 26th a year ago.