TO TOUGH

TO TOUGH

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NASCAR’s Spring Break Arrives After Intriguing Start

NASCAR’s Spring Break Arrives After Intriguing Start
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has its own version of spring break and it has arrived, with the traditional Easter weekend hiatus. It’s time for a bit of rest, relaxation – and examination regarding the first eight races of the 2014 season.
In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a lot going on, starting with the unreal level of parity that has made predictability an outdated term. Much has been said and written about the seven different winners to start the season, a streak broken this past weekend at Darlington Raceway when Kevin Harvick became the year’s first two-time winner. Overshadowed somewhat has been a concurrent revolving door, in the form of eight different Coors Light Pole winners to open the season, tied for the series’ longest season-opening streak of different pole winners.
Is competition better than ever? There are statistics supporting that notion:
All three manufacturers have won races thus far, led by Chevrolet’s four victories.
An average of 12 different leaders per race, compared to 8.6 at this point last year.
An average of 25.6 lead changes per race, compared to 17.4 in 2013.
Total of 29,541 green flag passes, compared to 23,178 in 2013.
Total of 346 green flag passes for the lead, compared to 181 in 2013.
And … an average margin of victory of 0.588 seconds, the smallest since 2008.
In addition, it’s even easier to argue that the competition has certainly received a boost in interest because of the nuances of the new championship-deciding, Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format. Race winners are virtually assured a berth in the 16-driver Chase, unless there are more than 16 different winners, whereupon the series points could be used to determine which race winners get into the “playoffs.” Number of race victories, though, will be the first “tiebreaker.” And don’t forget about this addendum: the series points leader after 26 races – the “regular season’ champion so to speak – will get in, with or without having a race victory.
Less than 16 different winners? Again, we’ll go to the standings to fill out the Chase field.
You want nuance? Try this. The possibility exists that a driver could be, say, second in the points come time for the Chase and not make the field, if they haven’t won a race. That could be painful.
After eight races, three of the top five drivers in the series standings are winless – Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. Those three drivers have won 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, collectively but right now they’re sharing a seat that perhaps isn’t really hot just yet, but definitely is getting warm.
Other items of interest “after eight” …
Two drivers with race victories aren’t even in the top 16 in points, starting with Harvick who is “mired” – talk about another outdated term due to the new format – in 22nd. Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch is 26th but he has a Martinsville victory and a likely Chase berth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500, has three runner-up finishes plus one third. He has been running near the front seemingly all season – with the exception of Texas, when he ran into the grass early in the race.
Tony Stewart, coming back from being sidelined for much of last year by injury, is winless but has four top-10 finishes in the last five races, including an incredibly strong Texas run where he was the Coors Light Pole Award winner.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, was never a factor at the Daytona 500 but had her second-best finish of the year thus far at Bristol’s half-mile. Go figure.
Team Penske has both of its drivers in the victory column, with Brad Keselowski winning at Las Vegas and Joey Logano at Texas. That’s two wins on 1.5-mile tracks. There are five 1.5-mile tracks in the Chase lineup. Sounds ominous.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule resumes Saturday night April 26 at three-quarters mile Richmond International Raceway. Richmond has been called, through the years, “the perfect track” which means there’s a good chance at an interesting season is about to become even more so, coming out of our spring break.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

After Action-Packed Weekend, NASCAR Takes A Cool Down Lap

After Action-Packed Weekend, NASCAR Takes A Cool Down Lap

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 14, 2014) – Five hundred miles at Darlington Raceway. It’s a challenging, exhausting endeavor – and on Saturday night, the Southern 500 needed overtime. Of course it did.

In a busy storybook weekend of NASCAR and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship racing, that was the necessary outcome.

Seven races were run in three countries and on two continents for a total of 989 laps and 1,169 miles. Victory belonged to 10 different drivers during the weekend, yet there was one clear winner above all: The fans.

They saw a little bit of everything during this memorable weekend…

-       In a green-white-checkered finish that extended the race seven laps past its scheduled distance of 367 laps, Kevin Harvick became the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season’s first two-time winner – not to mention the first to virtually lock-up a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. His two wins guarantee him a place on the 16-driver Chase Grid, provided he finishes in the top 30 after race No. 26 and attempts to qualify for every race.
 
-       Rising star Chase Elliott won his second consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series race, becoming the youngest winner in Darlington history. The 18-year-old’s navigation of the egg-shaped track reminded many of his championship-winning father, Bill Elliott, who himself won five times at Darlington.

-       Scott Pruett, arguably the greatest sports car driver in North America right now, won his second consecutive Prototype race of this TUDOR United SportsCar Championship debut season. With teammate Memo Rojas, from Mexico City, the pair followed its win at Sebring with a victory in Long Beach, Calif. It was Pruett’s 58th career victory, extending his lead on the all-time North American professional sports car racing win list.

-       In the GT Le Mans class of the TUDOR Championship at Long Beach, Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia teamed to capture the first win for the recently unveiled Chevrolet Corvette C7.R.

-       Ander Vilarino, who took home the championship in each of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series’ two years of existence, was victorious in the second Elite 1 race of the Valencia NASCAR Fest weekend in Spain. Yann Zimmer, a 23-year-old and last year’s rookie of the year, won Saturday’s Elite 1 season opener in Valencia.

-       George Brunnhoelzl III scored his first victory in this “Drive for Five” season. The four-time NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion led a race-high 69 laps Saturday at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va.
 
-       Daniel Suárez continued his two-country success story, scoring his second win of the 2014 NASCAR Toyota Mexico Series season. Suárez, who also has two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victories, won at the Súper Óvalo Chiapas in Tuxtla Gutiérrez.

And now, a break – sort of. Engines will silence for much of NASCAR and the TUDOR Championship this weekend, in observance of the Easter holiday.

But, there will be some on-track action for those needing a fix. The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour will race at Caraway Speedway in Sophia, N.C., on Saturday. For live updates throughout race day, log onto NASCARHomeTracks.com.

And for continuous coverage of the first portion of this storyline-rich season, visit NASCAR.com and I

Monday, April 14, 2014

Give us a break … Time off

The First Reid:  Give us a break … Time off is cherished in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
    The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is the longest in professional sports, and breaks are few and far between.
    One of those rare breaks comes this weekend, with the Easter holiday.
    Invariably, when there’s a pause in the racing season, reporters ask drivers what they plan to do with the time off, and the answers invariably range from hunting with friends, enjoying some rest and relaxation at the beach, traveling, playing golf or simply spending quality time with family.
    But we often forget that drivers are only one part of the stock car racing equation.
     The fabricators, mechanics, engine builders, engineers, body hangers and crewmen who build and set up race cars for their teams will be lucky to have two days off around Easter — if that.
    Instead, they’ll be working typical long hours repairing cars wrecked at Darlington, catching up on car builds for upcoming tracks and trying to figure out how to make their machines go faster.
    That’s particularly true for organizations that have fallen behind in the development of the Gen-6 car under the new competition package NASCAR introduced this year.
    If we tend to forget what goes on behind the scenes in racing, the families of those involved certainly do not.
    Consequently, we salute the unsung heroes of NASCAR racing and wish them a happy Easter —whatever small part they actually see of it.


Caption:  The track “too tough to tame” – a visual metaphor.


·   "This week, Kevin Harvick made it to the checkered flag before all other drivers. This is a major step up from the previous week at Texas, when he made it back to Charlotte before all other drivers."

·   Kevin Harvick’s win at Darlington Speedway is the milestone first victory for F1 team owner Gene Haas.

·   The setting sun caused visibility issues for drivers early in the race. And if you’re keeping score, yes, the drivers managed to find a way to complain about rain AND sunshine in the span of one week.

·   Unlike races earlier this season, the race at Darlington Raceway had a rare 0% chance of rain. Regardless, AirTitan 2.0 self-activated one hour before green flag merely out of habit.

(Follow @nascarcasm on Twitter. His unique views on NASCAR are his own – but chances are you already knew that.)


NASCAR Numbers
By Reid Spencer
462:  The total number of laps led by Kevin Harvick in his two NASCAR Sprint Cup  victories this season. Harvick led 224 laps in winning Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway to go with the 238 he led in getting his first victory of the year at Phoenix. In the six other races combined, Harvick has led 53 laps.
41:  The number of positions both Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. improved at Darlington over their finishes in the previous race at Texas Motor Speedway. Earnhardt was first out of the Texas race (43rd) after a close encounter with the infield grass. Harvick retired in 42nd with engine issues. At Darlington, Harvick and Earnhardt ran 1-2.
5: In eight NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season, the number of times Dale Earnhardt Jr. has recorded a top-three finish. After winning the Daytona 500, Earnhardt has finished second three times (at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Darlington) and third once (at Martinsville).
586:  The total number of laps led by Kyle Busch in the last five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at Richmond International Raceway held in the spring. Hence, it’s likely Busch will notch the 30 laps he needs to reach a career milestone of 10,000 laps led in the series. Busch led at least 32 laps in each of the last five spring races and won four of them.
1:  The number of drivers advancing to the final round in each of the seven knockout qualifying sessions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year. Joey Logano kept his perfect record intact Friday at Darlington Raceway, then qualified on the outside of the front row in the final round.

NASCAR ETC.

    The winningest driver in North American sports car racing history held off one of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s youngest stars to win Saturday’s Tequila Patrón Sports Car Showcase at the Long Beach street circuit.
    Scott Pruett extended his record to 58 career victories, driving the No. 01 Ford EcoBoost/Riley to the line 0.759 seconds ahead of 22-year-old Jordan Taylor. Corvette Racing won in GT Le Mans (GTLM) with Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen leading all but two laps to give the Corvette C7.R its first win in just its third start.
     GTLM is regarded internationally for its competition, and the TUDOR Championship standings reflect that. The top eight teams are separated by only eight points with BMW’s Bill Auberlen and Andy Priaulx leading Porsche’s Richard Lietz and Nick Tandy by two points (90-88).
    Pruett and Rojas are now within five points (98-93) of leaders Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi in the Prototype class. The GT Daytona (GTD) and Prototype Challenge (PC) classes return on May 4 at historic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. There will be a pair of two-hour races, one for the P and GTLM classes, the other for the PC and GTD classes. Both races will be televised live on FOX Sports 1.


1.      

1.    
Tune-In: NASCAR On Television, Week of April 14-April 18

Monday, April 14
4 p.m., NASCAR’s The List: Greatest Finishes re-air, NBC Sports Network
4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1
4:30 p.m., NASCAR’s The List: Legendary Drivers re-air, NBC Sports Network
5 p.m., NASCAR America, NBC Sports Network
6:30 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub re-air, FOX Sports 2
2:30 a.m. (Tues.), NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Tuesday, April 15
4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1
6 p.m., NASCAR America, NBC Sports Network
6:30 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub re-air, FOX Sports 2
2:30 a.m. (Wed.), NASCAR Now, ESPN2
3 a.m. (Wed.), NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at
Darlington re-air, FOX Sports 1

Wednesday, April 16                                                          
4:30 p.m., NASCAR’s The List: Memorable Moments re-air, NBC Sports Network
6 p.m., NASCAR America, NBC Sports Network
Thursday, April 17
4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub, FOX Sports 1
5 p.m., NASCAR America, NBC Sports Network
6:30 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub re-air, FOX Sports 2
2 a.m. (Fri.), NASCAR Now, ESPN2

Friday, April 18                                                  
4 p.m., NASCAR Race Hub Special, FOX Sports 1
2 a.m. (Sat.), NASCAR Now, ESPN2


THIS WEEK 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cool-Down Lap Darlington

Cool-Down Lap

Darlington is still a magical place for NASCAR racing

Apr. 13, 2014

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

DARLINGTON, S.C.—By now, everyone has heard the rumors.

When I left Darlington Raceway after Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, I turned to a friend who has worked at the track for years and said what I always say:

“See you next year.”

The response I got was decidedly different this time.

“I hope so,” he said.

In the rumor mill, Darlington’s place on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule is tenuous. That being the case, it was gratifying to sit in on a Saturday noon press conference at the venerable speedway, where track president Chip Wile and NASCAR president Mike Helton talked about plans for the 2015 event.

No, Darlington doesn’t have a specific date for next year’s race. That won’t be set until NASCAR completes its sanctioning agreements with Sprint Cup tracks later this year. But the presence of father and son Bill and Chase Elliott on the dais—and as the public face of promotion for the 2015 Southern 500—is a clear indication that Darlington’s fate has not been sealed, whatever the rumor-mongers may say.

There will be a Southern 500 next year. Beyond that, as Helton told Motorsport.com on Saturday, the speedway must remain “relevant” as a competitive venue and as a destination.

It’s hard to imagine Darlington not being relevant to NASCAR racing. There is no race track more steeped in the history of the sport, and that’s what Wile hopes to emphasize as Darlington moves into the future by embracing its past.

Southern 500 winner Kevin Harvick paid homage to the “Lady in Black” in his post-race press conference.
“This is one of those places that I circle every year I come to Darlington, and most all of us know the history of this particular race track and what it means to our sport,” said Harvick, who had just won his first race at the track. “To come here each year and know that now you only have one shot, but to win the Southern 500--and you look at the names and pictures on that trophy that they have out there--is something that's pretty phenomenal to be a part of.

“It's the last crown jewel race I guess you could say that I wanted to [win]; I told (crew chief Rodney Childers) before the year even started, ‘If we're only going to win once this year, let's win at Darlington,’ because this is just the place that you want to race, and I love racing here.”

One night earlier, Darlington added another significant chapter to its legacy. At a track where his father had won five Sprint Cup races, 18-year-old Chase Elliott became the youngest winner in speedway history when he outran veterans Harvick, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano and fellow young gun Kyle Larson to take the checkered flag in Friday night’s Nationwide Series event.

Even as the Sprint Cup race started on Saturday night, Darlington aficionados were still talking about the battle for second place between Elliott and Larson two-thirds of the way through the race.

Darlington is the Wrigley Field of stock car racing. But even a cathedral of the magnitude of Wrigley Field faced the prospect of losing its Major League Baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, before City of Chicago officials approved a renovation to the ballpark estimated at $500 million.

That should be a stark reminder to all of us that nothing is constant and very little is sacred in the realm of commercial sport.

Nevertheless, I leave Darlington this year with hope—even optimism. Despite a date change from May to April this year, Darlington drew a strong crowd on a perfect spring day in the South Carolina sandhills.

“I’m very confident that we’ll be racing here in 2015,” said Wile, who has worked with speedway owner International Speedway Corporation to develop five- and 10-year master plans for the facility. “I’m confident that we’ll be racing here for a long time. ...

“I think in 2015 you’ll see a lot of things that we roll out through the next 12 months that will cement our position in the sport.”

Let’s hope Wile is right, and that Darlington not only embraces its history but continues to make it.