CHASE RACE

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Weekend Preview Confident Gordon marches on to Martinsville

Weekend Preview

Confident Gordon marches on to Martinsville

Oct. 23, 2014

Staff Report
NASCAR Wire Service

Claiming his last couple laps at Talladega were the most nerve-racking of his life, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon survived the unpredictable Alabama track to move on to the eight-driver Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and continue his drive for five titles.

“It goes to show just how intense this is and how much this format has changed your mindset,” said Gordon, a 23-year NSCS veteran with 757 starts to his credit. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous through a race weekend than this past weekend. I’m kind of glad we experienced that. I’m glad we survived it.”

This weekend, the 43-year-old travels to a more welcoming site in the hunt for his elusive fifth title – Martinsville Speedway. Gordon, along with the other seven remaining Chase contenders – Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin - will be on equal ground as their points were reset to 4,000 following Talladega. A first-place finish in any of the next three races would automatically advance a member of the Eliminator 8 to the Championship Round race at Homestead.

Piloting the No. 24 AARP Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, Gordon will go for his ninth victory at the .526-mile oval in Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 (1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). He currently ranks tied with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for its wins lead among active drivers.

“My goal this whole year when I knew we had fast race cars and a shot at the championship was to get through this last (Contender) Round and to make it through to this (Eliminator) Round,” Gordon said. “This to me is where we’re going to shine. There’s such a very realistic chance for us to not only win a couple of these races coming up, but seriously get ourselves to Homestead with a real shot at winning this thing.”

At Martinsville, Gordon will have to contend with fellow championship-qualifying driver and track ace Hamlin. The No. 11 FedEx Toyota pilot boasts four wins at the Virginia track and claims the third-best average running position (9.0) and driver rating (109.6) there. He stated during Eliminator Media Day he would pick either Martinsville or Homestead to run “one race, heads-up for the championship.”

“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Hamlin said. “As average as our team has been in general this year, when we go into a short track where horsepower doesn’t matter, aero doesn’t matter – and it’s about the driver and mechanical setups – I feel like those are our strong suits.”

Wallace Jr. goes for fall repeat at Martinsville as he pays homage to Wendell Scott

Last season at Martinsville, Darrell Wallace Jr. made history.

The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver led the final 50 laps of the Kroger 200 all the way to the finish at the .526-mile oval to become the second African-American driver to win a NASCAR national series race. His triumph occurred nearly 50 years after Wendell Scott became the first African-American victor of a NASCAR national series race at Jacksonville Speedway on Dec. 1, 1963.

Ironically, Martinsville is located about 30 miles east of Danville, Virginia – the late Scott’s hometown.

“This (win) means everything,” a teary-eyed Wallace said after the race. “This is an emotional win for me, especially to do it in Wendell Scott’s backyard. I love coming here to Martinsville. It’s always good to me. It finally paid off.” 

Wallace will attempt to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ fall race at Martinsville again on Saturday in the Kroger 200 (1:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1). He finished second in the March event at “The Paperclip” after winning the pole.

For the race weekend, Wallace has decided to honor Scott and his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Wallace will pay tribute to Scott at Martinsville by temporarily changing his red, white and black No. 54 Toyota Tundra to the No. 34 Toyota Tundra with a throwback blue and white paint scheme, reminiscent of the No. 34 car Scott drove. He will also sport a retro fire suit.

"I’m really excited to run the No. 34 Toyota Tundra this weekend at Martinsville to honor Wendell Scott’s Hall of Fame induction, as well as honor the entire Scott family,” Wallace said. “Martinsville is a track I have run well on and will always be special to me since I got my first win there last year.”

Championship implications are on the line for Wallace, who moved up to third in the standings after a ninth-place showing at Talladega. He trails series leader Matt Crafton by 28 points with four races left in the season.

The 21-year-old feels ready to further reduce his standings deficit on Saturday.

“Anytime you mention Martinsville, I get excited,” Wallace said. “Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) and the guys have worked really hard to give me the best Toyota Tundra, and I know if we unload with the same speed we have the last few races, we will be just fine. It’s time to get us another win and another Grandfather clock.”

Road Map to Glory: Martinsville, Homestead squarely in Hamlin's wheelhouse

Road Map to Glory: Martinsville, Homestead squarely in Hamlin's wheelhouse

Oct. 23, 2014

By Joe Menzer
NASCAR Wire Service

It may seem strong talk from a driver who has only one win this season – but now that he has advanced to the Eliminator 8 Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Denny Hamlin said he figures his chances of winning it all are as good as anyone’s.

“I believe we have all the tools necessary,” Hamlin said of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota team Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where the eight drivers remaining in the hunt for the 2014 championship gathered to speak with the media.

Not only that, but Hamlin likes where the Sprint Cup Series is headed for the three races of the Eliminator Round. He owns a total of seven career wins at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, and would need to add only one more to secure advancement into the final winner-take-all championship race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he has won twice. That includes his win there in last year’s final race.

Of the seven career victories he owns at the next three venues, five have come at .526-mile Martinsville Speedway. Hamlin’s average finish in 17 career starts at the track is 8.8 – second only to Jeff Gordon’s career average finish of 7.0 among the drivers left in this Chase.

“There is no reason we can’t be as competitive as these seven guys we’re racing against over these last four races,” said Hamlin, whose lone victory so far this season came at Talladega in the spring. “And truth be told, if you asked me where I would like to run one race, heads-up for the championship, I would pick either Martinsville or Homestead.

“I almost would pick Homestead, because we’ve had a lot of success there over the last few years. No one saw us coming there last year. We had been running 15th every week, and then we went out and won Homestead. It’s hard to pinpoint favorites and underdogs at this point, because there are so many variables. Plus we go to two of these short tracks (including the one-mile venue at Phoenix), where speed is not that big of a factor.”

Matching the speed of the Team Penske Fords and the Chevrolets fielded by Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing at the bigger tracks has been a problem for Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates much of this season. Hamlin said he realizes that may come into play at 1.5-mile Homestead – but again, that’s a track he likes and has performed well on in the past, and he just wants to make it there still alive in the Chase.

Earning a sixth career win at Martinsville this Sunday would do the trick. Despite finishing a disappointing – and uncharacteristic – 19th there in the spring race after he qualified second, Hamlin said he is very confident.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Hamlin said. “As average as our team has been in general this year, when we go into a short track where horsepower doesn’t matter, aero doesn’t matter – and it’s about the driver and mechanical setups – I feel like those are our strong suits.

“As bad as we ran there in the spring, you can’t compare it to the fall. There was no practice in the spring. We went to a race track and tested for Martinsville a week after the spring race – for this race right here. I think I’ve got three or four true days testing on a race track just for this Martinsville and trying to perform well in this particular race, knowing this is a great shot for us. If we can win here, we’ll get that shot at Homestead that I feel ultra-confident in.”

Hamlin said JGR found a track in Sandusky, Ohio, that resembles Martinsville – and since it’s a non-NASCAR-sanctioned track, they could test there as much as they wanted this season. Next season, NASCAR is doing away with testing at all tracks for individual teams.

“Normally I wouldn’t give that information away, but there’s no more testing now,” Hamlin said.     He knows he almost didn’t make it this far in the Chase. He spent most of last Sunday’s Talladega race riding around toward the back, trying to avoid trouble. He narrowly did so and then still found himself in jeopardy of being one of the four drivers eliminated when Brad Keselowski, who needed to win to advance, did just that.

In the end, Hamlin’s 18th-place finish was good enough to put him in the next round with seven points to spare.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

NASCAR XFINITY Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Updates In 2015

NASCAR XFINITY Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
To Incorporate Updates In 2015
32-Truck Maximum Starting Field, New Qualifying Rule Among Competition Changes
 
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 22, 2014) – NASCAR today announced three key enhancements in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the 2015 season.

The updates include:

·         Beginning next season, the qualifying rule for the NASCAR XFINITY Series (currently the NASCAR Nationwide Series) and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will resemble that of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and will emphasize speed.
 
·         The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series maximum starting field will be set at 32 trucks.

·         The drivers’ last name will be featured on the back window of each series’ cars and trucks, helping fans to better identify the drivers.

“Our mission of providing the best on-track product possible is always among our top objectives,” said Robin Pemberton, senior vice president of competition and racing development. “We’re confident in the direction these changes will take these series.”

2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Qualifying Procedure

Next season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, cars starting in positions 1-33 will be determined by their fastest single lap during qualifying in descending order with the fastest qualifier starting first. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will follow the same procedure for positions 1-27.

In the XFINITY Series, the next six positions will first be assigned to the highest ranking cars in owner points that have attempted all of the races, have not already earned a starting position through qualifying and have entered the event by the posted entry deadline. The final starting position will be awarded to the most recent eligible past champion driver. If there is no eligible past champion driver, then a seventh car will make the field based upon owner points.

In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the next four positions will first be assigned to the highest ranking trucks in owner points that have attempted all of the races, have not already earned a starting position through qualifying and have entered the event by the posted entry deadline. The final starting position will be awarded to the most recent eligible past champion driver. If there is no eligible past champion driver, then a fifth truck will make the field based upon owner points.

Prior to this enhancement, the top 30 cars and top 25 trucks in owner points in each series, respectively, were guaranteed a starting spot in each of those series’ events. Starting next year, a maximum of seven cars and five trucks will be locked into a given NASCAR XFINITY Series or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, respectively.

If a qualifying session is cancelled because of inclement weather, each series’ field will be set per the rule book with starting lineups determined by practice speeds.

Maximum Field Set At 32 Trucks For NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

As NASCAR continues to encourage and reward hard racing, help solidify and build the ownership base, add even more drama and intrigue to the race weekend and most importantly, provide fans the best competition possible, the maximum starting field for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be set at 32 trucks starting in 2015, as opposed to the 36-truck field in previous years.

A maximum NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starting field continues to stand at 43 cars while the NASCAR XFINITY Series will remain at 40.

Drivers’ Last Names On Rear Window
This new design element is part of the implementation of NASCAR’s Industry Action Plan, specifically in the area of Driver Star Power. This enhancement will feature the drivers’ last name displayed on the upper rear window of cars and trucks, helping fans more easily identify the drivers. The window treatment will not affect the on-track competition and placing it on the back window allows for both series sponsors – XFINITY (starting in 2015) and Camping World – to continue to maintain placement on the front windshield.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

NASCAR NOTEBOOK

Notebook Items:
·         Keselowski: It’s racing, not a popularity contest
·         Newman not penalized
·         Are issues between Logano and Patrick resolved?

Keselowski: It’s racing, not a popularity contest

Oct. 21, 2014

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—If his racing career boiled down to a choice between success and popularity, Brad Keselowski would choose success every time.

But that doesn’t mean the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion doesn’t want fans and fellow drivers to like him.

“I want to be able to win races and win championships, and that’s the priority in my life and my number one goal,” Keselowski said Tuesday afternoon during a media day gathering at the NASCAR Hall of Fame featuring the eight drivers who advanced to the Chase’s Eliminator Round on Sunday at Talladega. “To do that, sometimes with this current setting, you’re going to have to ruffle some feathers, and not everybody’s going to like you, whether that’s teams, drivers or fans. I’m comfortable with that, or as comfortable as you can be.”

That doesn’t mean that Keselowski is oblivious to boos and catcalls at driver introductions. At Talladega, a week after run-ins on the track and in the garage with Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin at Charlotte, Keselowski heard more than his share.

“They don’t feel good, but over time, I’ve grown OK with it, so it just becomes part of it,” Keselowski said. “I’m happy that they’re making noise. What hurts most is when I went out there, and nobody made noise.

“That’s when you don’t even feel relevant. In some ways it’s fuel for the fire to race even harder and continue the path that I’m on, because I know that will turn over time.”

Perhaps no driver in the history of the sport inspired such strong emotions on both sides of the equation as did the late Dale Earnhardt. On the strength of his season-saving victory at Talladega on Sunday, Keselowski has evoked comparisons in a number of quarters to the seven-time series champion.

“There’s only one of those,” Keselowski demurred when asked about similarities to Earnhardt. “I would say that racing in some ways is like music, that you can be influenced as a band by another band, and certainly there are some influences there—but I’m not that band.

“It’s flattering, with all the success that he had, but I’m not that band. I’m just trying to do things my own way, the best way I know how.”

SIGH OF RELIEF FOR NEWMAN

Ryan Newman said he didn’t lose sleep over the possibility of being penalized for a ride-height violation at Talladega on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean the driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet wasn’t worried.

In post-race inspection, NASCAR deemed Newman’s fifth-place car was roughly an eighth of an inch too low in the rear on both sides. NASCAR took the No. 31 Chevrolet to its Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, where officials determined the infraction had resulted from race damage and therefore would incur no penalty.

Newman believes the damage occurred with two laps left in the race.

“I think it was getting slammed from behind on the last restart,” he said. “I’m getting going, and I can’t remember… I spent as much time looking in the mirror as I did out the windshield the last couple of laps, but I think it was the 20 (Matt Kenseth) that drove me really hard.

“It actually wrinkled the rear quarter panels, which shows that the body’s moved and the rear bumper was knocked in. I never looked at the car after the race. I didn’t expect there to be any issues, so I didn’t analyze exactly what happened.”

When Newman learned his car was too low, however, he was understandably concerned.

“I didn’t lose any sleep over it—don’t get me wrong,” Newman said. “But I was concerned about it, mostly from the fact of, if for instance we don’t make it to the next championship round, I want those points.

“I want to be the guy that can say he finished fifth because of our average, not because of our penalty.”

ARE ISSUES BETWEEN LOGANO AND PATRICK RESOLVED?

On Oct. 11 at Charlotte, contact from Joey Logano’s Ford turned the No. 10 Chevrolet of Danica Patrick and ruined her night.

Patrick’s immediate instinct was to get revenge, but she realized that wrecking Logano at Charlotte would have no impact on his run for the championship since Logano had won on the previous weekend at Kansas and was guaranteed a spot in the Chase’s Eliminator Round.

Martinsville, site of Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500, is another matter. With points reset, and with the remaining eight Chase drivers entering the race on equal footing, revenge could be devastating.

That’s why Logano has taken measures to ensure Martinsville won’t become a payback track.

“We’ve actually talked about it since then, and I feel like we’ve come to a good conclusion of what happened there,” Logano said. “That’s in the past. That’s in the mirror, and we’ll move forward.”

From Logano’s point of view, the hatchet is buried, but the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford still has to hope that Patrick doesn’t decide to bury it in his back.