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Saturday, March 28, 2015

DiBenedetto, Stewart not happy with each other after practice

DiBenedetto, Stewart not happy with each other after practice: Matt DiBenedetto was just looking for an opening on the track during practice - that's when he aroused the wrath of #14-Tony Stewart on Friday. On the track the three-time champion flipped off the rookie and yelled at him. Off the track when the driver of the #83 BK Racing Toyota tried to explain what happened, DiBenedetto's attempt was futile. "I went up to him to apologize and explain the situation to him," DiBenedetto told Motorsport.com. "I'm not an idiot. I wouldn't just pull in front of him. I told him the 19 pulled out in front of me on the racetrack. That checked up all of my momentum and by that time - things happen so fast around here - that when I got to Turn 3, he was getting a few car lengths of me so I just pulled over to let him go. He didn't understand. I tried to tell him what happened, but he just told me I just needed to get out of the way and whatever. He really just didn't know what to say. He's just an arrogant prick," DiBenedetto said. "He has anger issues and needs to focus on driving the race car other than dedicating the whole practice session to blocking somebody when it wasn't something I did intentionally. I don't care who he is, he's barking up the wrong tree."(Motorsport)(3-28-2015)

Saturday Martinsville Notebook

Saturday Martinsville Notebook

Notebook items
·        Chase Elliott to start first NASCAR Sprint Cup race on 'weird weekend'
·        A case of Deja blue
·        Short strokes

Mar. 28, 2015

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

Chase Elliott to start first NASCAR Sprint Cup race on 'weird weekend'

MARTINSVILLE, Va.—There's nothing unusual about Chase Elliott being at a race track.

The reigning NASCAR XFINITY Series champion is a full-time racer at age 19.

But coming to the track to start a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday-now that's another matter.

For Elliott, Sundays at the track have always meant watching his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, but that will change this Sunday when Chase Elliott makes his first start in NASCAR’s top division in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).

“This is definitely special,” Elliott said Friday night after qualifying 27th for his first Cup start. “For me, this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Going to the race track and watching my dad running these races for a number of years, it’s very odd to be showing up here and not be coming to watch him. So, this is definitely a weird-feeling weekend, more than anything else right now.

“It’s definitely exciting. But at the same time, you don’t want to forget you’re still racing. You’re still in a seat and you’re still trying to achieve the same thing. So, you don’t want to lose sight of what your goals are, no matter what you’re driving. I think you’re going to fight some of the same things you fight in these cars and anything else you drive on asphalt. Hopefully we can try to manage it and have a solid day.”

With five Sprint Cup races on his agenda in 2015, as he prepares to succeed four-time premier series champion Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next year, Elliott hopes to learn as much as he can from his limited Cup schedule this season.

“Obviously, we want to go as fast as we can for as long as possible,” Elliott said. “We want to do the best we can and make the most of these races and try to just gain as much knowledge as possible.

“To have an opportunity to go run five races doesn’t seem like a lot, but at the end of the day it really is, if you can get in all five, and make those laps. You’ve got to take it one at a time, first off. You just want to put together 500 solid laps on Sunday and try to run all the laps and hope we can have a good day.”

A CASE OF DEJA BLUE

When Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford pulled out of the garage for Saturday’s Sprint Cup Series practice at Martinsville, it recalled the halcyon days of Petty Enterprises when team owner Richard Petty won 15 Cup races at the .526-mile short track.

Now, Aric Almirola is carrying the striking Petty blue and red color of the STP-sponsored car, and he’s fully aware of the history that accompanies him.

“They’ve had a lot of success here, and any time you come here with the 43 car is special, but to come here with the STP colors on the car is that much more special with that iconic paint scheme,” Almirola said Saturday morning before practice for Sunday’s STP 500. “It’s such a neat weekend for us to have STP sponsoring the race and seeing how involved they are and how they’re activating at the race track and all they’re doing. 

“It’s just a lot of fun to be a part of it. Any time you get to drive that STP 43 car it’s cool to see the reaction of all the fans and all the crew members, because you’ve got to think that most of the crew members and guys working in the garage, they’re all guys that grew up watching the sport, too. So they’ll walk up and are like, ‘Man, that’s awesome. That car looks so cool,’ and everybody loves it when that car shows up.”

SHORT STROKES

Martinsville ace Denny Hamlin paced Saturday’s first practice session with a lap at 97.113 mph, and defending STP 500 winner Kurt Busch topped Happy Hour at 97.098 mph…

Eight-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson slowed during the first practice, thinking he might have lost a cylinder. But the crew diagnosed and fixed an electrical issue, and Johnson was soon back up to speed, posting the second fastest time in the session at 96.988 mph…

A day before the actual race, drivers already were showing their short-track tempers. Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick gave Jamie McMurray’s Chevrolet a tap during Happy Hour, upset with what he considered continued blocking. Austin Dillon and Danica Patrick battled for five straight laps, trading some paint in the process.

If Saturday’s practices are any indication, Sunday’s race could have some spectacular fireworks.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Logano on pole at Martinsville; Elliott to make NASCAR Sprint Cup debut

Logano on pole at Martinsville; Elliott to make NASCAR Sprint Cup debut

Mar. 27, 2015

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

MARTINSVILLE, Va.—For last year's spring race at Martinsville Speedway, Joey Logano set a track record during qualifying but didn't win the pole.

On Friday at the paper-clip-shaped track, Logano reversed the outcome. Though he failed to match his record of 100.201 mph, he saved his best lap for the final round of knockout qualifying in claiming the top starting spot for Sunday's STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).

Trailing Logano in the 27th starting position will be Chase Elliott, the heir apparent to Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, who qualified for his first Cup race, one of five starts he plans to make this year.

Logano covered the .526-mile distance in 19.232 seconds (98.461 mph) to win the 10th Coors Light Pole Award of his career, his second of the season and his first at Martinsville. Logano’s Team Penske Ford edged the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman (98.258 mph) for the right to lead the field to the green flag in the sixth Sprint Cup race of the year.

Martin Truex Jr., who has a string of five straight top 10s to start the season, qualified third at 98.048 mph, followed by Gordon (97.613 mph) and Jimmie Johnson (97.583 mph).

Logano went out late in the second round and put just two laps on his tires in posting the eighth fastest time and advancing to the final round. Keeping laps off his tires was the factor Logano thought was decisive in winning the pole.

“I’m pretty sure we ran less laps than anybody going into the third round,” said Logano, who ran five laps combined in the first two rounds, a number matched by Gordon. “That was the advantage that we had going for us, that we were able to see how many cars had run and know what we had to run to get into the next round.

“So in the second round, all we had to make was two laps, and we felt pretty confident about where we were. Keeping those laps off the tires was good.”

As well as Logano has run in Martinsville time trials in the past, he was elated to add a pole to his list of accomplishments.

“It feels great to finally get the pole here. We’ve been close so many times,” he said. “Throughout my career, I feel like we’ve always qualified well here but I’ve never been able to get a pole. I caught pretty much of a hard time about getting the track record here but not getting the pole here, so to have a pole to back it up feels great.”

If Logano was delighted, Elliott was relieved that he had made the field—and that rain that had been forecast for the area failed to materialize in the afternoon.

“That was goal number one, to get in,” Elliott said. “So it’s definitely a big relief for us. We’re excited. It’s weird being excited about qualifying, wherever we qualified, 27th, but we’re in the show, our first Sprint Cup Series race with (sponsor) NAPA on board. We’re excited for Sunday.”

Brendan Gaughan and Ron Hornaday Jr. failed to make the 43-car field.

Friday Martinsville Notebook

Friday Martinsville Notebook

Notebook items
·        NASCAR 'reminds' teams that altering tires is off-limits
·        Historic win for Earnhardt
·        Too early to count points

March 27, 2015

Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

NASCAR 'reminds' teams that altering tires is off-limits

MARTINSVILLE, Va.—Alan Gustafson, Jeff Gordon's crew chief, termed it a "reminder."

But those who may have engaged in alleged unapproved "bleeding" of air pressure from their racing tires—the source of prevalent rumors in the garage—would be well-advised to interpret it as a stern warning.

When NASCAR assembled Sprint Cup Series crew chiefs for a Friday morning meeting at Martinsville Speedway, site of Sunday’s STP 500 (1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1), one of the topics covered was to "remind" teams of the three primary taboos of NASCAR racing:

·        Don't alter the engines in a manner outside the rule book.

·        Don't do anything to alter the fuel provided by Sunoco.

·        Don't make any unapproved alterations or treatments to the tires provided by Goodyear.

Tires, in particular, have been the center of attention since NASCAR made what it termed a routine “audit” of tires two weeks ago at Phoenix International Raceway. There, the audit included the tires of race winner Kevin Harvick and Team Penske driver Joey Logano.

NASCAR found nothing amiss after inspecting tires from both cars.

Last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, NASCAR took tires from the cars of Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Harvick and Kurt Busch, the second- and third-place finishers, and from the cars of Richard Childress Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Paul Menard, who ran fourth and fifth, respectively.

NASCAR also had the tires from the race-winning car of Brad Keselowski, Logano’s running mate at Team Penske.

NASCAR confirmed earlier this week that it had sent some of the tires from ACS to an independent laboratory for additional inspection and evaluation and is still waiting for those results.

If irregularities are found, teams could still be penalized for infractions at Fontana, with violations warranting as much as a P5 penalty, meaning hefty fines and suspensions. 

The consensus in the garage is that certain teams have been drilling minute holes in the tires to bleed off air pressure as it builds throughout a tire run. By maintaining consistent air pressure, it’s easier to maintain the balance of the car.

“When it gets to this level and when you’re hearing about it and I’m hearing about it and they are talking about things in meetings with crew chiefs, that tells me that it’s being done,” Jeff Gordon told reporters on Friday at Martinsville. “It’s just not clear on how it’s being done.”

Gustafson acknowledged that tires have become the hot-button topic in the garage.

“In my experience, there is a lot of smoke around that,” Gustafson said. “There is a lot of talk, there is a lot of dialogue and there are a lot of rumors in the garage. Yeah, I think it is obvious that some people think something is going on, and is NASCAR reacting to that? 

Or do they feel uncomfortable with what is going on? 

“I don’t know that answer. But I do think that it’s something that is on the forefront of a lot of people minds. Obviously, NASCAR is trying to make sure that we are all on level playing field and if anybody is violating that they will pay the price, which they reminded us this morning is very stiff. That’s all I know. Anything beyond that is speculation, besides the fact it’s a hot topic.”

Gordon is an advocate of incorporating bleeders into the Sprint Cup racing tires, similar to the practice routinely seen at short tracks.

“I’ve been saying for years that we need bleeder valves,” Gordon said. “We just do. I came from sprint cars where they’re built into the wheel. You set them. They may not be advanced enough for what we need in a Cup car and Cup tire, but it just makes sense.”

With respect to bleeding tires outside the rule book, Gordon was adamant that his Hendrick Motorsports team did not engage in the practice.

“I’ve heard a lot of things with valve caps and poking holes in tires for years,” Gordon said. “But I’ve never seen it done. I’ve never had proof that it was done. So it’s very interesting to me that NASCAR is investigating this further.

“I look forward to seeing what comes out of it. To me, if they find a way to stop that—if it’s really going on—I get excited about our chances, because I know we’re not doing it, so it will close the gap for us to whoever may be doing it.”

HISTORIC WIN FOR EARNHARDT

No one could fail to notice the depth of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s elation after he took the checkered flag in last fall’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville.

Earnhardt told reporters on Friday at the legendary short track why the victory meant so much to him.

“It’s a real historic race track,” Earnhardt explained. “It was one of the race tracks that I always could come to even when we were in school, it being such a short trip from home. We always did get to go to this race. 

“So it is one of the few tracks that I always got to go to even as a young kid. You could get right up on the action, man, right against the fence down there in the corner and see the guys coming through there in practice. And you could see the balance of the cars and what they were dealing with. 

“It’s just a fun place to be at even as a kid. I don’t know, man, just been coming here a long time and I always wanted to win. That (grandfather) clock makes it even more special and more desirable, I guess, because of the uniqueness of that trophy.”

TOO EARLY TO COUNT POINTS

Two races into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, Tyler Reddick sits atop the standings, but the 19-year-old California driver isn’t paying attention to points—unless someone else happens to mention it.

“I know just by hearing it here and there when I’m on the radio or getting interviewed, but otherwise I haven’t even glanced at it,” said Reddick, who won the season opener at Daytona and followed with a fifth-place run at Atlanta in the No. 19 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford. “It’s not really in our minds at all. We just want to look ahead at the next race, which is Martinsville, and trying to get the best run possible we can there. 

“Again, we just want to get the best finishes we can. We would love to run in the top five and we’re shooting for the win, but that’s not even a concern right now. We’re two races in.”

After a three-week hiatus, the Truck Series resumes Saturday with the Kroger 250 at Martinsville (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).