Summertime’s The Right Time For ‘Smoke’
Ah, summer. Heat, steamy humidity, slick asphalt and yes, it’s Tony Stewart time. That’s one way to explain why the three-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion won his fourth Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola on July 7. Or that 24 of Smoke’s 47 career wins have come between June 1 and the close of NASCAR’s regular season in early September at Richmond International Raceway.
Summertime’s The Right Time For ‘Smoke’
Ah, summer. Heat, steamy humidity, slick asphalt and yes, it’s Tony Stewart time.
That’s one way to explain why the three-time and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion won his fourth Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola on July 7. Or that 24 of Smoke’s 47 career wins have come between June 1 and the close of NASCAR’s regular season in early September at Richmond International Raceway.
Put another way, Stewart has the competition where he wants it.
His third win of the 2012 season would give him the No. 1 seed were the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ to start this week. The win total matches that of Brad Keselowski, giving each nine Chase bonus points although Stewart has the tiebreaker on second-place finishes.
And if that isn’t enough, Stewart, teammate Ryan Newman and Stewart-Haas Racing returns Sunday to a track where they stampeded their rivals, to say the least.
- Newman won the Coors Light Pole for the LENOX Tools 301 then finished where he started with Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet running second. He won the pole again – his most recent, No. 49 – when the series returned in September for race No. 2 of the Chase. Newman looks to become the ninth driver to 50 career NSCS poles.
- Stewart threw down the gauntlet, winning NHMS’ fall race, the first of a record five victories during the Chase that gave him his third title.
- Stewart and Newman each have won three times at the 1.058-mile track outside Loudon, N.H., Newman has six poles and is the only driver to have won twice from a No. 1 start.
Ironically, Stewart failed to win at all last summer. Even he was mystified, suggesting that perhaps he didn’t even belong in the Chase. We saw how that worked out.
Eight tracks remain on the schedule prior to the Sept. 8 cut down to the top 10 in the points standings and two “Wild Card” qualifiers. Stewart has won at all eight with a total of 15 victories.
New Hampshire could be crucial for Newman’s Chase hopes. He finished fifth in Daytona, joining his teammate in the top five for the first time since Las Vegas in early March, a race Stewart also won.
Newman, 15th in the standings, needs every point he can collect – and perhaps a win to go along with his Martinsville victory. He’s 70 points outside the top 10 and locked in a four-way battle for the two “Wild Cards.”
Loudon Could Brighten Burton’s Dim Chase Prospects
Jeff Burton has an interesting take on the old chicken v. egg theory.
“Momentum doesn’t create good runs, good runs create momentum,” Burton said following his second-place finish in last weekend’s Coke Zero 400. Burton’s performance was just his second top five of the season, and first since a fifth-place run in the Daytona 500.
The 45-year-old Virginian is at least partway there. He’s the leading winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with four victories, although the last came in the fall of 2000 driving a Jack Roush-owned Ford.
It’s been a long dry spell for Burton – both at New Hampshire, where he finished 13th and 16th a year ago, as well as in the “W” column. His most recent of 21 wins came in October 2008 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Burton goes to New England 18th in points and a bit of a longshot to make the Chase. He missed last year’s post season after finishing 12th in 2010.
Richard Childress Racing also enters the season’s 19th race with a surprising hole in this year’s resume. RCR is the rare NSCS powerhouse without a victory. Kevin Harvick, who finished third in points the past two seasons, has been all over the board with seconds at Phoenix and Dover, offset by six finishes outside the top 15.
Harvick is sixth in points, 55 ahead of 11th-place Carl Edwards.
The Childress organization has won four times at NHMS, most recently with Clint Bowyer, a double winner, in the fall of 2010. Harvick’s lone win came in 2006. Robby Gordon won in 2001 driving the No. 31 Chevrolet.
Amazingly, Dale Earnhardt, who won six NSCS titles with Childress, failed to win at Loudon in 12 tries. He finished second twice in 1994 and 1997.
NASCAR champions have won a combined 18 times at NHMS. Three won during their title years – Kurt Busch (2004), Tony Stewart (2005, 2011) and Jimmie Johnson (2010) – since the institution of the Chase.
Eight Races Remaining, ‘Wild Card’ Battle A Toss-Up
Deadlock broken. Joey Logano’s fourth-place finish at Daytona, for now, has lifted the Pocono winner into the No. 2 “Wild Card” qualifying berth for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. For now, anyway.
Logano, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne entered the Coke Zero 400 with an identical number of points with Kahne holding the tiebreaker. Post-race it’s Logano by one point over Newman, three points over Kahne. Kyle Busch continues to claim the No. 1 “Wild Card” with a 12th-place points ranking.
There’s no guarantee any of the four will be “Wild Card” winners with eight races remaining before the Chase field is set. There’s also no certainty that a single win will earn a “Wild Card.” Looking ahead, Logano, Newman and Busch have New Hampshire victories. Newman, a three-time winner, is defending last year’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301 title.
Then there’s Jeff Gordon. He has no wins but can be considered a serious “lurker.” Gordon has three Loudon wins and is a four-time winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the July 29 Brickyard 400 follows New Hampshire. Back-to-back wins definitely would stir up the stew.
Defending Brickyard 400 winner Paul Menard, with four top-10 finishes, also must be part of the discussion. He is 13th, nine points behind Busch.
Roush Stable Returns To Second Home
Roush Fenway Racing enjoys more homecomings that just about any team in the NASCAR garage. There’s the Charlotte Motor Speedway “home” race. But all teams, pretty much, can claim that. Then there’s Michigan International Speedway, located near Livonia, Mich. – home to co-owner Jack Roush’s business ventures.
And starting in 2007, the stout stable added New Hampshire Motor Speedway to the list. That’s when Boston Red Sox co-owner John Henry partnered with Roush, immediately transforming RFR into New England’s hometown NASCAR team.
Unfortunately for the team, the home cooking hasn’t translated into wins. Though RFR has seven total wins at NHMS – second-most at NHMS – it has only one since 2004 (Greg Biffle, 2008). However, in the series’ last visit to New Hampshire, RFR placed all four of its cars in the top 10.
A Roush Fenway driver – be it Matt Kenseth or Biffle – has led the points after 17 of the 18 races this season. The only miss: Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin led the points after Phoenix.
So, those two drivers, ranked first and third respectively, aren’t the issue. Last year’s championship runner up – Carl Edwards – is. Edwards has ranked 11th after each of the past five races – and is currently without a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup if the playoffs began today. Currently 31 points behind 10th-place Clint Bowyer, Edwards has two top fives and three top 10s at New Hampshire. His average finish is 13.9 and Driver Rating is 88.0.
Bubble Boy Bowyer Relying On Some ‘Magic’
Currently in 10th place in the points standings, Clint Bowyer is hoping for a strong performance at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — aka the Magic Mile – this weekend to further cement his position in the top 10. The 1.058-mile track is one of only two tracks in the NSCS where he has won multiple times; Talladega Superspeedway is the other.
In 12 trips to the New England track, Bowyer has two wins – most recently in September 2010. In addition, he has five other top-20 finishes at NHMS. The Kansas native has led a total of 474 laps in five different races. In his two victories at the track, he led more than half of the laps in each race (222 and 177).
Another solid showing for Bowyer, who is only one point behind ninth-place Brad Keselowski and 104 points outside of first, would go a long way in securing his spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. His inclusion in this year’s Chase would be his fourth playoff appearance. He last made the Chase in 2010 and finished 10th in the final standings. Bowyer’s best finish was in 2007, when he finished third in the final standings.
Bowyer isn’t the only Michael Waltrip Racing driver having a good season. While Martin Truex Jr. hasn’t posted any wins yet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he has four top-five and nine top-10 finishes in the first 18 races. Truex is currently eighth in the standings, 92 points outside of first.
A week after making history in France, Ben Kennedy is getting back on track in Pennsylvania. The 20-year-old Daytona Beach, Fla., driver — the great-grandson of NASCAR-founder Bill France Sr. — drove to his first NASCAR victory last Saturday in the Michelin 100 at Tour Speedway in France. It was the first NASCAR-sanctioned oval race in Europe, a monumental step for the European-based touring series in its first year under the NASCAR banner. The race was held on temporary .4-mile oval in Tours — located two hours outside Paris. Kennedy will return to his regular action Saturday when the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East visits CNB Raceway Park in Clearfield, Penn. … The NSCS has hit its halfway point, with 12 different winners in the first 18 races. The full-season record is 19. Nine winners from 2011 have yet to win in 2012: Harvick, Gordon, Kurt Busch, Edwards, David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose, Menard, Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne. … Brian Vickers returns to the series this weekend in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. He has two top fives in his previous three 2012 starts. … Juan Pablo Montoya will make his 200th start, the 119th driver to do so. He already has more NSCS starts than any driver born outside the United States.
$100,000 Up For Grabs To Four Drivers In Dash 4 Cash
“Show me the money,” was the famous line from the popular 1996 film Jerry McGuire, and that’s exactly what’s on the minds of four of the top NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers as they battle for the Dash 4 Cash by Nationwide Insurance this weekend.
The four eligible drivers to collect a $100,000 bonus include the top three in NNS points plus a fourth member of the current top 10 in the standings. Elliot Sadler, Austin Dillon and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are joined by Michael Annett, who collected career-best finishes his past two starts.
“It was really cool to qualify for the Dash 4 Cash coming cross the checkered at Daytona,” Dillon said.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway plays host to a race within race as the top finisher of the four wins the $100,000 and eligibility for the next round at Chicagoland Speedway on July 15. The next three points-eligible finishers in New Hampshire also qualify for the following week’s $100,000 face-off. Should the same driver win all four rounds, New Hampshire, Chicago, Indianapolis and Iowa, plus win the Iowa 250 overall, his total winnings will reach $1 million.
Of this week’s four, NASCAR pre-race Loop Data points to Stenhouse as the early favorite. He has the best Driver Rating (95.0), Average Quality Passes (21.5), Laps Led (27) and Average Finish (10.0) at New Hampshire. Standings leader Sadler also led the four eligible drivers in two Loop categories: Average Running Position (11.7) and percentage of Laps in the Top 15 (69.0%).
Star Power: Pastrana, Patrick Are Lighting Up New England
Two of the most popular athletes today, Danica Patrick and Travis Pastrana, are hitting the pavement this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the F.W. Webb 200. While both drivers have mastered their skills along different paths, both have that special “it” factor that fans find undeniable.
At Daytona, Patrick again was on the cusp of becoming NASCAR’s first national series female winner, leading five times for 13 laps before being collected in a late accident. She returns to New Hampshire for her second series start having finished 30th in 2010.
Pastrana is running a part-time schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and in between races he participates in Global Rallycross. He was spotted these past few weeks at the 2012 X-Games. Pastrana will be making his fifth appearance of the season and first since Charlotte in late May. His best finish to date is 17th at Darlington. Pastrana has a single NASCAR K&N Pro Series East start at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, finishing 22nd in 2011.
RCR’s Domestic Dispute: 1 Organization, 2 Teams, 1 Title
When it comes to problems, this one can’t be categorized as worst. But Richard Childress Racing is in the midst of what could be a Class Five, roaring rapids-type ride for a series championship between two teams from the same shop.
Halfway into the season, both the No. 2 team of Elliott Sadler and crew chief Lucas Lambert and the No. 3 team of Austin Dillon and crew chief Danny Stockman Jr. have been stellar. Sixteen races in and the two teams are separated by just eight points, which somehow isn’t surprising considering both are tied for the series’ most top-10 finishes (12).
Sadler has posted two Coors Light poles, two wins (Phoenix, Bristol) and six top fives with a series -eading season-to-date Driver Rating of 106.9. While Sadler’s consistency has been his key to success, teammate Dillon is getting hot during these summer months. Dillon has posted two Coors Light poles, one win (Kentucky) and nine top fives with a season-to-date Driver Rating of 103.3 (third best).
As the season goes on, how will the teams coexist? Will the tension of the series’ championship play a role? Only time will tell. As they head to New Hampshire this weekend, Sadler’s experience might be the slight edge over his teammate’s mid-summer momentum. Sadler has made eight starts at NHMS, posting an average finish of 18.1, while Dillon has only made one start with a finish of 25th.
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
Kyle Busch, NNS all-time wins (51) leader, returns to the series this weekend at NHMS in his own Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 Toyota. Busch has yet to win this season, putting his eight-year NNS streak of at least one win in jeopardy. Busch leads the series at NHMS in wins (three) and pre-race Driver Rating with a 129.0. In addition to Busch, eight drivers will attempt to run double duty this weekend: Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick, Sam Hornish Jr., Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Joe Nemechek, Scott Riggs and Stephen Leicht. … Joe Gibbs Racing has slotted Ryan Truex to drive the No. 18 this weekend. Truex has been impressive in his nine starts for JGR, posting two top fives and six top 10s including his runner-up finish in his last series start at Dover. … Milestone Watch: Justin Allgaier will make his 125th NASCAR Nationwide Series start this weekend at NHMS.
Peters On Top, But Challenge Is To Stay There
Timothy Peters rolls into Iowa Speedway for Saturday night’s American Ethanol 200 as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings leader. His challenge: Stay on top.
Peters and his No. 17 Red Horse Racing team haven’t shown their best stuff at the 0.875-mile oval. He has one top-10 finish, eighth in 2009. Last year he was 11th following a 21st-place run in 2010.
Should Peters slip, three rivals are close enough to pounce. Justin Lofton, who lost the top spot to Peters last month at Kentucky Speedway, and top Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ty Dillon trail by four points. Kentucky winner James Buescher is nine points back in fourth.
Like most NCWTS competitors, Peters got his start on short tracks and welcomes the rough-and-tumble racing they produce.
He calls Iowa Speedway unique – a short track with a superspeedway feel. Racing is frequently side-by-side for multiple laps before a position is decided.
“I’m always a fan of short tracks when I go back. It’s where I started racing and always provides a really good show,” Peters said.
Peters’ teammate, two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck champion Todd Bodine, will be making his 199th series start in a run-up to July 21 at Chicagoland Speedway, where he’ll become the first driver to make 200 starts in each of NASCAR’s three national series.
Iowa Great Place To Continue ThorSport Turnaround
Beware the team with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
That in a nutshell sums up ThorSport Racing and its trio of drivers, Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and Dakoda Armstrong. Call it snake-bit, rookie blues or whatever but none of the three got off to decent starts and have plenty of ground to make up in the 2012 season’s second half.
Sauter got the turnaround rolling last month with a victory at Texas Motor Speedway. Crafton followed with a solid, fourth-place finish off a Keystone Light Pole performance two weeks ago in Kentucky. Armstrong, a Sunoco rookie, finished 13th at Kentucky to match his season-high and has finished on the lead lap in his past two starts.
Crafton will be tough at Iowa, where he is the defending winner. He won a thrilling duel with champion-to-be Austin Dillon, who came within a third of a second from successfully backing up his 2010 Iowa victory – his first in the series.
Sauter’s done everything at Iowa Speedway but win. He’s the only driver to finish among the top five in all three previous races. Sauter was fourth a year ago and second in 2010.
Armstrong made his debut at Iowa Speedway in 2009 and finished 21st. He hails from a farming family in New Castle, Ind., whose 8,000 acres produces the yellow No. 2 corn that eventually is shipped to plants to make ethanol. Sunoco’s gasoline/ethanol fuel blend powers all entries in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as well as in NASCAR’s other national divisions.
Three Iowa Winners Have Little In Common
Iowa Speedway. Three races; three winners; three second-place finishers.
Only one could be considered a runaway, at least in NCWTS terms. Inaugural champion Mike Skinner beat now-NSCS driver Aric Almirola by 1.370 seconds in 2009. Austin Dillon edged Johnny Sauter by 0.635 seconds the next year with Matt Crafton the winner by 0.337 seconds a year ago over Dillon.
There’s no common thread to the three winners. Skinner was 52 years old, a Daytona 500 pole winner and veteran of more than 500 national series races. Dillon was just 20 – and making his 12th NCWTS appearance.
Crafton falls somewhere in between. The 36-year-old Tulare, Calif., native, a NASCAR Camping World Truck “lifer,” is closing in on his 300th start. His Iowa victory was only his second in 11 full seasons in the series.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Ty Dillon won last year’s Iowa Series ARCA event, a race that shares the billing with the American Ethanol 200. He also has a second-place finish in the track’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race. … Natalie Sather, who failed to qualify earlier this year at Martinsville Speedway, will attempt to make her series debut in Iowa. She is a former sprint car and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series late model competitor. … Joe Denette Motorsports and Max Gresham have ended their relationship. The team’s No. 24 Chevrolet ranks 23rd in owner points. Gresham, a Sunoco rookie contender, is 20th in driver standings.
No. 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Team; No. 3 & No. 18 NASCAR Nationwide Series Teams Penalized For Infractions At Daytona International Speedway
NASCAR has issued penalties to three of its race teams as a result of rules infractions committed during last weekend’s events at Daytona International Speedway.
The No. 14 team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing); 12-4J (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the NASCAR Rule Book); and 20-2.1J (unapproved open vent hose inside of the car). The violation occurred during post-qualifying inspection July 6.
As a result, crew chief Steve Addington has been fined $25,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until Aug. 22. Car chief Jeff Meendering has been placed on NASCAR probation until Aug. 22. Driver Tony Stewart and owner Margaret Haas have been penalized with the loss of six championship driver and six championship owner points, respectively.
The No. 3 team in the NASCAR Nationwide Series was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1; 12-4J and 20A-2.1J (unapproved open vent hose inside of the car). This violation occurred during post-qualifying inspection on July 6.
Crew chief Danny Stockman has been fined $10,000 and due to the violation of his probation, has been suspended from NASCAR until July 25. Car chief Robert Strmiska has also been suspended from NASCAR competition until July 25 due to the violation of his probation. This past May 1, both Stockman and Strmiska were placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31, for rules violations committed at Richmond International Raceway.
Driver Austin Dillon and owner Morgan Shepherd have been penalized with the loss of six championship driver and six championship owner points, respectively.
The No. 18 car in the NASCAR Nationwide Series was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1; 12-4J; and 20A-12.8.1(B) (car failed to meet minimum front car heights). This violation occurred during post-race inspection July 6.
Crew chief Adam Stevens has been fined $10,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until Aug. 22. Car chief Christopher Landis has been placed on NASCAR probation until Aug. 22. Owner Joe Gibbs has been penalized with the loss of six championship owner points.
National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel Statement
On July 10, 2012, the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel heard and considered the appeal of the #41 Rick Ware Racing NASCAR Nationwide Series team.
The penalties concern Section 12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing; Section 12-4J: Any determination by NASCAR Officials that Race Equipment used in the Event does not conform to the NASCAR Rules detailed in Section 20-A of the NASCAR Rule Book, or has been approved by NASCAR prior to the Event; Section 20A-12.8.1(B): Cars must be constructed with the front fender height for both right and left front fenders of 30 inches, with the main frame rails
set at six (6) inches in the front and eight (8) inches in the rear above the construction surface. The height of the front of the car will be measured using NASCAR-approved front height gauges. The gauges will contact the front fenders at a designated location at the intersection of the NASCAR C (Front Hood Lateral) template and the hood seam. For inspections prior to competition, the front car heights will be a minimum of 29-5/8 inches and a maximum of 30 inches. For inspections after competition, the minimum front car heights permitted will be 29-1/4 inches, and the maximum front car heights permitted will be 30-1/2 inches: The car failed to meet the minimum front car heights.
This stemmed from a post-race inspection for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2012.
The original penalties assessed were:
· Car Owner (Rick S. Ware): Loss of 6 NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship Car Owner Points;
Crew Chief (George D. Church): $10,000 fine;
· Car Driver (Tim G. Hill): Loss of 6 NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship Driver Points.
The Appellant acknowledged the car failed to meet the minimum front car heights during the post-race inspection per the 2012 rulebook.
Upon hearing the testimony and carefully reviewing the facts, the majority decision of the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel was to uphold the original penalties assessed by NASCAR.
The Appellants have the right under Section 15 of the Rule Book to appeal this decision to the National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer.
- Buddy Parrott
- Dale Pinilis
- Robert Yates
- Ed Bennett – Appellate Administrator and non-voting member
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
- The Race: LENOX Industrial Tools 301
- The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
- The Date: Sunday, July 15
- The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)
- TV: TNT, 12 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 318.46 miles (301 laps)
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
- The Race: F.W. Webb 200
- The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, July 14
- The Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 2:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 211.6 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
- The Race: American Ethanol 200
- The Place: Iowa Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, July 14
- The Time: 8:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, 8 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 175 miles (200 laps)