Gordon goes from chase purgatory to ‘Wild Card’ potential
Transfer the word “luckless” from Gordon to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. Johnson’s dominant day at the “Tricky Triangle” ended in the Turn 1 spin that literally opened the door for the trailing Gordon, who ended a 31-race winless streak with his 86th career victory.
Luck notwithstanding, results are the only things that count.
With his post-season hopes fading rapidly, Gordon bypassed three “wild card” rivals and would join HMS teammate Kasey Kahne were the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ field be set today.
Gordon can identify with Johnson. He’s also had fast cars – and nothing to show for it due to flat tires, bizarre mechanical failures and other issues outside the driver’s control. The last seven races, however, have seen something of a renaissance. Gordon still ranked outside the top 20 – and ineligible for a “wild card” – following June’s Pocono race.
He’s now 13th in the standings, 68 points out of the top 10. While he’s scored the same number of points (611) as one-time winner Ryan Newman, Gordon holds the best-finish tie-breaker (two fifths to Newman’s one). Gordon also became Hendrick’ fourth winner of the season marking the first time since 2007 each of the team’s drivers posted at least one victory.
Where there’s a winner, there’s a loser. And Kyle Busch is that guy.
Busch provisionally held the second “wild card” but tumbled from 11th to 15th place, two points positions ahead of Joey Logano, June’s Pocono winner.
It has been an uncharacteristic season for Busch, who hasn’t won fewer than three times in each of the past four seasons since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008. Busch’s only victory this year came in May at Richmond International Raceway.
Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International offers good and bad news. The top 10 appears virtually set with Kahne 57 points behind 10th-place Clint Bowyer. Bowyer won June’s road race in Sonoma, Calif.
Gordon has four victories at The Glen, the last in 2001. His record since hasn’t been exactly stellar – two top 10s and an average finish of 20.1.
Busch won at The Glen in 2008 and is the most recent to sweep both series road races.
Newman and Logano continue to pursue their first road course wins.
There is hope for several non-winning drivers among or close to the top 20. Marcos Ambrose (18th) and Juan Pablo Montoya (21st) are the 2.45-mile track’s most recent winners although neither could translate those victories into Chase qualification. Montoya won the Coors Light Pole a week ago at Pocono.
Stewart Has Potential To Snatch No. 1 Chase Seeding At The Glen
Three points don’t sound like much until you remember that last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship turned on a tie-breaker. One victory in either the regular season would have made Carl Edwards – not Tony Stewart – the champion.
Stewart had no wins entering post-season competition. Not so this year in which three drivers, Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, have won three times and continue to battle for the No. 1 seed entering the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 16.
Johnson had three more points firmly in his grasp a week ago at Pocono until spinning from the lead on a 91st lap restart, moments before weather ended the Pennsylvania 400.
Now it’s Stewart’s turn. The three-time champion has won five times at Watkins Glen, more than any other driver. Statistically, he’s royalty at the 2.45-mile road course, boasting series-best numbers in Driver Rating (124.8), Fastest Laps Run (105), Laps in the Top 15 (96.7%) and average Green Flag Speed.
Keselowski has little road course experience compared with Stewart and Johnson, a winner at Sonoma in 2010. He finished second at The Glen a year ago, handicapped by a broken ankle that was supposed to sap his endurance on the left and right turn layout.
Under The Radar: Truex Quietly A Championship Contender
For obvious reasons, the word “Junior” has been written somewhere nearing the bazillion mark during this 2012 NASCAR season. Almost all of them preceded by the words “Dale” and “Earnhardt.”
But come the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup season, another Junior may shift into focus: Martin Truex Jr. Quietly, Truex has racked up career numbers, and is assuredly on his way to a Chase berth. Currently fifth in points, Truex owns a 72-point cushion over the Chase cut-off.
Truex already has more top fives (five) and laps led (320) this season than in any full season since 2007, the first and thus far only season he has made the Chase. Almost all his numbers through 21 races far surpass any season of his career through 21 races. For instance:
- His five top fives and 11 tops 10s are career-bests through 21 races. His previous best was four top fives and seven top 10s in 2007.
- His average finish of 11.3 is by far his best through 21 events. Previous best: 16.9 in 2008.
- His average running position of 11.4 tops his 2008 figure of 14.7 as his best through 21 races.
- Truex has never broken the 90-point Driver Rating barrier after 21 races, until now. His Driver Rating of 96.3 tops his previous best of 86.5 in 2007.
But one stat remains noticeably vacant: wins. Truex’s wins drought stands at 188 races since his lone career win at Dover on June 4, 2007. His best finish this season was a runner-up at Kansas. Truex has performed admirably at Watkins Glen, finishing fourth last year and tallying three top-10 finishes in all. In June’s Sonoma race, Truex led 15 laps, only to finish 22nd after a last lap spin.
Road Course 101: Love Them Or Learn Them
Road courses. Some drivers love them – think Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon – and others go because they’re part of the 36-race NSCS schedule.
But no competitor or team takes them for granted.
“Yeah, [it’s] pretty much just another race now,” said Kevin Harvick, winner at The Glen in 2006. “I think everybody knows that you are going to a road course and you’ve got a lot of different aspects from a driver’s standpoint, team standpoint that you have to pay attention to.”
Road racing has been Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Achilles’ heel. He’s started 25 of them and has just two top fives, both at The Glen, to show for his trouble. This season is different. He has tested at least three times on road courses and may finally have found a combination Junior likes.
“We made a lot of changes and a few of them changes in particular revolutionized the way the car drove and the way it felt,” he said. “The stop watch was way faster, so I’m excited.”
There always will be the so-called “road course ringers” – specialists from other motorsports disciplines – who can take a moderately competitive car and turn it into a top-10 or even top-five challenger. Most successful in recent seasons is international and GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series star Boris Said, who’s been tapped to drive Frankie Stoddard’s No. 32 Fas Lane Motorsports Ford this weekend. Said finished third at The Glen in 2005 and will be making his 25th NSCS road racing start. He has seven top-10 finishes and a Coors Light Pole in his series career at The Glen and Sonoma.
Variety Describes Remaining Race To The Chase Venues
Variety is the spice of the remaining five races in the Race to the Chase.
No two tracks – or measurements – are alike as the final field of 12 is set for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s post-season over the coming month.
Up first, the 2.45-mile road course at Watkins Glen International followed by fast Michigan International Speedway. Marcos Ambrose set the track qualifying record of over 203 mph when the series visited the repaved, 2.0-mile layout in June.
Then it’s back to the first of two short tracks. No one is quite sure what to expect, new Bristol, old Bristol or somewhere in between. Reconstruction of the track’s concrete banking followed March’s race.
Atlanta Motor Speedway, a 1.54-mile intermediate track, hosts the series on Labor Day weekend with 0.75-mile Richmond International Raceway closing out the regular season on Sept. 8.
Three of the tracks have seen NSCS competition in 2012. Brad Keselowski won at Bristol. Kyle Busch won at Richmond and current points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. was victorious at Michigan.
Ryan Newman will again attempt to become the ninth driver to win 50 NSCS Coors Light poles. Newman, pole-less at Watkins Glen, has made 10 starts there with an average starting position of 10.0. … Brian Vickers returns to NSCS competition this weekend in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Vickers has posted two top fives in four starts this year, including a fourth-place run at the Sonoma road course. … NASCAR will honor veterans from the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. Post 2674 in Watkins Glen, N.Y., to Watkins Glen International on Sunday through an initiative called “Troops to the Track,” which invites active duty, wounded warriors, veterans and military families to races throughout the year for NASCAR-style VIP experiences.
International Competitors, Former Champs, Open Wheel Stars To Strap In
Seven high-speed turns await the NASCAR Nationwide Series this weekend, but what is most surprising is Watkins Glen International will see its first different winner since 2001 – guaranteed.
None of the subsequent winners including Kurt Busch, last year’s Glen champion, are entered. To become a first-time Glen winner, however, will require vanquishing Canadian Ron Fellows. The international road-racing star is the only previous winner in the field and will be behind the wheel of the JR Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet.
Fellows has made 11 series starts at Watkins Glen, posting two poles, three wins (1998, ’00, ’01), five top fives and eight top 10s.
Fellows is not the only international competitor this weekend. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Miguel Paludo, from Nova Prata, Brazil, is in the Turner Motorsports No. 30 Chevrolet that won earlier this year at Daytona and Road America. Victor Gonzalez Jr., from San Juan, Puerto Rico, is in the RAB Racing No. 99 Toyota this weekend.
Making his much anticipated return to the series, Carl Edwards (2007) is one of five former series champions entered this weekend. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Green and Joe Nemechek are the others.
Edwards’ last series start came nearly nine months ago on Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Edwards has made seven series starts at Watkins Glen, posting two top fives including his third-place finish last season. Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Kasey Kahne are a few other NSCS competitors scheduled to pull double duty this weekend.
Last but not least, Danica Patrick and Sam Hornish Jr. look to pull from their former open wheel days to make for a successful weekend at The Glen. Hornish finished fifth with Patrick 12th at Road America, the series’ first road course race of the season in June.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Returns To The Road
The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to Watkins Glen this Saturday for the second of three road races.
On June 23, Nelson Piquet Jr. won at Road America. The third road race is at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal on Aug. 18. The ZIPPO 200 and the next two races at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve are wild-card races in the championship title hunt and might come down to road-course experience.
Points leader Elliott Sadler has the most experience of the four contenders. He has a combined 31 road-course starts in the top two series with one top-five and nine top-10 finishes.
Last year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 15th at Watkins Glen. In six road-course races, he has one top-10 finish. Stenhouse placed 11th at Road America earlier this year. Sam Hornish Jr. finished fifth at Road America in June. In nine starts between the top two series, he has one top-five and one top-10 finish. Austin Dillon, however, has limited experience on road courses. Saturday’s race will only be his second road-course start. In his first road-course race he finished 18th.
Sadler Cushions Points Lead With Strong Outing In Iowa
After securing his fourth win of the season in the U.S. Cellular 250 Presented by Enlist Weed Control System, Sadler extended his lead to 18 points over Richard Childress Racing teammate Dillon. Sadler also became the first points-eligible driver in the three national series to earn four wins in his “home” division.
Sadler came to Iowa Speedway clutching a one-point lead over Dillon after finishing 15th in the inaugural Indiana 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With a strong finish at Watkins Glen in the ZIPPO 200, Sadler can further pad his lead. In three series starts at Watkins Glen, Sadler’s best finish is 10th (2011). He has one top-10 finish in 12 visits to the road course with the premier series. In the first road-course race of the season, Sadler finished 15th.
Luke Lambert, Sadler’s crew chief, is also competing for his first national series championship.
Reigning series champion Stenhouse is currently third in the standings, 21 points behind Sadler. Hornish, who also will compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, is 34 points off the lead.
Milestones Watch: 2007 series champ Edwards is 24 laps led away from 6,000 laps led. He is fourth on the all-time NNS lap led list with 5,976. … Timmy Hill will attempt to make his 50th NNS start this weekend driving for Rick Ware Racing. … Pending Streak: Kyle Busch, 2009 series champ and all-time NNS wins leader, is in the midst of the fourth-longest NNS winless streak of his career (12 starts). But what is most in jeopardy is his eight-year pending streak of at least one NNS victory a season – the longest active wins streak in the series (2004-11). … For all the Ron Fellows fans, the Fellows 5 promotion begins this weekend. Five questions related to Fellows will be posed to the fans online. One grand-prize winner will be selected for each race (Watkins Glen and Montreal). More details are at JRMracing.com.
Quartet Of First-Time Winners Have Youth In Common
They just keep on coming.
Joey Coulter, last season’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year, went to Victory Lane on Saturday at Pocono Raceway. The Miami Springs, Fla., driver became the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season’s fourth first-time winner. That’s the most first-time winners since 2009.
He joins James Buescher, the series’ only three-time winner, John King and Justin Lofton.
Coulter is just 22 years of age – a number he carries on the door of his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
This has been a banner year in the NCWTS for drivers under the age of 30. Four – Buescher, Coulter, King and Lofton – are the most twenty-somethings to grace Victory Lane since 2004 when five from that age group won races.
Coulter stands seventh in current points, the same place he finished in his rookie season. With the Pocono victory, he’s looking to move forward when the season’s second half begins Aug. 18 at Michigan International Speedway.
“This feels so amazing. There’s no way to describe it,” said Coulter, who passed Keystone Light Pole winner Nelson Piquet Jr. on a lap 44 restart. “I’ve struggled on restarts for a long time and we’ve put a lot of effort toward making them better and better.”
The victory was the first in the series for crew chief Harold Holley, who won the 2000 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship with Jeff Green.
Points Race Tightens Moving To Season’s Second Half
Like an accordion, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points standings expand and contract.
Timothy Peters enjoyed the music last month in Chicago, exiting with a 35-point championship lead – largest of the season to date.
The tune went decidedly off-key at Pocono where Peters, running in the top five, was collected in a multi-truck accident and finished 22nd. He had finished among the top 10 in nine of 10 previous races with a worst run of 11th.
“The guys will put our truck back together brand new and we’ll go get ‘em at Michigan,” Peters said.
Peters held onto the point lead – but just barely. Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader Ty Dillon scored his 10th top-10 finish and stands just eight points back entering the season’s 12th of 22 races.
Eighteen points covers the current top 10 with Buescher and previous standings leader Justin Lofton trailing Peters and Dillon.
Ron Hornaday Jr. remains the only previous series champion ranked among the top 10. Hornaday, with four titles, is eighth, 59 points out of first.
After Rocky Start, Pendulum Swinging In Crafton’s Favor
At one point earlier this season, Matt Crafton looked to be down for the count. Now don’t count him out.
With an average finish of 15.4 through the season’s first five races, Crafton stood 11th in the standings, 56 points behind then-leader Lofton. Posting his fifth consecutive top-five finish – and sixth straight top 10 – Crafton is in fifth. He also cut the points deficit to 33.
Crafton admits the switch to Toyota after ThorSport Racing’s 16 years as a Chevrolet team presented challenges not immediately met. “We had to learn all the things that the Toyota trucks need as opposed to what we were running last year,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of progress and we’ve also just seen our luck turn around since we raced in Texas (finishing second).”
The trick, of course, is to keep the momentum – and to start scoring some bonus points.
“We need to focus hard on getting rid of that goose egg we have in the win column this year,” said Crafton. “We need the wins in there so we can get the bonus points and we need to lead more laps every race.”
Brad Keselowski Racing has announced that Parker Kligerman, sixth in points, has been released from its No. 29 RAM. Owner Brad Keselowski will drive the truck in the Aug. 18 VFW 200 at Michigan and announce additional driver assignments at a future date. … There have been seven consecutive different winners at Michigan. … Each manufacturer has won at least twice in Michigan. Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford have a victory in the last three races. RAM last won in 2003.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
- The Race: Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen
- The Place: Watkins Glen International
- The Date: Sunday, Aug. 12
- The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, Noon (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 220.5 miles (90 laps)
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
- The Race: Zippo 200 at The Glen
- The Place: Watkins Glen International
- The Date: Saturday, Aug. 11
- The Time: 2:15 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ABC, 2 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 200.9 miles (82 laps)
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
- The Race: VFW 200
- The Place: Michigan International Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, Aug. 18
- The Time: 12:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, Noon (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 200 miles (100 laps)