Edwards-Fennig pairing hits the jackpot
Edwards, however, rendered the argument moot with last weekend’s victory at Phoenix International Raceway in which he led 122 laps and held off champions Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski in a green-white-checkers shoot-out.
Now it’s on to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Edwards can savor memories of his 2011 Kobalt Tools 400 victory without the baggage of two years of losses.
“I’m more excited to go to Vegas than I’ve been in a long time,” said Edwards of Sunday’s third race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. “[I’m] very pumped.”
Perhaps Edwards should tip his helmet to former teammate Matt Kenseth the next time they pass in the garage. Because of Kenseth’s move to Joe Gibbs Racing, longtime crew chief Jimmy Fennig became available.
Roush Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush elected to shift Fennig and a majority of the No. 17 team’s crew to Edwards’ No. 99 Ford. The decision took exactly two races to pay huge dividends. The Phoenix victory was No. 20 for Edwards and the 37th for the 59-year-old Fennig, who scored three wins in 2012 with Kenseth.
“We were holding Carl back last year without meaning to, just because we didn’t have the right chemistry around him,” Roush said.
Fennig might not be the missing link that ended Edwards’ career-matching long winless streak and, in Denny Hamlin’s words, made him relevant again. But there’s little doubt Fennig plays a key role in what Edwards and Roush hope will be a championship-contending season.
A NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chief since 1986, Fennig won the 1988 Daytona 500 with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison. With Roush Fenway Racing, he won 14 races with Mark Martin – including the 1998 Kobalt Tools 400 – and the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with Kurt Busch.
Fennig could be described as “old school” to a fault – except there are no faults.
“Me, I go about my work a little different than some people do,” he said. “I’m a hard worker. We sit there and we pay attention to detail on our race cars and that’s about it. I do the same thing I did with Matt and Mark Martin in ’98.
“That’s the way I work. We still have 85 percent of the team left from the 17. That’s still there and everybody knows the way I operate, what I want and we’re just trying to deliver it to Carl.”
Las Vegas Test Crucial To Gen-6 Development
Thursday’s Las Vegas test laps pay no money and carry no points, but in terms of value, those serials could be among the most important of the early 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
They’ll give drivers, crew chiefs and engineers crucial information about where they are – and where they’ll need to be – in the continuing development of the Gen-6 Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry. The 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway, an intermediate track, is similar to layouts comprising the meat of the coming schedule.
“Without a doubt the 1.5, two-mile tracks can make your entire season. That test day is going to be huge,” said Steve Letarte, crew chief of the No. 88 driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished in the top 10 in every 1.5- and two-mile race he ran in 2012. “As a crew chief, you are trying to figure out what area you should be working in.”
Rodney Childers, who oversees the No. 55 Toyota that Mark Martin put on the pole a week ago at Phoenix, agrees.
“With it being an intermediate track and a place that’s really fast, the aero part becomes the biggest thing that you fight and I think everybody in the garage needs to learn a little bit [more] about this new car and where the splitter needs to be compared to the race track,” Childers said.
Teams were able to test the Gen-6 cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile track, earlier this year but the weather isn’t the only thing that’s changed since January.
“Since then, a lot of different parts have become available with the new, cambered rear-end housings and stuff like that, so we’re trying to maximize all the areas that we’ve been given to play in,” said Todd Parrott, crew chief for the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford of Aric Almirola.
“I think the challenge is just find the balance. We had that last year with all the different things we were able to do. I think getting that balance back for the driver and what he was feeling is the most challenging part.”
So far, there has been parity among series manufacturers with Chevrolet and Ford each claiming a victory. Last Sunday’s race in Phoenix found all three nameplates taking a spot in the top three.
Earnhardt’s Fast Start; Champions Continue Rivalry
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been outspoken about how well the Gen-6 Chevrolet SS fits his driving style.
Little wonder that Earnhardt is off to the second-best start of his NSCS career. With second- and fifth-place finishes in the 2013 season’s opening races, Junior is second in the standings, eight points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. That’s just behind Earnhardt’s best start. In 2004, he won the Daytona 500 and followed up with a fifth-place performance at North Carolina Motor Speedway to hold the series points lead.
“This is a good sign for us … that we’ve improved this much at Phoenix,” said Earnhardt, who led 47 laps after starting 21st. “Hopefully, it’s a sign for the rest of the season and that we’re going to be all right.”
Earnhardt is slated to do double duty this weekend, also entering his No. 88 Chevrolet in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Sam’s Town 300. He has yet to win in either division at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The offseason has done little to turn down the heat on last year’s Johnson-Brad Keselowski rivalry. The two battled each other for the title down to the season’s final laps. They’ve raced side-by-side in decision time at both Daytona and Phoenix.
Johnson has a decisive statistical edge in Las Vegas. He’s the leading winner with four victories. Three of those wins came during championship seasons, most recently in 2010. Johnson’s Driver Rating of 110.9 leads all competitors. Keselowski has yet to post a top-10 in four Las Vegas appearances.
Double Down: Burton, Kenseth Ride Momentum Into Vegas
Jeff Burton nabbed a top-10 finish at Phoenix, a big deal considering the circumstances.
Consider the hurdles he faced: 1) Prior to the race, Burton’s crew chief Luke Lambert hurried home to be with his wife, who was expecting the couple’s second child; 2) He had just come off a wreck at Daytona, a track in which he was considered a dark-horse favorite after twice finishing in the top five last year; 3) Burton had come off two consecutive seasons with single-digit top-10 figures for the first time since 2004-05.
Now comes Vegas, a spot at which Burton has fond memories. Burton has two wins at Las Vegas (1999-2000), both coming in the No. 99 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. He scored back-to-back top-five finishes in 2008-09. Last year, Burton finished 14th at the 1.5-mile track.
Another two-time Vegas winner coming off a top-10 finish: Matt Kenseth. Though early, Burton’s and Kenseth’s seasons share some parallels. Both had unfortunate Daytona finishes, followed by top 10s at Phoenix. Kenseth, who finished seventh at Phoenix, won back-to-back Vegas races in 2003-04.
Time To Get Going For Some Marquee Drivers
Kevin Harvick made last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. So did Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. Kyle Busch missed it, but by an eyelash. Yet all four sit 30th or worse after two races.
Of course, it’s way too early to panic. In each case, bizarre circumstances ruined one or both of the first two races for that pack of marquee talent.
Harvick, after a lights-out Speedweeks heading into the Daytona 500, wrecked in the main event and finished 42nd, matching his career-worst finish. Kahne was involved in that same wreck and finished 36th. Truex suffered mechanical problems at Phoenix that landed him in 36th. Busch has slogged through many of the same issues that plagued his 2012 – namely, an engine issue at Daytona and a spin at Phoenix that took him out of contention.
Are better times in store for the quartet at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? For hometown hero Busch, yes – if he can relive past glory. His last three finishes have been subpar: 15th, 38th and 23rd. But prior to that, Busch had four top 10s in five races (including a win in 2009).
Harvick has an average Vegas finish of 13.0; Kahne has a track-record three Coors Light poles at Vegas; and Truex has one Vegas top-10, a sixth in 2011.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
Sunday’s race at LVMS marks the final race that the 2012 owner points will be used in deciding which cars earn the six provisionals in each race. Starting with the fourth race – Bristol – the 2013 owner points will be used. This is a change to prior years, when the previous year’s owner points were used for the first five races. … Milestone Watch: Jeff Gordon is closing in on a major competitive milestone: 300 top-five finishes (he currently has 298). With three more top fives, Gordon will tie David Pearson for third on the all-time top-five list. … Toyota’s next victory will be NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win No. 50. … Juan Pablo Montoya led 12 laps at Phoenix, the first time he’s tallied a double-digit laps-led figure since he led 16 laps at Talladega on Oct. 23, 2011. If he leads two more laps, he’ll reach 1,000 laps led for his NSCS career. … Notes from the NASCAR Fan and Media Engagement Center : Despite the missing sparks created by the Clint Bowyer-Jeff Gordon dust-up that drove conversations in November, the Phoenix race drew nearly as many mentions on social media as the fall race, which was the highest one-day volume the FMEC tracked in 2012. Sunday’s race generated approximately 101,000 mentions, while November’s race generated around 105,000.
Top Four Drivers Finding Success With New Crew Chiefs
Through all the shuffling that took place in the offseason, NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers Sam Hornish Jr., Justin Allgaier, Brian Scott and Elliott Sadler all found themselves with new crew chiefs – changes that have paid off so far. After two races, all four drivers sit atop or near the crest of the standings.
As the series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300, three of the drivers finished in the top 10 in last year’s visit to the track: Sadler (third), Allgaier (eighth) and Hornish (ninth).
Hornish, tied atop the points lead with Allgaier, welcomes veteran crew chief Greg Erwin to the No. 12 Penske Racing team. Most recently, Erwin sat atop Aric Almirola’s No. 43 NSCS war wagon for nine races in 2012. In 252 races between the NSCS and NNS, Erwin’s drivers have accumulated five wins and 41 top fives, the most recent a second-place finish in the 2013 season opener at Daytona with Hornish. Hornish placed seventh last weekend in Phoenix.
Heading into the season, Allgaier and his No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports team were paired with veteran crew chief, Scott Zipadelli. In 2012, Zipadelli worked with eight drivers in the NNS. In seven seasons, his drivers have racked up 48 top-10 finishes in 187 races. After only two races, the pairing already has two top-seven finishes.
During the offseason, Scott moved to the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, where he teamed up with Phil Gould, a rookie crew chief in NASCAR’s national series. Through two races, the Scott-Gould combination, currently third in the standings (-8), has two top-10 finishes.
While Sadler, fourth in points (-10), certainly has the experience that comes with success, the runner-up the past two seasons enters the season working with first-time crew chief Chris Gayle. Already the collaboration is paying off with a top-five finish in last weekend’s race.
Dillon, Bayne Need Rebound To Return To Title Conversation
Heading into the new season, many pundits pointed to Austin Dillon and Trevor Bayne as possible heirs to the NASCAR Nationwide throne, vacated by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who left for the NSCS. However, after the first two races, Dillon and Bayne need a lucky roll of the dice in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to get back into contention.
Although both drivers had solid finishes in last week’s Phoenix race, where Dillon and Bayne finished sixth and fourth, respectively, poor performances at Daytona left both drivers scrambling for much-needed points. Dillon finished the race 21st, while Bayne came in 31st.
Dillon, who finished third in last year’s standings and seventh in his most recent visit to the 1.5-mile track, is hoping for another strong performance to boost him from ninth place in the current standings back into championship contention.
Bayne looks to improve upon his 11th-place position in the standings by wheeling the No. 6 Ford to Victory Lane at Las Vegas – a place the race car is familiar with after Stenhouse piloted it to a victory in last year’s NNS race.
With Winless Skid Gone, Can Busch Start New Streak?
Kyle Busch has returned to his winning ways and could begin a new streak in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 – a streak that is more befitting of the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and career race wins leader.
By winning last Saturday’s Dollar General 200 Fueled by AmeriGas at Phoenix, Busch put an end to his 24-race winless streak in the NNS. The win, his first in the series since the 2011 Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond, increased his wins total to 52, three more than Mark Martin (49).
As the series heads to Las Vegas, his hometown, Busch wants to win again and start a new streak of consecutive race wins. In 11 seasons of competing in NASCAR’s secondary series, Busch’s longest winning streak is three and came in April 2008, when he won at Texas, Phoenix and Mexico City in back-to-back-to-back weekends. He also had three consecutive wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2011 (Nashville, Dover, Charlotte).
Although Busch considers Las Vegas his home track, it hasn’t always been the most kind to him. In nine NNS visits to the “Diamond in the Desert,” he’s never won and has only finished on the lead lap four times. His average finishing position at Vegas is 21.8, second lowest among NNS tracks.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
Hometown favorite Brendan Gaughan returns to the series in Las Vegas, where he has one top-five finish in three starts. … Other non-NNS regulars slated to take qualifying runs include Kyle Busch, Ty Dillon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski. … On Saturday morning, Scott Lagasse Jr. will host 50 Las Vegas-area Boy Scouts on garage tours. Lagasse will drive the No. 8 HybridLight/Boy Scouts of America Chevrolet in the race later that afternoon. … Reed Sorenson will fill in for the injured Michael Annett behind the wheel of the No. 43 Pilot Flying J Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports at Las Vegas. … Milestone Watch: Elliott Sadler will make his 200th career NNS start in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300. … Earnhardt will make his 125th start in the NNS this weekend.
Hornaday, Little Among West Coast HOF Inductees
Ron Hornaday Jr. will be inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in June. But don’t view the latest accomplishment as the final event of the four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion’s racing career.
“Honestly, I’m honored but [I] don’t know what to think as I feel I am not done [driving] yet and working on more records,” said Hornaday, who joins his late father Ron Hornaday Sr. as a WCSCHOF member. The elder Hornaday, a two-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion, was inducted in the Hall’s 2002 inaugural class.
Hornaday, 54, finished third in 2013’s season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway – his best series performance at the 2.5-mile superspeedway. He is the career leader in most series categories: wins (51), top-five (149) and top-10 (215) finishes. Hornaday won the pole for the series’ first race in 1995 driving a Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc.
The Palmdale, Calif., competitor competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Earnhardt and Richard Childress, winning four times. He also drove in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for A.J. Foyt.
“I think getting voted into the Hall of Fame is a neat deal knowing that my dad is a member, too,” Hornaday said. “It would just be a little sweeter if he was alive to enjoy this with me.”
Hornaday’s 2013 classmates include Chad Little, the 1987 NASCAR K&N Pro Series champion, NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide competitor and current NCWTS director; Derrike Cope, 1990 Daytona 500 winner; Randy Lynch, NASCAR K&N Pro Series championship car owner; and Buddy Jobe, former owner/developer of Phoenix International Raceway.
Induction ceremonies will take place June 20 at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif., in conjunction with the NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend at Sonoma Raceway.
Daytona Finish Validates Jeb Burton’s Bloodline
Jeb Burton’s fifth-place finish in last month’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 is proof-positive the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His father, Ward Burton, won the 2002 Daytona 500 and his uncle, Jeff Burton, also is a Daytona International Speedway winner.
The finish was the youngest Burton’s first series top five in just his sixth race. His previous best was an eighth at another historic NASCAR Sprint Cup facility – Charlotte Motor Speedway last May.
Next stop: Martinsville Speedway, where Burton, 20, qualified seventh in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut last spring.
“Daytona was a great way for my team to start off the season,” said Burton, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender. “It’s all about survival, taking your time and being smart, and watching out for others that are not making the right moves.”
The April 6 Kroger 250 will be a home race for Halifax, Va.’s, Burton. “Having the support of friends and family there will be another added bonus,” he said.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Defending NCWTS champion James Buescher was in his home state of Texas earlier this week participating in Media Day at Texas Motor Speedway. … Former NCWTS competitor Butch Miller has been named crew chief for Caleb Holman. Holman is scheduled to make his first start of the season at Martinsville on April 6. Miller won his only series event in 1995 at Colorado National Speedway, a 0.375-mile oval.
Calderón Wins First NASCAR Toyota Series Race Held In United States
It was a big weekend for the NASCAR Toyota Series, particularly Abraham Calderón. The Mexico-based series kicked off its seventh season under the NASCAR banner by becoming the first of NASCAR’s international series to hold a race in the United States. Last Friday’s Toyota 120 at Phoenix International Raceway was won by the 24-year-old Calderón, from Monterrey, Mexico, in dominating fashion. Former champion Antonio Pérez finished second, followed by 17-year-old Rubén García Jr. Garcia was the series’ 2012 rookie of the year.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West also opened the points season at Phoenix last weekend, as former series champion Greg Pursley held off teammate Cameron Hayley for the victory. Hayley, 16, was coming off a dramatic win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series portion of the non-points UNOH Battle At The Beach in Daytona during Speedweeks. Michael Self, an RCR development driver, finished third at Phoenix.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is next to kick off the season, opening next week at Bristol Motor Speedway. East drivers Gray Gaulding, Bryan Ortiz, Ryan Gifford and Ben Kennedy finished second through fifth, respectively, at the UNOH Battle At The Beach. Thirty-eight cars have already filed entries for Bristol.
March is a big month for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, with 10 tracks opening across the U.S. and Canada.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
- The Race: Kobalt Tools 400
- The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- The Date: Sunday, March 10
- The Time: 3 p.m. (ET)
- TV: FOX, 2:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
- The Race: Sam’s Town 300
- The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, March 9
- The Time: 4:15 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN2, 4 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
- The Race: Kroger 250
- The Place: Martinsville Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, April 6
- The Time: 1:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, 1 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 250 miles (100 laps)