Year’s first night race Gen-6’s next challenge
It’s still early, but two races on the targeted layouts – Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway – have produced memorable events.
Matt Kenseth blunted Kasey Kahne’s dramatic, final-laps pursuit in Las Vegas. Kyle Busch overtook the dueling – and ultimately, crashing – rivals Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin on the final lap in Southern California.
The 31 green flag passes for the lead were the most ever at Las Vegas. There were 2,342 green flag passes throughout the field, nearly doubling last year’s 1,301 involving the Gen-5 cars.
Auto Club’s 41 green flag passes for the lead matched the track record since inception of loop data statistics in 2005.
Saturday’s NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway provides the next intermediate track challenge for the Gen-6 Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry. It’s also the first race of the 2013 season to be held under the lights with a 7:30 pm. ET start time.
With the Fort Worth track expected to provide the year’s fastest non-restrictor plate lap times seen to date – the track record is in excess of 196 mph – NASCAR has scheduled a Thursday test to assist teams in further massaging their Gen-6 equipment.
Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson split last year’s pair of Texas victories. Biffle, who’d missed the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ in 2011, continued a Texas tradition. Every winner of the spring race has qualified for post-season competition in the Chase era, although none has won the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
Johnson returns to the Lone Star State in a virtual re-run of fall 2012. The five-time champion is riding high after a Coors Light Pole to checkered flag victory at Martinsville Speedway – a snapshot of last year’s Chase performance. Johnson is the series points leader, just as he was last fall and the 2013 season’s first two-time winner.
The Californian led his 14,000th NASCAR Sprint Cup lap last Sunday and approaches another milestone. Saturday night’s race will be Johnson’s 500th NASCAR national series start.
Johnson has good feelings about this week’s race – and his No. 48 Chevrolet SS.
“We ran really good at Vegas, and California didn’t go as well as we wanted, but it’s a much different racetrack than what we have at Texas,” the two-time Texas winner said. “We’re still learning this car on the big tracks. Fontana we were certainly trying some things and smarter leaving there, and I know that these guys will work hard and give me a great car this coming race.
Welcome To The ‘House Of Roush’
What a difference a week makes.
A Ford hasn’t visited Martinsville Speedway’s Victory Lane in more than a decade. On Sunday, reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski’s sixth-place finish was the car-maker’s best.
Texas Motor Speedway provides an opposite storyline – especially for Roush Fenway Racing.
RFR’s Greg Biffle is the defending winner of the track’s spring race and took the checkered flag with more than three seconds in hand. Biffle, who led 90 of 334 laps, averaged a TMS record 160.577 mph.
Teammates Matt Kenseth (fifth) and Carl Edwards (eighth) weren’t far behind Biffle.
Biffle, who won for the second time, isn’t the only RFR driver with a stellar record in the Lone Star State. Edwards is a three-time winner including a season sweep in 2008.
“I [attribute] it to good teams, good drivers and communication with equipment,” Biffle said. “Teams will get on to setups; maybe their race cars cater to this type of race track a little bit better. I’ve had a lot of success here. We are sharing that information so Carl [Edwards] has that setup.
“Carl won here, we copied his setup. We learn together as a group and I think it helps us as an organization to be strong at particular race tracks.”
Roush is the leading owner winner in Fort Worth with nine victories – more than double the next-best four wins by Hendrick Motorsports. Roush won the track’s first two races in 1998-99. Five different RFR drivers – Biffle, Edwards, Kenseth, Jeff Burton and Mark Martin – have Texas victories.
Fords have won a Texas Motor Speedway-leading 11 times, three more than rival Chevrolet.
Sunoco Rookies Patrick, Stenhouse Look To Top Previous Success
Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader Danica Patrick rolls into Texas coming off a 12th-place finish in her first start at the daunting Martinsville Speedway, a place where debuts go to be forgotten. Since 1972, only 29 drivers have had a better Martinsville debut than Patrick. Some of the marquee names she bettered: Rusty Wallace (15th), Tony Stewart (20th), Kasey Kahne (21st), Matt Kenseth (21st), Kurt Busch (37th) and Jimmie Johnson (35th).
A successful follow-up act at Texas might prove even more surprising. Saturday night will mark Patrick’s eighth race at a 1.5-mile venue. Her average finish in the first seven is just 28.8. She has only one other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Texas, a 24th-place finish last November.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 25th at Martinsville on Sunday, and now looks to uphold a long-established pedigree of Roush Fenway Racing excellence at Texas. RFR counts nine wins at Texas, five of which have come at the hands of teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. Stenhouse’s best career finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series came at a 1.5-mile track – Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he finished 11th in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600. Outside that event, Stenhouse’s intermediate-track experience is few. In all, he has four starts at 1.5-mile tracks, with an average finish of 25.8 and a Driver Rating of 66.2.
Standings All Shook Up As Series Goes Night Racing
Only one driver in the top 20 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings left Martinsville with the same standings position he came in with – Brad Keselowski, who remained second in the points.
The points lead changed, from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Jimmie Johnson. Earnhardt dropped to third. The all-important 10th-place spot changed. It now belongs to Matt Kenseth, with Joey Logano falling out of the top 10. Denny Hamlin, recovering from a back injury, also fell out of the top 10 with Clint Bowyer the benefactor. Bowyer’s runner-up finish catapulted him six spots, from 14th to eighth. Though he did drop a spot, ninth-place Paul Menard remains a dark horse candidate for a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup spot. It was a wild one. And expect more of the same.
Earnhardt has the potential to right the ship immediately. His first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory came at Texas in 2000, and he comes into this race with four consecutive top-10 finishes. Last year, he went 12-for-12 at the 1.5- and 2-mile tracks.
Kenseth’s case could be an interesting one. Kenseth comes into this event with five consecutive top fives at Texas (including a win in 2011), but all that came under the Roush Fenway Racing umbrella. He hasn’t missed a beat on intermediate tracks yet in 2013 with new team Joe Gibbs Racing, chipping in a win at Las Vegas and a seventh at Auto Club Speedway.
Vickers Must Improve To Maintain JGR Momentum
The process continues. With Denny Hamlin on the mend but still on the sidelines, Joe Gibbs Racing heads for Texas Motor Speedway intending to keep its No. 11 Toyota near the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup owner point standings.
Stand-in Mark Martin did his job. A 10th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway – while Hamlin sat atop the pit box and coached his substitute – leaves the No. 11 car ninth in owner points. Brian Vickers takes the wheel Saturday night with Hamlin’s return to competition still several weeks away.
Vickers, who drives JGR’s No. 20 Toyota in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, will do double-duty at Texas and beyond. Based on teammate Kyle Busch’s success parlaying the same system into a NASCAR Sprint Cup victory and three Nationwide wins, Vickers could be a contender on Saturday night.
His record at the 1.5-mile track suggests he can use the track time.
In 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup trips to the Lone Star state, Vickers has yet to reach the top 10. His best finish, 12th, came in his first start with Hendrick Motorsports in 2004. Vickers’ average finish is 23.9 with a Driver Rating of 63.2. Vickers does hold the track’s qualifying record of 196.235 mph set in 2006.
The irony is that a healthy Hamlin would be a solid favorite to win this week. He swept both races in 2010 when the Virginian challenged for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. JGR’s third Texas win came with Tony Stewart in 2006.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
Three prominent NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers will pull double-duty this weekend, and race in Saturday night’s NSCS race: Austin Dillon (No. 51), Brian Vickers (No. 11) and Trevor Bayne (No. 21). … Milestone Watch: Jeff Gordon is approaching a major milestone that could be reached in Texas. With his third-place finish last Sunday at Martinsville, Gordon now has 299 career top fives. Only three drivers in NSCS history have 300 or more top fives, and all are NASCAR Hall of Famers: Richard Petty (555), Bobby Allison (336) and David Pearson (301). Gordon has eight top fives in 24 Texas starts. … Kyle Busch will attempt to make NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start No. 300 on Saturday night.
Gaggle Of Cup Drivers Saddles Up For NNS Race
There’s no lack of star power in Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Ten NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars dot a solid lineup of Nationwide championship contenders slated to try to make the race’s 40-car lineup.
Headlining the crop of NSCS drivers are five-time NNS Texas race winners Kyle Busch, who has won three of the last four Nationwide races this season, and Kevin Harvick, who won the Texas race last November. With two NNS victories at Texas on his resume, Matt Kenseth has put his name in the mix, too. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, both of whom have one series win at the 1.5-mile track, will also suit up.
Other NSCS drivers include reigning series champion Brad Keselowski, Landon Cassill, Michael McDowell, Scott Riggs and J.J. Yeley.
All the usual suspects running full-time in the NNS this season will also be on hand. However, the race might mean a little more to Brian Vickers than others.
Vickers, who drives the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the series full-time this season, will be filling in for the injured Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for the next couple of races, until Hamlin is able to return. Vickers will want to do all he can during the Friday race to familiarize himself with the Texas track in time for Saturday night’s NSCS race.
A successful weekend at Texas, in both races, could go a long way in impressing others and proving he belongs in the premier series. In five Nationwide races at Texas, Vickers has three top-10 finishes. In the NSCS, his best finish is 12th in 14 starts.
Bayne Has History On His Side
Eighteenth-century Irish statesman and author Edmund Burke once wrote, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
However, in Trevor Bayne’s case, he knows the history and would like to repeat it, especially when it involves success at Texas Motor Speedway.
In Bayne’s last visit to the track in November 2011, he led only six laps. But they were the most important six laps – the final six. He finished the race .142 seconds in front of runner-up Denny Hamlin.
The victory is Bayne’s only one in the NNS, so far. However, most people associate him with the biggest win of his career – the 2011 Daytona 500, which came in only his second career NSCS start.
In five NNS starts at Texas, his lowest finish is a 14th, which came in the spring 2010 race.
Additionally, last year’s Texas spring race winner was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who drove the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. When Stenhouse was promoted to the NSCS for the 2013 season, Bayne was tapped as the replacement in the No. 6.
Five races into the season, Bayne sits fifth in the standing, 47 points behind leader Sam Hornish Jr. Already with two fourth-place finishes on the season, a victory here would most likely move Bayne into championship contention and prove that history is truly on his side.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
Points leader Sam Hornish Jr., who has a sizeable 28-point advantage over Regan Smith, has won thrice at Texas in the IndyCar Series (2001, ’02, ’07). In six NNS starts there, he has a pair of seventh-place finishes (fall 2011, fall 2012). Through five races this season, Hornish has not finished lower than seventh, with one win and a pair of runner-up performances. … Milestone Watch: Kyle Busch will make his 250th series start Friday, while Austin Dillon will start his 50th race. Dillon will do double-duty driving the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet in Saturday’s NSCS event.
ThorSport’s Sauter, Crafton Eye Records At Rockingham
ThorSport Racing has much to celebrate this weekend in Rockingham, N.C.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ longest, continually operating organization enters the third race of the 2013 season with all three drivers – Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and two-time champion Todd Bodine – ranked among the top 10 in the standings.
The Sandusky, Ohio-based Toyota team ran the table at Martinsville Speedway, where Sauter and Crafton finished one-two for the third time since their pairing in 2009.
Points leader Sauter goes for an unprecedented third consecutive victory after joining Mark Martin (2006) as the only competitor to win the season’s first two races.
“This is great to start the year off with two in a row and I couldn’t be prouder,” said Sauter. “We still have 20 races left and there’s a lot that can happen. We just need to keep it all in focus and take it all in stride and go to Rockingham where we finished fourth a year ago and go in Kansas where we’ve won in the past.”
Crafton, meanwhile, sits third in series standings and will compete in his record 297th consecutive race at Rockingham. The Tulare, Calif., veteran is poised to erase a record held by Terry Cook, the driver he succeeded at ThorSport Racing in 2001. Crafton’s streak began Oct. 28, 2000, when ThorSport entered trucks for both Cook and Crafton at Auto Club Speedway. All but the 25 races Crafton ran in 2004 for Kevin Harvick Inc. have come in a ThorSport truck. Cook’s record ran from Jan. 18, 1998, through Nov. 13, 2009.
Larson, Logano To Battle With NCWTS Teens
He’s back. Kyle Larson, whose string of top-10 finishes at the conclusion of the 2012 NCWTS season confirmed the NASCAR Drive for Diversity competitor as a future star, will drive the No. 30 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet in Sunday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200.
Larson finished second last November at Phoenix after being crowned 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion. He competes full time in the NNS and will do a transcontinental “double” after opening the weekend Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway. The Californian won’t be the weekend’s only double-dipper. Joey Logano will compete in Saturday’s NSCS race in Texas then fly to North Carolina – following the same route as Kasey Kahne, last year’s inaugural Rockingham winner. Logano will drive the No. 19 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford owned by his Penske Racing teammate.
There will be no shortage of young guns in this week’s field, led by Jeb Burton, 20, and Darrell Wallace Jr., 19, who comprised the front row of last week’s Martinsville Speedway race. Burton finished third. Wallace, Chase Elliott, 17, and Erik Jones, 16, finished fifth, sixth and ninth, respectively, the first time in series history three teenagers scored top 10s in the same race.
Eclectic Stand-Alone Schedule Begins At Rockingham
Sunday’s event at Rockingham is the first of seven events on the NASCAR Camping World Truck schedule apart from other NASCAR national series.
The stand-alone events represent a third of the 2013 season and comprise an eclectic mix of tracks. Rockingham’s one-mile, high-banked oval played a significant role in NASCAR’s history but stood idle until new owner Andy Hillenburg revitalized the facility.
Two new facilities new to NASCAR will host truck events later this summer: Eldora Speedway in eastern Ohio will present the series’ first dirt track race July 24. The series’ first road race since the 2000 season will be held Sept. 1 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park near Toronto, Canada.
Additional stand-alone events are set for Iowa Speedway, a .875-mile short track (July 13 and Sept. 8); and Texas Motor Speedway (June 7) and Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 28), two 1.5-mile intermediate layouts.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
More than 40 entries have been received for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200. Forty-one drivers attempted to qualify for the 36-truck field a year ago. … Andy Seuss, a regular competitor on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, will attempt to make his first truck start this weekend at Rockingham. Seuss, a native of Hampstead, N.H., has 12 career wins in the NWSMT and has 98 starts combined in both Whelen Modified tours. … Timothy Peters was sworn in as a deputy sheriff over the past weekend with the Safe Surfin’ Foundation based in Bedford, N.C., that hunts down sexual predators on the Internet. Peters joins a list of celebrity spokespeople that also includes Shaquille O’Neal, Kathy Ireland, Erik Estrada, Lou Ferrigno and William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys, among others.
Inaugural Visit To Five Flags Up Next
It’s a quick turn-around for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. After running at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway last weekend, the series heads to Pensacola, Fla., for its inaugural visit to Five Flags Speedway in the NAPA Auto Parts 150.
The banked half-mile opened in 1953, the same season the track held its only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. The former NASCAR Slim Jim All-Pro Series last made an appearance in 1997.
After two races, Brett Moffitt holds a nine-point lead over Dylan Kwasniewski, last year’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion. Moffitt won the pole and led a race-high 61 laps at Greenville before settling for a fifth-place finish.
Kenzie Ruston is third, running as a teammate with Kwasniewski at Turner Scott Motorsports, and is coming off a third-place finish at Greenville. That broke the record for highest-finishing female in series history, set by Danica Patrick (sixth at Dover in 2010).
Brandon Gdovic picked up his first career win and is a point behind Ruston. The 21-year-old out of Yorktown, Va., led the final 33 laps at Greenville for the victory in his 27th career start.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour opens its season with the annual Icebreaker at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway. Five of the last six seasons have culminated in a driver winning his first championship, including Doug Coby a year ago.
The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour will run its third race of the season Saturday at South Boston (Va.) Speedway.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
- Next Race: NRA 500
- The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, April 13
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: FOX, 7 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 501 miles (334 laps)
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
- Next Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300
- The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
- The Date: Friday, April 12
- The Time: 8:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN2, 8 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
- Next Race: North Carolina Education 200
- The Place: Rockingham Speedway
- The Date: Sunday, April 14
- The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, 1:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 100 miles (100 laps)