Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gaughan Returns To RCR In 2015

Richard Childress Racing and South Point Hotel & Casino announced today the renewal of their partnership for the 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series season with driver Brendan Gaughan.  

"The South Point Hotel & Casino is pleased to return as primary sponsor of the Richard Childress Racing No. 62 Chevrolet Camaro in the 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series season." said Michael Gaughan, owner of the South Point Hotel & Casino. "Watching Brendan and the RCR team in victory lane this season has been a lot of fun for South Point and the Gaughan family. We are looking forward to more great accomplishments next season." 
South Point Hotel & Casino's partnership with Richard Childress Racing began in 2012 with Gaughan running a limited Nationwide Series schedule and eight NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races. The partnership continued in 2013 with a full time Camping World Truck Series schedule where the team finished seventh in the driver championship point standings. South Point Hotel & Casino made the full time move to the Nationwide Series for the 2014 season.  
"Returning to victory lane this season has been a big morale booster for not only me but for my team as well," said Brendan Gaughan. "For the remainder of the year we will continue to learn and find things that work to get us a leg up on the competition for next season. I can't wait for next year with the No. 62 RCR team and to contend for the XFINITY Series championship." 
The Las Vegas-native collected his first-career win at Road America in June, which was only the third time in NASCAR history a race has been run in the rain. This victory came after he made 98 Nationwide Series starts. Gaughan returned to victory lane three months later at Kentucky Speedway in September. With only three races left this season, the 39-year-old driver leads the Nationwide Series regulars with most green flag passes (1,813), earning two top-five and six top-10 finishes with 54 laps led.   
Gaughan's two wins add to RCR's 2014 Nationwide Series overall accomplishments, which include four victories and four pole awards.  
"Michael, Brendan and the entire Gaughan family have been great to work with and I am very pleased we can continue our winning ways with them next season," said Richard Childress, chairman and CEO of Richard Childress Racing. "Brendan is an asset to RCR and his wins this year show what hard work and dedication can achieve."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Marty Smith Will Remain With ESPN

Marty Smith, who has served as lead NASCAR reporter for SportsCenter and other ESPN platforms since 2007, has agreed to a new contract and will remain with ESPN as a bureau reporter.  

One of the most eloquent and informed reporters in the sport, Smith will travel from his base in Charlotte, N.C., to cover a variety of sports for the network, including NASCAR, pro and college football and basketball, and other sports. He also will still write for ESPN.com on NASCAR and other topics and will continue the popular Marty & McGee podcast on ESPN.com, which he co-hosts with ESPN the Magazine senior writer Ryan McGee. 
Smith’s new role officially begins January 1, but as he focuses on covering the final four weeks of the NASCAR season, he will be expanding his duties, including reporting on the Oct. 28 home opener for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. ESPN is in its final year of televising live NASCAR racing. 
Prior to joining ESPN, Smith was a senior writer for NASCAR.com, an analyst and host on the former SPEED Channel and a NASCAR analyst on Fox Sports Net. A Radford University graduate, Smith covered sports for daily newspapers in Roanoke and Lynchburg, Va., before joining NASCAR.com.  
Over the past eight years, Smith has broken multiple big news stories from the NASCAR world on various ESPN platforms. In addition to reporting for SportsCenter and writing news and features for ESPN.com, Smith also has contributed to ESPN’s NASCAR event television coverage with numerous unique features and extensive, in-depth and revealing interviews with nearly every top driver in the sport.  
This week, Smith is preparing a feature for SportsCenter on the relationship between Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost and the late seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Dale Earnhardt and will then report from the NASCAR event in Martinsville, Va., this weekend.  
"I'm so fortunate to have a challenging, rewarding job that allows for creativity, and to have colleagues and bosses that believe in my approach and my ability,” said Smith. “I love sports and the intensity therein, and I'm thrilled by the prospect of diversifying in the coming years, while still maintaining my passion for motorsports. I appreciate the opportunity, and I don't take it lightly."
Best wishes, Marty. ESPN's gain is NASCAR's loss.

Stewart Haas Announces Crew Chief Swap

Crew chief Tony Gibson
Stewart Haas Racing has confirmed that it will swap the crew chiefs for drivers Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick, beginning next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.  

Veteran Tony Gibson, who has manned the pit box for Danica Patrick throughout her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, will serve as crew chief for Kurt Busch and the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in 2015. Busch’s current crew chief, Daniel Knost, has been named interim crew chief for Patrick and could continue in that capacity in 2015, though sources close to the team say a final decision has not been made.

Busch qualified for the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but was eliminated at the end of the Challenger Round. Patrick is currently 27th in championship points, with three Top-10 finishes in 32 starts.

“We made this change to evaluate our program and to get a head start on 2015,” said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition, Stewart-Haas Racing. “With the ban on testing next year, the last three races of this season take on even greater importance. For Tony Gibson and Kurt, they’ll get three races together that will provide direction for next year. And for Daniel Knost and Danica, this is an opportunity for them develop a rapport that could potentially continue into 2015.”

The move involves only Gibson and Knost, with both teams’ over-the-wall pit crews remaining unchanged.

NASCAR Reduces Size of 2015 Truck Fields

NASCAR has announced three key enhancements in the NASCAR XFINITY (currently Nationwide) Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the 2015 season.  

Beginning next season, the maximum starting field for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races will 32 trucks, as opposed to a 36-truck field in previous years. Sprint Cup Series starting fields will continue to be 43 cars, while the NASCAR XFINITY Series will remain at 40. 

In addition, changes will be made to the qualifying procedures for the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series, to closely resemble that of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  

In the NASCAR XFINITY Series, cars starting in positions 1-33 will be determined by their fastest single lap during qualifying. The Camping World Truck Series will follow the same procedure for positions 1-27. 

In the XFINITY Series, the next six positions will first be assigned to the highest ranking cars in owner points that have attempted all of the races, have not already earned a starting position through qualifying and have entered the event by the posted entry deadline. The final starting position will be awarded to the most recent eligible past champion driver. If there is no eligible past champion driver, then a seventh car will make the field based upon owner points. 

In the Camping World Truck Series, the next four positions will first be assigned to the highest ranking trucks in owner points that have attempted all of the races, have not already earned a starting position through qualifying and have entered the event by the posted entry deadline. The final starting position will be awarded to the most recent eligible past champion driver. If there is no eligible past champion driver, then a fifth truck will make the field based upon owner points. 

Currently, the top 30 cars and top 25 trucks in owner points in each series were guaranteed a starting spot in each event. Starting next year, a maximum of seven cars and five trucks will be locked into each race.  

If a qualifying session is cancelled because of inclement weather, each series’ field will be set per the rule book with starting lineups determined by practice speeds. 

Drivers’ last names will also be featured on the back window of each series’ cars and trucks next season, helping fans to better identify the drivers. Rear-window placement allows for XFINITY and Camping World to continue to maintain placement on the front windshield.

“Our mission of providing the best on-track product possible is always among our top objectives,” said Robin Pemberton, senior vice president of competition and racing development. “We’re confident in the direction these changes will take these series.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ragan Rolls Out Wendell Scott Tribute Car At Martinsville


David Ragan will race at Martinsville Speedway this weekend with a special, throwback paint scheme honoring NASCAR Hall Of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott. 

Like Ragan, Scott drove a No. 34 entry on what was then the NASCAR Grand National Series, and the Wendell Scott Hall of Fame Tribute Ford carries the same powder-blue paint scheme and white numerals as Scott campaigned in the 1950s and `60s. A native of nearby Danville, Va., he was the last Cup driver to win in the No. 34 before Ragan turned the trick in May of last year at Talladega Superspeedway. 

"It's going to be really cool to have our No. 34 Ford on the track at Martinsville with Wendell Scott's old paint scheme,” said Ragan. “I've always had an appreciation for the history of our sport and the people who made it what it is today, and Wendell Scott achieved quite a bit in his career, not just for himself but others that followed. 

"It's perfect that we're doing this tribute at Martinsville, which was Wendell's home track,” he added. “I love Martinsville. It's got a great feel to it. It feels like you're going back a couple of decades when you walk in. You're also back to working on the mechanical side of the race car. You don't have to worry about your aero platform or your ride height. You just go and get your car mechanically to drive good. 

"It's a good track for us. We qualified eighth there last year and had a Top-15 car until we had a part issue. But Martinsville is a lot of fun. I enjoy racing there and just enjoy being there in that throwback environment." 

Ragan has one Top-10 and four Top-15 finishes in 16 career Martinsville starts, with a best finish of eighth in 2011.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Raymond Beadle Dies At Age 70

Drag racing champion and former NASCAR team owner Raymond Beadle passed away today in his hometown of Dallas, after a period of ill health.

Beadle owned and drove the legendary “Blue Max” Funny Car to a trio of NHRA championships and an equal number of IHRA crowns in the late 1970s and early `80s. He owned a highly successful team on the then-NASCAR Winston Cup Series from 1983 to 1990, fielding cars for the late Tim Richmond before winning the 1989 series championship with driver Rusty Wallace, and also fielded a .World of Outlaws Sprint Car for Hall Of Famer Sammy Swindell.

Wallace commented on his former team owner’s passing today via Twitter, saying, “Really saddened by news about Raymond Beadle. Without him, I would have never gotten to where I am today. He will be greatly missed.”

Beadle was 70 years of age.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Harvick Feeling No Pressure... Until Next Week

With a win in hand and a transfer spot assured to the Eliminator Round of the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Kevin Harvick is a man without worries.

The Budweiser Chevrolet driver said today at Talladega Superspeedway that he will sleep well tonight, in advance of the season’s most unpredictable race.
“It takes a lot of pressure off by not having to worry about a strategy,” said Harvick today. “You just go race. These guys have worked hard on the cars to make them as good as they can (and) we owe it to them and the fans to race as hard as we can and take the same approach as we have all year. (We will) try to run well in practice, qualify well, lead laps and win a race.
“If it works out, it works out. That’s the thing that comes out of last week. If it works out, fine and if doesn’t, fine. Just race hard.
Harvick admitted, however, that there are still concerns associated with racing at Talladega.
“There are obviously still a lot of things to worry about coming to Talladega,” he said. “No matter if you’re on the good side, the bad side, or in between. Hopefully, (we’re) getting to a refined point that is where you need to be to race for a championship. Last week was kind of the beginning of that and hopefully we can close out the last several weeks at the same level. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Harvick said last week’s win actually makes him more likely to wind up in Victory Lane again soon.
“The mindset went to completely aggressive after the win last weekend,” he said. “Everyone is relaxed and it really doesn’t matter what the outcome is, unless you win. It’s very important to win, just (to) keep someone else from winning. Obviously, there are some people who are in a pretty vulnerable spot unless they win. Being aggressive, trying to lead laps, taking those points away, winning the race and not allow that automatic bid going forward is really (our) main goal.”
He also pulled no punches about his desire to see title contenders Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., fall by the wayside Sunday, saying, “Anytime you see people in a vulnerable position where they could not advance to the next round, you want to do everything you can do to try and keep an upper hand.
“In the end, you want the best scenario for your team to win a championship from a pure greed standpoint. That’s what we’re here to do -- win the championship -- and you want the best scenario for your team. It will be an interesting weekend regardless of how it all shakes out and who wins the race. There are just so many variables in what could happen. I’m excited for the sport and looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out.”

Johnson Ready For Talladega Test

Despite effectively needing a win Sunday to advance to the Eliminator Round, Johnson spoke optimistically of his chances.

“I’m excited to go racing,” he said. “Our plate program has been pretty strong and our car has been fast. We won a few plate races last year and we certainly need to do that this (weekend) to keep my championship hopes alive. When I reflect back on the Chase so far, we’ve certainly not had the speed that we wanted in our cars. But… we’ve kept ourselves in the mix when we had two bad races. Two bad races would have eliminated me from any opportunity of winning a championship in each previous format, so I feel like I have a third opportunity this weekend.
“Granted, it’s a tough one and a lofty goal,” he said. “There are many other guys out there with the same goal, not only from a Chase situation but also trying to win a race this year. I’ve got a lot of work ahead for myself and this team this weekend, so we’re ready for the challenge. We’ll get out there to work and see what happens.”
In terms of strategy for Sunday’s race, Johnson said he will be forced to play it by ear.
“I’ve put a lot of time and thought into my approach for this weekend (and) there really isn’t a clear vision for how to make it work,” he admitted. “Racing for it can get you in trouble. If you ride, at some point, you have to go to the front.
With this rules package, it’s much more difficult to get track position. It seems like with maybe three pit stops to go, you need to have control of the race and maintain it; least be in first or second (in) line and give yourself a chance to win. I don’t know… I really don’t. Maybe being cautious early will buy us some time and keep us on the road. (but) from the halfway point of the race on, you have to fight for track position if you want to win.
Johnson and Knaus: peaks and valleys
“I can promise you that with four guys needing to win to transfer, at the end of the race there will definitely be some racing,” he said. “It may be the four of us on the bottom trying… to get to the front. But there are at least four that have a really good reason to take chances, be aggressive and try to win. I’d guess it will be an exciting race but again we just don’t know until we get out there.”
Asked about the current relationship between himself and crew chief Chad Knaus, Johnson said, “Frustration is high, for sure. Chad and I have had peaks and valleys in our relationship. We’ve had times where there has been plenty of frustration on the radio, but who we are, what we are as a team and the way our relationship works… things are still as they have always been.
“It isn’t fun, and… last weekend there was plenty of color on our channel. It just comes with the territory. We’re not happy with where we’re at, and I don’t know why we would be. It’s unfortunate that sometimes those things are aired on the radio and innocent bystanders hear them – children and others – but that’s just part of it.”
Johnson understands there is a chance he will fail to advance into next week’s Eliminator Round, and said the events of Sunday afternoon will determine how he approaches the remainder of the 2014 campaign.
“Depending on how this weekend goes, we’ll know what the rest of the year looks like for us,” he said. “If we don’t win, it will be in our best interest to look at 2015 and what we need to do on all fronts, including the rules package. Our vision will shift at that point and try to get a head start on the field and start where we need to be.
“At the end of a race... I have to win. My quest to win a seventh championship is the thing I’m most concerned about. I know my teammates are going to think the same way and have the same approach. We’re out there to win for our teams and ourselves to move on and have a shot at the championship.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brandon Jones Teams With GMS Racing

Seventeen-year old driver Brandon Jones will join GMS Racing for the remainder of the 2014 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season. Jones, a former winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, will pilot the No. 33 Chevrolet Silverado in two NCWTS races this season beginning with the Kroger 200 on October 25 at Martinsville Speedway. The Atlanta, Ga native will also make his track debut in the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 7. Jones’ 2014 campaign will be led by crew chief Shane Huffman. 

“I couldn’t be more excited to continue our NCWTS efforts this season with GMS Racing at Martinsville and Phoenix”, Jones said. “The opportunity to start our relationship at a familiar track like Martinsville is a great benefit and I’m incredibly excited to tackle Phoenix for the first time. GMS Racing has had impressive performances this year and I can’t wait to get back on track working with Shane Huffman and the entire organization.” 
Jones has made six career NCWTS starts since 2013 with a best finish of fourth at Dover International Speedway earlier this year. In addition to his NCWTS efforts in 2014, Jones campaigned full-time in the NKNPSE where the talented driver finished fourth in points and earned a victory at Iowa Speedway in Newton. Jones also competed in three ARCA events and claimed victories at Winchester Speedway and Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Clermont, IN. 
“Everyone at GMS Racing is thrilled to welcome Brandon into the fold of the No. 33 Chevrolet Silverado,” said Nic Moncher, General Manager of GMS Racing. “He has shown a great deal of talent this season across every series he has competed in, and we’re looking forward to great performances together at both Martinsville and Phoenix. Brandon has all the tools you like to see in a young driver and he will be a great asset to our Truck Series program.” 
The Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway will mark Jones’ third start at the legendary short track and his fourth start of 2014. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Daytona Rising Reaches Halfway Point

Daytona International Speedway held a topping out ceremony today to install the highest piece of steel associated with its $400 million DAYTONA Rising project and celebrate the halfway point in the project. Florida Secretary of Commerce Gray Swoope and Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Director Jesse Panuccio were in attendance for the important milestone.  

As part of the event, members of the France family signed and unveiled a special commemorative plaque that was placed at the center of the steel beam (previously signed by the project’s construction team). International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy also spoke about the significance of the DAYTONA Rising project. 

“Daytona International Speedway is a special place and we’re honored to continue its legacy through the DAYTONA Rising project,” said France Kennedy. “We’re literally building history and creating an unprecedented motorsports experience. I can only imagine how exciting it must have been for my grandfather to turn his vision into reality when he built the Speedway more than 50 years ago.”  

Utilizing special DAYTONA Rising whistles, Barton Malow (design-builder for DAYTONA Rising) joined International Speedway Corporation employees as well as Daytona International Speedway employees and longtime ticket holders for a ceremonial command to raise the steel beam. To honor construction traditions, a tree was attached to the beam along with a massive American flag, Florida's state flag as well as flags honoring Daytona International Speedway and Barton Malow. 

“Today was a great opportunity to celebrate our collective accomplishments to date,” said Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III. “We’ve enjoyed the journey thus far and look forward to continuing the momentum during the months ahead.” 

At the halfway point, the DAYTONA Rising construction project has surpassed one million man-hours, installed 89 percent of the total steel, poured more than 105 million pounds of concrete and installed 26 escalators and four elevators. 

Hamlin's Jack Man Out For The Season

Denny Hamlin will run the remainder of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series without a key member of his over-the-wall pit crew.

Nate Bolling, jack man on the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Sprint Cup Series team, underwent successful surgery on a torn right triceps muscle this morning and is expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2015 Daytona 500. 
Bolling was injured on the second pit stop in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The surgery was performed by Dr. Patrick Connor of OrthoCarolina. 
JGR backup jack man Kenneth Purcell filled in Saturday night for Bolling and will continue in that capacity for the No. 11 FedEx team for the remainder of the season. Purcell is a veteran in the sport and was part of four championship seasons with the No. 48 team.

Rockingham Avoids Financial Receivership, New Deal Gives Hope For Track's Survival

Andy Hillenburg
Like a real-life Rocky Balboa, Andy Hillenburg refuses to stay down.

After spending the last seven years battling to revive the legendary Rockingham (NC) Speedway, the former ARCA racing champion has taken his share of lumps. Hillenburg and his partners returned NASCAR racing to The Rock in 2012, when the track hosted an event on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The Trucks raced there again in late 2013, but a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event scheduled for November of last year was cancelled, with the sanctioning body saying that the track “failed to meet its obligations.”

Since then, there has been little in the way of good news from the Richmond County oval. Until today.

Battered, bloodied, but unbowed, Hillenburg climbed off the canvas yet again this morning, confirming that after a hearing in Richmond County (NC) Superior Court, a new plan is in place to save the track from financial receivership.

Farmers and Merchants Bank of Salisbury, NC, had asked that the track be placed into receivership as a first-step toward seizing control of the facility and putting it up for auction. However, with the assistance of a group of advisors, Hillenburg has assembled a new business plan that he hopes will put the speedway back on solid financial ground.

 “We went in front of a judge recently and presented our proposal,” said Hillenburg. “We explained that we need 90 days to perform the necessary due diligence, and he issued a Bridge Order to continue the case until today. Now, he has approved our request, and the speedway will remain in our hands.”

Hillenburg declined to identify his new advisors by name, saying only, “They are not racers. They are businesspeople who know my reputation and work ethic, and see an opportunity to create new partnerships  that will prove beneficial to all parties, allow Rockingham Speedway to survive and prosper as a racing facility and produce critical economic development opportunities in Richmond County,”

Hillenburg revealed that those investors stepped forward only recently, saying, “When word (of the receivership hearing) got out a week or so ago, people began offering to help.”

Hillenburg and company – doing business as Rockingham Racing Park LLC – purchased the speedway in 2007 for $4 million. Court records say they owed $4,532,796.23 to F&M Bank as of August 8, 2014. The 244-acre site on which the speedway sits is valued at approximately $2.5 million. In recent years, Rockingham has served as a test venue for NASCAR’s three national racing series, hosted Hillenburg’s Fast Track High Performance Driving School and been featured in numerous scenes in the 2006 film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Hillenburg stressed that the deal is not yet complete, saying, “Our request was for the procedings to be delayed, in order to allow us to assemble a new financial plan. We now have until Jan. 1, 2015 to finalize a workable financial plan with our new partners. Our goal is to return racing to The Rock, put the track on solid financial footing and continue to make a positive contribution to our community.”

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NASCAR Docks Keselowski, Stewart For Charlotte Infractions

NASCAR has assessed behavioral penalties to drivers Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart for their involvement in post-race incidents on Oct. 11 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

Keselowski has been fined $50,000 and placed on NASCAR probation for the next four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship events through Nov. 12 for violating: 

• Section 12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing

• Section 12-4.9: Behavioral penalty -- involved in post-race incidents 

Stewart has been fined $25,000 and placed on NASCAR probation for the next four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship events through Nov. 12 for violating: 

• Section 12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing

• Section 12-4.9: Behavioral penalty -- involved in a post-race incident 

"These penalties are about maintaining a safe environment following the race," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR senior vice president, competition and racing development. "We knew that the new Chase format was likely going to raise the intensity level and we want our drivers to continue to be themselves. However, the safety of our drivers, crew members, officials, and workers is paramount and we will react when that safety could be compromised."

Monday, October 13, 2014

COMMENTARY: ABC/ESPN Backhands NASCAR Again

NASCAR’s media partners in Bristol, Conn. did it again Monday, continuing the season-long process of scraping the sport off their collective shoe. 

In the aftermath of a post-race imbroglio at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night that saw a number of drivers play Demolition Derby on pit road before a widespread bout of pushing, shoving and questioning of parentage, ESPN and its parent company, ABC, once again plumbed new depths in yellow journalism. Utilizing a team of reporters who wouldn’t know a panhard bar from a tiki bar, ABC’s Good Morning America variously misrepresented the incident as a “brawl,” an “epic brawl” and a “chain reaction rumble,” despite the fact that nary a punch was thrown. 

“Now to the brawl on a NASCAR race track,” said GMS anchor Robin Roberts, by way of introduction. “Some of the sport’s top drivers were involved, including Tony Stewart; his first incident since that deadly accident over the summer.” 
 
GMA's Robin Roberts
“That deadly accident,” of course, was the August 9 incident at New York’s Canandaigua Motorsports Park that saw Sprint Car driver Kevin Ward, Jr. die after being struck by a car driven by former Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. The self-anointed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” ran footage of Ward’s death repeatedly over the 72 hours that followed, reporting – almost gleefully at times -- on Stewart’s status as a “NASCAR bad boy” and a loose cannon.  

GMA leveled the crosshairs on Stewart yet again Monday, despite the fact that he played a minor role in the on-track car wars, and no role whatsoever in the post-race wrestling match. Reporter Gio Benitez breathlessly described the incident as “a chain reaction rumble involving several racers, including Tony Stewart, who’s under NASCAR’s microscope.” 

Benitez failed to define “NASCAR’s microscope,” almost certainly because the sanctioning body has taken a hands-off approach to the case, leaving it in the hands of law enforcement, the Ontario County (NY) District Attorney and a grand jury, all of whom declined to file any charges against Stewart.  

“Watch as Kenseth and Keselowski get into an epic brawl,” said a breathless Benitez, “one even putting the other in a choke hold.” 

He declined to identify which driver was which, probably because he had no idea. Still not satisfied, GMA rolled out USA columnist Christine Brennan to pick at the Stewart scab one final time.
 
“With everything the sport has been through,” she huffed, “and everything Tony Stewart has been through in the wake of that fatal accident, to have this kind of nonsense going on is really unconscionable.” 

No actual race results were given during GMA’s two-minute NASCAR segment. Kevin Harvick was not identified as the winner of the race and no mention was made of the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. Stewart, meanwhile, was mentioned a total of five times. It was like covering a fight between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the NBA Finals, but declining to give the final score. 

For at least the second time in recent weeks, ABC/ESPN has made it clear that it has no respect for NASCAR, its competitors and fans, multi-year contract be damned. Clearly, their only desire is to continue the ongoing campaign of demonization against Stewart, with or without any actual facts to back it up.
 
In this writer's personal opinion, they cannot be gone soon enough.
 
 

Underdog Busch Making Best Bid Yet For Sprint Cup Title

Who are you, and what have you done with the real Kyle Busch? 

After five races in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, fans can be forgiven for not recognizing the driver of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 M&Ms Toyota. In years past, Busch has been the poster child for self-destruction in the Chase, struggling on the race track – and melting down off it – en route to early elimination from the title picture.

This time around, however, Busch has been a model of consistency. A fifth-place finish in Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was his fifth consecutive Top-10 Chase showing, and kept him solidly second in the championship standings. With an average Chase finish of 6.6, Busch bears little resemblance to the emotionally fragile driver who has repeatedly wilted under the pressure of prior title runs.  

Neither Busch nor JGR ranked near the top of the pre-Chase favorites list. He staggered into the postseason party with four finishes of 35th or worse in six starts, and a best finish of 14th. Joe Gibbs Racing has struggled to find speed, battling horsepower and aerodynamic issues that often left them a half-step behind the competition. But while the indicators were all there for yet another postseason flame out, Busch has maintained his focus in the face of adversity. 

Saturday night, Busch made the most of a car that was good, but not great. He led three times for a total of 41 laps and brought the M&Ms Toyota home fifth, in one piece. After the race, when all around him seemed to be losing their minds, he stood calmly on the sidelines and watched it all unfold. There were no harsh words, no physical confrontations, no scathing critique of his team, or others. Just the calm, self-assured smile of a man who has established himself as a solid contender for the championship at the halfway mark of the Chase.

All Busch needs now is a decent day at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday to advance to the penultimate Eliminator Round, with one of only eight available slots in the championship bracket. While Toyota still has some catching up to do, Busch is keeping himself in the hunt.
Ironically, he is in better shape to win the championship today than at any point in his 12-year Sprint Cup Series career. Late Saturday night, as he basked in the afterglow of his latest Top-5 showing, Busch made it clear that he will play it smart on the treacherous, 2.5-mile Talladega tri-oval.
"(I’ll) run dead last all day (and) survive," he promised.  "If there's one big wreck, it puts us in and we're good."

Sunday, October 12, 2014

COMMENTARY: After Charlotte Melee, Title Contenders In Dire Straits

It’s as simple as this.

When it’s all over and done Sunday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway, three pre-Chase favorites for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship are likely to find themselves on the outside, looking in.

After crashing their way onto the endangered species list at Kansas Speedway a week ago, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson coughed up blood yet again at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night, finishing 16th, 17 and 20th, respectively. Back-to-back bouts of underachievement are a recipe for disaster in the year’s Chase, where life and death are meted out in three-week increments. And now, three drivers who appeared in millions of pre-Chase “Final Four” brackets are a week away from finding themselves spectators.
When the shifter in Earnhardt’s Diet Mountain Dew Chevy snapped in his hands early Saturday night, it did not necessarily signal the end of his hopes. His Hendrick Motorsports crew made the requisite repairs and pushed their driver back into the fray, but an ill-handling race car never allowed him to make up for lost time. He languished on the “lap down” list for the remainder of the evening and finished 20th.
Unlike Earnhardt, Johnson appeared ready to dig out of his Kansas hole, until pit strategy and a frenetic final restart doomed his hopes yet again. The six-time series champion was fourth when the final caution flew with just seven laps remaining. Crew chief Chad Knaus went for the win instead of the points, calling Johnson to pit road for four fresh tires than left him 10th on the ensuing restart. The Lowes Chevrolet went inexplicably backward at the drop of the green flag, recording a crushing, 17th-place finish that left Johnson 11th in points.
Keselowski was fifth on that final restart, but tangled with fellow-Chaser Denny Hamlin in the first turn. Like Johnson, he plummeted through the field to finish 16th, then expressed his frustration by running into everything but the Pace Car on the cool down lap.
He clipped the rear of Hamlin’s Toyota after the checkered flag, then sideswiped Matt Kenseth as they entered pit road. Either he or Kenseth then caromed into Tony Stewart’s stopped Chevrolet, prompting Stewart to back into Keselowski’s Ford in protest. After a considerable period of pushing, shoving, shouting and gesticulating, the stage is now set for a Talladega finale long on pressure and short on patience.
Kenseth now trails Kasey Kahne by just one point for the final transfer spot to the Eliminator Round. Keselowski is 19 points out, with both Earnhardt and Johnson a whopping 26 points in arrears. Sunday’s Talladega winner will receive a free pass to the Eliminator Round, but there’s only one Golden Ticket available, and four prime time players in serious need of help. In addition, a number of Chase contenders are decidedly unhappy with each other after a wild CMS finale.
Hamlin blasted Keselowski’s tactics after the race, calling the 2012 champion, “out of control” and “obviously desperate. He just plowed into us,” said Hamlin. “Either four or five of us are wrong or he's wrong, because he's pissed off everyone.”
Kenseth also had angry words for his Penske Racing rival, saying, “I had my HANS (device) and seat belts off and everything. He clobbered me at 50 (mph). If you want to talk about it as a man, do that. But to try and wreck someone on the race track, come down pit road with other cars and people standing around… and drive in the side of me? It's inexcusable. He's a champion (and) he's supposed to know better than that."
For his part, Keselowski said Hamlin “stopped in front of me and tried to pick a fight. I don't know what that was all about, and he swung and hit at my car. I figured if we're going to play car wars under yellow and after the race, I'll join, too.

"Those guys can dish it out, but they can't take it,” he said. “I gave it back to them and now they want to fight, so I don't know what's up with that."

For Johnson, Keselowski and Earnhardt, there is now only one realistic path to salvation. Buckle your chinstrap and tug those seatbelts tight. Ignore the pressure and channel your desperation into a season-saving win at Talladega; the one track in all of NASCAR where virtually anyone can win.
Triumph in the face of extreme adversity, or resign yourself to watching someone else hoist the championship trophy at Homestead Miami Speedway next month.