Categories
Editorial

The Unraveling Continues as Roush Fenway Misses Chase

Jack Roush left Richmond with a feeling of emptiness. 

For the first time since the inception of the Chase, none of his three teams with drivers @GBiffle, @StenhouseJr., and @TBayne6, have a chance to race for the Sprint Cup Championship this season.

Ironically, Roush Fenway Racing was the catalyst for the Chase format. In 2003, @MattKenseth clinched the title with a substantial points lead — one week before the season ended at Homestead. He claimed a single victory.

Biffle, Roush Fenway’s elder statesman, and the veteran driver sits in the 19th position in the point standings. He also had a disappointing finish in the final race of the season at Richmond, taking the checkered flag in 31st, four laps down to the leader.

Biffle has had only two top-5 finishes this season, both of which involved fuel-mileage strategies.  His winless streak has now stretched well beyond two years.

The other two Roush Fenway drivers, Trevor Bayne, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. not only failed to qualify for the Chase but flounder in the 28th and 29th points positions respectively. 

Bayne’s resume lacks substance. While this is his first full-time season in the Sprint Cup series, he’s run sporadically for the Wood Bros. However, in 84 races he has scored just one top-five; the 2011 Daytona 500.

Comparatively, Stenhouse Jr., who won back-to-back XFINITY titles for RFR in 2011 and 2012, has run 97 races and finished in the top-five only three times with no wins. 

While Biffle put the punctuation mark on a season where he was quoted as saying that his team was ‘dying a slow death’, both Stenhouse and Bayne remained a little more optimistic, feeling that they could take some of their learning into the final ten races of the season.

Stenhouse finished the Federated Auto Parts 400 by gambling at the end on old tires to finish 16th. Bayne took the checkered flag in the 23rd position.

“We just needed a caution there at the end to get us back on the lead lap,” Stenhouse said. “Our Cargill Beef/Sam’s Club Ford didn’t fire off really good but as the run progressed our car was really good. We really needed this finish after the past couple of weekends. We have 10 races remaining and hopefully we can get a win.”

“Our AdvoCare Ford was pretty quick on the long run,” said Bayne after the race. “We were able to make up some ground on some guys during those long stretches that really helped us. We’ll take this finish and move on to Chicago and see what we can do there.”

Optimism notwithstanding, the fact that one of the powerhouse teams in the sport will not be represented in the Championship hunt is definitely worthy of head-shaking.

Even more unsettling is the fact that two former Roush Fenway Racing drivers, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, both handily qualified for the Chase, with Kenseth punctuating his Chase berth with a win at Richmond. Remember that Kenseth’s Championship in 2003 was the catalyst for the original Chase format. 

Given that both former Roush Fenway drivers have found success, while the current stable of drivers fell well outside Chase contention this year, it is interesting to speculate about just how and when the downhill slide started for RFR.

Obviously, there have been major changes throughout the sport in the last few years, from rules packages to horsepower to engineering challenges. However, it may just be that the leadership vacuum created when Matt Kenseth chose to leave his Roush Fenway team in 2013 has contributed to the downward spiral for RFR.

And while Kenseth may have struggled a bit last year, this season with Joe Gibbs Racing he has not only secured a Chase spot but has four wins and three poles on his resume so far thus far in the 26 races of 2015.

Similarly, Carl Edwards, while still at Roush Fenway Racing, secured a Chase berth but failed to get anywhere near the coveted Sprint Cup Championship. He too then followed his former teammate Matt Kenseth to Joe Gibbs Racing, where he is in the Chase by virtue of his two wins, one as recent as Darlington.

“I mean, who could ignore what Matt Kenseth did last year?” Edwards said when he decided to leave Roush Fenway Racing. “Who could ignore what Joey Logano has done (in moving from JGR to Team Penske, also in 2013)? … Look at Kevin Harvick’s success (in moving from RCR to Stewart-Haas Racing this season). It appears making a change sometimes gets some things going.”

After a disappointing season in not making the Chase, Jack Roush may now be looking to make some changes to get the team back into contention. 

With @Chris_Buescher, anticipated to be in Cup next season, and @BubbaWallace in the pipeline, there may be a glimmer of hope for the Ford loyalists.

But until then the owner, with his telltale hat, remained seemingly balanced when looking at the remainder of the 2015 season, even while not having a presence in the Championship Chase.

“We’ve been in Cup racing now for 28 years,” team owner Jack Roush said. “We’ve had times when we had the hot hand and the combination that everyone else wished they understood or could have.  There have been times we have lacked that.

“All of my programs have potential. There were races we certainly (Biffle) could have won and there have been many other races that we have had streaks of brilliance throughout the race, where a flat tire or something else has happened to our disadvantage and taken us out. I am not going to give up.”

The success of a NASCAR team is based primarily on the strengths of the people. Losing your two marquis drivers in consecutive years has hampered their progress and sustainability. It’s going to be a long road for Roush Fenway to get back into Championship form. 

Categories
Editorial

Martin Truex Jr. and the Corn Maze Connection

As @MartinTruex_Jr finished ninth in Sunday’s Bojangles Southern 500, a corn maze was peacefully growing, in the shape of his No. 78 race car no less, back in his home state of New Jersey.

The connection between Truex Jr. and Donaldson Farms started several months ago when the Donaldson family decided that their corn maze, a fall tradition at their farm in Hackettstown, NJ, should benefit a charity.

And since at least a few of the Donaldson family members were NASCAR fans, they decided to support the charity of their homegrown NASCAR Sprint Cup driver.

“The farm has been around since 1906,” Katie Donaldson said. “It used to be a dairy farm but is now a 500-acre produce farm. Each year we have a corn maze that is typically agriculturally related. But this year, we thought that we have a nine-acre opportunity to draw attention to something special.

“My husband and two boys are NASCAR fans. We love showing good stuff out of New Jersey. So, we thought of the NASCAR Jersey driver Martin Truex Jr. and the fact that his MTJ Foundation supports children and pediatric cancer. Because children and families come to the corn maze, we felt that was a real match for us.”

While Katie Donaldson has worked on making the charity connection and promoting it, she fully credits her husband with being the NASCAR heart behind the Truex corn maze connection.

“I guess it was kind of my idea,” Greg Donaldson said. “We’ve been doing the corn maze for quite a few years, pretty much just promoting Donaldson Farms. But we were looking for something different this year and a different way to help the community.

“We’re big into ‘buy fresh, buy local’ for small businesses but we were thinking of something we could do to help and I came up with the idea of connecting it to NASCAR and benefitting the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation. I heard about his Foundation on TV and that stuck in the back of my head. With Martin being a New Jersey driver, that set the wheels in motion.”

While the farm and the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation’s mission started to help children with cancer; the connection has strengthened with the additional focus on ovarian cancer, which Truex’s girlfriend Sherry Pollex is battling.

“Also, because Martin’s girlfriend Sherry has ovarian cancer, this really hit home for us,” Katie Donaldson said. “When I looked into the Foundation more, I saw that they were selling wristbands to support ovarian cancer in her honor. So, we are getting a case of the wristbands to sell here at the farm too.

“One dollar of every corn maze ticket we sell will be donated to the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation and when we open in late September, we can also sell the wristbands throughout the season.”

One other major connection between Martin Truex Jr. and Donaldson Farms is the ‘Never Give Up’ philosophy.

“Sometimes you don’t have a choice but to never give up,” Greg Donaldson said. “On the farm, we’ve been thrown some curve balls. Not too long ago, we had a couple years in a row where we had some wet seasons and a couple of tropical storms that came up the coast. That destroyed a lot of our crops a few years in a row.

“I actually had to go off the farm to get a job to help pay for health insurance. It was a pretty trying time and some tough years. So, we just had to keep going. We didn’t have a choice and, just like Martin and Sherry, we couldn’t give up as well.”

The Foundation, as well as Truex Jr. himself, could not be more excited about this new, unique connection.

“When they first presented the idea to us, we were really excited because it’s so completely different than anything that we’ve ever done before and different from what other drivers’ foundations have done before,” Sandy Plemmons, Executive Director of the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation, said. “What we really like about it is that these corn mazes are great for families and kids and the Foundation is all about kids. So, it felt like it was a really nice fit.

“Besides it was amazing what they did, cutting the logo of the Foundation and Martin’s car into the corn. It’s just incredible.”

The New Jersey native driver echoed his Foundation Director’s sentiments after the Darlington race.

“I think it’s awesome for someone to put all that work into spread the word about our Foundation,” Truex Jr. said. “We are very thankful for everyone who has worked on this volunteer project. The corn maze, which is in the shape of the Martin Truex Foundation logo, is very cool to say the least.  The money raised from this project will directly benefit people who are in need of assistance.”

While Truex Jr. will not be able to visit the corn maze in person, given his racing schedule and the upcoming Chase for the Championship, he will be able to meet the Donaldsons at an upcoming fan event in his home state next month.

“From a timing perspective, we won’t be there but we’ve invited the Donaldson family down for our fan event on October 1st,” Plemmons said. “They will be selling tickets to the corn maze at that event and Martin will probably recognize them on stage. He loves that event and comes home to meet up with old friends, neighbors, and family.

“He loves to connect with his hometown fans and when he gets on the stage so I’m sure he will call the Farm’s work out as well.”

For more information about the unique connection between the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation and the Donaldson Farms corn maze, visit their respective websites http://martintruexjrfoundation.org and  https://donaldsonfarms.net/, as well as their sites on social media, including Facebook and Twitter.

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

Categories
Editorial

Is Chase Elliott Ready to Take Over the Iconic No. 24?

With the five Cup races he was set to run officially in the books for the 2015 season, @chaseelliott is as ready as any rookie can be to step out of the XFINITY Series and take over the No. 24 being vacated by @JeffGordonWeb.

The nineteen-year-old son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott had the opportunity to run several challenging tracks, including Martinsville, Richmond, Charlotte, Indianapolis and this past weekend at the ‘Too Tough to Tame.’ He also ran in the Sprint Showdown as the precursor to the grueling Coca-Cola 600.

Elliott’s foray into the Cup Series began earlier in the year at Martinsville, where he started 27th and finished 38th due to damage from an incident with Brett Moffitt. The team had to bring the car to the garage for almost 70 laps, replacing the radiator and power steering.

“This is a different ballgame,” Elliott said after his first Cup race. “These guys are here in the Sprint Cup Series for a reason, and I’ve got some work to do.  I have to get better.”

Elliott did just that with his second start in Richmond in the Toyota Owners 400.  He qualified in the 16th position and finished there as well. Not only did he take the checkered flag for a respectable finish, but he achieved his goal of finishing on the lead lap and completing all of the advertised laps.

“What amazes me most about Chase is how calm he is, and the feedback he gives, and that he’s right on the money” -- Rick Hendrick
“What amazes me most about Chase is how calm he is, and the feedback he gives, and that he’s right on the money” — Rick Hendrick

“You always get greedy and want more, and we certainly had a great car,” Elliott said after the race. “Expectations are we still just want to put together solid races and try and stay on the lead lap of those things. You try to race with some competitive cars, and I thought we did that.

“The biggest difference is just the level of competition in these cars,” Elliott continued. “You know, it’s definitely a little bit different, but at the end of the day, the competition is just so much higher over here. You know, it makes it tough.

“Lesson learned, and we’ll try to get better for the next one.”

Elliott’s third Cup race was a double, as he ran both the Sprint Showdown and the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Elliott came in fifth in the Showdown and 18th in the 600.

“Looking back at running the Showdown, it was such a benefit to be able and log more laps at Charlotte before the 600,” Elliott. “The extra time paid huge dividends for our team. It was a dream of mine to compete in that race against the best race car drivers in the world.”

The fourth race for the young driver was at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Brickyard 400. This was especially important to Elliott as his father Bill had won at that track in 2002.

Elliott started in the 28th position and for the second consecutive race finished 18th.

“First and foremost that taste of racing on a Sunday, it’s just definitely a different feel,” Elliott said. “It’s kind of a touch of what to expect for next year and moving forward. The biggest thing I take from it is the willingness and the preparation that all of the guys have been able to have and the mindset that they’ve taken to races has been great.”

The driver of the No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet made his final Cup race this past weekend at Darlington in the Bojangles Southern 500.  As did so many drivers, Elliott went retro, paying homage to his father Bill with his paint scheme, as well as his firesuit and helmet.

Elliott’s race, however, was full of adventure, from getting caught up in the first caution to a cut tire on lap 228 that sent him hurtling into the Darlington wall.

“I didn’t feel like it (the tire) was going down or anything,” Elliott said. “It just like going in there, getting into (Turn) 1 and tore up the race car, unfortunately. We were trying. I messed up there at the beginning of the race and got us behind and you just can’t do stuff like that.”

Elliott finished his last Cup start of the season in disappointment, with a 41st place finish.

So, is Elliott ready to move to the next level full-time and pilot the Team 24 car for Hendrick Motorsports?

One indicator is Elliott’s average finish, which was 26.2 for his five Cup races. While that doesn’t necessarily shine on the surface, @JoeyLogano attempted six races in 2008 and didn’t qualify for half of them. The three races he ran yielded an average finish of 37th.

Elliott has kept pace with two other competitors who may also be running Cup next year. Ryan Blaney for one, made eleven Cup starts this season for an average finish of 25.5, while Ty Dillon made four Cup starts for an average finish of 21.5.

Also, in comparison to last year’s 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year @KyleLarsonRacin, Elliott had an overall average finish that was slightly higher that when Larson ran his first few Cup races in 2013.  Larson actually competed in four Cup races before his full-time season, with an average finish of 29.2 while Elliott competed in five with an average finish of 26.2.

While he has had his challenges in the 2015 season, Chase Elliott feels that he is as ready as he can be to tackle the challenges of his 2016 rookie year with the No. 24 team.

“I finally got the chance to sit down with (No. 24 team crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) a little bit and he was joking a bit and I think he had a pretty big say-so in what races he wanted me to run this year,” Elliott said. “He picked some good ones I think.”

“All of the races have been a lot of fun,” Elliott concluded. “But most of all, they’ve all been big learning weekends for me.”

There is one individual, arguably one of the most important and influential ones, that has no doubt about Elliott’s readiness to take over for Jeff Gordon next year.  Team Owner Rick Hendrick, known throughout the garage as ‘Mr. H’, has had high praise for Elliott throughout his development, including his Cup debut races.

“What amazes me most about Chase is how calm he is, and the feedback he gives, and that he’s right on the money,” Mr. H. said. “He never gets excited. The tone in his voice never changes. He really does amaze me.”

So, as it appears, Chase Elliott will fit very well in the seat of a four-time Champion.

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

Categories
Editorial

Bosch Charitably Rewarding NASCAR Excellence

Bosch has a well-known and rich history in all motorsports including NASCAR, making many of the critical parts and pieces that make the race cars perform. But what most may not know about the company is that they have also been quietly donating to drivers’ charities when they take that coveted trip to Victory Lane.

One of the drivers who has benefitted most recently from the Bosch charity program is @KyleBusch, who has received a total of $4,000 for the Kyle Busch Foundation. Busch secured that donation for his four season wins to date, three of them occurring consecutively through the Brickyard race.

“Anytime that we get a donation for the Kyle Busch Foundation, it means the world,” Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota, said. “For the Kyle Busch Foundation, we will be using this donation in an even broader way as we have expanded our mission the past few years.

We still help out the children’s homes that we’ve worked with through the years, but we also do prom dress drives thanks to my wife, Samantha. We also support A Child’s Place, Girl Talk Foundation, Isabella Santos Foundation, My Sister’s House, Pretty in Pink Foundation and Speedway Children’s Charities.

And of course now we have started our Bundle of Joy Fund effort so that others who have been struggling to have children like us can start their own families.

All of those things are close and near and dear to our hearts. So, we really appreciate those supporters like Bosch, who donate for each and every win.”

The leadership at Bosch echoes the excitement of Kyle Bush when it comes to making a difference for children in need.

“While we at Bosch are thrilled when any of our drivers win and we can contribute to their favorite charity, we are especially excited to be able to make such a difference for the Kyle Busch Foundation,” Tony Pauly, Director of Advertising and Brand Management for Bosch Automotive Aftermarket North America, said. “To be able to have that kind of impact is exactly what the company is all about.

Kyle Busch and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization are on fire, and it’s exciting to watch,” Pauly continued. “Winning four out of the past five races at this level of competition is an unbelievable accomplishment.

Bosch takes tremendous pride knowing that winning racing organizations like Joe Gibbs Racing depend on quality parts from Bosch to rocket them to success time and again.”

Bosch has not only been supporting the Kyle Busch Foundation in a significant way. They have also made contributions of $1,000 for sixteen victories for various other drivers during the 2015 season to date.

“Bosch has relationships with several NASCAR teams, including Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing,” Pauly said. “We have had a long history of working with these teams, especially Team Penske even in other series such as the IndyCar Series.”

One other Joe Gibbs Racing team also recently benefitted from the Bosch charitable winning for giving program. Carl Edwards, winner of the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, was recognized for the team victory with a $1,000 donation to Speedway Children’s Charities.

“I can’t think of a better endorsement to the reliability and quality of Bosch parts than a 600-mile race,” Pauly said after the conclusion of the race at Charlotte. “We’re proud that the Joe Gibbs Racing teams trust Bosch quality parts and systems to power them to the checkered flag, and we’re happy to lend support to a worthy charity like Speedway Children’s Charities.”

Bosch started their charitable winning program for two reasons according to Pauly. The first is that the company, whose parts and pieces are so integral to race teams, wanted to recognize winning and excellence in the sport by giving back to the charity of choice for that winning driver.

“When teams put our parts to the test and win, we wanted to reward that effort,” Pauly said. “And we at Bosch thought the best way to do that was to give back to that driver or team’s favorite charity.”

What most people may not realize is that, for over a decade, Bosch has supplied parts to multiple NASCAR teams including oxygen sensors, spark plugs, injectors, alternators, coils, filter, fuel pumps, starters and pressure regulators to name a few. Without getting too technical, many of the race cars would not be on track without the partnership with Bosch and our parts.

In fact, the history of Bosch with racing goes all the way back to 1903.”

The other reason for the generosity of Bosch is that it is integral to the company’s philosophy. In fact, Robert Bosch, founder of the company, was so charity-minded that the Bosch Foundation is the cornerstone of the entire company and its mission.

“We don’t participate in this program for the publicity or the marketing,” Pauly said. “We do it quietly and behind the scenes because we believe strongly that it is the right thing to do.

It helps us all live out the mission and vision of our company each and every day.”

With Kyle Busch on the pole for the Pocono Windows 10 400, Bosch may just have to pony up another donation to the Kyle Busch Foundation.

“We would be pleased to continue to support the Kyle Busch Foundation if indeed he is to win another race,” Pauly said. “But we would be equally as thrilled to reward any of the drivers and teams with whom Bosch has an important and vital partnership.”

 

Categories
Home Tracks

Austin Theriault Back on Track At Pocono

With Brad Keselowski driving his team’s truck this weekend at Pocono, Austin Theriault was fully prepared to go to the track simply to watch and learn. But instead, the 21-year-old driver will be back on track, jumping behind the wheel of an ARCA car, racing for Venturini Motorsports.

“The opportunity with Billy (Venturini) came together very recently, a couple days ago actually,” @AustinTheriault told POPULAR SPEED. “It wasn’t on any of our radars. That’s just part of racing where you’re thankful for the next opportunity that presents itself to you.

“I’ve been focused on being successful in the Trucks when I’m on the race track with the team and listening to the other drivers that share the Truck with me, like @keselowski, @joeylogano and @Blaney. So, that’s what I’ve been doing to pass the time.

“I had planned to go to Pocono with Brad Keselsowski Racing in the capacity of just listening and being a part of the team. If I could learn one or two things about the track or about how Brad focuses as a driver, that was the goal. But it wasn’t going to be in any capacity to be the driver.

“So, when Billy (Venturini) called, I was very happy to take the chance and the opportunity to drive with him this weekend.”

POCONO: ARCA Notebook

Theriault is also excited to be back with @VenturiniMotor, especially given the fact that last year’s ARCA race with the team at Michigan netted a trip to Victory Lane.

“It’s good to be back with Venturini after our strong performance,” Theriault said. “Last year in my ARCA race with them at Michigan, we won. That was one of my first races at a big track where I didn’t have much experience.

So, that was really cool to get that win.”

While Theriault is optimistic about the race weekend, he fully acknowledges that he has much to learn about the track known as the ‘Tricky Triangle.’

“I’ve never raced at Pocono before but I did run three to four laps last year to get approved for the Michigan race,” Theriault said. “So, I have a couple laps at the track, which is not a lot but it’s better than not being there before.”

“But keep in mind too that was back when racing was not necessarily new to me but racing at big tracks, bigger than a mile, was foreign to me. So, a lot of the concepts and experience that I think I have going into Pocono will be different this time out,” he continued.

In the limited time available before the race weekend, Theriault has been pedaling hard to prepare himself for his back on track experience.

“You can watch videos of past races and you can talk to people to prepare,” Theriault said. “But you have to be selective about who you talk to because everyone has a different opinion, idea and style about how they drive the race track.

“Putting that all in perspective, I’m going to ask a few people that I trust about how to drive the track. Then I just have to go out, drive and put it on the line. I’ll have to be up to speed fairly quick as there is not a lot of practice time.

Qualifying is one lap so you can’t make a mistake. That’s the biggest thing. Fifty laps is not much either for the ARCA race. It’s too short to recover.”

“It’s going to be a fun race but we have to be smart about it,” Theriault continued. “That’s what me and my crew chief talk about. We have to be smart about when we’re going to pit and our strategy. These are all questions that you want to go through.

“You also have to realize that the races don’t always work out the way you’ve planned. So, it’s a lot of contingency planning and taking it as it comes and making changes from there.

But I trust we’ll have a good run.”

Theriault, who hails from Fort Kent, Maine, is also bringing an interesting racing resume, as well as a little bit of home sponsorship, to his back on track experience at Pocono.

“I was born in Fort Kent, Maine and started at a local track about an hour south of my home.  It’s one of the only tracks within an hour of where I live. I started racing there at 13 years old, which is fairly late for my age I guess you could say.

“I always watched NASCAR. I was always a fan of the sport. My family had always been involved with some aspect of motorsports, not necessarily NASCAR racing. We did tractor and truck-pulling as a family. So, that’s where I started. I was a pit crew member for my dad when he pulled his truck. We’d go to the truck pulls eight times in a summer, which for a kid was exciting.

“When the track opened up in Caribou, I was 13 years old. It had been closed for ten years and opened back up. My grandfather bought me my first race car and it just really happened quick.”

“We have Maine back on the hood of the race car and Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine (Lobster) will be on the quarter panel,” Theriault continued. “Nothing would be more exciting than standing in Victory Lane with Billy and the guys and making an order to get some lobster overnight at Pocono.”

Theriault has two very simple goals for his Pocono race weekend with Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA ModSpace 125 at Pocono Raceway.

“Since we’ve won before, I think we can do it. I really do. I’m sure the car is going to be fast. It’s going to be cool because I’m racing with the main car I raced at Kentucky last year,” he said. “Winning is always good. Anytime you can go out and win a race, it adds value to you and brings confidence, which is a huge part of the sport. So, that would be big for me and big for them.”

“The other thing is that you can’t buy seat time,” Theriault continued. “You can’t write a check. You have to go out and work at it.

“For me, with the experience level I have, I’ve only raced five times in a Truck. I have a couple starts in Xfinity and one start in ARCA besides my many late model races. So, there is no exception for going fast at these big tracks and I think that’s going to be one of the bigger takeaways.

“Obviously, we want the win but if there are things that I can work on as a driver, that will help me down the road. That’s the biggest takeaway from this weekend.

I’m most looking forward to the fact that I really feel that we can win. Just because of what we were able to accomplish last year and what I know about the cars this year, I know we’ll have a good shot at it this weekend.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Keselowski ‘Honestly Embarrassed’ After Daytona

As he prepares to race at Kentucky Speedway this weekend, Brad @Keselowski admitted to feeling a bit unusual.

In fact, he acknowledged embarrassment, in part from last week’s events at Daytona, as well as being embarrassed about what happened in Victory Lane the last time he visited the Bluegrass state.

Last weekend, @keselowski was the second part of the one-two punch for @AustinDillon3, who first went airborne into the catch fence and then was nailed by Keselowski, destroying the No. 3 car and leaving its unattached engine burning eerily on the track.

“Kind of the sad part is I was honestly embarrassed that I hit Austin that long after the wreck,” Keselowski said.  “A bunch of people asked me questions about it, but there was just so much debris that even being as far behind as I was you couldn’t slow down from 200 miles an hour.

“That was frustrating.  I felt very, very lucky when I got out of my car and went to Austin and saw that he was OK.  I think those are really the thoughts that stick out to me the most.  It’s just not a good deal. It was a spectacle for sure.”

Keselowski may have been embarrassed by his inability to control his race car prior to the hit, but he also was quite frankly shaken a bit by it all.

“Race cars are very, very well designed and built for high impacts,” Keselowski said. “They’re not ever going to be very well designed for multiple high impacts, so when I hit Austin the second time – I saw his first impact and I knew when I was gonna hit him the second time that his odds were a lot lower of walking away, but thankfully he did, so it worked out.”

In addition to the wreck at Daytona, racing at Kentucky this week brings back another very embarrassing moment for Keselowski. It was just a year ago that he bloodied his hand while celebrating in Victory Lane after dominating the Quaker State 400, which he started from the pole.

“We were having too much fun with champagne and one of the bottles broke and I cut my hand open,” Keselowski reminisced. “I did the typical guy thing, thinking it’s not that bad, it’s not that bad, and I shook it a couple times and there was blood flying everywhere.

I thought, ‘This is pretty bad.’ And then I started kind of walking through my mind, ‘Is this for real?’

“I seem to keep getting reminders about that. My hand is almost healed. I’ve got a really nasty scar, so that doesn’t look like it’s going to go away.  Most all of the nerve damage went away, which is really good, so I can move it really well.”

“I was kind of embarrassed by that one,” Keselowski continued. “That was a low light.  Every once in a while I’ll get these things that come across my Twitter feed that will say, ‘Top 10 Worst Victory Celebrations’ which is not a list you want to make and I’ve made quite a few of them for that moment specifically.”

Apparently, Keselowski is not afraid to consider some further embarrassment in Victory Lane if he happens to win this weekend.

“Someone came to one of my appearances,” Keselowski said. “I can’t remember where, but they just showed up to get an autograph and it was this lady. She had something in her pocket and she pulled it out and it was a sword. She said, ‘I’ve got to show you something.’  And I didn’t know what to think.  She said, ‘I want to show you how to open a champagne bottle with a sword.’  I said, ‘This is something I’ve got to see.’

“She told me she didn’t want me to hurt my hand again because it didn’t look like much fun.  She was a fan, so she grabbed a sword and opened the champagne bottle.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it before, but it’s a really cool trick.”

“I have a sword now. She gave me a sword,” he continued. “There’s a problem though because it takes like a really special champagne bottle and it’s got to be like the right temperature to open it up with a sword.

“So I haven’t quite got the guts up to open a bottle with a sword, but if I was going to try it this would be the weekend.  I’m still contemplating that for like redemption because I feel like that video could end up on Tosh.0 or something.  I need to do like a web redemption, if you’ve ever seen that show.  Instead, I’d like to do a race track redemption, so it has entered my mind.”

“I think it would be really cool, don’t you?”

In spite of any embarrassment from last week or last year, Keselowski is trying to put it all behind him and go racing in this year’s Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts.

“It’s easy to get caught up on last week and forget the task ahead that’s this week,” Keselowski said. “Whether it’s good or bad I try not to do that.  The reality is that’s a restrictor plate race track.

“There are four of those races on the schedule and we’re through three of them.  I still want to go to Talladega and win, but I’m not spending a lot of time thinking about a restrictor plate race.  I’m thinking about this race.

“This is a really big race for seeing who is gonna have what it takes to win the championship over the next few months when we get to crunch time.  I’m ready.  I’m thinking about that.”

Keselowski will pilot the No. 2 Miller Lite Team Penske Ford, which is returning after a three week hiatus on the car. The driver has four starts at Kentucky, all of them in the No. 2 Miller Lite car, scoring one pole and two victories.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Aric Almirola Making His Own Brand of RPM History

The driver of the iconic No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports, Aric Almirola, is on track to make his own brand of history for The King and Company.

With his fifth place run at Dover International Speedway this past weekend, @aric_almirola currently sits tenth in the point standings. And if that trend continues, it would be a points position that has not been seen by an @RPMotorsports driver and team since 2009.

“It does show that we are moving in the right direction,” Sammy Johns, Director of Competition for Richard Petty Motorsports, said. “But at the same time, we have a lot of work ahead of us to maintain and improve on this progress.

All of our guys are working hard both on the Cup and XFINITY sides of our new shop. We have areas we’re looking to improve, but it’s encouraging to see all the work and changes we have put in since our move in January.”

While the team at the shop has been working hard, Almirola felt like he was in a battle zone at Dover, fighting for track position, fighting with his tires, and fighting with the heat to secure his fifth place position at the end of the race.

The first battle that Almirola and his team faced was a poor qualifying run, starting the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks in the 23rd spot. Almirola acknowledged that has been one of the team’s weaknesses and something that has prohibited even better finishes for Team 43.

“We have to get better qualifying,” Almirola said. “That is our Achilles heel right now. We start too deep in the field every week.”

In addition to the poor qualifying effort, Almirola had to fight an ill-handling car throughout much of the race, working diligently with his crew chief and team to adjust on the tires and the race car.

In fact, at the start of the race Almirola fell back to the 25th position when the car got really tight after the green flag was displayed. He actually fell back even further, going down a lap to the leader, before driving to the 21st spot and securing his ‘Lucky Dog’ of the day.

Because there were limited cautions, Almirola and his team fell back again after green-flag pit stops, battling back to secure the second ‘Lucky Dog’ of the race. After adjusting and tuning, Almirola finally was able to break the top-15 in the running order, driving into the 13th position by Lap 324.

The Smithfield team then decided to change four tires late in the race for the green-white-checkered finish. And with his team cheering him on from pit road, Almirola restarted 10th and moved four spots forward on the first lap of the G-W-C.

He was able to pass one more car on the final lap, taking the checkered flag at the Monster Mile for his first top-five finish of the season.

“Yeah it was a good day for us,” Almirola said from the grid after the race. “We got tires there late and that was really the difference.

We had honestly a tenth place car most of the day. We qualified poorly and it got us back in the pack and we just could not recover with the limited amount of cautions.

I’m proud of Trent Owens and all these guys on the Smithfield Ford. My car was fast; it just wasn’t fast enough.  The second-to-the-last tires must have been a bad set or something because I just could not take off and get going.

The last set of tires drove like the rest of them and we ended up with a fifth place finish.”

“It was just a battle; just a battle all day,” Almirola continued. “We fought for every single position. We fought to stay on the lead lap. We fought to be the ‘Lucky Dog’. We just fought really hard all day. We dug down deep; everybody did. And we got a good result to show for it.

It was extremely hot. I’m not going to lie. It was probably one of the hotter races I remember. And with the limited amount of cautions and not really being able to catch your breath and take a breather, it made it difficult. But that’s what we get paid to do.”

With his top-five run, Almirola jumped up two positions in the point standings to tenth. The team is also 14th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings with thirteen races left to go before the Chase begins.

“It was a great day for us, a really good points day for us,” Almirola said. “Proud of everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports. We’ve been working really hard to bring better cars to the track every week.

It was good to get some results like that. All in all, it was a good day for us, and I am ready to go to Pocono.”

 

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

 

 

Categories
Trucks

Kyle Busch Assumes New Role As Mentor

DOVER, Del. – @KyleBusch has had many roles in NASCAR, from driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota in the Cup Series to team owner in the Camping World Truck Series to being a new dad to Brexton Locke.

But there is another role that he has assumed more recently, that of being a mentor to up and coming drivers in the sport, like @dnlsuarez (Daniel Suarez) and @Erik_Jones.

Both Kyle Busch Motorsports drivers had success in the 16th annual Lucas Oil 200 at Dover International Speedway, with Suarez coming in second with his No. 51 ARRIS Toyota and Jones taking the checkered flag in his No. 4 Special Olympics World Games Toyota in the third place.

And at the end of the race, both drivers credited the calm and cool mentoring of Kyle Busch as a great contributor to their respective successes.

“As you know, most of the race tracks that we have been to I’ve never been there before,” Suarez said after his second place run. “I’ve been to some in the K&N Series but some I’ve never been even to watch a race.

It’s a little bit difficult to get into the race with a new race car and a new race track. That is very difficult and Kyle has been very helpful to me, especially about what to expect.

Kyle has also helped me with how I need to be in the race and not just strong in practice and what to look for. I feel like all these conversations with him have been very helpful to me to continue this learning process and understand the race track.”

Suarez also attributed his good run to constant and continual learning at the feet of his mentor and team owner. He also paid tribute to his team, one that he feels is coming together and gaining connection and chemistry each and every week.

“I’m just excited,” Suarez said. “I’m learning a lot and I feel different from February to now. I have more confidence. I know a little more. I just feel like we are making ground at Kyle Busch Motorsports and at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“We have been working hard since last year,” Suarez continued. “When we were out of the race track, I was spending time at the shop, both shops, to try to get to know both teams. That’s something that is very important.”

“I really like to spend time at the shop with my guys, my crew chiefs and my engineers. I even spend time at the shop when we don’t have races. I think that’s very important and I have a lot of confidence that the chemistry is getting better and better every day in the Truck and Xfinity Series.”

“My goal this season was to learn, finish races and finish in the top-ten. And to be honest, it’s been even much better than that. It looks like we are learning in the right track and we have the right people on my side.”

“Kyle has been very, very helpful. I think we are getting closer and closer to a win. My confidence personally is getting better and better. Hopefully, we will get that win soon.”

Suarez, who is from Mexico, came to the attention of Kyle Busch through his success in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, as well as in the NASCAR Toyota Series, where he won five times, and in the K&N Pro Series East, where he won twice.

Erik Jones, the third place finisher in the Truck race at the Monster Mile, also attributed much of his success to date to the mentoring of team owner Kyle Busch. In fact, the driver who will celebrate his nineteenth birthday at the Monster Mile this weekend, came to Busch’s attention after beating him in the Snowball Derby in 2012.

Jones especially needed some of Busch’s wise advice after leading the Truck race, deciding on taking just two tires and then losing the race lead to Tyler Reddick, who eventually took the trophy and stood in Victory Lane.

“It’s pretty awesome to have Kyle Busch on the box and in my ear,” Jones said after the Truck race. “We’ve talked about a lot of things this week. We’ve talked about racing in general and life in general.

To have him on the radio with us and coaching me along is pretty big, especially today with some of the struggles we’ve had, falling back and trying to cut through the field and managing tires.

Kyle helped me a lot today and I’m sure he will help me a lot in the future. It’s pretty cool to have a guy like that in your ear and to know that he will help.”

There is no doubt that Busch will continue to mentor his young driver, who was most disappointed with letting another win slip away after leading more than fifty percent of the laps. This is also the third race in a row where Jones ran strong only to give up the lead late in the race.

“In the last three weeks, it just didn’t work out for us,” Jones said. “I was in on the call to take two and we just didn’t have enough time left at the end. It was a solid day for us and we learned a lot for when we come here again. But it’s just a shame that we couldn’t bring it home. We’ve got a good truck and a good race team.

It’s definitely frustrating and even more frustrating at this moment. It just really hurts being that close to a win three weeks in a row.

It’s just tough to swallow. We’ve been so fast and we haven’t had much to show for it. We made a call to take two with sixty to go and that’s a lot of laps on lefts. It showed at the end when I started getting free. Even in lapped traffic, it was too much. I couldn’t hold onto it.

We’ll take it and move on and we’ll just keep getting better.”

Busch himself will move from the mentor role to taking his turn at trying to conquer the Monster Mile. This is also just the second race for Busch after returning from his extensive leg and foot injuries sustained in the Daytona Xfinity race at the start of the season.

“Dover, being a concrete track, is challenging,” Busch said. “They are all a challenge, but Dover is especially so just because of the way you have to run around that place.

The way tires sometimes wear out. The way the rubber gets put down there. You’ve got to be fast through the corner. Two-thirds of your lap time is through the turn rather than down the straightaway, so you definitely have to make sure you have a good-handling racecar – one that’s good in the beginning of the run on low air pressures and one that’s good at the end of the run on high air pressures, and even through traffic, too.

Some of the most challenging times are when you’re trying to get through traffic with guys. We had good races there the last couple of years but haven’t been able to finish them off, so I hope we can keep the momentum going there again this weekend and get a win with our Skittles Camry.”

Busch has two wins, nine top-fives, 13 top-10s, and has led a total of 1,011 laps in 20 career Sprint Cup starts at Dover. His average Dover finish is 14.2.

The driver/mentor qualified for the 46th Annual FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks in the tenth spot, with a time of 22.645 seconds and a speed of 158.975.

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

Categories
Home Tracks

Matt Wallace Holds Legacy In His Hands

As strongly as @DaleJr. wanted to honor his father’s legacy with his win at Talladega, young @Matt_Wallace7 wants to continue the legacy of his racing family, from his dad Mike to his uncle Kenny to his sister Chrissy.

The nineteen year old recently struck a deal with Bill Kimmel Racing to start his race car at Toledo, Ohio on May 17th. He will be following in the footsteps of his father, who won six ARCA races and his sister Chrissy who made her ARCA debut at that very race track.

And with his upcoming start in his first ever ARCA race in just a few weeks, Wallace acknowledged that his future and his family’s legacy now rests squarely in his own hands.

“It came about as a very quick deal and struck kind of out of the blue,” Wallace told POPULAR SPEED. “We’re trying to get me approved for future things that may come around the NASCAR circuit, like the Xfinity Series or a truck ride. My main goal right now with the ARCA program with Bill Kimmel Racing is to run respectable, maybe turn a few heads and try to get approved by NASCAR for future events.”

The teenaged race will have his work cut out for him, having never raced on that track and having never raced in a stock car.

“I’ve seen the race track because my sister Chrissy ran it but I’ve never raced there in my life,” Wallace said. “Kenny Schrader has raced there so I’m going to take a few pointers from him. He’s been there a million times and is pretty smart about the race track so I’m trying to accommodate as much help as I can from other drivers that have been there.

“This will be a totally different avenue than what I’m used to racing late model cars. The horse power is a lot different as is the weight of the cars. They will drive a lot different than what I’m used to. So, it will take us a little bit of time to get used to during practice.”

Wallace will have just two 45 minute practice sessions the day before the race to accomplish all of this. The good news is that he is locked in so he will not have to worry about making the show on time.

“Practice is not very much time to do a lot of things but hopefully it will create enough time to get a feel for the car and work on the set up,” Wallace said. “We’ll see if we can at least get a top-10 out of the program. A win would be great but for a first start, running respectable and getting respect from the other drivers, as well as trying to get approved will be the goal.”

While Bill Kimmel, owner of the race team with whom Wallace will run his first ARCA race, is a friend of Mike Wallace, Matt has never met him. But the young driver is headed out to the mid-West to do just that later this week.

“Bill Kimmel has been a friend of my dad’s from when everyone started,” Wallace said. “I’ve actually never even met Bill Kimmel. We are going out on Thursday of this week to meet him.

“Bill was crew chiefing and his son Will was driving his car and will be there to give me some pointers. To be honest, I’m not sure about all of the details but on Thursday we will go to the shop in Indiana and size everything up and see where we stand.”

As with every young racer, Wallace is not only in seeking sponsorship opportunities for his debut ARCA race.

“We’ve arranged for it ourselves but sponsorship opportunities are still available,” Wallace said. “Of course, there is nothing on the car right now but we did have to bring money to the table. We’re seeking sponsorship from anybody out there who wants to put their name on the car and be live on CBS Sports on May 17th.”

For those not familiar with Wallace, he has had quite a racing resume starting at the tender age of eight years.

“I started out in the Bandelero cars around Charlotte and Atlanta Speedway, running local tracks and the Summer Shoot Outs,” Wallace said. “Then we moved up to the Legend cars and traveled a little more around. In 2012, a gentleman out of Lebanon, Missouri hired me to drive his late model. That was my first year in a full-bodied stock car. We had five wins, eighteen starts and was second in the championship for the track. We lost the championship by .024 so it was very close.

“In 2013, I went back to the same gentleman to try to get a championship. We were leading up until the last night and then we blew a motor with eight laps to go. So, we lost the championship. It was one of those things that upset you so much but you can’t do anything about it.”

“We bought the car and came back to our shop here in Concord, North Carolina and basically started all over with our own team. We just tried to run every race track we could in 2014 to get experience and to see where we could run good at,” Wallace continued.

“Then this year, we went to Speedweeks in Florida at New Smyrna Speedway and won one event and never finished outside the top-five until the last night. We had a distributor failure while we were leading the race. After that, we tried to build a new car and I’m going to run that May 30th in Lebanon, Missouri at the JEGS All Star Tour event. So, we’re getting tuned up for that as well as the ARCA race.”

In spite of having a lot of racing under his belt, Wallace is more than willing to get advice and counsel from whomever he can. He is especially close to his father, who is still recovering from recent open heart surgery.

“It was major surgery and it will take a few weeks to recover, but my dad’s doing good,” Wallace said. “He has definitely not missed a beat and has been at the shop. He’s back to himself but moving a little slower for the next couple of weeks.

“Me and my dad went to lunch today and we were talking about what I’m going to expect from the car, the weight to power ratio compared to my late model car. The shifting aspects are also different than what I’m used to. All of those simple pointers are important.”

“I’m also trying to get some other drivers to give me insight about the Toledo Speedway itself,” Wallace continued. “Uncle Kenny was here at the shop today so we were talking about that. My family has all been very supportive of me. They’ve never pushed me to race. It’s always been only if I wanted to type of deal.

“To be honest, I don’t know what the best part of racing is because I like every bit of it. It’s a family sport for me, with them being in it for all their lives. I’ve met everybody along the way and I try to keep them in my contacts. I’m just trying to follow in my family’s footsteps. I’ve never found one thing wrong with racing, except that it takes too much money. But you love it so much that you have to fight for it.”

So, how will the youngster feel when he puts on his helmet and straps the belts tight in his first ARCA race?

“It’s a mixture of all feelings, nervous and excited,” Wallace said. “I just want to have a respectable run. I feel like we can run good, I don’t have a lot of pressure on my shoulders, and I know the car is good. So, everything is pressure free here.

“It’s all in my hands now.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Gilliland Counting Down Days to ‘Dega

For small teams like Front Row Motorsports, speedway races often present that one opportunity to stand in Victory Lane and have a shot at getting into the championship Chase.

And that is exactly why David Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 Farm Rich Ford, is counting down the days until he can get behind the wheel for the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend.

“All the speedway races are circled on not only my calendar but for Front Row Motorsports as well,” @DavidGilliland told POPULAR SPEED. “Those tracks are great equalizers and helps teams like ours that don’t have the biggest budgets be able to go to the track and have a legitimate shot at winning.

“So, that’s always exciting not only for myself but our team. Our mindset is that this is a chance for us to make the Chase and for us to go and have a shot at possibly making it with a win. We put a lot into these races and I put a lot of pressure on myself and our whole team to go out there and perform well. We hope we have a great day.”

Gilliland admitted that, thanks to his three poles, three top-five finishes and six top-10 results at restrictor-plate tracks like Talladega, both he and his team have a little more pep in their step as they prepare for this weekend’s race.

“Everybody at @FrontRowNASCAR does a good job of preparing our cars each and every week,” Gilliland said. “I don’t think more preparation or effort goes into preparing our cars for a race like Talladega, but with the rule package and the restrictor plate, our cars just seem to be more competitive. Obviously, the excitement that I have though echoes through the shop. Everybody knows that this weekend there is a possibility that Front Row Motorsports could come out of there with a win.

“That’s exciting and I think it makes everyone take that extra little bit of time to make sure that everything is one hundred percent and the best they can do. With David Ragan winning at Talladega a couple of years ago with Front Row Motorsports, everybody knows that it can be done. So, the excitement is through the shop for sure.”

Yet in spite of all the preparation, Gilliland acknowledged that all of the best laid plans at any superspeedway are subject to modification as soon as the green flag is waved.

“We usually have a meeting about what our plan will be for the race but anyone who has watched a restrictor plate race knows that the planning goes out the window about Lap 2,” Gilliland said. “You just never really know but we’ve raced enough of these races to know what we need to do on the fly.

“We’ve all worked together enough, my spotter and I especially, and have had success so I feel like a lot of it you do have to adjust on the fly, do what your gut is telling you and adjust to how the race is playing out in front of you as far as what moves and decisions you make throughout the race.”

Another new wrinkle in this upcoming race is the new qualifying format, one that has Gilliland a bit perplexed.

“I have no idea about the new qualifying,” Gilliland said. “We had a competition meeting and we talked about it. I have no idea to be honest. It’s going to be different and new for everybody. But everyone is under the same rules and the same deal. We’ll practice it, leaving pit road, getting up to speed, going through the gears, and all that to get as much speed built up for that one lap.

“It will be different, which is exciting I think. We’ll look forward to seeing how it plays out.”

Gilliland also will have to adjust to a new drafting partner, having done so well in the past with David Ragan, who he actually pushed to victory in 2013 at Talladega in a true David and Goliath type finish. @DavidRagan, no longer with Front Row, will be completing his final race in substitution for Kyle Busch at Talladega and will next go to Michael Waltrip Racing for the remainder of the 2015 season.

“So, we have Farm Rich on our car this weekend so hopefully Ragan will recognize that car since he drove it to Victory Lane and we helped push him there,” Gilliland said with a chuckled. “I’m hoping he will recognize it and we can still work together. He’s still a friend and we get along good and trust each other at this style of race track and all the tracks. So, I’m excited about that.

“Cole Whitt is my new teammate and he’s done good on the speedway stuff as well. We know what he has for a car. So, I feel really good about going in there and we’ve done well enough in the past at Talladega that guys recognize that and are willing to work with you throughout the race.”

In addition to his success at these types of tracks, Gilliland is also looking forward to the weekend with a new sponsor on his car.

“Farm Rich has been a partner with Front Row Motorsports for three years now and have been a great partner,” Gilliland said. “They have been on David Ragan’s car so I haven’t gotten to work with them as much. So, I’m really excited to be representing their brand this weekend.

“It’s such a special race track for them and for me. It’s a really, really special weekend for us and I’m looking forward to getting to know them. They’ve been a great partner for Front Row Motorsports.”

In addition to his top three likes at Talladega, the speed, the wide open track and his competitiveness there, there is one reason in particular that has Gilliland counting down to the days to ‘Dega.

“The best part is that all of the family is coming,” Gilliland said. “That will be the first time in I don’t remember when that they all will be coming to the track. They are leaving after they get out of school on Thursday and we’ll spend the weekend together. As excited as I am about Talladega and to race there, I’m even more excited that I’m going to have my whole family with me, Todd, Taylor and Michelle.

We’re all going to spend the weekend together and I can’t wait for that either.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan