David Ragan and Wendell Scott Both Winners in 34

EXCLUSIVE By Mary Jo Buchanan – This weekend at Martinsville, @DavidRagan will pay tribute to Wendell Scott, a driver with whom he has shared a winning history in the No. 34 race car.

Wendell Scott was the first African American to win a NASCAR race in the No. 34 and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next year, while Ragan took his No. 34 to Victory Lane at Talladega last year.

“We’re running a retro paint scheme in tribute to Wendell Scott, the car with the light blue and the No. 34 that he was well known for, which we run today,” Ragan told POPULAR SPEED. “It just seemed right to do it at Martinsville because it was a track that was very close to his hometown of Danville, Virginia. That race track has a lot of history. You go to Martinsville and you get that same feeling that you had at a Darlington or even Charlotte and Daytona.”

“It just seemed right to honor Wendell’s achievement going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame with this throw back paint scheme so his family and friends and fans of his over the years can see the car that they remember going around the race track again.”

Ragan, a student of the history of the sport himself, has great admiration for the difficulties that Scott encountered, not only as an African American driver in a predominantly white southern sport, but also the financial challenges he faced to even get his car to the race track.

“The struggle that Wendell had racing in a predominantly southern stock car series was a lot harder than what I can imagine,” Ragan said. “In the 1960s and 1970s, the race movement nationally was one of the big issues.”

“I think that him being the first African American to win a NASCAR race and our win last year at Talladega being the first win since his in the No. 34 car is really special,” Ragan continued. “I never got a chance to watch Wendell race or get to know him but hearing some of the stories about the sacrifices he made and hard work that he had to do in order to get to the race track and run, it means a lot about what our sport is all about.”

“I’ve been able to see both aspects of a big team with a lot of funding from the Roush Fenway days and being at Front Row Motorsports, a small team that is growing,” Ragan said. “It’s neat to see some similarities as people explain what Wendell was able to achieve as a relatively small team, small name driver that didn’t have a lot of manufacturer’s support.”

“So, it is only fitting that we can honor him and it is going to be neat to see the family, friends, some of his crew guys be around the track this weekend and watch the race and bring back some good memories.”

Ragan is also excited about the opportunity to not only remember Wendell Scott but also to educate fans who may not know his story and his important role in the history of the sport.

“The event at the NASCAR Hall of Fame announcing this throw back paint scheme on my No. 34 race car was a neat deal,” Ragan said. “I’m sure there will be some more things during the induction ceremony in January as well that will honor him.”

“But this weekend is just about remembering the good times that Wendell had and to bring back some good memories,” Ragan continued. “It is definitely something special for our team.”

“And even more important, a lot of people that may not know his story, watching this weekend will get an education for sure.”

Ragan is hoping that some of that historic Wendell Scott magic will bring the No. 34 car good luck this race weekend, as well as for the remainder of the race season.

“We’re going to be aggressive these last few races,” Ragan said. “We still have a lot to do with our Front Row Motorsports car. We’re still working and trying to understand this new balance, this new aero package, and this new package.”

“Going into next year, we don’t have a lot of big changes in the race car parts so the more we can learn this weekend it will help us next year at some of the short tracks,” Ragan continued. “We’re still working hard to end the season on a good note. We’re in the midst of a crew change with the No. 34 and 38 car and working with a new crew chief. So, we’re just trying to finish the year strong but get a jump start on the next year.”

“It would be great if we could get a top-10 or top-15 finish,” Ragan said. “That would be an outstanding day.”

So, what does David Ragan hope that fans take away as his legacy as he pays tribute to the No. 34 of Wendell Scott at Martinsville this race weekend?

“I’d like everyone to remember that win last year at Talladega because it had been so many years since that No. 34 car won,” Ragan said. “Hopefully, that’s not the last.”

“I’d like to think that ten or fifteen years down the road that folks can look back and remember that David Ragan and that 34 team did grow and make Front Row Motorsports more consistent and a contender in the Sprint Cup Series,” Ragan continued. “That would be great to be known as a part of that. I’ve got a lot of chapters left in my racing career but I really enjoy working with the Front Row Motorsports team and helping them get to the next level.”

“It has been something that I’ve enjoyed doing and I think it’s great that this tribute to Wendell Scott is going to happen at a track like Martinsville which is such an historic race track.”

“It is a perfect venue to honor one of the veterans of our sport.”


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Talladega Strategy Ensures Mears of a Top-Ten Finish

EXCLUSIVE By Mary Jo Buchanan – @CJMearsGang (Casey Mears), driver of the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet for Germain Racing, always looks forward to racing at Talladega, where all teams are equal and everyone has a chance at the trophy.

This past weekend’s race did not disappoint as Mears finished top-10, which the racer deemed a definite step in the right direction.

“Our guys did a good job and we had a fast race car,” Mears told POPULAR SPEED. “At the beginning, we ran pretty hard and it got a little crazy up front. So we decided we would play it safe for a little bit. We missed the first incident and then we charged up through there to get into third for quite a while.”

“For the most part, we had a pretty seamless day,” Mears continued. “We just missed a couple crashes and there at the end, when it was time to go, everyone was three and four wide and it was pretty crazy.”

“I got behind the No. 9 (Marcos Ambrose) car there, pushed him really hard and we made a lot of progress there.”

“A good result for us for sure,” Mears said. “We had a string of races where we weren’t getting the results we wanted.”

“So, it was nice to go to Talladega and have a good run.”

The race weekend started with a somewhat confusing qualifying session that even sent a few of the regular Cup drivers home. For Mears, however, qualifying worked out well, pointing them in exactly the right direction for the race.

“It worked out OK for us,” Mears said of his qualifying effort. “It was a matter of really understanding what you were trying to do. It made it difficult because everyone wanted to get that big run and the only way to get that was to be about half a straightaway behind the pack.”

“You could get together with a couple of guys and work off that lead pack’s draft to put in a faster lap time,” Mears continued. “The whole challenge was that everyone was holding out as long as they possibly could to not be the cars in the lead pack because you wanted to be the car in the pack behind utilizing their draft.”

“The first session it worked out really well for us and we went with the No. 27 (Paul Menard) car,” Mears said. “We sucked up real well to a pack in front of us and we were 1 and 2 on the board in the first session.”

“Then going into the second session, we just missed it a little bit and we ended up 19th and 20th,” Mears continued. “So, you definitely had to play strategy for sure but at the same time you definitely needed to make sure you got a lap in.”

“That’s what happened to a handful of guys and unfortunately some guys went home that you wouldn’t normally see go home.”

Mears, his crew chief Bootie Barker, and his whole No. 13 GEICO team had a plan not only in qualifying but also throughout the race.

“We had a plan already going into qualifying and I had been talking with the No. 27,” Mears said. “I think we were hoping that all the other RCR cars would get on that plan as well. We kind of had that plan but really we just committed to working with the No. 27 and it worked out for us.”

“For the race, you definitely had to study the film,” Mears said. “I try to understand the history, know what works in the past and have that game plan. But when the cautions start falling, that can change it all up. So, you definitely have to have an A, B and C plan ready to go. It’s definitely a race that can change the whole complexion of it, especially when the caution comes out.”

One of the real keys to surviving Talladega for Mears was that spotter in his ear, guiding, cajoling and giving the best advice possible to keep the car going in the right direction.

“Ron (Lewis, spotter) and I have worked together for a couple of years and he does a great job,” Mears said. “I trust him and believe what he is saying. We really understand each other and that has developed over the years.”

Mears also credited the lack of the usual ‘big one’ at Talladega, as well as his missing some of the smaller wrecks, for his top-10 finish.

“Those last three laps we were four-wide and I was expecting the ‘big one’ the whole time,” Mears said. “And it didn’t happen. They kept it together and we made it through. I thought for sure it was going to happen at the end and I sure did not want to be a part of it.”

“At the end of the day, we hooked up with the No. 9 (Marcos Ambrose) car. I pushed him as hard as I could and we made some progress there at the end.”

Mears also felt he stepped in the right direction with his car sponsor, who also sponsored the race, the GEICO 500.

“We had several appearances around the track and in the infield for GEICO throughout the weekend,” Mears said. “It was definitely a big weekend. They’re a great sponsor and it has been neat to see how much they have grown in the sport, along with our team growing.”

“They definitely have gone full blown ahead with their NASCAR program, sponsoring us, the race and other events at the track,” Mears continued. “They really branded that race as their own.”

“It was fun to be a part of that weekend and obviously it is special to have a solid day when your sponsor is sponsoring the event as well.”

So, just how important was the top-10 finish to the Mears gang?

“It’s definitely a big boost for sure,” Mears said. “We obviously have high expectations when we go to the superspeedways because we have had success in the past.”

“A top-10 is good for us but it’s not excellent,” Mears continued. “But it is a good step in the right direction for our program.”

“We’re excited going into Martinsville this weekend after last week. Hopefully we can put together two good weekends in a row and finish off this year well and have a good platform to build from.”


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Blickensderfer Thinks Hornish Has Something to Prove

EXCLUSIVE By Mary Jo Buchanan – With the recent news that three-time IndyCar driver @SamHornish Jr. will be replacing @MarcosAmbrose in the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, crew chief Drew Blickensderfer felt almost an immediate kinship and connection with the driver that he feels is not only hungry, but has something to prove.

“I was really happy to hear the announcement with Sam,” Blickensderfer told POPULAR SPEED. “He is someone I didn’t know that well before last week but I saw him afar as a guy who kind of got rushed into the sport and then had his chance to come back in the No. 22 car in 2012 and performed really, really well. He learned a lot from his first couple of years racing stock cars and applied that to 2012 very well.”

“I think Sam’s got a lot to prove and he’s hungry,” Blickensderfer continued. “He wants a second chance at this and he has obviously proven that he can drive race cars. Most recently, Sam has spent most of his days at the shop, talking and going to meetings with me. I went to lunch with him today and got to know him a little better.”

Although lunch was a start to the relationship-building, Blickensderfer is most looking forward to some upcoming testing where he can really get to know his new driver.

“We’re actually going to spend the day next week in Nashville to prepare for 2015,” Blickensderfer said. “The most important thing is to be at the race track. You can go to lunch with them and you can spend time in the racing environment with them, but the most important thing is to connect at the race track.”

“Getting Sam to Nashville will be a big help,” Blickensderfer continued. “Then we’re going to plan another test in two weeks after that to spend some time together and learn his likes and dislikes in the race car.

“We’ll get all that worked out and spending time at the race track is how you build that chemistry.”

The three-time Cup winning crew chief admitted that the testing ban for 2015 will be a challenge in the development of his chemistry with Hornish, however, has decided to approach the new relationship by going forward and not looking back.

“The testing ban really makes it so we’re going to have to learn as much as we can about each other the couple times we get to testing in the next five weeks or so,” Blickensderfer said. “And then after that, there are no more dry runs and it’s real life. Daytona is a long, drawn out couple of weeks for us usually so that will be a good preliminary feel for each other and we’ll go through that.”

“I don’t really look at past races too much or past performances,” Blickensderfer continued. “People can look at my career or a driver’s career or say someone was really good and the equipment changes or there are other changes that people can’t put their fingers on. I’ve talked to Sam about what he feels are his strongest race tracks and things like that. But besides that, there is no past history. We’ll go on and see if we can establish that new relationship.”

Blickensderfer acknowledges that the role of crew chief runs the gamut of being focused on the performance to being a mentor, coach and friend. The key to his success as crew chief, however, will be to be able to adapt to whatever Hornish will need in the race car next year, just like he adapted to both @MattKenseth and Carl Edwards, for whom he has crew-chiefed in the past.

“The crew chief/driver relationship changes with every driver and every crew chief,” Blickensderfer said. “For crew chiefs to be successful, you have to adapt to what your driver, your team and your company needs to get the most out of it. I think the most successful crew chiefs are the guys that can be put with multiple people and still run well. They have adapted to whatever the needs are of that driver.”

“Matt Kenseth was a guy that didn’t need much cheerleading at all while Carl Edwards probably needed more that Matt,” Blickensderfer continued. “I’ll get to know whether Sam Hornish will need that. My goal is give Sam whatever he needs on the other end of the radio, whether it be a calming, comforting voice or a fiery coach kind of voice. Whatever it takes to get the most out of Sam and the most out of the team is what I will do. I think sometimes it’s a straight, professional and business-like relationship and other times it is friend, mentor or companion.”

“It depends on what you need to get the most out of the driver.”

Blickensderfer is also doing all he can to help his new driver mesh with the entire No. 9 team, in spite of the fact that he still is in the process of closing out the 2014 season with outgoing driver Marcos Ambrose.

“Sam’s been received extremely well at the shop,” Blickensderfer said. “People are ready for Sam to drive the race car and they want to be a part of that. His first step is to get to mesh with the team and get them to work around him. There will be an interior guy who will take care of his helmet and his gloves and make sure everything is right when he sits inside that race car. And then we’ll have a motor tuner that he will have to know and one he can ask questions of to know what’s going on. And there will be a car chief and a shock guy that he will have communication with. Getting them all interacting with Sam before we get to the race track will be a big advantage going into 2015.”

“But Sam also knows that we still have a job to do this season,” Blickensderfer said. “It’s very professional amongst the group, knowing that this is the guy coming in and this is the guy leaving and there are no hard feelings.”

“The thing that we have to do for both Stanley and DeWalt and Marcos is to do everything we can to run successfully these last few weeks. We will put the same effort into these final weeks as we did at the beginning of the season.”

“And in the meantime, we will be run ragged trying to get to know Sam during the week when we’re not at the race track with Marcos.”

Blickensderfer acknowledges that there will be challenges in adapting to yet another change in driver, as well as with the changes in the team and the company. But he also is convinced that this newest relationship will be beneficial for both him and Hornish as they re-establish their place in the sport together.

“I think the challenges we have are not necessarily with Sam but more with the company, moving into a new building, taking on all the responsibilities ourselves,” Blickensderfer said. “Those are things that we look forward to as we create our own destiny where we can have more control and more hands-on feel of how the cars are being produced. That’s something the team, along with this new driver, is going to have to get used to in the next couple of months.”

“I think that the thing that I look forward to with Sam is re-establishing ourselves,” Blickensderfer continued. “I think both of us had success, myself in Nationwide and Sam in IRL, and we came to Cup and had spurts of success, but we both kind of got to a point where we needed to start something new.”

“And this is the chance for both of us to start something new and get that chemistry to where both of us can make this a long-term deal where we are having success together,” Blickensderfer said. “It’s one of those things when you get a driver and crew chief that hit it off and they can have multiple years of successful racing, it’s a neat experience.”

“So, with Sam it would be neat to re-establish that power that he once was in IRL and let him enjoy some of that success in NASCAR.”

“That would be a huge thrill.”


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LaJoie: ‘It Is Huge’

EXCLUSIVE By Mary Jo Buchanan – For up and coming driver @CoreyLaJoie, the opportunity to be behind the wheel of a race car for four Nationwide races is simply “huge,” especially since he has not had a regular ride for most of the season.

LaJoie will be racing the No. 98 Medallion Financial Ford Mustang for a partnership formed between Richard Petty Motorsports, where he is a development driver, and Biagi-DenBenste Racing for the Nationwide events at Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead this year.

“It was a relationship that I tried putting together with the Petty’s and Biagi’s,” LaJoie told POPULAR SPEED. “I was just trying to get in a car. I think it’s a good fit. Petty offered resources and Biagi made it possible to go to the race track.”

“Petty has put together all the financial needs to get me with Biagi,” LaJoie continued. “And they made it work with some resources and help on their side as well. It definitely took everybody pulling in the same direction and for next year if it comes together, I don’t know. But if I have a couple of good runs this year, we should have no problem putting things together for next year.”

“Medallion Financial will be on the car,” LaJoie said. “That’s one of the owners in RPM Motorsports. He supported me last year in the ARCA Series. I had the car that looked like the taxi cab in ARCA last year so it’s cool to have the taxi cab scheme back on the car. That’s what I had in Victory Lane in Pocono.”

Fred Biagi, Co-Owner of Biagai-DenBeste Racing, is also very much looking forward to seeing what LaJoie can do behind the wheel of his race car in his four Nationwide starts.

“Corey has shown that he learns very quickly on the track,” said Fred Biagi Co-Owner of Biagi-DenBeste Racing. “Our first race together we finished 15th in only his second Nationwide Series start. We feel that we can compete in top-five in these four races with Corey and that’s our goal.”

LaJoie is very much looking forward to his first race, which will be at Kansas Speedway for the Kansas Lottery 300 this weekend.

“I’m excited about Kansas because I ran ARCA there and was fast,” LaJoie said. “I got 20 laps into it and we were the best car there. But another car clocked me a couple times, I got impatient and wrecked us both. That won’t happen this week. I’m going to find my own niche and hopefully get a top ten or a little better.”

The 23-year-old driver is also looking forward to the other races at Charlotte, Texas and Homestead as well, although he does not have quite the experience at those tracks yet.

“I ran the Nationwide race at Homestead last year,” LaJoie said. “I had a couple laps there but we didn’t have a great run. We ran 17th or something and I kind of put myself in a bad spot and got spun out. Did a little damage to the car but I learned from that. I’ve had awhile to think about it and correct what I did wrong.”

“At Charlotte, I’ve been around there,” LaJoie continued. “I’ve got hundreds of laps there in whatever cars there are. Once you’re in the Nationwide car and learn the radial tires, everything kind of comes together.”

LaJoie also got his first bite at the apple of Cup racing, performing at last weekend’s Nationwide race at New Hampshire.

“I actually ran my first Cup race last weekend in New Hampshire,” LaJoie said. “I thought we ran better than what the stats showed. We qualified 41st and ran 32nd before we blew the gear up. I thought we had a 25th place car but it wasn’t meant to be.”

When LaJoie has not been in the race car, he has tried to stay active and physically fit in preparation for that time when he would be back behind the wheel.

“I’ve been working out and riding bikes to keep my physical health as high as I can get it without being in a race car,” LaJoie said. “There is only so much you can do. I don’t have a lot of money and if I did, I would be racing every week.

“It’s all good and things are paying off now.”

LaJoie is also well aware that his performance may just be the ticket for future consideration of a ride that may open up as Marcos Ambrose exits the NASCAR scene from RPM No. 9 car.

“I would say I’m in line but I’m pretty far down the line,” LaJoie said. “But you never know, if you get a couple of good Nationwide races then I might be talking about it. Right now I’m just hungry for racing and getting those guys at Biagi Racing good solid finishes for the next four.”

All in all, however, the young driver thinks that his newest opportunity is just huge.

“It’s frustrating being a race car driver and not racing. So, now I’m a race car driver and I get to race. So, that’s going to be a good time.”


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Jamie McMurray May be NASCAR’s New Science Guy

By Mary Jo Buchanan (DOVER, Del.) – Move over Bill Nye, @JamieMcMurray may just be NASCAR’s new science guy, crediting all of the science in the Chip Ganassi Racing garage for his past three consecutive top-ten finishes.

“When I look at this year, everything has scienced-out,” the driver of the No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet said. “The reasons are from lots of testing and the simulation program, our wind tunnel testing – everything is known of why it’s better and why we are running better.”

In addition to the ‘sciencing out’ of his cars, McMurray also credits consistency to his success of putting together those good consecutive finishes.

“Our cars have been good really all year long,” McMurray said. “Early in the year I feel like we ran well but couldn’t really put the whole race together. Just seems like the last five or six races we have been able to run well at the beginning of the race and put a finish together.”

“So, we have just been a little more consistent.”

While McMurray has found consistency, some of which has come as a result of the science utilized by his team, as well as the chemistry with teammate @KyleLarsonRacin, he refuses to look back with regret on his inability to make the Chase this year.

“I don’t live my life on ‘what if’s,” McMurray said in the media center at Dover International Speedway. “We have that every weekend in racing. Our group has run extremely well all year long, and the last few weeks it has been showcased more.”

“The part I am most encouraged about our season is in 2010, when we won the 500, the Brickyard, Charlotte and Watkins Glen, I think there were a lot of unknowns. Why were we running so well? They really hadn’t changed a lot from 2009 and 2010 was just a really good year for us. Some of it had to do with the engines as I think the ECR Engines were the best at that time. But there were a lot of unknowns at our shop of ‘why are we running so much better?’ “

“So, that is awesome leading into next year, because we know why,” McMurray continued. “And they know the areas that they need to work on to make the cars better.”

McMurray is definitely ready for next year’s science experiment, especially since he participated in the test at Michigan with the new rules package just announced.

“So when we did the test at Michigan, it was mostly about adding more down force to the car and then they had a run where they put what most of us thought was going to be too small of a spoiler on the car,” McMurray said. “And they completely removed the radiator pan in the front to try to balance it out.”

“I think most of us were shocked that we could have taken even more off,” McMurray continued. “So when the rules were announced, we were hoping to get more down force removed but when I look at that, if they had put it in my hands, I don’t think I would have taken that big of a chance either of removing all the down force from the car. I think we are going to lean and creep more toward taking more down force off the car over the next couple of years. But we have to develop a car that is soft enough to run well at the beginning have give-up.”

“But I think baby steps are better than just a Hail Mary at it.”

McMurray acknowledged that NASCAR’s science experiment of the new rules package for 2015 will present some challenges for the drivers themselves.

“Well, it’s not going to feel as secure or as comfortable but we have to create off throttle time,” McMurray said. “When you go to Michigan and you only let off the gas for one second in each corner, the guy behind you just has no chance of passing you.”

“It’s hard,” McMurray continued. “So when you removed down force it not only creates off throttle time but braking. All the sudden you had to use the brakes because you were sliding up the race track.”

“Removing the down force is ultimately about creating off throttle time. All the drivers feel that that the more off throttle time we have, the more passing we are going to have.”

Although McMurray understands that rule changes are abounding, he also said that everyone in the garage is in the same boat as far as the science project about to take place for next year.

“I don’t think anyone is freaking out in the garage because we all know that kind of direction and what it’s going to be,” McMurray said. “I think the teams already have an idea of what that is going to do.”

“As far as the rules changes for next year, even though it’s a couple of inches on the spoiler and on the radiator pan, I don’t think that is going to change who is running well and who is not,” McMurray continued. “It’s really going to be just about getting the balance of the car back.”

“So, I am really not concerned about that because we know why we are running so much better this year versus last year and the year before.”

One of the most important elements of the science experiment, at least from McMurray’s perspective, is the crew chief, which is an even more important ingredient given his is a rookie.

“Yeah, Keith (Rodden, crew chief) has had just a great way of getting to where we need to be,” McMurray said. “My favorite part of Keith is that he has an answer to every question. I think that he is already thinking about things before I am.”

“So, when I ask Keith a question, I feel that he already has an answer to that and he is a really sharp guy and he has done an amazing job this year,” McMurray continued. “Being a first year crew chief there are a lot of obstacles that I don’t think you realize when you become a crew chief that come up, where when you are the engineer that is on the crew chief’s hands.”

“Keith has done an amazing job as a first year crew chief and I only sense that getting better.”

While McMurray noted the ‘sciencing up’ of the sport, he also has a philosophical perspective on it as well, giving a nod to momentum, at least in the case of both his car and his teammate’s in the past few weeks.

“Racing goes in waves,” McMurray said. “When things aren’t going well, you can’t do anything right. But when things are going well, everything you do is right.”

“Fortunately, for our group, not just the No. 1, but the No. 42 car, we are on the high side of that and it just seems like the changes we make each week and the developments they come up with each week are better.”

“I’m looking forward to really pretty much any track we go to.”


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NASCAR Cup Series

Master of the Restart May Be the NASCAR Champion

By Mary Jo Buchanan – Green flag racing is most certainly critical, but this year the driver that masters the restart may just be the next NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. And the importance of restarts was never more evident than at the second race in the Chase at the track known as the Magic Mile.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway race winner @JoeyLogano certainly credited his restarts for his trip to Victory Lane where he claimed his lobster trophy and punched his ticked to the next Chase round.

“Restarts you never know what’s gonna happen, but Todd (Gordon, crew chief) game me a really good car that I can be aggressive with on restarts and I think that’s a big deal because the more in control I am the more aggressive I can be, and the more aggressive you are in restarts the more you’re in control of the restart,” Logano said.

“You don’t want to be the guy going the wrong way. Todd said a second ago about being on the offense and not on the defense. It’s not just putting tires on that makes it like that, it’s having a car that’s capable of running in traffic and it’s something we work on a lot in practice and making sure that we have something that’s gonna be good in traffic and that can restart well.”

“We’ve seen it time and time again with these Sprint Cup races that it’s most likely gonna come down to a late-race caution, so you’ve got to be able to execute the restart and the first five laps around traffic,” the driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford continued. “That takes a good car and kind of knowing what to expect and trying to play it out in your head before it happens.”

The third place finisher and major Chase competitor @KevinHarvick had some critical things, however, to say about the victor’s restarts, which he felt definitely impacted the race finsih. In fact, the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Designate a Driver Chevrolet indicated he might just be changing his restart style to mirror Logano’s so that he too can move on to the second round of the Chase competition.

“I thought it was pretty clear: on two stripes and one stripe, you start in between those two spots,” Harvick said. “It was pretty evident he was a car length or two car lengths starting before that. It was like nobody was watching upstairs.”

“Maybe I just need to be more aggressive on my restarts and start sooner than the double lines.”

NASCAR’s most popular driver and Chase contender @DaleJr. shared some candid comments about his restarts during the Sylvania 300 that ultimately resulted in a top-ten finish for the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet.

“Yeah, I like the way we worked all day,” Junior said. “We had to put on some real old tires there. We ran out of tires so that last set of tires we put on had some practice laps on them. We still hung in there and had some good restarts.”

“Everybody gets on my ass about them restarts; we had some pretty good ones today,” Earnhardt Jr. continued. “The last one wasn’t too good, but I was on the inside slipping around. We had fun and I’m glad we were able to rebound that was pretty dramatic there for a while.”

“You just have to be patient. There are going to be so many yellows at the end of this race. There just are always, especially in the Chase as the season is winding down and the action is getting furious. Things are going to happen on the race track that you typically don’t see in these races.

“I was glad to get some track position and sort of get up there where things are a lot calmer and more organized.”

Even a six-time champion acknowledged that restarts may be the key to the championship in 2014.

“It was a wild day, especially with all of those restarts,” @JimmieJohnson said after finishing fifth. “Man I don’t know what it looked like from the grandstands today, but I can tell you that inside the car, I was hanging on trying not to spin out. We certainly had a lot of cautions, and all those restarts.”

In fact, six-time champ Johnson predicted that restarts would indeed determine the championship.

“Guys are going to have to – you know on the last restarts or those last cautions guys that need those points and aren’t going to get them any other way are going to have to take some crazy gamble on tires, fuel. You are going to have some guys out there on old tires trying to hold people off and it’s going to cause a lot of traffic,” Johnson said. “It’s going to get tight. It’s going to get furious. So if they get the opportunities in those late yellows to take those gambles, which I think they will, I think they will be assured of that. Guys are going to be pretty crazy on what they are willing to do.

“I mean what else are you going to do?”

And just as Johnson said, those most dependent on good restarts going forward, as well as having had good restarts in New Hampshire, were those drivers closest to the Chase bubble and potential elimination.

@RyanJNewman, who finished 18th, acknowledged the restart challenges, from New Hampshire to next weekend’s race at the Monster Mile.

“Restarts were tough and our car just did not want to go,” Newman said after the race at the Magic Mile. “We survived.”

“I’m just glad we made it out in one piece and still have a chance to transfer into the next round. Dover is going to be big. We still have a chance.”

@AJDinger, who finished thirteenth at New Hampshire in his No. 47 Bush’s Beans Chevrolet, shared his restart frustration, as well as his goal to be that Cinderella Chase team as he improves in that area.

“In this race we were awful honestly,” Dinger said. “We really struggled. I was driving my butt off to keep us on the lead lap. We got lucky twice with the Lucky Dog. Then from there, we started making a couple of adjustments that were pretty good.”

“I was just bad on the restarts; really struggled on restarts,” Allmendinger continued. “Then with about 100 to go, we got a little bit of track position. I got a good restart there. I could start on the outside and the car was pretty good there. I got clear of everybody and thought at that point if we stayed green, we were going to be pretty good, but we had all those cautions.”

“Every caution I was on the inside and that just killed me. So to come home 13th is pretty good because at about 150, I thought we were going to be 25th, but also had a point where I thought we would be seventh.

“We are all digging hard. We are trying to be the little team that could.”

@Aric_Almirola, who desperately needed a good race after an engine failure the week before, summed up the importance of restarts to his Chase race. In fact, his good restarts at New Hampshire may have just kept his Chase hopes alive heading into the Dover race weekend.

“A couple cars spun and I missed some wrecks and got one good restart,” the driver of the No. 43 Smithfield Ford said. “I think on that one restart I gained seven or eight spots. That was probably the biggest difference and everything worked in our favor.”

“We cut it down to a realistic possibility going to Dover. I think were nine or 10 points out of 12th, so that’s manageable. If we went to Dover 28 points out, we might as well go ahead and just throw in the towel, but that’s exactly what we needed.”

“We’re down but we’re not out,” Almirola continued. “We can only control what we can control and today we did that and did a good job and finished sixth. We’ll do the same thing at Dover and we’ll see what happens.”

The Chase contenders will indeed see just how important restarts will be to the Chase when they take on the track known as the Monster Mile. And just in case anyone should doubt the importance of restarts at Dover, take a trip down Memory Lane with Jimmie Johnson, who went on to win the championship after jumping the restart at that very track one year ago.


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Team Owner Hattori Sharing Love of NASCAR with Japanese Guests

EXCLUSIVE By Mary Jo Buchanan – This weekend, Shigeaki Hattori, principal of Hattori Racing Enterprises, plans to not only race in the Nationwide Series with driver @RossChastain, but also share his love of NASCAR with over 300 guests from Japan.

“They just got here today,” Hattori told Popular Speed. “Toyota has over 300 different car dealers so each car dealer sent Vice President or General Manager, so we have over 300 people here.

“They are going to Akron, Ohio to Goodyear headquarters and on Saturday some people will be here for the Nationwide race. Some will watch the race and some will sightsee in Chicago. Some others are going to Milwaukee. Sunday, all the people will be here watching the Cup race.”

Hattori admitted he has his work of converting his colleagues to fans cut out for him since NASCAR is fairly foreign to the Japanese people.

“NASCAR went to Japan a couple of times but in Japan Formula One is huge,” Hattori said. “They don’t know about NASCAR. They tried to bring NASCAR to Japan but it didn’t work. Most of my sponsors are from Japan. I’m talking to NASCAR about a TV show and newspaper but these people are from all over Japan. So, this is a huge opportunity to introduce them to NASCAR.”

Hattori himself has quite the racing resume, winning the Formula Toyota title in Japan in 1994. But the lure of the United States called and he moved in 1995 to race Indy Lights from 1996 to 1998.

“Then I went to CART and IRL and drove IRL three years,” Hattori said. “The last year, I drove Toyota Atlantic Series and I tested and drove in the Truck Series I stopped driving and then started my own team. We did K&N East and now Nationwide.

“We started our Nationwide Series program this year with intentions to run a few Nationwide Series races and to have two cars full-time in K&N East. At this point in the season, we decided that we need to focus more on our Nationwide Series program.

“We received a lot of support from our sponsors encouraging this decision. We are still a small team, and I believe we need to run more Nationwide Series races to gain more experience so that we can be even stronger next season.”

The No. 80 as driven by Ross Chastain during the Nationwide Series race at Michigan in June
Ross Chastain pilots the No. 80 of Hattori Racing Enterprises during the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Michigan on June  14.

With that Nationwide focus, Hattori is excited to have young up and coming driver Ross Chastain behind the wheel of his team’s No. 80 Toyota sponsored Toyota.

“I see a lot of drivers, young kids, who have huge talent but they don’t have any sponsors,” Hattori said. “Ross did a really good job last year for the BKR team in the Truck Race. He’s a good driver but he doesn’t have a sponsor. He contacted me right after Daytona. We were talking and I put him in Chicago and he finished 12th. So, I put him in again this weekend.”

And while Hattori wants to see a good result for his HRE team in the Nationwide Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast 300, more than anything he wants to covert his 300 Japanese guests to NASCAR fans.

“Most of the people in Japan don’t know about NASCAR,” Hattori said. “They don’t know it because most of the races are televised at midnight. NASCAR is a totally different type of car racing. I love NASCAR. I want to introduce this and help them discover it too.”

“Most of our sponsors are from Japan and I also want to introduce more NASCAR into the Japanese market.” Hattori continued “Many of the companies over in Japan are looking for the US market. So, I do want to introduce more NASCAR and find more sponsors from over there in Japan.”

In addition to his hosting 300 Japanese guests this race weekend, Hattori is also very proud of a cultural exchange program that he has initiated that is built around providing hands on experiences for Japanese students at the race shop and at the track.

In fact, Hattori will have hosted over 120 of these exchange students from Japan when this year’s race season comes to a close.

“I love NASCAR a lot,” Hattori said. “It’s totally different, but it’s great. I want to share my love with those people.

“So, I’m really excited to share that.”


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For David Gilliland and Love’s, One Miracle Deserves Another

EXCLUSIVE By Mary Jo Buchanan – While the top sixteen drivers hope for Chase miracles at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend, @DavidGilliland and his sponsor Love’s Travel Stops are creating miracles of their own, particularly for one young boy who himself is a miracle.

Jack Czapla
(Jack Czapla)

Jack Czapla, a nine-year-old who hails from Mundelein, Illinois, will celebrate his miraculous victory after a two-year battle with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) by taking his first ever trip to the racetrack with the driver of the No. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford.

This special experience will also help to create awareness of childhood cancers and will top off Love’s Travel Stops’ and Gilliland’s week of promoting their annual fundraising campaign for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

“A few months ago, a woman from the Foundation at our hospital contacted us and said that Love’s Travel watched a video of Jack and wanted him to do an art piece for a NASCAR race,” Vickie Czapla, Jack’s mom, said. “We thought that was pretty cool but we had to do it in one night because we were going away.

“Jack had an idea of what he wanted to do and his uncle is an artist so he helped Jack put that on paper. Jack drew the cancer ribbon with fire coming out, like the race car going fast, and it’s orange because that is the color for leukemia. When Jack found out he was going to the track, he was super-excited, screaming and yelling.”

She continued, “He has told all of his friends and teachers so they are all tuning in. He writes about it every day for his journal for school. He feels very honored. He was shocked that they picked him. He feels like a celebrity. I think we all do.”

“He’s heard of racing but we’ve never been to a NASCAR race ever. But since this occurred, Jack’s been watching NASCAR on You Tube and we’ve been watching every Sunday. He’s been following David and it’s been really neat. David has called him a couple times on the phone and they talked which was so cute. He’s just really excited.”

Jack is apparently not the only one excited about this race weekend.

“I feel very honored to be part of this and to have Jack at the race track,” David Gilliland, Front Row Motorsports driver, said. “His story is such an inspiration and to bring awareness to help the Children’s Miracle Network hospitals is such an honor.

“I’ve not met Jack yet but I’ve talked to him on the phone,” Gilliland continued. “He’s a very energetic young boy that likes racing. I’m excited to hang out with him all weekend.”

“He has an identical driver’s suit as mine that he will wear all day. He helped design the hood of the car and the helmet that I’ll be wearing this weekend. His family sent me a picture of him in his driving suit and man, the smile on his face, it makes me overwhelmed with joy every time I look at it.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make it the best weekend possible for him.”

(Jack's artwork that will be featured on David Gilliland's No. 38 this weekend)
(Jack’s artwork that will be featured on David Gilliland’s No. 38 this weekend)

Jack’s family has received an hour-by-hour itinerary of what they will be doing at the track, from attending the drivers’ meeting to sitting atop the pit box during the race. But they are a family on a mission so they also have a purpose of their own for being at track.

“Raising awareness about childhood cancer is what we are most excited about,” Vickie Czapla said. “But we are really looking forward to meeting the driver and the people from Love’s. I think just to have a fun day with people we don’t know that feel like family will be the best part of it.”

Gilliland and Love’s share in that excitement as well.

“Seeing Jack and a short video of what he has gone through and overcome is very inspirational to me,” Gilliland said. “I think this is the most I’ve looked forward to a race all year.”

“This is what it’s all about,” Jenny Love Meyer, vice president of communications for Love’s, said. “Our Love’s team members are working hard to raise money, and our customers give generously every year to help CMN Hospitals make miracles happen for sick and injured kids.”

This month marks the 16th year that Love’s Travel Stops has created miracles through fundraising for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Cashiers at the Love’s locations have raised the funds by asking all of their customers to buy paper balloons to benefit the CMN hospitals.

Gilliland will also be visiting the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago on the Thursday prior to the race weekend. This was the hospital where a miracle occurred for Jack in his cancer treatment.

“I’m really looking forward to visiting the children’s hospital and seeing the great work that these doctors and nurses do,” Gilliland, a father of two himself, said. “As a parent, it just breaks your heart to know the things that these kids have to go through. And it makes me extra proud to have Love’s as a partner, knowing how much they do to help raise money to help get these kids healthy again.”

“Love’s Travel and David have been amazing,” Jack’s mother said. “They have made us feel very, very important.”

“This is an honor beyond honors and we are super excited. Thank you is not a big enough word for all of this.”


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NASCAR Cup Series

GOODYEAR: No Tire Drama Expected at RIR

By Mary Jo Buchanan – While there will no doubt be plenty of drama on the track at Richmond as drivers attempt to race their way into the Chase, Goodyear is counting on a drama-free evening, at least as far as its race tires go.

The official tire company of NASCAR re-visited their tire compounds for the upcoming Richmond weekend after issues surfaced at the spring race in April, where several teams experienced high wear, mostly on the right-front tire position. In fact, some of the tire troubles even led to fires as the tires unraveled.

“Once it started spiraling,” @DennyHamlin said of the tire issues. “Then it caught around the (brake) rotors, caught fire and burned the tires to the ground.”

Goodyear heeded those concerns and headed back to the track on July 8th and 9th to do further testing in order to come up with the best tires possible for the final race before the Chase at Richmond this weekend.

Trent Owens, crew chief for @Aric_Almirola, was with one of the teams that participated in that test, along with the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team with Hamlin, the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing team with @GBiffle, the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team with @KurtBusch, and the No. 26 BK Racing team with @ColeWhitt.

“We did see some tire issues the first race, although our team particularly did not,” Owens said. “Several teams throughout the race had some excessive wear though.”

“We participated in the two-day tire test,” Owens continued. “We ran several long runs. I like the way Goodyear did the tire test and they sure got enough information to bring an adequate tire here.”

“Every team that was here was able to do 40 to 50 lap runs continuously. They wanted us to run laps past where they experienced the failures before. They did a good job by evaluating that part of it by not just putting a tire on it for ten laps and seeing if they liked that one.”

Biffle, who also participated in the July Goodyear tire test, shared his assessment of the tires, echoing Owens’ assessment.

“We all liked the 2013 tire which seemed to have good grip and all that,” Biffle said. “I think that we’ve found a tire that’s a decent compromise.”

As a result of the test, Goodyear did indeed make changes, noting that the right sides in the spring were a little shorter than in 2013, thus taking some stagger out of the tire set up in relation to the left-side.

With the change for this race weekend, Goodyear left the right sides basically the same size as the spring but shortened up the left sides, giving the teams back most of the stagger they had with the 2013 Richmond tire set-up.

For comparison sake, Goodyear further clarified that in 2013, the stagger (or the difference between the shorter left side tires and the taller right side tires which helps the cars turn better) was 33 mm or 1.30 inches. In the spring race of this year, the difference was 19 mm or 0.75 inches.

For the upcoming fall race, Goodyear has gone back closer to the 2013 number, with a difference of 29 mm or 1.14 inches.

As a result of the tire test, Goodyear also announced the specific new tire codes for the upcoming Richmond race as D-4632 for the left-side, which features a mold shape change to add more stagger, and D-4634 for the right side, which features both construction and compound changes and is designed for better wear and the ability to lay down rubber.

“I think there are some slight differences but I think the tires from the compound perspective are similar to the 2013 tires,” Owens said. “There are some added benefits and construction benefits as opposed to that exact tire.”

Owens also clarified that Goodyear has provided all the teams with intensive test data not just after the on-track experience but after the tires were further tested at another facility.

“We’re able to study the tire in a lot of detail before we ever get here to the track,” Owens said. “We obviously look through that data and match up the best we can to something in the past or what we think is the right way to go. Goodyear does a good job of providing that data to all the teams. We’re not getting here blind.”

‘Although it is true that we have a new tire, along with that new tire we’re supplied quite a bit of data that supports our decision-making about pressures, choosing our camber setting for wear, etc. They have that stuff out front so that we can make our adjustments before we ever get to the track.

“Just looking at everything, it doesn’t look like anything majorly different than 2013. I think it should be a better tire than what we had earlier in the season.”

“I’m not worried about the tires, at least right now,” Owens continued. “I felt like we did the tire test and the way the test was conducted, the amount of combinations that Goodyear allowed the teams to run, I think they did their part. We shouldn’t have to manage tires or worry about them blowing out 30 or 40 laps in. None of us want to deal with that.”

“If everything is true, we shouldn’t have any issues and we will see great racing.”


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