WEAVER: Ford Finds a Bigger Gun in Stewart-Haas Racing

Ford hasn’t won a manufacturer’s championship in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 2003. That’s been the exclusive domain of Chevrolet, who leads the highest level of the sport with 749 victories and 39 championships.

So it came as a significant shock when Stewart Haas Racing announced on Wednesday morning that it would switch from Chevrolet to Ford for the start of the 2017 season.

This is astonishing on several levels.

First, Stewart Haas has enjoyed a lot of success as an extension of Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet. It has won two championships and 30 races since 2009, while employing two of the most recognizable Chevy mainstays in Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick.

Why would Stewart Haas walk away from the Hendrick support that’s made them one of the most dominant entities in recent NASCAR history? What would convince SHR co-owner Tony Stewart to leave Chevrolet, especially give how disappointed he was that he had to drive a Toyota in his final season at Joe Gibbs Racing when it left Chevy in 2008?

At this point, it’s mere speculation, but like most things in motorsports, money probably did most of the talking.

Ford has enjoyed a degree of success with Team Penske since joining forces in 2012 but has also had to endure its most tenured partner in Roush Fenway Racing falling into the depths of the middle of the pack. Surely Ford, looking to strengthen its overall NASCAR effort, examined several options and were able to work out a deal with SHR that, at least on paper, appeared to strengthen both parties.

This is likely a damning blow to Roush-fenway which will surely be relegated to third in the Blue Oval pecking order, but Ford needed a bigger metaphorical gun to challenge the Chevrolet and Toyota powerhouses. With the announcement that SHR will be joining Ford at the start of the 2017 season, it’s probably a safe bet that the 12-year Chevrolet manufacturer’s winning streak will also be challenged like never before.

Much more will come out in the coming hours and days, but one thing has been made abundantly clear — Ford has found a bigger gun.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

NASCAR Cup Series

Hamlin Spotter Chris Lambert Details Last Lap Decisions

Denny Hamlin stuck to the Toyota master plan on Sunday in the Daytona 500 and his victory in the Great American Race was actually an unintended consequence of his selfless decision to adhere to a strategy made the night before.

Chris Lambert is the spotter for Hamlin and the no. 11 Sprint Cup Series team and says he never told his driver to move up as to receive the push from Kevin Harvick that ultimately won them the race. The night before the 500, Hamlin and each of the Gibbs affiliated drivers were a part of a group text that outlined their strategy to send one of them to Victory Lane.

Lambert says the Gibbs drivers realized how fast they were together in a line during practice and knew their combined speed would continually get them to the front of the field during the race itself. That’s exactly how the 500 played out on Sunday, and their intended strategy was to stay in a line on the bottom until one lap to go.

With a steady shove from Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick looked to break up the Toyota party with a massive run on the high side and Hamlin made the decision to move up only to block the progress of the Chevy-Ford duo. Lambert said the decision to block for Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch ultimately won him the race.

“I never told him to pull up to get a push from Harvick,” Lambert said. “We pulled up at the start-finish line at the white, just to stop the progress of the outside line,” Lambert told Popular Speed in the garage after the race. “But they got such a head of steam coming to Turn 1 that the only way to block it was to pull out of line and try to back that line up. And once we did, it just shot us forward from fourth to side-by-side with second-place Truex.

“If you watch the replay, (Logano) was wiggling (Harvick) all the way down the frontstretch. He was all over them. So the only thing we could have hoped to do was hope they didn’t split us or side-draft them.”

After the race, Hamlin said he was okay with securing the victory for Toyota — it’s first in the Daytona 500. But he knew that Harvick was going to carry that momentum to the lead, so he jumped purely with the intent of stalling their speed.

“I saw (Harvick) coming,” Hamlin said. “I told myself, if I didn’t make a run, he was going to make a run just like I did. I went up there to block and he hit me so hard it shot me three cars forward. I had to do something with that run.”

Lambert said the run his driver got was more the result of Logano pushing Harvick than the 2014 champion alone.

“Joey is one heck of a pusher,” Lambert said. “The Penske cars for years have been great at pushing. He was locked onto (Harvick) and pushing and the only call we had was to block and we were shot so far ahead that (Kenseth) couldn’t block us in time.”

Hamlin used the burst of speed to fly under Kenseth, who made slight contact with his teammate before bouncing into the wall and out of contention, and then beat Truex in the closest finish in Daytona 400 history – 0.010 of a second.

Lambert is a former short track crew member and spotter out of Kannapolis, North Carolina and grew up a Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan Remembering how much adversity Earnhardt faced before winning the 500 himself made him feel extra emotional.
He said his knees were weak during the final lap and that it was easily the most notable professional moment of his career.

“Being a Senior fan and knowing how hard he worked at it before he was able to win here, there’s a definitely a skill to it,” Lambert said of restrictor plate racing. “It’s like Denny said earlier this week, Dale Junior isn’t that lucky, he’s good here. We learned and have gotten better at it too. So any time I feel like I can give Denny information that helps him or tells him what to do or whatever it was, it’s huge. I just never thought I would ever be able to say that I’m a Daytona 500 champion.”

Lambert says plate racing is where spotters feel the most involved with their drivers, due to the close proximity of the cars and the immediacy of all the action. While he doesn’t want to take anything away from Hamlin or crew chief Mike Wheeler, he also feels an extra degree of involvement with the victory since it was at Daytona.

“This is where we feel like we have our hands on the car a lot more than anywhere else,” Lambert said. “I’ll never tell Denny how to drive it because I’ve never driven a race car — that’s not my thing. But look, I see what other people do and I’m going to relay that info. We’re so involved here and we have to paint the picture, so to say, of what line has the energy and who is tight and who is doing the most.

“Denny has told me he never looks out the mirror here. He takes my word as the gospel and he makes his mind up from that and what he sees out the front. So I feel like I have my hands on the car a lot more and that makes it so much more special.”



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 


Michel Disdier Celebrates Top 15 by Singing on the Frontstretch

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Sometimes it pays to be good, and other times, it pays to be lucky.

The latter was the case for Michel Disdier – the self-described Frenchman in NASCAR — who survived his way to an 11th-place finish in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 on Friday night at Daytona International Speedway.

The 42-year-old ARCA and European motocross veteran qualified 29th in the 32-truck field and often struggled to remain in the draft with his SS-Green Light Racing Chevrolet. As it turns out, this allowed him to survive the three major crashes of the night and earned him a valuable top-15 finish to start the campaign.

He and his team celebrated by singing in their native tongue while on the frontstretch after the race.

Daniel Hemric, Chad Kendrick Bond Over “Days of Thunder.”

Daniel Hemric and crew chief Chad Kendrick are big fans of the 1990 NASCAR movie ‘Days of Thunder.’

They displayed their appreciation for the film in various ways on Friday night during the season-opener for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, most notably naming their truck “Harry” after the character who was inspired by real-life crew chief Harry Hyde.

In addition, the two quoted the movie on several different occasions during the race, with Kendrick telling Hemric that he was going to make “a special adjustment” during an early pit stop. When Hemric responded by asking Kendrick if he was taking the tape off, his crew chief responded, “Nope, I’ve got something else up my sleeve.”

Kendrick also told Hemric that he had a “special matched set of tires” over the wall waiting for him, and that his driver needed to “drive through the smoke,” when a crash happened in front of him — all lines from the Tom Cruise starring blockbuster.

“We were hoping Harry would be faster than she was and that was a lot of fun to do,” Hemric said after the race.



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Christopher Bell Taken to Local Hospital after Daytona Barrel Roll

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Christopher Bell climbed out of his truck after it flipped nine times before landing on all four wheels on Friday night after a last lap crash in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway.

Bell is in his first season running full-time in the Truck Series. Prior to competing in NASCAR and Super Late Models, Bell raced open-wheel midget and sprint cars, where he was involved in numerous flips. He was running fourth on the final lap of the Truck race but got turned into the frontstretch wall, which sent him into a barrel roll.

Bell immediately took off his window net, a signal to safety crews that he was okay, and he climbed out without assistance. He was taken to a local hospital as a precautionary evaluation, and was released early on Saturday morning.

Upon his release, KBM released the following statement.

Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Christopher Bell  was involved in a late-race accident during the running of Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Bell was transported to a local hospital following the accident as a precaution and was evaluated and released early Saturday morning. 

Several other drivers were involved in the melee, and it ended the race due to the field already taking the white flag. It was the second such Big One in the final 10 laps and the preceding crash caused a red flag that lasted nearly 30 minutes.

Johnny Sauter was declared the winner, as he was narrowly leading over Ryan Truex at the time the caution waved.

KBM is expected to take the damaged truck to the NASCAR R&D facility for a post-crash investigation.



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Caution Clock Strategy Results in Three-Truck Crash at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The new caution clock rule ultimately wasn’t needed in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway but it arguably played a key role in causing the first multi-vehicle crash of the season.

With about a minute remaining before the caution clock would have expired, drivers began to come down pit road on Lap 40 for fuel and tires as to not pit under the yellow. One lap later, a second batch of drivers hit pit road with less than 20 seconds to go, resulting in Cody Coughlin running into the back of Spencer Gallagher and causing a three car incident.

Both drivers were part of the second group to peel off the racing surface but Coughlin was not able to slow down as quickly as Gallagher. The ensuing contact sent Gallagher spinning in front of the field at the entrance to pit road, causing a natural caution before the clock was able to buzz artificially.

Most of the field avoided damage but Gallagher spun into the left rear of Christopher Bell, before nose-planting his Chevrolet into the infield grass. The front-end damage to the Gallagher truck was too severe to repair and he was credited with a 31st place finish.

“They just stopped in front of me,” Coughlin said on FS1. “I was doing my best to stay off (Gallagher) there but they checked up so hard in front of me that I got hit from behind.

“I’m not going to pretend to be excited or optimistic about it, because it’s not a positive thing and there’s nothing we can take away from it.”

Coughlin said he was told that several drivers pit the previous lap and to be mindful of those who would slow down on Lap 41.

“We’re up on the race track under green flag conditions so you don’t let off because you think someone might be pitting,” Coughlin said. “You expect them to get below the line. I’m not saying it’s anyones fault, I’m just saying it’s one of those deals where everyone is close together and there’s contact.”

This story will be updated after the race.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 


Chase Format Adds New Element to Truck Series Opener

Daytona Beach, Fla. — Now that the Truck Series has a Chase for the Championship, the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 has taken on a brand new level of importance.

In years past, everyone wanted to reach Victory Lane at Daytona but it was equally important to salvage a top 10 and begin the season with a clean truck and momentum towards the season-long championship. But with only eight spots in the playoffs, the need to win — and win in bunches — is paramount.

All told, it could make for an interesting restrictor plate race on Friday at the World Center of Racing.

Daniel Hemric joined Brad Keselowski Racing during the off-season with the expectation of winning a championship. Even though he doesn’t expect to make any reckless decisions on Friday night, Hemric knows becoming Chase eligible this early in the year could make the first half of the season easier for anyone with championship ambitions.

“That’s a huge deal and that’s what we’re striving for,” Hemric said. “You want to do it as early as you can to get in that playoff mindset and I promise you that’s what we’re striving for. I know I have a group around me.

“Brad’s given us everything we need to do it right and I’m looking forward to getting the job done.”

John Wes Townley won the ARCA Racing Series event at Daytona last weekend and expects the intensity to be up from that race due to the circumstances surrounding a potential Chase berth.

“It’s going to make it interesting,” Townley said. “We all want to win, but it’s going to be tough to make this Chase, so being able to win right off the bat is a huge deal.

“That’s what we’re here to do — make it easier on us for the rest of the year.”

Rico Abreu is perhaps one of the most excited drivers to have a playoff format in the Truck Series this season. Daytona will be only his third start in a Camping World Truck and knows the first half might be a struggle. He wants to be hitting his stride around mid-season when he’s potentially in position to make the playoffs.

With that said, Daytona presents a huge opportunity for him to decrease the pressure. Daytona has been a crapshoot at times, and there’s a perception that anyone can win. Despite this reputation, Abreu says he doesn’t plan to do anything out of character and just wants to finish the race.

“I think it will be as close to a win for us if we can just get to the end and finish the race,” Abreu said. “We’re still learning. I’m still learning. We’d like to win. And if we find ourself in position, I’ll give it my best shot, but this is all a learning experience for me.”

The game has changed in the Truck Series, and with it, the way drivers might approach this opening round.

Hemric already approves.

“I do. It adds a degree of uniformity across all three levels,” Hemric said. “It makes it easier for the fans to understand, maybe it was a little confusing before. It makes sense for the fans.

“From the drivers perspective, we were all a little hesitant when we first saw it in Cup, but now a few years later and seeing the effects, how can you not be excited about it?”



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Grant Enfinger wins Pole for Daytona Truck Series Opener

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Grant Enfinger backed up his confidence from Thursday Truck Series practice by setting the fast time for the NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on Friday night.

Enfinger is the defending ARCA Racing Series champion and advanced up the ladder with his entire championship winning team from last season. Enfinger isn’t yet sure if he will go full-time this season, and surely starting the campaign with a pole, will only help move things in the right direction.

“This is just a big deal for GMS Racing,” Enfinger said. “I’m really proud to be a part of this team and help put them on the pole at Daytona. This is the first time that we’ve hung our own superspeedway bodies and it’s a testament to the team that we were able to get the pole.”

Enfinger’s pole is the first of his career in seven career starts and his GMS Racing teammate Johnny Sauter earned will begin the race alongside him. Their other teammate, Spencer Gallagher, will start 11th.

The complete the starting lineup for the Truck Series opener can be found below.

1. Grant Enfinger
2. Johnny Sauter
3. Timothy Peters
4. Austin Theriault
5. Daniel Suarez
6. Matt Crafton
7. John Wes Townley
8. Christopher Bell
9. Cody Coughlin
10. Cole Custer
11. Spencer Gallagher
12. Tyler Reddick
13. William Byron
14. Cameron Haley
15. John Hunter Nemechek
16. Rico Abreu
17. Chris Fontaine
18. Daniel Hemric
19. Austin Wayne Self
20. Ryan Truex
21. Tyler Young
22. Brandon Brown
23. Parker Kilgerman
24. Ben Rhodes
25. Bobby Gerhart
26. Scott Laggase
27. Jordan Anderson
28. Tommy Joe Martins
29. Michel Disdier
30. Timmy Hill
31. Ben Kennedy
32. Travis Kvapil


Grant Enfinger Takes Champion’s Pedigree to Trucks

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Defending ARCA Racing Series champion Grant Enfinger is the very definition of a throwback racer, having earned all of his success through the perfect blend of natural talent, hard work and a tireless dedication to the sport he loves.

In many ways, his graduation to the Camping World Truck Series this season is the culmination of a lifetime spent in on southern short tracks, in various NASCAR shops as a mechanic and countless seasons loosely piecing together a career through patchwork.

But more than anything else, Enfinger is proud because he knows he deserves the chance to run for rookie of the year honors for GMS Racing, and perhaps, the entire Truck Series championship.

“Its the culmination of everywhere I’ve been, but really, I feel like I’ve earned this damn ride, you know what I mean,” Enfinger told Popular Speed on Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway. “I feel like I’ve put the blood, sweat and tears into this sport and I don’t think everyone can say that.

“I’m proud of that and I’ll do everything I can to make the most of that opportunity and its a huge deal for me to be in top notch equipment, to be at Daytona and to be racing.”

Enfinger has high hopes for his team, because after all, it’s largely the same group he won six ARCA races and the championship with in 2015. In addition to his driving duties, he works full-time in the GMS shop and has a natural chemistry with crew chief Jeff Stankiewicz.

The 31-year-old still isn’t sure if he will go full-time this year, but even if he doesn’t, he’s just happy to be back in NASCAR and contributing to the growth of a team he joined halfway through the 2014 season. But with the win-and-you’re-in playoff format making its way to the Trucks in 2016, Enfinger knows he can help his case by winning one of these first two guaranteed races.

“Obviously, that would be huge for us, but listen it’s not all about me,” Enfinger said. “It’s about GMS racing. We’ve got three trucks here this weekend and the goal this year is to have a truck champuonship at GMS Racing.

“If any of these three trucks end up in Victory Lane this weekend, next week, that’s a big deal. So that’s our main focus — on the team.”

Despite his team-first mantra, Enfiner has to be considered one of the favorites. He’s won the past two ARCA events at Daytona and was fast in both Friday practice sessions. He says his Daytona experience gives him a lot of confidence, even if it is in a different kind of machine.

For what it’s worth, Enfinger has made two Truck Series starts at the World Center of Racing, so he doesn’t expect a tremendous learning curve on Friday night.

“There’s probably a confidence booster here with me since Jeff and I have ran this track before,” Enfinger said. “Drafting in the ARCA car is different than the truck, but it’s not like its a polar opposite either.

“Everything that happens in the ARCA, happens a lot more violently in the Truck Series — like all the little games you play with the air? They’re five or 10 times more noticeable in truck. So some of the experience does transfer over to the truck.”

Enfinger doesn’t know for sure how many starts he will make but he’s thankful for Champion Power Equipment for returning after backing the second half of his ARCA campaign last season. He knows he will run enough races to compete for rookie-of-the-year, but he also knows he will have to perform in order to attract more funding and starts.

“Champion has been a huge supporter of mine over the past year and into the Truck Series and that’s a big deal to me,” Enfinger said. “I’ve been informed that I will be running for rookie of the year but other than that, I don’t really know.

“There’s some stuff that we’re working on and I’m excited to be here, and pumped up for next week too. I couldn’t ask for a better situation and I couldn’t ask for a better team.”

Townley Looking to Sweep Speedweeks

John Wes Townley has already won during Daytona Speedweeks, taking the ARCA Racing Series season-opener last Saturday. It was his second such victory at the World Center of Racing and now Townley is looking to go two-for-two by winning the season-opener in the Truck Series on Friday night.

“That win definitely helps,” Townley said. “It gives me a lot of confidence heading into Friday night. The Truck Series trucks are a lot more exaggerated in the draft than the cars but we have a full head of steam heading into the weekend.

“Athenian Motorsports is off to a fast start and we’re hoping to have a good start to our Truck Series season.”

Townley enjoyed his best overall season to date last year, and even scored his first Truck Series victory at Las Vegas. His entire team, from the crew chief to the tractor-trailer driver is back intact.

“We’ve got the band together for another season,” Townley said. “I would put my crew chief, Michael Shelton, up against anyone in the Truck Series garage. And I’ve got Terry Cook, a former driver in the Truck Series, back in the spotters’ stand.

“It’s pretty rare in this day-and-age to not lose anyone during the offseason. I’m ecstatic that all of our guys are back with us. That will bode well for us at Daytona and beyond.”

NASCAR Cup Series

Spotter, Teammate Educate Chase Elliott in Duel One

Daytona 500 pole-sitter Chase Elliott received quite the education on Thursday night during his Can-Am Duel at Daytona qualifying race.

The 20-year-old rookie of the year contender finished sixth, but found himself on the wrong side of a restrictor plate freight train on two different occasions, which continually buried him outside of the top 10.

Even though he rallied to the outskirts of a top five, Elliott was not entirely satisfied and admitted he still had much to learn before the start of The Great American Race on Sunday night. Much of his guidance during the race came from Eddie D’Hondt, the spotter Elliott inherited from the recently retired Jeff Gordon.

“His job was to give me information and obviously, me never doing this before, he was trying to give me some tips,” Elliott said. “It was good.”

Elliott led the first two laps before Dale Earnhardt Jr. overtook him for the top spot, and the No. 24 struggled to stay with the leaders from the bottom groove. D’Hondt requested that Elliott “guard the middle” on three different occasions, and it wasn’t until Lap 15 that the driver could blend into the faster top line.

At the time, D’Hondt told his driver not to be discouraged, and “that was this was the first chance we had to get to the top. That’s just a tough deal. We’ll get back there.”

And they did.

The second-generation driver regained the lost track position following pit stops on Lap 45, but once again went backwards on the bottom line. Elliott also had six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on his radio, providing tips alongside D’Hondt, and Elliott said he greatly benefited from the experience.

“That’s been good,” Elliott said. “He’s been doing this for a long time and it was good to get his insight on some things because it was our first time working at one of these (restrictor) plate tracks together. So we have a lot of work we need to work through together, that’s for sure.”



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Home Tracks

Dalton Sargeant Joins Venturini Motorsports for 2016 ARCA Season

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dalton Sargeant and Billy Venturini expect to smack around the competition this season in the ARCA Racing Series.

Sargeant announced on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway that he will compete in 15 ARCA events this season with Venturini Motorsports with support from Toyota Racing Development and Microsoft Windows.

His campaign starts at The Salem Speedway next month and includes most of the events he’s eligible for while still 17 years old.

Venturini will serve as the crew chief on the No. 55 entry when Sargeant is behind the wheel, and the driver expects to their pairing to produce immediate dividends at the track.

“Billy has given me some high expectations this season,” Sargeant said. “Billy told me that the worst this Salem car has finished was second, so that’s gives me a ton of confidence for the year ahead.”

Sargeant will also drive his Toyota Camry at Talladega, Toledo, New Jersey Motorsports Park, both Pocono dates, Michigan, Winchester, Iowa, Lucas Oil Raceway, Berlin, Salem, Chicago, Kentucky and the ARCA finale at Kansas.

For his part, the always brash Venturini made no secret of his own personal goals for his tenure alongside Sargeant.

“As far as I’m concerned, they’re going to have to worry about beating us because the way I see it, I’m the best guy out here.

“We’re going to smash their asses this year.”

Venturini knows he’s providing the rest of the ARCA garage bulletin board material, but he wasn’t going to take it back because he knows he’s got a prized talent in Sargeant, a former European open-wheel prospect, who finished second in his first Snowball Derby attempt back in 2014.

“I think he has a lot of potential,” Venturini said. “He was my K&N Pro East championship pick last year so I’m surprised they didn’t have more success. I think he’s really good and I know we’re going to do a lot of good things together.”

He competed full-time in the K&N Pro Series East last season for HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks, where he finished fourth in the standings with nine top 10s in 14 starts. Sargeant also made four Camping World Truck Series starts for Wauters Motorsports, where he posted a single top 10 at New Hampshire in September.

Sargeant says he wants to make a handful of Truck Series starts in 2016 but noted that nothing has yet been finalized.




The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.