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NASCAR Cup Series

Jamie McMurray Wins After Last-Lap Crash Ends Talladega

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) TALLADEGA, Ala.—  Enter the interloper.

In a race dominated early by Matt Kenseth and later by fellow title contenders Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray got to the front at the right time, led the last 15 laps and grabbed victory in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

McMurray was out front, leading Earnhardt in the sixth Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race of the season, when a slight tap from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Ford sent Austin Dillon’s Chevrolet spinning into the outside wall on the backstretch.

Impact from Casey Mears’ Ford launched Dillon’s car into the air and severely damaged both machines.

The resulting third caution of the race froze the running order with McMurray in front for his first victory of the season (and first since 2010), Earnhardt second and Stenhouse a career-best third.

For the second time in as many weeks, a non-Chase driver went to Victory Lane in a Chase race, the first time non-Chasers have won consecutive Chase races since Tony Stewart won back-to-back at Atlanta and Texas in 2006.

That McMurray won at Talladega for the second time in his career, however, should come as no surprise at all. Four of McMurray’s seven career wins have come at restrictor-plate tracks.

In the last 20 laps, the field spread out single-file in the top lane, and in fact, McMurray — with his Cessna-sponsored No. 1 Chevrolet adorned in Auburn University colors — had surged into the lead from the outside on Lap 174, moving up the track in front of Stenhouse and Earnhardt as the outside line began to move.

“At the plate tracks, to get the right line, it requires a lot of risk, and I felt like I was pretty patient all day, and I saw the 17 (Stenhouse) and the 88 (Earnhardt) coming on the top,” McMurray said. “It just seemed the top was the better place to get hung out than if you got hung out on the bottom. Fortunately, I was able to get myself in position.”

“I don’t know how the last lap would have played out, because I could see the 88 trying to set me up and trying to figure out where he could get a run on me, but then I saw the caution come out behind me. Honestly, I wanted to see it end under green, but at the same time, I said if there was a caution, I would be OK with that right now, too.”

Paul Menard came home fourth, followed by Kyle Busch. David Ragan, the winner at Talladega in May, ran sixth. David Gilliland, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer completed the top 10.

Jimmie Johnson finished 13th, despite leading a race-high 47 of 188 laps, but took over the series lead from Matt Kenseth, who fought an ill-handling car during the second half of the race and finished 20th after dodging the last-lap wreck. Johnson leads Kenseth, who led 32 laps, by four points with four races left in the Chase.

The last-lap move Earnhardt was planning never materialized, thanks to the caution for Dillon’s wreck. Earnhardt, however, said he didn’t want to risk getting shuffled back through the field by making his move too early.

“It’s frustrating, because the worst part about it really is (that) you go home and you’ll spend months thinking about what you could have done to not be second,” Earnhardt said. “That’s the worst part about it. Actually, the process of it happening and doing it isn’t that bad. You’re kind of happy with being competitive, and it was a good result. But you’ll go back and think of a million things you could have tried different…

“We have a last-lap wreck every time, and I guess next time we’re in that situation, we’ll try to go a lap sooner.”

The complete results can be found below:

  1. Jamie McMurray
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  4. Paul Menard
  5. Kyle Busch
  6. David Ragan
  7. David Gilliland
  8. Martin Truex Jr.
  9. Ryan Newman
  10. Greg Biffle
  11. Clint Bowyer
  12. Kevin Harvick
  13. Jimmie Johnson
  14. Michael McDowell
  15. Joey Logano
  16. Jeff Gordon
  17. Carl Edwards
  18. Travis Kvapil
  19. Kurt Busch
  20. Matt Kenseth
  21. Aric Almirola
  22. Jeff Burton
  23. Trevor Bayne
  24. Justin Allgaier
  25. Dave Blaney
  26. Austin DIllon
  27. Casey Mears
  28. JJ Yeley
  29. Brad Keselowski
  30. Josh Wise
  31. Cole Whitt
  32. Michael waltrip
  33. Danica Patrick
  34. Bobby Labonte
  35. Terry Labonte
  36. Kasey Kahne
  37. Landon Cassill
  38. Denny Hamlin
  39. Marcos Ambrose
  40. David Reutimann
  41. Juan Pablo Montoya
  42. Joe Nemechek
  43. Tony Raines
Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Almirola on Pole After Talladega Washout

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) TALLADEGA, AL – Aric Almirola had a rain plan, and it paid off with the top starting spot in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

A rainout of Saturday’s qualifying session put Almirola on the pole for the sixth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and left the title contenders scattered throughout the starting grid.

Jeff Burton will start second on the outside of the front row, with Almirola’s Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, Marcos Ambrose, taking the green flag from the third position.

With possible rain in the forecast for Saturday’s qualifying session, Almirola and Ambrose posted the fastest lap they could in Friday’s first practice session, because the starting order for the race, in the case of a rainout, is set according to speeds in opening practice.

“We went into practice with a plan,” Almirola said. “Me and Marcos got a big run on the pack and put up a good lap. We knew that there was a small chance for rain. Obviously, under the circumstances, we thought it would good to put up a good lap, just in case it did rain.

“We had a plan and stuck to it, and it worked out.”

Almirola recorded a top speed of 202.000 mph during first practice to snag the pole. Burton, who was part of the same draft that propelled Almirola to the top spot on the grid, ran 201.987 mph, with Ambrose third at 201.876 mph.

Martin Truex Jr. will start fourth, followed by Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, the top two Chase drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. claimed the eighth position, with series leader Matt Kenseth 12th—one spot behind five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who trails Kenseth by four points in the title battle

To Almirola, however, the excellent track position he’ll have to start the race—always subject to the vagaries of the draft—is secondary to the first pick of pit stalls at the 2.66-mile track. Almirola will pit his car in stall No. 1, closest to the exit from pit road.

“When they have those yellow-flag pit stops, being in stall No. 1, when they drop the jack, you just have to go a couple of feet to cross that scoring line for the exit of pit road,” Almirola said. “That’s going to be really important.

“The race jumbles up here so much. It’s not like a typical race where, if you qualify on pole, you have a good shot at staying up front all day just because of track position. In this race, you can be leading one lap and 16th the very next lap.”

Other Chase drivers will start as follows based on their speeds in first practice: Ryan Newman 17th, Joey Logano 18th, Jeff Gordon 19th, Clint Bowyer 20th, Kyle Busch 27th, Kasey Kahne 28th, Kurt Busch 30th and Kevin Harvick 33rd.

With the composition of the field set according to rainout rules, Sam Hornish Jr. failed to make the 43-car field because his No. 12 Ford had the fewest qualifying attempts this season among cars not already guaranteed starting positions.

The starting lineup for Sunday’s race can be found below.

  1. Aric Almirola
  2. Jeff Burton
  3. Marcos Ambrose
  4. Martin Truex Jr.
  5. Carl Edwards
  6. Greg Biffle
  7. David Ragan
  8. Dale Earnhardt Jr
  9. Jamie McMurray
  10. Casey Mears
  11. Jimmie Johnson
  12. Matt Kenseth
  13. Brad Keselowski
  14. Josh Wise
  15. Denny Hamlin
  16. Austin Dllon
  17. Ryan Newman
  18. Joey Logano
  19. Jeff Gordon
  20. Clint Bowyer
  21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr
  22. Michael Waltrip
  23. Danica Patrick
  24. David Gilliland
  25. David Reutimann
  26. Trevor Bayne
  27. Kyle Busch
  28. Kasey Kahne
  29. Bobby Labonte, Toyota
  30. Kurt Busch
  31. Cole Whitt
  32. Juan Pablo Montoya
  33. Kevin Harvick
  34. Paul Menard
  35. Justin Allgaier
  36. Michael McDowell
  37. JJ Yeley
  38. Travis Kvapil
  39. Dave Blaney
  40. Terry Labonte
  41. Tony Raines
  42. Joe Nemechek
  43. Landon Cassill
Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Why Not Us? Small Teams Look to Replicate Front Row’s Success

By Matt Weaver (TALLADEGA, AL) – David Ragan’s Sprint Cup Series victory at Talladega in the April race for Front Row Motorsports has other underfunded teams wondering, “why not us?”

Front Row Motorsports began in 2004 when Yum! Foods franchisee Bob Jenkins started a race team. It would not score its first victory until earlier this season when Ragan and David Gilliland led a one-two team effort in a frantic green-white-checkered finish that ran into the early twilight hours.

The nature of restrictor plate racing with the draft has allowed teams that ordinarily do not run up front to steal a victory — and Ragan was the first to score the Talladega upset with the new sixth-generation car.

“We feel like we are at more of a level playing field when the draft is in play and everyone is in the same pack,” Ragan said. “We put more emphasis on the short tracks and road courses where we can be more competitive as a team.

“The tracks we struggle at are the 1.5 mile tracks were it takes a lot of resources to figure out your aero platform and how you are riding on your bump stops and research and design to kind of trick the system… and that is somewhere we fall short at.”

A similar situation applies to Tommy Baldwin Racing where drivers Dave Blaney and J.J. Yeley have experienced their most success this season at Daytona and Talladega. Blaney has a 28.3 average finish this season but has scored finishes of 17th, 16th, and 31st on the ultra-high banks.

The results have been even better for Yeley as he has scored finishes of 10th, 31st and 13th this season between the two tracks.

Blaney says Tommy Baldwin doesn’t place an increased financial importance on Daytona and Talladega but that they style of racing does naturally provide an opportunity for he and his teammate to score a victory four times each season.

“These restrictor plate races definitely even things up,” Blaney said. “There is no doubt that this is really our best chance to compete for a win. We’ve come close with Tommy’s car a couple of times, run up front and scored some top-10s… but the challenge here is getting to the end and seeing what happens.”

His teammate concurs.

“I think we’ve proven that we have a good speedway program,” Yeley said. “And having (Earnhardt Childress Engines) is the biggest key to that… We’re able to massage on our speedway cars. I think we’ve proven in the spring race that we can stay in the lead back and put ourselves in a position to at least earn the opportunity.”

Like Front Row Motorsports, which has earned additional sponsorship and funding as a result of their Talladega victory, Tommy Baldwin Racing has a lot to gain in potentially winning a race too.

“They showed that anything can happen,” Yeley concluded. “I really think we have a better program than they do but when you go speedway racing, it takes a certain kind of circumstance… It would be huge for me to get my first win, Tommy Baldwin Racing’s first win — I think we’ve been close.

“It would be epic for our team, our sponsors and those that we’re trying to get on board while also solidifying our place in the NASCAR world that we can be competitive.”

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Patrick’s Cup Progression ‘Right Where I Need to Be’

By Kelly Crandall – Not since the days of the youngest Earnhardt joining the Sprint Cup Series have so many eyes scrutinized the season of a rookie.

Danica Patrick is five races from completing her first full-season at NASCAR’s highest level. While she never brazenly stated outlandish goals, the expectations placed upon her by others were mighty ambitious. Perhaps because of her fast arrival on the scene or the attention she brought.

Regardless, Patrick has progress as any rookie would. It’s been a struggle with some days being much better than others. Last weekend in Charlotte she finished 20th after starting 35th, one of her better finishes in 2013.

“I’m right where I need to be. I’m right where I was going to be,” Patrick said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway after announcing that Aspen Dental would be the primary sponsor on her No. 10 Chevrolet for two races next season.

“All I know is that I’ve done everything I can to prepare for the year, to learn throughout the year and that is what’s going to lead into next year. And trying to really put it altogether to get great results for GoDaddy and for Aspen Dental next year.”

Having started the year by winning the pole for the Daytona 500 before leading laps and finishing eighth, it’s been downhill. She’s 28th in points and has failed to finish in the top 10 since. But according to the driver, the biggest thing is that she’s learning and she’s doing so in her own way and pace.

“I don’t think that you can ever plan how it’s going to go or give yourself a grade because everybody learns at a different rate,” Patrick said. “There are times that I probably was unexpectedly better than they thought and worse than they thought. It’s just my own personal progression and everyone’s is different.”

Where Patrick has seemingly taken greater comfort in are the big tracks, such as Daytona and Talladega, and the much smaller tracks, like Martinsville. She earned top 15 finishes in three of those four races this season and appeared much more competitive than other weekends.

Even while running in the Nationwide Series, the restrictor plate tracks were where Patrick excelled. Sunday she returns to Talladega where she finished 33rd in the spring after being caught up in an accident.

“Having a good attitude always helps. As I have said before IndyCar racing on mile-and-a-halfs was much like this kind of racing,” Patrick said about her restrictor plate success. “Flat out, close quarters and just trying to do whatever it took to keep the momentum up. I feel like visually it’s very familiar racing to me. Aerodynamics work different, but as far as the visual of how it goes and needing to keep the momentum up is very similar.”

Credit also went to Stewart-Haas Racing for having fast speedway cars. And it was this company that many pointed to as seeming to have started off behind most others with the debut of the new Generation6 car. Instead of being an equalizer for Patrick, as she too would be driving a car that no one else had, SHR had a lot of work to do.

Tony Stewart didn’t win a race until June and was fighting for a Chase spot when he was injured and sidelined for the remainder of the season. And Ryan Newman went until Indianapolis in July without a victory, also while fighting to make the Chase. For Patrick, the car itself has had a good year but SHR had to learn as the season progressed how to balance it to their liking. Add in her inexperience, she couldn’t offer much in terms of how to fix what was going wrong.

But now, as Patrick returns to the tracks of Talladega and Martinsville for a second time, she does know what she needs. As well as how she can capitalize.

“I think that what that shows is what is possible when you have a good car to work with,” said Patrick on Martinsville being her season’s best finish (12th) outside of the Daytona 500. “I feel like I definitely had that at Martinsville so the challenge for me this time around will be to not down shift from fourth to third when I come out of the pits and over rev the engine and have to start from the back in general just have a better qualifying run so that I can start further up and work from there.

“It’s a short track and those leaders are on you very quickly if you don’t have a good qualifying run. Qualify better and let it play out from there.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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NASCAR Cup Series

Pace Laps: News Ahead of Talladega

By Kelly Crandall – In what’s becoming a never ending news cycle for NASCAR continued on Thursday, a day before the weekend activities begin in Talladega.

Michael Waltrip Racing kicked off the day by announcing Elliott Sadler would replace Brian Vickers in the season’s final four Sprint Cup Series races. Vickers will be sidelined for the remainder of the year after it was discovered on Monday that he has a small blood clot in the calf region of his right leg.

Team owner Michael Waltrip will pilot the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine at Talladega, which had already been schedule before Vickers was given the news. Sadler currently runs for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series where he sits fifth in points. In 431 NSCS starts, Sadler has three career wins.

“Elliott has all the attributes we were looking for. He’s experienced, familiar with Toyota, has a great attitude plus he’s a heck of a driver,” said Waltrip. “We’ll pair him with Scott Miller and the No. 55 guys and I know they’ll have the Aaron’s Dream Machine at the front of the field. I also want to thank everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota for letting us borrow Elliott for a few races.”

JGR has not announced who will replace Vickers in the No. 20 for the NNS season’s final three races. The series doesn’t race however, until Texas early next month.

“First, I am already a teammate of Brian’s at Joe Gibbs Racing and it is really tough to see him going through this again,” said Sadler. “Both of us have fought hard to get back in a position to win at NASCAR’s highest level. I am honored to have this opportunity to drive for MWR because I know their cars are competitive. I want to thank Rob Kauffman, Michael and Aaron’s for giving me this chance. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers will be for Brian to have a quick recovery.”

It was only fitting the news continued with more concerning MWR. Fox Sports is reporting that Martin Truex Jr. will drive the No. 78 Chevrolet at Furniture Row Racing beginning in 2014. Nothing has been made official but an announcement is expected next week.

Truex has been looking for a new ride after it was found that MWR had manipulated the Sept. 7 race at Richmond in order to get him in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Sponsor NAPA decided they wouldn’t return to the organization and MWR gave Truex permission to seek other opportunities.

It’s been a rough two months for the New Jersey native, who lost 50 points because of the scandal which in turn booted him from the Chase field. Ironically the 78 is in the Chase with driver Kurt Busch, who will leave at season’s end for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Truex is a two-time NSCS winner and has made the Chase twice before, 2007 and 2012.

But the most shocking news of the day came late Thursday afternoon when NASCAR announced that Todd Parrott had been indefinitely suspended for violating the substance abuse policy.

Parrott will not be allowed to return to NASCAR until he participates in the mandatory Road to Recovery program. He’s the crew chief for Aric Almirola at Richard Petty Motorsports and the two sit 18th in points entering the weekend. Almirola will now have Sammy Johns calling the shots on the No. 43 for the foreseeable future, he’s the vice president of operations and competition at RPM.

Parrott is most known for his role as crew chief for Dale Jarrett when they won two Daytona 500s and the Brickyard 400. It was Parrott who started the tradition of kissing the bricks. The two also won a championship together in 1999.

Recently he’s served as crew chief for Marcos Ambrose, guiding him to two NSCS victories. He joined the company in 2010.

“We have an expectation of all RPM employees to conduct themselves at the highest level of professionalism and within the competitive confines as set forth by NASCAR,” said Johns. “We are very disappointed that one of our employees did not meet our expectations and we completely support NASCAR, their policies and final decisions when it comes to the substance abuse policy.”

Talladega hosts the fifth race in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint, marking just five races remaining in the season. On track activities for the Camping World Truck Series and NSCS begin Friday morning.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Talladega: Change You (Can’t) Count On

By Matt Weaver (TALLADEGA, AL) – Observers have been hesitant to proclaim the Chase for the Championship a two-team race primarily because Talladega was always looming around the corner.

With the so-called wild card race set to play out this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, I’m here to tell you that it’s not going to make a difference and that the Chase is — at most — a three team affair between Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

Consider that the top-three drivers are separated by 30 points (just four between Kenseth to Johnson) and that is a manageable gap to overcome over the next five races. But to assume that Talladega will be the great equalizer is a deeply flawed way of thinking.

First, no team is likely going to gain the 43-plus points needed to overtake or even catch the leaders. The ideal scenario for those wanting a renewed and expanded championship picture is for both Kenseth and Johnson to be wiped out in an early accident while everyone else from third-place Harvick on back to escape and score top-10 finishes.

While it is possible that both the No. 20 and No. 48 teams don’t make it to the finish, the same fate is just as likely to befall the other 11 Chasers as well.

At best, it’s realistic to hope for a net gain of around 15 points if something happens to the two primary contenders but even that’s a stretch due to how competitive both Kenseth and Johnson have on restrictor plate tracks this season.

The chances of getting taken out in the big crash decrease as a car moves closers to the lead and both Johnson and Kenseth have spent a lot of time out front at both Daytona and Talladega this season.

Johnson’s 2013 season on plate tracks need little introduction. The five-time Sprint Cup Series champion opened the season by scoring a second victory in the Daytona 500, finished sixth at Talladega in the spring and won in his return trip to Daytona Beach in July.

That’s an average finish of 2.6.

Kenseth was one of the top-3 unarguable favorites from both the Daytona 500 and Aaron’s 499. He likely would have been a player at the end of the 500 but his engine expired — as the leader — in the middle stages of the race.

Kenseth again dominated the spring Talladega race and just wasn’t able to close out on the victory during a frantic final green-white-checkered finish that ran into the twilight hours. And don’t forget that Kenseth won two plate races last season, including this very fall Talladega race.

So despite so many claims to the contrary, Talladega is just like any of the other remaining five races in the Chase for the Championship in that bad finishes from the contenders are unlikely and that the path to victory lane goes through both the Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Power Rankings: The Fast Fifteen

By Matt Weaver – Two championship battles remained close over the weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, despite the largely uneventful racing that precluded it.

Between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, four championship-winning drivers kept their NASCAR title hopes alive with competitive runs at their home track and the Fast 15 Power Rankings have been updated to reflect those battles.

The complete list can be found below.

1. Matt Kenseth (LW: 2)

Just when it appeared that Jimmie Johnson had all the momentum, Kenseth swooped in and finished above his rival in a race that the No. 48 team appeared destined to win.

2. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 1)

When considering that Johnson very well should have won on Saturday at Charlotte, the Bank of America 500 could be a defeat that lingers and derails the 48 team’s shot for a sixth championship.

3. Kevin Harvick (LW: 3)

Harvick did everything he could just to hold serve with Johnson and Kenseth. You can’t fault a driver for finishing sixth but it’s not enough to make up championship ground.

4. Kyle Busch (LW: 8)

A top-5 race was the near-perfect way to rebound after Shrub’s disastrous crash at Kansas Speedway. Now Busch is left hoping that a similar fate befalls both Johnson and Kenseth over the final five races.

5. Jeff Gordon (LW: 4)

Like Harvick, Gordon’s seventh-place finish at Charlotte is good but not good enough when those ahead of him in the standings are continually scoring more points.

6. Carl Edwards (LW: 9)

A Chase of what could have been continues for Carl Edwards. The accident at Dover mars what otherwise has been a good playoff for the No. 99 team with finishes of 11th, 9th, 35th, 5th and a 10th at Charlotte. At 67 points back, he’s likely racing to earn momentum heading into next season.

7. Clint Bowyer (LW: 11)

Bowyer’s relatively silent Chase continues with an 11th place at Charlotte. It’s not terrible and might even be ideal considering all the negative press surrounding Michael Waltrip Racing.

8. Kurt Busch (LW: 5)

It was the status quo for Kurt Busch’s Chase at Charlotte. Consistently fast in practice and qualifying but just doesn’t seem to be capable of putting it all together at the end of a race.

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 6)

What looked like another chance for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to return to Victory Lane was spoiled late in the Bank of America 500 as the No. 88 led laps but ultimately finished P15 when track conditions changed the feel of the car.

10. Brad Keselowski (LW: NR)

Back on the map with his first victory of the season, Brad Keselowski could be poised to go on a tear and play spoiler for the championship Chasers.

11. Joey Logano (LW: 7)

Meh. P18.

12. Austin Dillon (LW: 13)

Momentum is firmly in the 2011 Truck Series champion’s side. Could the Nationwide Series crown be next?

13. Kasey Kahne (LW: NR)

The No. 5 team finally hit the mark in the Chase with a positive result. Their second-place finish was remarkably their first top-10 of the season but it wasn’t even enough to get Kahne out of the Chase cellar.

14. Greg Biffle (LW: NR)

The Biff finished 16th on Saturday night at Charlotte. With an average finish of 15.5 and no DNFs, Biffle appears to be maximizing the most of his equipment without overdriving the car. He’ll get his day sooner than later.

15. Sam Hornish Jr. (LW: NR)

Leading laps, running up front and scoring podiums is a sign that Sam Hornish Jr. can remain in the championship battle but he cannot afford to give up points and possible wins like he did late on Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. With three races remaining, the Nationwide Series championship will come down to the wire.

Categories
Editorial NASCAR Cup Series

A Case for the Short Tracks

By Matt Weaver (KANNAPOLIS, N.C.) – It appears that NASCAR has no intention of balancing the Sprint Cup Series schedule with additional short tracks as part of a long-term plan to diversify the schedule. It continues what has become a long-standing commitment by the sport to slip away from its own storied heritage.

When asked about the likelihood of the league diversifying its schedule in the distant future, NASCAR Director of Operations Steve O’Donnell said that they are satisfied with the current Sprint Cup Series formula.

“I think we’re fairly happy with the balance on the Cup side of where we race,” O’Donnell said after releasing the 2014 Sprint Cup schedule. “Our job is to put on the best product that we can at each of those racetracks. Working on that is where we are concentrating.”

In other words, expect heat races as opposed to a drastic change in future schedules as O’Donnell said he expect to “embrace what we learned from Eldora at future events.”

While the Sanctioning Body has a variety of things to consider and parties to satisfy when designing the Sprint Cup schedule, NASCAR should not advertise satisfaction on the track diversity front.

The current schedule has 36 races in which only six are true short tracks. Four are restrictor plate events and 21 are intermediates with Pocono and Indianapolis providing its own unique brand of racing.

That’s not diversity but rather a diluting of the current product.

The status quo from recent seasons is starting to create a gap between the traditional grassroots racing fan and today’s NASCAR. Having grown up at short tracks, it wasn’t uncommon for me to see NASCAR apparel decorate the grandstands at facilities across the Southeast but that’s often not the case anymore.

The fans that attend many of the tracks that I frequent when covering Super Late Models are still wearing their Dale Earnhardt Sr. jackets or Quality Care Dale Jarrett shirts as opposed to those representing current Cup drivers.

While there is still plenty of synergy, the wedge between diehards and the current product is widening.

Jeff Burton — one of the longest tenured drivers in the tour — has driven in multiple eras and recognizes a disconnect. He believes that something should be done to strengthen the relationship between the sport and those lost fans.

“I think we suffered a great deal when the Nationwide Series and Trucks quit coming to South Boston, Orange County Speedway and quit going to Hickory,” Burton said last week at a Martinsville test. “I think over time we lost the connection between the short track racing and the big time.

“There seems to be such a difference between what local racers are doing and what we’re doing that I don’t think that it’s necessarily good for the sport.”

NASCAR was founded on a culture of fender-banging and close quarters racing. That’s becoming an outdated form of entertainment at the national touring level in lieu of larger, high-banked speedways that seldom provides the close racing that once defined NASCAR’s popularity.

As a result, the current NASCAR fan doesn’t recognize short track racing as the same product that they see on TV each week. So the sport could benefit from an injection of short tracks on two fronts.

They can both educate new fans on the viability of the discipline while also appealing to the disenchanted traditionalist who want a larger variety of tracks like they saw in the 90s.

So a long-term commitment to short tracks (and road courses) at the national touring level must be a priority moving forward. It will allow NASCAR drivers to continue to become the most diverse and talented motorsport athletes in the world. And like Eldora, what was old just might become new again.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

MWR Scaling Back for 2014

By Summer Bedgood – Michael Waltrip Racing is officially scaling back for the 2014 season with only two Sprint Cup Series teams and one part-time ride. The reorganization will see the disappearance of the No. 56 team with both Martin Truex Jr. and Chad Johnston being released from the organization at the end of the year. This leaves the No. 15 and the No. 55 as the full-time teams next season, with Brian Vickers as the No. 55 driver and Clint Bowyer as the No. 15 driver. Aaron’s, 5 Hour Energy, and PEAK will remain as sponsors on their respective teams.

MWR will also field a third car on a part-time basis, beginning in the Daytona 500 with Michael Waltrip as the driver. The car will be used for R&D purposes throughout the year.

“Our goals for the reorganization were twofold, firstly to improve the competitiveness of our race teams and, secondly maintain a stable organizational structure,” said co-owner Rob Kauffman. “The team’s focus has been to find that last one percent needed to move from Chase participant to Cup champion. This realignment will get us closer to that last one percent.”

This news comes just over a month removed from a Richmond incident that saw Martin Truex Jr. removed from the Chase as a result of a controversial spin by Bowyer and pistop by Vickers was seen as a manipulation of the race in order to get Truex into the Chase. When it was successful, Truex was replaced in the Chase by Ryan Newman. As a result of the controversy, Truex’s sponsor NAPA announced that they would be severing ties with the organization at the conclusion of this season.

The announcement also means that several employees at MWR will be forced to seek employment elsewhere. Though the organization says that they will still be able to retain 85 percent of their workforce, employees were notified Monday that they are free to search for a job effective immediately.

Though no official announcement has been made regarding Truex’s future, rumors are circulating that Truex may drive the No. 78 car for Furniture Row Racing.

Truex is currently 16th in the Sprint Cup Series standings with one victory.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Vickers Sidelined for Remainder of 2013

By Kelly Crandall – Brian Vickers will miss the remainder of the 2013 season Michael Waltrip Racing announced this morning.

Vickers received news from Dr. William Downey that he has a small blood clot in the calf region of his right leg. He’ll be taking blood thinners for the clot and will not compete in the final five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races for MWR in the No. 55, which he’ll race full-time beginning in 2014.

“If there’s anything to be positive about with today’s news it’s that this is only temporary,” Vickers said in the MWR release. “The timing for this is never good, but I’m glad we’ll get it out of the way now and be ready to run for a championship with the Aaron’s Dream Machine in 2014.”

Vickers had been schedule for finish out the year in the 55 as the team prepared for next season. The group won together at New Hampshire in July. Team owner Michael Waltrip will drive the car this weekend at Talladega, which had previously been planned, with a replacement driver for the season’s remaining races to be announced at a later date.

Vickers finished 25th at Charlotte on Saturday night.

“We were just informed this morning and our concern is for Brian’s health,” Rob Kauffman said, co-owner at MWR. “Anything else will be worked out in due course.”

Vickers was also running full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series. He sits eighth in points coming off a hard crash on Friday night with teammate Elliott Sadler. JGR has not announced a replacement driver for the season’s remaining three races.

Blood clots are an unfortunate familiar thing for Vickers. In 2010 he was sidelined from his then ride at Red Bull Racing when clots were discovered in his left leg and lungs, which he underwent heart surgery for. Later it was found he also had a clot in a finger in his left hand. He returned for the 2011 season and has been healthy ever since.

Both Vickers and his doctors say he’ll be able to return to racing for the 2014 season.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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