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NASCAR Cup Series

Jeff Gordon Says Jimmie Johnson Has Become the New Standard at IMS

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — The Brickyard 400 has been a microcosm of the career of Jeff Gordon and much like his championship aspirations in recent seasons, the four-time Cup champion expects to find himself chasing Jimmie Johnson for the win on Sunday.

Speaking to the media on Friday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Gordon said that the Brickyard is a race where champions bring out their best, especially in recent seasons where the race kicked off the race to the Chase.

“This is a tough race track, ” Gordon said. “It’s also a track where everyone brings out their best, whether it’s a pit crew, driver, race car or whole combination. They bring their best because this is such a prestigious race.

“That’s why I think you see champions or championship contenders compete so well at this race and win this race. Those are the teams that are able to step up when it matters most and not only win this race but go on to be a champion. And who has done that better in the last 10 years than the 48 team?”

Most of the paddock labeled Johnson the favorite for Sunday and Gordon says that beating the 48 is likely the key to winning this race.

“They certainly are in championship form and I’d have to put them at the top of the list of teams to beat,” he continued. “For the rest of us, we’re going to put all that aside and run our race to see if we can finish ahead of the 48. If you can do that, you’re probably going to win this race and be proud of that accomplishment.”

Once upon a time, that was the perception of Gordon too. He won the inaugural Brickyard in 1994 and has won three additional times in 1998, 2001 and 2004 too. That was a decade of dominance that ended with the arrival of Johnson — Gordon’s teammate and protégé.

Johnson has matched Gordon in Brickyard wins, kissing the bricks in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012. There is a lot of similarities and Gordon recognizes it too.

“That how everyone probably looked at us when we were winning all those races,” Gordon said. “But really — Jimmie and that team has taken it to a whole new level.

So after 19 races, who has been more dominant at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson? Tell us on our Facebook page or on Twitter at @MattWeaverSBN and @PopularSpeed.

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Editorial NASCAR Cup Series

A UNIQUE VIEW: Attitude and Happiness are Keys for Patrick

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is considered to be the “epicenter of racing” because it plays host to a number of different motorsports entities that include the IndyCar, MotoGP, NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series. The “Indianapolis 500” and “Brickyard 400” are two of the most highly anticipated events of the race season.

After some well-deserved rest and relaxation, the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers are getting ready to strap in, fire the engines and hit the bricks – literally.

Three pondering thoughts that I have going into “The Brickyard 400”:

Can Jeff Gordon make a charge at the Chase?

The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has been a challenging one for four-time champion Jeff Gordon. He has been able to capture four top 5s and 7 top 10s but wins have eluded him. It hasn’t helped that Gordon has been involved in four crashes this season and currently sits 12th and 175 points behind leader/teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Heading to a track where he has been successful may prove to be a turning point for Gordon’s team. He has four wins, 11 top 5s and 15 top 10s, fast cars and engine prowess haven’t been much of an issue for this team. Evading trouble on the track and positioning himself up front could produce a long awaited season win.

Will Danica Patrick serve up another “first” this weekend? 

In the Indy Car Series, Danica Patrick made history by becoming the first female driver to lead a lap in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, winning the 2008 Indy Japan 300 and becoming the highest finishing woman in the 2009 Indianapolis 500 – finishing third.

Fast forward – in 2013, she became the first woman to win a Daytona 500 pole and leading a few laps under green. Finishing eighth in this race placed her in the record books (again) as the highest finishing female driver in this historic race.

In an interview with NASCAR.com, Patrick expressed how she felt about racing back in Indy. “I feel like I know the surface, the circuit. I enjoy going there and I think sometimes one of the most beneficial things on a weekend is to just be having a good attitude and being happy. I’m always happy there.”

Will that happiness translate into another “first” for this history-making driver? Granted, she only has one top 10 and an average finish of 25th but there is always the possibility that Patrick can find success at a track where she is in her comfort zone.

Can Chevrolet take home their 15th win on Sunday or will their streak be broken?

 Chevrolet has been a dominating force in Indy. Out of the 19 Sprint Cup races run at this track, they have accounted for 14 wins that include the last 10 consecutive races (2003-2012). Some of these winning drivers have included Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. It has definitely been proven that there is some dynamic horsepower under the hood of those racecars.

Ford is the second winning manufacturer at this track, accounting for three wins – two with Dale Jarrett (’96 & ’99) and one with Ricky Rudd (’99). So far, this season, Ford has managed to win three races (Phoenix, Talladega and Michigan) and they have been very competitive on the track.

Will Chevy be able to put another “W” in the record books? Or will Ford pull off an upset and “kiss the bricks?” Only time will tell with these two highly competitive manufacturers.

Despite the outcome, I am sure there will be a dual until the checkered flag waves in Indy.

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Editorial NASCAR Cup Series

The Pain of Winning

Different things motivate different people. For some it’s glory, for others it’s money. For me, it’s pain.

Now before you let your mind go where it shouldn’t, I can tell you that my threshold for pain is low – probably lower than most. If I get a paper-cut, the world knows about it. And just to further illustrate my lack of immunity and inability to sometimes control my emotions, I’ve been known to tear-up, on occasion, watching a sappy Lifetime move.

Yep, my Man Card should have been revoked when I was an adolescent.

In the fall of 2003, I took a leap of faith on a Wednesday, November 5th. It was just prior to the second-to-last race of the season and we were headed to Rockingham Speedway to try and clinch the season championship with Matt Kenseth. It was a really good season for us. In fact, in August we had a 400-point lead over second place, but it had diminished significantly as we approached the close of the season – going into Rockingham we had to finish in the top-10 in order to secure the trophy.

But I had confidence. We had a stellar team with an outstanding driver who just happened to love the track. I felt good about the day.

So on the preceding Wednesday, with virtually no adult mindset, I walked into a tattoo shop with a picture of the 2003 Championship logo and said, “I want this. ”The ink-covered artist said, “Well that’s cool – congratulations.” I honestly didn’t have the nerve to tell him that this was a speculative decision in fear that he’d try and talk me out of it.

Two hours of excruciating pain and $150, I limped to my car and went home. And for the next 4.5 days had the ‘what-if’ knot in my stomach.

We finished fourth in the race and clinched the title by, at that time, a mere 90 points. Still in pain — don’t ever let anyone tell you that tattoos don’t hurt — I ran from the spotters stand to pit road to celebrate our accomplishment. Standing next to Matt for the photos, I gingerly pulled up my pant leg and said, “Check this out!” He bent down, took at peek and said to me, “You’re an idiot.” That was fine, we had start calling each other name since his rookie year – so I thought it was kind of an endearing moment for us.

The after-party at Matt’s house was attended by our entire crew and several drivers, including eventual 3rd place points finisher, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Upon his arrival, Kenseth motions for him to come over to us. He said, “show him”, referencing the tattoo that still hurt. Earnhardt said, “is it real?”. I nodded and he said, “You’re an idiot – what would you have done if I won the championship?” I said that I’d color in all the red and put a white No. 8 on it. He laughed.

In 2009 when we won the Daytona 500, Matt asked me, sarcastically of course, if I had gotten the tattoo yet. And the next morning I went straight my guy and had it applied.

Since then, I’ve added the 2012 Daytona 500 and the 2011 Nationwide Championship commemoration with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. I didn’t get one for the second consecutive title with Ricky because I was running out of room; although, I did consider adding to the first one with “And 2012 too”, but thought better of it.

The only other tattoo that I have which doesn’t boast a huge accomplishment is from the 2011 Spring race at Dover, where Matt called an audible for two tires, just three stalls away from our pit box. I know have Miles the Monster embossed on my right calf. Not only was it a special win because of strategy, but the resemblance of Miles to my ex-mother-in-law was striking.

The glory of winning is great. The financial rewards are pretty sporty too. But, the pain of the accomplishment far outweighs anything else. I always tell people, “You can lose a commemorative ring, but you can’t lose a tattoo.”

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Editorial NASCAR Cup Series

Johnson and Knaus “The Dynamic Duo”

In the world of superhero animation you have a number of dynamic duos, with the most famous of them all being Batman and Robin; otherwise, known as the “Caped Crusaders.”

Switching gears to the world of NASCAR, the Cup series has definitely had its share of winning dynamic duos to include championship pairings such as: Richard Petty/Dale Inman, Dale Earnhardt/Kirk Shelmerdine and Jeff Gordon/Ray Everham – just to name a few.

Over a consecutive five-year span, from 2006  to 2010, there was one team who performed in a dominating, historic fashion. They battled hard and repeatedly took home the coveted trophy, after the checkered flag waved, at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

I am sure that without me saying another word you know exactly which driver and crew chief combination I’ve been alluding to because they are one of the most talked about teams in and out of the garage area. Without a doubt, they are both famous and infamous for a number of reasons – historic and controversial.

Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Crew Chief Chad Knaus have their share of folks who are diehard fans and loyal supporters. Of course, on the flip side of the coin, there are those who would rather see the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team performing in subpar fashion every week.

Despite all of that, there is no denying that this driver and crew chief combination has proven to be a force to be reckoned with on the track. Granted, the team was dethroned for the past two years with three-time champion Tony Stewart and last year’s champion Brad Keselowski taking home the prized trophy.

However, in 2013, it seems as if the Johnson/Knaus combination have ignited a seemingly low burning flame. Simply put – these guys are on fire!

With approximately 13 years of Cup competition under his belt, Jimmie Johnson has grown to become a phenomenal talent. Statistics that include 64 wins in 41

Have they had some challenges and questionable moments? Yes. Have they always had a perfect race? No.8 races, 174 top 5s, 261 top 10s, 30 poles along with 14,876 laps led and five championships – need I say more? Crew Chief Chad Knaus has been the man to call audibles from the pit box for him over the past 12 years.

One thing that remains certain about this combo is the fact that they are fighters and possess that “eye of the tiger.” It has been proven by their multiple consecutive championships, record-breaking moments and sustaining partnership over the years.

In 2013, it looks like this has been shaping up to be another championship year. Will they make it a six-peat? The absolute possibilities are there for that to become reality. Fast, dominating cars – check. Wins, four – check. Will this Hendrick Motorsports powerhouse capture their sixth championship? Only time will tell because there is still a lot of racing left to do this season.

As always, the determining factors will come down to the how things go in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. One thing that can’t be denied or argued is that Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus are a formidable match and most definitely can be deemed the present “Dynamic Duo.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

Richard Childress Expects Improved Racing at Indianapolis

Stock car racing hasn’t really captivated at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but the prestige and pageantry typically made up for it, with the Brickyard 400 traditionally completing the Triple Crown of prized NASCAR races alongside the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

But the prestige has started to dissipate in recent seasons following the 2008 Goodyear tire debacle, a struggling economy and the general disinterest in racing. These factors combined have all cut into the once plentiful attendance numbers at Indianapolis.

Richard Childress admitted during a Monday teleconference that a lot of that has to do with the on-track racing product. While the Brickyard 400 is still a memorable event, he does think the new Sprint Cup chassis will alleviate some of the concerns for Sunday’s track action.

“IndyCar had some of the same concerns prior to their new car,” Childress said. “I think the new Indy car works well within the draft and hopefully our new Gen-6 will do the same thing and let us draft a little better with it.”

The new DW12 Indy car has set lead change records in both Indy 500 events since it was first implemented in 2012, setting 68 passes for the top spot this past May. Childress believes there is some synergy between the action in both open-wheel and stock cars at the Speedway.

“I think it’s such an aero-dependent race track that you can be 3/10ths faster than another car and can’t be able to do anything with it,” Childress said. “With our new Gen-6, I think we can do a lot more drafting on these long straightaways.”

Childress added that crowds are down across the board in the stick-and-ball sports too and that the economy has more to do with it than the racing. He also believes that NASCAR is a lot more digitally accessible now than it ever has been before, giving fans many more options beyond attending the races in person.

Nevertheless, Childress is hopeful for an exciting Brickyard 400 and is hoping to win his fourth race at Indianapolis after capturing trophies with the late Dale Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard.

“It’s going to be a fun weekend up there at Indy,” Childress added. “I always look forward to going up there, visiting some of my favorite restaurants and going to the Brickyard — it’s going to be fun.”

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