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Commentary

Stage Racing Enhancing Road Course Strategy

When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competes at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International, strategy becomes a more integral part of the race compared to oval events.

Unlike most venues, drivers can pit under green flag conditions without losing a lap, and the timing of these stops becomes critical to determining which cars ultimately battle for the trophy.

The addition of stage racing in 2017 further emphasizes the importance of strategy. Much like at Sonoma in June, teams will enter Sunday’s I LOVE NEW YORK 355 at the Glen prepared with game plans crafted towards either succeeding in the first two stages or overall event.

Sonoma featured a distinct divide between those who performed and finished well in each stage compared to how the end of the race unfolded.

Kevin Harvick took the victory but didn’t place inside the top-10 in the first two stages. Despite this, he led the second-most laps and pulled away to his first win of the season.

Clint Bowyer only completed Stage 1 in the top-10 but triumphed at the end to earn his second runner-up of 2017.

Brad Keselowski finished third after pitting late in Stage 1, staying out for Stage 2, and gaining crucial track position that put him up front for the rest of the event.

Similar storylines will likely emerge out of Watkins Glen.

With five races until the Playoffs begin, drivers on the bubble without a win will need every point to assure their opportunity to compete for the championship.

They will have to balance chasing victory while not giving up many stage points as they develop a strategy for Sunday. Seeing how much Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth gain will help further piece together the post-season picture.

However, those three competitors will need to keep an eye on drivers who are in a must-win situation to climb into the top-16.

Road courses often even the playing field and typically don’t favor the best-performing cars of the season, opening the door for drivers on the outside of the title picture, including previous Watkins Glen winners Joey Logano and A.J. Allmendinger.

Seeing whether those who have to win to secure a Playoff spot or a past winner this season prevails adds another compelling storyline to an already highly anticipated event.

Watkins Glen has produced many memorable moments in recent years including epic last lap battles that pitted experienced road racers Marcos Ambrose and Allmendinger against the best of the sport with Kyle Busch, Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin, delivering thrilling finishes.

Producing more dramatic moments is a major goal of stage racing. By introducing this style of competition to the always exciting road course, it can only enhance one of the wildest events of the season.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kahne May Not Be Last to Shake Up Playoff Picture

An unpredictable year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series experienced another unexpected moment in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kasey Kahne captured his first victory in nearly three years, adding another twist to the playoff picture in a season filled with surprise winners.

Now with the Hendrick Motorsports driver in the top-16 six races before Chicagoland, the question shifts to who will be next to win and lock themselves in.

Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott, and Matt Kenseth are currently in positions to make the post-season based on points, and a victory in the coming weeks wouldn’t change much other than solidifying their title bids.

Clint Bowyer has now fallen below the cutline, joining Joey Logano. A win from either would knock another competitor out and further narrow the possibility for drivers to make the playoffs based on points

However, the ones to watch are those with no other choice but to gamble and hope luck falls their way like it has for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, and now Kahne in 2017.

Before the chaos at the finish, Trevor Bayne was in a position to be the next surprise winner after stretching fuel mileage and hoping for a green flag run to the checkered.

While it didn’t materialize, it’s that type of strategy that those outside the playoffs need to utilize to have any chance at making the post-season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the same situation and has mentioned many times that it does his team no good to aim for a 10th-place finish when they are in a must-win situation.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to see another driver make the playoffs under similar circumstances as the series heads to Pocono and Watkins Glen.

Strategy often prevails at Pocono, and it’s a place where Earnhardt Jr. has recently visited Victory Lane after sweeping the events in 2014.

Road courses breed unpredictability and road racing ace A.J. Allmendinger hasn’t been much of a factor this season, but that could change in a heartbeat.

Everything fell into place for Kahne to join the list of surprise winners this year at Indianapolis. It not only has thrown another curveball at the post-season but further attests to the adage of 2017 being expected the unexpected.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Daytona, The “Land of Opportunity,” Lives Up To Its Epithet Again

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Daytona International Speedway has always been called the “land of opportunity” for NASCAR’s underdogs, and the 59th annual Daytona 500 was not any different.

A.J. Allmendinger finished third, Aric Almirola finished fourth, and Paul Menard finished fifth. What do all three drivers have in common? They’re all Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veterans with one career win.

Also in the top 10 was Michael Waltrip, who announced that Sunday’s race would be his final career start, and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who finished eighth and 10th, respectively.

“Typically a car that’s beat up isn’t going to do that,” Bayne told POPULAR SPEED about finishing 10th. “It’s cool to get a top 10 out of a wrecked racecar.

“We didn’t get many of the results we thought we would this week. We thought we had a car that can qualify on the front row and we thought he had a shot win the Duel. We weren’t bad, but the goal was to win.”

Menard said the event was one the wildest races he’s ever been in and noted how his Richard Childress Racing No. 27 team overcame the obstacle of going to a backup car to finish in the top five.

“On Friday during practice, I actually thought it was a little better than our primary car,” Menard said. “There’s a lot of new faces on my team, and Matt Borland is a new crew chief, and we came out of the gates swinging.”

Almirola led two laps as he and TriStar Motorsports’ Cole Whitt led the field to green with less than 50 laps remaining. Both their leads were short-lived, but captured the attention many fans, particularly those who would have wanted to see the No. 43 return to the winner’s circle for the first time since July 2014.

“We had a solid car all day,” Almirola said. “It wasn’t the car we needed to contend for the win. I’m just so proud of everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports. I’m so proud of Ford Motor Company for going to Victory Lane.”

Whitt ran out of fuel as the race concluded and wound up 18th, but he led three laps as well.

“We had a little bit of damage, but mostly, we stayed out of trouble,” Whitt told POPULAR SPEED. “It was a good day. We were running in front of the 15 [Waltrip] when we ran out of fuel coming to the white flag off of Turn 4, but all in all, we had fun.”

With this being Waltrip’s final 500, he felt “fortunate” to end his career on a high note.

“I had so many times I was in the middle of a crash and just missed it,” he said. “I’m thankful that I survived and I’m thankful for being able to run up front, and I’m happy about the finish.

“I’m ready for it to be my last [start] so it’s going to be a good one to remember it by.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Chris Buescher Ready To Go “Full-Tilt” with JTG

Last season, Chris Buescher made a move to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with Front Row Motorsports, surprising everybody as he made the Chase for the Championship following a victory at Pocono Raceway. He’ll look to once again qualify for the Chase this year, except with a different team.

Over the off-season, Buescher moved to JTG Daughtry to drive the No. 37 Chevrolet, which caught everybody off-guard with Buescher being under a development contract with Roush Fenway who runs Fords. While Buescher says he remains under contract with Roush, it’s not something he’s thinking about as we close in on the season. Instead, all of his focus is on going “full tilt” with JTG.

“We’re working on this season getting integrated with everybody over there,” he said. “It has been a transition coming over to a new team for the second year in a row trying to get to know everybody. We have a new crew chief, a new manufacturer with Chevrolet, and I’m just really focused on getting through this year. We haven’t looked anywhere past that. 2017 is looking to be a great year, though.”

For JTG, it has made things interesting as the team is making the switch from a single-car organization to a two-car organization. They’ve had to bring in some new employees, which some came from Roush Fenway while others came from other teams.

“I’ve really liked everybody that has come onboard,” Buescher said. “They are all working together really well. I feel like we have a really good group behind us and I think it will turn out to be a great season.”

A.J. Allmendinger has driven for the team over the past couple of years, and will once again in 2017, with limited success. He’s had some strong runs, including a top-five at Martinsville and being a threat to win at the road courses though has struggled and run in the mid-20s. Despite that, there were some positive signs near the end of the year with Allmendinger able to break into the top-15, including a couple of top-10s, to close out the season.

“Looking at the momentum that AJ (Allmendinger) and the 47 team had in the second half of last year is very promising,” Buescher said. “It makes us optimistic to get rolling to Daytona and especially past that once we get to Atlanta and that West Coast swing.”

As the team makes the adjustment, the drivers are also learning about being teammates as Buescher admits not knowing Allmendinger that well before this arrangement. However, since being able to do some events together, Buescher has found his new teammate to be very outgoing, wide open, and full of energy.

“We all know that AJ is probably the best road racer in the garage,” he said. “That second half of last season that whole JTG group did well at all the racetracks they went to. He’s very good at Martinsville, very good at Richmond and a lot of these other racetracks that I haven’t been very good at. He’s also been very good at Bristol, which I feel was probably our best track last year.”

Based on what he’s seen thus far, Buescher is full of positivity, believing the pair can work together, as well as with their Richard Childress Racing teammates through the technical alliance, to have a solid 2017.

All that’s left now is to see if the statistics at the end of the year will match his hopes.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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

Categories
Commentary

Six Cup Veterans Who Can End Winless Streaks in 2017

It’s been a while for a few of NASCAR’s stars since they last celebrated in the winner’s circle. Here are six drivers that can potentially end their droughts and take the checkered flag again in 2017:

 

21-23 October, 2016, Talladega, Alabama USA Jamie McMurray © 2016, Nigel Kinrade NKP
(Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade | NKP)

Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 1 for Chip Ganassi Racing

Winless streak: 112 races

Last win: Talladega, Oct. 2013

Why he can win in 2017: McMurray’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson won at Michigan International Speedway in 2016 so the two-car team proved it has some speed. It was a successful year for the Ganassi duo as both drivers made the Chase, although they were eliminated in the opening Round of 16. Technically, McMurray’s last win was the 2014 All-Star race, but that doesn’t count towards the championship standings. He has seven career points victories, with four of them coming at restrictor plate tracks Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Keep an eye on the No. 1 car Daytona in February, he won “The Great American Race” in 2010.

 

18-20 November, 2016, Homestead, Florida USA Kasey Kahne © 2016, Nigel Kinrade NKP
(Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade | NKP)

Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports

Winless streak: 83 races

Last win: Atlanta, Aug. 2014

Why he can win in 2017: Kahne has struggled quite a bit the last three seasons. Since the beginning of 2014, he has nine top-five finishes and only one victory. He’s missed the Chase the last two years but showed signs of improvement toward the end of 2016 with seven top 10s in the last 12 races. Kahne is in a top-notch ride with HMS, so he’s expected to break the drought and get his career back on track. He has the talent — remember, he has 17 career wins in NASCAR’s premier series.

 

16-17 September, 2016, Joliet, Illinois USA Clint Bowyer ©2016, Brett Moist NKP
(Photo credit: Brett Moist | NKP)

Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 for Stewart-Haas Racing

Winless streak: 149 races

Last win: Richmond, Sept. 2012

Why he can win in 2017: Bowyer will be with a championship-winning organization again this season. The 2016 campaign was the worst year of his Cup career, posting only three top 10s with the now-defunct HScott Motorsports. But he’s taking over Tony Stewart’s car and with two former champions as teammates at SHR (Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch,) his career should certainly be rejuvenated. Expect him to fight for wins in 2017 and battle in the Chase for the first time since 2015.

 

13-15 May, 2016, Dover, Delaware USA Ryan Newman ©2016, Matthew T. Thacker NKP
(Photo credit: Matthew T. Thacker | NKP)

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 31 for Richard Childress Racing

Winless streak: 124 races

Last win: Indianapolis, July 2013

Why he can win in 2017: Like Kahne, Newman has 17 career wins and has struggled since 2014 — despite finishing second in the 2014 championship, one point behind Harvick. But he hasn’t won since joining RCR and RCR hasn’t won since Harvick took the No. 29 to Victory Lane at Phoenix International Raceway in Nov. 2013. So why should the No. 31 driver be optimistic? Point blank — he knows how to wheel a racecar. He’s won some of NASCAR’s biggest races, including the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. His RCR teammate Austin Dillon made the Chase last season and showed his young career is trending upward. If Newman can find speed and improve like Dillon, he has the ability to win just about anywhere.

 

9-10 September, 2016, Richmond, Virginia USA AJ Allmendinger ©2016, Russell LaBounty NKP
(Photo credit: Russell LaBounty | NKP)

A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the No. 47 for JTG Daugherty Racing

Winless streak: 86 races

Last win: Watkins Glen, Aug. 2014

Why he can win in 2017: In the last three seasons, Allmendinger has proved himself as NASCAR’s road course specialist. He earned his first career victory at Watkins Glen International in 2014, won the pole for Sonoma Raceway and The Glen in 2015, and got one of his two top-five results in 2016 at The Glen (fourth). He’s also had strong performances at Martinsville Speedway the last two years. He finished second at the short track’s spring race in 2016, 10th in the fall race, and led 19 laps in the fall 2015 race. Simply put — he’s got a knack for the tracks with tight turns and heavy braking.

 

18-20 March, 2016, Fontana, Fontana USA Dale Earnhardt Jr © 2016, Nigel Kinrade NKP
(Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade | NKP)

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports

Winless streak: 19 races

Last win: Phoenix, Nov. 2015

Why he can win in 2017: Well, he’ll be back in a racecar in 2017. After sitting out half the 2016 season, it feels like his personal winless streak is longer than what it really is; nevertheless, he had speed when he was in the car last year. He had five top-five finishes and four of them were second-place results. He’s also one of the best restrictor plate racers in the series, so there’s no doubt he’ll be a favorite for any race that occurs at Daytona or Talladega. He’s healthy and eager to compete again, so get ready to watch your driver win again this season, Jr. Nation.

Your prediction?

Is there a driver not listed here that you think will make a long-awaited return to Victory Lane?

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Richard Childress Racing Continues Resurgence

In 2015, the Richard Childress Racing teams weren’t often in contention to win, and all three drivers combined posted only 25 top-10 finishes over the season.

This year, it’s a different story.

At Kansas Speedway in the GoBowling.com 400 on Saturday night, RCR placed two drivers, along with technical affiliate A.J. Allmendinger, in the top 10.

Austin Dillon ran around the 10th spot throughout the evening but was able to make his way up to sixth by the time the checkered flag flew.

“It was a solid run for us,” he said. “We didn’t have the speed earlier in the race, and we just kept working on it. We had some good lap times. We just needed to get the track position. It was really hard to pass out there tonight. I want to thank all these guys on our American Ethanol team.”

Ryan Newman ran with his teammate throughout the night, following him across the finish line in seventh.

“I can’t thank this Grainger team enough for giving me a strong Chevrolet all weekend long,” he said. “We battled some handling and some damage issues throughout the race, but we kept fighting, and that’s what this team needs to do. Tonight was our best finish of the season and like I told the team, keep digging. We have plenty of racing left to turn our season around.”

Allmendinger rounded out the group, crossing the line eighth in his JTG Daughtry Racing Chevrolet. He ran in the top 10 throughout the night, despite the contact he made with the wall mid-race.

“We maximized the day, and that is what we can do,” he said. “I’m proud of everybody on the No. 47 Dillons/Kingsford Chevy. Just keep moving on.”

A simple comparison of the statistics from this year to last shows a marked improvement in what they’ve already accomplished. Dillon has six top-10 finishes in the first 11 races this year, versus only five total in last year’s season, while Allmendinger’s three top 10s in 2016 equal his top-10 showings for all of 2015.

Perhaps a win or two will come soon.

“We’ll keep working on it,” Dillon said. “We get days like that, and we’re going to have a shot to win before too long.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

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