Categories
News

JR Motorsports Finalizes Crew Chief Lineup

By Chris Owens – With the departure of Greg Ives from @ChaseElliott’s championship winning team, JR Motorsports has announced the addition of two new crew chiefs to their organization.

Dave Elenz and Jason Burdett will move to JR Motorsports in 2015 to work along side of veteran crew chief, Ernie Cope, who will become Elliott’s crew chief for the 2015 season. Both Elenz and Burdett come to JR Motorsports after having spent time at Hendrick Motorsports.

Elenz will serve as crew chief of the No. 88 team with drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne, as well as several other drivers throughout the upcoming season.

Burdett will take over as crew chief of @ReganSmith’s runner-up team that was formerly run by Ryan Pemberton. Pemberton will return to his original spot within the organization as director of competition after having served both roles this season.

“This group gives us an exciting mix of proven experience, future potential, and new opportunities for everyone involved,” said @DaleJr. “Ernie is one of the best crew chiefs in the business, and yet he’s rarely had the opportunity to compete for a championship. Now he gets that chance with Chase Elliott.

“Bringing in Dave Elenz and Jason Burdett gives us the opportunity to call up some of the best talent at Hendrick Motorsports and give them a shot at taking the next step in their careers. That is the sort of foundation on which we built this company, and I’m excited to continue that with two individuals who I feel will have successful careers as crew chiefs in this sport.”

Coming to JR Motorsports via Hendrick Motorsports, both Elenz and Burdett have spent time on Earnhardt Jr’s Sprint Cup team. With a championship under his belt on @JimmieJohnson’s 2013 team, Elenz has worked with Jasper Motorsports, Ginn Racing, and Red Bull Racing to name a few.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to work with JR Motorsports,” Elenz said. “They’ve had a lot of success in recent years. I look forward to learning from those successes. To be able to work with the talented drivers we have in the 88 car next year is pretty unbelievable. I know we’ll be competing for wins each and every week with those drivers.”

Jason Burdett spent the last four years as car chief on Earnhardt Jr’s Sprint Cup team. Previously, he worked for Robert Yates Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing. At MWR, Burdett was Dale Jarrett’s crew chief during the majority of the 2007 season.

“There is a lot of excitement surrounding JR Motorsports right now, and I’m thankful to be part of it,” Burdett said. “I’m grateful to Kelley, Dale Jr. and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports who I’ve learned from over the years. Being able to take this next step with JR Motorsports is a privilege. I’m looking forward to working with Regan and the entire group next year.”

EMAIL CHRIS AT chris.owens@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ChrisOwens62

Categories
Editorial

Popular Speed NASCAR Awards: Best and Worst of 2014

The long NASCAR season is over and provided much to discuss in terms of both good and bad on a variety of different levels.

Who had the best and worst paint schemes? What about the best and worst races? These are the questions that were presented to members of the Popular Speed staff earlier in the week and the categories to our annual Year End Awards have been provided below.

Check out the selections from Matt Weaver, Kelly Crandall and Kayla Darrow PLUS your own in the comments section below.

See More: NASCAR Chase Predictions Revisited

BEST RACE

The best overall race of the season

Weaver: The Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway was everything fans and NASCAR executives wanted it to be. The Championship Four all lined up nose-to-tail in the closing laps and the winner of the race was simultaneously crowned the Sprint Cup champion. Beyond the context of a championship race, Homestead was equally dramatic as a standalone race as well.

Homestead has been great since the reconfigured racing surface started to age in recent seasons — and in man ways has become the Darlington of South Beach.

Crandall: The Daytona 500 as it started the season on a high note. Not only was it because the sport’s most popular driver who ended up in Victory Lane, but the racing following the rain delay into primetime was phenomenal. Probably some of the best restrictor plate racing we have seen in recent years because the intensity level was pegged not only to outrun the rain, but lock a spot in the Chase and be the next winner of the sport’s biggest race.

Darrow: Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway. Yes, it was the most recent race, but the racing was phenomenal and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. We went into it not having a clear idea on who the winner would be and stayed that way until the checkered flag waved. What’s not to love about that?

WORST RACE

The worst overall race of 2014

Weaver: The Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway is once again my worst race of the season and has been every year except for 2013 when it was run under the heat of day. Like many intermediate speedways, Kentucky just doesn’t produce exciting racing beneath the lights and with this current competition package. There’s no way to run this race during the day annually with north Kentucky temperatures reaching 100 degrees but I sure wish we could.

Crandall: The July New Hampshire race. It wasn’t only because Brad Keselowski dominated and gave no one else a shot, but behind him there wasn’t a whole lot of action going on either. Besides Morgan Shepherd taking out Joey Logano and that story faded quickly.

Darrow: FedEx 400. We all know Jimmie Johnson is a threat to win whenever NASCAR visits Dover and this race exemplified that in the worst way. Johnson led almost 300 of the 400 laps and was never truly challenged by anyone else in the field. No excitement there.

BEST FINISH

The best overall finish of the season

Weaver: By now, everyone knows just how much I despise contrived late race cautions and consecutive green-white-checkered finishes. Even when they happen naturally, it just feels cheap, taking a 500-mile race and deciding it by a series of two-lap restarts.

But in the case of the AAA Texas 500 — it worked, especially as the cautions were natural. Most importantly, as the middle stage of the Eliminator Round, it was such a pivotal race in the overall championship picture. Jimmie Johnson won but contact between Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowsi on the penultimate restart has had repercussions that are still being felt during the post-season.

Crandall: The spring Richmond race as the final six laps of that event were some of the best racing all season. Five drivers who didn’t have enough racetrack to or laps to continue beating and banging and swapping the lead.

Darrow: Brad Keselowski’s GEICO 500 win is my best finish of the season. Keselowski went into this event needing to win in order to move on in the Chase and managed to do just that. Talladega is always a wild card when it comes to racing, so seeing Keselowski pull of this Game 7 moment when he needed to was just so exciting.

BIGGEST STORY

The top news story of 2014

Weaver: The fallout from the Tony Stewart incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park continues to be felt today. It was a major tragedy that impacted lives — both personally and professionally. My best thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families of Kevin Ward Jr., Tony Stewart and everyone else affected by the events that took place.

Crandall: The Chase, and not Chase Elliott although he had a spotlight on him this year as well, but the new Chase format. Love it or hate it, is what everyone in the sport was talking about. From how it was going to play out, to those who were going to be in, we never knew what was going to happen next or what to expect.

Darrow: Tony Stewart’s Canandaigua Motorsports Park incident. It’s undeniably the biggest story to have hit NASCAR this year. While it wasn’t a NASCAR event, the tragedy did involve one of our sport’s biggest stars and brought the sport a lot of scrutiny. It showed me a lot about how the media handles stories like this, but also how the NASCAR community comes together during tough times.

BEST FEUD

The top rivalry of 2014.

Weaver: Brad Keselowski vs. The World. It’s a familiar story at this point. Keselowski feels as though the veteran garage attempted to hold him and his contemporaries back over the past decade. The end result has been the 2012 Sprint Cup champion publicly feuding with veterans Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon — the latter four all this season.

Keselowski believes the veterans would have him change into someone he isn’t and that those changes caused him to miss the Chase last season. He returned to form both on the track and the public light in 2014 and shook of the political landscape of the Sprint Cup Series in the process.

Crandall: Brad Keselowski versus everyone. There were no shortage of storylines and memorable quotes from this season.

Darrow: Jeff Gordon vs. Brad Keselowski. This could have easily been Brad Keselowski versus Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart, but I feel that the Gordon/Keselowski feud was the strongest one. Their feud showed how passionate these drivers are about their championship chances and how much pressure the new Chase formate put on them. I doubt fans will ever forget that Texas pit road brawl.

BONEHEAD MOMENT

The dumbest move of the year

Weaver: Brad Keselowski was six laps down with 52 laps remaining in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway and yet still trying to race for the win. Instead, he made a move at the front of the field that triggered a 12-car crash that also included Trevor Bayne, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, polesitter Brian Scott, Alex Bowman and Tony Stewart. On one hand, you can’t fault a racer for driving for all he has to get back on the lead lap but on the other hand, you’re just not making up six laps in 52 laps.

That was kind of bone-headed by definition.

Crandall: Morgan Shepherd and Joey Logano at New Hampshire. It is hard to believe that Shepherd did what he did on purpose and everyone will have their own opinions on if he should have been in the way, but it was what he said afterward about the accident and Logano that takes the cake this year.

Darrow: GEICO 500 Qualifying. I’m still confused over what happened here. Changes to the way NASCAR qualifies at restrictor plates resulted in Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier missing the race, which just seems so absurd to me. Part of the blame can be attributed to NASCAR switching the format during the season, but I think part of it also rests on the drivers and teams for always trying to have the smartest strategy in qualifying. It clearly backfired here.

BIGGEST WRECK

The most memorable crash of the season

Weaver: Past halfway and with rain approaching Daytona International Speedway, drivers were quite frankly driving a little over their heads approaching lap 100 of the Coke Zero 400  in July. Three cars near the front tangled near the front, ultimately claiming 26 cars and turned Kyle Busch upside down. It began when Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne bounced off each other and hooked Joey Logano sideways.

It was one of the more impressive visuals of recent memory and a type of ordeal that can only happen in restrictor plate racing.

Crandall: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Texas fireball, which also ruined the day of his teammate, Jimmie Johnson.

Darrow: Sylvania 300’s Chase-Filled Wreck. The wreck at New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s fall Chase race that included a handful of Chase drivers has to be one of the top wrecks of the year. Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth were all swept up in a wreck that started Kenseth got loose while racing Jamie McMurray. The wreck certainly shook up the standings and set up next week’s Dover race to be an intense one.

BIGGEST OVERACHIEVER

The driver who did the most he could with what he had

Weaver: Ryan Newman took a No. 31 team that finished outside of the top-20 in points last season and took it all the way to the Championship Four and one or two circumstances out of the championship. Sure, Newman finished the season without a victory but he posted 16 top-10s which was 10 more than what Jeff Burton earned with the same team and crew chief in that car a season ago. Newman is the obvious pick for this section.

Crandall: AJ Allmendinger. There were certainly hard times but for the most part, the 47 team ran equal to and sometimes better than where they should have. Some might consider winning a road course race expected, but it was still their first career win and Allmendinger’s numbers this season were almost good enough to top the organization’s best from its previous drivers.

Darrow: Kyle Larson. The newly-crowned Rookie of the Year has to be one of the biggest surprises of the year. The rookie came in with a lot of hype surrounding him and managed to live up to most of it. Chip Ganassi Racing has not performed as well as they would have hoped in past years with Juan Pablo Montoya racing the No. 42 Target Chevrolet. However, with Larson the car, the team made some waves in the series and already look like a contender for the Chase in 2015.

BIGGEST UNDERACHIEVER

The driver who did the least with the most

Weaver: Ricky Stenhouse. Look, I know Roush-Fenway Racing hit a low point this season on the engineering front but it’s remarkable that Stenhouse, a two-time Nationwide Series champion, would finish 27th in points with only one top-5 and five top-10s. This is even more stunning considering that Stenhouse was reunited with his Nationwide championship winning crew chief, Mike Kelley. With Chris Buescher making waves in NNS this season, Stenhouse may be racing for his job in 2015.

Crandall: Martin Truex Jr. For whatever reason, a year removed from nearly winning races and being a part of the Chase, the 78 team couldn’t get anything going with its new driver. On the bright side, things started to turn around very late in the season and will hopefully lead to a better 2015.

Darrow: Kasey Kahne. Kasey Kahne just couldn’t seem to find the success his Hendrick Motorsports teammates had in the 2014 season. He barely made the Chase with a last minute win at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Even then, he just couldn’t find that spark to be truly competitive in the 2014 season.

BEST PAINT SCHEME

The best designed car of 2014

Weaver: Jeff Gordon paint schemes are always a treat and his Pepsi with Real Sugar scheme from Daytona in July was one of the No. 24’s best yet.

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Crandall: Dale Earnhardt Jr. with Superman

Superman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darrow: Kyle Busch’s Skittles Toyota. I’m obsessed with Skittles, so seeing Kyle Busch race a Skittles car was awesome. No brainer here.

WORST PAINT SCHEME

The ugliest livery of 2014

Weaver: Leavine Family Racing is the one team that managed to replace their hideous unsponsored entry from 2013 with an even uglier sponsored car. I love that team and their efforts to build something in NASCAR but surely there is an intern nerd with a background in graphic design that is willing to give them some tips … right?

95jpo-popspeed-cms1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crandall: Kyle Busch: stripped Interstate Batteries car. This car ran at Michigan and Daytona this year, and while the colors were great, the design made it hard to look at.

Darrow: Joey Logano’s Pennzoil Ultimate Platinum Ford. I hated it. The colors looked weird together and the car did not look flashy at all.

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YOUR TURN: Make your selections for our 2014 NASCAR Awards by leaving your picks in the comments section below!

Categories
Editorial

2014 Popular Speed Sprint Cup Championship Picks

There can be only one …

It’s a little cliché but the idiom certainly applies to the Ford EcoBoost 400 as only a single contender will remain as Sprint Cup champion on Sunday afternoon at Homestead Miami Speedway.

The contenders are Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman with each contender representing a different path to the championship. Logano and Harvick represent the increased emphasis on winning — visiting Victory Lane a combined nine times this season.

Hamlin won a single race, at Talladega, while Newman has yet to win a race this season, advancing through the Chase with pinpoint consistency, grit and a little bit of old-fashioned luck.

But there is no doubt, regardless of the naysayers, that the eventual champion will be deserving of the Sprint Cup trophy based on the fact that they survived the wildest 10-race stretch in the recent history of the sport. So who takes the Cup? Three of our on-track editors made their picks below.

Matt Weaver: Joey Logano

There is a certain sense of fate surrounding Team Penske this season after winning championships in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Nationwide Series respectively. Joey Logano could put the icing on the cake by closing out on the championship — and will by winning the race outright on Sunday afternoon.

While Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all taken turns in the championships spotlight this season, Team Penske has had the best overall speed between both Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski. That dominant speed, the accumulation of championships and the overall teamwork displayed by both drivers this season will ultimately push Logano towards stock car immortality.

Kelly Crandall: Joey Logano

From start to finish this season, the 22 team has had everything together. No pit road mistakes. No wrecks on the track. No mechanical failures. Even better, they have made their season on how they can improve the car over the course of a race. Sunday that’ll be the most important part of crowning a champion as a team needs not only be fast off the truck but can endure the 400-mile race and then outrun everyone at the end.

The 22 team have been – in my opinion – the best Penske car all year and one of the best, maybe second to Jeff Gordon, cars all year long. He caps it off today with his first Sprint Cup title.

Chris Owens: Ryan Newman

Everybody is talking about how he hasn’t won this season but I think that’s motivation for him to go out maybe and not win — but be the first car of the four to cross the line and win the championship.

Like many have asked, I just want to see NASCAR explain how they ended up with a champion without a victory because wasn’t winning supposed to mean everything this season? In any case, Newman will have a Newman-like day and will win his first-career championship.

Categories
Trucks

Reddick Dirt Tracks His Way to Fourth in Texas

By Chris Owens – A veteran often knows when to back off. A rookie goes hard from the drop of the green flag.

Tyler Reddick proved that theory right on Friday night in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Texas Motor Speedway. While Kyle Busch was on his way to his seventh win of the season, Reddick was turning heads at home, and the racetrack with the amazing saves he performed in his Brad Keselowski Racing truck.

While most people are shocked by the moves the rookie driver showed on the track, many folks that have seen Reddick race before this season know what the former dirt track racing driver is capable of doing.

Reddick was quick to point to his previous dirt track experience helping him following his fourth place run on Friday night.

Sparks from from the #19 DrawTite Ford, driven by Tyler Reddick, as he leads Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #54 ToyotaCare Toyota, and Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Goof Off/Menards Toyota, during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 31, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Sparks from from the #19 DrawTite Ford, driven by Tyler Reddick, as he leads Darrell Wallace Jr. and Matt Crafton during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 at Texas Motor Speedway (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

“Dirt racing! That’s pretty much all there was to it. I grew up racing sideways 24/7. I raced over a 100 times a year back when I was younger, growing up, ” said Reddick following his third, fourth place finish of the season.

“It was all about dirt racing. Dirt racing is all about car control, running sideways and not wrecking pretty much. I was able to put that to use here. Whenever you have an ill-handling vehicle, it comes in handy when you have a vehicle that’s loose. It helps a lot with the car control.”

With just a handful of laps left, Reddick was left battling one of the series must grizzle veterans in the form of Johnny Sauter. Multiple times, his Ford F-150 stepped out from under him and he was able to collect the truck like nothing happened.

It was a point in the race that stood out for Reddick, but one that he doesn’t think either driver did wrong. It was just hard racing between two drivers, the way it was suppose to be.

“It was getting hairy there with Johnny (Sauter). Johnny wasn’t doing anything wrong; he was racing me as hard as I would race him. We’re racing for position; we’re not necessarily racing for points, maybe owners points. Every spot matters and you have to learn that with championship racing.”

With a loose truck under control, the final caution with just two laps to go would open up an opportunity for him and his BKR team to gamble for a good finish.

As it does in most racing, strategy played a key roll in the final running position. When a handful of trucks stayed out, things would be get hairy on the final restart of the night. Racing on scuff tires on the final two lap run of the night, Reddick was able to catapult his way into the top-five and notice his third top-five finish of the season.

“We were able to put on those scuff (tires) at the end and had a mad dash to the finish those last ten laps; we were able to take advantage of what we had,” said Reddick.

“I feel like I made some bold moves all over the place, from the top of the racetrack to the bottom of the racetrack just trying to get back to the front as quickly as we could. I knew you had to make your moves fast there on the opening two or three laps of a restart. We were able to do that in the end.”

It was his second consecutive top 10 finishes with a sixth place finish at Martinsville a week ago. Reddick says things didn’t go the way he would have liked on Friday night.

“We had a lot of things not go really crystal clear or perfect for us today, and we just had to overcome all of those things and I feel like we did a good job of that. “

For Reddick, however, he’ll take a fourth place finish after the dirt track kind of night he had.

The term “loose is fast and on the edge of out of control” came to mind on Friday night. Reddick defined that to a point and more.

“We were able to overcome those things and have a good finish. But it was a handful.”

EMAIL CHRIS AT chris.owens@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ChrisOwens62

Categories
Editorial

Roundtable: Chicagoland

We return from a very long hiatus. The summer has come and gone and the Popular Speed roundtable emerges for the final ten weeks of the Chase for the Championship. While Chicagoland was just what the sport needed as far as excitement, we tackle some of the hard hitting questions coming out of Chicagoland on the road to New Hampshire.

Both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers led laps on Sunday and finished in the top-10. Has the organization’s performance of late provided you with a sense that either @KyleLarsonRacin or @JamieMcMurray is going to grab a win before the season is over?

Mike Calinoff: McMurray made the decision to not to pit on the last stop, even though his crew chief told him to. That’s a case of beating yourself — and makes closing the deal unlikely. Larson can win on any given week during the Chase and will.

Amanda Ebersole: Chip Ganassi Racing has popped up out of nowhere as of late. If I had to put my money on which driver would make it to victory lane first, I am going to go with Kyle Larson.

Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Bell Helicopter Chevrolet, leads Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Bell Helicopter Chevrolet, leads Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Matt Weaver: I’ve felt like Ganassi was on the verge of a breakthrough since McMurray won the All-Star Race back in May but they never turned the corner. So on one hand, they haven’t done anything to make me feel otherwise but they haven’t been able to make that last jump either. Given recent trends, I think McMurray has a great shot to win at Kansas or Charlotte.

Kelly Crandall: Jamie McMurray has proven to be a great bracket buster over the years. He pulled off a win at Talladega last fall, has a win at Charlotte and both races are in the Chase. The Ganassi teams have turned it up late in the season but it was just a little too late to get them in the Chase. In terms of getting to Victory Lane, McMurray has the strength and Larson has the speed, he still needs to just put it all together. If any non-Chasers are going to win during the playoffs, these two have to be the likeliest of contenders.

Unique Hiram: I believe that it is definitely in the cards for either, if not both, of these drivers to grab a win before the 2014 season ends. They have a combined nine top-fives, 21 top-10s, two poles with 296 laps led after 27 races. If you consider the number put up on the boards along with track performance, it is just a matter of time to see the No. 1 and/or No. 42 in winner’s circle.

Chris Owens: They very well could have two or three wins out of the last four weeks. Jamie McMurray really surprised folks at Bristol and then ran strong at Richmond trying to get into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. I think Sunday was on of there best shots at getting both Larson and McMurray a win.  With that being said, I do think they’ll get one if not two victories in the final nine races. McMurray runs strong at Charlotte and Larson has proven he can run up front at any type of track.

With the announcement following Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, @MarcosAmbrose will return to Australia to run in the V8 Supercar Series for Roger Penske. In Ambrose’s time in NASCAR, what is one moment that sticks out to you the most? 

MC: When he gave the race away at Sonoma for not maintaining speed under caution.

AE: I have to share a moment that wasn’t on-track or even public for that matter. The very last pit crew challenge I had the honor of covering as my first media event. Marcos and his two little girls were in attendance that evening; the girls dressed up in little dresses that I took notice to them quite often. In the media room following the event, his one daughter got to ask him a question. She piped up and said, “Daddy, when are you going to win?” The room erupted with laughter and Ambrose offered her a legit response. The family moments of NASCAR are some of the best!

Marcos+Ambrose+MyAFibStory+com+400+5u7fYOV_HNXl
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, is introduced during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 14, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

MW: Picking a favorite Marcos Ambrose moment is like picking a favorite child. Ambrose has been such a breath of fresh air in the Sprint Cup Series over the past seven years. He came into the sport when NASCAR was flush with international exports and yet he was the last to remain. Who would have thought the Australian V8 Super Car champion would have outlasted F1 champions, IndyCar champions and the like? That is what sticks out to me.

KC: Ambrose leaving us is very similar to Juan Pablo Montoya leaving last year. They are both a hell of a wheelmen but I wish we could have seen more success out of them in general. Ambrose is probably one of the best road course drivers we’ve seen and he was strong at some of the short tracks as well, but never could get that elusive oval win, as much as he wanted it. Just like Montoya. They both provided us with years of entertainment and now they’re back off doing what they do best.

UH: The moment that sticks out to me the most is when Marcos Ambrose won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 2011 at Watkins Glen International. In this rain-delayed event, he passed Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch with two laps to go to take the checkered flag. This was also his career best season competing in the top-tier series with one win, five top-fives and 12 top-10s.

CO: I think the biggest moment that sticks out is the fact that he never got an oval win.  That’s what he came to NASCAR to do, correct?  Sure he won races on the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, on road courses.  I think it bothers Marcos to not have gotten an oval victory to his name.

Looking forward to New Hampshire, Brad @Keselowski dominated back in July there, he’s obviously the favorite after Chicago. So tell me why Brad Keselowski ISN’T the favorite to win this weekend?

MC: I’m not convinced that we’ll see any driver dominate during the Chase. With the “must win to lock-in” format, I think you’ll see different strategies with guys gambling on fuel mileage.

AE: With the new format, I think Keselowski and Paul Wolfe are going to “test” come things for the next round.  I don’t think he will be challenging for the win until he has to.

Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, looks on prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, looks on prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

MW: A lot has changed since the summer. Winter has come early to the Northeast and track conditions will have changed considerably from the summer race to this weekend. That combined with Chase teams saving their best bullets for the playoffs has me thinking this weekend will play out differently.

KC: He’s not the favorite because I don’t think he’s the fastest car right now. He dominated Richmond but when it comes to Chicago he was not winning that race had the last caution come out and then Larson and Harvick went at it like they did. Now, I’m not going to say that Keselowski lucked into a win but you have to be lucky and good and Sunday he was. But going to New Hampshire there are so many Chase drivers that are on their game right now and they aren’t about to let the 2 team get too far ahead of them. In July – while Keselowski dominated there – behind him there were drivers who were learning and figuring out what they did wrong for when they come back this weekend. I’m not going to put money down that this weekend will be another runaway like it was a few months ago.

UH: Although Brad Keselowski has great momentum going into the New Hampshire, he isn’t necessarily the favorite to win this weekend. There will be some tough competition coming from Jeff Gordon. He has three wins, 16 top-fives and 22 top-10s at this track along with the fact that four-time Sprint Cup champion is sitting second in points.

CO: Big mo is on the side of the two team, but with the new Chase for the the Sprint Cup format, I think guys are willing to take more shots to get wins now.  With Keselowski having the win and locked for the next round, why does he need to be up front when the proverbial “crap hits the fan?” For that very reason alone, I think he plays it safe not wanting to tear up a car that could be used later in the season. Hint Hint Martinsville.

Do you take any stock in the fact that the Camping World Truck Series has seen short fields multiple times this season?  Does this give you any cause for concern about the Truck Series future going forward over the next few seasons?

MC: The series has been on life support for five years. The good news is that the racing is great — whenever Kyle Busch stays home.

AE: I just don’t get it! This series has some of the best racing week in and week out. My question is to the fans, what gives? Tune in and give the series a boost!

Kyle Busch leads Brad Keselowski on a restart at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21st. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens/PopularSpeed.com)
Kyle Busch leads Brad Keselowski on a restart at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21st. (Photo Credit: Chris Owens/PopularSpeed.com)

MW: Absolutely. The Truck Series just doesn’t have an identity at this stage and the purses are atrocious. We’ve seen teams pull out or downscale over the past five years and top development drivers skip the Truck Series and go directly to the Nationwide Series from ARCA or the K&N Pro Series. Here’s my question for you — what reason IS there to go trucks racing at this juncture? I’m hard pressed to think of an answer.

KC: I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around this one. There is so much talent and potential in the Truck Series and yet it’s in the shape that it is in. It should be a concern for everyone who loves the series because it’s a much needed staple in the sport. There are probably many reasons – and speculation – as to why there has been short fields, but whatever it has been needs to change quickly because it’s overshadowing and hindering a series that puts on good racing.

UH: Honestly, I am not overly concerned about the differentiation of the field size throughout the season because the series continually provides exciting racing. There is a talented pool of veteran and rookie drivers who I think will keep the masses viewing for many years to come.

CO: While it should be surprising, it’s not to me. With the introduction of the new truck bodies for 2014, many underfunded teams can’t afford to make the switch from the old bodies to the new ones.  Hopefully 2015 is a different story as far as field size goes. If not, its time to start thinking about taking the Truck Series off of big tracks and return them to the roots that the series was founded on … short tracks.

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