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Commentary

SCHULTZ: Postponed Sunday Races Should Run on Monday Night

Rain on race day is always an unwelcome sight in NASCAR. For the first time this season, a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event was postponed to Monday as rain washed out Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Rainouts mean fewer fans can attend and a smaller TV audience will tune-in as the races are typically run on the following afternoon.

Scheduling for mid-day Monday has been the long standing precedent for races unable to run on Sunday. However, the impact of an event not running in its preferred time slot is more consequential now than ever before.

During NASCAR’s prime in the early 2000s, catering to peak viewership wasn’t as critical due to a steady following. However, racing when exposure is at its greatest is crucial today to grow the sport.

The potential of a Monday night race played out unexpectedly during the 2012 DAYTONA 500. When rain postponed Sunday’s event, it was rescheduled for Monday afternoon.

However, additional rain on Monday led to a further delay, and the “Great American Race” was pushed to a 7 PM primetime start. A total of 36.5 million people tuned in at some point during the event, making it the second-most watched DAYTONA 500 in history.

While only the season-opening event could attract a Monday night audience of this magnitude, its success shows the potential for moving delayed events to Monday evening again in the future.

Even if running under the lights on Monday is still unable to match the audience of the scheduled Sunday race, it provides a better opportunity for fans who work or attend school to watch the event.

A Monday afternoon running does favor fans attending the race but as NASCAR looks to increase its following, catering to the TV audience might be the best path to take.

Rescheduling Bristol to run under the lights would have provided a perfect opportunity to showcase the best of NASCAR and short track racing to a primetime audience.

The atmosphere, beating and banging, and unpredictability of Bristol are among the characteristics NASCAR wants new fans to be exposed to, and running on Monday night would provide an ideal time to reach people interested in the sport.

Many logistical obstacles may arise trying to run on Monday evening as TV networks often have set primetime lineups and other networks are airing their regular programming. However, it’s worth taking a shot to grow the sport and seeing how it unfolds before not considering it all together.

It’s unlikely that regularly scheduled primetime events will be added to the schedule in the near future. But NASCAR can make the most out of a postponed event and test the viability of weeknight races now by running a rained out Sunday race for Monday night at a track with lights. It has shown great promise before and can again while pleasing fans and attracting new viewers.

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

FIVE MINUTES WITH … Max Papis

Starting with Formula One in Europe and then coming to race Champ Cars and NASCAR in America, Max Papis has done it all in the motorsports world over the past 20 years. The 46-year-old racer has wheeled single-seaters, sports cars and stock cars across the globe.

Now a business owner, Papis hasn’t been able to race as often as he would like but remains busy working to improve safety equipment in stock cars and helping young talents progress in their careers.

Humble Beginnings

Papis, a Como, Italy native, grew up racing go-karts on European road courses in his early years. Throughout his teens, he competed in intercontinental championships with a goal of making it to the top. Papis made his debut in F1 in 1995 and drove in seven Grand Prix events with virtually no success. He never scored any points or stood on the podium in the series, but still holds pride in making it that far.

“Although it was not really a spectacular experience, I still raced it, and I feel that it is a great accomplishment to say that you raced there,” Papis told POPULAR SPEED. “I was a kid with a dream, and if you were a racecar driver, you wanted to race in Formula One.”

After the 1995 season, Papis wanted to continue his career. He had such a passion for motorsports that he wouldn’t give up, and came to America for the Rolex 24 at Daytona in April 1996.

“When my dream crashed in 1995, I had people tell me I had a great personality for racing in America,” Papis said. “I came to race at Daytona in the 24-hour race for Ferrari in 1996. I put my name on the map by racing hard and finishing second. When I look back, it was pretty special.”

American Digs

Papis ran three races in the 1996 CART season and scored one top-10 finish — ninth at the Texaco/Havoline 200 at Road America. The following year, he began racing full time for Arciero Wells Racing and remained with the team until joining Team Rahal in 1999.

In 1999, Papis had one pole and three podium finishes with Bobby Rahal’s organization. In the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2000, Papis won his first career Champ Car race. After that, he claimed two more wins and had seven more podiums until getting his feet wet in stock car racing.

Papis made his NASCAR debut in the 2006 Watkins Glen Busch Series race, where he finished an impressive 14th after starting 43rd. As a road course specialist in the series, he notched four top fives in 14 career starts, with a best finish of second at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2010. But one of Papis’ favorite memories as a racer was making his first Daytona 500 in the Sprint Cup Series six months earlier.

“The two things that always stick in my brain are my debut in America [in the 1996 Rolex 24 at Daytona], and qualifying for the Daytona 500 and having my hero, Mark Martin, coming over to congratulate me,” Papis said.

Papis started 31st in the 2010 Daytona 500 for Germain Racing. However, his No. 13 Toyota suffered an engine failure after 89 laps and wound up 40th in the Great American Race.

Coach Pap

Papis hasn’t raced a full season since the 2011 Camping World Truck Series campaign, but he works with other drivers who are trying to make a name for themselves in Trucks and the XFINITY Series.

He’s been a driving coach for Richard Childress Racing, specifically for brothers Austin and Ty Dillon, and taught them how to improve their road course performance. Papis worked with Austin until he made it to the Sprint Cup Series as a full-time driver for RCR, and now coaches William Byron in the Truck Series.

Byron, 18, is running full time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the No. 9 Toyota. In nine races this season, he has won three times and leads the points standings. Papis is astonished by the rookie’s performance and says the youngster is surpassing expectations.

“William is a very fast learner, a great student of the sport and a very intelligent person,” Papis said. “He races as hard as I’ve ever seen anyone and that is what has impressed me the most. He has the heart of a lion and the face of a little angel.

“Usually, you don’t find that in people like him and I’m very thankful because it’s a joy to see our on-track and off-track communication work. The merit, his talent, his ability, his KBM team — it’s all him. I am an advisor and a coach; a coach speaks to people to improve communication, and I bring my 30 years of experience.”

Steering into a business …

When Papis raced open-wheel cars in the 1990s, he needed a uniquely-shaped steering wheel to be compatible with his six-foot stature. Then when he sat in the cockpit of a stock car for the first time, he felt the steering wheels were antiquated. So in 2009, Papis and his wife, Tatiana, founded Max Papis Innovations, a company that specializes in designing safer and more comfortable steering wheels.

The idea for MPI wheels spawned from a necessity Papis felt, which was that racecar drivers needed an improved wheel to maneuver while driving. The company has a manufacturing plant in Italy and their products are widely used by drivers in the United States, ranging from late model dirt racers to NASCAR champions.

“I’ve been in the steering wheel business for 20 years, and I used to build steering wheels for myself because of my height,” Papis said. “I learned a lot about how steering wheels were produced and what characteristics were in the product, and I applied that knowledge in MPI. We use very innovative safety and construction mechanisms, and we’re extremely proud to be successful with people who have won championships like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones. It’s an honor because it means we are helping the sport, and we are growing the company.”

… and resolving some unfinished business

Between his coaching duties and his concentration on MPI, Papis dedicates his time to helping others with their careers, putting his own racing career aside. He hasn’t competed in NASCAR’s top three series in three years but doesn’t consider himself retired. In fact, his biggest goal is to win a NASCAR race, which he has come so close to achieving.

“I’ve been focusing a lot to develop my business, MPI, and I haven’t been able to focus enough to find a road course ride,” Papis said. “Ideally, I would love to be able to run the three XFINITY Series road course races and the Truck [Series] road course race next year. I’ve tried to achieve my goal, and I’ve finished second, but it is still on my agenda to finish that goal. The word ‘retirement’ does not belong to me.”

Papis has raced his entire life and has been a part of the world’s greatest motorsports events, including two Indianapolis 500s, seven 24 Hours of Le Mans and a Daytona 500. He is proud of his accomplishments and cherishes the memorable moments from his racing career. But he isn’t ready to hang up the helmet.

“Racing has been my life,” Papis said. “But I expect my best memory to be the one that’s going to come.”

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

Playing it Safe Doesn’t Pay Off

During restrictor-plate races, it’s not uncommon to see a group of drivers linger in the back of the field, avoiding the sometimes three-wide racing near the front of the pack in order to make it to the finish. It is a risk drivers and teams routinely take, but surprisingly, the “play it safe” strategy usually doesn’t pay off.

It may seem like the logical thing to do, right? Trying to stay out of trouble and being in the right spot  during the closing stages of the race. Typically though, when the “Big One” happens during these races, it’s the drivers hanging around the back of field swept up in the wreck.

As the laps wind down,  drivers become anxious trying to find a way to work up closer to the front. They are looking for help, frantically trying to get in the lane that has the most momentum , but there is nowhere  to go. They wait until it’s too late to make their move and get stuck with a  middle-of-the-pack finish or worse.

The wrecks that happen at Daytona and Talladega are chain-reaction wrecks. That is the primary downfall of  pack racing.  When calamity strikes, there’s nowhere for the drivers to go, resulting in an expensive pile of twisted sheet metal and hurt feelings.

The competition in NASCAR today is tougher than ever, and it is even harder now to come from the back to the front if drivers wait too long.  At Daytona and Talladega, there really is no safe spot, but  staying out front is the place to be.

Take Brad Keselowski for example. The Penske driver won his first race at Daytona Saturday night, leading 115 of 160 laps. He had the  right plan and executed it to perfection. He stayed up front and was aggressive for the entire race.

The “Big One” took place on lap 90. The wreck took out 22 of the 40 cars, including Kevin Harvick, who was running in the back of the front pack. After the race, Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers tweeted his frustration with plate racing, lamenting the fact that the No. 4 team never showed their full hand.

“… it is hard to make ground, so you have to be aggressive when you start making ground,” Harvick said after the 22-car wreck. “Unfortunately, I was in the back of that front pack and ended up getting in the wreck.”

Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.

EMAIL EMILY AT emily.spink@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Home Tracks

Daytona to Pit ARCA Veterans Against Rising NASCAR Stars

The ARCA Racing Series remains the cult classic of professional stock car racing and its future appears even brighter on the eve of the 2016 season.

That future is on full display within the entry list for the season-opening Lucas Oil 200 on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway — featuring an eclectic mix of ARCA veterans and NASCAR hopefuls, needing to complete this race before moving on to Trucks or XFINITY.

This is also the second year ARCA will utilize a cost-cutting spec motor and car counts are expected to rise as a result. For Daytona alone, 50 teams have entered and will compete for 40 starting positions, making it the one race during Speedweeks where qualifying has a substantial amount of consequence.

The entry list is headlined by eight-time Daytona winner, Bobby Gerhart, who is also attempting to make the grid for the NASCAR Trucks and XFINITY events next weekend as well. This will be his record 29th consecutive ARCA attempt at Daytona, and should he win, he would surpass Iggy Katona as the oldest superspeedway winner in motorsports history.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, 10-time ARCA champion is entering what he expects to be his final full-time season on the tour and he’s still looking to win for the first time at the World Center of Racing. Kimmel has done virtually everything there is to do in ARCA and the 53-year-old has stated that Daytona is the last-remaining bucket list item on his agenda.

Defending champion Grant Enfinger has graduated to the NASCAR Truck Series, leaving talented characters like Matt Kurzejewski, Tommy Hessert and Josh Williams to carry the torch and compete for the championship — a mission that starts in earnest in Central Florida.

Rising to meet the challenge of both the veterans and full-time teams is a subset of contenders participating in the Lucas Oil 200 as a one-off.

That includes Gray Gaulding, who turns 18 just three days before the race, making him potentially the youngest winner in superspeedway history – a stark contrast to Gerhart. Other rookies entered in the event include K&N East champion William Byron, Shane Lee, Kevin Thomas and Chase Briscoe.

The ARCA schedule is the most diverse in motorsports as it will compete on eight superspeedways, eight short tracks, two dirt tracks and a single road course. All told, ARCA will provide something for every type of motorsports aficionado in 2016.

But first comes Daytona and a chance at Speedweeks glory.

The 53rd Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona is live on Fox Sports 1 on Saturday, February 13 and precedes NASCAR’s Sprint Unlimited. ARCA takes to the track for practice on Thursday from 4-6 p.m. Pole Day is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Friday after final practice on the same day from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

The complete entry list for the event can be found below.

  • Cory Howard
  • Sarah Cornett-Ching
  • Steve Fox
  • Bobby Hamilton Jr.
  • John Wes Townley
  • Bobby Gerhart
  • Josh Williams
  • Tim Viens
  • Thomas Praytor
  • Ed Pompa
  • Tyler Audie
  • J.J. Pack
  • Brett Hudson
  • Gene Paul
  • Kevin Thomas, Jr.
  • Brad Smith
  • Tom Hessert
  • Dick Doheny
  • Terry Jones
  • Shane Lee
  • Austin Wayne Self
  • Willie Mullins
  • Brandon Lynn
  • Gray Gaulding
  • Bo LeMastus
  • John Ferrier
  • Frank Kimmel
  • Matt Kurzejewski
  • Cole Custer
  • William Byron
  • Bryan Dauzat
  • Kyle Weatherman
  • JA Avila
  • Ray Ciccarelli
  • Eric Caudell
  • Mark Thompson
  • Dale Shearer
  • Will Kimmel
  • Andy Seuss
  • Chase Briscoe
  • Cole Powell
  • Russ Dugger
  • Dylan Lupton
  • Derrick Lancaster
  • Gus Dean
  • TBA
  • TBA

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

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. 

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Home Tracks

ARCA’s Will Kimmel on the Verge of Several Breakthroughs in 2016

True to form, Will Kimmel never stopped working on his superspeedway car, even after picking up the phone for an interview on Monday — just three days before the start of practice for the season-opening ARCA Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona.

While the Kimmel name evokes memories of championships and glory, the team operated by the father-and-son duo of Bill and Will is still very much a blue-collar entity that participates for the love of the game.

As the only full-time employee in the shop on a daily basis, Will serves a dynamic role of driver, crew chief and engineer simultaneously. He continues to get the most out of his famed no. 69 entry by running a limited schedule and only participates in the events that he feels most-equipped to win.

Through his first 91 ARCA starts, that first victory has eluded him, but Kimmel feels as though a breakthrough is looming right around the corner, regardless of the continuous struggles to simply get to the track each season.

“I feel like from a financial standpoint, we are the best we’ve been since (uncle) Frank and my dad went their separate ways,” Kimmel said. “I don’t want to stretch ourselves too thin when I feel like we’re almost there. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice tires on a given weekend just to make a full season if that means we’re going to deny ourselves a chance to win.

“We want to spend our money wisely because it just doesn’t make sense to nickel and dime our way to the race track. Right now, we’re showing up to the race track with top-5 cars, and to go full-time now as we are, we could fall to 10th to 12th.”

As it stands, Kimmel expects to run 12 complete races this season and believes that will remain the case unless someone else comes to him between now and this weekend with an offer to go full-time. Those races are Daytona, Talladega, both Poconos, Michigan, Kentucky, Chicagoland, both Salems, both dirt tracks and the road course event at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

“What would have to happen for me to run a full season is that someone would have to come up to me with the money to do it right after Daytona,” Kimmel said. “We would need to hire people to get in the shop to start preparing the cars, because while we have a little bit of time between now and the next race, it’s not a lot.

“We’ve got some good people at the shop but they’re green so we need manpower and we’re going to want to test at Salem and for Nashville. We’d want to do it right.”

For Daytona on Saturday, Kimmel believes he’s done everything as right as possible in order to break through on the biggest stage of the season. He’s driving a car that Ty Dillon and Cale Gale once piloted at The World Center of Racing and he’s put a lot of time and energy into getting race-ready for 2016.

In fact, the car is still black and Kimmel wasn’t even able to apply his usual red base on the car because he wanted to focus entirely on its performance. While he wishes he had more time to fine-tune the car, he believes he’s more than capable of winning in it.

“This car is my baby,” Kimmel said. “I’ve put more into this car that I’ve put into any before it. I’m really excited for this weekend. I take a lot of pride in our family and our heritage in the sport. The black with dayglo numbers actually traces back to the cars Dad won most of his races and championships in.

“This car pays tribute to that. It’s us. It’s who we are.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

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. 

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Editorial

Daytona Crash Tested Recent Safety Improvements to Optimistic Results

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s a phrase that has been repeated over-and-over this season but never gets tired or overstated.

“Safety is a moving target.”

There have been moments in NASCAR history where the tracks, drivers and Sanctioning Body all took safety for granted and became overly complacent. Everyone involved in the sport bore and accepted responsibility in the 2000’s following the tragic loss of drivers including (but not limited to) Dale Earnhardt, Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and John Nemechek.

In the decade and a half following that period of increased danger, the motorsports community (and not just NASCAR) all came together and pursued the development and implementation of safety features like the HANS, SAFER and advanced driver protection ordinances.

Following the violent looking crash on Sunday night at Daytona, safety will again be at the center of every media session, private council meeting or water cooler chat. While the sport should never again be viewed as complacent, the Coke Zero 400 should be celebrated as a victory for the industry and everyone who has worked to make racing as safe as possible.

Consider that for all the carnage currently littered upon the frontstretch at Daytona International Speedway, every safety measure installed over the past decade did exactly what it was supposed to do and there were no serious injuries at all.

Despite flying upside down and catapulting into the catchfence and metal posts, Austin Dillon walked away with only light bruises on his tailbone and forearm. Instead of spending the next week in the hospital, the driver of the iconic No. 3 Sprint Cup Chevrolet was released from the infield care center and will be back in the seat of his machine on Wednesday at Kentucky Speedway.

Daytona made sweeping changes to its catchfence and seating arrangement following the violent crash in 2013 that sent Kyle Larson into the fence and littered debris into the spectator area.

On that afternoon, 14 fans were transported to local hospitals while 14 others had to be treated on site at the speedway. On Sunday? Only one fan was sent to the hospital, and was quickly released, while only four others were treated at the track.

Like the safety innovations on the Sprint Cup car, the new fencing at Daytona did what it was supposed, even if the aftermath wasn’t as picturesque as we all would have wanted.

Should the sport entertain debates about the validity of 200 mph pack races and the green-white-checkered rule if it means increasing the safety of fans and competitors? Absolutely.

With that said, this most recent crash tested NASCAR. It tested Daytona. It tested every stakeholder who developed any safety measure in the sport from over the past decade. And to their credit, the motorsports industry passed that test with flying colors. Racing is an inherently dangerous sport. It’s important to understand that nothing will make motorsports a danger-free territory.

Risk will be an ever-lasting occupational norm in Stock Car racing.

However, the sport should certainly continue to be proactive, because after all, safety is indeed a moving target and one that NASCAR proved they can meet head-on.

Well done.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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NASCAR Cup Series

Keselowski, Busch Ignited Big One in Coke Zero 400 Practice

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Leading a large pack of drivers during the first practice session for the Coke Zero 400, Brad Keselowski drifted up into Kyle Busch and ignited a massive 10-car incident on Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.

The crash occurred 10 minutes into the first of two scheduled sessions and happened when Busch spun across the nose of the Keselowski Ford. Busch was sent sideways down Turn 2, in front of the field, and collected several contenders who had nowhere to go but into Busch and completely destroying their cars.

Officially involved in the ordeal (and going to their backup cars) was Busch, Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray, Sam Hornish, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex. While the melee began with Keselowski, he escaped significant damage and continued turning laps once the green flag returned to the track.

It was a fact that Busch, last week’s winner at Sonoma Raceway, was well aware of upon climbing out of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

“It’s his fault — he caused it,” Busch said of Keselowski. “But I’ve also been in the same boat and caused them before. It’s practice so you don’t need to be up a guy’s left rear. I rolled out and got out of the gas, I don’t know how many times, just to not run into the car in front of me because it’s not that time of the game to go.”

For his part, Keselowski accepted blame for the incident and expressed guilt for all the carnage that followed.

“First of all, it stinks to see 10 cars get torn up,” Keselowski said. “I got a run on Kyle. I tried to go high … had Greg Biffle on my butt so I wanted to go back down low but when I did that, Kyle started to come down and I had Greg there so I ran into the back of Kyle.

“I flat out ran into the back of him. The timing was kind of off. I’m not even sure that I really hit him that hard. Looking at the front of the car, I’m not even sure I hit him at all but it sure does look that way. It’s just a bummer to see cars get torn up.”

Biffle said he wasn’t sure what line Keselowski was trying to run and suggested that his indecisiveness likely led to the pile-up.

“I was about sixth in line and it looked like (Matt Kenseth) was looking around,” Biffle said. “He went to the middle or the top and I think the 18 was second in line and the 2 was third in line. They all moved to the middle and I went to the bottom and (Keselowski) acted like he was going to come back down a little bit.

“I wasn’t sure what he was doing and then he instantly stopped and didn’t come down there but as I pulled up beside the 2 the 18 was sideways in front of both of us. I don’t know if the 2 got in the back of the 18 or if the 18 just lost it. I don’t know if the 2 was going to come back down to the bottom but then I was there and so he had to go back up and got into the 18. I am not really sure.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. lead the first session with Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard and Trevor Bayne completing the top-5. The final Sprint Cup Series practice session will run from 5:00-5:55 p.m.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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Categories
Editorial

Instant Reactions: Budweiser Duels at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. engineered a clean sweep of the Daytona 500 qualifying races for Hendrick Motorsports on Thursday night, effectively stealing momentum away from Joe Gibbs Racing in advance of The Great American Race.

Maintaining tradition, the Budweiser Duels at Daytona featured a split personality of sorts with one relatively calm race and another full of crashing and controversy. While the weather was cold — a near freezing 35 degrees — the action was white hot with the dramatics of the second race deserving of its still fresh prime time TV slot.

Here is a list of things we learned en route to setting the field for the Daytona 500.

Hendrick Motorsports Makes a Statement

Between the dominant Matt Kenseth performance on Saturday night in the Sprint Unlimited and the recent restrictor plate prowess by Joe Gibbs Racing over the past several seasons, it became somewhat easy to overlook Hendrick Motorsports.

But the Chevrolet powerhouse backed up its Daytona 500 front row sweep by also scoring victories with Johnson and Earnhardt on Thursday night. While the frigid weather conditions make it awfully difficult to use the Duels as a barometer for the 500, there is certainly something to be said about momentum and positive energy.

The victory was especially rewarding for Earnhardt, who is transitioning to a new crew chief early this season in Greg Ives. Rick Hendrick will definitely provide Earnhardt the tools needed to earn his third Harley J. Earl Memorial Trophy but nothing can replicate the first victory and the 88 team has managed to do it BEFORE the Daytona 500.

Joe Gibbs Racing Holds Serve

On Saturday night following the Sprint Unlimited, I speculated that the Daytona 500 would likely be a Hendrick versus Gibbs battleground and nothing changed my mind during either of the two qualifying races on Thursday night. In fact, despite the Hendrick sweep, Joe Gibbs Racing has to feel like they are the favorites, especially with Kenseth.

The 2003 Sprint Cup champion dominated the first Duel but was cycled out of the lead in the middle stages of the race. Knowing how good his No. 20 Toyota is, and how hard it is to pass under the cool conditions, Kenseth opted to remain conservative and ride out the remainder of the event. Make no mistake, Kenseth could have done more to work his way to the front but what would have been the point?

Kenseth will certainly be in the mix throughout Sunday during the Daytona 500 itself, so conventional wisdom dictates that he made the right play.

Danica and Denny

It’s a matter of he said versus she said when discussing Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin during Speedweeks 2015.

Following two incidents in practice and at the end of their Daytona Duel on Thursday respectively, Danica simply wishes that Hamlin would give her additional space between their cars while deafting. Meanwhile, Hamlin is adamant that Danica is making an unreasonable request given how to successfully draft in his opinion. Patrick is only having this problem while drafting with Hamlin. From that perspective, she seems to have a point that Hamlin is to blame.

On the other hand, Hamlin has nearly a decade of Sprint Cup experience and has multiple restrictor plate victories, including two last season at Daytona and Talladega respectively. Instead of trying to find blame, this is probably just a case of two differing plate drafting philosophies clashing and leading to complications on the track.

Did You See It?

It’s worth rewinding the ole DVR to watch how Kurt Busch cupped the face of Danica Patrick when congratulating her on successfully qualifying for the Daytona 500. Recall that Patricia Driscoll has accused her ex-boyfriend of violently cupping her face as part of her domestic abuse claim against the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.

Alex Bowman and Jeb Burton failed to qualify for the Daytona 500 following a late race incident that began when Burton initiated contact with Sam Hornish Jr. coming out of Turn 4, collecting Bowman in the process. The ordeal is a polar turnaround from last season for Bowman who raced his way into the Daytona 500 with BK Racing but will miss the show in his first season with Tommy Baldwin Racing.

Burton essentially replaced Bowman at BKR and was set to make his Sprint Cup debut at Daytona. By failing to qualify for The Great American Race, that debut will be pushed back at least one week to Atlanta Motor Speedway.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano Argue Following Sprint Unlimited

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — In a metaphorical continuation of the 2014 Chase for the Championship, Matt Kenseth won the Sprint Unlimited while Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano were involved in yet another post-race fracas.

Harvick and Logano were involved in the “firesuit in the family” feud back in 2010 and were back at it again on pit road following the season-opening exhibition race. After making contact with each other in the closing laps. Logano walked over to Harvick, who still had his helmet on, and tried to explain his side of the incident that sent the defending champion lightly into the Turn 3 wall.

What started off as a casual conversation began to escalate when Harvick said something that unnerved the young Penske driver, forcing the pair into a shouting match that was eventually broken up by crew members and NASCAR officials.

The incident began when Logano tapped Harvick from behind in the closing laps, sending him adrift into the Turn 3 wall. Harvick did not suffer damage but lost all of his track position as a result of the contact.

Logano finished sixth while Harvick faded to 11th.

“I just got a tore-up car and didn’t finish like we wanted to,” Harvick said. “He hit me right in the ass. I didn’t appreciate getting straight-drove into the wall.”

Logano said he was simply trying to help, hoping to bump draft the defending champion to the lead.

“I was just trying to help really,” Logano said. “We had a run and I kept pushing and apparently his car was tight. I was pushing the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) all night and it was working. But we got in the corner and he got tight.

“I was just trying to help. He doesn’t understand I was trying to help. I understand his frustration but I was just trying to help out and trying to get to the front and try to win this thing. There’s no points or anything like that so you go for the win.”

Harvick wasn’t interested in that rhetoric however.

“I just told him I didn’t appreciate it,” he said. ‘You know where you can push and how you can push and how far you can push, and you can’t push him all the way into the corner and up against the fence.

“It was a helluva race but just really dumb driving there at the end. You’ve got to be aggressive but you’ve got to use your head. You can’t just detatch it and lay it on the floorboard.”

Ultimately, Logano said this was a case of Harvick stirring the pot.

“That is Kevin just being an instigator just like everywhere else,” he said. “It is a new year and the same stuff.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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ARCA: Lucas Oil 200 Daytona Notebook

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Sprint Unlimited may be the main event at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night but there are no shortage of storylines for the ARCA Racing Series which opens its 2015 campaign with the Lucas Oil 200 at 4:30 p.m. on FOX Sports 1.

A victory at the World Center of Racing has the potential to change lives with virtually every contender explaining that “winning at Daytona would mean everything.”

A good finish could possibly mean the difference between affording only a partial season or participating in the full season throughout the summer. For others, a start in the Lucas Oil 200 will surely provide valuable experience for he or she starts in the Truck Series or XFINITY Series racees next weekend at Daytona. In short, this particular field of 40 is one of the most compelling in the 53-year history of ARCA at Daytona International Speedway. With that in mind, here are a few storylines to follow during the race itself.

Pole-Sitter Mark Thompson, Oldest in Daytona History

Mark Thompson won the pole on Friday for the Lucas Oil 200 and at 63-years-old, became the oldest fastest qualifier in the history of Daytona International Speedway.

Thompson won three previous ARCA poles, all at Michigan International Speedway – two in 1996 and one in 1997. He surpassed Vern Slagh to become the oldest ARCA pole winner and track officials confirmed that he is also the oldest pole winner of any event in the history of the 2.5-mile speedway.

Defending Winner Enfinger Still Looking for Sponsors

Grant Enfinger won the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway last February en route to a remarkable six win-season and a second place in the championship standings split between Team BCR and GMS Racing. Despite all the success, Enfinger wasn’t even sure he would even race this season, his only job being an engineer and mechanic at GMS.

But Engfinger and GMS officials announced last week that Enfinger would return for the full season and chase his first career championship. However, Enfinger confirmed that the full season announcement may have been a little ambitious.

“There are still a lot of details that need to be worked out but everyone at GMS Racing made a huge commitment already,” Enfinger said. “I feel very fortunate to have Alamo Rental car on the hood this weekend and I think they are going to come back for a few more races as well.

“We have a good start but we need a few more things to come together before we can run for a championship.”

Needless to say, a second-consecutive victory would go a long way towards shoring up his 2015 plans.

“It would help finalize some things for sure,” Enfinger added. “It would help our confidence and more than anything else, it’s always good to win.”

Defending Champ Mitchell Still Working on 2015

Iowa youngster Mason Mitchell won the ARCA Racing Series championship in 2014, defeating Grant Enfinger by 255 points. Mitchell had hoped his championship would transition him towards a full-time Truck Series career in 2015, even making his debut at Homestead in November in preparation.

Mitchell brought in Austin Wayne Self to drive his flagship No. 98 ARCA car this season but has not been able to put a package together to compete in NASCAR. While he has some plans coming together, Mitchell is competing in the Lucas Oil 200 just to continue momentum and possibly score a marquee victory at the World Center of Racing.

“Winning here would be huge because this is the only race we have locked down,” Mitchell said. “It would be good for morale, good for the team. I have some things in the works to go Truck racing or maybe XFINITY racing. Iowa is back on the ARCA schedule and it would be huge to go there as well as it’s my home track.”

Patrick Starpoli Turning Heads

Harvard graduate and former NASCAR K&N Pro Series West winner Patrick Staropoli was in the right place at the right time and the remarkable turn of events has him racing in the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona.

Staropoli is competing in the race for Empire Racing and linked up with the squad when they needed a last minute driver for the annual December ARCA Daytona test. He was the fastest driver during that session and it led him to getting signed for the event with sponsor American RF. This is a major opportunity for the Florida native because after taking 2014 off and returning to school in 2015, this is the only race he currently has on his schedule.

He’s again capitalized on the opportunity, posting the fastest time in practice and qualifying 17th for the race.

“This is my one race,” Staropoli said. “As a Late Model driver, I just dream of going to the Snowball Derby because even running a race like the Florida Gov Cup really tests are budget. This is the only thing we have scheduled so I’m going to give it everything I got.”

Before heading to Daytona, Staropoli actually had to take a hematology exam on Thursday at the University of Miami where he is currently enrolled in its Medical School. Staropoli says while the teachers have been understanding, they are often hesitant to grant him schedule changes and make-up dates due to his racing.

In short, aiming to become a doctor and Sprint Cup driver at the same time is incredibly taxing.

“It’s a juggling act,” Staropoli said. “It’s gone surprisingly well. When I first came back to school they said, ‘you just came back from racing..’  so they didn’t want to move the test. But I explained the last minute nature of the test and they understood.

“I think deep down inside they know they have other things their students are really passionate about and encourage them to do that when they can.”

Buster Graham Looks for Redemption

Popular Louisiana part-timer Buster Graham has returned to Daytona this season, one year removed from his most competitive speedway race yet where he was running third before getting spun out by Chase Elliott, igniting a multi-car incident that ended his day.

Still paired with Ruolo Brothers Racing. Graham believes he will have just as good a shot on Saturday assuming that he can make it to the end of the race. He is still miffed about the incident with Elliott but is fully focused on making up for it on Saturday.

“I know what happened,” Graham said. “I don’t think it was intentional at all. It was racing and I just hate that it happened. The thing that gets me though is his attitude at the end of the race. He wasn’t going to worry about it. It wasn’t just me because he took out a bunch of good cars. You know who’s backing him so he’s got no worries.

“This race is just a big deal. So many of us are on tight budgets and it takes everytrghing we got to get here and getting wrecked, any year, I didn’t like that driver not worrying about or even not asking us of we were alright.”

On a positive note, Graham may have the best designed car in the race — one sponsored by Louisiana Tech.

This opportunity for Louisiana Tech and Graham was made possible through a school booster who connected the university with the Roiulo Brothers race team. The supporter wanted to help promote the university by providing the resources needed to create the Tech-themed wrap, uniforms and apparel.

“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to drive the No. 17 Louisiana Tech car in this race,” Graham said. “It’s an honor to represent such an outstanding, upper tier university and to sport the Bulldog colors and logos. At the end of the race, I hope to be able to climb out of the car on Victory Lane and talk up Louisiana Tech. We are going to do our best to make the Bulldogs proud.”

Thomas Praytor Requires New Engine, Perseveres

Thomas “Moose” Praytor has entered the 2015 Lucas Oil 200 in his own family team based out of Mobile, Ala. and opened the weekend by blowing a motor in Friday practice. A quick call to Roush Yate Engines however put the team back on track.

Praytor announced that he would return full-time for a third straight season and making the grid was a testament to their dedication, given the adversity the new team faced in practice.

“A tremendous amount of effort from our friends at Roush and Walley Finney making a middle of the night road trip to make it happen,” Praytor said. “I just knew we were done but with friends like we have incredible things keep happening for our race team.”

Feature Stories

Frank Kimmel Pairs With Former Rivals Venturini Motorsports for 2015
Short Tracker Daniel Hemric Prepares for Truck Series with ARCA Start
The Lucas Oil 200 will be live today on Fox Sports 1, for the first time live on MRN Radio and live timing and scoring on www.arcaracing.com.

Lucas Oil 200 Starting Lineup

  1. Mark Thompson
  2. Cody Coughlin
  3. Tom Hessert
  4. Brett Hudson
  5. Clay Campbell
  6. Daniel Suarez
  7. Blake Jones
  8. Will Kimmel
  9. Sean Corr
  10. Leilani Munter
  11. Frank Kimmel
  12. Scott Sheldon
  13. Grant Enfinger
  14. Bobby Gerhart
  15. Matt Kurzejewski
  16. Tyler Audie
  17. Patrick Staropoli
  18. Austin Hill
  19. David Levine
  20. Buster Graham
  21. Daniel Hemric
  22. John Lowinski-Loh
  23. Mason Mitchell
  24. Brad Smith
  25. Ed Pompa
  26. Josh Williams
  27. Austin Wayne Self
  28. Terry Jones
  29. Bo LeMastus
  30. Garrett Smithley
  31. Thomas Praytor
  32. Karl Weber
  33. Sarah Cornett-Ching
  34. James Swanson
  35. Donnie Neuenberger
  36. Bobby Hamilton Jr.
  37. Bill Catania
  38. Cole Powell
  39. Barry Fitzgerald
  40. J.J. Pack