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NASCAR Cup Series

Joey Logano Holds Off Kurt Busch to Win at Talladega

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Joey Logano led a Ford feast on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, beating Kurt Busch to the checkered flag by .127 seconds to win the GEICO 500, the 10th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season.

Logano led the final 42-of-188 laps, a race-high 70 overall, and controlled the action after a 14-car wreck on Lap 166 thinned the field. Logano led the field to the green flag for the final restart on Lap 172 and stayed out front the rest of the way.

The victory was Logano’s third at Talladega and the 19th of his career, and it broke a dry spell of 36 races dating to the No. 22 team’s victory at Richmond last year, one which incurred a post-race penalty.

“I’m so proud to get this team back in Victory Lane – it’s been a year!” Logano exulted in Victory Lane. “It feels so good to be back in Victory Lane. There is no feeling like this. It feels so good.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been getting consistent.  We’ve been scoring points, and we knew a win was just around the corner. I don’t have to worry about the whole playoff thing anymore.”

Logano extended Ford’s winning streak at Talladega to six races. Ford drivers claimed six of the top seven positions, the only exception being third-place finisher Chase Elliott in a Chevrolet.

“What a fast Ford,” Logano said of his No. 22 Team Penske ride. “Teamwork is what did it today. And not just the Team Penske Fords but all of the Fords out there – Kevin (Harvick), Kurt (Busch). We worked really well together. We got a blue oval back in Victory Lane, so proud of that.”

Harvick, the pole winner, came home fourth, followed by defending race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Ragan and Aric Almirola.

Busch intended to pair with Harvick, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, for a final-lap charge at Logano, but Busch changed tactics when he saw that Stenhouse had a strong run on the next-to-last lap.

“We just needed the assistance from behind,” Busch said. “The 17 car (Stenhouse) was strong. All the Fords were great today. I was hoping he would get to us on the back straightaway so we could go on offense on the front to go win it, but it just didn’t materialize.

“I wanted to stay with Harvick, my teammate, and navigate around the 22, but everyone behind kind of broke off and was racing too hard, and nobody got that big head of steam to try to push through and break apart the 22’s lead.

“It was one of the best Fords I have ever had here, and it was fun to race it and lead some laps and be right there, but I just didn’t get the job done. The 22 outfoxed us, and we didn’t get the push from behind to go on offense at the end – but a top-five day, so I can’t really complain.”

Logano finished second in each of the first two stages – behind teammate Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard, respectively – but in the final stage of the race he took control. Logano had the lead when the second major wreck of the race started in Turn 3 on Lap 166.

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson spun in Turn 3 and turned sideways across the nose of Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron’s car, collecting Menard’s Ford in the process. The accident also knocked Keselowski out of the race.

Kyle Busch saw his three-race winning streak end with a 13th-place finish at Talladega. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota was hit with a pit road speeding penalty under caution after the end of the second stage and recovered to run in the top five during the third stage, but he could make little progress after coming to pit road and restarting 18th on Lap 172.

Categories
News

Joey Logano Dominates XFINITY Series Race at Auto Club Speedway

FONTANA, Calif. – The best measure of Joey Logano’s dominance in Saturday’s Roseanne 300 at Auto Club Speedway came during one of the rare instances when the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford didn’t have the lead.

Off-cycle on pit stops late in the race, Logano chose to pit under caution on Lap 122 while most of the other contending cars stayed out on tires that had only six green-flag laps of use. Logano restarted 16th on Lap 125. By Lap 126, he was third.

On Lap 127, Logano passed Justin Allgaier for second. One Lap later he sailed past Elliott Sadler for the lead.

In claiming his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory of the season and the 29th of his career, Logano survived a late restart on Lap 143 and pulled away to win by 1.429 seconds over Allgaier, who passed Sadler for the runner-up spot.

“It was a great car—oh, my gosh,” said Logano, who led 139 of 150 laps in winning for the third time at the two-mile Fontana track. “It’s one of those races where you feel relieved when you win. It wasn’t a cheerful one—you’re supposed to win when you have a car that fast.”

That didn’t keep Logano from second-guessing crew chief Brian Wilson for choosing to keep Logano on the track after a Lap 110 caution for Dylan Lupton’s blown engine.

“Brian opted (to stay out),” said Logano, who won the first and second stages of the race. “That was not my thought at all. But it ended up working out. I thought we were going to lose more track position than we did. We were able to stay out front, actually, on older tires, which I didn’t think we had a chance of doing.

“It just showed how fast our car was. It was an amazing day.”

Allgaier edged Sadler for the runner-up spot by .047 seconds, but much earlier than that Allgaier realized he was probably racing for second place, the position he also claimed a week earlier in Phoenix when Brad Keselowski drove the No. 22 to victory for Team Penske.

“The 22 was definitely the class of the field today and had everybody covered,” Allgaier said. “So hats off to those guys.

“I’ve been following the 22 for a couple of weeks now, and that’s getting kind of depressing.”

Austin Dillon ran fourth behind Sadler, followed by Richard Childress Racing teammate Daniel Hemric. Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, Matt Tifft, Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain completed the top 10.

Pole winner Christopher Bell brushed the wall early, spun off Turn 4 on Lap 97 and was collected by the No. 5 Chevrolet of Michael Annett eight laps later. Bell salvaged a lead-lap, 21st-place finish and held fourth place in the series standings.

Sadler leaves Auto Club with a slim lead over his JR Motorsports teammates. Reddick is second in the standings, four points back, with Allgaier five points behind Sadler in third.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series will have two weeks off before returning to action at Texas Motor Speedway for the My Bariatric Solutions 300 on April 7 (3 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN , SiriusXM).

Pit Notes: Post-race inspection found that the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (driven by Ryan Preece to a ninth-place finish) had one lug nut unsecured. The No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, the No. 18 JGR Toyota, the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and the No. 22 Team Penske Ford will all be heading back to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Penske Off To Strong Start

It may be early in the 2018 campaign, however, what Team Penske, along with the aligned Wood Brothers Racing, has done has been impressive to start the season.

You see the transition to becoming a four-car team can be a difficult one.

While it may seem like a great idea to field an additional car for a talented driver, the risk has tended to outweigh the rewards. In some scenarios, one team will not perform to same standards as it’s teammates. In others, the entire organization takes a competitive step back from the success it once had.

Championship winning teams such as Richard Childress Racing, Stewart-Haas, and Hendrick Motorsports, have all faced issues with fielding four full-time efforts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Three races into the new campaign, the four cars prepared in Team Penske shop haven’t skipped a beat. Given the significant changes they went through during the offseason, which included bringing Paul Menard to drive the No. 21 and creating an entirely new team for Ryan Blaney, it says a lot about them to be doing well.

The success has surprised some as they weren’t a dominant team in 2017 (winning only five races) and had a driver miss the playoffs (Joey Logano); many wondered if they would continue to fall behind their competition. Even Penske’s own, Brad Keselowski expressed concerns with Ford’s ability to compete with the other manufacturers. The 2012 champion went as far to say they could be in for a “drubbing.”

So, where do they stand after three races?

Two of the four drivers are in the top-five in the points standings (Logano, second, Blaney, third) and, Keselowski and Menard, are not far behind currently ranked seventh and ninth. Notably, they are the only team/alliance to have all drivers affiliated with them in the top-10 and while they haven’t won any races, yet, each week they have made their presence know.

Keselowski started off the year with a win in The Clash and has been the only driver not named Kevin Harvick to capture a stage in the last two weeks. Blaney, like his former owner, scored a victory early in the Can-Am Duels, and earning playoff points during the Daytona 500.

Meanwhile, Logano doesn’t own any wins or playoff points, but he may the most consistent of all, as he is the only driver throughout all of NASCAR’s top-tier series to score three-straight top-10 finishes in the opening three races.

Then there’s Menard, who many had written off after lackluster years at RCR, who has quickly adjusted to his new role at Wood Brothers Racing, with two top-10s (one less than he had all season) and has seemed to pick up right where Blaney left off.

The team’s early success should be taken note of because if they are doing this good now, they may get better as the organization continues to adjust to the changes. You look at how expansion turned the Joe Gibbs/Furniture Row Racing alliance to a dominant force in 2017; it’s not far-fetched to think Team Penske can do the same.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
Trucks

A Look Back at Brad Keselowski Racing’s Success

It seemed only fitting that Brad Keselowski Racing would complete their tenure in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in victory lane. After all, the team was very successful through the years.

Starting off with humble beginning in 2008, the organization quickly grew over the next couple of years, scoring their first win in 2012 with Ryan Blaney at Iowa Speedway. From there on, they were able to score another 10 victories with six different drivers. While they never won a championship, they did come close as from 2012 to this past season, they placed a truck in the top-six of the year-end standings, including a pair of runner-ups courtesy of Blaney and Tyler Reddick

Brad Keselowski has expressed the want to get back involved on the ownership side down the road. But as this door closes, here is a look back at those 11 victories.

2012 American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway – Ryan Blaney

Leading a total of 50 laps, Blaney drove away from the field on a late-race restart with three laps to go to score the first ever victory for Brad Keselowski Racing. It also marked Blaney’s first career win in the truck series in just his third start.

2013 Pocono Mountains 125 at Pocono Raceway – Ryan Blaney

Just like he did in his first career win, Blaney drove away from the field late in the event to score his and BKR’s second victory.

John Harrelson | NKP

2014 UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway – Brad Keselowski

The boss got to pilot one of his own trucks to victory lane in dominating fashion, leading 119 of the 200 laps en route to the win.

2014 Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park – Ryan Blaney

In an epic duo with German Quiroga, Blaney would edge him out by a bumper at the finish line for the victory after leading 34 of the 64 laps.

Matthew Thacker | NKP

2015 NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway – Tyler Reddick

After running 16 of the 22 events in 2014, Tyler Reddick was set to run his first full season of truck series competition in 2015, ready to chase after a championship for BKR. He began the year in the biggest way possible, pacing 46 laps en route to scoring the victory in the season opener at Daytona.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

2015 Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway – Joey Logano

Already having made a name for himself in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Joey Logano would run a couple truck races each year for his Team Penske teammate Keselowski. This opportunity behind the wheel went well, as he dominated by leading 150 of the 258 laps.

2015 Lucas Oil 250 at Dover International Speedway – Tyler Reddick

With a late-race pass on Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick took the lead and drove away en route to his second career series victory.

John Harrelson | NKP

2015 UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway – Ryan Blaney

The 2015 season proved to be the most successful for BKR in the win column, as four of their 11 victories came over the course of that year. Blaney captured the fourth, leading 40 of the 202 laps at Bristol.

Russell Labonty | NKP

2016 DC Solar 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Tyler Reddick

Brad Keselowski Racing always seemed to be strong at the intermediates, and that showed at Las Vegas when Reddick led 70 of the 146 laps en route to victory.

2017 Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park – Austin Cindric

In a pass that was debated for multiple weeks, Austin Cindric spun Kaz Grala in turn five, leading the rest of the way to score the victory.

Barry Cantrell | Harrelson Photography Inc.

2017 Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway – Chase Briscoe

While the focus was on the battle for the championship, Briscoe led 81 of the 134 laps en route to a dominating first career truck series victory.

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
NASCAR Cup Series

New Plate Racing Masters Emerge at Talladega

Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway marked the end of one era and the birth of another.

Six-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned his final laps on a restrictor plate track, finishing seventh to close out an illustrious plate racing career.

After narrowly missing many accidents late in the event and receiving minor damage, the Hendrick Motorsports driver was down but not out in the final laps. However, this hurt his chances at victory and stiff competition from some of today’s best plate racers ultimately prevailed. 

Brad Keselowski captured his fifth Talladega win and his sixth restrictor plate victory which is second-most in the field behind Earnhardt Jr.

Once Earnhardt Jr. retires at season’s end, Keselowski will take over the honor and become a candidate to fill the role as plate racing master.

While Keselowski won on Sunday, his teammate Joey Logano may have been more impressive. Logano led a race-high 59 laps and overcame a spin with less than ten laps remaining to finish fourth.

Logano has paced the field for at least 20 circuits in each of his three combined victories at Daytona and Talladega. Meanwhile, Keselowski often finds himself up front at the finish but has only led more than 12 laps in two of his six victories.

Leading laps is vital to follow in the 14-time most popular driver’s footsteps as he has led at least 34 laps in each of his ten victories.

Another element to plate racing mastery is fanfare. No driver receives a similar roar of the crowd like Earnhardt Jr. does when he takes the lead, and it will be hard to replicate moving forward.

However, Chase Elliott has challenged his teammate in this category in recent years. Not only is he popular among the fans but he has become one of the most impressive plate racers.

While his results haven’t matched his performances, he has consistently competed up front for a majority of the events in his career and led laps in all but two plate races.

Elliott had one of the strongest plate performances in his career on Sunday before crashing late while battling for the top spot. 

Continuing to perform at the pace he’s set and using his popularity as an advantage will put him in contention to follow Earnhardt Jr.’s path.

With one of the best all-time at Daytona and Talladega calling it a career, it opens the door for the next wave of talent to attempt to match his success.

Sunday proved that there are many prominent candidates and the fight for supremacy among Keselowski, Logano, and Elliott could usher in one of the most competitive eras of plate racing. 

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

Six Biggest Surprises from Monster Energy NASCAR Playoffs

Two races are down, with eight left in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, as Martin Truex Jr. won the opening race at Chicagoland Speedway and Kyle Busch followed up by winning Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

That Truex and Busch have won already is the least shocking news of the playoffs; they’ve led the most laps this season and along with Kyle Larson have been the dominant drivers in the Cup Series. 

Still, there have been plenty of surprises in just two playoff races. Here are the six biggest surprises of the playoffs so far:

  1. Under the Radar

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion, has complained long and hard that the Toyota teams have an advantage over everyone else. That said, Keselowski brought his Team Penske Ford home sixth at Chicagoland and fourth at New Hampshire. Consistent finishes near the front are what drivers need this time of year. 

  1. Second Helping

Kyle Larson’s second-place finish at New Hampshire on Sunday was the eighth time the Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished in the runner-up spot in 28 races this year. Larson remains the top threat to blunt a runaway Toyota championship. 

  1. Seven-time Slumping

Jimmie Johnson is having a very un-Jimmie Johnson-like playoff season so far, finishing a ho-hum eighth at Chicagoland and fading to 14th at New Hampshire. Johnson hasn’t led a single lap in any event since the July Daytona race. If he doesn’t win or at least get a top five next week at Dover International Speedway, where he has 11 career wins, he might not be a playoff factor at all. 

  1. Leading the Pack

In the first two playoff races, Toyota drivers have led 81.5 percent of the laps run, compared with 10.9 percent for Ford drivers and 7.6 percent for Chevrolet drivers. At the rate things are going, there could be three or even four Toyota drivers battling for the championship at Homestead. 

  1. Busch’s Blues

Kurt Busch came into the playoffs red hot, having posted an average finish of 4.o in the last three Cup regular season races. But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver and former series champion is in danger of elimination after finishing 19th at Chicagoland and 37th at New Hampshire. 

  1. Rule Breakers

The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team got caught red-handed at Chicagoland applying tape to Chase Elliott’s rear spoiler and rear wheel well in an attempt to create downforce. This wasn’t being off .002 inches on the NASCAR Laser Inspection system, it was ham-handed cheating and NASCAR’s slapped the team with an encumbered finish, one-race suspensions for the crew chief and car chief, and a 15-point penalty as a result.

Just as embarrassing was Team Penske at New Hampshire, where Joey Logano’s Ford flunked pre-qualifying inspection four times and was not allowed to make a qualifying run or take part in the final Happy Hour practice. Recall that Logano is not in the playoffs because of an encumbered finish at Richmond in the spring, when his car flunked post-race tech.

NASCAR’s ongoing battle with the teams over rules violations continues to be one of the dominant stories of the season. 

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Do The Punishments Fit The Crimes in NASCAR Garage?

Chase Elliott’s penalty at Chicagoland Speedway was predictably the subject of much debate Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams were preparing for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300.

In case you missed it, Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports crew was caught adding tape on the back of his spoiler  — tape that was the same green color as the spoiler  — to add downforce. And it worked in the Chicagoland race, where Elliott had a runner-up finish, matching his career-best result.

Only it didn’t count, exactly.

Like Joey Logano in the spring Richmond race and Denny Hamlin at Darlington, Elliott’s finish was encumbered, meaning it won’t count if he’s in a tiebreaker situation in advancing to the playoffs. Elliott lost 15 points and the services of his crew chief and car chief this weekend.

But it only dropped him from sixth to eighth in the points, and since 12 cars advance in this round of the NASCAR playoffs, it may wind up having little or no impact on Elliott’s title hopes.  

Logano, one the other hand, missed the playoffs entirely because his Richmond victory was encumbered. That cost Team Penske millions in sponsor incentives and prize money and Logano a shot at his first title. For that team and driver, it was a death penalty to their season.

And Hamlin lost his five playoff points for winning at Darlington. Will that knock him out of the playoffs? Too early to tell, but it could.

So you have three drivers with encumbered finishes that potentially have wildly different outcomes. And that’s sparked some debate in the garage, especially since the infraction on Elliott’s car was undeniably intentional. It wasn’t a mistake or a missed measurement. It was a flagrant attempt to skirt the rules, yet it might not end up hurting him in the playoffs at all.

Hamlin, who also had his Darlington XFINITY Series win encumbered because his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota flunked inspection just like his Cup car, predictably served up a snarky response to the Elliott situation.

“You know, I don’t know a whole lot about it,” Hamlin said of the Elliott penalty. “All I know is they had a great points day. Really, I think they just took a few stage points away for the most part. From my standpoint, it looks like it’s a misdemeanor. NASCAR didn’t deem that a very big penalty, so there must not have been any intent there. I guess it was all an accident.”

Obviously, Hamlin was being sarcastic.

Ryan Newman, on the other hand, was dead serious.

“My problem with it is the (Elliott) lapped me to be two laps down two laps to go in the second stage,” said Newman. “And I’m pretty sure his car had the same infractions at that point as it did throughout the entire race.  So, his situation changed my situation and the way we raced our race because of that.  Obviously, NASCAR deemed it an advantage.  So, how do you really penalize in that situation?  To me it’s shame on a lot of people for letting it get to that point. … I mean to me the math just doesn’t add up, for how serious some of the penalties have been here in the last little bit.”

It’s a sticky issue, because every team is looking for every possible advantage each weekend and teams have always — and will always — push the rules as far as they can.

But when week after week the discussion is about penalties and encumbered finishes instead of who’s racing and winning, that’s not good for business.

And it doesn’t stop.

Logano never made a qualifying attempt Friday at New Hampshire.

The reason?

His No. 22 Team Penske Ford never passed inspection, despite multiple attempts.

Whether you believe these encumbered finishes and failed inspections are the result of flagrant cheating or rules that are too restrictive is debatable; what isn’t debatable is just how big a story this has become this year. And I have a feeling it’s a long way from over.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Six Bold Predictions For The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are here, so let’s get right to it.

Over the next 10 weeks, 16 drivers will compete for the 2017 Cup championship. Four will be eliminated after the third, sixth and ninth races, meaning the field will shrink from 16 drivers in Round 1 to 12 in Round 2, eight in Round 3 and four for the one-race championship round.

In those first three rounds, the drivers will carry over the playoff points they’ve earned this year to date. To give you an idea of how big that gap is, top seed Martin Truex Jr. has 2.053 points, while 16th-seed Jamie McMurray has just 2,003.

For the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the four championship contenders will all start with 5,000 points. Whoever has the best finish of the four in that race will be crowned the 2017 Cup champion. No playoff points, no bonus points, just finish ahead of the other three drivers and you win.

So with the playoffs here, time for 6 bold predictions for the championship stretch:

  1. There will be another first-time winner

Thirteen of the 16 drivers in the playoffs have won races already.  But it’s highly likely that at least someone not in the championship hunt wins one of the 10 remaining playoff races. I like Erik Jones’ chances to win one of the 10, and I also like Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win at Talladega.

  1. Encumbered finishes

NASCAR has gotten serious with scofflaws, but that hasn’t stopped teams from pushing the envelope too far. So far, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin have had encumbered finishes because their race-winning cars failed post-race inspection. There likely will be others to follow.

  1. A top seed misses final four

The top-four playoff seeds are Martin Truex Jr.(2,053 points), Kyle Larson (2,033), Kyle Busch (2,029) and Brad Keselowski (2,019). I will say it right now: At least one of these four will be eliminated before Homestead.

  1. No 8thchampionship

I believe Jimmie Johnson will go on to set the NASCAR record by winning his eighth Premier Series championship, but not this year. None of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets has run up front much. Unthinkable as this might be, Johnson has not led a single lap in the last nine Cup races. Not one.

  1. First-time champion

The top-two seeds, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson, are looking for their first championships and have a great chance to get it this year. And as well as the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have been running, don’t count Denny Hamlin out, either. This could be the year for a first-time champion.

  1. Late-race caution at Homestead

Since NASCAR adopted the 16-driver field for the playoffs in 2014, the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway has seen a late-race yellow flag every time. The Homestead race is scheduled for 267 laps. In 2014, there was a caution for debris in Turn 1 on Lap 263. In 2015, there was a yellow flag on Lap 258 for debris on the frontstretch, and last year there was a caution on Lap 264 for an accident in Turn 2. History suggests we’ll have another yellow in the final 10 laps at Homestead this time around.

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

Categories
Commentary

Facts Vs. Fairy Tales, Richmond Edition

Tonight, the 26-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season concludes. Once the checkered flag falls on the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, the 16-driver field for the Cup playoffs will be set.

With a chance to race for a NASCAR championship on the line, there’s a lot at stake at Richmond tonight. Which makes it a good time to play a little game I call “facts vs. fairy tales.”

Fairy tale: A new winner

The big story line tonight is, will there be a first-time winner who’ll knock somebody out of the playoffs? In the immortal words of Chuck D. and Public Enemy, “Don’t Believe The Hype.” This is the 14th year NASCAR has had the playoff system. In the previous 13 years, only once has a driver won his first race of the year at Richmond in September. That was 2004 when Jeremy Mayfield won this race in one of Ray Evernham’s Dodges to make the playoffs in the first year.

Could there be a first-time 2017 winner tonight? Sure, there could be — most likely Erik Jones or Joey Logano. But there probably won’t be. It’s hard to argue with history, and history strongly suggests this isn’t a race where someone new comes in and wins.

Fact: Most underreported story

While most media outlets are focusing on the playoffs from a driver’s perspective, a huge story has flown completely under the radar: The three automakers in NASCAR — Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota — are in a virtual dead heat for the highly coveted manufacturers’ championship, which is a huge deal for them.

In the first 25 Cup races of the year, Chevrolets have won nine times, Ford and Toyota, eight each. The points are incredibly close: Toyota leads with 879, Chevrolet has 878 and Ford has 874. This battle likely will go down to Homestead and all three combatants want to win as badly as the drivers do.

Fact: Penalties

The fact that Denny Hamlin swept both races last weekend at historic Darlington Raceway but both his race-winning Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas flunked post-race tech was a huge black eye and embarrassment. And remember at the first Richmond race, winner Joey Logano flunked post-race inspection for a similar issue. Logano’s second-place Darlington NASCAR XFINITY Series car also failed tech.

Understandably and correctly, NASCAR doesn’t want it playoffs tainted by allegations of cheating. To that end, the sanctioning body has raised the penalties for violations of Section 20.14.2 Rear Suspension I-4 portion of the NASCAR Rule Book. Now, the penalty for breaking that rule in the Cup Series is an encumbered finish, the loss of 40 driver and owner points, a $75,000 crew chief fine and three-race suspensions of both the team’s crew chief and car chief.

Fairly tale: Johnson is out of it

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has had a terrible summer of racing. Since winning at Dover, Johnson’s last 12 races have produced a best finish of 10th, an average finish of 21.17 and just 16 laps led. None of the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets have had much speed this summer.

Despite those awful numbers, when the NASCAR playoffs roll around, Johnson and the No. 48 crew always seem to find a way to rebound and rise up to the challenge. He’s never out of it until he’s out of it.

Fact: NASCAR tracks stepping up

This has nothing to do with tonight’s race, but kudos to Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway for opening their campgrounds for Hurricane Irma evacuees. That’s a very cool thing to do.

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

Categories
News

NASCAR Community Offers Help to Hurricane Irma Evacuees

With Hurricane Irma apparently heading for a direct hit on South Florida over the weekend, the NASCAR community is reacting.

Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway are all opening their campgrounds for evacuees fleeing the path of the devastating storm closing in on Florida.

Some specific information:

“With severe weather forecasted to directly affect numerous states throughout the Southeast in the coming days, Bristol Motor Speedway’s campgrounds are open to evacuees of Hurricane Irma,” track officials said in a statementFriday. “Evacuees may call toll free 866.415.4158 for more information. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those in the path of the hurricane.”

Charlotte will open its Rock City Campground off Bruton Smith Boulevard. Evacuees can enter through Entrance Z and will have access to bathhouse facilities on speedway property. “We are happy to open our doors to help those needing a place to seek shelter during this difficult time,” said Greg Walter, the executive vice president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We look forward to showing them the hospitality for which we’re known and they deserve.”

At Atlanta Motor Speedway, those interested in RV or tent camping should enter the facility at Entrance “E” off GA Highway 19/41. The Unreserved Campgrounds will be on the left. From I-75 and GA Highway 20, campers should see signs to AMS and follow Lower Woolsey road to Entrance “H” and the Speedway Credential Building. Make a right into Speedway property and then another immediate right onto Richard Petty Boulevard. Follow Richard Petty Boulevard and turn left into Entrance “G”. The campgrounds will be on the right.

For on-site assistance or directions, visit the ticket office/gift store building. For more information, contact Atlanta Motor Speedway at (770) 946-4211 or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.

Talladega Superspeedway will offer campground space with hot shower and restroom facilities, as well as water hookups on gravel and grassy areas – free to evacuees seeking temporary refuge.

“Our track is committed to helping our friends in Florida and the surrounding states during this time of need,” Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch said. “We hope to provide a sense of relief by offering a place to stay for no charge for evacuees during this time of adversity. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the path of the storm.”

For more information, please contact the Talladega Superspeedway guest services department at (256) 761-4709.

Meanwhile, at Richmond Raceway, site of Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, several drivers including Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth are carrying paint schemes dedicated to victims of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston, and the anticipated damage Irma will cause.

“We saw what happened down in the Houston area and the devastation that is there and also looking in the future the next few days of what Florida looks like could possibly happen there,” said Logano. “Obviously we need all hands on deck. If we are able to help out in any little way we should. It is what we should do as contributing members of our society. We should be thinking with our heart at this point. There are a lot of innocent people getting hit hard by these storms lately.”

We got the Red Cross on there (sponsoring his car), the St. Bernard Project to give money to both of those places, so, yeah, it’s obviously a terrible thing in Texas,” said Kenseth. “Toyota moved their headquarters to Texas here recently, so they’re not real far removed from that. Obviously with another one (hurricane) coming, there’s a lot of people that need a lot of help.”