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Editorial

NASCAR Not Only Did Something, They Did the Right Thing

By Kelly Crandall – In a time when NASCAR starts the most important part of their season, ten weeks toward crowning the newest champions across their three national series, they showed they weren’t afraid to change the picture and storyline in one of those series.

Heavy penalties were handed down late Monday night to Michael Waltrip Racing, 48 hours after the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup field was set in which MWR seemed to have locked two of their three cars in. But immediately following the checkered flag and before the champagne had been sprayed on the Chase field stage, rumblings began that something was amiss about who was in the Chase and who had been wrongly left out.

Clint Bowyer’s lazy spin off turn four with seven laps to go changed everything. Not just who was leading, not just who would go on to win, but the entire finishing order which played a role in then determining the Chase field. Bowyer’s spin and teammate Brian Vickers pit stop and subsequent snail like lap around Richmond put Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase, at the expense of Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon.

While social media set ablaze the last two days, NASCAR quietly reviewed the evidence. Going back over video and audiotapes while MWR officials even joined them. As the discussion on the outside became more heated, as the sport became a trending topic and headline around the news world, NASCAR officials made the best and right decision. It became breaking news on FoxSports1 and ESPN, which had just gone green on a double header of Monday Night Football.

The result and statement from it were heard loud and clear. Truex has been taken out of the Chase, Newman is now in while MWR is $300,000 poorer, all three cars 50 driver / owner points lighter and Ty Norris can go on vacation for an indefinite amount of time. It’s a no-win situation for many because even as Newman now gets to compete for his first championship, the cheating label and discussion in NASCAR is not what the sport needed.

But for NASCAR officials, it is a win. They still blew the final restart of Saturday’s race by letting Carl Edwards get away with one and take the win. And they blew the one on Friday night in which Brad Keselowski took the win after jumping early as well. Those however, are thoughts long gone.

Right now, NASCAR has persevered the integrity and creditability of the sport. At least for the week because this is a sport and sanctioning body who will never please everyone. Even after the penalties were announced on Monday, some still cried foul, that it wasn’t enough, that it didn’t solve everything.

Except it does enough for right now. The message is clear: no team is bigger or better than NASCAR. And the circumstances, be it competing for a win or for the Chase, aren’t going to keep them from turning a blind eye. They acted quickly and swiftly and the racing world is now well aware that trying to manipulate the outcome of a race, as well as the Chase, is something that they take very seriously.

On the other hand, there are many who now commend NASCAR. It wasn’t an easy decision and it certainly doesn’t make everything right but for the sport it helps with the image that big name teams and money rule. The men who are constantly berated for the decisions they do and sometimes don’t make, are still the law.

This ruling is jaw dropping for many reasons. It’s the biggest monetary fine in NASCAR history and it changes the championship picture. NASCAR had long said that the reason they will never take a win away from a driver is because the fans deserve to know who won the race when they leave the track.

Monday night though, after the pictures had been taken, after the confetti flew and the champagne soaked 12 drivers, NASCAR stood up and fixed a wrong in order for the talk of the sport being fixed to quiet down. Big because of what it does, big because it shows fans, media and drivers alike that NASCAR can and will act when they find the need be.

And when they act, it’ll be big in every sense of the word. And it’ll be big because NASCAR made a big boy decision when many never expected them to.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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NASCAR Cup Series

Johnson Concerned but Focused on Experience as Chase Begins

By Kelly Crandall – A season that was holding much promise for Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team has been slipping away the last four weeks.

No, Johnson hasn’t lost his chance at competing for the 2013 Sprint Cup Series championship but he might have lost his edge. Saturday night in Richmond capped four weeks of trouble for the Lowe’s team when they finished 40th after slowness, a faulty battery and then a flat tire made for a long night.

“Unfortunately tonight here at the track things did not go well. We would literally wear the right front tire off the car as the night would go on,” said Johnson. “But I look at the string of bad races we’ve had here over the last four weeks, the majority of the tracks that resemble the Chase, we’ve been fast. We had a blown engine and tire failure at Pocono. Bristol, here, tracks we don’t see in the Chase, we’ve had our issues.

“I’m glad Richmond and Bristol aren’t in the Chase. I feel the 10 tracks that are in the Chase are very good for the 48 team. We’ll start over on a clean sheet of paper next weekend and go at it.”

Because of the birth of he and wife Chandra’s second daughter, Lydia Norriss Johnson, on Friday morning, Johnson did not practice or qualify his Lowe’s Chevrolet. Starting the race last he made his way into the top 25 before stalling out and beginning to feel something was wrong with the car.

At one point Johnson was told he needed to pick up his speed, but seemed confused as to how he was going to make the car respond. He was lapped, got caught speeding on pit road and soon found himself with the hood up and then in the garage because of a battery problem. He re-entered the race only to blow a right front tire and hammer the wall with 58 laps to go.

After seeding Johnson is second in points as the Chase gets ready to begin next weekend in Chicago. But all momentum he had just weeks ago and talk about being the title favorite are gone. For the first time in his career Johnson finished 25th or worse over four straight weeks.

Johnson locked himself into the Chase early thanks in part to a 77-point lead, the largest in Chase format history. Soon after the troubles started with poor finishes stacking up and his point lead dwindling. Before reseeding on Saturday night, he would have been second in points to Carl Edwards.

“There’s always a little concern. Without a doubt you want to enter the Chase with momentum,” he said about the last few weeks, which he had engine trouble, two crashes and then a bundle of problems on Saturday night.

“I think every team falls back on past history. We have won championships without momentum going into the first race. So we’re going to fall on our experience and also the experience of knowing the Chase is so different than anything else. You’re only racing 12 guys, not 43. So things change a lot.

“We’re going to go to a track that is very good for us. We had a tire test there earlier in the year. It went really well. I’m going to reserve any major concern or overwhelming confidence until after Chicago. I’m going to go in there with confidence I can go out and win because I know that I can. We’re going to enter nice and smooth and see how Chicago goes.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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Categories
Editorial

Qualifying Adds to Dramatics of Chase Clinching Race at Richmond

By Kelly Crandall – The storyline was already set entering Richmond International Raceway for the drivers who are fighting to make the Chase.

Friday night after qualifying, the plot got a little bit better. Three past champions, who happened to be the ones everyone will be watching in the Federated Auto Parts 400, qualified in the top three. Jeff Gordon won the pole, Kurt Busch came up a short again and Brad Keselowski is determined to go down swinging.

“It depends on everybody’s attitude and goals are. I think we all know Kurt is a very aggressive guy, so I would think he is probably going to try to fight pretty hard to get himself in position,” said Gordon on how the first lap will play out between the three of them.

“Not only for track position, but it is important for him to lead a lap just like it is important for me to lead a lap. I would imagine that there will be a little bit of battling there. The race is not won on the first lap. I will try to get the best start that I can and try to get the lead.”

It’s the first pole of the season – and track record – for Gordon, who sits 11th in points. He’s out of the Chase and looking in. The same position he was last season when he had to fight a Busch brother for a Chase spot. He prevailed over Kyle Busch and needs to leapfrog over Kurt on Saturday in order to not miss the Chase for the second time.

Kurt Busch on the other hand, holds the final Chase spot. He’s 10th and has a six point advantage on Gordon. Busch hasn’t made the Chase since 2011 when he was still driving for Penske Racing but now wants to bring the single car, underdog team of Furniture Row to the playoffs.

“This is cool. Here we are the two guys battling out for the last spot. Like bottom of the seventh, I feel like we got a one run lead and it’s off to the final few innings,” Busch said about the situation.

Pit stall selection is expected to play a role in how the event unfolds. Gordon will have the first pit stall, which gives him the advantage of just rolling through the scoring line. Busch acknowledged that will be huge but his focus is just making sure that he gets into a rhythm of the race and doesn’t spin the tires.

But in order for Gordon and Busch to be the man, they have to beat the man. And until the checkered flag flies in Homestead and the hardware is officially given out, Keselowski is still the man. The defending NSCS champion has a tall mountain to climb however, if he wants to even defend that crown. After a blown engine at Atlanta, which left him 15th in points, he needs a lot of help on Saturday.

Among the three there are six NSCS championships and over 100 wins. But this year in a time when it matters most, each one is winless and fighting for their season. The simple answer: win and you’re in, although for Keselowski it might take a little more than just a win.

But all any driver, from Busch and Gordon, to Newman, Truex and Keselowski, can ask for is a chance and they all enter Richmond with a chance. There are many different scenarios and many different possibilities, number crunching at its finest.

When the green flag falls however, only the racing matters. One last race, it’s the race, to the make the Chase. For some, 400 miles at a Virginia short track will define their season.

And as much as the three might deny that the race can be won on the first lap, don’t expect any of them to back down going into turn one. This weekend it might not be the last lap that’s the most important, the first one is setting up to be pretty exciting, too.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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Categories
Editorial

Sam Bass and the Colors of NASCAR History

By Kelly Crandall – It’s nearly 90 degrees at Atlanta Motor Speedway on a Friday afternoon.

The NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series are back in town for three days of events before Labor Day and the face of NASCAR, that being the artistic face of NASCAR, Sam Bass is making his rounds throughout the facility. In jeans and a tee the heat doesn’t bother Bass, he’s still smiling ear-to-ear just being at another track because something he loves to do gets to be highlighted again.

“It’s just the coolest, I never a day take for granted having this career,” said Bass, who knew what he wanted to do in life since he was seven-years-old. “That’s the God’s honest truth. I went to my first race when I was seven and I was just immediately hooked and blown over by the color and the speed.”

Color, speed and Bobby Allison, who happened to be visiting the local short track Bass and his uncle were at that night. The rest as often said, is history, as Bass has become a big part of NASCAR. Fans have seen his work everywhere, whether they know it or not. He’s designed programs, trophies, paint schemes and even mascots such as Lug Nut, who resides at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

For Bass, his work is for the fans by a fan.

“I’ve always looked at the whole sport from a fan’s perspective, I’m very passionate about this,” he said. “I’ve always loved this, it’s all I ever wanted to do, so if I keep painting and drawing and always keep an eye on the fans and trying to do things that excite them and please them, then I’m doing my job. And as a fan first, who happens to be an artist, it’s a cool thing.

“So I’m never anything but blown away when I see people looking at my artwork or looking at a program cover or coming to my gallery to visit me. That’s a true honor, you never take that for granted and you always keep working hard to make them come back.”

The smile remains on his face the rest of the weekend while he greets old and new friends in the media center, does an autograph session in the fan zone and especially as he talks about his work and history in the sport. Quite a history it is, too. For Bass is more than just an artist or someone who wants to make money from his work, this is not just a business opportunity.

He’s determined to produce only the best and in order to do so one must be a student of the sport. His first lesson began in 1969 when he watched those bright colored cars going around the track to now having those cars feature his designs. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. have driven numerous Sam Bass paint schemes, while both Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car featured his design in 2000. Even Ricky Bobby’s cars in Talladega Nights were a Bass creation.

“One of the things I think helps me as a car designer is that I have followed every single car that’s been out on the track for all those years,” Bass revealed. “I know what’s been out there before. I know what worked, what didn’t work. I know what excited the fans color wise, visually. Drivers – I always wanted them to know I enjoy doing what I’m doing, I only want to present them in the best light, I always want to make them happy with what I’m doing.”

Even when he’s not at the track, Bass knows what’s going on. He’s always connected, watching the races at home while he works. Hey, he’s a fan as he continually reiterates. NASCAR is it for him, something he’s been adamant about since the very beginning.

“All of my professors were very discouraging to me about doing only NASCAR artwork,” Bass recalled. “They said if you want to be a sports artist be a stick and ball guy, do some football stuff. I had one instructor, God bless her, and she really encouraged me, she said if you’re passionate about it and if this is what you want to do, do as much as it as you can and build your portfolio.

“And years later [1997] when I did the Wheaties box with Dale Earnhardt, I sent her that box of cereal and I said, ‘I’ll never be on a Wheaties box as an athlete but here’s my artwork and that’s pretty cool.’ She really appreciated that and that was very meaningful to me.”

Yes, cereal boxes have felt the Sam Bass touch, too. Bass knows, and enjoys, that he’s covered a lot of territory. As for what’s next, first he’s going on a trophy tour for Richmond; he’s designed what the winner of the Sprint Cup race will receive on Saturday night.

He describes how it’ll come with an insert for a personalize painting he’ll do. The winning driver then has something they can keep and know what they looked like and what they were driving. It’s an artistic approach to something 43 drivers want to win, which is why Bass always tries to make his trophies different. He will also get to speak at his alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University, this week.

Then Charlotte comes early next month, a race most in NASCAR look forward since it’s in the backyard. With his gallery local, Bass hopes he’ll be plenty busy as fans come visit and he partakes in other racing plans.

Friday is normally an open house as he entertains VIP guests. There’s hope that some drivers will do an autograph session while there will be contests and giveaways for the fans as well.

“I’m going to be releasing my 74th cover in a row for Charlotte. I have posters and prints for that,” a proud Bass said. “We try to really care of the fans during the weekend and do a bunch of tours and stuff.”

Bass will continue to take care of fans, drivers and all others as long as he’s in this sport. And for those lucky enough to come across him at the track or gallery, don’t shy away from picking his brain and having a good old racing conversation. He’s just as comfortable talking about paintings as he is in saying Jimmie Johnson has become human the last few years or revealing whom his favorite for the championship is. That being Kyle Busch, who’s primed to go on a hot streak at the right time and make 2013 his year and that was before Busch went out and won Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500, his fourth victory of the season which locked him into the Chase.

“Honestly, I wish more people would talk to me about the sport,” he said because while it’s nice to come across those who want to help his business or talk about his work, “I like [the racing] too and when people say, ‘Who do you think is going to win the race?’ or ‘Who do you think is going to make it into the Chase at Richmond?’ because one of the things that I think makes my work good is that I am knowledgeable about the racing.”

To learn more about Sam Bass, visit his website, Facebook or Twitter.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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NASCAR Cup Series

Stewart Says Recovery Going as Scheduled, Won’t Change Racing Plans

By Kelly Crandall – Tony Stewart spoke to the media for the first time since breaking his tibia and fibula in a sprint car accident last month at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop on Tuesday.

Stewart was in a good spirits as he rolled his wheelchair around the floor before being assisted onto the stage where he took a chair and updated the racing community firsthand on his condition. He vividly remembered the accident that ended his Sprint Cup Series season and chance at making the Chase, but never showed any regret at the incident occurring or participating in that race.

“I am feeling a lot better. We’ve made huge gains in the last four weeks,” Stewart said on his condition. “This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. This is definitely the worst injury I’ve ever had in my life and racing career. It’s definitely been a big change from being probably one of the busiest drivers on the schedule to being in bed seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”

The three-time NSCS champion will return to action in February, when doctors say Stewart will have a full recovery with a leg that heals stronger than it had been before it was broken. He’s unsure however, if he’ll compete in the Nationwide Series season opener, as he’s traditionally done the last few years. But Stewart acknowledged that he’s anxious to get back into a race car and right now focuses on not having setbacks.

“Everything is going according to schedule and may actually be a little bit ahead of schedule, if we get done early, we don’t have anything to gain by it,” Stewart revealed. “If we have a setback we have a lot to lose by it. I’ve been pretty disciplined – every time the doctor says I’m going to see you in so many days, I ask what do you want me to do through that period and what’s my goal.”

As expected, Stewart said he is going to continue racing sprint cars in the future even after this occurrence. His schedule will be cut down in the future because it’s what he wants, noting the fatigue he started to feel around the time of the Brickyard race, not because it’s what sponsors or any other individuals might want.

Stewart spoke for more than an hour, answering questions about his injury, the announcement of SHR going to four cars next season, and how he plans to be at Richmond this weekend. Even joking everyone will get to see just how much time he’s had to sit around and think when he reveals what his mode of transportation is.

As for the rest of the season, the co-owner/driver is not out of the woods in terms of getting an infection, however no further surgeries are needed. He does have plenty of doctor visits and eventual therapy ahead. Which will most likely include a lot of crying as he works towards regaining his strength and be able to walk around.

Other than that, Stewart doesn’t plan on doing anything different with his life.

“You never want something like this to happen, but a perfect example this week is Bobby Labonte was riding his bike and broke three ribs and missed a race. It’s just life, guys,” said Stewart. “The thing is you’ve got to live life. You can’t spend your whole life trying to guard against something happening. If you do that, in my opinion you’ve wasted your time.

“We are all here a short amount of time in the big picture, and I’m somebody that wants to live life … I’m going to live my life. I’m going to take full advantage of whatever time I’ve got on this earth. I’m going to ride it out to the fullest and I’m going to get my money’s worth; you can bet your butt on that.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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NASCAR Cup Series

SMOKE & MIRRORS?

By Kelly Crandall – Kurt Busch is now officially a Stewart-Haas Racing driver for the 2014 season in the Haas Automation Chevrolet.

And from the announcement came Gene Haas’ side of the story and he didn’t hide any of the facts. Busch will be the driver of the team’s fourth car, expanding from their current three with Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick, who also joins the organization next season.

Busch is the driver that Haas handpicked for the fourth car, which he will put the funding behind. And it was Haas who went ahead and made this deal happen, putting his confidence in its success.

“I’m in this business to win races. I talked to Kurt Busch over the years. He’s been kind of a favorite of mine,” said Haas during the announcement at the team’s shop Tuesday.

“I see his on track performance. I thought this was a great opportunity to pair him up with Haas Automation, for him to be the driver of my choice. It was an opportunity that I just felt was too great to pass up. I bent a few rules, pushed, had some conversations with Kurt. Everything started to line up. We just needed to figure out how we’re going to do this.”

What Haas wanted, he got. Even though it was met with some resistance from the most recognizable co-owner, Tony Stewart. When Haas set the wheels in motion, back in Indianapolis when he heard that Busch did not have a deal for 2014, he went ahead before consulting anyone else. Then when Stewart broke his leg and was unreachable for a while, Haas continued to move forward with the deal.

“So I kind of did this on my own, probably overstepped my authority a tick there,” he said. “I’m not used to having too many authorities to work with. I’ve been pretty much on my own. I did realize that Tony might be a little bit upset about it. He was a little upset.”

But he says it didn’t matter how Stewart reacted because he was going to make it work anyway.

“I never crossed that bridge. I don’t know. Tony kind of does his own thing; I kind of do my own thing. I have to admit we kind of think alike,” Haas said about what would have happened if Stewart flat out refused the idea.

“I don’t think Tony was exactly enthralled with that I did. But I think he saw it my way. Either that or get out of the building. He has a lot of power. I have some power, too. I think in a sense it’s a check-and-balance system where the two powers balance each other out.”

Competition director Greg Zipadelli clarified however, that Stewart was never against the fourth car. He was against trying to make this whole deal happen for the upcoming season, which begins in six months. With good reason, the company now has to build an expansion because all four cars currently cannot be built under the same roof.

What’s done is done and SHR will go forward with Haas directing this side of the deal the way he wanted to. Perhaps important to remember that while Stewart gets a lot of the notoriety and credit, he bought in the company that Haas owned, keeping him within his right to make moves.

“I have a lot of respect for Tony. He’s a great driver, past champion. Tony has a lot of respect for me,” said Haas. “I carry a lot of depth with my company. We have the ability. How can we expand to a fourth team, where will the resources come from? I am highly qualified in that area to do this.”

It gives the company an edge, he feels. Along with making the 2014 SHR driver lineup a dream team.

“In retrospect it looks like it’s going to be a great idea,” believes Haas. “If we don’t win any races next year, hey, I’m going to look like an idiot.

“I take gambles, I made a decision, and I think I’m going to be proven right. I think we’re going to win a lot more races than anybody ever thought possible.”

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Categories
Editorial NASCAR Cup Series

Stewart-Haas Could Have Explosive But Fun Lineup in 2014

By Kelly Crandall: The bad boys of NASCAR are now all under the same roof.

Starting in 2014 owner-driver Tony Stewart will have Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, along with current teammate Danica Patrick, in his Stewart-Haas Racing stable. Busch signed a multi-year deal on Monday and the announcement was made official on Tuesday afternoon at the SHR shop.

Busch is the 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion, winning the inaugural Chase for the Sprint Cup with Jack Roush. A year later however, Busch was left out in the cold when Roush let him go with two races remaining in the season. He landed at Penske Racing in the iconic No. 2 Miller Lite car before being fired in 2011.

He made it a little over half a year with James Finch before heading to Furniture Row Racing where he’s been ever since and has them on the verge of a Chase spot. Along with being ever so close to winning a race. The news comes as two races remain before the Chase field is set and it brings with it both excitement and wonder of what 2014 will be like.

Busch leaves behind Furniture Row and Harvick will be leaving Richard Childress Racing, the only team for whom he’s raced. He wants to rejuvenate his career. And Stewart has made SHR a premiere organization, with he and Ryan Newman, who’s out at season’s end, winning since it’s inception and Stewart bringing home the 2011 championship.

Which doesn’t make it surprising that drivers are now leaving behind big name organizations for Stewart’s. In due time he and co-owner Gene Haas have made theirs one of the best, competing with Hendrick – whom they share a technical alliance with – Gibbs and Childress. And it would be foolish to think that Stewart, Harvick and Busch aren’t going to win and win often.

That’s four championships and 96 wins among them. There’ll be plenty more to come. Of course, everything looks good on paper for the company, just as it did for Hendrick Motorsports when they brought on Mark Martin back in 2009. Three of the four teams succeeded. Even Richard Childress Racing has faced the question of whether four teams is too many, hindering one’s performance.

But at this point, no one is thinking about potential concerns. And if they are, personalities of the SHR drivers should be. There’s a reason they’ve each been labeled a ‘bad boy’ and now that they’re all going to be in the same house, how they’ll coexist might be the most interesting aspect of the deal.

Not just towards their competition, each other. Stewart and Busch have gone at it in the past. In fact, they were bumping fenders at Richmond earlier this year and there’s been a rumor for years that after the two went at it during Speedweeks in 2008, Stewart punched Busch in the NASCAR hauler.

The past might be the past but these two wouldn’t mind wrecking each other for a win. The same goes with Harvick. While he and Stewart have been friends for years, Stewart even driving for Harvick when he owned a Nationwide team, there’s a reason why each have come to be respected around the garage. They’ll do anything to win and fight for what they believe in.

With Busch in the mix, this is bound to be one talented but explosive team. They’re all wheelmen, great for the sport and with their sponsors; fans either love them or love to hate them. And they can be just as fiery behind the wheel as when the microphone has been thrust in their face.

Ever wonder if teammates would wreck each other for a win? This might be the team to answer the question. Those and a whole lot more questions when the new season begins at Daytona in six months.

Yet, there’s one thing that’s guaranteed: the fun factor.

When he was down and almost out, Busch said he wanted to put the fun back in racing. It might be years later than he intended, but with this all-star lineup coming in 2014, the fun is certainly back.

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Edwards Finds Positives in Bristol Performance Despite Engine Failure

By Kelly Crandall – Only once before has Carl Edwards come out and said that he was going to win a race. Then again, after crashing five different times during Speedweeks at Daytona in February, no one could blame Edwards for keeping some optimism.

Saturday night at Bristol however, Edwards again told his team they were going to win. This time while sitting in the garage after his engine expired 387 laps into the event. He had led 119 laps and was the class of the Irwin Tools Night Race. It was Edwards, and Roush Fenway’s, first DNF of the season.

“Alright guys, listen: That was a badass race car. We’re going to go kick their butts at Atlanta and Richmond. You guys did great. Good job Jimmy,” Edwards radioed the team after being told by crew chief Jimmy Fennig they were done for the night.

They finished 39th with a car that most likely would have challenged for the win. Edwards was in firm control of the first half of the race, putting his No. 99 Fastenal Ford anywhere on the racetrack and making the line work. When the engine started to sputter he was leading and when the race restarted from a separate incident, it went down a cylinder before letting go as Edwards headed for the garage.

“We had a great car, probably the best car we’ve had in a long time,” Edwards said. “The pit crew was great. Our strategy was good. The restarts were great. The engine ran great until it blew up, so if we run like that the rest of the year it’s gonna be awesome.

“We’re gonna be good. We’re in a position right now we said we’d go for it. I’m sure that’s what Doug Yates and the guys did. They probably just made the most power they could, but it’s hard. I feel like we were in control of that race. We were gonna win that one.”

He remains third in points coming out of Bristol. Two races, Atlanta and Richmond, are ahead before the Chase field is set. Edwards is not yet locked in, but has a comfortable 87 point cushion on 11th place in the standings. His February Phoenix win seemingly a lifetime ago.

The way the team has been running however, Edwards is primed for a Chase run. The last few weeks unfortunately, different issues have taken Edwards out of contention to add bonus points and wins. Saturday night a tough loss for a car that might have been unbeatable, but not unbreakable.

“I didn’t have any warning. I’ve just got to thank all the guys. That’s the most fun I’ve had in a race car in a long time,” a positive Edwards said.

“This is what we needed, a race like this – with the engine aside – I think we were the dominant car here tonight. We’ve got some good races coming up.”

This upcoming weekend at Atlanta is another strong track for Edwards; he swept the races there in 2005 for his first career wins. He has three career wins at the speedway.

 

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Categories
Editorial

BRISTOL: The Mightiest of Them All

By Kelly Crandall – Few things are intimidating to race car drivers. Men who live their lives in seconds and corners, everything else seems elementary.

But as a race car driver, there are tracks that don’t play nice. Set in the heart of East Tennessee, the Bristol Motor Speedway has come to earn respect by drivers, fans and others alike. Her nicknames are enough to grab attention and from there she’ll leave you awestruck.

“The Last Great Coliseum,” “Thunder Valley,” and “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” All of which appropriate. Bristol is where legends are made and memories forever imprinted.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. became the first driver to sweep a weekend at Bristol in NASCAR history, just a month after nearly losing his life during a sports car crash at Sonoma. The brothers Busch have as many Bristol winners’ trophies as Jimmie Johnson does championship. And on a hot August summer night in 1999 the legend was booed when he rattled Terry Labonte’s cage just a little too much.

Yes, even Dale Earnhardt had his moments in the Tennessee bullring. Following in his footsteps are youngsters like Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, because boy do those two know how to go at it. Even Carl Edwards got in on the Bristol beat down after he won and then spun Kyle in 2008. Look no further than these three to write many more Bristol memories.

Which makes Tony Stewart missed even more this weekend. Old Smoke knows a thing or two about temper tantrums but he’ll sit this one out Saturday night. Of course, Matt Kenseth must feel safer, flying objects no longer a present danger. Jeff Gordon’s has also been on the opposite end and of Stewart’s words and bumper, something he needs to avoid this weekend to help his Chase chances.

So, as another Bristol weekend approaches, after which the prequel of Wednesday night’s Camping World Truck Series race didn’t disappoint, forget about all the hoopla of the old Bristol versus the new Bristol. The pavement might change, the groove can be widened, but Bristol will always be Bristol.

Sheet metal gets torn up here and grown men’s – now women’s – feelings get hurt. Helmets and heel guards get thrown, middle fingers proudly displayed and there might even be a fight or two. Everyone loves a good fight.

This weekend both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series head to Bristol with a lot on the line. Kyle Busch wants to make the track his own personal playground, again, by winning all three races as he did in 2010. He’s already got one. And if the tempers after last weekend’s race in Mid-Ohio were any indication, things could get ugly on Friday night.

As for the big show, it never disappoints. Under the bright lights and in primetime on Saturday, Bristol will be at her glory. She’s not one for the pomp and circumstance as a Daytona 500, or the flashiness in California and Hollywood. Nah, Bristol makes a driver work for the rewards while enjoying the roots and history she’s made for herself.

In March it was Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano igniting the fire. Hamlin having his last hoorah and maybe even happy moment of the season before suffering a broken back and subsequent slide from the spotlight and contention. Meanwhile it was Kasey Kahne adding his name to the list of those who have conquered Bristol.

The lights are about to come on and another show is set to begin. Welcome to Bristol, one of the tiniest yet mightiest of them all.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Fighting for a Chase Spot, Busch Calls Furniture Row a ‘Big Time Player’

By Kelly Crandall – Kurt Busch made much more of his opportunity Sunday at Michigan International Speedway than he had here in June.

Spinning himself out and taking away a shot at victory then, Busch took another strong No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet to the front. He led early laps, 20, and kept the team in contention for their first victory in the Pure Michigan 400 as the day progressed. In the end a solid third place finish was just as nice for Busch, who jumped back inside the top 10 in points.

“It was a good day for us, we battled hard and persevered and came through some of the sequences where we were putting on four tires and some of the other guys were putting on two, even saw some fuel only out there today,” Busch said on another season best finish.

“We stuck with our game plan and at one point we were buried deep, 14th on one of the restarts and I was a little frustrated at that point knowing we had a much better car but our weaknesses were restarts today and trying to maneuver in traffic.

“Low and behold, I get fired up, sometimes I get lucky, and an opening opened up on the outside and I think I came from 14th to sixth. It was a game changer, that one moment was our race. But to be in position and run well, just got to thank the guys. Furniture Row team is acting like a big time player right now, we have a little bit of weaknesses here and there but overall we keep posting good results and it’s very satisfying.”

There have been many lost opportunities for the single car team throughout the season but the solid and steady approach the last few weeks have them sniffing at the Chase. He’s now ninth with three races remaining, including Bristol this coming Saturday night where he’s won five times.

But for those looking for Busch to be chomping at the bit, and don’t believe he isn’t, there’s a calmness about the Las Vegas native. He’s been in this position before, having sat ninth in points earlier this year before falling back on the outside. Sunday there was mellowness about him, keeping the team updated on his stability, which he was very comfortable with all day, to simply relaying information about the car.

“It’s being focused, I’m excited that we’re running well and we’re able to seal the deal when that had been some of our struggles through the midpoint of the season,” said Busch on his lack of emotion.

“Now I’m just in that Chase mode where we have to get in and you can’t celebrate with a third place finish, you just have to feel confident and to know that you can go back next week and do it again. The biggest thing is just staying out of trouble. Bristol – trouble can happen at any corner, there’s going to be 500 laps that we have to perform there next week where we have to protect our car and finish well.”

Whether it’s Bristol, Atlanta or Richmond, Busch knows there can be a “fender bender” that puts him back outside the Chase. Blinders are on from here on out, excitement at a minimum. Sunday everything came together as the team needed it. Busch earned his sixth top five of the year and made the picture bigger just a little bit brighter. Except it wasn’t as easy as it seemed, Busch was logged back in traffic late in the race after the team had a slow pit stop.

He went from inside the top 10 to sitting 14th. Driving angry though, worked to Busch’s advantage, as did the outside lane when he rocketed back to fifth in two laps. Fuel mileage then entered the picture, but Busch was good until the end and capitalized on his position.

Three races now remain before the 10-week playoffs begin in Chicago. Busch has a victory at each of the three tracks and is six points ahead 11th place in the standings.

“This is tremendous, jumping in with the Furniture Row guys last year running six races together got a lot of the bugs worked out of it,” Busch did say about his current position.

“It allowed us to discover things about ourselves, weaknesses on the team. Each section through this season, every six races we can lump them together and say that we’ve improved every time we’ve gone though a chunk of six races at a time. And now here we are, we’re 23 races in, got three to go to get in the Chase and it’s an amazing feeling to be in position right now and have a group of guys from Denver, CO in the Chase right now and that’s what we got to do. Make sure that when the music stops, we’ve got a place.”

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EMAIL KELLY AT: kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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