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Development Journalists

Six Pack of Stats: Darlington

By Stephanie Adair – Tonight, Darlington Raceway will be stirring with excitement during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500. Seven races into the season, veteran drivers like @JimmieJohnson, @JeffGordonWeb, @MattKenseth and @DennyHamlin are surprisingly winless in 2014. What better place to change that than the track “Too Tough to Tame?”

While waiting for the green flag to drop, here is this week’s six-pack of interesting stats:

  • No driver has won from the pole in more than 15 years. The last to do this was Dale Jarett in 1997. @KevinHarvick will be looking to defy the odds tonight.
  •  @KurtBusch is the youngest driver to grab a pole (23 years, 29 days) and was last year’s Coors Light Pole winner. However, the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL (now Sprint) Cup Series champion has yet to win at the South Carolina track. With one win under his belt, will Busch capture the prestigious victory and become the second driver to garner a repeat win?
  • Only three drivers have won both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series race in the same weekend: Dale Earnhardt Sr. (1987), @MarkMartin (1993) and Denny Hamlin (2010).
  • Denny Hamlin, who has the best average finish at Darlington (5.4) and Jeff Gordon who holds the most wins there among active drivers (seven), have not visited Victory Lane this year. Will one of them change that today?
  • Many drivers have won back-to-back races here, yet only two have claimed three victories in a row. Those drivers are Dale Earnhardt Sr. (1989–1990) and Jeff Gordon (1995–1996).
  • Darlington Raceway is the only track on the NASCAR circuit that features an egg-like shape. When track developer Harold Brasington bought land from farmer Sherman Ramsey, he was told to not destroy one thing – a minnow pond that resides by what is now Turn 4. During construction, the track was tapered to stay within the agreement, creating its egg-shape. The pond that helped form Darlington Raceway’s challenging figure now bears the farmer’s name in respect.

Stephanie Adair is a Popular Speed Development Journalist

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kevin Harvick Puts No. 4 Chevrolet on Pole at Darlington

By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service) DARLINGTON, S.C.—Aric Almirola has the record, but Kevin Harvick has the starting spot that counts most after Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series knockout qualifying session at Darlington Raceway.

With a lap at 183.479 mph in the five-minute third round of time trials, Harvick won the Coors Light pole for Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at the egg-shaped 1.366-mile speedway.

The pole was Harvick’s first of the season, his first at Darlington and the seventh of his career.

Joey Logano earned the second spot with a lap of 183.049 mph and will start from the front row for the third time in eight Sprint Cup races this season. Almirola qualified third at 182.946 mph after setting a track record in the second of the three rounds.

Marcus Ambrose (182.485 mph) will start fourth Saturday night, followed by Brad Keselowski (182.059 mph) and Jamie McMurray (182.019 mph). Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, series points leader Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard and Martin Truex Jr. will start from positions seven through 12 on the grid.

Crew chief, Rodney Childers, himself a former driver, advised Harvick to change his racing line after the first round of time trials.

“I was on the bottom all day in practice, and Rodney felt like that, in order to get the pole, we were going to need to run the top after we ran our first run,” Harvick said. “That’s the driver in him. That’s why he’s good to have sitting there watching, because he knows what’s going on.

“He can relay–and also having (spotter) Tim Fedewa up on top—-as former drivers, knowing what’s going on, they can relay what you need to do. We moved up and picked up in the second (round). I felt like I didn’t roll through there fast enough. In the last one, I felt like I rolled through there pretty good.”

In the first round, which pared the number of drivers eligible for the pole from 44 to 24, Menard posted a best lap at 183.946 mph, breaking Kurt Busch’s previous track record of 181.918 mph, set May 10, 2013.

In round No. 2, Almirola one-upped Menard with a record lap at 184.145 mph on scuffed tires, despite having an electrical short in his No. 43 Ford that forced his team to push-start the car before it rolled onto the track.

“After that first session, when I tried to fire the car up, when I would go to turn the starter on and it would try to engage with the flywheel, the electrical system in the whole car would shut itself down,” Almirola said.

“We obviously had a short in our starter or something, and every time we would flick the starter switch on, it would shut the electrical system down, so we had to push-start it the last two sessions. It made it interesting trying to blend on the race track.”

In the second session, though, Almirola blended well enough to set the record.

Notes: Logano is the only driver to make the final round of all seven knockout qualifying sessions held so far. … David Reutimann failed to make the 43-car field. … Coming off a 43rd-place finish last Sunday at Texas—the result of an early accident—Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 15th. … Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson will take the green flag in 26th place after failing to advance to the second round of knockout qualifying.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying – Bojangles’ Southern 500

1. (4)  Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 183.479 mph.

2. (22)  Joey Logano, Ford, 183.049 mph.

3. (43)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 182.946 mph.

4. (9)  Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 182.485 mph.

5. (2)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 182.059 mph.

6. (1)  Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 182.019 mph.

7. (31)  Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 181.985 mph.

8. (18)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 181.763 mph.

9. (24)  Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 181.756 mph.

10. (11)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 181.548 mph.

11. (27)  Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 181.481 mph.

12. (78)  Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 181.200 mph.

13. (41)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 182.181 mph.

14. (55)  Brian Vickers, Toyota, 181.985 mph.

15. (88)  Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 181.689 mph.

16. (15)  Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 181.247 mph.

17. (42)  Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 181.194 mph.

18. (47)  AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 181.127 mph.

19. (16)  Greg Biffle, Ford, 180.947 mph.

20. (3)  Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 180.914 mph.

21. (99)  Carl Edwards, Ford, 180.901 mph.

22. (5)  Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 180.787 mph.

23. (14)  Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 180.185 mph.

24. (51)  Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 178.958 mph.

25. (20)  Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 182.059 mph.

26. (48)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 181.911 mph.

27. (38)  David Gilliland, Ford, 181.548 mph.

28. (17)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 181.394 mph.

29. (98)  Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 180.549 mph.

30. (7)  Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 180.330 mph.

31. (13)  Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 180.310 mph.

32. (34)  David Ragan, Ford, 180.204 mph.

33. (10)  Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 180.158 mph.

34. (23)  Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 179.993 mph.

35. (40)  Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 179.717 mph.

36. (77)  Dave Blaney, Ford, 179.606 mph.

37. (33)  David Stremme, Chevrolet, Owner Points

38. (30)  Parker Kligerman #, Toyota, Owner Points

39. (83)  Ryan Truex #, Toyota, Owner Points

40. (36)  Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Owner Points

41. (32)  Travis Kvapil, Ford, Owner Points

42. (26)  Cole Whitt #, Toyota, Owner Points

43. (66)  Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, Owner Points

1 driver failed to qualify.

44. (35)  David Reutimann, Ford, 178.491 mph.

Categories
Development Journalists

Bristol: Rookie Hits and Misses

By Katie Copple – The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series took to the treacherous turns of Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. For the eight rookie drivers, they got their first taste of short track racing for the season. Although Bristol is known to be tough for most drivers, especially rookies, there were a few who came away with impressive runs.

HITS:

Kyle Larson: Growing up racing short tracks in midget cars, Larson took that experience and applied it to his first Bristol start with Chip Ganassi Racing. With three top five finishes in the Nationwide Series at the track, including a runner-up finish Saturday, he was a favorite to excel on Sunday. Larson was fast on track during practice and earned his best finish of 10th in his eighth career start.

Austin Dillon: Another rookie with an impressive Nationwide Series resume, Austin Dillon, missed out on another top 10 finish. Finishing 11th on the lead lap, he managed to stay out of trouble and came home with his No. 3 Chevrolet in one piece. With three top 20 finishes this season, Dillon is off to a great start in his rookie campaign.

Justin Allgaier: Starting 30th, Allgaier fought his way to 17th earning the best finish of his Sprint Cup career. Just one lap down at the end of the race, he successfully avoided wrecks and spins to move up three spots in the driver standings to 26th.

Parker Kilgerman: The No. 30 of Kligerman sustained heavy damage in practice after Danica Patrick got loose and spun, clipping his right side. He had to go to a backup car and start from the rear. Kilgerman battled hard and finished 34th, moving up three spots in the standings. You can see a replay of the incident here.

Alex Bowman: He didn’t have the best finish but gained over 10k Twitter followers in just a few hours! Bowman caused a lot of controversy early in the race when the battery fell out of his No. 23 Toyota. Along with it came some sort of white packing material that was eerily similar to toilet paper. The strange incident came shortly before the rain delay. This gave the social media world and TV personalities like Darrell Waltrip ample time to discuss it, coming up with several jokes.

Michael Annett: Annett survived his first Cup start and came away with a 26th place finish, his best career finish in the series to date. With three top 10 finishes at the track in the Nationwide Series, this was a good weekend for him and his No. 7 Pilot Travel Centers/Flying J Chevrolet.

MISSES:

Ryan Truex: Bristol did not treat this rookie too kindly. Blowing a right front tire shortly after the race resumed, Truex slammed the wall hard and finished 42nd. You can check out the video replay here.

Cole Whitt: An incident with his former JR Motorsports teammate Danica Patrick ended Whitt’s night early. The two collided on the track and the contact sent his car spinning. He finished 40th after an impressive 18th place starting position. You can watch the clip on the incident here.

Katie Copple is a Popular Speed Development Journalist

Categories
Editorial

Burton Still Full-Time Despite Part-Time Schedule

By Chris Owens – I’ll be the first to admit, Daytona a few weeks ago was different not seeing a Burton in Sunday’s field.

With the announcement that Jeff Burton would be running a limited number of races in 2014, Daytona was the first time since 1993 that a Burton hadn’t been in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. In 2014 the older Burton, Jeff, will run a limited number of races for the newly formed Jay Robinson Racing.

While the team is a formation between Michael Waltrip Racing and Jay Robinson Racing, the car he’ll pilot in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas will come out of the MWR shop. And Burton says he’s ready to get back in the racecar. While he’s been out of the seat on Sunday for the first two races of the season, he’s been behind the wheel testing over the winter months.

“I am really looking forward to getting back in a race car this weekend. We spent a lot of time testing this winter. I really like the direction that Michael Waltrip Racing is heading. I really like my team and I am excited to see how our off season testing worked for us. I am excited to work with everyone at MWR and I am really excited to see what we have for them in Vegas,” said Burton

Las Vegas is a racetrack that Burton has had success at.  He’s won there twice, back in 1999 and 2000, both while driving Fords for Jack Roush.

Including the two wins, he’s collected five top-five finishes and eight top 10’s in 16 starts at the mile-and-a-half oval.

Sunday’s start will be the first of 10 races for the South Boston, Va. driver, and one that Burton says will be a challenge, but he’s looking forward to it. While he’s not quite sure of his full driving schedule for 2014, Burton says they have to play it smart with the races they choose.

We have a hard schedule, Vegas being very hard and there are other ones we feel pretty sure about that we’re going to run, but we haven’t really talked about it yet so we might change our mind. We’re going to run where it makes sense,” he said.

“Having more teams doesn’t make us better, right? So, what we have to do is run when it’s smart. We got to run where it makes sense to run and not just run because we want to run. It’s got to be part of a plan and if it’s not, we’re making a mistake.”

Don’t think Burton hasn’t been busy since stepping out of the racecar full-time. In December, NBC Sports announced Burton was the first hire for its 2015 broadcasting team.

With NBC Sports’ contract with NASCAR starting in 2015, the sports group rolled out a new NASCAR new show called “NASCAR America” after the Daytona 500. Burton will serve as an analyst on the weekday show. While he doesn’t start as a commentator until next year, Burton says his time on the show will help him with a number of things

“Just from a production standpoint, and how everything works, and getting comfortable with someone talking while your talking, those kind of things,“ Burton told Popular Speed.

“Calling a live race is going to be a little more challenging because – although we don’t really rehearse or anything, we know what we’re going to talk about. Well we know where we’re going to start, it might change, but we know what we’re going to start with. When you’re calling a live race, you don’t ever know what’s coming, so it’s going to be different. But I just think, the production side of it – and I think people just getting use to me as a commentator versus a driver, I think that’s a good thing”

But that’s not all Burton has been doing over the winter months.  He’s also helped his son, Harrison Burton, in his Pro Late Model car.  Just recently, young Harrison won the biggest Pro Late Model event of the New Smyrna Speedweeks.

One of the biggest reason Burton decided to step out of the seat full-time was his children.

Well part of the decision process for me was, my daughter is a senior in high school, getting ready to graduate and go to college. Harrison is doing his thing and the timing was right for me to just back off and pay a little more attention to them,” Burton said. “I feel like Harrison and I have a good relationship, not only as father and son, but also as a coach. He listens to me, I think that helps him, and it helps me understand what’s going on instead of watching on a video or something.”

While Harrison and his sister Paige have both found success in what they do, Jeff say’s he doesn’t find enjoyment in his kids success, but rather what they learned while working towards that success.

“The thing that I believe in is that we want to be successful in whatever it is that we do. My enjoyment in watching my kids isn’t necessarily winning on a Saturday afternoon, but what they did a month ago on a Tuesday that allowed them to succeed.”

“Through sports, I think we learn a lot about ourselves and I think it pushes us to – it pushes our ethics, it pushes our commitment, it pushes a lot of things inside of you. You learn a lot about yourselves from the things that you don’t do well, you can work on them and be better. Now can you – can a guy without God given talent be as good as Lebron James? No. But you can improve and be the best you can be. And I think that’s a lesson in life.

“I’m not raising an equestrian rider and a racecar driver; I’m raising a human being. Everybody’s like you’re raising your son to be a Cup driver and I’m not. I’m trying to raise kids to be good adults to those around them. I think sports pushes that, it makes it happen quicker.”

Now, Jeff Burton returns to a place he’s familiar with, the seat of an 800 horsepower Sprint Cup car on Sunday in Las Vegas. Although it’s a new team, Burton is ready to get back up to speed.

EMAIL CHRIS AT chris.owens@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ChrisOwens62