Time Is Short But Ryan Newman Still In Mix For ‘Wildcard’ Spot

Ryan Newman is very much in the battle for a spot in the Chase as a "wildcard" entry. He is currently in 14th place in the point standings and has one victory this season.

To all Ryan Newman friends and fans: Please excuse me.

A few days ago when I wrote about the challenges three specific drivers – Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano – faced to make the Chase, I don’t want anyone to think I had forgotten Newman.

I hadn’t, not at all. My intention was to follow up with a separate article about the Stewart Haas Racing driver.

However, in my last piece, what I did forget to do was to make it known that Newman was very much in the mix.

It just slipped my mind. Good grief, I’m not sure my memory pills are helping. Just kidding, of course.

See, Newman is 14th in points with a victory, at Martinsville, and is 70 points out of the top 10 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings.

Newman is ranked No. 3 in the “wildcard” standings behind Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch, who are, as of now, the leading contenders outside of the top 10 to make the Chase.

Kahne is 13th in points with two victories. As it is now, his two wins are highest among those not in the top 10 in points. Presently he has something of a comfort zone.

But Busch, 11th in points, is ahead of Kahne in the standings and is 55 points out of 10th. If he wins for a second time he strengthens his hold on a “wildcard” spot.

If Logano, who is 17th in points and drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, can win for a second time this season, he, too, will rise as one of the two contenders for a “wildcard” entry.

Newman equates with Busch and Logano. He is 14th in points, 70 out of 10th, but a second victory will accomplish, for him, what it will also do for his rivals – it will put him at the point of “wildcard” contention.

However, for the South Bend, Ind., native, another victory may not be easy.

Newman's only win so far this season came at Martinsville in April. He has not won since, but over the three races prior to Pocono this weekend he has earned consecutive top-10 finishes.

Although he won at Martinsville in April, Newman hasn’t had a sniff at victory since. In fact he has finished among the top 10 only three times.

However, those finishes have come in the last three weeks, which has to be considered, competitively, as a positive.

Newman was fifth at Daytona, 10th at New Hampshire and seventh at Indy. During that span, he rose from 15th to 14th in points.

But there are only six races remaining before the Chase begins. For Newman, and his rivals, time is running short.

Unlike some – not all – of them, Newman can make it in more than one way. If he puts together a string of top-five runs, that could, under favorable circumstances, move him into the top10.

Or, perhaps even better, he can win again which might give him an edge regardless of where he stands in points.

Betcha he’s hoping he can accomplish the latter.

The numbers say he’s got a reasonable chance.

In the six races leading up to the Chase last year, Newman finished among the top 10 four times. His best runs were fifth at Michigan and at Pocono.

As it turns out, the Sprint Cup schedule returns to Pocono this weekend.

“Pocono is one of my favorite tracks because it is so difficult,” Newman said. “I like it because it is challenging. It’s fun to drive.

“Each corner is different. There’s a different radius, banking and bumps. Each straightaway is a different length.

“It’s a crew chief’s race track because he has to get the car to the driver’s liking in all three corners. It’s about matching how a crew chief sets up the car relative to how the driver races it to make a happy package.”

Newman won at Pocono in 2002 and his best finish since has been a second in 2007.  At Pocono in June of this year, he finished 12th.

“We had a shot at a top-five finish there,” Newman said, “but I got too aggressive on the final restart and that ended up costing us a top 10.”

The Stewart Haas team brings to Pocono the same car it ran at Indy, which satisfies Newman.

“We always talk about how much Indianapolis and Pocono are alike,” Newman said. “So it made a lot of sense for us to make the decision to bring the Indy car to Pocono.”

Newman may like Pocono. He may like the car in which he will compete this weekend. He may feel that he has a good chance to earn a second victory.

But, of course, nothing is assured. In racing, it never is.

“We had hoped that by now we would be in the top 10 and not have to fall back on our win at Martinsville,” Newman said. “We all know we need another win.

“But I’m not necessarily doing anything differently. Every time we come to a track, the goal is to win.

“It will be the same thing at Pocono and beyond. We will go to win and, hopefully, we can do that and get a spot in the Chase.”

His rivals for entry into the Chase share Newman’s intentions and, certainly, his goal.

Wit six races remaining it won’t take us very long to learn who reaches that goal.

 

 

 

 

 

Gordon, Edwards, Logano: Seems It’s Time For Desperation Strategy

Carl Edwards is in a fight to make the Chase this year after he tied for the championship with Tony Stewart last season. Engine problems at Indianapolis did not help his cause.

For Jeff Gordon the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was satisfying yet, unfortunately, unrewarding.

For Carl Edwards and Joey Logano it was neither.

And, as it stands now, none of the three is likely to make this year’s edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The odds stand against them.

Of course, the odds can be beaten, right?

In the current “wildcard” standings – which are composed of those drivers not among the top 10 in points – Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch are at the top.

Kahne is 13th in points but, more important, he has two victories. The final two entries into the Chase will come from those drivers outside the top 10 with the most victories.

Busch is 11th in points and has an insurance policy with one victory.

If the Chase began tomorrow, Kahne and Busch would be in. Gordon, Edwards and Logano would not.

However, the Chase does not begin tomorrow. It will begin after the Richmond race scheduled for Sept. 8 – six races from now.

Yes, anything can happen but at this point, Kahne has a comfort level. Busch is by no means a certainty but at the least he does not have to take chances.

Not so for Gordon, Edwards and Logano. It’s time for desperate measures, especially after the Brickyard 400.

Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champion with Hendrick Motorsports, has won the Brickyard 400 four times. So has teammate Jimmie Johnson, this year’s winner.

Gordon finished fifth at Indy and, with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fourth-place run, that gave Hendrick three drivers among the top five.

Incidentally, Earnhardt Jr. is now the points leader for the first time since 2004.

Gordon has not finished worse than 12th,which includes three finishes of sixth and two of fifth, in his last seven races.

That is decidedly better than his efforts earlier this season. During one nine-race stretch, he finished among the top 10 only once – and beyond the top 20 six times.

While Joey Logano does have a win this season to help his efforts to make the Chase, he dropped to 17th in points after being involved in an accident in the Brickyard 400.

He came into Indy 17th in points and, obviously, in need of victory – make that victories – to make the Chase.

Victory didn’t come at Indy. Fifth place was nice and it lifted him to 15th in points, but …“I’m pretty disappointed really,” Gordon said.

“It’s always nice to finish in the top five but at this point in the season, the way our season has gone with so many missed opportunities that we’ve had, I feel like it was a little bit of a missed opportunity.

“We needed track position there at the end and we didn’t get it when it counted most and it cost us.”

For Edwards and Logano, well, there’s no question they did not get what they needed at Indy. Fact is both had a miserable day.

Edwards, in his first start with new crew chief Chad Norris, suffered an engine malady early in the race, fell well behind and finished 29th, four laps down.

He is now12th in points, 61 out of 10th place. He has yet to win this season.

And, as has been duly recorded, Edwards finished in a tie with Tony Stewart for last year’s title but lost because of the tiebreaker.

Stewart had five wins for the season – all of which came during the Chase – Edwards only one.

“I think we are officially racing only for wins,” Edwards said. “We were going over what happened at Indy while it is fresh in our mind to determine the best strategy.

“Chad and I want to make sure they all know that we do not quit. We keep going. We don’t give up. We put our best effort out there and if it is meant to be, it will be.”

As if Edwards’ season has not been difficult enough, it might have been made more troublesome with the departure of crew chief Bob Osborne a week ago due to health reasons.

Even Edwards admitted it was unexpected.

“We all sat down on Monday and talked about it and Bob kind of let us in on all he has been going through,” Edwards said. “We all decided that his departure was the best course of action.

“The thing is we are all behind Bob 100 percent and hope he gets better and feels better. He is still able to contribute in a huge way with our team.”

When asked if he could elaborate on Osborne’s health problems, Edwards said: “No, I cannot.”

He added that to make the Chase his strategy, and that of his Roush Fenway Racing team, is simple.

“I think it will involve lots of pushing on the right pedal and turning left and going as fast as possible,” Edwards said. “We have to take chances.

“We have to go race. We can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice.

“We just go race for wins. I wouldn’t bet against us. We can do it.”

Logano was involved in a multicar wreck with Matt Kenseth and Bobby Labonte, and he ultimately finished 33rd, 16 laps down.

He is now 17th in points, 99 out of 10th – but he does have one victory.

That, at the moment, gives him an edge over Edwards and Gordon.

But, when it comes to the Chase, not much else. Which means he’s among a trio of drivers who now, it seems, must resort to desperate measures.

 

 

 

With Victory, Jimmie Johnson Adds To Hendrick Glory At Indy

Jimmie Johnson won the Brickyard 400 for the fourth time in his career. He and Jeff Gordon have combined to win eight races at Indy for Hendrick Motorsports.

SPEEDWAY, Ind-The list of NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers who have won at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the past 19 seasons is short. But it is composed of some of stock car racing’s most iconic stars.

Two are from Hendrick Motorsports, the Concord, N.C.-based powerhouse organization that has dominated the win column at IMS with eight victories in 19 years.

Hendrick’s success dates back to the race’s inaugural running in 1994, when Jeff Gordon drove to victory lane in the Brickyard 400, the second most prestigious NASCAR race, behind on the season-opening Daytona 500.

Gordon went on to win at Indy three more times for a total of four victories.

Jimmie Johnson, another of Rick Hendrick’s championship drivers, is now another four-time victor at IMS with his strong, winning performance in the 2012 Brickyard 400.

Johnson won what was officially known as Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at The Brickyard by a staggering 4.758 seconds over Kyle Busch. The victory was Johnson’s third of the 2012 season. He is fourth in the point standings.

Johnson joins Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears, Michael Schumacher – and Gordon – as four-time winners at Indianapolis

“To come here and win is a huge honor, then to have four wins – I’m at a loss for words,” Johnson said. “I can tell you this, I’m so proud of my team. I’m so proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.

“(Crew chief) Chad Knaus gave me one heck of a race car today and pit road was awesome, too. It was a total team effort and we put it on them today that was nice.”

Johnson was especially appreciative of Gordon, what he has accomplished at IMS, and memories of coming to the track as a child – with a dream to win at the track in an Indy car.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth at Indy and that, along with Matt Kenseth's accident early in the race, has moved Earnhardt Jr. into first place in the point standings.

“I looked up to him (Gordon) and it’s really wild for me to get my start driving a Cup car for him,” Johnson said. “To tie (Gordon and hero Mears) and what they’ve accomplished, again, I just hoped to come here and race. I had no idea this would turn out.

“I can remember how I watched the Indianapolis 500 with my grandfather and my dad sitting on the couch. My grandfather told me stories about Indy and that he came here and was at the race track.

“I’m glad to have my own memories here for my family and also I must say I couldn’t do it without the support of my wife and daughter. It’s a total team effort on all fronts.”

Finishing third was Greg Biffle, followed by Hendrick Motorsports drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon. Pole position winner Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart rounded out the top 10.

The impressive top-five finish propelled Earnhardt Jr. into the Sprint Cup points lead. It’s the first time he has been in that position since 2004 at Talladega Superspeedway.

“We were looking forward to this race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We wanted to run well here and wanted to win this race. We want to get a trophy here and go to victory lane. One of our teammates was able to do that so we are proud for the company.

“We’re happy with the finish. We are ready to start seeing a little bit more materialize for us. We’re really happy with what we are doing and trying to keep our minds focused on what is working for us.”

Matt Kenseth, driver of the Roush Fenway Racing Ford, fell to second in points after dropping to 35th in the race.

Kenseth was involved in a multi-car crash with Joey Logano and Bobby Labonte on lap 132 as he attempted to go high to move around the crash. He held the points lead since June 10th at Pocono Raceway.

Kenseth is considered a lame duck of sorts, having previously announced he will be leaving Roush at season’s end to drive for another team. He hopes to give team owner Jack Roush a championship before he leaves.

“Yeah, it is frustrating,” Kenseth said. “I got hung out on the restart which is one thing. I was trying to get through there and Tony Stewart wiped the whole side off my car in the straightaway for no reason and that kind of made me mad.

“I was in front of the Marcos Ambrose and saw he had a run, so I went down to block and he went across the grass and shot me up out of the groove there.

“It is crazy there at the end. You could see the wreck happening and I was just hoping I wasn’t going to be in it.”

Gordon ran strong throughout the 160-lap race. The former resident of nearby Pittsboro would have loved a fifth win at IMS, but was happy for Johnson and the No. 48 team he co-owns with Hendrick.

“I don’t think we could have passed Jimmie,” Gordon said. “Those guys were definitely the class of the field today and had the track position. They’re a strong team. They deserve that win today.

“I’m pretty disappointed really. It’s always nice to finish in the top five but at this point in the season, the way our season has gone with so many missed opportunities that we’ve had, I feel like it was a little bit of a missed opportunity today. We needed track position there at the end and we didn’t get it when it counted most and it cost us.”

Considering all the frustration and disappointment Earnhardt Jr. has been through over the past few seasons, Gordon was happy to see him take the point lead.

“I give them a lot of credit,” Gordon said. “It’s really awesome that they’re out front. They’ve been consistent and if they can keep that consistency up and maybe even take it up a notch when the Chase starts, they’re going to be a real threat for the championship. So, they’re running good.

“It’s good to see it. I’

Drivers Yearn To Win At Historic Indianapolis, But It’s Never Easy

Denny Hamlin, who won the pole for the Brickyard 400, says changing weather conditions can greatly affect handling at Indy.

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Every NASCAR Sprint Cup driver can tell you why they so badly want to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But they differ somewhat on how to do it.

When the Brickyard 400 gets the green flag today, it will mark the 19th time NASCAR has conducted a race on the historic 2.5-mile Indy track.

And drivers will be trying to win just as hard as they did in the first one back in1994.

True, a driver tries to win any race he’s in. But the motivation to do so today isn’t based so much on the race alone. It exists because it’s at Indianapolis.

As has been said many times, Indy is hallowed ground. Over the decades it has become a motorsports shrine, largely due to the growth, and impact, of the Indianapolis 500 – called the single largest sporting event in the United States.

Some of the greatest drivers in racing history, Foyt, Mears, Andretti, the Unsers and so many others, have enriched their legends with victories at Indy.

While growing up and nurturing their future careers, many drivers dreamed of winning at Indy.

For years, when it came to Indy, stock car drivers were on the outside looking in. Even so, they coveted an opportunity to race there.

They’ve had that opportunity for 19 years now. And the Indy aura hasn’t faded one bit.

“When you come to this race track you know you are some place special,” said three-time Indy winner Jimmie Johnson. “After 11 years of racing, it still has the same feel for me.”

“This is Indianapolis and as a kid you grow up wanting to race Indy Cars and race in the Indy 500,” said Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress Racing. “Just to come to Indy and be able to race and be fortunate to win is something you will always remember.

“You can feel the rich history. You can see it and I think everybody respects that.”

Carl Edwards, on the front row at Indy, is one of many drivers who recognizes the history and tradition of the Brickyard.

“I think the opportunity to win would be unreal,” said Roush Fenway Racing’s Carl Edwards, who needs victories if he is going to make this year’s Chase. “Last night I took my brother out and we drove a little cart and we went out on the race track.

“We were like eight-year-olds talking about how awesome it was to be at Indianapolis on the race track.”

While it is true that some of Open Wheel racing’s greatest drivers have won at Indy, some of them more than once, the list of Brickyard 400 winners is composed of some of NASCAR’s most accomplished superstars.

Jeff Gordon has won four 400s, tops among all Cup drivers, while, as said, Johnson, Gordon’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, has won three times. Tony Stewart, like Gordon an Indiana native, has won it twice.

Other notable winners are Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd and Bobby Labonte.

But the race has also had some surprise winners – especially over the last two years.

Jamie McMurray won in 2010, the same year in which he also won the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.

Last year Paul Menard outran Gordon to the checkered flag to win for the first time in his career. Indy has played a significant role in his family’s racing history.

“I watched a video of last year’s race yesterday at home,” Edwards said, “and my heart was beating in my chest watching Paul hold off Jeff for those last few laps.

“I was watching on my laptop and was getting anxious and nervous watching Paul. That’s how special this race is.”

It’s been firmly established that the Brickyard 400 is special. But what do you have to do to win such a special, meaningful race?

Here’s where opinions vary.

Unlike other 2.5-mile superspeedways, Indy is flat. There is minimal banking in the turns – which means that while speed is obviously necessary, tire grip and proper balance count for a great deal.

“Indianapolis is probably one of the trickiest tracks we go to on the schedule,” Kyle Busch said. “Pocono is one and Darlington is another.

“It’s so hard to find a line that really, really works for you or works for your car because the groove is so narrow. It’s plenty wide for one and one-half cars, but the line you run around here, you vary six inches and it’s so different.”

“If you make a mistake here or your car isn’t handling like you need in the turns – it’s loose or it’s tight – you have such a long straightaway to pay the penalty,” Johnson said. “A tenth in the corner translates to three or four tenths at the end of the backstretch or frontstretch.”

“You have to be very particular in car setup,” added Busch. “You go from practice, where there’s not a lot of rubber on the track, to the race with a lot of rubber on it.

“The trajectory of the corners changes. So how wide do you enter the corner? How sharp do you turn down?”

As it is at almost every race, tire management is important at Indy. But changing conditions can make that somewhat worrisome.

“We never put on a set of tires in practice,” said Biffle, who was quickest in “Happy Hour” at 181.499 mph. “We just worked on the old set of tires. I’ll be curious to see if the track picks up speed or grip.”

“When it comes to grip, Indianapolis is finicky,” said pole winner Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing. “It’s very weather sensitive. When the sun comes out, the handling of the car changes completely.

“You are constantly battling with that. You are battling the weather as much as you are battling the handling of the car or tire wear.”

It’s obvious many things have to be considered when it comes to preparation for a race at Indy. Teams strive for perfection – but then, they know a little good luck can help.

As much as the drivers want to win at Indianapolis, they know it is never an easy task.

“Experience does pay,” Johnson said. “It took me a long time to figure this place out.

“It’s one of the most demanding tracks we’re on from a driver’s mental capacity and line-specific. If you slip up at other ovals you can run in the second or third lane.

“You can’t do that here. You will lose way too much time.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyle Busch Confident As Hectic Day For Cup Cars At Indy Moves In

Kyle Busch was the fastest driver in final practice for the Nationwide Series race, which is part of a hectic Saturday schedule at Indianapolis.

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – It was kind of surreal.

On a Friday, just two days before the Brickyard 400, there wasn’t a single NASCAR Sprint Cup car on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

There was no practice, no qualifying – nothing.

This was unlike anything in the past. Normally, a Friday before what is generally accepted as NASCAR’s second-most prestigious race would be a day swarming with activity.

The garage area would be teeming with crewmen scattering in every direction as they went about their tasks. Whistles would be shrilling constantly, warning everyone that a rumbling car was on it way to the track – or coming back to the garage.

But on this Friday, there was none of that.

That’s because NASCAR’s weekend schedule at the Brickyard has changed radically. The Sprint Cup race is still the highlight event on Sunday, of course, but it is now accompanied by companion events in the Grand-Am Series and the Nationwide Series.

The new schedule had practice for the Nationwide cars on Thursday and Friday was turned over completely to the Grand-Am sports cars.

Then, well, talk about a busy day – on Saturday Sprint Cup cars would have two practice sessions, followed by qualifying for the Nationwide Series, then Cup qualifying. Finally, at 4:30 p.m., the inaugural Indiana 250 Nationwide race would get the green flag.

That’s a packed schedule …

Most Cup drivers were not at the track on Friday. Those that were either had personal appearances or chose to watch the Grand-Am events.

A few, such as Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray, competed in the Grand-Am races.

Many more Cup drivers were active on Thursday as part of two (and only) practice sessions for the Nationwide event, which will be conducted at the Brickyard for the first time after years at nearby Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Busch is in his fifth season with Joe Gibbs Racing and hopes to be the third driver from the team, along with Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte, to win at Indy.

Seven of the 10 fastest cars in the final practice session were driven by Cup regulars – which should come as no surprise, given that they are far more familiar with Indy’s 2.5-mile oval.

The Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle, posted the two fastest speeds of the day. Kyle led the way with a speed of 175.838 mph, over a mile per hour quicker than his sibling.

“It felt good for the first time here,” Kyle said. “We’ve just been trying to make the car snug to make it better in the long run. You’ve got to be snug here because the place is so flat.

“Hopefully the car will stay with us all day Saturday.”

Speaking of Saturday, the younger Busch knows – as do all other Cup drivers – that it is going to be very hectic, which means there will be precious little time to make any needed adjustments.

“It’s going to be tight for the crews,” Kyle said. “Their time to relax for a little bit in the garage is not going to happen because they will be swapping back and forth between practice, qualifying and races. There’s a lot to do.

“It is a tight schedule. It’s a good thing I’m not a rookie and I’ve been here a few times in the Cup cars, so the limited time shouldn’t be a problem.”

Regardless of where he qualifies, Kyle will be considered a victory contender in the Nationwide race. He hasn’t won in 2012, but it’s hard to ignore the fact he has 51 series wins, including 13 in 2010.

As for the Sprint Cup circuit, Kyle is 13th in points with one victory. He is currently ranked as the No. 2, and final, candidate for a “wildcard” spot, behind Kasey Kahne.

That’s good, but it could be better.

Even though it is the Brickyard 400, Kyle, whose best finish was a fourth in 2007, maintains there is no real change in his strategy to make the Chase.

“You have to approach the races leading up to the Chase the way you have all the other races all season,” he said. “You go there and try to do the best job you can.

“You want to win on any weekend, so all through practice you try to figure out what you need in you car to make it the fastest you can.

“If the car handles and drives well, you can try a little harder to make speed out of it.”

Now in his fifth season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle hopes to join two former Gibbs drivers – Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte – as a winner at the Brickyard.

“I’m wishing I can put my name on that list by getting a win and running up front,” Kyle said. “You always want to win the big races, the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Brickyard 400, before your career is over.”

For Kyle, like it will be for every other driver, the opportunity to win at Indy will be greater if, on Saturday, total preparation is complete – and the sooner the better.

 

 

 

Young ‘Phenom’ Jeff Gordon Showed His Worth Early And Often

It wasn't very long after Jeff Gordon made his debut in NASCAR Cup racing that he began to win races and earn a reputation as a young "phenom."

I was watching when a young phenom named Jeff Gordon entered the NASCAR Winston Cup scene. Young, different, polished and mustached, he was far from the good ol’ boys I was introduced to in my first years of watching Cup.

Gordon was, and looked like, a child but he knew how to wrangle a car. His debut came in 1992 in Atlanta, the very last race of the season and the final curtain call for the sport’s most visible star, Richard Petty.

For Gordon, ascension in the sport soon followed. Words like “dominant,” “unbelievable,” “talented” and “upstart” were bandied about constantly.

Gordon won races, collected championships. Then came gossip about, first, a forbidden romance, then a wedding and later a broken marriage.

When the successful duo of crew chief Ray Evernham and driver Gordon parted after three championships there was talk of the end of a short-lived but stellar era.

But Gordon won again. He won races then another championship with crew chief Robbie Loomis. Gordon now had earned four titles.

Being a Dale Earnhardt fan I never, in good conscience, called myself a Gordon fan. But, I did like him. I couldn’t help myself. Not only did the man have enormous talent and parlay that into wins and championships, he was, for what it’s worth, my peer. Gordon is only one year older.

At a time when most of the drivers had a decade or more (a lot more in some cases) on me, it was exciting to see someone with whom I could identify win on the track.

This was a time long before drivers may have started their Cup careers in their late twenties or older – like Joey Logano. This was a time when Harry Gant wowed and thrilled race fans with his can’t-lose string in his fifties, earning the name “Mr. September.” Youth was missing and certainly wasn’t dominating.

But I couldn’t help but be dazzled by Gordon. As the Crown Royal Presents The Curtiss Shaver 400 At The Brickyard 400 Powered By BigMachineRecords.com runs this weekend – hold on, I’m tired from typing all of that – my thoughts do turn to the inaugural race run at Indianapolis back in 1994.

Gordon, as you recall, won the race and solidified his place in the annals of NASCAR’s storied history – at the tender age of 23.

A few years later my father presented my husband a collectible plaque with Gordon’s picture next to a stamp of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, tying the two together. It was a gorgeous piece, but we were Earnhardt fans and found it to be a “dust collector” and sold it at a garage sale years later for a song.

Driving for team owner Rick Hendrick (left), and with Ray Evernham as his crew chief, Gordon went on to win three Sprint Cup championships.

I still kick myself about that. But hindsight is 20/20. At the time I was adamant about Earnhardt as my one and only driver. It was much later in my NASCAR fandom that I grew accepting and respectful of all the drivers in the field.

With four victories to date at Indy, Gordon still holds the record for most wins at the Brickyard 400.

Gordon is sure to be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. His accomplishments have made me soar. In addition I’ve been pleased for him personally as I watched him fall in love, get married, and create a lovely family.

It’s been difficult to watch him struggle this season. His chances for making the Chase are shrinking. It concerns me that he may not make it or even win a race this year.

Gordon isn’t finished; at least I hope he’s not. There are legions of Gordon fans still waiting to witness the “Drive for Five” so they can celebrate a fifth championship with Gordon. I’ll cheer with all of the rest.

In the meantime, I’ll be cheering loudly for Gordon to revisit victory lane at Indy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JUNIOR JOHNSON: With Labonte, Quest For Victory Arduous In ‘87

Back in 1987, Junior Johnson had steady Terry Labonte as his driver and the season progressed nicely. But that was all that could be said about it. Johnson's team didn't win until very late in the season.

Junior Johnson’s first-year association with driver Terry Labonte was, by nearly all standards, a good one.

Labonte was considered a steady, calculating drive. In 1987, was made abundantly clear.

Junior Johnson & Associates was competitive and a championship contender throughout the season. But week after week passed and still it did not win.

Nevertheless, to be in contention was an achievement, especially since Dale Earnhardt emerged as the year’s dominant driver – which is putting it mildly – and seemed certain to rocket toward another Winston Cup title.

As the season rolled to its conclusion Johnson put championship hopes aside. There was a more pressing need: To win.

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

With Terry, as I’ve said before, we were steady. What I mean by that is we were plodding along. We sure weren’t crushing the competition.

Through about two-thirds of the season, we were still in championship contention, but we couldn’t advance our position for a couple of reasons.

First, we hadn’t won. Terry finished among the top 10 in seven of the 10 races following the harrowing Talladega event in early May. That included a third-place finish at Dover and a second place on the road course at Watkins Glen.

At Michigan on Aug. 16, we suffered a broken water pump and wound up 33rd, our worst performance of the year.

And we still hadn’t won a single race. There were only 10 races to be run over less than four months before the season was over.

Yeah, I was concerned. But I didn’t panic. Nor did anyone at Junior Johnson & Associates.

But you could say that over the course of the next three races after Michigan, maybe we should have.

It was Dale who went on a tear – again. He had already won four straight races at the beginning of the season amid a string of six wins in the year’s first nine events.

That put him in first place in the point standings and he stayed there.

Labonte had a wealth of good finishes driving for Johnson but some bad luck - and the domination of Dale Earnhardt - meant he would not win a second career title in 1987.

Then, after Michigan, Dale’s heels caught fire again. He won the next three races, at Bristol, Darlington and Richmond.

The Richmond victory was Dale’s 11th in 22 races, including all six events run on the short tracks up to that time.

Talk about humbling. It was common knowledge that when it came to Richmond, North Wilkesboro, Bristol and Martinsville, Junior Johnson & Associates was the team to beat.

And beaten it was in 1987.

Again, during that three-race stretch, Terry was steady. He was fourth at Bristol, fifth at Darlington and ninth at Bristol.

However, when it came to a shot at the championship, well, hope was fading quickly. With seven races to go, we still had not won.

Ricky Rudd won at Dover and then, at Martinsville – yes, a short track – what I thought would be an excellent chance for our first victory was foiled by, of all people, Darrell.

He won his first race since he left me for Hendrick Motorsports.

And I have to admit I was somewhat aggravated at how he did it.

Darrell had been a lap down at one point, but circumstances allowed him to make up that distance.

Then a caution came out with seven laps to go. At that time, Dale was in first place and Terry second. Darrell was able to move up to third on the restart.

With three laps to go Terry made a nifty move to take the lead away from Dale and I thought we were home free – at last.

On the last lap Dale pinched Terry at the start of the backstretch. Darrell then plowed into Terry and push him back into Dale.

Dale saved his car – barely. But Terry looped our Chevrolet. With all of that, Darrell found a path to the inside and went on to win. Dale was second, Terry third.

I wasn’t happy, not at all. I thought Darrell had deliberately played rough.

Terry was also upset. He said Dale had deliberately tried to put him into the wall in the second turn and then Darrell never lifted as he and Terry went into the third turn.

I remember that Terry said, “Reckon it was one of those deals where you win any way you can.”

I guess NASCAR thought the same thing. It studied tape and said it was all a racing incident. No penalties would be assessed.

That didn’t mean a darn thing to me. All I knew was my former driver wrecked my current driver to win a race – and there was no way I could be happy about that.

We got our revenge, and our first victory, at the next race in North Wilkesboro – our home track.

But it wasn’t easy. Just 38 laps into the race, Terry suffered a cut tire and nearly plowed into the wall.

I told him to park the car on the track until NASCAR threw a caution flag. Sure enough, that’s what happened and we were able to put new tires on our Chevrolet under the yellow flag.

It pretty much saved us.

Terry battled with Dale throughout the race. They were the only two drivers on the lead lap when the last round of pit stops began.

Our crew was in top form that day. It pulled off a 12.3-second pit stop and that put Terry a car length ahead of Dale.

That was enough to assure the victory.

It was Terry’s fist win with our team and the seventh of his career.

And for me, well, there was a sense of relief.

After all, I hadn’t been winless as a team owner since 1966.

Turns out North Wilkesboro would be the high point of the year.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ‘Dewing’ Something Amazing – Fantasy Insight Indy

Dale arnhardt, Jr

Lost amid the speculation of the AJ Allmendinger drug test is a story that should be getting media members fired up. After the first 19 races Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the only driver to finish every lap this season. How significant is this accomplishment? No driver in the modern era of NASCAR has ever gone this many races into a season and finished on the lead lap in every race! Not the great Richard Petty. Jimmie Johnson never did this. Not even his Daddy accomplished this amazing feat. Dale Earnhardt Jr is “Dewing”  something amazing this season!

I can already hear the naysayers and the Junior haters screaming, “Well of course he has been able to finish on the lead lap he can get the ‘Lucky Dog’ every race so it really doesn’t mean anything.” Would it surprise you to hear that only one time all season Earnhardt Jr needed the “Lucky Dog” to get back on the lead lap? (Darlington) This rule is also available to every single driver in NASCAR but not a single one of his fellow drivers has finished all of the laps. Only Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle come close, missing one and two laps, respectively. How do the other drivers in Cup compare on “Lucky Dog” usage this season?

Seventeen drivers have used three or more “Lucky Dog” awards this year with Ryan Newman leading the league with seven. Thirty-six different drivers have used the award in the first nineteen races of the season. Carl Edwards, last year’s runnerup in the NASCAR Sprint Cup division has used the award four times. Only two drivers in the top 25 in points have not used a “Lucky Dog” all season. (Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.) Here is a list of the cars that have used the “Lucky Dog” three or more times this year.

Car

Total

39

7

22

5

10

4

27

4

36

4

47

4

83

4

93

4

99

4

11

3

14

3

15

3

20

3

34

3

42

3

51

3

55

3

Earnhardt Jr. isn’t getting to Victory Lane with the regularity the Junior Nation would like to see, but consistency pays off in NASCAR Fantasy Racing. Finishing on the lead lap in each of the first 19 races might be one of the more amazing feats accomplished in NASCAR for us stats freaks. Can he keep this streak going all season? Until this team has a bad race you better include Junior on your fantasy racing team each and every week no matter which track the series is visiting.

Good luck with your fantasy racing picks this week and don’t forget to send in your pick for “Whiteboard Fantasy Racing” this week for the big race at Indy.

Send in your pick to win this week’s Cup race to dennis@racetalkradio.com for a chance to win a copy of the National Speedway Directory from SpeedwaysOnline.com.

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Winner Last Week

Mark Martin

Mike N picked the winner at New Hampshire

Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Top Ten After New Hampshire

Rank

Player

Total

1

RA

38

2

Gertie

35

3

LAM

33

4T

Carbon

31

4T

Grainger

31

6T

Rick

24

6T

Chris U

24

8

Aaron C

22

9T

DMIC

21

9T

Mike N

21

 

Weather Report

Mostly sunny with a green flag temperature of 84F and a high temperature of 87F 

If you have a question about Fantasy Racing send it to dennis@racetalkradio.com and get it answered next week. 

NASCAR by the Numbers- Lubricated by TheOilMedics.com

Using a proprietary race analysis technique we take the fans inside the numbers every week. DMIC’s rating system has been in use since 2002 and has proven to pick the contenders from the pretenders!

Consistency is King (Last Five Races)

Driver

Last 5

J Gordon

93

M Kenseth

92

B Keselowski

92

T Stewart

91

D Earnhardt Jr

91

J Johnson

89

K Kahne

89

C Bowyer

89

G Biffle

88

J Logano

87

Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Driver

Course

G Biffle

93

T Stewart

92

M Martin

92

J Gordon

92

K Harvick

89

C Edwards

89

J McMurray

88

M Kenseth

87

C Bowyer

87

Ky Busch

87

Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Driver

Type

J Johnson

95

T Stewart

95

D Earnhardt Jr

93

R Newman

91

M Kenseth

90

C Bowyer

90

B Keselowski

89

M Martin

88

G Biffle

88

J Gordon

87

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Trevor Bayne

 

Driver

Power

T Stewart

278

J Gordon

272

J Johnson

270

M Kenseth

268

G Biffle

268

C Bowyer

265

K Harvick

262

M Martin

261

C Edwards

261

D Earnhardt Jr

261

R Newman

258

B Keselowski

258

Ky Busch

254

K Kahne

253

J McMurray

252

M Truex

251

J Burton

250

P Menard

247

J Logano

245

D Hamlin

244

Ku Busch

242

M Ambrose

241

JP Montoya

239

B Labonte

238

D Ragan

229

C Mears

228

R Smith

227

S Hornish

224

T Kvapil

221

A Almirola

220

D Gilliland

220

D Blaney

219

L Cassill

219

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks

Each week we will take you beyond the numbers to handicap the field from top to bottom to help your Fantasy Racing team succeed. You are also invited to join Lori Munro and I on “White Board Fantasy Racing” every Monday night on “Doin’ Donuts” at 8pm ET on RaceTalkRadio.com. Win fun prizes by picking just the race winners in our unique format. Send your picks to info@racetalkradio.com to enter.

Top Pick (Last Week 6th)  

Jimmie Johnson- Not his most consistent track but has won three times here

(5 to 1 Odds)

Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week 10th)        

Mark Martin- No worse than 11th in last seven races at Indy

(20 to 1 Odds)

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week 7th)         

Tony Stewart- Back home again in Indiana and Victory Lane is often his home

(6 to 1 Odds)

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week 3rd)       

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – His consistency is the best in NASCAR right now

(9 to 1 Odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week 28th)        

Trevor Bayne- The kid knows how to pull off a huge upset

(125 to 1 Odds)

Crazy 8s for Indy

Each week Lori Munro and Dennis Michelsen battle in the most unique racing game around! We pick one driver each from each 8 driver group using the current points’ standings. Our picks can help you round out your fantasy racing lineup!

Last Race at New Hampshire: Lori won the matchup 3-2

Season Record: Lori leads Dennis at 12-7

Group 1: Lori picks Tony Stewart and Dennis picks Jimmie Johnson

Group 2: Dennis picks Clint Bowyer and Lori picks Kasey Kahne

Group 3: Lori picks Jeff Gordon and Dennis picks Marcos Ambrose

Group 4: Dennis picks Mark Martin and Lori picks Regan Smith

Group 5: Lori picks Sam Hornish Jr and Dennis picks Trevor Bayne

Do you have what it takes to handicap the races? Join Lori and Dennis every week and play in the Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Series! Send your pick for the Cup race to info@racetalkradio.com

Stewart, Johnson May Be Safe In Chase, But No Slacking For Indy

Jimmie Johnson is the only NASCAR driver to win at Indianapolis in consecutive seasons. He is one of virtually all drivers who admit a victory at the Brickyard means a place in racing history.

You might think that because he’s currently seventh in points with three victories – which makes him almost certain to make the Chase – Tony Stewart can shrug his shoulders and consider the Crown Royal Presents The Curtiss Shaver 400 At The Brickyard 400 Powered By BigMachineRecords.com just another race.

As an aside, I don’t know about you, but I think the name of the race is a bit, uh, exhausting. So for simplicity, and with due respect to the naming sponsors, let’s stick with the Brickyard 400.

To repeat, if you think Stewart can shrug his shoulders and consider the Brickyard 400 just another race, you would be wrong.

For him it is not just another race – far from it.

Jimmie Johnson, a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, is cruising toward the Chase and the opportunity to win a sixth title. He’s fourth in points with one win to date.

Like Stewart, Johnson couldn’t be blamed if he was noncommittal about the coming weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

When it comes to Indy Johnson is most certainly involved, perhaps more so than at the majority of races on the Sprint Cup schedule.

Fact is, you could go down the entire list of Cup drivers and you wouldn’t find a single one who is not motivated to race well in the Brickyard 400 – and it doesn’t matter a bit if he’s sure to make the Chase or hopelessly out of it.

A victory at Indy is to win on perhaps the most revered and historical venue in all of motorsports. It’s a place where the giants of racing, be they in open wheel cars or stock cars, have won and enhanced their legend.

“It’s a big week for me,” said Stewart, the defending Sprint Cup champion who won at Indy in 2005 and 2007. “It’s a big weekend for everybody. Not only for myself because I’m from Indiana, but the Brickyard is probably the second biggest race on our schedule behind the Daytona 500.

“So everybody really gets geared up for it.”

Johnson shares Stewart’s opinion that every driver prepares hard for, and wants to win, Indy.

Tony Stewart (14) and Johnson have combined to win five of the last seven NASCAR races at Indy. While both are safe in points, each admits there will be no lack of determination to win again.

And, like Stewart, he knows something about winning at the Brickyard.

Johnson has three wins at the track, in 2006, 2008 and 2009. He is the only driver in the 18 years of Indy’s NASCAR history to earn consecutive victories.

He and Stewart have combined to win five of the last seven races at the Brickyard.

“You drive through the tunnel at Indy and come in and look around,” Johnson said. “History just starts talking to you.

“I’m just happy to have had three special moments there myself. I hope to have a fourth and join some elite company of drivers who have won there four times before.”

Those drivers include Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon in Sprint Cup competition and drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears, who have four wins each in the Indianapolis 500.

Formula One champ Michael Schumacher has the most wins at Indy, five in the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis.

Stewart, from Columbus, Ind., is competing on his hometown track, which, we might assume, puts more pressure on him. What driver doesn’t like to do well with friends and neighbors watching?

“I don’t feel any more pressure,” Stewart stressed. “Not at all. But it is fun to win at home. As time has gone on, I think after we won the first one in 2005, a huge weight was taken off our shoulders.

“Now I just go into Indy with the attitude that we know what it takes to win and we try to do our best to accomplish it.”

Stewart also puts an interesting perspective on what it is really like to compete on a “hometown” track, no matter where it may be.

“I don’t know if you can ever relax at a hometown track,” he said. “Everybody thinks that when we’re at Charlotte it is a relaxing week because you are at home.

“But for some reason, when you are at home, everybody thinks you need to do more work. For us, that applies at Indy.

“We definitely have a lot of things to do and a lot of obligations. But in the end it’s all fun because of one reason – you are at home.”

With five victories between them, Stewart and Johnson are well versed in what it takes to win at Indy – something to which Stewart spoke.

And although both are very comfortable with their chances to make the Chase, that won’t make any difference in their approach to this weekend’s event.

“We may have the luxury to take a all-or-nothing attitude at Indy,” Stewart said, “but I think right now, in the big picture, we are going to try to get the consistency we need.

“The hard part is it’s such a big, flat track, it depends on what happens in the race that will dictate your strategy at the end.

“There are things we do that definitely help us during the race. But that is a trade secret and you have to hold on to them as long as you can.”

For Johnson, whose Hendrick team obviously has its own set of trade secrets, his answer to what brings victory at Indy is very succinct.

“Track position is everything,” he said. “The track position challenge starts in qualifying.

“Clearly, a fast race car is important, but maintaining track position and, especially, having track position at the end of the race is everything.”

This year’s edition of the Brickyard 400 is unlike in any previous season. The Sprint Cup race is part of a multi-event package which includes the Grand Am Series, which races on Friday; the Nationwide Series, which comes to Indy after years at Indianapolis Raceway Park, competes on Saturday and the Cup event caps the weekend on Sunday.

The schedule may have changed, but the essence of Indy – which drivers so appreciate and respect – has not.

“When I was up at Indy the other day, the first thing I did was run out on the frontstretch and take a look at the bricks,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, I picked my spot where I will be after the race to kiss those bricks.”

Rest assured Johnson is not the only one who hopes to find his spot along those bricks – not by a long shot.

 

 

Jeff Gordon’s Past Success At Indy Offers Wealth Of Hope

Jeff Gordon is currently 17th in points and without a win in 2012. However, next on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule is Indianapolis, where Gordon is a four-time winner and holds many track records.

When the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway rolls around, it’s hard not to think about Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon.

Indy has been the site of some of Gordon’s greatest successes. He has won the prestigious race four times, as the inaugural winner in 1994, and again in 1998, 2001 and 2004.

Gordon tops the list for most NASCAR victories at the 2.5-mile track. He also ranks first in poles with three, top-fives with 10, top-10s with 14, and laps led with 476 in 18 starts.

For Gordon, Indy is a very special place. Unknown to many race fans, he first aspired to become an Open Wheel driver with a dream to win the Indianapolis 500. He lived many of his childhood years in nearby Pittsboro and once went to the track as a fan and met his hero, legend Rick Mears.

When stock cars came into his life in 1990, Gordon changed his career path to NASCAR and, ironically, realized his dream as the first winner of the Brickyard 400 in 1994 while driving for Hendrick.

“Growing up here and going to the track numerous times as a kid, there is just something special about each trip,” Gordon said. “But that special feeling changes quickly when I get out on the track because this place is so challenging.

“The four corners look the same, but each is unique with different transitions and bumps. As a driver, factoring that in with the few little dips, the way the wind is blowing, the radius and everything else can give you an advantage.

“The car has to be good, as well. We’ve had the best car or one of the best cars in each of the races we’ve won here.”

The 2012 season has been one of the toughest in Gordon’s 20-year career in NASCAR. Seemingly everything has gone wrong. There have been many freak occurrences on track.  For example, the season began with a blown engine in the Daytona 500 in February  – and it’s been a challenge since.

Ranked a disappointing 17th going into Indianapolis this weekend, Gordon has had to deliver the same answers to the media all season long. The Vallejo, Calif., native tries to be upbeat, but you can hear the frustration and heartache in his voice.

“Obviously our season hasn’t gone the way that we had hoped it would,” Gordon said at New Hampshire. “We’ve shown a lot of speed. We’re capable of leading laps but we just haven’t come up with the results.”

Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team have had some misfortunes this year, but Gordon believes they are performing well on the track. They simply have to make those performances translate into victories.

Gordon finished sixth at Michigan, sixth at Sonoma, Calif., fifth at Kentucky, 12th at Daytona and sixth at New Hampshire. The No. 24 team seems to be making progress.

“I feel like we’ve turned a corner,” Gordon said. “I feel like in the last few weeks we’ve put some good results together and getting to the finish with the car in one piece and having good runs. These next several weeks are obviously crucial for us.

“We’ve got Indianapolis and a bunch of tracks coming up that we’re definitely capable of winning at. And we know that we’re going to have to win at those in order to get ourselves into the Chase.”

Gordon has been highly commended for the way he has handled himself – and the situation in which his team finds itself – with only seven races remaining before the Chase begins at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 16.

Gordon has kept much of his emotions to himself.

“Well, there are definitely feelings in the heat of the moment,” Gordon said. “Especially when you sense the frustration and it comes out in things you say on the radio or how you handle some of those situations behind closed doors.

“But, when it comes to how to handle it publicly, I just don’t think it does the team or myself or anybody any good to handle that negatively.

“So whatever frustrations and challenges that we’ve been dealt this year, we’ve just continued to try to handle them internally. And I would say that there has been very little questioning of anyone. It’s really been just how do we turn these great runs into great results.”

Gordon touched on the root of the problem. His impressive on-track performances haven’t been reflected in the finishing orders, which tends to spark thoughts the team is headed in the wrong direction.

“Obviously, what makes that even more challenging is the weeks go by and you don’t get the results,” Gordon said. “The fans, the media, the social media and all those things start to weigh on you heavily.

“So, it’s nice to have a lot of support out there as well, like our sponsors and our fans. But most importantly, it’s what the team does. This team is one that has gotten through some pretty tough times this year and has stuck together.

“I certainly hope that the worst is behind us, but I just feel like the last few weeks with things going more our way at the end of these races, that’s helped us to understand that hey, we’ve just got to keep sticking together and we’re going to get the results.

“Now, are they going to be enough to get us in the Chase? We’ll see. If we get in the Chase, are they going to be enough to win the championship? We’ll see. But I’ve been very proud of the way we’ve handled ourselves through all this.”

Should Gordon win his fifth career Indy race Sunday, it will definitely be the highlight of a season that’s considered one of his most disappointing. He gets hope from how well he and his team ran at IMS in 2011.

“I think back to last year at Indianapolis and how good we were,” Gordon said. “That’s what memory I’m going to have this year. How can we be that good and improve on our performance versus our competition in these next several weeks?”

Many don’t feel Gordon has much of a chance to make the chase. But wins, and the more the better, will get him into a “wildcard” spot. A win at IMS would be a huge boost for the team.

“I think most people look at us while we’re in 17th or 18th or wherever we are in the points and no wins, as ‘These guys don’t have a shot,’” Gordon said. “We look at it as, ‘Gosh, we’ve run so good at this track and this track and this track and this track. We are capable of winning multiple races.’

“We’ve got to put all the things together to pull off those victories. But we feel like we’ve run good enough to do it and are continuing to run good. And this is a good stretch of races for us to pull it off.”

 

 

 

 

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