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’

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.”

 

 

 

 

NASCAR Drug Testing: Drivers Have Concerns, Questions, Uncertainty

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of several drivers who have concerns about how NASCAR drug testing is conducted by a third party and how results are achieved.

Since news broke at Daytona International Speedway that driver A.J. Allmendinger tested positive for a banned substance, there have been plenty of questions.

Many competitors seem concerned over the situation, especially since what Allmendinger tested positive for has not yet been disclosed.

Tara Ragan, Allmendinger’s business manager, stated that Allemdinger tested positive for a stimulant. There’s still no word as to what type of stimulant surfaced in the test.

Allmendinger constantly works out, rides bikes, lifts weights and follows a very healthy diet. Thus, to some, a failed drug test simply doesn’t make sense.

Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he has been concerned about what would happened if a false positive test result would come his way.

Sadly, being tagged for a suspicious substance abuse gives any driver a tag of guilt by association.

“I’m more nervous about the agency making a mistake and it being a big problem for the sport,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Just knowing all the guys that I race against, I wouldn’t have never guessed that Allmendinger tested positive.

“I don’t look at anybody in the sport and have any worries about them or any curiosities about anybody’s activities away from the race track.

“It’s just you don’t know how that could happen.  It’s just hard to wrap your head around a driver making a mistake or the agency making a mistake, you just don’t know.”

Earnhardt Jr. says he has always felt comfortable talking with NASCAR officials about any of their policies.

“I go ask questions,” he said. “If you are curious about anything I think to be able to go up in that hauler and ask anybody what you want to know is been always pretty good for me.

Jimmie Johnson says that for his assurance, he provides NASCAR with a list of stimulants and prescription drugs he takes to get full approval and avoid problems.

 

“I’ve never been turned away, never felt like I didn’t get an honest answer. I feel better when I walked out of there.”

Matt Kenseth, driver of the Roush Fenway Racing Ford, said he is also in the dark as far as what happened with Allmendinger. He thinks that, in time, the entire story will come out. Safety at high speeds is crucial.

“I don’t really know any details about it,” Kenseth said.

“I think it’ll become probably more clear one way or the other once we hear the rest of the details from his side and from NASCAR’s side – if we ever find out.

“It’s hard to comment on taking him out right before the Daytona race because I don’t know what it was. You don’t want to be out there with somebody if there’s something wrong with them.”

As is the case with the majority of those in the garage area, Kenseth chooses to wait for all the facts before passing judgment.

“I think you withhold judgment,” Kenseth said. “But seems unbelievable that somebody would do something or put something in their body that they don’t know about and take that risk.”

Kenseth expressed the same concerns as Earnhardt Jr. Not to know how the test is treated after it is shipped to a third party seems a bit unsettling.

“You take a test and they ship the stuff away and you hope not to hear about anything later,” Kenseth said.

“I think you always wonder and you’re never really sure until it all comes out – or if or when they ever come out and say what they did or didn’t do, or how it happened. I think you’d feel better, so I think you’ve got to let some time pass until everything comes out.

“They get the B sample done and maybe A.J. talks and you hear what it was, maybe that will clear everything up and, then again, maybe it won’t.”

Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson says he takes supplements, but follows NASCAR’s rulebook to the letter to make certain nothing he is taking will be deemed unacceptable.

“I’ve never had a sample questioned,” Johnson said.

“Prior to taking supplements, I worked out the list that I wanted to take and submitted it and four or five days later I heard back that everything was approved. It’s just stuff you buy at GNC anyway, so I don’t think there’s a ton of concern.

“But on the medical side, again, at the start of each year when we get our physicals, I make sure I lay out everything. I think I’ve had some prescription changes mid-season, and I make sure that I file those as well. And that’s been it. I’m not all that familiar with the process.

“Initially I thought the issue was from the Daytona weekend. I didn’t realize that it was Kentucky, and it took that long to get the results back. So, I’ve just been trying to get up to speed on the whole process myself.

“I guess when you’re not in question you just go about your day and don’t worry about it. But we’re all paying attention now and wondering.”

 

 

For A.J. Allmendinger, Drug Scenario Is Unfortunate No Matter The Outcome

When it was announced that A.J. Allmendinger was suspended from NASCAR following a positive drug test, Penske Racing immediately flew in Sam Hornish Jr. as his replacement for the Daytona race.

Ninety minutes before Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona the announcement came that A.J. Allmendinger had failed a random substance abuse test and had been suspended.

It’s fair to say that among fans and media members there was a strong feeling of disbelief. The announcement, made by Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, was brief and shocking. No questions were addressed.

Among the media cell phones and laptops were put into high gear in hope of reaching assignment editors at newspapers and websites.

The subject of drug testing is all too familiar given the sad demise of Jeremy Mayfield, a former NASCAR star who failed a drug test in 2009 – and went straight downhill to bigger legal problems.

Allmendinger was asked to take part in a random drug test after the race at Kentucky on June 30. His A sample tested positive. The type of drugs and amounts in question were not disclosed.

Under established NASCAR rules, Allmendinger has the right to request that his B sample be tested within 72 hours. Should he refuse to have that sample tested, or if that test is positive, he will be suspended indefinitely.

In a last minute, dramatic substitution, Sam Hornish replaced Allmendinger in the No. 22 Dodge at Daytona and is scheduled to drive the car again at New Hampshire this weekend.

In an article in USA Today on July 8, team owner Roger Penske said, “You know it’s a disappointment at this particular time, but we’re going to wait and see what the second test results are before we make any comment or decisions.

“I don’t think it’s fair to him. I think as you look at sports, things happen like this. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t really want to make a statement pro or con right now. I’m counting on another test being proper for him within 72 hours, and at that point we’ll make a decision.”

To be fair to Allmendinger, it is possible that the test was a false positive. Until conclusive evidence proves he is guilty, none of us should rush to judgment.

After Mayfield’s very public fall from grace and the years of court battles that followed, NASCAR has been very cautious and thorough about drug testing – and about every aspect of Allmendinger’s suspension.

I do believe NASCAR officials would rather not have to travel this road with any of their competitors.

The only other high-profile NASCAR driver implicated in a drug abuse scenario has been Jeremy Mayfield, whose suspension from NASCAR has led to several legal situations that have virtually ended his career.

Still, once again, a top driver is in the news for substance abuse and is the subject of negative press.

The saddest part of this story is that Allmendinger is truly one of the nicest guys in this sport who had worked hard to get to NASCAR’s top level.

For years, his parents made huge financial sacrifices to help him race, to the tune of several home mortgages to keep his dream alive.

He is a commoner that came up the hard way and a driver with whom fans can relate.

Allmendinger reached the pinnacle of his career when the call to drive the No. 22 Penske Dodge came prior to the start of the 2012 season. He was tapped to replace Kurt Busch, a driver who had displayed his hot temper one time too many and lost one of the premier rides of his career.

Allmendinger has been a breath of fresh air for Penske since January. He’s helped put bad publicity aside, been great with fans and was considered a driver for whom success was merely a matter of time.

It may well come. Let’s get one thing straight. Allmendinger is involved in a very difficult, and career threatening, situation.

But as of now, he has not been proven guilty of anything. That may never happen.

However, right now he is still a high-profile driver implicated – implicated, mind you – in a drug abuse scenario.

Nine drivers who have competed in the Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series have been suspended for failed drug tests since February of 2002. Crew members from those divisions have also been suspended over the past decade.

Allmendinger is only the second driver in Sprint Cup competition to be suspended, following Mayfield.

Even if Allmendinger emerges as “clean” following a second test, it may be that, however unfairly, he is tainted.

Today in NASCAR, many winners of the biggest and most prestigious events can’t find full-season sponsorship.

Given that, it seems virtually impossible for a team to sell a driver with any hint of substance abuse, real or otherwise, to, say, a Fortune 500 company.

One question remains: Why do NASCAR competitors partake in such behavior?

During the vast majority of NASCAR’s six decades of existence drug testing was never a consideration.

Make no mistake there has always been substance abuse. For example, I think it’s accurate to say that over the years many hungover drivers came to a track on race day.

But as the times changed and all of professional sports were plagued by cases of drug abuse – ranging from alcohol to steroids and everything in between – NASCAR felt a policy needed to be put in place.

Demands are huge for any individual who competes in any of NASCAR’s top divisions. Everyone is watching, listening and scrutinizing every move a driver, and team, make.

There is pressure in any professional sport and sometimes the need to do well can overtake common sense.

That may be true, but it is not an excuse. If drugs are used to relieve that pressure, that does not make it right.

If they are used recreationally, let’s just say for the hell of it, well … there are no excuses whatsoever.

I would like to think that perhaps NASCAR could offer some counseling or intervention before positive drug results make the headlines and ruin careers.

I doubt that will ever come to pass.

But I would also like to think that A.J. Allmendinger will emerge unscathed – with a lesson learned.

 

 

 

 

 

Going Into Daytona, Happy 75th Birthday To “King” Richard Petty

Known as stock car racing's "King," Richard Petty is celebrating his 75th birthday and this weekend will be back at Daytona, his favorite track and on which he's accomplished so much.

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams roll into Daytona for the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday, stock car racing’s greatest star will have something very special to celebrate at his favorite track.

Richard Petty, who has long since been a Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series team owner, turned 75 years old today.

Rest assured plenty of birthday cake and Paydays (his favorite candy bar) have been consumed at his Level Cross, N.C., home.

Once he gets to Daytona we know there will be more cake and candles because of publicized celebrations.

He’ll also receive many goodwill wishes as he moves through the garage area smiling, waving to fans and signing autographs.

It’s a bit ironic that Petty’s birthday always comes around the week that NASCAR visits DIS for the second time each season. Some of his greatest successes have come on the famed 2.5-mile, high-banked speedway.

Petty raced for 32 years before he retired in November of 1992 following the race at Atlanta.

He won an incredible 200 races, which included seven Daytona 500 victories, more than any other driver in the track’s storied history.

Petty also won three 400-mile races at DIS in the July events of 1975, 1977 and 1984 – the year he won in a photo finish over Cale Yarborough to record his historic 200th victory with President Ronald Regan in attendance.

To go back 53 years, to 1959, when Petty first saw the mammoth 2.5-mile Florida speedway, it was a bit much to take in.

It was an incredible sight for a country boy who had previously raced on a variety of much smaller dirt tracks – and a few paved ones – around the country.

The biggest track raced on up to that point was the 1.3-mile Darlington Raceway. It was NASCAR’s only superspeedway for a decade, before Daytona opened for the inaugural 500 in 1959.

All of the stars of the era, such as Richard’s father Lee, Curtis Turner, Joe Weatherly and Fireball Roberts – to name a few – simply shook their heads at the sight of such a mammoth speedway.

That they had to race their Plymouths, Buicks and Thunderbirds around such an incredible track caused more than one driver to question how they could complete a full 500 miles.

Petty’s first outing was less than remarkable. In the inaugural race he finished 57th in the 59-car field and collected mere $100.

Father Lee was, finally, named the race winner three days later after a controversial photo finish over Johnny Beauchamp. Lee received the winner’s check and trophy in the living room of the small frame house where he and wife Elizabeth raised their sons Richard and Maurice.

Petty ran in the first Daytona 500 in 1959 and has won there several times since, which includes a handful of victories in the July race, upcoming this weekend and known as the Coke Zero 400.

It took five years for Richard to win his first Daytona 500, in 1964. He also won his first of seven career championships that year.

He was to win six more titles, in 1967, ‘71, ‘72, ‘74, ‘75 and ‘79. The only other driver to win seven championships in a career was the late Dale Earnhardt.

In 1966, Petty became the first driver to win the 500 twice. He won his third in 1971 when he beat teammate Buddy Baker.

In 1973 Petty muscled by Baker again to win his fourth 500. A year later, Petty won the race again en route to his fifth championship. It was probably the strongest Daytona outing of his career.

Petty came off major stomach surgery to win his sixth 500 in 1979. He did so only after Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed on the backstretch on the final lap.

Emotions and angry words into a fistfight among Yarborough, Allison and his brother Bobby – still talked about today.

The unexpected brawl, which was captured on TV, helped NASCAR to become a nationally recognized sport.

In 1981, Petty won because of pit strategy. Crew chief Dale Inman called for fuel only on a late stop. It got Petty off pit road ahead of his closest competition and on to victory lane.

After his retirement 20 years ago, Petty could have elected to wave to the crowd and, many think, disappear.

But NASCAR has been a part of Petty’s life longer than he can remember.

“Racing is all I’ve ever known, you know what I mean?” Petty once said with a broad smile. “OK, the thing is, I really don’t know much about anything else. Racing is all I’ve ever done.

“So when I quit driving I decided to stick around and try to contribute wherever I could. I’ve always enjoyed my friends in the garage area and all the fans I visit with every week.

“Being in the garage area and being at the track is just part of the deal. Racing is something I really enjoy.”

Adds Inman, Petty’s cousin, “Richard has tried to stay home at times but he just doesn’t feel right unless he’s at the race track.

“His entire life has been about NASCAR from the time we were kids racing bicycles, playing football together and turning wrenches on Lee’s race cars. He’s still involved with Richard Petty Motorsports. We did so much together over 60 years of racing.”

Petty has been one of NASCAR’s greatest ambassadors, always touting the sport.

He, along with numerous stars of eras gone by, has worked hard to build interest in the sport, and more.

In recognition of that, we at MotorsportsUnplugged wish a very special 75th Happy Birthday to you, Richard.

You have been, and always will be, NASCAR’s greatest treasure in the hearts and minds of so many.

 

Ambrose, Bowyer: Tale Of Two Drivers At Sonoma

Clint Bowyer was not considered by many to be a potential winner at Sonoma because his racing background was primarily on oval tracks. But he ran exceptionally well to win for the first time this season.

Road course racing seems to bring out an array of emotion each time NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers and teams travel to Sonoma or Watkins Glen.

Unlike the high-banked speedways that make up the majority of the 36 races on the Cup schedule, the twisting left and right turns can give the very best in the business their fair share of headaches.

Two drivers possibly the most surprised at Sonoma this past Sunday were race winner Clint Bowyer and eighth-place driver Marcos Ambrose.

Bowyer, a farm boy from Kansas who openly admits road courses are a challenge, high-fived his crew in victory, while Ambrose, a noted road racer who honed his talents in his native Australia before coming to the United States, struggled for an eighth-place finish.
Indeed, Bowyer sets his sights on winning every race he enters. But was his name mentioned among those such as Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon or even Kurt Busch as Sonoma favorites? He would probably say no.

To get his first win with Michael Waltrip Racing on a road course was an unexpected surprise. But he was strong from the start of the 110-lap race.

The move to MWR is obviously beginning to pay off.

“I’m super excited for everybody involved to be in victory lane with this group so early in the season. It’s a dream come true,” Bowyer said. “I’m very proud of all our partners, especially everybody at MWR.

“To switch teams like I did was a huge risk and it was obviously a chance for me to showcase my talents. I’m proud of everybody back home at the shop. Thank you, guys, for building us real good race cars.”

It’s June and Bowyer can’t help but think of finding his place among the 12 drivers eligible for the Chase following the Richmond race on Sept. 8.

“This is big for our confidence level, for this team and for the Chase,” Bowyer said. “This is a young organization that’s going to be in this sport a long time, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

That Ambrose won the pole at Sonoma was no surprise, as his outings are always impressive on the road courses.

“I put a lot of effort into this race and everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports and the whole Stanley team have been rock solid behind me for the road course program,” Ambrose said after securing the pole. “Ford Racing has done a lot of hard work here too and we brought a brand new hot rod for this race and it is even better than what we had here last year.

“I am glad we could convert the effort into a great result with this pole. You just have to be really precise with your marks and very aggressive and carry momentum through these tight corners.”

Marcos Ambrose was listed as a pre-race favorite at Sonoma due to the Australian's road racing background and proven skill. He won at Watkins Glen last year. He took the Sonoma pole but, surprisingly, struggled to earn a top-10 finish.

Petty felt confident Ambrose would lead the field after the green flag fell for the race.

“Well, winning the pole this week was not as unexpected as what last week was (at Michigan),” Petty said. “I tried to tell him that and I didn’t want to put any pressure on him for when he did come out here. I guess everything went good.

“Anytime you can sit on the pole it is good but the big deal now is getting ready for the race. I think we won the race here with Richard Petty Motorsports a couple three years ago, so some of the guys know how to win here also.

“We have a driver we think that gave one of them away out here so it is time he got one back for us.”

Petty won 200 races during his career, including four on the now defunct Riverside International Raceway.

“I was not very smooth, that is for sure,” Petty said. “I came from dirt tracks so when I had a chance to run into the dirt at Riverside, I did.

“They had all those big cement deals and stuff that would keep me from running off in the dirt. The fastest way around any race track is on the race track.

“Riverside was completely different circumstances, a different race track and I had to do what I thought I had to do at that time to win the race. I always liked Riverside because it had high speed and low speed too. We did pretty good and won a few races there.

“We ran a lot of cars that would move around. Today, these cars are strictly race cars and have to stay on the race track. There is nobody better at that than Marcos.”

Ambrose and his team tested at Sonoma last month and felt confident they could win.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.

“We really missed it. I just feel bad for my Stanley team,” said Ambrose, whose Ford faded badly during long runs. “We missed it bad and we did good to recover and get a top 10 out of it. We will take it and move on.

“We got the pole and had a lot of speed; we just missed it for the race. We were slow. It was just terrible. We had no speed in the car and we paid the price.”

Unlike Bowyer, Ambrose isn’t concentrating on points. Strong top-five finishes during the second half of the season will help to improve his 16th-place position.

“I’m not thinking about the Chase or championships or what not. I am out there to try to do the best I can every single weekend,” Ambrose said. “The points will take care of themselves if you do your job well.

“That being said, we have got speed, there is no doubt about that. We had trouble at the start of the year converting our speed into good results. I am focused on the results and the championship will take care of itself if you do your job right.”

This weekend, it’s back to turning left on the oval at Kentucky Speedway.

Then there are four more oval track races at Daytona, New Hampshire Indianapolis and Pocono. Then it’s on to Watkins Glen on Aug. 12 for the next road-course test – which will be highly welcome for the select few who are established masters.

Hamlin’s Fiery Crash Good Example Of NASCAR Safety Efforts

Denny Hamlin escaped unscathed from his fiery accident at Michigan largely due to the safety measures taken by NASCAR and some prompt assistance from crewmen along pit road.

Safety has always been a NASCAR concern from the day it was officially incorporated in Daytona Beach in February of 1948.

Early on, doors on race cars were strapped shut, right front wheels were re-enforced and, even though a bit primitive compared to current standards, liquid fire extinguishers were available at trackside during every race.

Fire has been a real concern from day one – even more so after the death of star Fireball Roberts.

The Florida native, who was dubbed the Dale Earnhardt of the 1960s, succumbed to pneumonia resulting from severe burns suffered six weeks after a horrible, fiery crash during the 1964 World 600 at Charlotte.

His tragic death prompted the development of fireproof driver suits and rubber-lined fuel cells.

Sixty-four years of NASCAR racing has helped to make today’s cars incredibly safe. Lessons have been learned that help give each driver a measure of peace of mind during every lap he turns.

Sunday’s race at Michigan included a few stressful moments – especially when a fire on pit road erupted in Denny Hamlin’s Toyota after his spin on lap 132 of the 200-lap race.

Hamlin battled for position and, while coming off the third turn, his car dropped to the bottom of the track and went into the grass, causing a good bit of body damage to the driver’s side.

Hamlin briefly came to a halt at the end of pit road. However, it was believed that during the crash the oil cooler may have broken loose and caused a huge fire in the engine compartment and underneath the car.

Hamlin was unaware of just how big the flames had erupted, but since he was on pit road, there was plenty of help getting the Chesterfield, Va., driver unstrapped, disconnected and to safety.

Hamlin was momentarily lost in the thick cloud of smoke but stepped away as firemen on pit road jumped into action. Even though the fire was quickly extinguished, it did cause a few anxious minutes for nearby crewmen.

Hamlin was interviewed shortly afterward. Even though he lost precious Sprint Cup points due to his 34th-place finish, he was still able to smile.

“There’s a lot of good safety stuff and I’ve got to thank all of the crew guys that hauled ass over there and got me out,” Hamlin said. “It was just a tough day.  We just didn’t have the track position and got caught twice with those cautions when we pitted.

“It was just a tough day for our car.  I thought we had a car that could run top-three or four at times, but just didn’t have a great day and on fire is not a good way to end it.”

Glenn "Fireball" Roberts was one of NASCAR's biggest stars in the 1960s. His death following a fiery crash in 1964 led to vast improvements in driver safety.

 

According to Hamlin, it was Ryan Newman who got him out of shape on the track. It should be noted that Newman’s Stewart Haas Racing crew also helped get Hamlin out of the car when his life was in danger.

“One good thing at least is that Ryan’s guys came and got me out and so did a couple of the 18 (Kyle Busch) guys,” Hamlin said. “NASCAR is a family and any time anyone is trouble, everyone is going to go try to help.  It’s good that those guys were around and were willing to take a chance.”

When asked to describe what it’s like to be strapped inside a burning race car, Hamlin said it was a new experience for him.

“I’ve never actually been in that position before,” he said. “I’d seen it with other guys, but I’ve never known what it’s actually like, but it gets hot.

“I thought for a second there I was OK. It was just in the back and then something exploded in the front and it caught on fire.

“Thankfully we got everything that we have safety-wise. I messed up Greg Biffle’s pit box. It was just one of those days. I’ll be glad to get out of Michigan.”

Hamlin also described what put him in a position to get into the wild spin.

“We were all scrambling on restarts – everyone is doing everything they can to get position,” Hamlin said. “Unfortunately, with the tire change we had, it forces everyone to be aggressive like they were on restarts.

“We were four-wide and I was on the bottom line, but Ryan tried to stick it right there in the very, very low line and there just wasn’t any grip down there.

“There’s not any rubber down there so there was no way his car was going to stick. I knew I was in trouble being on top of him.

“When he slid up into us, it just spun us around.  Evidently it knocked something off with either the oil or the fuel, it caught on fire and that was OK, but when I stopped – I don’t know why – it completely engulfed the whole car.”

With speeds at the newly paved Michigan track reaching 210 mph in the turns, the decision was made to make a change to a harder tire compound, again as a safety measure for the drivers.

Of course, any unexpected changes during a race weekend can present real challenges to drivers and teams. Fortunately, there were no multi-car wrecks and no hard crashes suffered by any drivers.

Hamlin attempted to put his day into perspective.

“Part of it was frustrating, but you’re going to have days like this,” Hamlin said. “Unfortunately, NASCAR and Goodyear were put in a tough spot yesterday and had to change tires.  I thought our Camry was great until they changed the tire and then we just struggled.”

NASCAR should be commended for its steady efforts to keep every competitor safe.

There is evidence those efforts have paid off – especially during those heart-pounding moments when a potential crisis develops quickly.

 

Biffle Slips, Kenseth Surges But Roush Team Still Tops In Points

Greg Biffle soared to the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings after the third race of the year. However, after problems at Pocono this past weekend, he has slipped to third.

Throughout the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle has been the man to beat when it comes to points.

Consecutive third-place finishes at Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas at the start of the year gave the Vancouver, Wash., native the points lead in March.

Biffle has been all smiles for the past three months. He’s won at Texas in April and has compiled seven top-five finishes and eight among the top 10.

This past weekend at Pocono a sour engine – which ran on seven cylinders – sent Biffle spiraling to a 24th-place finish.

The trek was enough to drop him from first to third in points for the first time since the third race of the year. He’s behind teammate Matt Kenseth and Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The outcome certainly wasn’t what Biffle wanted. If nothing else, it’s likely he had become accustomed to the waves of media interviews afforded him due to his strong season.

Through 14 weeks of racing, Biffle and crew chief Matt Puccia hoped that Pocono’s scenario wouldn’t occur. But then, they are long-time racers who know good fortune can end quickly.

“It’s unfortunate we fell back that far, but the points are so tight we knew that if we had an issue we were gonna drop a lot – if we got in a wreck or had an engine problem or a mechanical issue or flat tire,” Biffle said. “You’re vulnerable when you’re only one point or 10 points ahead, but that’s racing.  As long as it doesn’t happen in the Chase I’m happy.

“We’ve been on the edge with these engines all year. It’s just such a fine line with oil temperature and you come to Pocono with shifting and, well, the engine just didn’t make it.

“It’s a good thing we just lost a cylinder and could make it to the finish.”

Biffle wasn’t very happy with his Ford throughout the 160-lap race around the newly-paved triangular Pocono track.

“My car was so-so when I was by myself,” he said. “When I was around traffic I wasn’t that good, but I think Pocono will be a good race track as we get more and more races on it.

“We’ve been pretty good everywhere we’ve been and it’s no different here. But the tides have turned. There are a lot of different cars that have run good this season.

“I think it says a lot about the teams and how hard they’re working, and what we’re figuring out is kind of catching up to the competition, if you will.”

Team owner Jack Roush explained team problems suffered by Biffle, Kenseth and the No.99 Ford driven by Carl Edwards.

Matt Kenseth (right), Biffle's teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, had a good run at Pocono and has supplanted Biffle as No. 1 in points.

He seemed relieved to escape Pocono without his Ford drivers losing more ground in the point standings.

“It looks like we had some kind of a valve train failure on the 16 car (Biffle) and that was unfortunate,” Roush said. “He had a good car that they were making adjustments on and making better.

“For whatever reason, the 17 (Kenseth) kept getting jumped on during restarts and shuffled back. He had a car, I think, as good as the 20 car (race winner Joe Logano) or anybody else in the field, but he wasn’t able to hold his position on restarts for reasons I don’t understand.

“We’ll take that apart and try to understand if there’s an issue. The 99 car got hit on lap one and arguably it was the best of our three team cars. That damaged the quarter panel and he lost track position and had to go to the back, and then he didn’t go back far enough to suit NASCAR so they brought him down pit road and that set up a long, frustrating day to gain track position.

“All in all, I think our Fords ran pretty well, but things just didn’t break for us so that we were able to realize the result.”

Kenseth was relieved to have a good run at Pocono, a track on which he has not always had strong finishes.

“It’s probably the best we’ve ever performed at Pocono,” said Kenseth of his seventh-place finish. “The track is awesome. There’s not a great outside groove yet, but that’s to be expected. I think the track was a lot better than anybody expected or hoped for.”

That may be, but Kenseth still had his frustrations.

 

“I’m just kind of disappointed right now because I thought we had a shot to win under the right circumstances,” he said. “We were pretty strong when we were out front and it just didn’t happen. I couldn’t go on restarts. I thought I was getting a good roll at them, but they would just kind of drive by me.

“That’s frustrating.  We’ll keep working on it, but I’m happy we got a decent finish and took over the point lead.”

For Biffle and Kenseth, obviously involved in a championship battle, it’s imperative to go to Michigan prepared to maintain, or return to, the consistency they have enjoyed throughout 2012.

Twelve races remain before the field for the Chase will be determined after the Richmond race in September.

By that time, either Roush teammates, Biffle and Kenseth, could be first in points. Perhaps neither will.

But if each performs as he has so far, to be part of the Chase is almost a certainty – barring unforeseen problems, of course.

Which is exactly what Biffle experienced at Pocono.

 

 

NASCAR Drivers Must Remember Their Privileges And Control Emotions

One of the perks that comes with becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver is fan appreciation. A competitor has to learn how to respond to that and how not, because of his actions, to push it away.

It’s fair to say today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors are the very best stock car drivers in the world.

Only 43 starting positions are filled during 36 race weekends per year on a variety of race tracks throughout the United States.

Racers spend years trying to build their resumes in an effort to gain a top Sprint Cup ride. It can be a lifelong mission that takes a huge financial toll.

If they make it, they become the best in the business. They become drivers who can adapt to a variety of track configurations, meet media obligations, and become comfortable with public and sponsor appearances.

They also deal with all the pressure involved in qualifying for, and competing in, a NASCAR race.

The vast majority of today’s drivers in all three of NASCAR’s top division are very happy and honored to be where they are.

But at least outwardly, it seems a few are not – or at least they need to evaluate their situations.

Kurt Busch’s tirade against motorsports reporter Bob Pockrass at Dover begs the question: Why do some drivers show so much anger toward against other drivers, NASCAR officials or media members?

It’s simple. Their passion for success and their competitive nature produce, at times, verbal or physical assaults that can be difficult to harness.

Competitive people tend to lash out when they think they have been wronged – or have failed to meet the goals through no fault of their own.

This can be especially true after a long day of racing. It’s hot. The competition is extremely close. Radio chatter has caused one whale of a headache and to top it off, what should have been a win has transformed into a disappointing sixth or seventh-place finish.

It happens. It’s part of the reason why it happened to Busch, again, at Dover. But I make no excuses for him.

It’s time that all drivers who are privileged to have a place in NASCAR’s elite circuit never lose sight of the fact they have a sweet deal – a very sweet deal.

Fact is, today’s drivers are pulling in incredible amounts of money, even before they sit in the car or turn the first lap of practice.

Their multiyear contracts are worth many millions of dollars. They get to drive cars that are built and maintained by some of the most talented crew chiefs, engine builders, engineers and fabricators in the business.

Even those drivers who race with lesser-funded NASCAR teams are millionaires, for the most part, by the end of their first season.

In most cases large corporate sponsorships fund the operations. With that money, team owners pay the bills and mechanics take all the responsibility for providing competitive race cars each week.

Drivers fly in on private jets and have team personnel escort them to their $1 million motorhomes.

As mentioned, an army of people presents them with pristine race cars to drive for practice sessions, qualifying and the race itself.

If the driver gets in the wall his crew pulls another car off the transporter that’s as good or better than the one just waded up.

With success in NASCAR comes rapt attention from the media, either in press conferences or at the track during - or after - competition. To serve themselves and others well, drivers must learn how to conduct themselves.

Now, how many family-owned short track operations would love to have that luxury?

Busch was suspended Monday by NASCAR for the threat of bodily harm at Dover. He has apologized.

We’ve all said things we shouldn’t have. Emotions at times get the best of us all. When it happens there’s no taking it back and there are consequences.

All public figures, as NASCAR drivers are, very often have a camera and microphone in their faces. It comes with the job.

Drivers have known it – and once wished for it -since their street stock days back at the Saturday night short track.

Sprint Cup racing is a high stakes game played under an international microscope, where every action and every word is scrutinized live, on video or in print.

No driver should ever forget that. There’s no escaping the spotlight during a race weekend.

There are 10,000 short-track drivers who raced over this past weekend who would gladly take Busch’s ride this weekend at Pocono Raceway.

There are millions of race fans that would love to make the money drivers do and enjoy the lifestyles they have. I also know a motorsports journalist or two who would love to experience such, at least for a day.

When another blatantly puts a driver in the fence, the natural reaction is to retaliate. I get that.

But that’s where drivers need a system of checks and balances. They need someone to pull them aside before they speak – and if they don’t have that, they must contain themselves.

By whatever means, drivers must never forget to control their tempers in public. That includes pit road when members of the media are gathering information.

Certainly it is not always done. After all, given the intensity of a race and the natural competitiveness of the drivers, that is understandable.

However, it is still a job requirement. It serves the team, the sponsor – and let’s face it, the driver himself – very well.

It would appear that given the wealth and notoriety that comes with achieving a lifelong, coveted dream, it should not be difficult at all.

Even though, at times, it is.

 

 

Here Are Tidbits To Show That In NASCAR, Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Among other "unusual" happenings in NASCAR, driver Bobby Allison experimented with two-way radios and once had a hole cut into the roof of his car to provide more air for cooling.

Ever since Bill France founded NASCAR in February of 1948, countless accomplishments by thousands of drivers have been added to the record books.

There are many well-known facts. But there are also plenty of bizarre and interesting tidbits of NASCAR lore that aren’t recorded in the record books.

For instance, Kansas native Jim Roper won NASCAR’s first Grand National race on June 19, 1949 in a Lincoln.

After the car’s headlights were taped, its doors strapped and numbers applied with shoe polish, Roper was declared the winner after Glenn Dunaway’s 1947 Ford was disqualified for running illegal rear springs.

With the winner’s trophy in the back seat and cash in his pocket, Roper cleared the tape from the headlights and drove the car back to Kansas.

Team owner Raymond Parks first used surplus World War II two-way radios in races in 1949 – until other teams protested.

Jack Smith used a bulky Ham radio mounted inside his Bud Moore Engineering Ford in the first World 600 on June 19, 1960.

The reception was bad and the heat and vibration in the car broke the radio’s glass tubes. Smith and Moore also tried delivery truck radios at Daytona but that didn’t too well, either.

In Junior Johnson’s book, “Brave in Life” written by award-winning MotorsportsUnplugged authors Steve Waid and Tom Higgins, it is duly recorded the colorful driver used a two-way radio in April of 1961 at Martinsville Speedway.

Team owner Bud Moore, and his driver Jack Smith, tried to make a couple of two-way radio systems work back in the 1960s. Suffice it to say they were unsuccessful.

He turned it off because his crew chief kept telling him to slow down.

Bobby Allison developed a CB radio set-up for races in 1973 with speakers built into his helmet. But again, poor reception and static brought the idea to an end. A year or two later, technology was better, but not great.

Smith was also the first driver to use a bar of soap to plug a hole in his gas tank. It happened at that same World 600 when the radio failed. The soap worked about as good as the radio.

Darrell Waltrip logged 84 career victories, including 15 wins in the No. 17. He won the 1989 Daytona 500 driving the No. 17 for Hendrick Motorsports, in his 17th try in a race with a purse that was $1.7 million – and he was assigned pit stall No. 17.

Bill Elliott also played a numbers game when he won the Winston Million at Darlington Raceway on September 1, 1985.

Going into the Southern 500, Elliott had already driven the No. 9 Melling Racing Ford to nine of 11 pole positions that year, had nine wins up to that point in the season and the race was held in the ninth month.

It gets better.

In 1968, law enforcement officers found an elaborate moonshine still within a concrete tunnel under the Middle Georgia Raceway at Macon. It was hidden behind a trap door in the floor of a ticket booth. Months later, a jury found the track owner not guilty.

Richard Petty ran a vinyl top in the 1968 Daytona 500. Those he raced against protested, citing it was some kind of advantage.

Truth was, an inexperienced crew member made a mess of the paint job on the top of the car and vinyl was a quick fix to the problem.

The bad news was the top began coming apart during the race and required a lot of duct tape just to finish. Petty even got out of the car and sat on the hood and beat the chrome around the windshield down with a hammer.

Carl Kiekhaefer, an eccentric soul dubbed the “Rick Hendrick of the 1950s,” wouldn’t let his drivers or crew members sleep with their spouses the night before a race, citing they needed…um…their energy and a good night’s sleep before.

He was the most successful owner of that era and abruptly left the sport after logging 52 wins and two championships among 10 drivers.

Fledgling team owner-driver Herman Beam was the first to be black-flagged at Daytona International Speedway when it opened in 1959. He forgot to wear his helmet.

There were just enough cars to make up the field for a Winston Cup race at Talladega in the early 1970s, but NASCAR officials forced James Hylton to run a qualifying lap anyway.

Hylton protested but adhered to their wishes. His average speed was just under 40 mph over two laps around the 2.66-mile oval. Hylton replied, “You said I had to qualify. You didn’t say how fast.”

Janet Guthrie became the first woman to lead a NASCAR Winston Cup race when she led at Ontario for five laps under caution. She finished 24th.

There was a driver named John Kennedy who had 18 career starts from 1969 to 1979 but never recorded a top-10 finish.

There was also a driver named Bill Clinton. He ran six races between 1961 and 1964 but was never in the top-10.

However, George Bush, of Hamburg, N.Y., raced in five events in 1952 and scored three top-10s.

The last top-level NASCAR race run on dirt was at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on Sept. 20, 1970. Richard Petty won the 100-mile event.

The 1,000th Winston Cup race was held in Ontario, Calif., on Feb. 28, 1971 and was won by A.J. Foyt. The 1,000th race wasn’t ever mentioned in newspapers or on radio because NASCAR historians didn’t realize it until it was over.

On the 90th lap of the 1973 Talladega 500, Bobby Isaac pulled onto pit road and got out, telling car owner Moore that he heard voices to quit or something bad would happen. Isaac drove in 19 more races in 1974-76 with little success.

A year later, 16 cars – including all likely front-runners – were sabotaged with sugar in their gas tanks, broken windshields and cut tires the night before the Aug. 11 Talladega 500. No one was ever caught for the destruction.

Cale Yarborough drove several laps without a windshield in his Wood Brothers Ford at Talladega in 1970. His pit crew took out the glass after a fan’s thrown beer bottle shattered it.

Janet Guthrie was the first woman to lead a lap in a Winston Cup race. She led five laps under caution during the Los Angeles Times 500 at Ontario on Nov. 20, 1977. She finished 24th.

A trackside ESPN reporter, Dr. Jerry Punch, revived driver Rusty Wallace when he stopped breathing after an end-over-end crash at Bristol in 1988. Punch is a respected medical doctor turned broadcaster.

Hot temperatures during the Southern 500 on Sept. 5, 1983 prompted crew chief Gary Nelson to chisel a hole in Bobby Allison’s car roof of to cool down the driver.

Allison won, but NASCAR fined the team $500.

The coldest race in NASCAR history came in March of 1990 at Richmond when the high temperature was only five degrees.

Mark Martin won the race, but the engine in his Roush Racing Ford was found to be illegal.

Finally, a $100 bill was found on the front grille of Kevin Harvick’s Chevrolet last month during the race at Texas. It was discovered when crewman Chad Haney cleaned the grille on a pit stop.

After displaying the bill to cameramen on pit road, Haney donated the money to Motor Racing Outreach, which offers spiritual support to the NASCAR community.

It is fact that truth is stranger than fiction. And, as it is everywhere else, it is so in NASCAR.

 

 

Print This Post Print This Post