Tony Stewart on Soapbox: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Tony Stewart finished fourth in this year’s Brickyard 400 but he has won twice at Indianapolis, in 2005 and again in 2007, shown here.

While celebrating Ryan Newman’s Brickyard 400 win on Sunday, Tony Stewart stepped up to the soapbox and lecture everyone about what racing truly is.

Asked how NASCAR or Indianapolis Motor Speedway could increase passing, the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion argued passing does not equal quality racing.

“Look up ‘racing’ in the dictionary and tell me what it says in the dictionary, then look up ‘passing’. We’re racing here,” Stewart said, as he lectured the media.

“This is about racing. This is about cars being fast. It doesn’t have to be two‑ and three‑wide racing all day long to be good racing,” he continued.

Throughout his career, Stewart has made many off-the-cuff and controversial comments, but perhaps none have elicited the amount of reaction as those made at Indy.

Immediately, the media and fans alike criticized Stewart’s comments on social media, while numerous articles countering his point flowed the next day.

This is not the first time Stewart has caused a stir with his comments. From calling out other drivers for blocking, Goodyear on the quality of their product or media members for the quality of their questions, if Stewart has an opinion, he’s not afraid to voice it.

However, Stewart is often contradictory in what he says and what he does on the track.

In 2011 at Sonoma, Stewart grew tired of being blocked by Brian Vickers and wrecked him early in the race. Vickers returned the favor later in the

Austin Dillon won the first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Eldora, the dirt track Stewart owns. There was plenty of passing in the race.

event and sent Stewart atop the tire barriers.

Following the incident, the former champion made a clear statement to the entire garage, “If they block, they are going to get dumped. It is real simple. I mean, I don’t blame him for dumping us back. But I don’t race guys that way – I never have. If guys want to block then they are going to wrecked every time.

“Until NASCAR makes a rule against it, I am going to dump them every time for it,” he added.

Fast-forward to the Talladega Chase race in 2012 and Stewart throws a block on Michael Waltrip’s last-lap move for the lead. What ensued was a 25-car wreck that will make NASCAR highlights for years.

His response?

“I just screwed up,” he said. “I turned down…and crashed the whole field. It was my fault blocking to try to stay where I was. So, I take 100% of the blame.”

Yet when the roles were reversed earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway, Stewart went after Joey Logano following the race for blocking on the final restart of the race while battling for the lead.

Again, do as I say, not as I do.

While Stewart is entitled to his opinion, and his role as a former champion elevates his perspective above many others in the sport, it is difficult to take it seriously when it proves to be contradictory on many levels.

A dedicated racer, Stewart is the type of driver spends his nights behind the wheel of a Sprint Car at a local dirt track during the week before heading to the track for his NASCAR duties.

Passing and side-by-side action is a staple in most forms of dirt track racing, perhaps no more evident than in last week’s much-anticipated NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway.

The action was intense and filled with passing, slide jobs and hard racing. Fans loved it, drivers loved it and track owner Stewart beamed with pride.

If the short track action – so full of side-by-side action and passing – is what Stewart loves, then is that not racing at its purest?

While Stewart’s resume and accomplishments in racing make him a voice that should be listened to, his often-contradictory actions make it difficult to do just that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More than One Las Vegas Finish At New Hampshire

Aric Almirola ran a very strong race at New Hampshire and finished fifth. It was his first top-five run of the year for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Brian Vickers wins, Jeff Burton finishes third, Aric Almirola fifth and Bobby Labonte runs up front until the final stages of the race. If you called that one, move to Las Vegas and start making a living off of betting.

While Vickers’ win on Sunday was the feel-good story of the season so far, it wasn’t the only one that warmed the heart. In a sport dominated by Hendrick and Gibbs, four dark horse drivers contended for the win in the closing laps at New Hampshire.

Among the four drivers, none had been to victory lane since Vickers won at Michigan in 2009. Yet on Sunday, each had a chance to go after the checkered flag.

For Vickers, Sunday’s win at New Hampshire was one of redemption and a reaffirmation of talent and faith. Forced to sit out after issues with blood clots, Vickers’ struggles in the Sprint Cup Series continued once Red Bull decided to shut its doors for good.

Running a partial schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing, in addition to a full-time Nationwide Series stint for Joe Gibbs Racing, the 29-year-old has put himself in a solid position to take over the No. 55 Toyota full-time in 2014.

For Richard Childress Racing’s Burton, Sunday’s third-place finish was a feather in the cap, and a message to the garage. Burton, who’s last win came in 2008, has faced criticism over the years, as some have questioned his ability and RCR’s willingness to keep him in a car.

However, this season Burton and his team have turned the corner. With two top 5s and four top 10s, the veteran sits 17thin the standings, just 25 points out of the Chase.

Bobby Labonte entrenched himself among the top 10 for most of the New Hampshire race, but his day was spoiled when he ran out of gas late in the event.

“We don’t think we are out of the Chase,” he said. “I know everybody else in the world does, but we don’t. We feel like we can still do it.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to happen between now and Richmond. It’s so competitive, so tight.”

While Burton and Vickers were re-emerging as contenders, Almirola’s fifth-place finish was a continued trend in a young driver’s march to the front. Already having the best season of his career, Sunday’s race was his first top-five and fifth top-10 of the year.

Perhaps the best story out of Sunday’s race in New Hampshire was the unexpected run out of former Sprint Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte.

Just a few weeks after team owners took him out of the No. 47 – ending his streak of 704 consecutive starts – Labonte held station in the top five in the closing laps of the race.

Gambling on fuel strategy, the house won and Labonte was forced to hit pit road late in the race.        While his 27th-place finish does not reflect his strong run, it provided a much-needed confidence boost to a driver pushed down over the past few weeks.

While Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and others often dominate the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, it’s nice when four drivers that fly under the radar can showcase their talent and come out on top.

 

TNT’s Daytona Coverage Frustrates Many NASCAR Viewers

Unfortunately, in the Coke Zero 400, Martin Truex Jr. was involved in a multicar wreck that TV viewers did not see because coverage had gone into commercial.

While Jimmie Johnson dominated on the track Saturday night in Daytona, it was TNT’s coverage that was the hot topic of conversation for much of the race.

Typically one of the only races of the year broadcast in its entirety with side-by-side commercials, TNT limited the number of commercial-free laps to the final 30 circuits.

Unfortunately for many, this meant some of the most exciting action of the season went unseen.

According to www.cawsnjaws.com, there were 46 minutes of commercials during the 189-minute broadcast. Meaning, viewers missed nearly 25% of the action.

Instead, they learned about soda cookies, low testosterone levels, eating bones, and what style of body hair some model named Genesis enjoys on a man.

On track, however, the action never stopped and the race continued to unfold lap after lap. Pack racing at Daytona is a high-speed chess match played at nearly 200 mph with the potential for danger around each corner. At a moment’s notice, the entire outlook of the race could change.

That happened when Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya were involved in a wreck coming off Turn 4. With TNT at commercial and social media breaking the news of the incident, many took to Twitter to voice their disgust.

But it wasn’t just fans and media that were complaining. Nationwide Series regular Parker Kligerman offered his thoughts on the matter.

@pkligerman: I mean….. I can’t take it @NASCAR_TNT this is atrocious… If you need to sell this many commercials. Go get baseball.

Indy 500 champ Tony Kanaan watched the Daytona race on TV and was not happy with the number of commercials – and he said so via social media.

#FeelBad4Fans

Even 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan expressed his frustrations with the coverage, first responding to the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer.

@TonyKanaan: Too many RT @JennaFryer Holy hell there are a ton of commercials.

@TonyKanaan: And we are in the commercial break…… This is a joke….

@TonyKanaan: And……… Another one….AGAIN……

@TonyKanaan: And happen again. Please tell me somebody is playing a bad joke on my TV. Please.

Finally, it appears Kanaan has had enough, leaving one to wonder how many did the same?

@TonyKanaan I did… RT @TheMiniChad if you hate all the commercials there is only one thing to do: quit watching. #nascar

With NASCAR in the spotlight in primetime on a holiday weekend, the potential for new fans and viewers was there for the taking.

However, many were left frustrated with the coverage and potentially changed the channel – like Kanaan.

Commercials are a necessity in racing, yet it appears from the reaction Saturday night that fans are looking for change. With NASCAR’s television deals up for negotiation later this year, the potential exists.

IndyCar has been successful in utilizing the side-by-side commercial format for some time now. Even in NASCAR, ESPN has typically shown the final portion of the Chase races using the side-by-side format.

Getting everyone on board – NASCAR, the broadcasters and advertisers alike – will be no simple task, but with contract negotiations on the horizon, what better time to make a move and do something that could attract new fans and placate long-time fans at the same time?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Kenseth Emerging As Serious Title Contender

In Kentucky’s victory lane with crew chief Jason Ratcliff (left) Matt Kenseth’s fourth win of the year has made him a major contender for the championship.

He wasn’t the dominant car, it wasn’t his favorite track, but at the end of the day, Matt Kenseth stood in victory lane at Kentucky Speedway celebrating his fourth win of the 2013 season – and sending a message to the competition.

Gambling on the final stop of the day, crew chief Jason Ratcliff called for fuel only and sent his driver out with the lead. When Jimmie Johnson spun on the ensuing restart, it was Kenseth’s race to lose.

Taking the win in surprising fashion, Kenseth halted a string of poor finishes over the past five weeks.

After winning at Darlington, the No. 20 team was 15th in Charlotte, had motor issues at Dover and finished 40th, was 25th at Pocono, rebounded with a 6th at Michigan, then settled for a 19th at Sonoma.

Turning the corner on Sunday, Kenseth also notched his series-leading fourth win of the season. With nine races left before the Chase field is reset, the No. 20 team is positioning itself as the No. 1 seed heading into the final 10 events.

In their first season together, Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing started off with a bang. Theirs was one of the strongest cars in Daytona until the engine failed.

Then Kenseth and JGR rattled off three wins and seven top-10 finishes in the next 10 races.

They were able to overcome a potentially season-derailing penalty handed down by NASCAR after Kansas Speedway, deal with engine issues that plagued Toyota Racing Development and remain confident through their recent struggles.

Kenseth’s second victory of the season came at Kansas in April. He’s also won at Las Vegas and Darlington in addition to Kentucky.

Kenseth is not prepared to rest on his laurels, however.

“You’re always trying to get it better no matter how you’re running,” he said. “Just because you’re great today doesn’t mean you’ll be great a month from now. You know, you are always trying to improve.”

While Kenseth emerged victorious on Sunday, he was certainly not the best car in the field. That honor went to points leader Johnson.

For the fourth time in five weeks, Johnson was dominant to say the least. Leading 182 of the 267 laps, the five-time champ was on his way to his fourth win of the season.

However, for the third time in those same five weeks, Johnson beat himself.

While Johnson was left wondering how it happened again, the No. 20 team sent a message to the rest of the garage that it will be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the Chase.

There is still plenty of racing left, but the No. 20 team has shown it can win, have solid points days and overcome adversity when needed.

With a former champion behind the wheel and multiple victories setting the team up for a solid spot to start the Chase, this may be the year Kenseth earns his second Sprint Cup Series title.

 

 

 

 

 

Truex Jr.’s Win Just One Step In Sprint Cup Championship Journey

Martin Truex Jr.’s victory in Sonoma ended a long losing streak, but, more important, it might provide enough momentum for him to do well in the Chase.

June 2007.

That was the last time Martin Truex Jr. drove into Victory Lane and celebrated a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.

After 218 races, the New Jersey-native was finally able to do it again at the road course in Sonoma.

A popular victory amongst fans, drivers and industry insiders alike, Truex Jr. finally snapped his nearly six-year winless streak in dominant fashion on Sunday. Leading 51 of the 110 laps, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver stood in Victory Lane and predicted more wins to come.

“I’m just so glad this thing is out of the way because we’ve been so close and I feel like now we’ve gotten this one out of the way we can do it a whole bunch more,” he said.

While many celebrated Truex Jr.s’ win, it is only the first step in becoming a true title contender.

Currently 10th in the Sprint Cup standings with a notch in the win column, Truex’s Chase chances are looking pretty good with only 10 races remaining before the 12-driver field is set.

If Truex Jr. can upgrade his performances at some of the tracks in the Chase, he could make a run at the championship.

However, being in the Chase and actually contending for the title are two entirely different things.

Michael Waltrip Racing was in a very similar spot one year ago with driver Clint Bowyer. After winning at Sonoma, Bowyer had confidence on his side and knew his team was capable of contending week-in and week-out.

That confidence led to two wins in the final 11 races, as well as a second-place finish in the standings.

Throughout the 2013 season, Truex Jr.’s No. 56 team has been fast at times, but has also lacked consistency.

Part of those problems can be attributed to the recent struggles of Toyota Racing Development (TRD), but also to a lack of confidence for Truex – after losing so many races, one’s confidence is bound to waver.

However, now that the monkey is off his back, Truex Jr. admits it will be easier to lead a race in the late stages and leave the worries behind.

Will this boost in confidence lead to more wins in the future? Only time will tell.

Looking at his races thus far in 2013, Truex Jr.  has strong runs at some of the tracks in the Chase schedule. Aside from struggles at Phoenix, Martinsville and Dover, he was 2nd at Texas (leading 142 laps), 4th in Kansas, 7th at Talladega, and 9th at Charlotte.

With the Chase quickly approaching, if this team can turn around its poor performances at Phoenix, Martinsville and Dover, while maintaining the confidence found in Sunday’s victory, Truex Jr. could be a threat for the title at the end of the year.

Who Can Stop Hendrick Motorsports Except Hendrick Itself?

Hendrick Motorsports’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. lead the field repeatedly at Michigan and was up front when his engine blew, relegating him to 37th place.

Look at the finishing order from Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan, and you would figure Hendrick Motorsports had a miserable outing.

Jimmie Johnson led the non-charge with a 28th-place finish, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 37th, Kasey Kahne 38th and Jeff Gordon brought up the rear in 39th.

While this may look like a terrible day for team Hendrick, the results do not show the dominance put on display for much of the race.

Johnson, Earnhardt and Kahne led a combined 66 of the 200 laps, and were all contenders for the win until the wheels fell off – literally.

Gordon’s day never truly got started, as he was caught up in an incident with Bobby Labonte on the seventh lap.

However, from the drop of the green flag, the remaining Hendrick cars were prominent figures at the front of the field. From lap 64 until lap 131, it was a Hendrick-owned car leading the way (with the exception of two laps led by Casey Mears by staying out).

For the third week in a row, the field was racing for the “also-ran” spot in the finishing order, while the Hendrick boys put on a clinic.

Then the dominating day came to a crumbling end.

Kahne pounded the outside wall after cutting a tire when leading. Day done. Next it was Earnhardt Jr. whose car slowed, then billowed smoke from an engine failure. Day done.

With two of the top contenders out of the race, teams utilized various pit strategies to find a way to beat the final Hendrick car. Doing the opposite of most of the lead lap cars, Johnson fell from first to 20thwith just over 60 laps remaining after a four-tire pit stop.

Kasey Kahne was another Hendrick driver who showed ability to lead, and perhaps win, the race at MIS. But a flat tire sent him crashing into the wall.

 

At a track where clean air is king and passing is more than difficult, his day seemed done as well.

However, in true team No. 48 fashion, he charged to the front on fresher tires and closed to the second spot with only a handful of laps remaining.

Chasing down race leader Greg Biffle, Johnson was gaining more and more each lap, until a cut tire put him into the wall with only three laps to go. Day done.

Biffle went on to score the victory as Hendrick Motorsports was left to wonder what happened.

While this may have been an uncharacteristically bad day for the Hendrick bunch, it raises the question as to who can truly beat this organization in the long run?

Johnson dominated Dover, but was penalized for jumping the final restart. The No. 48 team responded to the disappointment by going to victory lane at Pocono the following week. It could have made it two-in-a-row at Michigan had the tire not failed so late.

Roush Fenway Racing was victorious at MIS, but has struggled with consistent performance all season.

Joe Gibbs Racing was stout early in the year, but has been batting engine issues as of late.

Stewart-Haas Racing is more concerned with righting a ship than contending for titles.

Penske Racing has been forced to deal with penalties, controversies, and Brad Keselowski’s ever-running mouth.

So who can really beat Hendrick Motorsports? It appears, as was the case on Sunday, only itself.

Time To Let Nationwide Series Shine On Its Own

The postponed DuPont Pioneer 250 Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway may have started late, but it had plenty of action. Trevor Boys emerged as the winner in an exciting finish.

On a day in which Jimmie Johnson started on pole and dominated at Pocono, it was the young guns of the NASCAR Nationwide Series that stole the show in Iowa on a rare Sunday morning race.

After weather postponed the Nationwide event at Iowa Speedway, NASCAR made the call to run the race at 11 ET on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, rain fell again, delaying the race once more and pushing the conclusion well into the Sprint Cup Series’ time slot. The 250-lap event saw hard short-track racing with an old-fashioned side-by-side battle for the win in the closing laps. Two of the sport’s future stars – Trevor Bayne and Austin Dillon – raced hard, bent sheet metal, and put on quite the show in pursuit of the checkered flag.

However, with so many eyes glued to the Sprint Cup Series broadcast, one has to wonder just how many fans saw what ended up being the best NASCAR race of the day.

While the Nationwide race may have had the better action of the weekend, it is important to take a look at the reason behind the success.

With the series performing as a stand-alone event, only one Sprint Cup Series driver – Joey Logano – was slated to run the race. When weather forced the Penske Racing driver back to Pocono, the field was set with only Nationwide Series drivers for the first time all season.

Austin Dillon leads the field to the green flag at the start of the Nationwide Series race in Iowa. Dillon was a victory contender and raced hard against Boys for the win.

Knowing it was their time to shine, they took to the short track in Iowa for their chance to finally reach victory lane – something that has rarely happened in 2013.

Since the season-opening race at Daytona, Sprint Cup Series regulars have won nine of the first 12 events – Kyle Busch leads the series with six victories. In fact, each of the 12 races this season has been won by a driver with some Sprint Cup experience.

A double dipping driver is certainly not a recent trend in NASCAR. Drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin and Harry Gant often pulled double-duty with great success in the Nationwide Series.

In recent years, NASCAR eliminated the opportunity for Sprint Cup Series drivers to win the Nationwide Series championship by making them ineligible for points, but the time has come to do more.

Sunday’s Nationwide-only field put on one of the best races of the season, as well as up-staged the Sprint Cup event nearly 1,000 miles away.

While racing against the likes of Logano, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and others may help younger drivers learn from the best, allowing them to race on their own and contend for wins will further develop their fan base and experience within NASCAR – as well as rejuvenate a series in dire need of a boost.

 

 

 

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