Stewart breaks leg in sprint race

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (AP)

Tony Stewart told anyone who would listen why he continued racing anywhere, anytime, regardless of purse or crowd or car.

STAR POWER

Three-time champ Tony Stewart’s impact goes beyond driving. Check out his top accomplishments.

Even after he flipped five times last week, Stewart was quick to offer a stout defense for his short-track weeknight racing while some questioned if his extracurricular racing was putting his championship chances in NASCAR at risk.

Well, his championship chances are officially over for this season.

The three-time NASCAR champion broke his right leg Monday night at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, where he flipped his 360 winged sprint car while leading with five laps remaining in the 30-lap feature. He had surgery Tuesday on the upper and lower parts of his leg, and Stewart-Haas Racing said he’ll need a second surgery.

He remained hospitalized and there was no timetable for his return to racing. Max Papis was tabbed to replace Stewart this weekend in the No. 14 Chevrolet at Watkins Glen, where Stewart is a five-time winner and his streak of 521 consecutive starts will end.

“I told someone to go get my phone or else I was going to get up and get it myself,” Stewart said Tuesday in a Facebook post. “Finally got reconnected to the world and just want to say thank you for all the prayers and well wishes. My team will remain strong and I will be back.”

The 42-year-old Stewart has wrecked three times in the last month in extracurricular racing, and the latest came a day after he finished ninth at Pocono in a NASCAR event to position himself 11th in the Sprint Cup standings with five races remaining to set the Chase for the championship field.

But Stewart had long refused to slow down his sprint car racing schedule, and passionately defended it following the June death of friend Jason Leffler in an accident at Bridgeport Speedway in Swedesboro, N.J.

He was just as impassioned last Friday at Pocono when asked about his accident last week in Canada in which Stewart flipped a sprint car five times.

His childhood hero, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, defended Stewart on Tuesday for sticking to his passion and being a true “racer.”

“He ain’t no prima donna and life is short, and we don’t know how we are going to die or what’s going to happen,” Foyt said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I just hate to see anybody badmouth Tony for anything he’s doing, and if they are, they are just jealous. People saying he’s putting his businesses at risk? I had three dealerships, people respected me.”

“If they are worrying about their jobs and him getting hurt, what’s to say he won’t have a heart attack tomorrow and die?” Foyt said. “He might die and it might not be from racing. I had business and I still raced. I always said I am going to continue racing until I don’t want to race anymore and he’s the same way.”

Stewart took responsibility for triggering a roughly 10-car accident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park on July 16 in which 19-year-old Alysha Ruggles injured her back.

Last week, in a sprint car race at Ohsweken Speedway in Ontario, Stewart rolled his car five times but walked away. He stayed at the track to compete in the World of Outlaws race the next night and bristled at the NASCAR event at Pocono Raceway when asked about his harrowing incident in Canada.

“You mortals have got to learn, you guys need to watch more sprint car videos and stuff,” he said Friday. “It was not a big deal. It’s starting to get annoying this week about that. That was just an average sprint car wreck. When they wreck, they get upside down like that.”

Following Leffler’s death, Stewart defended track and sprint car safety.

“I’d be grateful if you guys would understand that what happened this week wasn’t because somebody didn’t do something right with the race track. It was an accident. Just like if you go out and there’s a car crash. It’s an accident,” Stewart said days after Leffler’s death. “Nobody as a track owner wants to go through what happened, but it’s not due to a lack of effort on their part to try to make their facilities as safe as possible under the conditions they have.”

WHAT WAS THAT?

What are some of the wildest moments of the season? CHECK THEM OUT

On Sunday, veteran sprint car driver Kramer Williamson died from injuries suffered during a qualifying race at Lincoln Speedway in central Pennsylvania. Williamson, 63, was pronounced dead at York Hospital from serious injuries suffered in a crash that occurred Saturday night during the United Racing Company 358/360 Sprint Car Challenge.

Although it sounds cliche, Foyt believes racers want to go out doing what they love.

“Tony is a true racer,” Foyt said. “That’s one thing I respect about him. A lot of them people go to NASCAR and become a kingpin in one type of car. Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, they all were sprint car and midget cars drivers first, like Tony, and Tony still is a sprint car driver and it’s a shame he got hurt. But I don’t see where someone can condemn him for it.”

Gordon said it became too difficult for him to juggle various series when he went full-time NASCAR in 1991.

“I was racing Nationwide and Silver Crown and midget sprint cars and it was cool and exciting and fun and everything, but when I got full-time in the Nationwide Series, I just wanted to focus on that,” Gordon said. “I tried to do Nationwide and Cup a couple times and I didn’t really enjoy going back and forth, but my hats off to the guys that do that and enjoy it and do well with it.

“Sprint cars are to me some of the most exciting and fun race cars there are to drive. Anything that you do, you could put yourself at risk, so I think that he knows the risks versus the rewards and chooses to do that and I think that’s awesome and he certainly is very impressive when he gets in them how competitive he is. I certainly look up to him in that way because I raced those guys in sprint cars and know how difficult that is.”

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Papis to drive Stewart’s Chevy

Max Papis will drive the No. 14 Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing this weekend at Watkins Glen.

Papis will sub for Tony Stewart, who broke his right tibia and fibula in a Sprint Car wreck during the Front Row Challenge at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Monday night.

Stewart underwent surgery Tuesday morning as a preliminary procedure to stabilize and clean the Grade 2 injury. A second surgery will be necessary, according to his team.

Papis told FOXSports.com on Tuesday morning if given the opportunity to drive Stewart’s car, “it would be a dream come true.”

Papis, 43, competed in seven Formula One races before moving to Champ Car where the Como, Italy, native won three races and enjoyed 11 podium finishes in eight seasons. Two of his victories were on road courses – Portland and Laguna Seca.

“Mad Max” has participated for 16 seasons in NASCAR’s Grand Am Rolex Sport Car Series. His most recent of seven career wins was earned in GT Class of the Brickyard Grand Prix on July 26 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Papis has 35 starts in the Sprint Cup Series. His career-high eighth-place finish came at Watkins Glen in 2009. Papis also has three top-fives in the Nationwide Series, most recently at Elkhart Lake in June when he finished fourth in a Richard Childress Racing Camaro. His only full season of NASCAR competition came in the truck series for Germain Racing. He finished 10th at Martinsville Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, and wound up 18th in the point standings.

Last Tuesday, Papis tested at Road Atlanta for Stewart-Haas Racing. He shook down the No. 14 Chevy at the one-day test.

Papis will pull double duty this weekend. He is also competing in the Grand Am Rolex Sport Car Series at Mid-Ohio. That race is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Stewart is currently 11th in the point standings following a fourth-place finish in the Brickyard 400 and a ninth-place finish on Sunday at Pocono. The three-time Sprint Cup champion won his 48th career race at Dover in June.

Although the team did not speculate on Stewart’s recovery time, Dr. Mark Adickes, a Harvard-trained orthopedic surgeon and former pro football player affiliated with the Ironman Sports Medicine Institute and University of Texas Medical School, doesn’t expect the driver to return before the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“If Tony Stewart’s fracture extends into the ankle joint it could be three months before he drives,” Adickes told FOXSports.com. “If it is a less serious break he could be back as early as six weeks. An earlier return than that would really surprise me. He was obviously in quite a bit of pain to leave on a stretcher. A more minor fracture would have left him a bit more mobile. I suspect therefore it doesn’t look good for the foreseeable future.”

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Stewart leaves track in ambulance

Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart was involved in a four-car wreck Monday night and left the Southern Iowa Speedway in an ambulance, witnesses told FOX Sports.

Bob Pockrass of The Sporting News reported that Stewart broke the fibula and tibia in his right leg and needed to undergo surgery.

STAR POWER

Three-time champ Tony Stewart’s impact goes beyond driving. Check out his top accomplishments.

Stewart was running a winged 360 c.i. sprinter in Oskaloosa with the American Sprint Car Series and was leading when a lapped car spun in front of him. Stewart hit the lapped car and his car flipped.

Witnesses said Stewart had to be helped from the car and had an apparent leg injury. He was put on a stretcher and taken to an ambulance. His condition was not immediately known.

”It looked like he got into a lapped car,” race winner Brian Brown told The Des Moines Register. ”When I got close, he was flipping cage down. I didn’t really have time to watch and see what was going on.

”First and foremost, we’re concerned about Tony and making sure he’s all right. He’s a huge asset to our sport, especially sprint car racing and an icon in the whole motorsports field. Anytime you see him wreck like that and then leave in an ambulance, it’s never good. Hopefully he’s OK. We weren’t going to win that race. We were probably going to run third or fourth.”

Stewart’s wreck continued a recent trend for the 42-year-old driver in sprint car races. He also flipped last week at Ohsweken Speedway in Ontario, Canada, and caused a multicar pileup at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on July 16.

“You mortals have got to learn,” Stewart said after flipping at Ohsweken. “You guys need to watch more sprint car videos and stuff. It was not a big deal. It’s starting to get annoying this week about that, so that was just an average sprint car wreck. When they wreck they get upside down like that. That was not a big deal.”

Stewart is currently 11th in the Sprint Cup standings with one victory, putting him on the bubble for the Chase — NASCAR’s playoffs. The top 10 drivers qualify for the Chase along with the next two drivers in the top 20 who have the most wins.

Stewart was scheduled to compete Sunday in the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen, one of five races remaining before the Chase begins.

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Dale Jr. not pleased with lack of wins

PHILADELPHIA

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t satisfied with his fifth-place finish Sunday.

PHOTOS!

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And that’s a good thing.

He should be upset. Actually, he should be downright pissed off like the rest of Junior Nation as they wait for NASCAR’s Most Popular driver to end his 40-race losing streak and return to Victory Lane.

Hendrick Motorsports was Earnhardt’s second chance — an opportunity to align with stock car’s juggernaut to win races and championships. But since his arrival in 2008, that hasn’t happened. Jimmie Johnson happened. Three championships and 31 victories later, Johnson has not slowed down. And Mark Martin and then Kasey Kahne happened. In Martin’s first year with HMS, he scored five wins and battled Johnson for the title, eventually settling for a career-matching second-place.

Kahne has posted four wins in his first two seasons with Hendrick and finished fourth in points last year. Even 42-year-old Jeff Gordon has won six races and qualified for every Chase since Earnhardt arrived six seasons ago.

Over that same period of time the results consist of two wins — both at Michigan — and qualifying for the Chase in 2008 and 2012. While he’s run significantly better with crew chief Steve Letarte at the helm, the No. 88 team just hasn’t lived up to expectations.

This isn’t news to Junior. He’s well aware of the team’s short comings. At Pocono, it was the vibration that wouldn’t go away. On the cool down lap, he was already making suggestions to Letarte regarding what they can improve on for next year.

It’s clear that Earnhardt remains engaged and committed to turning things around. But that doesn’t ease his exasperation.

“It’s getting a little frustrating for me,” Earnhardt said. “I know the team is working really, really hard and they worked their guts out this weekend. I know they’re getting frustrating, too because we work so hard to do what we do. It’d be nice to get to Victory Lane every once in a while. We run well. We can’t complain about how we run. We’ve been fast pretty much all year. We’d just like to hit on it one time.”

Yes, 2013 has been Earnhardt’s most consistent season since joining Hendrick Motorsports. He led the point standings for the first time since 2004. With the exception of the two engine failures the No. 88 Chevy experienced at Charlotte and Michigan that delivered a blow to his progress, Earnhardt had maintained a presence in the top five in the point standings for most of the year.

But there are three areas where Earnhardt continues to struggle — qualifying, laps led and restarts. Earnhardt’s average qualifying effort this season is 15.2 — one position higher than his career average of 16.3. For whatever reason, Earnhardt is still challenged when it comes to leading laps.

His first season with Hendrick was his best when he led 896 circuits. He hasn’t reached half that number since. This year, he’s enjoyed time at the point in only five races. Although Earnhardt led two laps at Pocono during green flag pit stops, the No. 88 was woefully lacking on restarts. Even the driver referred to his restarts on Sunday as “frustrating”.

IT ADDS UP

Where are your favorite drivers in the Sprint Cup standings? Check out the points.

Still, Earnhardt is surrounded by “good people,” including his teammates who push him to excel. After the race he acknowledged, “I want to see my teammates do well not only because I benefit from it but they’re good guys and I enjoy working with.”

Here’s the rub. Earnhardt also knows that “they’re also our toughest competitors”. The only solace he takes from the catch-22 is the enjoyment Junior has in running against his teammates who will race him clean and knowing that it will elevate his game.

“It’s harder because they have the same equipment,” Earnhardt said. “They know what you’re doing. It’s sort of like how are you going to drive the lane? How are you going to draw up a play in football when the defense knows what you are doing? It’s like they know where you are going.

“But it raises our competitiveness. It’s good for all four teams. It pushes us all harder. It’s been great for our career. I’ve never worked harder since going to work for Rick. This has been great for me.”

BIRTHDAY PRESENT

It wasn’t exactly the gift Kurt Busch was hoping for on his 35th birthday, but he still tied a season-high finish of third on Sunday.

The 2004 champion is seeking his first win with Furniture Row Racing since joining the team last October. A victory would certainly help Busch’s effort to earn one of the two wild-card spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. While his fifth top five of the season elevated Busch to 13th in the point standings, he currently trails 10th-place Greg Biffle by 11 points.

With five races remaining to determine the Chase field, is Busch feeling the pressure?

“We’ve been fast every week when we unload and practice,” Busch said. “We qualify well and we start the race decent. We’re just not closing the door. (Sunday) was one of those finishes where we closed the door.”

Still, Busch knows that there’s one “area” the team needs “to polish up on” and “that’s the only way we’re going to make the Chase.”

NASCAR Military ties

United front

NASCAR has a way of showing its American pride.

That area — of course — is pit stops. The No. 78 Furniture Row pit crew has been unable to execute on a consistent basis — and it happened again during a crucial point Sunday. On Busch’s last stop, he entered the pits second and exited fifth behind Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman.

“When you’re pushing hard early and then get stuck behind guys, it just adds to some of the ill-handling of the car,” Busch said. “This is a game where you have to be perfect and getting on and off is my duty and that time that we spend in the box is the pit crew’s. We win as a team and we finished third as a team.”

Still, Busch is looking forward to this weekend’s race at Watkins Glen. Furniture Row used one of its test at the track which Busch says improved his confidence. Busch has one pole and a career-best finish of second.

Although Busch has not worked out his contract for next season, his immediate concern is making the Chase.

“We’re just putting the blinders on and worrying about the 78,” Busch said.

SOCIALIZING

Crew chief and dad Jimmy Elledge finishes “summer school” with daughter Karsyn in his home state of California. Grandfather Dale Earnhardt would be so proud.

NUMBERS GAME

9 Crash associated DNF’s for Denny Hamlin in seven full seasons of competition before 2013. On Sunday, Hamlin posted his fifth crash in his 17th race this season.

12th — Marcos Ambrose’s best finish since June 23rd at Sonoma. His average finish at this weekend’s venue — Watkins Glen — is second.

466 Laps led by Kasey Kahne in the first 21 races of 2013 — currently the third most of his career. Kahne’s best season at the point was in 2006, when he led 744 circuits while driving the No. 9 for Ray Evernham. That was also the first year of his partnership with current crew chief Kenny Francis.

SAY WHAT?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on getting wrecked at Pocono by Juan Pablo Montoya before the first lap of the race was complete.

“I was just thinking to myself on that pace lap that before we went green I was kind of hoping everyone would stay in line since we haven’t had much track time this weekend,” Stenhouse said referring to practice being rained out. “It didn’t play out like that though.”

Although Stenhouse spent most of the first half of the race in the garage, the Sprint Cup freshman finished 34th — one position ahead of his fellow rookie-of-the-year candidate Danica Patrick.

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Hendrick teams dominate at Pocono

LONG POND, PA.

In the June race at Pocono Raceway, Kasey Kahne barely made a full lap before his drive shaft U-joint failed and forced the No. 5 Chevy SS to the garage.

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On Sunday, Kahne returned to exact his revenge.

Kahne led 39 laps as part of a dominant Hendrick Motorsports’ parade in the GoBowling.com 400 and edged his teammate Jeff Gordon by 1.392 seconds at the line for his second win of the season.

Despite two cautions in the final 10 circuits and challenges from Gordon, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who were all seeking their first win of the season, Kahne was able to remain up front. Gordon’s decision to take the inside lane for the final run and a push from Busch in the No. 78 Chevy allowed Kahne to seal the deal.

“Kurt Busch pushed me down the front stretch and I just drove into one as far as I felt I could,” Kahne said. “I got some speed and momentum down the back to beat Jeff to turn two. That was kind of the race at that point.”

The four Hendrick teammates contributed to leading 118 of 200 laps on Sunday. But it would be hard to argue which of the three runners-up was the most disappointed.

“We had them,” Gordon said. “We certainly had the position. We got a good restart. I’m pretty disappointed that I allowed them to get to the outside of me down in (turn) one. That is the advantage you have of being second. Just like the restart before that, I had a little bit of an advantage by being in second to get position on him.

“I thought the last one I didn’t do everything I needed to do … but man, he got a killer run and blasted on the outside of me. Caught me by surprise, I’ll be honest. In that case, and in that scenario, it just kills your momentum. So I feel fortunate to finish second.”

Jimmie Johnson was the class of the field from his pole-winning, record-setting lap on Friday to the 43 laps he led before a tire blew on Lap 75 and he slammed into the Turn 1 wall. But the No. 48 team jumped into action, made repairs and was aided by the following caution for debris two laps later. Johnson remained on the lead lap and salvaged a 13th-place finish.

His misfortunes, however, opened the door for his three teammates — Kahne, Gordon and Earnhardt Jr., who finished fifth. Busch (third) and Ryan Newman (fourth), also powered by Hendrick engines, provided Chevrolet with a top-five sweep.

For Earnhardt, it was his first top-five finish since the tour’s last trip to Pocono seven races ago. While he doesn’t feel that his No. 88 Chevy is in the same league as Johnson and Kahne, Earnhardt realizes that having three strong teams to compete with in-house ups his game.

“I’ve been saying it for several years now, we’re just missing that little bit,” Earnhardt said. “We keep showing up with a fifth-place car every week. You’re just waiting on that dang day where you’re the guy — that you’ve got the best car. But it’s going to be hard as long as Jimmie and Kasey run like they do. They’ve got great speed, they always have and they’re our toughest competition.

“I know they’re my teammates but to be frank, they’re the fastest guys out there every week. Fortunate enough for us we know what they’re doing and we can learn from them. We need to take advantage of that and try to improve what we’re doing.”

Defending Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski and his Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano were the first drivers to break up the “Bow-tie” party after finishing sixth and seventh, respectively.

Penske Racing competition director Travis Geisler acknowledged that Hendrick Motorsports is “setting the pace right now and the 48 has been setting the pace for a little while and now the teammates are lining up.”

“They’ve got their game figured out,” Geisler said. “That’s the thing about the sport. There are ups and downs and right now they’re on an up as a group and it’s impressive. I think we could have been more aggressive on our strategy and probably put ourselves in a better spot. But I don’t think we were quite in a position to win unless things played out on a restart. It looked like the (No.) 5 was going to drive away from everybody. But then the 24 got him on a restart and it looked like he was going to get everybody.

“The way these tracks race right now, whoever gets out front looks like he’s Superman. But put him back a few spots and he’s not too special either. It takes all three things right now — a good car, good execution and good strategy. If you don’t hit any one of those three, you’re not going to have a good finish.”

On Sunday, Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis had all three. His victory elevated the No. 5 team to eighth in the point standings and as one of just five Sprint Cup drivers with multiple wins, Kahne’s a lock for the playoffs with five races remaining before Chase.

YOU CAN’T KEEP A GOOD MAN DOWN

Points leader Jimmie Johnson led 43 of the first 75 laps at Pocono Raceway before he wrecked after losing air through the bead of his tire and developed a power issue. Still, after dropping to 30th in the 43-car field, he fought back to finish 13th.

“I felt like we had a shot to win,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, blew a tire off of Turn 1 and ended those hopes there. We worked on the car and got it better. Then I hit the wall so hard that it knocked a spark plug wire off the spark plug.

“They were able to find the right plug and get everything hooked back up and the engine took off. Off we went and salvaged a very nice finish.”

And he still improved his advantage by two points over second-place Clint Bowyer, who finished 14th and now trails Johnson by 77 points.

ROOKIE ERROR

Danica Patrick appeared to be on her way to her first top-20 finish in the last three races when she lost control of her car in Turn 2 and collected Travis Kvapil, Jeff Burton and Paul Menard in the process.

“These cars rely on side force, so when someone’s on the outside of you, it always makes you a little bit looser,” Patrick said. “But I didn’t feel like I went in (to the corner) any more hero-like that time.

“We were tight in the race and so we had freed it up a little bit and it was better. But then, when they’re outside of you, you just get loose. So, just chased it up and it spun around and unfortunately it ends the day.”

Patrick qualified 34th and was comfortably running in 18th prior to the accident. When she made her debut in June, Patrick finished 29th.

Her takeaway from Sunday? “We were better off today than what we’ve been a lot of other days,” said Patrick, who finished 35th.

That wasn’t the case for Burton and Menard, who were caught in her wake. The two RCR teammates finished 36th and 32nd, respectively.

SOCIALIZING

SOCIALIZING 2

After Travis Kvapil was wrecked by Danica Patrick and finished 26th, he tweeted:

NUMBERS GAME

3: Pit road speeding penalties levied on Chase contenders — Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth

4: Teams with tire issues which led to wrecks — Nos. 48, 38, 30 and 43.

3: Laps led by Dave Blaney — the first this season

SAY WHAT?

After wrecking again and posting his fifth DNF of the season, Denny Hamlin acknowledged “our car was a handful.”

“I tried to fight through it until that competition caution (Lap 16), but I was getting run over from behind and just holding up traffic,” said Hamlin, who finished 43rd, his worst career finish at Pocono.

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NASCAR drivers take on three-turn Pocono


SPRINT CUP

Friday, August 2

11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. – First practice

3:10 p.m. – Qualifying

Saturday, August 3

9 – 9:50 a.m. – Second practice

11:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. – Final practice

Sunday, August 4

1 p.m. – Green flag for Sprint Cup race (160 laps/400 miles)

NATIONWIDE SERIES

Friday, August 2

4:30 – 5:50 p.m. – First practice

7 – 8:20 p.m. – Final practice

Saturday, August 3

5:05 p.m. – Qualifying

8 p.m. – Green flag for the Nationwide Series race (250 laps, 218.75 miles)

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

Friday, August 2

9 – 11:20 a.m. – First practice

Saturday, August 3

10 a.m. – Qualifying

1 p.m. – Green flag for the Truck Series race (50 laps, 125 miles)

Note: all times ET

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Johnson slams into wall at Pocono

LONG POND, PA.

NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader and polesitter Jimmie Johnson slammed into the wall in tunnel turn at Pocono Raceway after he cut down a right front tire 75 laps into Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400.

PHOTOS!

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series in action at Pocono, plus the Nationwide Series hits Iowa. CHECK OUT THE BEST SCENES FROM THE WEEKEND

“In the wall,” Johnson radioed. “It’s bad.”

Johnson ignited the fourth caution after leading 43 of 75 laps. After initial repairs, Johnson took a lap and reported the “steering wheel is kind of sticky” and he had developed a push.

Johnson held the best average finish at Pocono Raceway – 8.7 – with three wins on the 2.5-mile track and was going for the sweep on Sunday.
 

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Keselowski wins Iowa Nationwide race

NEWTON, Iowa (AP)

Brad Keselowski had to overcome a 1,000-mile flight, a pit row violation and an overheating engine just to earn a shot at the lead.

Once Keselowski got his chance, it became perfectly clear who the only Sprint Cup regular in the field was.

Keselowski took control with 35 laps left to win the NASCAR Nationwide race at Iowa Speedway on Saturday night.

The defending Sprint Cup champion has won in his last three Nationwide starts, also topping the field at Richmond in April and Kentucky in June.

Keselowski flew in Saturday afternoon from Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, where NASCAR’s top series will race on Sunday. Keselowski was then sent to the back after a tire flew outside the box on an early pit stop, and engine issues threatened to derail him about halfway through the race.

Keselowski persevered though, emerging with his second win in four tries on Iowa’s .875-mile oval.

“As a driver, those are probably some of the most difficult moments knowing you have a fast race car and knowing that circumstances are playing against you,” Keselowski said. “You can let the moment define you, or you can define the moment.”

Points leader Austin Dillon led a race-high 116 laps, but gave up a huge lead following a late caution.

Sam Hornish Jr. was second, followed by Brian Vickers, Dillon and Kyle Larson.

Keselowski, like every other driver in the field, spent much of the race looking at the back of Dillon’s No. 3 car.

Dillon led all but 43 laps in the first Iowa race back in June, but he finished second to Trevor Bayne.

Dillon again had a dominant car Saturday, taking control a third of the way through the race.

This time, a late caution flag changed everything.

Dillon led by as many as 7 seconds — or over a quarter of the 0.875-mile track — before a blown tire by Travis Pastrana drew out the flag and allowed the field to pit with 50 laps left.

Dillon took four tires and fell back to fifth as Bayne took the lead on the restart. Keselowski, who won the inaugural Nationwide race on Iowa’s oval in 2009, surged to the front and held off a charging Hornish for his third win of the season.

Keselowski reminisced about that landmark win four years ago — when he was among those Nationwide regulars chasing a Sprint Cup star, Kyle Busch.

“That was a race where, similar to (Saturday), I had to fight through some adversity with different strategies,” Keselowski said.

Drew Herring, in the No. 54 car for Joe Gibbs Racing normally driven by Busch, was the surprise winner of his first career pole.

Busch has won eight Nationwide races in 15 starts in 2013. But like every Sprint Cup regular except for Keselowski, he stayed in Pocono to prepare for Sunday’s race.

Herring, who was joined on the front row by Regan Smith, gave the lead away after just 27 laps. He also spun out on the 55th lap — drawing a caution to end the longest green-flag start of the season.

PHOTOS!

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series in action at Pocono, plus the Nationwide Series hits Iowa. CHECK OUT THE BEST SCENES FROM THE WEEKEND

The flag did Keselowski no favors, as he was flagged for that tire violation. But Keselowski remained competitive despite all of his issues, posting his first career victory in a race where he was called for a pit row violation.

“He made some really aggressive moves on the next to last restart to put himself in position, and I couldn’t believe how fast he was there once he got out front,” said Hornish, Keselowski’s teammate at Penske Racing. “Nothing seems to amaze me when it comes to what he’s able to do when he’s sitting in these Nationwide cars.”

Ryan Gifford was ninth in his first career Nationwide start.

Bayne, who gave the No. 6 Roush-Fenway Racing car its fourth victory in five tries at Iowa in June, finished 10th.

Keselowski wins Iowa Nationwide race
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Sweep thoughts: Can JJ do it again?

LONG POND, PA.

Jimmie Johnson is looking to make a clean sweep of Pocono Raceway in 2013.

COVER HIS TRACKS

Get to know what makes J.J. special. Check out his top racing accomplishments.

It would not be the first time the five-time series champion won both Sprint Cup races at the 2.5-mile track. Nor would it be his first sweep of the season. Johnson accomplished that task last month when he won the Coke Zero 400 after taking the Daytona 500 in February.

But it would be the first time since 1982 — when Bobby Allison pulled it off — that a driver swept both Pocono and Daytona.

Still, sweeps are nothing new to Johnson. From 2002 to 2009, the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy swept at least one track in every season but one. Johnson even pulled off triples by winning two races at Darlington, Pocono and Charlotte in 2004 and Dover, Richmond and Atlanta in 2007.

As one of six drivers to win both races at Pocono since the track received a second date in 1982 — and potentially the first competitor to complete the sweep there twice — Johnson believes Pocono’s layout and the close proximity of the June and August dates make it simpler to hit on a winning setup.

“Pocono, to me, has always been a track that I felt a sweep is possible and easier to have a sweep here than other tracks just due to the calendar,” Johnson said.

“There is not a lot of time between the first race and the second race. Things don’t change a ton. The track doesn’t change a ton, although it does lose some grip later in the season. With the cool temperatures this weekend, I’m not sure it’s going to be much different than what we had in the spring.

“The Daytona sweep, I would say, is probably the hardest one to get. When you look at restrictor-plate racing and the draft and how many cars really have a shot to win, I think the odds shift the other way pretty far. For a while there, I think the first handful of years of my career, we were able to sweep each year. We had a nice consecutive streak going then that came to an end.

“I’ve personally enjoyed sweeps. They have meant a lot to me, and I’m happy that I have one this year. It would be awesome to have two sweeps in a year if that is possible this weekend.”

Certainly, the driver’s fondness for the track plays into the equation. Although his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon leads the series with six wins at Pocono, Johnson holds the best average finish there among current drivers at 8.7. That number has been bolstered by three wins, 10 top fives and 16 top 10s in 23 starts.

Johnson won from the pole in June. On Friday, he set a new track record of 180.654 mph. For him, Pocono is simply a good time.

“Shifting here makes this track so much fun,” Johnson said. “When we weren’t allowed to shift for a while, the fun factor kind of went down some. The gear change allows you to help turn the car; it makes it interesting. You’ve got to manage the tranny. There is an rpm match you have to get right getting into third gear. So it brings back a lot of fun for me.

“Trips to victory lane definitely increase the fun factor as well. Sunday there is good potential for it to be pretty high on my list.”

SECOND TIME AROUND

Danica Patrick ran 10 races in 2012 to prepare for her rookie season in Sprint Cup.

But Pocono Raceway is just the second track Patrick has visited twice this year after her return trip to Daytona last month. Compared to Daytona, Patrick hasn’t found the results she’s sought at the “Tricky Triangle.”

In June, she qualified 30th and finished 29th. On Friday, her fastest lap was 31st on the speed chart, but she qualified 34th with a lap of 175.860 mph. And that was after Patrick and crew chief Tony Gibson concentrated solely on qualifying runs — a departure from her last trip to the track.

“We fired off OK, and it just seemed like as we tried to increase speed, we were finding some issues that were preventing us from being able to go faster,” Patrick said. “So, we’re trying to keep up with what the car does in qualifying trim. So, it didn’t end up great, but hopefully it will be good in qualifying.

“It’s challenging to pass here. But I think that our race set-up is good. I felt like it was one of the more balanced cars that we’ve had so far this year, here. So, I think that we have a good direction to go for race runs, but we all know how important qualifying is.”

The biggest challenge for Patrick lately has been getting the through the corners more efficiently. With three turns, Pocono is different than any track on the Sprint Cup schedule. But Patrick struggled with similar issues at Indianapolis and finished 30th.

When asked whether she could see any area of improvement on the track, Patrick joked, “Umm, when you’re turning the wheel.

“All three corners are pretty different, but definitely in the race, (Turn) 3 is very important because it’s the longest straightaway. And in qualifying (Turn) 2 is very important because it’s so fast. I’m looking at like what Tony (Stewart, teammate/team owner) is doing and I’m like, ‘I can’t do that yet!’ But I’ll keep working on it.”

SOCIALIZING

Clint Bowyer has some guidelines for what’s watched on the TV aboard his bus. From Bowyer’s Twitter:

“Had to make a rule in the bus here. Absolutely no Kardashians!!! I could feel myself getting dumber by the second.”

NUMBERS GAME

4 — Years since Ford had won a NASCAR truck race, before Ryan Blaney, 19, powered his Ford F150 to victory lane at Pocono on Saturday for his second career trucks win.

IT ADDS UP

Where are your favorite drivers in the Sprint Cup standings? Check out the points.

2 — The place finish for truck pole-sitter Miguel Paludo — his best effort in 62 career starts.

52 — Number of points that leader Matt Crafton is ahead of Jeb Burton in the trucks series.

SAY WHAT?

Crafton on salvaging an eighth-place finish in the closing laps of the Pocono trucks race after the event went to double overtime:

“I was getting greedy, and they were yelling at me, ‘Big picture. Big picture.’ But, I saved it. That was hairy — definitely. The back end just got out. I got really, really loose under (Joey Coulter) and just about wrecked it. All in all, not a bad day. Not good, but not bad. (The restarts were) stupid. Just chaos.”

Sweep thoughts: Can JJ do it again?
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Rain washes away Sprint Cup practice

LONG POND, Pa.

Saturday’s Sprint Cup practice at Pocono Raceway was canceled due to rain.

PHOTOS!

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series in action at Pocono, plus the Nationwide Series hits Iowa. CHECK OUT THE BEST SCENES FROM THE WEEKEND

Track officials anticipate driver introductions for the trucks race to begin at 1 p.m. ET. Trucks qualifying was canceled as well. Miguel Paludo will start on the pole after running the fastest lap in practice.

During the sole Cup practice Friday, Kurt Busch ran the fastest lap at 177.866 mph.

Jimmie Johnson will start on the pole for Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400. Johnson scored his third pole at the 2.5-mile track with a record-breaking lap of 180.654 mph. Kyle Busch will roll off second.

Rain washes away Sprint Cup practice
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