NASCAR: Will Danica Patrick and Stewart Turn It Around in 2016?

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart

The crew chiefs in NASCAR have begun to rival the drivers when it comes to silly season rumors, but unlike F1, you tend to know earlier who the crew chiefs will be. Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick have brought in new crew chiefs for their respective cars.

Danica:

Patrick, who brings a whack of cash to the SHR organization is often vilified. On the other hand, there seems to be a reason as she changes crew and chiefs like red lights in Shanghai. She’s hard to work with is what most of my sources say. My sources who were close to her at one point tell me it’s the IndyCar effect: Most of the IndyCar drivers are used to working with engineers rather than old school crew chiefs.

Patrick has seemingly developed the attitude of the Diva. It’s a common occurrence in open-wheel: ‘It’s the car, not me.’ That’s something the drivers in IndyCar can get away with for only so long as everything they do in their cars is captured on software, so you can run, but you can’t hide from the dreaded software. It tells all.

Her former crew chief, Daniel Knost is heading for a new position in the SHR camp as manager of vehicle dynamics, Knost will oversee a number of the organization’s technical efforts, with a specific focus on track simulation and racecar performance.

The 36-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, has been a crew chief at SHR for two years, spending 2014 with the #41 team of Kurt Busch and 2015 with the #10 team of Patrick.

Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick

Knost joined SHR in 2008 when it was Haas-CNC Racing after earning Master of Science and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Childers remains as crew chief for the #4 team of Harvick and Tony Gibson remains as crew chief for the #41 team of Busch.

Don’t expect the dynamics to change as Patrick has a reputation for being the “Alonso” of the Cup Series. All one has to do is listen to her radio in snapshots from all of the races and you begin to see where the difficulty lies.

Maybe Billy Scott, the replacement for Knost, will have a better experience as the problem seems to lie in the chemistry department. Knost joined SHR in 2008 when it was Haas-CNC Racing after earning Master of Science and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

The 38-year-old from Land O’ Lakes, Florida, comes to SHR from Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) where since 2014 he was the crew chief for the No. 55 team.

Stewart:

It had to be a very difficult season for Stewart with injuries and legal battles all the while trying to remain relevant as a team owner. It was a hard road for Stewart who unlike Patrick blames himself and not the car. Stewart has always been a driver who would look from within to seek the answers as opposed to calling the car out.

That’s a rare quality, how many drivers do you know who would say: ‘It’s my fault, not the car’. It’s very rare in all types of motor racing, but an admirable quality nonetheless.

Look for Stewart to try and capitalize on the 2016 package which should see the cars as tough to handle given the new low-downforce rules. However Stewart has to buckle down and try and develop the chemistry with his new crew chief, Michael Burgarwicz.

Michael Bugarewicz has been promoted from race engineer on the #4 team to crew chief for the #14 team of Tony Stewart. The 33-year-old from Lehighton, Pennsylvania, replaces Chad Johnston, who has left SHR to pursue a new opportunity. Bugarewicz joined SHR in 2014 where in his role as race engineer, he helped Kevin Harvick secure his first Sprint Cup championship.

You have to wonder how Kevin Harvick let him go, but Tony has the final say and seems to know what he’s doing. Uncle Gene, not withstanding.

There’s not much to say about Tony Stewart except one has to hope that he can emulate Jeff Gordon’s retirement year. If the 2016 low-downforce cars suit him, he will be a factor for the Chase. Well, if the Chase does have an eraser change before Daytona.

Let’s hope the best for Tony as the, hopefully, looser cars will suit his driving style.

He needs a spark and a good performance to motivate him as the 2015 season took a toll on Smoke.

But Hey, Smoke rises-right?

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Gordon Will Be Champion. Why? Hendrick Want’s It.

Never underestimate the taste of blood in your mouth. Jeff Gordon won't.

Never underestimate the taste of blood in your mouth. Jeff Gordon won’t.

All of the talk and trending news for NASCAR is centered on Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano’s altercation at Martinsville this past weekend. Unfortunately the fact that Jeff Gordon has locked himself in the final showdown at Homestead has taken somewhat of a backseat. It shouldn’t as I believe he has the best chance of taking his fifth title at Homestead.

I have to point out that the incident of Logano and Kenseth shouldn’t be minimized. The fact that Kenseth’s actions were premeditated and potentially life threatening should be enough reason for NASCAR to place an intense amount of scrutiny on the crash. However, is there really anyone, including NASCAR, that didn’t see that coming?

Will NASCAR hand down a suspension to Kenseth? Probably not as they depend, now more than ever, on the rivalries of drivers and altercations to give the fans, and yes those of us in the media, something to talk about. It is an atmosphere of NASCAR’s own creation and there’s no doubt they are reveling it.

They will have to hit Kenseth with something to avoid slipping down into WWE territory, in other words: “The Fix is In” conspiracy.

The fan base cries for better racing but in lieu of that not happening until 2016, when lower down force comes into play, they’ll opt for the sensationalism of on-track retaliation. It brings out the fans and helps to deliver eyeballs. The jury is out on whether Martinsville delivered or dropped.

Rick Hendrick has a plan and expects it to be followed.

Rick Hendrick has a plan and expects it to be followed.

No matter. Gordon is locked in and hi teammates are not. Team orders are not allowed and that means nothing. Papa Hendrick has delivered the message to the rest of his stable that they are to do everything they can to push Gordon to the Championship, and they should. How do I know this? Hendrick wants Gordon to go out on the highest note possible. He can’t be thinking any other way.

It’s metaphorically like professional cycling; the riders protect the team leader and sacrifice themselves in order to position the lead rider for the final stint. They are there to protect and serve. Hendrick, no stranger to NASCAR success, can’t think any other way.

Radio code-speak, pre-race strategies, you name it and they will think of it. Johnson, Earnhardt and Kahne surrounding Gordon to keep him out of crashes and then making their cars wide to hold off the hordes. It’s the Tour de Homestead and everyone else on the Hendrick team are expected to be Gordon’s domestique’s.

Recall the last race of the IndyCar season when all Ganassi cars were up front at Sonoma for Scott Dixon? It happens all the time despite the feigned outrage against team orders. It’s going to happen. They will serve Jeff Gordon.

Gordon has a record at Homestead that makes this possible. 1 win, 6 top fives and 5 top ten finishes and all with no real team support. He has the ability, the strategic sense and the teammates to make this a reality.

Logano and Keselowski may be factors, but the Hendrick train will seek to minimize them and any of the three other drivers that Gordon will have to face.

Will the hero go out on top. We think he will, but we’ve been wrong before.

 

 

 

 

Why NASCAR Road Races Matter

Could this be Danica Patrick's best chance of 2015 to take a win?

Could this be Danica Patrick’s best chance of 2015 to take a win?

Since NASCAR’s inception road racing has been an integral part of the stock car sanctioning body’s DNA.

Big Bill France had always intended for the series to a mix of ovals and road racing, although through the years the ovals took the lion’s share of the schedule. Why? Americans could sit in one spot and watch the war from one place without having to move around.

In an effort to further separate it’s brand from that of the European style road racing, NASCAR embraced the ovals as a way of imitating the games of football and baseball. All the action, concessions and seating in one place. But was that the right course of action for the modern era?

In my opinion, no. Road racing shows who really are the best overall racing drivers no matter the weight or style of car used. Everything a racer learns is employed in a road race.

Decades ago it was no rare thing to see the Unser’s, the Andretti’s, A.J. Foyt and Dan Gurney take a crack at the road races on a regular basis, however we now live in the age of specialization. It’s almost impossible for a NASCAR driver to be competitive in a professional level road race that’s open wheel or of the sprint variety.

Last year it was Carl Edwards riding over the curbs to take a Sonoma win.

Last year it was Carl Edwards riding over the curbs to take a Sonoma win.

Endurance racing isn’t as demanding on the driver as an hour and a half road race, which is why you see many NASCAR drivers run the 24 Hours of Daytona.

However, turnabout is fair play . It’s almost impossible for a Formula Car racer to come in and win a NASCAR oval race. They are unbelievably hard and ultra-competitive.

No matter, the regular Cup series drivers should be capable of driving these very heavy cars on road courses if they are to claim they are among the best drivers in the world.

After all, you don’t drive to work in a circle, do you?

Now we have Sonoma coming up this weekend where we find out who can handle these cars that don’t stop like they should, have very little traction and can easily spin the tires under acceleration. Good. That’s how it should be.

In fact, there should be at least 4 road races on the already absurd schedule and no fewer than two road races in the final rounds of the Chase. Heresy!

No matter whether you love ovals and hate road courses, there are plenty of fans who happen to enjoy both. On a road course you have an entire infield to navigate from one side of the course to the other taking in each corner as you go, it’s a complete experience.

Sonoma, being wine country, has to be one of the tougher road courses on these cars as they have to brake so heavily and then accelerate for long straights. It’s how auto racing was designed, to turn left and right and still be able to out-think the rival who is just in front of you.

It’s very much like a chess match that has a violent streak. On one level of the drivers thinking he or she must be capable of hitting the same marks on different turns every lap all the while having to think strategically about how they can set someone up for a pass while defending your position, all at once.

Let’s stop being dogmatic about ovals when road races bring out full fan attendance and some of the best action this side of Bristol.

I’ll have an old vine Zinfandel thank you.

NASCAR and VW: “Ze Germans” May Show up to the Party

France is once again floating the new foreign manufacturer balloon.

France is once again floating the new foreign manufacturer balloon.

It’s been quite a while since we’ve heard NASCAR talk openly about other manufacturers entering the sport, 2009 to put a date on it, most likely due to no one expressing interest. Now, Brian France is weaving this prospect of new blood coming into what is truly American style auto racing, IndyCar notwithstanding.

France has begun to integrate this possibility into his new narrative, just before the 2016 rule changes that are being bandied about. Why now, after a very long time of rumors of Volkswagen, Dodges return, Honda and Nissan?

Either France sees a hole in the global anti-American sentiment that NASCAR isn’t real racing or one of the foreign manufacturers has come to the realization that despite China’s braggadocios’ display of new found wealth, it doesn’t have the staying power to overcome sales in America.

You can strike Honda right now as their return to Formula One is proving to be much harder than they calculated, particularly with the absurd complexity of the new F1 ‘Power-Units’. If you didn’t get the memo, F1 uses ‘Power-units’, no longer engines. So who does that leave to burn up Daytona’s phone lines? Not many.

Nissan and Renault's Carlos Goshn has no apparent interest in NASCAR..

Nissan and Renault’s Carlos Goshn has no apparent interest in NASCAR..

Whether NASCAR makes it easy or difficult for them to participate isn’t really the issue. Do any of them really want to make that investment? According to France’s statements on Sirius radio: . “We’re generally open to figuring out how to make a new manufacturer work in NASCAR,” he said. “We have those discussions. Obviously, it’s complicated how a manufacturer might enter the sport. It goes back to the original points.

They want to make sure they have a fair and balanced playing field. If they line up talent, that they can have a shot to compete and do well. … Every single thing, and this is the beauty of NASCAR, leads back to the same path: How do we make sure that, as a sanctioning body, we lay out a plan and path where drivers, teams, manufacturers and sponsors all feel they can come into NASCAR if they compete hard and their talent allows them to do reasonably well? That’s an ongoing mission and serves everybody well when we get it right. That’s our mission.”

The VW Passat makes the most sense of any of the possible phone calls that France claims to have 'fielded'.

The VW Passat makes the most sense of any of the possible phone calls that France claims to have ‘fielded’.

Hyundai, with virtually no experience in auto racing would only do so if it had a compelling reason to build a push-rod V8. It can be done, but even the lessor cost of the push rod engine, it’s still a considerable expense to compete at the level required in NASCAR and it doesn’t make business sense not to have multiple teams to help cover the costs. Hyundai is developing it’s reputation in America as a very strong alternative to Toyota. It can brand elsewhere.

Nissan is involved in motorsports in a very different way, it, or should we say Carlos Goshen, Nissans CEO, doesn’t view NASCAR in a positive light. His world view includes running Renault and is additionally the Chairman of Russian automobile manufacturer AvtoVAZ. His Renault company is heavily mulling over taking over an existing Formula One team, Red Bull is the logical choice.

Don’t think the Russians are going to come to NASCAR. Picture WWIII is the grandstands.

It really only leaves a few, the most logical being VW. Yup, there’s that name again. Right now VW is being courted by F1. Will they cave, doubtful. They NEED to have a greater sales record in the U.S. The Japanese are beating them, BMW, Hyundai, Kia, the list goes on.

VW cant rely on it’s other companies, Porsche, Audi or, obviously, Lamborghini. They are deeply entrenched in European and Japanese style road racing. This only leaves the parent company to take up the American challenge.

VW is the 17th best selling car in the U.S. and that’s not a very good number from a company with this much financial horsepower. Why hasn’t VW sold more? Poor marketing, poor automobile offerings for the American market and expense. Have you priced a German car lately? It’s out of proportion for what you get. Priced a well appointed Passat? Not cheap.

On the other hand, the Passat is a great car, is the right size and VW can easily afford to run a NASCAR effort making it U.S. specific. An effort in NASCAR to raise it’s profile.

Let’s face it, NASCAR no longer can use the tagline “Win on Sunday Sell on Monday.” Entering NASCAR is a branding exercise to place the manufacturer in your head. This is exactly what VW needs.

Mazda has almost completely taken control of grassroots racing in America, but creating series just for VW wont work, it has to bring the Passat into the American publics view as a true competitor not just on-track but it has to translate to sales. NASCAR may be the quickest and most cost effective way of doing that.

The problem lies in the “Dodge Effect”. Not enough teams willing to take the plunge with new Chrysler leadership that is constantly distracted by it’s other companies that all are micro-managed by Sergio Marchionni. How many teams would actually entertain the VW brand? Who knows, it depends on what the Germans offer them.

Yes VW builds V8’s but not of the pushrod variety. They face the same challenges as Dodge, who is going to build those engines? Probably a third party, although Porsche or Audi could do exactly that. A pushrod engine isn’t rocket science, although there is quite the case to be made for a pushrod engine over a DOHC engine.

Our bet that this issue has resurfaced because VW is making forays into lifting it’s brand in the U.S. by whatever means necessary.

Will the 2016 rules, if implemented, actually help a new manufacturer in? That’s an unknown, what is know is that VW has all the cash, expertise in engineering and truly a need to be seen and heard by the American buying public.

Despite growing anti-American sentiment in Germany, cash is king and VW may need to spend some to make some.

Our guess is that the “Peoples Car” is on the phone in an effort to live up to it’s name.

 

 

 

Jimmie Johnson or Harvick Will Win The 2015 Cup Title

These two drivers have everything it takes to go head to head in the Chase.

These two drivers have everything it takes to go head to head in the Chase.

So Jimmie Johnson nails his fourth win of the year and everyone hates him, and lets face it, people hate others for a myriad of reasons. In this case it’s because he wins races.

What has been missed is the fact that this season in Sprint Cup has become unbelievably competitive. They are the same cast of characters that have provided the entertainment for the past few seasons.

There’s a reason for that. They are the best drivers in Cup and they drive for the best teams. Period. When you have a series where the teams run virtually the same equipment it comes down to two things putting that car in the winners circle, talent and money.

That could be said about any form of motorsport, but in Sprint Cup it’s a spec series, which makes it harder to win. No detail can be missed and every little trick they can think of has to be tried.

Johnson appears to have a handle on psychologically running block on his competition as the Chase looms later this season. I don’t care who you are, when drivers of this caliber see someone win four races and that driver has 6 Cup Championships, it gets inside your head. Harvick would be the one driver that it probably excites.

Ultimately I believe that’s who this Chase will come down to, Johnson and Harvick. I could be wrong, it is auto racing where anything can happen, but Harvick is still atop the points heap and remains consistent all the while Johnson creeps up in the standings.

Johnson fourth win this season is propelling him to the top of the standings along with Harvick.

Johnson fourth win this season is propelling him to the top of the standings along with Harvick.

Only four races remain until the ‘Race to the Chase’ begins and no one on the horizon appears to have quite the tiny little edge that these two drivers have. Johnson and his team know how to recover from bad weekends and Harvick knows how to play this game.

The racing in Cup has never been better but you can’t deny that these two drivers have the edge, the determination, the strategies and the sheer talent to drive at the limit for extended periods of time.

The fans all have their favorites but you have to consider that these two drivers, even at this still early stage, have the ability to overcome whatever is thrown at them, accusations of cheating aside.

Of course, in Sprint Cup, you never know what might happen, but history can be telling. Johnson and Harvick both know that when the points are reset, so are they. Their teams have been planning for it and will have a completely different strategy for the actual Chase than they did getting to it.

Stewart Haas have two drivers all but locked in, that is where the main team efforts will go. Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick with, perhaps, a little more influence on Harvick, It won’t be Tony Stewart or Danica Patrick.

Johnson’s team has always been on another planet when it comes down to the big fight and they learned long ago that they are the top Hendrick team. They will spare no expense or many nights using their brain-trust to execute every possible scenario to win this Championship.

Johnson wants that 7th title and Harvick now makes Pavlov’s Dogs look like a drooling Pomeranian.

Whoever wins the title this season it will have been well deserved, hopefully a clean and entertaining victory.

If I were a betting man, however, I would have to say Johnson will take the honor. Or maybe Harvick?

 

NASCAR: The Coke 600 Is No Longer Necessary

Cousin Carl Edwards finally gets his win. It was only a matter of time.

Cousin Carl Edwards finally gets his win. It was only a matter of time.

It cannot be argued that Sprint Cup racing has reached a level of dog-eat-dog competition that the rest of the motorsports world envies, with one exception, The IndyCar Series.

Watching the Cup teams on Sunday battle for 600 long, and unnecessary miles, they have established themselves as great drivers, great strategists and great athletes. 600 miles of hard driving should put to rest any doubts that they are athletes.

Unfortunately the Coke 600 is an absurd display of those talents. It’s too damned long.

After you’ve won the ratings war by a hundred fold, why go through the agony of having to watch the teams spend themselves on a race that was designed to out perform the Indy 500. That was long ago.

Maybe it’s because this year they didn’t. The Indy 500 was hands down the best racing on planet earth for Memorial Day weekend. The Coke 600 drug on like a Yugo drag race.

I’ve stated my position before, which is, shorten some of these NASCAR races where the competitors have to race hard for every moment of the race. What I saw in the 600 was a great deal of driving to set up for the last 50 laps. Why take 550 miles to do that?

600 miles for a NASCAR are has outlived it's novelty.

600 miles for a NASCAR are has outlived it’s novelty.

I know, IndyCar does the same in it’s oval races, but they race harder throughout the race, you can’t hold back as much with a modern IndyCar, you’ll lose the draft and precious momentum, the same could be said for the NASCAR races, but it’s just not as immediate.

NASCAR thrives on tradition, but this tradition began in order to one-up the Indianapolis party. It’s now become overkill.

A weekend that has three great races on it’s calendar need not have to come with an over-reach of trying too hard to be seen. The Cup races bury the IndyCar series in viewership. The Formula One races are so horribly predictable now the most exciting thing about them is the standing start and the first turn.

Formula One is in crisis, IndyCar can barely contain the bleeding and NASCAR is keeping it’s head just above water in attendance and viewership, but it’s far more stable at the moment than either of the aforementioned series.

The competition in NASCAR, both Cup and the Xfinity series has never been better, never had more competitive drivers and teams and has never been more interesting. So why bother to cling to a tradition that really isn’t? It was a creation that happened when NASCAR was on the defense.

NASCAR no longer need worry about IndyCar or Formula One. It has become entrenched as an American sporting institution and now has to concentrate on competing with other sports. NFL, NBA and Baseball are it’s main competitors and where it’s marketing efforts should be.

The 600 mile stock car race has simply outlived it’s value to the consumer.

 

Kyle Busch Should Not Race Yet

Busch should wait until his injuries and mindset are at full throttle.

Busch should wait until his injuries and mindset are at full throttle.

Kyle Busch is rushing his return to the #18 Joe Gibbs Toyota. Maybe that’s a strong opinion since the accident didn’t happen to me, but actually his injuries are very close to those I sustained in 1998.

Mine wasn’t quite as glamorous as a racing accident, but just as traumatic. Being hit by a car and thrown 50 feet didn’t do my bones any favors. Busch suffered a compound break of his right leg and a fracture of his left foot in in a wreck in the closing laps of the Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

Mine was a broken left leg, slight fracture of the right forearm and a very rare type of broken ankle. I know exactly what Kyle Busch has gone through. It took two years before I could walk without a cane.

Busch is beyond the shadow of a doubt one of the very best drivers in modern Sprint Cup. No one can deny that. But is he the smartest? One good hit in any of these next few races could undo all of the healing his bones have gone through.

Perhaps Stewart returned too quickly.

Perhaps Stewart returned too quickly.

Rushing back into one of these cars at an ultra competitive event such as the Sprint All-Star is courting disaster.

Busch is still young, JGR is not going to toss him aside for Erik Jones, talented though he may be. Jones is a super future talent, but Busch is a proven entity that should be secure enough in his abilities to not jeopardize his future.

It’s obvious to anyone who has some knowledge of these types of injuries that it’s a hard climb back to the front of a Cup race. Just ask Tony Stewart who hasn’t performed the way we’re all used to seeing. Is it trepidation on Stewart’s part or is it just a new type of car? My bet is that he has to overcome what all drivers do when they have catastrophic injuries.

Just ask Niki Lauda after his horrific crash at the Nurburgring in 1976. Lauda suffered extensive scarring from the burns to his head, losing most of his right ear as well as the hair on the right side of his head, his eyebrows and his eyelids. He chose to limit reconstructive surgery to replacing the eyelids and getting them to work properly.

It took everything Lauda had to mentally return to Formula One after this horrific accident. Lauda is buried in the flames.

It took everything Lauda had to mentally return to Formula One after this horrific accident. Lauda is buried in the flames.

Lauda returned 6 weeks later only to find he was terrified. He discovered that even though he couldn’t remember all that happened to him in the crash, he couldn’t navigate certain corners at full throttle, his mind wouldn’t allow it. He finally was able to mentally overcome it, but not without great difficulty.

I would have to say, from experience, that Busch, Stewart and Lauda both suffer what we now call PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Yes it applies to racing drivers, not just victims of horrible crimes or returning military personnel. It affects racing drivers who have had a catastrophic accident.

Racing drivers are a unique breed of cat. The first thing you want to do is get back in the car right away, get back on the horse, but it’s often rushed and can be a life-altering mistake.

Busch would lose nothing by more slowly working himself back into top shape. He’s that good.

I can attest that there is nothing more ever-present, more throbbing and more painful than broken bones, especially legs and feet. That pain isn’t gone for Busch. How much will it distract him in a full-blown Cup Car? Only he knows.

He should wait at least a few more races before climbing back into the number 18.

Jimmie Johnson Is A Greedy SOB

If you aren't greedy, self centered and ruthless....you aren't a professional racing driver.

If you aren’t greedy, self centered and ruthless….you aren’t a professional racing driver.

Jimmie Johnson is one greedy SOB. He’s a professional racing driver, what else would anyone expect him to be? It’s one of the integral ingredients of being an inveterate competitor. He should be applauded, not scorned.

Jimmie Johnson is no different than an ultra successful businessman, which he is, or an Olympic competitor. He’s not going to give anything away that might intrude on his chances at winning the Sprint Cup Chase.

Would he, at some tracks, give Earnhardt a break to get as many Hendrick cars locked into the Chase as possible? Maybe. But the idea that he gave the win at Talladega to Dale Earnhardt, Jr is absurd. Maybe not to the great unwashed, but to someone who knows what to look for, it’s not probable.

Jimmie Johnson was in the same position as everyone else in the ‘Great Talladega Conga Line’ of 2015 otherwise known as a race. Calling it a race is loosely defined if you care to watch it again on your DVR.

If Johnson had been foolish enough to try and slingshot Earnhardt, he would have been hung out to dry like many others were. Sometimes you need to take the most you can get and live to fight another day. Johnson did just that, he has a win and is putting money into his insurance policy of points.

Had he dropped down, he had a rookie, Ryan Blaney, who may or may not have dropped down with him, not to mention Denny Hamlin. Take note that those cars were a Ford and Toyota respectively. His attachment to the manufacturer had to weigh in on his decision. He had no guarantee that the rookie wouldn’t crash him or drop further down with Hamlin to blow by both Johnson and Earnhardt. It simply wasn’t worth the risk.

I read with great amusement the number of fans, mostly Junior haters, who cried foul while espousing multiple conspiracy theories across Twitter and Facebook. It’s nonsense. Johnson would have taken that win if he thought he could have. No question in my mind.

Professional racing drivers are some of the most self-centered, egotistical athletes on the planet. They have to be. Johnson wouldn’t have 6 Championships if he didn’t fit directly into that mold. He may be a nice, vanilla even, type of personality for the cameras, but beneath that veneer lies the heart of a no holds barred UFC fighter. Win at all costs.

The difference is you have to pick your battles in order to win the war. Johnson and, not to forget Knaus, always seem to know what they have, what they’re capable of and then maximizing their package. It works.

The only thing on Johnson's mind is winning.

The only thing on Johnson’s mind is winning.

The Talladega race was an anomaly. It bore no resemblance to any other restrictor plate race I’ve ever seen. I, just like you, expected that with 3 laps to go multiple cars would drop down and go together to form two lines that had a head of steam. It didn’t happen. Why? I have no real answer other than everyone somehow, collectively decided that they would take what they could get without risking a huge crash.

Perhaps they felt that leaving Talladega unscathed or at least with as little points damage as possible was the best course of action. On the other hand, it may be that as a collective, at that moment when things usually heat up, everyone thought the same thing: ‘If I go for it, I’ll be thrown to the back so I’ll stay where I am. Not normal, but in that one moment, possible.

What I don’t find credible is that Johnson would pitch a win just to give it to Earnhardt.

Yes, Jimmie Johnson is one greedy SOB.

Martinsville: Old Hot Dog Harvick Will Win

He's peaking and on a roll, don't bet against him yet.

He’s peaking and on a roll, don’t bet against him yet.

I’ve never been sentimental when it comes to racing cars. I have no real ‘dogs in the hunt’ as drivers. I couldn’t care less what hot dog they serve at Martinsville or the double wide signature edition Grandfather clock as a trophy. But, I do look at that track with admiration as the first real test of who can drive the 2015 car on almost purely mechanical grip.

Bill Marlowe, our resident Cup car expert, gave me a quick lesson in driving Martinsville and what to expect with the race this weekend.

The top speed before entering turn 1 with the Gen 6 car in it’s current configuration at Martinsville is about 123 MPH. The minimum velocity for the aerodynamics, namely the lower downforce, is about 80 MPH. Given that, you would think that the rear spoilers would play a big role in how you get around turn one. Not so.

The biggest problem, according to Bill, is that drivers tend to want to brake too deep into turn one or turn two, too late. When this happens the car doesn’t want to turn in. In an effort to overcompensate, especially the new drivers, they will drive right towards the curbs that Martinsville is so famous for.

The masters here, Gordon, Johnson and Harvick, are about two feet off of the curb and therefore have an apex that seems unnatural. The reason they end up here is that they need to roll through the corner carrying as much speed as possible without the rear stepping out.

To accomplish this they actually will back off and begin their entry into the corner on turn one right at the spotters stand. So critical is this that many of the top teams actually will install a rev limiting chip that causes the rpm’s to max out at somewhere around 8800 RPM.

Martinsville: Not the track of brotherly love.

Martinsville: Not the track of brotherly love.

That means they have no choice but to back out of the throttle right about at the starters stand. Having come from a road racing background it seems unnatural to me, but apparently it’s all about rolling through the corners and mechanical grip.

Remember the cars have less horsepower and are 100 lbs lighter than they were, so carrying momentum into and through the corner is paramount in order to get out onto the next straight and the next and the next, etc.

According to the wily Mr. Marlowe, they actually use the road racing brakes on the Martinsville cars in order to get down to speed quickly and as much open air ducting as possible as the braking has to be quick, but smooth, and has to cool quickly to negotiate the next turn, which comes up at you very quickly on such a short track.

In my quest for knowledge I queried him on the chassis. So far, Hendrick has had an advantage here but that now seems to have shrunk somewhat as Stewart-Haas racing has somehow improved on it, not to mention that they have Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, both winners here.

I know, SHR uses Hendrick chassis, hell, Hendrick everything, but something so far this season has been different about them and you can see that in both Johnson and Gordon in the closing laps of the last several races. Mainly, they aren’t closing and Busch and Harvick are. I don’t want to leave Keselowski out here, but he has the Ford equivalent of the Hendrick car.

I fully expect that all four of the Hendrick based chassis and the two Fords of Penske to be at the front. With track position critical here, you don’t want to fall behind. Qualifying should be a must watch event if you’re truly a diehard NASCAR fan.

A lot has been made of the new car, the tweaks, the new rules and the first group of races. I personally think it’s the best start to a NASCAR season I’ve seen in years. Even though Harvick is a dominant force so far, Kurt Busch seems to have his number and one has to wonder what’s going to happen at such a physical track as Martinsville.

Bill Marlowe uses the phrase “10 lap magicians” to describe those drivers who have that little tiny extra, that ‘gift’ of being able to pull out a victory or pick up the game in closing laps. These are the drivers that on any given day have that ability to pull from somewhere mystical to make it happen.

Johnson, Gordon, Keselowski, Logano, Harvick, Busch (both of them) and potentially Kyle Larsen, who hasn’t quite crossed the magical Rubicon just yet but is close. Stewart was there, but so far he’s been backing up.

The winner should come out of this group and hopefully the fans will get to witness another Harvick/Busch fight.

Pick one of these drivers to win. I think it’s between Harvick and Busch but it’s racing and this is, after all, Martinsville.

 

 

 

 

Harvick: The Right Man To Win The Championship

Kevin Harvick is congratulated by his team owner, Tony Stewart, after Harvick won his first Sprint Cup title and the second for Stewart Haas Racing.

Kevin Harvick is congratulated by his team owner, Tony Stewart, after Harvick won his first Sprint Cup title and the second for Stewart Haas Racing.

Many competitors have already said that Kevin Harvick deserved the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship – and many fans agree.

During the course of the season he emerged as one of the most competitive drivers in NASCAR. He put up the kind of numbers it takes to win a title.

For example, he led 2,137 laps, more than any other driver. He’s only the third competitor to lead more than 2,000 laps in a given season.

Interestingly, Jimmie Johnson lead 2,238 laps in 2009 and Jeff Gordon 2,320 laps in 2001 – and both won a championship.

Just prior to the start of the Chase, Harvick started leading laps with ease. He led the most laps in four of the first five “playoff” races, but won only once, at Charlotte.

Prior to 2014, Harvick finished among the top-five in the championship standings six times. He finished third three times, in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

Despite his propensity for leading laps during the Chase, Harvick found himself in a quandary. He was eighth in points after Texas and had to find some way to move into the final four after Phoenix, the next, and last, race before the championship tilt at Homestead.

Harvick came through marvelously. He won at Phoenix – where he led the most laps, again – and cracked the top four, barely.

At Phoenix Harvick might have been at his best. Certainly his championship rivals – Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman – were not about to do anything than their best.

With Harvick in the lead much of the time, the championship contenders locked themselves into the top five, lap after lap.

It was pure, hard racing – the kind of which NASCAR fans so heartily approved.

Ford EcoBoost 400

Harvick came into the last race of the year, at Homestead, fourth in points. His second win in the Chase put him over the top.

Circumstances changed near the end of the race. Harvick found himself free of most of his challengers. Only Newman persisted.

Harvick led the last eight laps (of 54 for the race) and won his second consecutive race in the Chase. It assured him of his first Sprint Cup championship.

Harvick finished with five victories – tied for second-most on the season – 24 top-fives and 20 finishes among the top 10.

Harvick won career-high eight poles in 2014 and set qualifying records six times.

Harvick won the second Sprint Cup title for Stewart Haas Racing since its inception in 2009. The team won the championship with co-owner Tony Stewart in 2011.

But I daresay this year’s title has been far more satisfying. SHR has endured a difficult, controversial year. As you know, a grand jury would not indict Stewart after he struck and killed a driver in a Sprint Cup race in New York in August.

Kurt Busch faces allegations he assaulted his girlfriend in Dover in September. Investigation is ongoing.

It was Harvick’s championship that brought a new, positive focus to SHR and helped establish it as a quality team – despite its difficulties.

This might be Harvick’s first Sprint Cup title but he is no stranger to championships. He has eight driving titles in 33 years of racing.

He joins Bobby Labonte and Brad Keselowski as the only three drivers to have won Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series championships.

Harvick admitted that to win the title wasn’t easy. Prior to the Homestead race, he felt the pressure.

“The week ate me up,” Harvick said. “If it wasn’t for Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, I would have been in bad trouble. Those guys really helped me get through the week.

“I was a little anxious both days of practice, overdriving the car and not doing things I needed to do. After every practice, Jimmie was in there, and in our team debriefs Tony was constantly telling me just to go race and that it’s just another race.

“It was. It all worked out. I’m just really proud of everybody.”

Harvick did not join SHR until the start of this season. He spent 13 seasons with Richard Childress Racing, where he compiled a record of 23 wins, 100 top-five finishes and 209 among the top 10.

But changes were coming at RCR, including the emergence of Childress’ grandson, Austin Dillon. So Harvick moved on.

And who could have predicted his first season at SHR would bring a championship?

“They gave us all the resources that we needed, and said, ‘Whatever you guys think you need, you go get,’ ” Harvick said. “We never talked about money, we never talked about any anything financial. It was just go get what you need.

“We built all brand new race cars, trucks, trailers with all new people. This format really helped us build through the year. We had really fast cars but it helped us build as a team.”

Harvick also acknowledged that the new Chase format was a boon and a success for him. – which is obvious.

“I think this Chase is about the best thing that has happened to this sport over the last decade,” he said. “This is probably going to shorten the drivers careers because it’s been so stressful.

“But I want to thank every single fan for sticking with this sport, and to the industry for working to get it right.”

 

 

 

 

 

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