NASCAR: Joey Logano is Penske’s Title Contender

 “to be the Man, you have to beat the Man.”

“to be the Man, you have to beat the Man.”

“Yeah Baby! Bristol again! Get you some!!”

The yell over Joey Logano’s radio as he took the checkered flag at this week’s Bristol Motor Speedway IRWIN Tools Night Race for the second straight year and his festive celebration afterwards was not lost on me. Behind Logano’s affable boyish grin and charming outlook lurks a fierce competitor who is Team Penske’s prime threat to win the Sprint Cup title in 2015.

All of 25 years young but in his eighth season, Joey Logano has demonstrated that he is more than ready to win the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship when the series reaches its final playoff round at Homestead Miami Speedway later this year.

What is more significant is that Logano has found a home at Team Penske, and is arguably their best Championship contender as we approach the Darlington Southern 500, the penultimate race before the Chase begins. Back in 2012, Logano was cut loose from Joe Gibb Racing’s legendary Home Depot #20 Cup car, where he was arguably thrust into before his time at the adolescent age of 17.

Such an assertion that Logano is now Team Penske’s prime threat is perhaps brash, given that Brad Keselowski is the team’s senior driver in his sixth full season, and “Bad Brad” has already won one Sprint Cup Championship back in 2012. At that time, he beat Mr. “Six Pack” Jimmie Johnson, at his own game, and proclaimed that “to be the Man, you have to beat the Man.”

Make no mistake, Roger Penske is agnostic as to who delivers a title, he just wants the title.

Make no mistake, Roger Penske is agnostic as to who delivers a title, he just wants the title.

Scrutinizing Logano’s performance, we see a consistent trend of advancement since joining Team Penske. In his first year with Team Penske in 2013, Logano’s average finish was 14.1, which was a dramatic improvement over his prior year performance with Joe Gibbs Racing. Last year, he improved his average finish to 11.3. Now Logano is delivering in the lofty single digit range, with an average finish of 9.0 in 2015, which is second only to Kevin Harvick’s amazing season average of 7.4, as Harvick continues to pick up where he left off last year.

In a head-to-head comparison with his Penske teammate this season, Logano has finished ahead of Keselowski in 15 of the 24 points paying races. Even more stellar, Logano has 14 top five finishes, almost triple the 5 finishes in the top five amassed by his teammate Keselowski. Logano also has led the second most laps this season at 808 (again second only to the Harvick), which is nearly twice the number of laps led by Keselowski.

Last year, Logano advanced to the final Championship 4 round at Homestead Miami Speedway. Multiple issues in the 2014 season finale proved to be the #22 team’s undoing, including Logano hitting the wall early on, as well as a late pit road miscue with 20 laps to go of dropping the jack early, leaving Logano incredibly frustrated and stranded outside the top 20 on the final restart.

None of that baggage from the 2014 season-ending breakdown was in evidence in Bristol on Saturday night as Logano drove a crafty race, hitting his marks with no slip-ups. Bristol can be a scalding cauldron, and even a slight driver error can result in catastrophe. With Harvick filling his mirrors, Logano artistically drove different lines to close the door when necessary, while seamlessly negotiating lapped traffic on the clustered half-mile circuit. Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, called out Logano’s execution as the key to the team’s victory at Bristol. “He performed flawlessly,” proclaimed Gordon after the race. “When it comes down to the time to make it happen, he elevates. Joey never folded and never made a mistake and did what he had to do and executed. It’s a Joey Logano performance.”

The Team Penske boys are hungry to bring Roger another title, no doubt. Still, I’m elevating Logano to the head of the class based on his consistent performance and the shared wisdom that “one must first lose a championship to learn how to win one.” Logano’s time has arrived, as he now exhibits the poise, confidence, and calm demeanor that are trademarks of the Captain’s organization. The current Chase playoff format is inherently chaotic, but I’m staking my claim that Joey Logano will be in the Championship hunt on the final lap of the Ford EcoBoost 400 come November 22nd.

Follow Ron Bottano on Twitter: @rbottano and @motorsportsunplugged

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyle Busch Hopes Slump Ends At His Favorite Track, Bristol

Kyle Busch has been on a string of bad luck lately and he hopes that will change at Bristol. Still, he remains safe as a Chase contender.

Kyle Busch has been on a string of bad luck lately and he hopes that will change at Bristol. Still, he remains safe as a Chase contender.

Lately, Kyle Busch seems to be in the midst of a free fall – or so it seems.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has had a string of uncommon poor finishes as of late and, as a result, he has slipped in the point standings.

It would not appear he’s in any danger of not making the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Coming into this weekend’s race at Bristol, he was 15th in points – but seeded eighth in the grid because of a victory.

That aside, what’s happened lately is not Busch’s style, not by a long shot.

Let’s go back to Sonoma in June, eight races ago.

Since that time Busch has finished 25th or worse five times.

Remarkably, in the additional three races he has three runnerup finishes, at Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis.

But in the last three races, well, he’s hardly been noticed. He finished 42nd at Pocono, 40th at Watkins Glen and 39th at Michigan.

He once stood sixth in points after Indy. Now, as mentioned, he’s 15th.

You understand, of course, that little of what has happened is the fault of Busch or his team – for the most part, anyway.

It’s been a series of unfortunate mishaps, such as at Michigan, where he lasted just five laps before a crash sent him into the garage for repairs and an ultimate 39th-place finish.

These types of things happen to every NASCAR team at some point, perhaps more often to some than others.

Busch has a remarkable record at Bristol in all three Series. Even though he won the pole for the Aug. 20 truck race, he cut a tire late and finished well back in the pack.

Busch has a remarkable record at Bristol in all three Series. Even though he won the pole for the Aug. 20 truck race, he cut a tire late and finished well back in the pack.

Nevertheless, the timing does not suit Busch, not to mention much of anything else that’s happened.

“We’ve had a tough couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s been a struggle. At Pocono we had an engine deal and then we got behind at the Glen with a fueling issue and crashed.

“Then at Michigan we were good on the first couple of laps on the bottom of the track. I got greedy, took it to the outside and crashed.”

Busch may well think that he can solve his problems at Bristol – as well he should.

At the 0.533-mile track he has 16 NASCAR series victories, five in Sprint Cup, seven in the Nationwide Series and four in the Camping World Truck Series.

In 2010 he became the first driver to sweep all three series races at one track.

But that won’t happen this year. He won the pole for the Aug. 20 truck race and led three times for 81 of 200 laps. He suffered a cut tire late in the event and finished 24th.

He had his chance at redemption in the Nationwide Series race on Aug. 22 and has another in the Irwin Tools Night Race on Aug. 23.

“When they changed the track to this current surface in 2007, I just really took to it right away,” Busch said. “I really liked it and I’ve been fast there, but also I’ve had great race cars from Joe Gibbs Racing.

“It’s just a fun race track no matter what series I’m running there.

“You make one mistake, or someone else makes one mistake, that’s it. We’re hoping things will fall in place this weekend and we get to victory lane.”

That would be a welcome change. Again, although Busch is safely in the Chase, there’s no doubt he would like to see overall performance – not to mention his luck – change.

“I feel like our cars have been mostly competitive,” he said. “They have not been 30th-place cars or anything like that.

“We just haven’t been able to finish.”

So far, through one event at Bristol that seems to remain unchanged.

But it ain’t over yet.

 

 

 

 

      

      

 

      

Fate Kind To Stewart, Not to Harvick or Kurt Busch

Tony Stewart rallied from a 37th-place starting position to earn a fourth place at Bristol, his first top-five finish of the year and one he hopes will start a comeback.

As you know, when it comes to competition, racing can be downright fickle.

In one race a driver performs very well and he’s feeling on top of the world. And then, it’s very possible that in the next race his performance is out to lunch and he’s down in the dumps.

Or he could be riding a hot streak only to see it chilled with a poor performance or a stroke of bad luck. And then it could be just the opposite.

A driver is on the path of mediocrity that comes to an end with a good finish.

It happens all the time.

For a few drivers it happened in the Food City 500 at Bristol, the fourth race of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

Tony Stewart had been mired in a slump since Daytona. He hadn’t had a finish in the top 10, much less the top five. He found himself mired in the bottom 20 in the point standings.

It was pretty much the same for his Stewart Haas Racing team. Danica Patrick, plagued by accidents, was not even in the top 30 in points.

Only newcomer Kevin Harvick basked in the spotlight. He won the second race of the year, at Phoenix and found his way into the top 15 in points – where he needed to be because only the top 16 in the standings who have won races makes the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

For SHR, Bristol was fickle. Two drivers were up, two were down.

For Stewart, the race was a godsend. Didn’t look that way at first when her qualified 37thon owner points.

Danica Patrick avoided some problems at Bristol and went on to finish 18th, easily her best finish of the season and one which boosted her five positions in the point standings.

But during the grueling race, delayed for several hours by rains, Stewart doggedly hung in to finish fourth – his first and only top-five run of the year.

It was a tonic. It lifted Stewart out of mediocrity and jolted him upward – for the first time this season – four positions in the standings. He’s now 23rd.

Not where he wants to be, but for now, he’ll take anything he can get.

“It was great,” Stewart said. “To start 37th and end up fourth today, I’m pretty excited about that.

“I’m really excited for everybody on the team. Everybody just worked hard all weekend. We had a long way to go from Friday, when we weren’t very good and every day we just got better and better. So, I’m really proud of this team.”

Stewart knows any “comeback” hasn’t really happened yet. But for it to do so, the time had come to make some progress.

“It’s a step in the right direction for sure,” he said.  “This is a big one.  If you come out of this place with a top-five you’ve had a good day.

“Track position was big like it always is here.  We were pretty strong at the end we just couldn’t run those guys down in front of us. Carl Edwards was obviously really strong at the end but I am happy with the day that we had.”

Teammates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick were not happy after Bristol. Busch finished 35th and Harvick 39th, his worst performance of the season.

Busch is 31st in points and Harvick fell from 14th to 21st. He’s been unable to finish among the top 10 three of four races this year – but, of course, he has that Daytona victory.

Neither Busch nor Harvick can be blamed for their performances at Bristol. They were victims of mechanical misfortune.

For SHR’s Danica Patrick, fate decided to be kind. She wrecked in practice and started the race in 36th position because of owner points.

However, she avoided potential accidents and persevered for an 18th place finish, easily her best showing of the year.

“We had to go to a back-up car just four laps into practice, so I appreciate the effort of the guys,” Patrick said. “It was a tough weekend, so to come out of here with 18th, I’ll take it.

“It was an eventful night. Cole Whitt wasn’t clear and got into us and so we had some damage.

“Then I lost 1st and 2nd gear and then finally 3rd gear, so the last 100 or 200 laps I only had fourth gear. That’s why I hit Clint (Bowyer) in the pits. I am sorry about that.”

Despite her problems, Patrick advanced five spots in points to 28th place, up from 33rd.

Want more fickle?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was bidding to become only the second driver with four consecutive first-or-second place finishes. Richard Petty did it in 1974.

But tire and handling issues thwarted him. He drifted to 33rd place before his team lifted the hood on his Chevrolet. He finished 24th, four laps down to winner Edwards.

Earnhardt Jr. dropped from first to second in points, 10 behind new leader Brad Keselowski.

But he remains confident. He has been virtually assured of a place in the Chase.

“As long as they’re telling the truth about if you win, you’re in, you ain’t worried about it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “You ain’t worried about it – you either win, or you don’t win.

“Second through last doesn’t really matter. If you don’t win, you just go home and try again.”

 

 

 

 

Bristol: Winner Kenseth Clinches While Johnson Flinches, Again

At Bristol, to earn his fifth victory of the season Matt Kenseth (20) had to beat Kasey Kahne in a late-race battle for the checkered flag.

Matt Kenseth’s success in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing continues as he won the Irwin Tools Night Race 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It was his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the season, more than any other driver, and it earned him entry into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer have also made the Chase. Johnson has been the season’s most dominant driver. But he has hit the skids.

At Bristol, Johnson suffered his second consecutive finish beyond the top 30. He wound up 36th at Bristol and engine failure relegated him to 40th at Michigan six days earlier.

Until Michigan, Johnson had finished out of the top 20 only three other times this season.

Johnson is still No. 1 in points – a position he’s held for 20 of the first 23 weeks of the season – but his margin has dropped significantly.

He led Bowyer by 77 points after Pocono three weeks ago and, after his disastrous finishes the last two weeks, his lead is just 18 points.

Meanwhile, Kenseth’s fifth win of the season makes him the leader for the top seed when points are reset for the Chase.

Kenseth, who led the most laps at Bristol with 149 – including the last 126 – earned the victory after he won a late-race scrap with Kasey Kahne, who

Clint Bowyer (15) may have finished just 14th at Bristol after he was involved in this wreck, but he remains second in points and has closed on leader Jimmie Johnson.

bulldogged Kenseth until the checkered flag.

“I think Kasey was getting tired of battling me,” Kenseth said. “Kasey’s just an unbelievable talent – we’ve finished first-second a couple times this year.

“He wanted it bad. We raced as hard as we could race and used every inch of race track.  I had just enough to hold it – just enough fuel and just enough tires.”

With victories at Las Vegas, Kansas, Darlington, Kentucky and now Bristol, Kenseth has already matched his career high. He won five races with Roush Fenway Racing in 2002.

But few, if anyone, figured he would do so in his rookie year with Gibbs.

Kenseth takes little credit for it.

“It’s this race team that’s won the races, not me,” he said. “I’m just the lucky guy piloting it.  Just so proud of this team. They’ve done a spectacular job really all year.

“The last month-and-a-half we’ve been off a little on speed.  I wasn’t real happy with our car yesterday and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the whole group at JGR got together and tried to tweak out what we need and what would be good in our cars to make them run.

“It was pretty right all night.”

Kenseth remains sixth in points but, as said, he doesn’t have to worry about making the Chase.

Neither does Bowyer. Fact is, if Johnson continues to stumble over the next two races leading to the Chase – at Atlanta and Richmond – Bowyer has an excellent chance to become No. 1.

After all, Johnson has lost 59 points in two races.

Bowyer finished 14th at Bristol after he was involved in a mishap with Bobby Labonte and Travis Kvapil on lap 177.

“Man, our car was so fast,” said Bowyer, who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing. “I felt like we had a shot at winning and then I got spun out there by a lapper of all things.

“When I got hit up there, it hit that left-front tire and the car never turned the center as good the rest of the night.

“We went out there and gave it everything we had and just came up short.  Then we ran out of gas there at the end.

“Believe me, this means a lot in the Chase, but I’m just really disappointed because we had a really good car.”

Johnson, who drives for Hendrick Motorsports, can ill afford any mediocrity at Atlanta and Richmond if he wants things to improve.

He’ll still go into the Chase as a high seed, but he may lose a great deal of momentum and confidence.

However, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have proven they know how to handle pressure and misfortune.

That will help in their quest for a sixth championship after coming up short the last two years following five titles in a row from 2006-2010.

Oh, and it seems they now have another obstacle – Kenseth.

Johnson strongly indicated he and his team are going to do everything they can to rally.

“We will definitely come back next week and do all we can,” he said. “Despite our problems tonight (Johnson was involved in a multicar accident on lap 360), we came back and had a decent finish.

“Last week I really thought we had a shot to win and had an engine failure. This racing stuff happens. Luckily, we had a big points lead that we can kind of deal with right now. We’ve locked into the Chase.

“We certainly want to clean things up and have some great finishes rolling into the Chase. We’ll keep after it and be back again next week. We’ll go to Atlanta and do all we can there. And then at Richmond, I feel like we had a really good test there.

“Once the Chase starts, it is its own animal. So we’ll just wait and see what happens during those 10 races.”

 

 

 

 

Danica Signs But Pressure Mounts For Chase Berths


The big news for many this week was Danica Patrick signing ti go full time NASCAR racing for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. It was the worst kept secret in sports. The real story is the brutal level of competition that’s taking place in Sprint Cup. The Chase is close to closing.

The NASCAR Sonoma Slugfest

Many fans are beginning to warm to road racing in NASCAR based on the intensity of it. This weekend the Sprint Cup Series invades Sonoma’s Infineon road course. Expect to see rough racing as the noose tightens on those desperate to get into the chase. http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

Road Racing In Sprint Cup-The New Bristol

Were you to ask a NASCAR fan 5 years ago what they thought about the road races that NASCAR runs you would have by and large gotten a negative answer. The front-running opinion would have been that it’s boring and processional. No more. Nascar’s history has seldom been without a road race on the schedule with good reason. Bill France, Sr. liked it, he saw it as a way to make inroads into the Western United States and he knew most of the sports car racers of the day. In fact, he drove a Ferrari at Daytona one year, presumably for fun.

In the mid 1970’s it was unusual not to see what we called “Road Course Ringers” in the mix and up front. Now it’s Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and all of those you might not have expected. It isn’t news that they enjoy it. But what about the fans?

If you were a fan of Bristol, as were we all, you saw bumping, beating and banging–you know, “Rubbin is Racin”. Since the repaving of that iconic little track that sort of enthusiasm hasn’t been seen. The drivers like it, but overwhelmingly the fans don’t. Road racing has taken its place.

The last two seasons from Sonoma to Watkins Glen have produced some of the most exciting door to door, bumping, pushing and temperature raising racing that NASCAR has to offer. How did this happen? NASCAR is more competitive than it’s ever been in its history. Sponsors expect a championship or at least an entry ticket to the big show, The Sprint Cup Chase. The points system is now such that a team must grab all they can in the beginning of the season because certain tracks, or styles of racing, have lent themselves to be unpredictable. Those styles would be road racing and restrictor plate racing. The teams simply don’t have a true handle or more often than not a strategy that survives the first shot. It’s a slugfest.

In road racing there is indeed a strategy and that is track position, fuel and tire management and, this is the best one, anger management. If you look at the races from Sonoma and Watkins Glen what you see is a group of about fifteen road course experts that would truly push their Granny off a cliff to be up front. That’s racing.

These races now represent a means to an end, it just depends on what your agenda may be. Are you trying to survive the event in order to preserve points? That won’t work anymore. Are you desperately in need of a win? That would include practically the whole field, particularly those who have to win to have any chance of making the Chase

. Truth is some of the drivers have to punch above their weight to stay near the front to gain precious points while the others, anyone from 7th in points down to

20th, have to Banzai their way to the front come hell or high water.

If this type of racing sounds familiar it should. It’s what Bristol used to be.In keeping with the corporate directive that NASCAR should be a family friendly sport, what could be more enjoyable than sitting on a nice hill overlooking the track, having a picnic with your family and watching 43 cars try to push each other out of the way? It’s comfortable, it’s exciting, no one runs away in a NASCAR road race and the skill required is easily seen by the fans. When’s the last time you could say that about Fontana?

If NASCAR drivers truly want to be considered the best in the world, they have to be able to navigate virtually any type of track. NASCAR has made great gains on the global stage, it’s time to bring the core fans to the party.

 

What Hype? This Martinsville Race Provided The Expected And More

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Just to offer a few musings after the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

** Let’s face it, just about every race at every speedway on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit comes accompanied with a lot of hype.

So it was with Martinsville. How many times did we hear, or read over the course of several days, that NASCAR’s oldest track was, because of its half-mile, paper-clip configuration, one of the most difficult on which to compete?

Drivers couldn’t succeed at Martinsville unless they figured out how to whoa down from high straightaway speeds, keep a low line and then roll their cars smoothly through the tight turns.

If they didn’t learn how to manage their brakes, they were doomed.

They could expect a lot of bumping, banging and gouging for position because it has always been extremely difficult to pass.

And so on and so forth …

Such things have been said, so often and for so long, about Martinsville (and admittedly every other track), that many of us tend to roll our eyes as if to say, “Yeah, yeah, so what else is new?”

Guess what? This year there was at least one new thing. It was discovered during practice that the tire compound provided by Goodyear did not permit the racing surface to “rubber up,” or, in other words, to create a second groove with enough grip, generated by runner burned into the asphalt and concrete, on which to race.

Instead, flakes or rubber – called “the marbles” for years but also known as “owl (business)” in days passed – were tossed toward the outside of the track. This created extremely poor racing conditions because of a lack of grip.

This was part of the Martinsville pre-race drama this year.

You know what? This year it, and everything else that’s been said about the track, wasn’t hype at all. It was true. The Goody’s Fast Relief 500 contained elements of everything racing at Martinsville is supposed to be, and then some.

For example, there was indeed only one racing groove. Those pieces of rubber flung toward the outside of the track made a second almost impossible – hell, you can’t race on “marbles.”

Consequently, drivers always charged toward the inside of the track – the only place to be. Those in the outside lane had no chance to pass, particularly on restarts. When they could, finally, move down one lane they did so, but often at the cost of several lost positions.

Now, as for the banging, bumping and gouging that is said to be so typical of racing at Martinsville, it was intensified this past Sunday.

One reason, and certainly not the only one, was that drivers on the preferred inside line had only one way to get past those ahead of them. And that was to, shall we say, perform the old “bump and run.” Sure couldn’t make a pass on the outside, right?

Such strategy was adopted many times, lap after lap, at Martinsville. Sometimes it was successful and other times not.

Additional incidents were caused when some drivers caught on the outside just forced their way to the inside in desperation.

This was done during a race in which even teammates were loath to give each other the coveted inside groove – especially if it cost them track position.

Consider this: Remember the “old” Bristol, the one in which there was only one racing groove and the only way to pass was to adopt the “bump and run?”

After the track was reconfigured and a second racing lane was created, bumping and grinding have been less prevalent.

The drivers love it. The fans do not and they have made that clear.

What we had, for the most part, at Martinsville in this past race was so very similar to the “old” Bristol.

There was jostling and bumping for position that created some, but not all, of the race’s 11 caution periods.

Some were caused by excessive brake use, which resulted in blown tires, and other things.

The point is that while all of the typical racing characteristics at Martinsville were displayed in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500, the newest and most publicized one, the absence of a second groove because of the tire situation, played a significant role in the conduct of the race.

Reckon Goodyear will change all that by the track’s second race it October.
 
** That aside, the race itself turned out to be a beauty.

There might have been several caution periods and one red-flag stoppage, before the race was half complete, that caused us to wonder if everything might be over by nightfall.

In the end, however, none of that mattered as the race wound down to its exciting conclusion.

With 21 laps remaining in the 500-lap race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. bumped Kyle Busch out of the way (sound familiar?) in the third turn to take the lead.

The “Junior Nation” went nuts and rightly so. Young Earnhardt seemed on his way to his first victory in 99 races.

It didn’t happen. With four laps to go, Kevin Harvick got past Earnhardt Jr. and went on to win his second straight race.

However, be encouraged, “Junior Nation.”

Your driver has now compiled his best finish of the year and his third among the top-10 in six races. He also has an 11th-place run at Bristol.

After he fell from ninth to 12th in points after a 12th-place run at Auto Club Speedway, his runnerup finish at Martinsville has propelled him to eighth in points.

As I’ve said before, in 2010, he finished second at Daytona, was thus second in points, and slid downward from there. He did not make the Chase.

This year, he finished 24th at Daytona because of an accident. But he steadily rose in points from there, slipped at Auto Club Speedway and now, after Martinsville, has climbed four positions in the standings.

In 2010, his trend was decidedly downward. Now it is upward and his Martinsville performance has significantly contributed to that.

It’s obvious improvement that should offer promise for his many fans.

 

** I don’t know who “they” are, but they’ve named Kevin Harvick “The Closer,” and with good reason.

He won at Auto Club Speedway with his pass on five-time champion Jimmie Johnson on the last lap.

He won at Martinsville by getting the best of Earnhardt Jr. with four laps to go, taking advantage of his rival’s loose Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

He was one of 12 drivers to lead a record 31 laps.

Let’s see … if I figure correctly, Harvick has won two straight races in which he led only five laps – the most important ones, of course.

You have to credit what’s happened so far to his perseverance and that of his Richard Childress Racing team. It has shown the ability to improve its Chevrolet’s performance throughout the course of a race.

My guess would be that Harvick might well prefer to have a strong car capable of victory from the start of a race rather than one, so far, that has been able to succeed only after a sizable amount of work and alterations, which were then accompanied by favorable circumstances.

Heck, to be honest, it doesn’t matter.

Harvick is currently fourth in points and the only driver with multiple wins this season.

So, unless there are unexpected meltdowns at RCR, the victories alone will be enough to qualify Harvick for the Chase this year.

Bristol: About Domination, Momentum And Integrity

Just a few opinions about the Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

** A while back I wrote a piece about how Bristol seems to have more than its share of “streakers” – drivers who win several races over many seasons – sometimes a number of them in a row.

I mentioned that Kyle Busch has been the most recent and, now, he continues to streak on.

His victory at Bristol was his fifth straight in a NASCAR Sprint Cup event there. Busch also won the Nationwide Series race on March 19 and swept Cup, Nationwide and truck series races at the 0.533-mile track last August.

Busch knows full well that he has easily been Bristol’s most dominant driver in recent years, but he also knows he’s not yet its most dominant ever.
That’s Darrell Waltrip, who has 12 career victories at Bristol, including a string of seven in a row.
“If I ever get past Darrell,” Busch said, “then they can name the track after me.”

There are perhaps several reasons why Busch has been so successful at Bristol. The simplest, and most reasonable, are that his Joe Gibbs Racing team excels at car preparation for NASCAR’s fastest half-mile track and that Busch just loves to drive on it. It suits his style.

Nothing unusual there – many drivers will tell you certain speedways fit their skills and preferences better than others.
Busch gave another reason why his streak continued at Bristol and its one that’s vital to any success.
It’s the work of the pit crew.

“Our guys on the last stop won this race,” Busch said. “Great work by those guys. I got out and got the track position I wanted and that kind of gave me an easier job instead of having to pass guys.

“Track position was everything.”

In years past Busch’s victory might have received a healthy amount of disdain, even outright disapproval, from fans. Not so much this year.
Many, including his fellow competitors, have noticed that Busch – known to be quick-tempered, sarcastic, and OK, loud-mouthed – has kept his lips clamped. I believe the fans have noticed.

I have to think Busch is making a serious effort to change his image. I think the one he’d like to achieve is that of the aggressive, no-quarter driver on the track – which he is – who is, at the same time, friendly and cooperative with fans and media alike.

If he asked me, I’d tell him that only a few drivers in NASCAR’s history have become such, but hey, go for it.

If Busch’s popularity should one day match the obviously high level of his skill, he’d be recognized as one of the best, all-around, in NASCAR. We’ll see.

** After Bristol, Carl Edwards remains NASCAR’s hottest driver.

He finished second to Busch in the Jeff Byrd 500. It was his second runnerup finish of the season, his first came in the Daytona 500, and he’s won at Las Vegas.

Edwards won the last two races of 2010, which means that in the last six events, he has three wins and two second-place finishes.
He’s currently second in points, just a single point behind leader Kurt Busch, who has finished among the top 10 in all four 2011 races.
Edwards is well on pace to match his best Sprint Cup season, 2008, when he won nine races and finished second in points.

Despite the generated promise and momentum, Edwards didn’t win in 2009 and wound up 11th in points. Things were better last year with the two wins and a fourth-place standing.

This year … well, there are already rumblings that Edwards will be the man who prevents Jimmie Johnson from capturing a sixth consecutive title.
Given what Edwards has done, this early in the season, such rumblings are fully understood.
Rumblings are one thing; what will be the truth is another.
But Carl, you’re looking good.

** Even at this point of the season it’s already been said that drivers want to win as quickly as possible to provide some insurance that will allow them to make the Chase.

As you know, the Chase accepts the top 10 drivers in points after the 26th race of the season and adds two others, between 10th and 20th in points, with the most wins.

At this point it’s Jeff Gordon who has already paid his premium. He won at Phoenix and stands 19th in points. I think he’s going to end up much higher in the standings, but the point is he’s already gotten, for now, his insurance policy.

The other driver who is among the four that have won the first four races of the year is Trevor Bayne.

But after his Daytona 500 victory his fortunes, through no fault of his own, have not been good. He’s 43rd in points and, unless Wood Brothers Racing finds the means to compete on a full schedule, a win isn’t going to do him a bit of good when it comes to the Chase.

That said, his victory has done him, and NASCAR, a world of good already.

** A lot has been said about Jennifer Jo Cobb’s refusal to compete in Bristol’s Nationwide race when she learned she was required only to start and park.

Among many other things she told us that she made the decision in consideration of her career. She felt she owed it to her fans, sponsors that she’s seeking and to NASCAR that if she says she is here to race, that she should go out there and do just that – and no less.

Regrettably, I’ve never had the opportunity to converse with Cobb. But I don’t have to in order to know one thing:
She has integrity. And that counts for a helluva lot more than being able to drive a race car.

When It Comes To “Streakers,” Bristol Has Had More Than Its Share

If you take a look at the history of Bristol Motor Speedway – and it’s a long and colorful one – something you might notice is how, from time to time, a single driver has gone streaking there.

No, no, not that – wow, the vision that just flashed in my mind was rather ugly.
It means that one competitor seems to win the majority of the races conducted over several years. He, or a team, thus establishes a victory streak.

Don’t think I really needed to tell you that.

It happens at every track, at least for a while, but at Bristol it appears to have gone on routinely since the track opened in 1961.

There were four different winners in the speedway’s first four races. But then, in 1963, Holman-Moody, the powerhouse Ford team, took over.

The organization won four straight races from 1963-64 with drivers Fred Lorenzen and Fireball Roberts.

Over a period of seven seasons, 1963-1969, Holman-Moody won eight times at Bristol.

Then came the 1970s through the early ‘80s. As has been recorded often – and yet again this season – this was Junior Johnson’s era.

Actually, Johnson’s first Bristol victory came in 1965 in his own Ford. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s he won 15 more times as an owner with drivers Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip.

Johnson cars were virtually unbeatable. Yarborough won five of six races from 1976-78. Waltrip did even better with seven straight wins from 1981-85.

Waltrip holds the record for most Bristol wins with 12, 11 of which he won with Johnson.

Here’s an interesting tidbit. Although Johnson is credited with 16 Bristol wins as a team owner, he was part of five more victories.

From 1971-74 cars owned by Richard Howard and driven by Charlie Glotzbach, Bobby Allison and Yarborough won five of six races at BMS, including four in a row.

At that time Howard had partnered with Johnson in an effort to bring Chevrolet back to NASCAR.

Howard was listed as the team owner. But he never turned a wrench on the cars. That was Johnson’s responsibility – and all the work was done in his Ronda, N.C., shops.

Seems Johnson’s dominance of Bristol is greater than the record books indicate. He’s part of an astounding 21 victories at the track.

Starting in 1985 it was Dale Earnhardt’s turn. Ironically, he won his first career NASCAR Winston Cup race as a rookie at Bristol in the spring of 1979.

He won the same race in 1980, the year in which he earned his first career championship.
By ’85 he was starting to hit his stride with Richard Childress Racing and it showed, especially at Bristol.
He swept both events in ’85 and did it again in 1987. He earned another victory in 1988 to give him five wins in four years. Ultimately, he won nine times at Bristol, second only to Waltrip.

No driver established such dominance throughout the 1990s, although Rusty Wallace took the lion’s share of victories with seven in a decade.

It seems, however, the pattern has returned over the last 10 years or so – at least somewhat.

Kurt Busch won for the first time at Bristol in 2002 and then went on a tear. He won three straight races from 2003-04 and then won again in 2006, which means five victories in as many years.

Bristol has become a Busch brothers’ playground. Younger brother Kyle won at the track for the first time in 2007, swept both races in 2009 and won the summer night race last year. He’s won three of the last four BMS races.

You might say he’s our current streaker.

Oops, just had another horrid mental image.

Make no mistake, he’ll be a solid favorite to win the March 20 Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol.

So will Carl Edwards, who has won three of the last five Sprint Cup races, dating back to 2010. He’s also been victorious twice at Bristol since 2007.

Other than Kyle, he’s the only driver to earn multiple Bristol victories in the last five years.

As said, there are several tracks at which drivers display a keen propensity to win repeatedly.

It just seems that Bristol, over the years, has seen far more than its share. And it seems it still does.

Print This Post Print This Post