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?

 

 

 

 

 

Danica Patrick: Different Series, Same Old…

If Patrick and Tony Stewart can't bring the level of sponsorship to the team they're used to seeing, it could spell trouble.

If Patrick and Tony Stewart can’t bring the level of sponsorship to the team they’re used to seeing, it could spell trouble.

No one can say with authority that Danica Patrick isn’t a worthy professional racing driver, she is.

However, it can be said that she appeared in her early racing career as a potential super competitor turned mediocre by today’s standards.

Auto racing as an endeavor to master machinery under stress is agnostic to color, race, creed or gender. It doesn’t care. The bottom line is all that counts.

Unfortunately her bottom line has been more monetary than on track results.

GoDaddy ultimately took her in as a potential historical racing figure in which to base it’s main marketing focus. Now, after a very long stint as her primary sponsor, they are leaving.

The question now remains: Will Danica Patrick be able to move up in stature in NASCAR or slowly grind her way back down the grid?

As it stands she shows brief flashes of skill on par with her main competitors, her teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing, but hasn’t delivered on-track as hoped. As long as the money train was in play, she was very relevant to both IndyCar and NASCAR.

In IndyCar she won one race. In virtually all of the lower formulas of her racing after Formula Ford, she was merely a few steps above average.

What she has excelled at is marketing. Other than the Earnhardt clan she may be the most marketable driver to have driven in either series.

Racing teams, racing series and corporations have flocked to her, used what they needed and either they moved on or she did. Ask Bobby Rahal how he feels.

Could GoDaddy take her back to Europe and into the WEC?

Could GoDaddy take her back to Europe and into the WEC?

Whatever the reasons, it has to be understood that all is fair in ‘Love, War and Racing’. She used whatever she needed to get where she is and no one can take that from her or fault her.

What can be taken from her is that if she can’t produce another sponsor at GoDaddy’s level, she will move further down the grid. Stewart Haas didn’t hire her for her driving prowess. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the money doesn’t get spread around the SHR camp.

However you look at it, she won’t see equipment like she presently enjoys should SHR decide to cut her loose.

I’ve no doubt that she will land on her feet, but unless she can show up with the magic funding number, she won’t get another chance. She’ll be the next single car team driver du jour.

Should Patrick fail to produce the dollars required to keep her on a top team, she may very well do herself a favor and move to a sports car endurance series such as the Tudor series or even the World Endurance Championship.

GoDaddy is on record as saying they want a more global marketing presence, which would make WEC sense, but that may not include Danica Patrick.

The bottom line? When you run out of cash, they take you out of the game.

 

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.

Who Will Win The Daytona 500? NASCAR

It would be foolish to rule our Brad Keselowski taking a Daytona 500 win.

It would be foolish to rule our Brad Keselowski taking a Daytona 500 win.

Every year the journalist, pundits and fans, with not enough to do, come up with their predictions of who will win the Daytona 500. Frankly it’s a hollow exercise.

The Daytona 500 is one of two-restrictor plate racing tracks on NASCAR’s schedule; the other is Talladega, the famed Alabama track.

Despite the rule changes for 2015, Daytona and Talladega wont be subject to them, apart from bending the fender skirts out to achieve any aerodynamic advantage. It’s disallowed and the outlawed practice will be monitored by a new sophisticated video monitoring system

This means the same show we’ve seen since NASCAR restricted the engines. Pack racing.

So what are we to make of the predictions we’ve seen from NASCAR’s ranking system? Not much other than we know the top teams will have the best equipment and will have the greatest chance of victory.

If you look at NASCAR’s ranking system of the top ten driver ratings at Daytona it does have a reasonable algorithmic feel. About ten steps above Facebook’s timeline news feed.

Fear is a great motivator. Kurt Busch could be on the edge of disaster with his legal woes.

Fear is a great motivator. Kurt Busch could be on the edge of disaster with his legal woes.

It’s still worthy of consideration but leaves out a few drivers that have shown, so far, that they have more than just a chance. NASCAR’s rankings are legitimate, but don’t take the element of luck into consideration. You cannot leave out the looming ‘Big One’, or two

Kurt Busch is in NASCAR’s top ten, but let’s face it, he has to go for it harder than a gazelle with a Somalian Cheetah chasing him.

He may have restrictive order against him, but that won’t get him fired. If the District Attorney in Maryland files criminal charges against him, Stewart–Haas Racing has a contingency plan. It’s called “You’re Fired”! Fear is a great motivator.

Carl Edwards showed himself to be a hard charger in the Unlimited but he’s still getting used to working with his team. It won’t take him 500 miles to figure that out. He has more than a shot at the 500.

Marin Truex, Jr also showed his skills in the Unlimited with both speed and race craft. Don’t rule him out, rule him in as a distinct possibility.

Kyle Larson isn’t on the list but has every bit a chance to win as Danica Patrick, probably more so but she too could pick up her first win at the famed oval.

Brad Keselowski doesn’t appear on the list. Perhaps his aggressive nature is to blame, but frankly, if you’re going to race at the top level, then I frankly don’t want to see a Tupperware party but a driver who will go for any spot that he can. Keselowski has every skill to win this race.

Tomorrows (Thursday) Duals will tell more about what we may see in the 500 based on the way the Duals are lined up this year.

3 drivers in the first Dual and 3 drivers in the second Dual have to race their way in. Out of all 6 drivers Ryan Blaney, in my opinion, has the best chance of racing his way in. Virtually all of the other drivers have got a great chance of making the show. 13 of them are locked in by way of points, provisional or front row locks, etc.

It’s the drivers who are desperate, are having problems during the race and have to defend or those that simply feel that starting near the front is going to be of some great advantage over those who pose the biggest risk of knocking out potential contenders in a catastrophic crash.

It’s a 500 mile race that if you make the show, you have a shot. Luck truly plays a huge role in this race and having steady information delivered during the Duals as to where everyone is has paramount importance to several of the drivers. Dale Earnhardt, Jr is among them having been disqualified from the group qualifying.

The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s biggest race of the year and 2015 is no different. It needs to show who really has done their homework with a race set-up that will evolve throughout the event.

A lot of press has been given to the ‘Knockout Group Qualifying’, much more than in years past so the big question is: Whose going to win the Daytona 500?

NASCAR, that’s who.

 

NASCAR: More Professional And Personal Changes For 2015

Brian Vickers will not race early in 2015 because he is recuperating from heart surgery. Vickers has overcome medical problems in the past, can he do it again?

Brian Vickers will not race early in 2015 because he is recuperating from heart surgery. Vickers has overcome medical problems in the past, can he do it again?

Change in NASCAR is inevitable. From technological alterations enforced by the sanctioning body to the numerous driver-crew chief-team-sponsor shifts that are often so prominent in the off-season, nothing much stays the same.

So it is with the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. When it begins there will be plenty of new developments that will create the year’s new character – and make it quite different from 2014.

I’ve mentioned some of them – professional and personal – already. How will NASCAR rule changes affect competition? (Truthfully, that question can be asked during every off-season).

On the personal side among the inquiries were, how will health and legal issues affect Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch? Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. be successful with new crew chief Greg Ives?

Let’s talk some more about personal issues.

What has happened to Brian Vickers is more than a mere shame. It’s a condition that could not only affect his career, but also his very life.

Vickers, who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing, will not be available to race during the early part of the 2015 season. His body is rejecting an artificial patch that was inserted in 2010 to fix a hole in his heart.

He’s had corrective surgery to repair the hole and he’s begun the recovery process. He’ll need plenty of time, rest and rehab.

How much more can Vickers endure? You remember that a series of blood clots put him out of action just a very few years ago. By 2012, Vickers had joined MWR on a part-time basis and then became a full-time driver for the team in 2014.

Danica Patrick is in her third year with Stewart Haas. It's very likely her 2015 performances must improve if she wants a contract extension when the season is over.

Danica Patrick is in her third year with Stewart Haas. It’s very likely her 2015 performances must improve if she wants a contract extension when the season is over.

Vickers was the 2003 Xfinity Series champion and in 58 races with MWR he’s finished among the top five eight times and 19 among the top 10. For his career, he has three wins and 12 poles in 316 starts.

The obvious question is what will MWR do during Vickers absence? Who will be selected as his relief driver – and how long will that driver remain with MWR? We don’t know the amount of time that Vickers will be on the sidelines.

But we have to ask the question, will Vickers be back at all? He’s dealt with blood clots – which can be deadly – and now the hole in his heart, which, I’m sure, any doctor will call very serious and, just perhaps, life-threatening.

I think nearly every fan will be pulling for Vickers. It’s clear that he has the determination needed to come back. After all, he’s done it before.

Vickers has already said the setback will not stop him from pursuing his dream of a Sprint Cup title.

That’s just the attitude he needs.

Carl Edwards has moved to Joe Gibbs Racing after 10 years with Roush Fenway Racing. The question is, can he be as successful as Matt Kenseth, who signed with JGR in 2013 following his long tenure with Roush.

As you remember, Kenseth won seven races with Gibbs in his first year. Believe me, that doesn’t happen very often at all with a new driver-team association.

But I think it’s logical to assume Edwards may be a multiple winner in 2015. And the implementation of the new Chase format has made it more feasible for a new driver-team to achieve consistency.

Frankly, I think Edwards has a better chance to be successful in 2015 simply because the Gibbs team has been significantly more competitive than the Roush organization.

NASCAR has announced new eligibility requirements for the 2015 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona. Among the entries will be all 16 drivers who participated in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

There are other eligibility rules, such as 2014 pole winners, former Sprint Unlimited winners, past Daytona 500 pole winners who competed on the full schedule last year, etc., etc.

It practically takes your breath away. At present there are 25 Sprint Unlimited entries.

There’s been some grousing that these new eligibility rules were created for the sole purpose of putting Danica Patrick, a former Daytona 500 pole winner, into the field.

Well, so what? The Sprint Unlimited means nothing as far as the 2015 season goes. It awards no points. It’s an exhibition race and as such, who cares which drivers – and how many of them – compete?

Ask me, the more the merrier.

As for Patrick, she’s in her third year with Stewart Haas Racing. She will be expected to show progress. She has to finish among the top 10 with regularity and not crash as frequently.

To do so will bode well for her when her contract expires at the end of 2015.

 

 

Has Danica Patrick Finally Turned the Corner?

If her self-critique has been metered, Patrick may have turned a corner.

If her self-critique has been metered, Patrick may have turned a corner.

Danica Patrick is one of those figures in sports, particularly in NASCAR, that has been totally dominated by men. In this regard she represents either an anomaly or she can honestly take a seat at the table. 

It´s no mystery that she´s a marketing machine surrounded by the best public relations and business heads around. What she has lacked may have been found in the days and hours leading up to the 5 Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Motor Speedway. 

It´s no secret that, as a driver, sometimes you just can´t seem to put it all together and then a seminal moment occurs. You suddenly get it. You can´t measure this type of epiphany, it just happens. Perhaps with a little help from your ´friends´. 

In this case last weekend that friend was Kevin Harvick. It´s been reported that Harvick had a ´15 minute ´pep talk with her prior to the race. 

According to Harvick: “We talk a lot, and I think for her it’s just the confidence in knowing exactly what the car is going to do,” he said. “Obviously, she’s run well all weekend, qualified well, raced well all night. There’s a lot of hurdles to overcome for her to make up that experience. I feel like we can help her speed that process up by just telling her some of the things that she should expect and do.… But I guess the one thing I did tell her was just to quit thinking about it and smash the gas.”

To be a fly on that wall.

Harvick may be playing a greater role in Patricks tutorial than many may think.

Harvick may be playing a greater role in Patricks tutorial than many may think.

It would be no surprise if Stewart had taken steps to have her ¨coached¨ by Harvick in order to bring her up to speed and rekindle the confidence she had in the lower open wheel formulas. After all, it takes cubic dollars to win races. 

My sources have said that the talk was part of a greater mentoring effort on SHR´s part. That would make crystal clear common sense. 

The real money would have to go towards the little talk being a great deal more extensive than portrayed, but rather a concerted effort. SHR needs Danica Patrick. 

Every multi-car team that runs in NASCAR needs for all of their cars to perform, but in Patrick´s case,it´s essential to the team. Go Daddy is one solid reason that SHR was able to sign the talent it now enjoys. 

We all know that when a racing team hires someone, any money they can bring goes into the plus column of the selection process. Stewart knew that, being an astute businessman in his own right. 

When he brought Patrick on-board, the sponsorship money had a great deal to do with her signing. He was convinced he could mould her into a competitive arm of the Stewart-Haas Racing organization and reap the rewards of a loyal a deep- pocketed sponsor. 

Remember the 3/2 rule: Everything takes longer than you think, is harder than you think and cost more than you think. That´s been the case, up until this past Saturday night, regarding Patrick and her progress. 

Now the question that´s riffling through the NASCAR journalistic world is: Can she do it again and do it with consistency? Has she turned a corner in her career? 

Each track is different. You may feel great at one but totally lost at another. 

What Patrick has is pure unadulterated passion. That can take you a long way and in her case it has, but you need more. Do you want a natural driver or one with passion? 

Bobby Rahal, no friend of Patrick´s, once said to me that he would rather have a driver with passion than natural talent. I, of course, disagreed. My argument is that you need both. 

Kimi Raikonnen had a mere 24 races of any kind under his belt when he jumped into a Formula One Car. In those days it was the engineers who set up the cars based on what the driver liked. Raikonnen seldom had to worry, other than fine-tuning, whether he had a car ready to go. 

That´s no longer the case. Even at this stage of his career he has had to take on the technical side of racing. At these levels of competition you need both. 

Perhaps the confidence Patrick has gained will transfer over to the up coming races and we can assume that she has, in fact, turned a corner. 

Keep talking Harvick.

State Of The Sport: On Johnson, Patrick And Earnhardt Jr.

Although many fans proclaim that she hasn’t performed well as a stock car driver, Danica Patrick maintains a huge fan base and is considered one of the most-ably marketed drivers in racing.

The NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race was a bust for some of the fans of the sport. They poo-pooed Jimmie Johnson as winner, tried to eschew Danica Patrick winning the fan vote and were once again upset about Dale Earnhardt Jr. not performing better or getting too much coverage.

One friend of mine posted about how the live audience hated on Patrick so badly and was then shocked at the replies the thread garnered. He asked me privately to explore the reasons why women hate Patrick. I wish it were an easy request.

First let’s explore the NASCAR landscape. From 2005-2011 there were only two NASCAR Sprint Cup champions. Their names are Tony Stewart (2005, 2011) and Johnson (2006-2010). Even when not winning the Cup, Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team are winning races.

Stewart, while performing well earning bookend Cups to Johnson’s unprecedented five in a row, is far less consistent a competitor and although still “in the mix” last year and this, is not a dominant force at present.

The Johnson juggernaut, make that the Johnson/Knaus/HMS juggernaut, is virtually unstoppable. Some may argue that they were stopped for two seasons running by the likes of Stewart and last year’s surprise champion Brad Keselowski. But Johnson was right there in championship-striking distance.

Winning five in a row was the exception, not the rule. Even champion Dale Earnhardt won in couplets rather than all championship years strung together. That’s more “normal”.

What’s happening here is history. Johnson is making it and when you witness it the enormity of his accomplishments can easily be lost to the annoyance of having seen this before – over and over again.

Johnson has, quite frankly, done it all in NASCAR Sprint Cup. Won Daytona 500s? Yes. Won the All-Star Race? Yep, a record-breaking four times.  Won championships? Heck yeah, the only driver to do it five consecutive times. He’s won at the best tracks, the most difficult circuits, and every kind of way. Johnson is, in a word, amazing.

Looking back in history other amazing NASCAR drivers were also loved by many and detested by scores of people. Dale Earnhardt? Even in death and ‘til this day, yes. Richard Petty? Yes, him, too. With 43+ drivers to throw your fandom to, it’s very frustrating to have one dominate so completely. It can be, well, boring.

It appears that Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn’t getting all the attention he once did – he still gets plenty – however, he’s quietly gone about creating a good start to the 2013 season.

But one day your children and your children’s children will be asking you whether you remember this era in NASCAR and you can tell them yes.  They’ll be awed and ask you what it was like and you’ll chuckle. Revisionist history will kick in and you’ll tell the children how truly exciting it was to watch Johnson and his team rack up the accolades, wins, and championships. Because somewhere, deep down, you know it is awesome.

As for Patrick, I have to say my piece. So many people ask my opinion of this driver. Many times, for reasons I don’t quite understand, I have to defend her to people who wrongly pick on her. Quite frankly, this is frustrating to me.

Does Patrick perform up to the par she, her team, her fans, or I would like her to? Certainly not. But there is a tremendous learning curve coming from open wheel  – IndyCar in Patrick’s case – to NASCAR stock cars.

Patrick has done well enough in her first seasons running NASCAR and certainly does garner a ton of attention. She does for NASCAR what is sorely needed, brings mainstream fans over to our sport.

Informal polling on my part has found that most people I talk to about NASCAR who don’t know anything about our sport know about Patrick. They are drawn to her like the proverbial moth to the flame. Patrick is a headliner, a superstar, and a sublime creature that the whole of America seems fascinated by completely.

And what hardcore, “curmudgeony” NASCAR fans refuse to see is it has nothing to do with her talents in the cockpit and that is OK. The sport needs a superstar. Earnhardt Jr. has filled the role for well over a decade. He is still a mega-star. But the time is now for the diminutive driver with the pretty smile, long locks, and big sponsorship dollars.

Patrick earned the fan vote last Saturday night at Charlotte. She is, by far, the most popular driver out in the field. Little girls, grown men, moms and dads, open wheel fans and all race fans with pure heart root for Patrick. She is a phenomenon who has learned to market herself brilliantly, play up her assets, and assemble a fan base that defies reason. I say good for her.

There was no illicit wrongdoings, cheating, nor subterfuge to allow Patrick to win the fan vote. There didn’t need to be. She won it fair and square as “the people,” the fans, voted. It wasn’t a surprise to anybody because she has that big of a fan base. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Would it have been cool for another driver to get the vote? I suppose, but he would have had to amass an enormous campaign to win and, let’s face it, no one did.

Then there are the complaints that Patrick did nothing in the race. Too true. She didn’t. Patrick is not an all-star because of a fabulous string of wins; she is still a rookie. But the fan vote wasn’t about the best record; it was about putting your favorite in the race. Their favorite is clearly Patrick.

So, back to the original question, why don’t women (and some men) like her? I think jealousy is a big part of the equation. There, I’ve said it. People who are successful are often the target of those wishing they, too, were as successful.

Patrick is very attractive, very wealthy, and living her dream driving a race car for a living. Her path to the “Bigs” was not paved with the same hardships as others. And given her rather lackluster performance in the top tiers of motorsports, Patrick has driven makes people upset that she is still lauded over and still has a top ride.

But as a team owner, having Patrick in your stable is nothing short of brilliant. In an economy that has been suffering for years Patrick still commands huge money. She commands it because the people seek her out.

My theory is this: if the media hadn’t fawned all over Patrick when she first started sniffing around NASCAR and continue to do so with rabid attention when it hasn’t been earned, no one would be as upset about her career.

It’s the over-rambunctious, over-solicitous, overly nauseous media coverage of this driver that makes her the center of such scorn.

The only person who seems to really be benefitting from this is Earnhardt Jr. With the constant limelight off of him – there still is a pretty huge limelight on him and always will be – Earnhardt Jr. has been able to quietly get the racing job done in the last couple of seasons.

The critics of our sport say it’s “boring”, “going in the tanks”, and “not the same product as it was”. Well, no, it’s not the same.

NASCAR has had to modernize, adjust, evolve, and just plain change. From expanding its regional borders to better safety equipment, more money and more media involvement, this sport is nothing like its predecessor. Only it is.

There were always people who complained, argued, and swore they’d never watch again. But the people are watching, the fans are cheering, and the drivers are performing. Johnson is making history, Patrick is revitalizing the sport, and Earnhardt Jr. is, well, Jr. And for Junior Nation that’s all he ever needs to be.

Now, I’ve got to be going, I’m gearing up for the Coca-Cola 600. I can’t wait to see how Johnson, Patrick, Earnhardt Jr., and the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup field do! How about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Near Perfection Means Win, Points Lead For Johnson

Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t have a good day at Martinsville. His car didn’t run as well as he would have liked and he was involved in a spin that pushed him to a 24th-place finish. He lost his lead in the point standings.

For one driver, the STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway was a race in which he achieved near perfection.

For him, it was the kind of race of which he could only dream and then wake up with a satisfied smile on his face.

But for Jimmie Johnson, the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville was no dream. It was reality. And that reality is that the Hendrick Motorsports driver thoroughly – and I mean thoroughly – trounced his rivals to with for the eighth time at the half-mile, “paperclip” track.
Johnson, a five-time Sprint Cup champion, started his weekend at Martinsville by winning the pole position. That was a clear indication he would be the driver to beat – again.

Then he proceeded to lead 346 of the race’s 500 laps, three times more than any other driver.

Johnson earned the 62nd victory of his career and became the first driver to win twice in the six races conducted in 2013.

Johnson’s eighth career win at Martinsville was accomplished over the last 14 seasons. He’s now third on the speedway’s all-time list behind Darrell Waltrip (11) and Richard Petty.

In the STP Gas Booster 500, Johnson made it look so easy – although he wouldn’t admit that it was.“It was just a long-fought day,” Johnson said. “Martinsville stays the same over the years and you just have to dig in and get into a rhythm and drive your own race and see how things unfold at the end and how things happen.

Danica Patrick turned in an admirable performance at Martinsville. She started from the rear of the field, survived an incident and went on to finish 12th – best among the rookies.

“Fortunately we didn’t have any craziness with two tires or four tires at the end. I feel like the fastest car won the race. It was a very standard Martinsville race; although I thought some guys might peel off and take tires. It was just a hard race.
“This race track is tough to get around. But we have a great notebook. I’ve got to thank (crew chief) Chad Knaus and all my guys and everybody back home at Hendrick Motorsports.”

Johnson’s only real challenger was Matt Kenseth, who swiped the lead away from him twice and Kyle Busch once.

But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver faded late in the race and finished 14th.

“For a period of time there, I kind of thought Matt was going to win this thing and he hates this race track,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t believe he ran that well here today. I’ve got to give him a hard time about that.

“Just as the day wore on and we got to the end, they were flawless on pit road and I did my job on the race track to maintain track position, and we could control the race at that point. Fortunately we had control of the race late and held off a lot of hard-charging guys.”

Clint Bowyer finished second to Johnson in his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota and felt the outcome might well have been different had he not been involved in an incident.

“We had a fast car all weekend long and really thought we were maybe going to be walking out of here with a Grandfather clock,” Bowyer said. “I tore the car up pretty bad over here off of (turn) four.

“I checked up and I got hit from behind, pushed into the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) and all hell broke loose. All in all, second place isn’t bad, but it sure sucks right now.”

—– Johnson’s victory moved him into No. 1 in the point standings, six points ahead of Brad Keselowski, who finished sixth, and 12 in front of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had his worst performance of the young season and finished 24th.Earnhardt Jr. came to Martinsville first in points and was the only driver to earn five top-10 finishes in five races. But at Martinsville, little went right.

He Chevrolet’s performance soured and he was involved in an incident triggered by Brian Vickers, which, combined, put him out of contention.

—– As disappointing as the race may have been for Earnhardt Jr., it was quite the opposite for Stewart Haas Racing’s Danica Patrick.

She was forced to start from the 43rd position after an engine change and then, not long into the race, she took a spin when clipped by Ken Schrader.

But she persistently made up ground, cruising around her rivals to a 12th-place finish, highest among the rookies.

That she did so well on a track completely new to her was not lost on observers.
And it wasn’t lost on her, either.

“I think you take what the car gives you and Tony Gibson (crew chief) has a really good track record here, he is a great crew chief, and my car was good all day,” Patrick said. “We kind of balanced her out after being a little loose to a little tight but we got the car back up there.

“We obviously went down real early with that spin and then were two laps down at one point. So I feel that is one of the things that I am most proud about is coming back from two laps down and being on the lead lap.

Then grabbing a 12th place finish in the end was good. So it was a good run today.”

—– For Johnson, “a good run” is an understatement. His run at Martinsville was incomparable.

“Yeah, we had a great weekend and I know that the stats clearly show that,” Johnson said.

“But it was probably the most calm, relaxed thought out and mature weekend we’ve had.

We really fell back on our experience and stayed committed to that.

“It was just a very well executed race, or I should say weekend, and clearly the race today, by the whole 48 team.

No one can argue with that.

Danica Patrick Deserves Attention But So Does Kathy Jarvis, Here’s Why

Kathy Jarvis has been a Hollywood stuntwoman for 17 years. She is also a Late Model driver who, when offered the chance to race, eagerly accepted.

I try to remain emotionally unattached when I watch NASCAR races. It’s usually easy for me to do.

But this season I find it excruciatingly difficult to cast my personal feelings aside when I watch Danica Patrick on the track.

The bottom line is, as a woman, I want to see her succeed. I’ve written about how her marketability does not bother me – it still doesn’t – and her beauty and use of her looks does not offend me.

But no matter how unbiased and supportive I try to be I find myself yelling at the television when she crashes out, goes laps down, or suffers another lackluster appearance at the track.

I’ve suffered this season trying to watch Patrick win or earn, at least, a top five. I am exhausted by my efforts.

And then I met and interviewed a driver who completely changed my perspective.

Kathy Jarvis is a Late Model dirt track racer who just completed her first “Hell Tour,” a competition that visits 29 venues in 32 days.

This woman who is, to date, the only female who has ever tried to tackle this literally hellacious series, fascinated me.

Jarvis did not come to racing like others. She didn’t start as a child in go-karts and then come up through the ranks. She found racing through a different avenue.

Fearless is a word to describe this racer who told me that as a child her mother, a single mom to four children, never told her to not do something.

It was never, “Be careful you might get hurt!” Jarvis was told to do whatever she wanted but warned, “You know that you might get hurt and I can’t afford to get you fixed!”

And fearless Jarvis is. She admits she tries to do everything of which she is afraid – so she won’t fear it any longer.

She’s carved out a successful job as a Hollywood stuntwoman for the last 17 years.

When, as a guest at a race a few years ago, the opportunity arose for Jarvis to get into a Late Model dirt car Jarvis, being the woman she is, simply said, “Yes, because you neversay no!” And thus started Jarvis’ career as a racer.

Jarvis took up the challenge of competing in the "Hell Tour," driving a Late Model like the one shown. The tour visits more than two dozen venues in just over 30 days.

When Jarvis was asked if she wanted to compete in the “Hell Tour,” and be the only woman to do so, she said yes again.

And it is hell. Out of the 29 races, Jarvis made 21 of them – one was cancelled due to hot weather and she missed seven nights in a search for parts or car repairs.

Through the entire tour Jarvis faced a lot of adversity. At one point she lost her team. She had to call her husband to come work for her, something he swore, in frustration, he’d never do.

She struggled with the process, questioned her perceived lack of success and, ultimately, was mired in the difficulty of it all.

Frustration gave way to feelings of being overwhelmed. But fans continually reached out to support her, lift her spirits and thank her for being out there and never giving up.

Jarvis refused to compare her situation to that of Patrick or Johanna Long, but instead insisted on speaking solely about her own experiences and strengths.

She does not dwell on the sights set by others – fans or critics. Jarvis says her success is based on her own feelings.

“If I did the best I could, and I feel really well, then that is a success for me,” Jarvis, for example, explained about a 15th-place finish.

This brings Patrick’s scenario into focus for me. I’d been caught up in what the detractors complain about her.

I had the idea that this season had to be more about wins for Patrick, even though we’re told weekly that it’s about “seat time and logging laps.”

Well, Patrick is doing that. That’s all she needs to do at this point. Success for her may be more along the lines of what Jarvis understands as a personal one. Who am I to judge harshly?

Instead of tearing down I will be concentrating more on progress.

I’ll still watch Patrick run the Nationwide races as well as the few Sprint Cup races she has left on her 2012 schedule.

I’ll be silently rooting for her and calmly accept every small victory – even if it’s one not accompanied by a checkered flag.

But, I’ll also follow closely the career of Kathy Jarvis, who inspires me greatly and impresses me even more.

 

 

 

 

Victory In Exciting Daytona Nationwide Race Is Redemption For Kurt Busch

The Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway was exciting and had its share of wrecks due to pack racing. Kurt Bush (No. 1) escaped this one and others to win the race.

(Editor’s Note: Mark DeCotis is a veteran journalist who spent 37 years in the newspaper business before beginning a second career combining leisure and earning a living.

He covered 26 Daytona 500s, numerous Pepsi/Coke Zero 400s, Busch/Nationwide, Trucks, more than a few Rolex 24s at Daytona, season finales at Homestead, Kevin Harvick’s emotional first win at Atlanta, IndyCar, sports car, NHRA, motorcycle, ATV and power boat racing.

His favorite race car driver interviews of all time were with 15-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force).

 

DAYTONA BEACH. Fla. – After more than half the field wrecked in six separate incidents in Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona, Kurt Busch played the role of survivor and won the Subway Jalapeno 250 in overtime.

He managed to get through two big wrecks including the startling one in which pre-race favorite Danica Patrick walloped the inside retaining wall off Turn 2 with such ferocity that it drove the steering column in her JR Motorsports Chevy nearly to the roof.

The lap 83 wreck was unnervingly similar to the one Patrick was involved in coming off Turn 2 during practice for February’s Daytona 500. Fortunately for her, her team and the sport she walked away.

When the smoke and sparks finally dissipated Busch found himself in victory lane in a car damaged in one of the earlier wrecks. His smoky burnout capped a wild and entertaining evening which at times saw the field running four-wide on Daytona’s narrow racing surface and, not surprisingly, ended in a wreck involving Austin Dillon and others as the field came to the checkered flag.

At least 25 of the 43 cars were damaged in wrecks and24 of the 101 laps were run under caution. But the race did set a track record for lead changes with 42 involving 16 drivers.

Danica Patrick qualified and ran well in the race and might have had an excellent shot at victory had not she been involved in one of the race's multi-car crashes.

Unfortunately the attendance was sparse by Daytona standards. And those who stayed home missed a show that left Kurt Busch emotionally spent in victory lane – and his brother Kyle steaming in his wrecked car that he skidded to a stop just yards away while heading the wrong way on pit road following the finish.

If NASCAR was planning to penalize the sport’s premier pouter for the bonehead move was not immediately determined.

All that didn’t faze Kurt Busch.

“We just won at Daytona,” he exulted. “I’m hoarse because I’ve been screaming so loud. This is awesome.”

The victory marks a step toward redemption for the volatile Busch. He was suspended from his James Finch-owned ride in the Sprint Cup Series in June after a run-in with a reporter that followed his being put on probation after a run in with driver Ryan Newman and Newman’s team at Darlington.

He was retained after the Finch team voted to keep him in the driver’s seat and hopefully the victory was his first payment on the debt he owes.

“I’ve got only a couple of things to give and that’s heart and that’s passion,” Busch said.

Surely Finch will accept his driver’s effort and the first-place check that can only help his underfunded and understaffed operation.

While the riveting action up front kept the crowd on its feet, Dillon came from the back after his Richard Childress Racing Chevy failed post-qualifying inspection that negated his pole-winning run.

He eventually led and finished fourth sliding sideways across the finish line. It continued a wild two weeks that saw he and his team penalized for a failing post-race inspection following his first career victory at Kentucky.

“I never got really worried about getting to the front, I thought we had a car capable of getting there,” Dillon said.

As for the penalties: “We made another mistake that’s two in a row,” Dillon said. “My grandfather (Childress) is upset with the guys. It’s like ‘Man, we’ve got to stop doing that. We’ve got to be on our game.’ ”

Kurt Busch was surely on his game in winning for the fifth time in 23 career Nationwide starts and for the second time this season, the first for Finch. He won at Richmond in a Kyle Busch Motorsports car.

“It means more to me but it means more to these guys,” Busch said of his team. “I’m happy we were able to deliver. I couldn’t be more proud of this team effort tonight.

“We didn’t give up. It’s not vindication. You want to win for James Finch.”

As for his up and down career that has seen him lose Cup rides at Roush Racing and Penske Racing due to his mercurial nature, and whether the victory could put him on the right path, Busch maintained Friday night was not about him.

“When you win for James Finch in just a few starts in the Nationwide Series for these guys that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “I don’t care about me right now.”

 

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