NASCAR: Earnhardt Jr. Gears Up for Dega Dance

 

Earnhardt Jr knows the restrictor plate racing dance. Expect him to come prepared.

Earnhardt Jr knows the restrictor plate racing dance. Expect him to come prepared.

With Joey Logano having put the squeeze on the rest of the field with back-to-back victories, seven spots are open for advancement to the Eliminator 8 Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and will be decided on the massive high banks of Talladega Superspeedway this Sunday.

With all the unpredictability of a restrictor plate race, the CampingWorld.com 500 is shaping up to be the wildest race of the year. Since a driver who loses the draft can fall from front to the rear in a single lap, many liken the odds to roulette with 43 numbers on the wheel, instead of the traditional 38.

With only 18 points separating the top eight contenders, the seven remaining spots to advance will likely not be known until checkered flag flies, assuming that half the field has not already been collected in the “big one”.

Four drivers, namely Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth, will control their own destiny only with a win.

However, among active drivers, no one has wheeled around the hallowed banks of Talladega with more folklore than Earnhardt Jr. At Dega, the No. 88 Chevrolet driver owns the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ best driver rating (92.8) and second-best average running position (14.0).

Of Junior’s 25 career victories, ten have come on restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega, where the top speed of cars is limited for safety. This year, Earnhardt Jr. has been thoroughly dominant on plate tracks, having finished 1st and 3rd at Daytona, while winning at Talladega back in May and leading over 60% of the race.

Of the 31 races in his career at Talladega, Earnhardt Jr. has shown superb results, including collecting 6 wins, 11 top 5’s and 15 top 10’s. The dilemma, however, is that Junior is in a position where he must win, and all those top 5’s and top 10’s amount to nothing, given his need to advance in the playoffs.

Will Jimmie Johnson help his Hendrick teammate or not?

Will Jimmie Johnson help his Hendrick teammate or not?

Earnhardt Jr., however, has become a cerebral driver who understands that Talladega is a high-stakes dance that requires making the right moves. Drivers at the end are usually mentally spent, needing to constantly analyze which packs are running best, and determining when to race your guts out and when to be patient, all while being constantly surrounded by 42 other cars.

With his father’s teachings and his own sage experience, Earnhardt Jr. understands this rhythm of Talladega and how to make the right moves. “At Talladega, you give more mentally than you do physically,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “In a restrictor-plate race, you need to make decisions with confidence and make them quickly. If you have any kind of hesitation, someone makes that decision for you and takes away that opportunity.”

Moreover, Earnhardt Jr. asserts that he is bringing back his “monster” of a car to Talladega, the same car which won both Talladega in May and Daytona in July. “We’ll have the same car we won with earlier this year,” says Earnhardt Jr. “It’s got great speed and we feel confident. It helps when your car is that that dominant.”

Inherently, Talladega remains unpredictable. Normally, in the NASCAR playoffs, Chase contenders win between 80% and 85% of the races. Conversely at Talladega, Chasers only have won 55% of the races.

However, Chasers still typically finish strong, even if they do not win. In the three restrictor plate races earlier this year, Chasers claimed 7 of the top 10 positions in the finishing order on average.

But calling your shot? That takes it to another level of absurdity, given that one untimely bump or one poor pit stop will likely ruin a driver’s day.

For Earnhardt Jr., the secret sauce may lie with his Hendrick Motorsports’ teammate Jimmie Johnson, who has already been eliminated from Championship contention. While not having collected a plate win this year, Jimmie has finished 5th, 2nd, and 2nd in this season’s three plate races.

Clearly, Johnson knows what it takes to run up front and has worked with Junior successfully in the past. Now that Johnson has already been eliminated in the Chase, he surely has inspiration to help his Hendrick teammate. At the same time, Johnson wouldn’t mind winning at Talledega this weekend himself.

One thing is for sure: Should Earnhardt Jr. win, Dega’s grandstands will be raucously rocking out. Many celebrants may just point to the sky, remembering his iconic father, who won ten races at Talladega, more than any other track in his iconic career, believing that the Redneck Jesus was drafting alongside his son.

By Ron Bottano. Follow me on Twitter @rbottano and @motorsportsunplugged

Earnhardt Jr. Thinks He, Team Are Ready For First CMS Victory

Dale Earnhardt has not won a points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, something he hopes to change in this weekend's Coca-Cola 600.

Dale Earnhardt has not won a points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, something he hopes to change in this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600.

CONCORD, N.C. – It wouldn’t be difficult, not at all, to surmise that Dale Earnhardt Jr. badly wants to win at Charlotte Motor Speedway – and to do so this weekend in the Coca-Cola 600 would achieve a personal goal.

After all, for all of his talent and technical support, Earnhardt Jr. has not won a points race at CMS. His only victory was in The Winston, the predecessor to the Sprint All-Star Race, in 2000.

At that time Earnhardt Jr. drove a No. 8 Chevrolet for his father’s organization, Dale Earnhardt Inc.

“This is definitely a race I would love to win,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I want to win a points race so bad.”

Earnhardt Jr. recounted how some of his first racing memories came at Charlotte. The track is located only few miles from his Kannapolis home.

“Being we were from right up the road, we always came here,” he said. “I remember watching a lot of races from the condos in 1982, 1983.

“It’s frustrating that I haven’t won a race here other than the All-Star Race. I’ve never really felt I had a car here that could win.

“They were always good cars but we always seemed to get outrun.”

In a somewhat acrimonious split from DEI, supposedly created when Earnhardt Jr. could not get a sizable ownership percentage of the team from Teresa Earnhardt, his mother-in-law, the driver tore away from his roots and joined Hendrick Motorsports.

He’s had his ups and downs with Hendrick through the years. He’s not won a championship, something he felt would happen when he joined the team.

And, of course, he has not won at CMS.

But this season Earnhardt Jr. has been in top form. He’s been more competitive, week in and week out, than he’s been in the last several years.

Earnhardt Jr.'s teammate, Jeff Gordon, has five wins at CMS and he will move into a four-way tie for first all-time with a  600 victory.

Earnhardt Jr.’s teammate, Jeff Gordon, has five wins at CMS and he will move into a four-way tie for first all-time with a 600 victory.

He opened the season with a victory in the Daytona 500. That win accomplished at least two things: First, the mixture of Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick returned to excellence on the restrictor-plate tracks.

Second, and this is most important, Earnhardt Jr. all but assured himself a spot in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Any driver who wins at least one race has the inside track to the Chase, which was re-formatted to allow 16 drivers – hopefully all winners – to compete.

Earnhardt Jr. has not faded since Daytona. In fact, he’s been very competitive.

He’s fourth in points with seven top-10 finishes in 11 races.

Among those finishes are seconds at Phoenix and Las Vegas – the two races following Daytona – and Darlington.

He earned a fifth-place finish at Kansas, a week before the All-Star race and the last points race prior to the 600.

Earnhardt Jr. was solid in the All-Star Race, finishing fourth.

But he said that was a better finish than his Chevrolet should have earned. He added that there was work to be done before the 600, the longest race in NASCAR.

“We need to improve before the 600,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We know that. Some of the guys in the (All-Star) race had trouble at the end and that’s why we gained a couple of spots.

“We have to find speed and grip. We know what we have to do and I am confident we’ll get it done.”

Earnhardt Jr. admitted that the “sprint” that is the All-Star race is all about money. But he contends there is more to it than cash.

“You try to pay attention to what you are doing and what you are feeling in your car so you can use those notes next week in the 600,” he said. “You try to look at what your teammates are doing, learning what they are doing, that you might want to do this week when you are going through it all.  “There is a lot to be learned and hopefully we will get our car going pretty quick.”

Studying his teammates might be a good strategy for Earnhardt Jr. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson has won at Charlotte six times, which ties him with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip as the all-time leader.

Jeff Gordon has won five times, Kasey Kahne four.

Johnson, however, has yet to win this year and is seventh in points, 28 behind Earnhardt and 54 behind leader Gordon.

“I think they’re just kind of searching with the new rules and where to get Jimmie comfortable and fast and find the speed,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I’ve seen them have speed and then sometimes they just don’t, for whatever reason.

“And when they get in traffic or something they’ve had a little trouble in traffic. I don’t think it’s a big deal, man.

“They are obviously still kind of searching for what they’re looking for. They’re still searching for some speed.”

By his own admission, that is exactly what Earnhardt Jr.’s Hendrick team is doing.

And it would be good to find it by the Coca-Cola 600. That would give Earnhardt Jr. a better chance to win a points race at CMS for the first time in his career.

“The All-Star race was a great opportunity to really be at the race track and get some laps in race condition to try and give yourself the best opportunity to win the 600-miler,” he said. “I feel like we will do that.

“I think we will be ready.”

      

      

NASCAR and Earnhardt Have Great Start, Can it Continue?

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory in the exciting Daytona 500 has stoked a lot of new interest in NASCAR, which hopes it will all continue at Phoenix.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves to Phoenix this weekend followed by Las Vegas the next. And if these two races are as energetic and exciting as the Daytona 500, the sanctioning body will be beaming with pride.

Why wouldn’t it? It would be off to one of the best season starts it has had in years – maybe ever.

Of course the fact that Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the intense 500 by driving one of the most flawless races of his career has stoked the fans’ enthusiasm and national attention.

The race was marred by a rain delay for over six hours but those fans who hung around – and watched at home in prime time – got a real treat.

The race had 42 lead changes, 37 of them after the rain. Drivers tenaciously fought for position, often running three abreast when normally that would have meant disaster.

Well, there were a couple of them in the form of multicar accidents.

At the end Earnhardt Jr. did a masterful job of blocking and did not allow a single rival to make a run on him.

Even NASCAR’s most popular driver – who is the first driver to enter the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup – called the race “one of the most exciting Daytona 500s I’ve ever been in and one of the most intense races I’ve ever been in.”

Tony Stewart has had a rough start to the season as mechanical failure relegated him to 35th at Daytona. He hopes things will improve at Phoenix.

I think this bodes well for NASCAR as it goes into Phoenix. The Daytona 500 has sparked the interest of new people – given Earnhardt Jr. has been on TV in everything from Letterman to multiple ESPN visits – and their curiosity may well turn their eyes toward Phoenix.

They may be expecting the same show that was the Daytona 500.

Which is exactly why NASCAR would love to see the Phoenix race be a scrapper, and Las Vegas, too.

Can the drivers put on as a good show as we go forward? Of course. Nearly all of them were pleased at how competitive the 500 was, both as participants and fans.

When it comes to competitiveness, they might have something of an advantage. The Gen 6 car was refurbished to allow more passing, particularly on the 1.5-mile tracks like Vegas. We’ll see.

While what was the Daytona 500 can be repeated, it’s more likely that it won’t. But let’s not let that cool our interest.

After all, there are some darn good storylines going into Phoenix and they will attract more than their share of attention.

To wit: Can Earnhardt Jr. win again? If so, will it be at Phoenix?

Certainly he can win again – and the safe bet is that he will this year. For a driver to win two races in a row is something rare, but it has been done. And you can bet the “Junior Nation,” and many others, will be watching to see if Earnhardt Jr. can do it. It’s inevitable.

I would suggest there are a couple other competitors who bear scrutiny at Phoenix.

One is Denny Hamlin. Back in 2014 from a compressed fracture in his back that forced him to miss four races last season, he has had a spectacular start.

Hamlin won the last race of 2013, at Homestead. Then, at Daytona, he won the Sprint Unlimited, a Bud Duel event and finished second in the 500.

That means Hamlin has won three of his last four races and finished as a runnerup in the fourth.

Earnhardt Jr. aside, Hamlin is clearly the hottest driver early in the 2014 season and could keep up his hot streak in Phoenix.

On the other end of the spectrum there is Tony Stewart and his Stewart Haas team.

Admittedly the Daytona 500 is a restrictor-plate race, which means it can be an uncertain business. But Stewart Haas Racing left there with a performance that makes it slow out of the gate.

Not that it was entirely SHR’s fault.

Kevin Harvick had the best team finish at 13th, even though he crashed at the finish.

Danica Patrick crashed earlier and finished 40th. Kurt Busch was involved in two incidents, one on pit road with Trevor Bayne, and finished 21st.

Stewart suffered a 35th-place finish after he experienced a fuel cell, and its electronics, problem.

It was a cruel blow for Stewart, who has returned from a shattered right leg – which is not fully healed, by the way – suffered in a Sprint Car accident that forced him to miss 15 races last season.

He and Patrick both suffered blown engines and had to start from the rear of the field at Daytona.

Stewart has the ultimate confidence in his team and adds that the real racing begins at Phoenix.

“On the restrictor-plate races it’s more of a team deal than an individual deal,” he said. “What happens at Phoenix has to be done on your own. You can’t help each other at Phoenix.

“You have to race.”

SHR’s fortunes may rise if, among other things, Harvick performs well at Phoenix, which he has in the past.

He won the fall race at the one-mile track last season and has four wins there. He also has four top fives in the past seven races. But all of that was achieved in Richard Childress Racing equipment.

Harvick left RCR for Stewart’s organization last year.

But he will likely be listed as a favorite at Phoenix.

All of these storylines aside the real appeal of Phoenix lies with the drivers. Will they be as competitive as they were in Daytona and give us all another exciting race?

Reckon we all hope so. I’m sure NASCAR does.

5 Best and Worst of NASCAR 2013: Pre-Chase

Dale Earnhardt Junior is the face of NASCAR. His popularity never wanes. He looks to be in the Chase and the hunt.

5 Best:

(1) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Say what you will, positive or negative about Junior, one irrefutable fact remains. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the face of NASCAR. He’s consistently been the single greatest human asset that NASCAR has had since his Father, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. perished in the Daytona 500 of 2001. He’s a fan favorite in a motorsport genre’ that, rather uniquely, relies on it’s personalities to drive it forward. (In Formula One it’s nationalistic.)

He’s sitting in 7th place for the Sprint Cup Chase and could be locked in at Richmond. He has a lifetime career in NASCAR even if he decided to drive a Yugo.

(2) The Generation 6 Car

The Gen 6 car has produced more competitive racing and an excellent base in which to grow the platform.

Were it not for the advancement of the Gen 6 car, we would have to be chained like pit bulls to a double wide in order to ever watch an entire NASCAR race. Taking as many years to develop a car that could have, and should have, been a solid car right out of the box, the COT may have scarred many fans for life.

The new Gen 6 car is fast, handles more like a racing car should and, coupled with the introduction of the “Frankentire, it has the potential to make the series more competitive than it already is, if that’s possible.

(3) Stewart/Haas Racing

Stewart does what Stewart wants. Haas seems to do the same.

In an announcement that everyone expected, Kurt Busch managed to close down a deal that will make this team the ultimate ‘Bad-Boy’ show of 2014. Stewart, Harvick and Busch should prove out the theory, mine of course, that volatile personalities and talent will make for some of the more interesting moments in the coming season. Welcome to Formula One, American style.

(4) NASCAR’s Brilliant Television Deal

It looks like a play ripped straight out of Bernie Eccelstone’s ‘Satanic Journal of Deal Making’, though I doubt they had to go the Faustus route. The NASCAR deal is worth a whopping 8.2 Billion dollars over a 10- year period with NBC and Fox. Let that soak in. In this present economy, and don’t kid yourselves-it’s flatter than Danica Patrick’s…..performances to date,

NASCAR has managed to ink media deals that ensure it remains relevant in the public’s eye. At least it’s placed itself squarely in front of the ever-evolving fan base. It’s up to them now.

(5) NASCAR Digital Media

When NASCAR reacquired its digital media rights from Turner, it had anticipated that the fan base would be more reliant on digital media than in the past. That fan base has done just that. NASCAR has and is creating an NFL-like structure for controlling what is and is not said about them in the media.

From purely a business perspective that’s exactly what they should have done. It’s their sandbox and they can do with it what they choose. It does, of course, have one potential caveat. That’s in the next section.

 

Stewart-Haas Racing wont be in the Chase this year.

5 Worst:

(1) Tony Stewart

It is Stewart/Haas Racing, but the fans and particularly the sponsors, wanted to see Tony Stewart climb into the Sprint Cup Chase and bring a fight to Johnson and rest. It isn’t going to happen due to his extended recovery from a crash suffered while racing Sprint Cars.

Of course this isn’t news. What may very well be news is the displeasure of the sponsors that he has put into jeopardy. These sponsors have merely paid the entry ticket into what sponsorship really is. They call it “activation” and that means millions of dollars worth of promotions, public relations, corporate appearances and the value of television staying focused on the twelve drivers who will comprise the Chase. Stewart wont be attending, no RSVP.

Tony Stewart has earned the right to do whatever he wants, however, when a professional driver jumps into a sport or sports known for their danger of injury or risk of death, that driver should question whether they really wanted it bad enough, ownership aside.

More and more contracts are being crafted that limit the driver’s extracurricular activities in an effort to protect their investment. I expect an addendum of some sort may be in the works with Stewart’s major sponsors. He may not go along and still get away with it, but his posse of unlikely team-mates may not be immune.

(2) NASCAR Digital Media Consolidation

While it’s true that the consolidation of digital media in NASCAR is a distinct positive for NASCAR, will they allow the press to pontificate, as we tend to do, or will they cherry pick those media outlets that won’t oppose them? This is the potential caveat.

Look at the NFL, NBA and MLB for guidance. Those sports squeeze their assets harder than the African Rock Python, now plaguing South Florida. The biggest risk to NASCAR is that they hold them too tightly. The bloggers of the world do have something to say, whether it’s gibberish or not is up to the reader.

It appears to me, as Motorsports Unplugged deals with NASCAR Digital on a professional basis, that so far they have been friendly to those digital publications who have something meaningful to say. In short, it means one has to produce great content in order to have a seat at the table.

We can only hope that the seemingly stabilized NASCAR will allow those with points of critique to be represented. This sport is not as accessible to the average fan on the street as sandlot football, baseball or the pick up game. It has to be a spectacle that grassroots fans talk about.

Jimmie Johnson shows the challenges of road racing. This discpline should be in the Chase.

The under forty demographic sports fan lives life in 140 characters. This is the fan that NASCAR needs to grow.

(3) Another year, no road-race in the Chase

Bill France Senior, or ‘Big Bill’ as he was called, felt that open wheeled and sports cars needed to have a healthy base in order for NASCAR to do the same. Too much of one style was detrimental to the attention span of America’s gear-heads.

I couldn’t agree more. If you truly want to represent NASCAR as sport that can turn left and right with top dog drivers, you cannot exclude this highly difficult disciple from the big event. Notice the international attention that takes place when Nationwide hosts its road races.

If you’re going to have a playoff system that has flair and inclusion of beautiful skill, you need to have a Road Race in the Chase. Personally I think Mid-Ohio.

(4) The decision, or indecision, not to reduce the number of seats at the larger tracks

It’s impossible to convince a tough audience that there are more people in these stands than an NFL game.

Let’s face it, they overbuilt. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but then times were good. ISC is, of course, a public company that owns a number of the tracks as well as Bruton Smith.

Both have to realize that the perception of empty seats on television has an effect on a casual fan or someone whose just been introduced to the sport.

I stood in the infield with the late Jim Hunter. We were friends, but he was friends with everyone, though I did catch his ire at least once. In 2003, I stood in the infield with him. I asked how much more expansion they would do with that style track, his reply: “There’s no damn way we can build anymore like these, they’re 250 to 300 million dollar each.”

The economy isn’t going to roar back anytime soon and bringing down seats is expensive but you simply can’t have one hundred thousand fans attend a race and the facility still look empty. The perception is devastating. That one act alone might very well make good, and more, on the $8.2 billion dollar television deal. That is if NASCAR and ISC can agree.

The consumate competitor leaves NASCAR unfulfilled. Unless he doesn’t leave.

(5) Juan Pablo Montoya

If anyone had the credentials to make a go of it in NASCAR, JP Montoya was it. He had won in every series he’d ever participated in. But after 7 years it became painfully obvious he was not going to make it stick. The reasons can be debated forever: He never had the equipment. He had horrible luck. His temper made him no friends in the garage. He lost his passion. My sense is that it’s a combination of all and that in 5 years no one will remember the whole experiment. Whether he goes to IndyCar or, as I believe he should, go to LeMans Prototypes, it wont make a difference as he still exited with little fanfare.

Earnhardt Rigged This Roulette Wheel – Fantasy Insight Talladega 1

Dale Earnhardt, JR

Every time the NASCAR Sprint Cup circus heads to Talladega Superspeedway we hear about how this race is a crap shoot, a flip of the coin or a spin of the old roulette wheel. People make this sound so unpredictable.

Oh sure, there are big crashes that sometimes take out the top guys and let a longshot win the race. But for every longshot winner there is a solid pick. If this race was such a crap shoot or a spin of the roulette wheel how did Dale Earnhardt win ten times? How did Dale Jr win four in a row? Maybe the Earnhardt family rigged this roulette wheel.

One thing that has made this race a little more unpredictable this year is the unknown over whether the two-car push will work at all here. Earlier this season at Daytona the restrictive rules and a change to the front end of these Gen Six cars seemed to make the two-car tandem difficult to pull off for any length of time.

But this is Talladega where the transitions in the corners are not as severe. This is Talladega where the tires don’t wear as bad as Daytona. My gut feeling is that we will see pack racing until the closing laps and then we will see a few guys figure out how to make the two-car push work. But if tandem racing goes away we might see a return of Earnhardt dominance of this roulette wheel. (And since Lori Munro from Doin’ Donuts on RaceTalkRadio.com has picked Junior this week include him on your race team).

Good luck with your fantasy racing picks this week and don’t forget to send in your pick for “Whiteboard Fantasy Racing” this week for Talladega.

Send in your pick to win this week’s Cup race to dennis@racetalkradio.com for a chance to win a copy of the National Speedway Directory from SpeedwaysOnline.com.

Help Kris Martin Become NASCAR’s First Deaf RacerKris Martin was born to race!

Kris is following in his grandfather’s footsteps and is trying to race his way all the way to NASCAR. But Kris was born profoundly Deaf. Technology helps Kris hear his Crew Chief and Spotter so he can race safely but sponsors are not willing to take a chance on him…yet. Your help in funding his racing this season can help Kris show sponsors he will be an excellent representative for them all the way to NASCAR. I am working with Kris Martin Racing and his family to help them make this dream come true.

http://igg.me/at/krismartinracing/x/2900200

 Weather Report

Mostly Cloudy with a threat of showers, high temp in the upper 60s

If you have a question about Fantasy Racing send it to dennis@racetalkradio.com and get it answered next week.

 NASCAR by the Numbers

Using a proprietary race analysis technique we take the fans inside the numbers every week. DMIC’s rating system has been in use since 2002 and has proven to pick the contenders from the pretenders!

Consistency is King (Last Five Races)

Driver

Last 5

J Johnson

93

M Kenseth

92

C Edwards

91

K Kahne

91

R Smith

90

K Harvick

90

C Bowyer

89

A Almirola

89

Ky Busch

88

J Logano

87

 Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Matt Kenseth

 

Driver

Course

C Bowyer

93

G Biffle

90

B Keselowski

90

M Kenseth

86

J Burton

86

J Gordon

86

M Truex

86

K Harvick

85

K Kahne

84

J Johnson

84

 Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Driver

Type

M Kenseth

92

G Biffle

92

D Earnhardt Jr

90

B Keselowski

90

J Burton

89

R Newman

86

R Stenhouse Jr

86

Ky Busch

85

B Labonte

84

C Bowyer

84

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Driver

Power

M Kenseth

271

G Biffle

268

C Bowyer

267

B Keselowski

265

J Burton

259

K Kahne

259

D Earnhardt Jr

257

K Harvick

256

J Johnson

255

Ky Busch

255

J Gordon

254

P Menard

253

M Truex

253

R Smith

252

C Edwards

251

A Almirola

251

J Logano

251

R Newman

247

T Bayne

247

T Stewart

242

M Waltrip

240

R Stenhouse Jr

240

J McMurray

238

D Ragan

237

T Kvapil

236

D Reutimann

236

B Labonte

235

M Ambrose

234

D Gilliland

233

C Mears

231

Ku Busch

229

D Blaney

228

JP Montoya

226

D Patrick

225

D Stremme

213

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks presented by Speedwaysonline.com

Each week we will take you beyond the numbers to handicap the field from top to bottom to help your Fantasy Racing team succeed. You are also invited to join Lori Munro and I on “White Board Fantasy Racing” every Monday night on “Doin’ Donuts” at 8pm ET on RaceTalkRadio.com. Win fun prizes by picking just the race winners in our unique format. Send your picks to info@racetalkradio.com to enter.

Top Pick (Last Week Finished 2nd)

Kevin Harvick

Clint Bowyer- Much better luck at Dega than Daytona

(12 to 1 Odds)

 Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week Finished 38th)         

Jeff Burton- RCR factor and Burton is smart plate racer

(40 to 1 Odds)

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week Finished 12th)      

Kevin Harvick- Love those RCR cars here

(12 to 1 Odds)

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week Won Pole and Finished 24th)      

Dale Earnhardt Jr- If pack racing is back this could be Dale’s race to lose

(12 to 1 Odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week Finished 16th)

Michael Waltrip- Came so close to winning here last season

(40 to 1 Odds)

Crazy 8s for Talladega

Each week Lori Munro and Dennis Michelsen battle in the most unique racing game around! We pick one driver each from each 8 driver group using the current points’ standings. Our picks can help you round out your fantasy racing lineup!

Lori won 3-2 in week 9 and leads the game 7-2 for the year

Group 1: Lori picks Dale Earnhardt Jr and Dennis picks Clint Bowyer

Group 2: Dennis picks Kevin Harvick and Lori picks Matt Kenseth

Group 3: Lori picks Tony Stewart and Dennis picks Jeff Burton

Group 4: Dennis picks Denny Hamlin and Lori picks Danica Patrick

Group 5: Lori picks Michael Waltrip and Dennis picks Trevor Bayne

Do you have what it takes to handicap the races? Join Lori and Dennis every week and play in the Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Series! Send your pick for the Cup race to info@racetalkradio.com to enter. Weekly prize given away! 

In 1990 Derrike Cope Achieved The Biggest Upset In Daytona 500 History

Derrike Cope earned what has been described as the greatest upset in Daytona 500 history when he beat Dale Earnhardt in 1990. Cope still competes today, mostly on the Nationwide Series.

“Even after all the passing years, I can close my eyes and still feel the sun shining warmly on my face in Victory Lane,” Derrike Cope often recalls.

And even after the passage of 22 years, I still hardly can believe the sight that unfolded on Feb. 18, 1990, at Daytona International Speedway for millions of eyes to see.

With only a mile to go in the Daytona 500, leader Dale Earnhardt, who had dominated NASCAR’s most important race, suddenly, stunningly slowed.

Cope, running a close second on the 200th lap at the storied 2.5-mile Florida track, swept by Earnhardt’s faltering car and took first place. The journeyman driver then held off former Sprint Cup champions Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott by mere feet in a dash to the checkered flag.

A crowd estimated at 150,000 and a national television audience watched in shock.

Ricky Rudd followed in fourth place and then, limping to the line in fifth, came Earnhardt.

Among some, Cope widely remains rated the biggest surprise winner of a major event in all of motorsports history.

Cope, 31 at the time, indirectly conceded to that during the Victory Lane proceedings.

“I absolutely can’t believe it,” he said in the celebratory moments immediately after his first Cup triumph. “Not in my wildest dreams … this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

“Dale had dominated all race long and there was no way I was going to pass him. As the last lap began I was trying just to beat Terry and Bill for second place.

“Then, Dale had a tire suddenly go down and he slowed up. A bunch of stuff was coming from under his car. The tire was shredding. He did a heck of a job holding onto the car.”

While roaring down the backstretch, Earnhardt had run over a sharp piece of bell housing that had fallen off a lapped car.

“I hit some debris right in front of the chicken-bone grandstands,” said Earnhardt, referring to the cheaper-priced seats. “I heard a piece of it hit the bottom of the car and then hit the right-rear, and the tire popped.

“You can’t see all that stuff on the track in time to miss it. I was just sitting there in complete control. None of them could have got by me.”

Earnhardt, driving a Chevrolet Lumina fielded by Richard Childress Racing, had led 155 laps, 146 more than anyone else. He once rolled to a whopping advantage of 30 seconds, leading the Motor Racing Network anchor Eli Gold to say, “Dale is in another area code.”

Indeed, Earnhardt looked to be home free to win the Daytona 500 for the first time in a career that by then had produced 39 victories and three Cup championships.

However, on the 193rd lap, a rival’s spin forced a yellow flag. All the frontrunners pitted except Cope and Bobby Hillin. Earnhardt stopped and took on four tires.

When the restart came on Lap 196, the running order was Cope, Hillin, Earnhardt, Labonte and Elliott.

Earnhardt immediately powered back into the lead. Cope, also driving a Chevrolet, was able to hang onto Earnhardt’s bumper in the draft, staying in position should there be a miracle for him or a disaster for Dale.

There were both: That metal shard that punctured the tire on Earnhardt’s famous black No. 3 Chevrolet.

“Dale moved up about a half lane,” continued Cope. “I figured that him slowing so suddenly was going to cause a big chain-reaction pile-up in the third turn. I was waiting for someone to hit me.

“When that didn’t happen, I just turned that baby of mine left and said, ‘Please stick!’ ”

Cope’s No. 10 Chevy owned by Bob Whitcomb held traction.

In 1990 Cope drove a Chevrolet sponsored by Purolator and owned by Bob Whitcomb. It was in this car that Cope won two victories that year, at Daytona and Dover.

But his crew, led by colorful veteran crew chief Buddy Parrott, didn’t know that.  It couldn’t see the third turn from pit road.

“I’ve been in racing a long time and I thought I had developed an ear for crowd reactions,” said Parrott. “When I heard the screams and saw the fans jumping around, I hung my head.

“I said to myself, ‘Well, I guess we wrecked.’ Then I saw that red-and-white car of ours coming down the track, and before I knew it the boys on our team were pounding on me in excitement.”

Parrott laughed.

“I’ve always wanted to go out on top, so I want to announce my retirement. … Nah, I’m going to stick around to enjoy this. It’s truly quite a deal.”

While the Whitcomb team rejoiced, Earnhardt and his crew coped in the garage area with deep disappointment.

“We outrun ’em all day,” said Earnhardt, who had remained in his car for a bit to compose himself. “They didn’t beat us. They lucked into it.

“But give Derrike credit. He ran a good race. He was sitting there poised to win if something happened. I can’t believe it did happen, but you never take anything for granted in racing. I never thought I had it in the bag. At the end, I was just counting off the corners.”

He never got to count the last two, at least not as the leader.

“What a heartbreaker,” said Childress. “We’ve come close in this race the last few years and had something happen to deny us right near the finish. But this one really stings.

“I’m sure all of us are going to be sick a couple times tonight.”

Childress revealed that the culprit – the piece of metal that cut the tire – had been retrieved and given to him.

“Waddell Wilson (Rudd’s crew chief) found the thing,” said Childress. “It had bounced up off the track and stuck in the radiator of Ricky’s car.”

Cope also was to receive a piece of the broken bell housing a bit later. He had run over the debris, too, cutting a tire in three places so deeply it likely wouldn’t have held together another lap.

During the victor’s interview in the press box, Cope remained humbled.

“I know you folks are stunned,” he said. “I’m stunned.

“I’m not exactly a big name in this sport. I’ll admit before anyone that I have a long way to go. I need a lot more experience.”

The fabulous feat by such a long shot drew attention far beyond the realm of NASCAR followers.

Telegrams poured in from all over, including one from Joao Pereira Bastos, then Portugal’s ambassador to the United States. Cope has some Portuguese-Cherokee ancestry through his mother, the late Delores Marie Azevado Cope.

Said the ambassador’s wire: “I salute the Portuguese in you and claim part of your success on behalf of the country of your ancestors. Portugal was once second to none on the high seas. I am glad that it is now winning on the race track.”

No NASCAR driver ever has been honored similarly.

“It’s overwhelming,” Cope said at the time. “I’m extremely thankful.”

But for a knee injury Cope sustained, Portugal might have been praising him for playing pro baseball instead of driving a race car.

As a catcher at Whitman College in 1978 in Washington State, where he grew up, Cope was considered a top prospect.

“My dream of signing a contract was lost when I blew out my left knee in a collision at home plate,” said Cope.

Cope then turned to motorsports. He made his first Cup start at California’s old Riverside Raceway road course in 1982. He made a brief run for rookie of the year in ’87.

He secured a regular ride in ’88, but listed only 48 big-time starts prior to going to Daytona in 1990. He had a single top-five finish and 12 more in the top-10.

He’d started the Daytona 500 just twice previously. This caused whispers that his win was a “fluke.”

Cope quieted that on June 3, 1990, when he impressively made up a lost lap to triumph again, mounting a charge to take the Budweiser 500 at the demanding Dover track.

Cope appeared to be on his way. But the victory in Delaware proved to be his last in the Cup Series.

He triumphed in what is now the Nationwide Series in 1994, his last checkered flag.

Even so, Cope motors on.

He is entered in Saturday’s Nationwide event, the Drive For COPD 300, in a No. 73 Chevrolet fielded by Dave Fuge, Gary Keller and Dale Clemons.

The Earnhardt story now is legend. He continued as a championship contender and winner well into the 1990s. But victory in the Daytona 500 eluded him despite repeated strong runs.

Finally, in 1998, after 20 years of trying, Earnhardt dramatically captured the Daytona trophy that he wanted more than any other.

Just three years later Earnhardt, a winner of 76 races and a record-tying seven championships, lost his life in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

Many fans rank Earnhardt’s stirring triumph in 1998 as the great race’s most memorable, a standing it could keep forever.

And Cope’s conquest of the Daytona 500? It will always rate among the 500’s biggest upsets.

Cope, a gentlemanly, gracious driver, undoubtedly will feel the Florida sun of Feb. 18, 1990, warm on his face forever.

 

Belatedly, Memories Of Bonnett Return

Recently, Neil Bonnett’s name came up in a conversation. When that happened all the talk was about him. Don’t even remember the other thing we were discussing.

I suppose I should be ashamed to say that, this year, I forgot about Bonnett’s death on Feb. 11, 1994, more than 17 years ago. He died in a crash during practice for the Daytona 500.

We can’t always remember everything or everyone. With the passage of time it’s inevitable that we lose many who have been so much a part of NASCAR that, frankly, we can’t fathom it all – as it has been with me. I’m not alone.

Seems we tend to recall only those who made an indelible mark that imprinted everyone – fans, media and, in some cases, the nation. So it was with Dale Earnhardt, whom we lost 10 years ago. The anniversary of his passing, this past February, prompted many memorials.

If he were alive today Earnhardt would most certainly remember Bonnett – and demand we do as well.

Earnhardt and Bonnett were the best of friends. Their bond was forged not only as fellow racers, but also through an affinity for the outdoors; hunting and fishing.

As a driver Bonnett was not, by some measures, a superstar – but he was successful. He won 18 races from 1977-1998, driving for such teams as J.D. Stacy, Wood Brothers Racing, Junior Johnson and Associates (as a teammate to Darrell Waltrip) and Rahmoc Enterprises, owned by Butch Mock and Bob Rahilly. He is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame.

I believe his most impressive season had to be in ’88. That year, with Rahmoc, he won early at Richmond and Rockingham. During the interval between those two races, he was victorious at the inaugural NASCAR exhibition event at Thunderdome in Melbourne, Australia – three consecutive victories.

To win in 1988 was very emotional for Bonnett, if for no other reason than he suffered a fractured hip at Charlotte on Oct. 11, 1987, when his Pontiac experienced a blown tire and slammed into the wall. He returned to victory lane after many thought his career might well be over.

Just a couple of years later another incident again threatened his career. But, once more, he came back. Sadly, he never should have done so.

But this is not about Bonnett the racer. It’s about Bonnett the man.

He was one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR. As a competitor, he did what drivers were expected to do, earn their stripes on the bullrings, attract attention from the elite circuit and then prove his worth – all of which Bonnett did.

A native of Alabama, he became one of that state’s NASCAR “gang,” which included Red Farmer, Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Bonnett and, later, Bobby’s son Davey.

Bonnett was someone not many drivers have ever been – a unique and appreciated individual. He was personable, candid, witty and, dare I say, charming. He could converse with anyone. He was open and outgoing with fans and the media. He had the type of personality which, if he started racing today, would have instantly made him a huge favorite.

He was his own affable self, always. There was nothing fake. That’s what fans liked. I never read, or heard, a harsh word about him.

Here’s an example of his sense of humor.

He won a race in the ‘70s at Richmond. Back then Richmond was far removed from what it is today. Suffice it to say that writers, what few of us were there, had to go to the office of the director of the Virginia State Fairgrounds to write and file our pieces. That was the only place that had telephones.

Because Richmond was an afternoon race, I was always able to get my stuff back to the Roanoke (Va.) Times in time to make the three-hour journey home and catch the 11 p.m. sports broadcast.

This particular time I tuned in and heard the weekend sports announcer (obviously a guy who didn’t know anything about racing) say the following:

“And today in Richmond, the NASCAR race was won by the famous French race driver, Nyles Bounet.” He pronounced it “Boo-nay.”
When I heard that I laughed so loud I nearly wet my pants – not that I have ever done so, you understand.
I soon called my buddy Tom Higgins and told him what I had seen and heard.
We made it a pact to call Bonnett “Ze famous driver Nyles Bounet” from that moment on. And we did.

Bonnett’s reply was always the same – “Bonjour! What the hell are you guys doin’?” He was always smiling, even laughing, when he said it. He never failed to play along with the gag.

Bonnett’s career was virtually over after a crash in the TransSouth 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 1, 1990. A multicar crash on lap 212 of 367, triggered by Ernie Irvan, 10 laps down at the time, resulted in Bonnett’s transportation to a Florence, S.C., hospital with head injuries and severe amnesia.

Bonnett was out of racing for three years. During that time, among other things, he established himself as a solid TV personality with his own show on The Nashville Network. It was on that broadcast that he absolved Irvan of any blame.

Before all of that, though, I remember his first press conference at Talladega following his recovery. Bonnett said, “I want you guys to know that I’m just fine.”

Then he pointed at Tom and me.
“I’ll prove it to you. There sits Tom and there sits Steve ….”
To this day neither of us has forgotten how he singled out a couple of his media friends above all others.
It was during that same press conference that Bonnett said his funniest and most memorable words.

Bobby Allison had suffered a near-fatal, career-ending crash at Pocono in 1988. Among many other injuries, he, too, sustained a severe loss of memory, from which it took him years to overcome.

As Bonnett recovered from his incident he had the opportunity to chat with his mentor when they, both healing, reunited for the first time.

“You know,” Bonnett said, “between him trying to remember what he was a-saying and me trying to remember what he was a-telling me, we had ourselves a helluva conversation.”

Bonnett ran a couple of races for Richard Childress Racing in 1993, one of which ended in a frightening, violent crash at Talladega, the other with a blown engine at Atlanta.

Everyone, including Earnhardt, suggested he give it all up. There was no need for him to attempt to race again. He had successful businesses and a career in television was virtually guaranteed.

But he ignored that and paid the ultimate sacrifice in Daytona in 1994.
I wonder what Bonnett, today, would mean to NASCAR had he not perished.

He would be nearly 65 years old. Should he have chosen, I believe he would be a strong television presence and, more important, be one of NASCAR’s most respected elder statesmen – and remain immensely popular.

That’s not to be, of course.
But what has to be is that Neil Bonnett should never be forgotten.
I suspect there are many fans, and others, who would heartily agree.

Richard Petty: The King Is Back

Richard Petty Motorsports went through a trial by fire….the Petty name was in jeopardy of defeat. Petty took on all odds and emerged as an intact, progressive, funded, talent rich team. A. J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose won big, thanks to the King. http://www.motorsportsunplugged.com

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For His Son, Johnson Has Come Full Circle

It seems Junior Johnson has come full circle – and I’m not surprised.
The former NASCAR driver/team owner has, once again, become an owner. He has launched a race organization that will feature his 17-year-old son Robert as driver. The goal is, in time, to propel the younger Johnson into the Sprint Cup Series.

After his stellar driving career, in which he won 50 races, Johnson became an owner. Over the course of nearly three decades his team won 132 races. Six NASCAR championships were earned by his drivers Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip.

The last time he fielded a car in NASCAR was in 1995. He said it was time to go and, in his words, “I never looked back.”
He didn’t – but he’s sure looked ahead.

Junior will run Junior Johnson Racing from shops on his 278-acre estate in Hamptonville, N.C. Cars built there will be raced by Robert on the full K&N Pro Series East schedule, with other competition planned for the United Auto Racing Association and Whelen All-American Series late model stocks.

When it comes to Robert and racing this is not Junior’s first enterprise.
Robert has been racing since he was 14, the same age at which Junior began hauling moonshine along the dark country roads in the North Carolina foothills and beyond.

Ever since, Junior has been nurturing his son’s career. There was evidence of Robert’s skill after he won five races in his rookie season.
Last year, Robert competed on the full UARA schedule and in a handful of Whelen events out of the JKS Motorsports shops in Lexington, N.C. – with his father’s hand at the helm. He finished fourth in the final UARA point standings.

Robert is a junior at Forsyth Country Day school in Lewisville, N.C., and the proud owner of a Mercedes – at least at the last time I heard. He might presently be tooling around in something different.

Junior’s son is somewhat of a Renaissance Man. He is smart, athletic and alert. He has vast knowledge of everything from cars to flying to computers and probably other things of which I don’t know.

He plans to attend Duke University, which should tell you plenty about him. But I suspect his college education might go on hold if he’s successful in racing.

However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Junior told his son that, while racing is good, a degree from Duke is better.
Still it seems only natural that Junior would do anything possible to nurture his son’s career in racing. After all, Junior was a successful racer himself and why wouldn’t he fan the spark he sees in Robert?

Other fathers, with names like Petty, Earnhardt, Allison, Baker, Marlin and Ragan – among many others – have done the very same thing.
Junior, now 79, married his wife Lisa and had children at an older age. I suspect that as such, his kids – Meredith is Robert’s sister – mean a great deal to him. He wants only the best for them, as any father should, and he and Lisa have done all they could to provide for their needs and to help them realize their dreams.

Yes, Robert and Meredith have it far better than most kids. But that certainly does not assure their personal success and happiness.
When it comes to Robert, if Junior can assist in both by guiding him into a fruitful career in NASCAR, that is exactly what he’s now doing.
Simply put, he’s trying to be a good father.
He will continue to be even if Robert’s career path leads somewhere other than stock car racing.

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