No Doubt, Keselowski Shows Signs Of Stardom

We’ve seen this before in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.

A young, unheralded driver comes along and accomplishes things not expected him. His achievements are so great and so startling that, in our eyes, he transforms quickly.

Instead of a youngster who someday might be great he becomes a veteran who is now familiar and a proven success.

In seasons past, such drivers had names like Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Tim Richmond, Davey Allison and, yes, Jeff Gordon.

And now there’s Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski was thought of by many – a great many – as a developmental driver, one who, with the proper experience and nurturing, might become a driver worthy of the ride he has at Penske Racing.

As far as “developmental” goes, Keselowski seems to have gone well past that.

In his last four races, the 27-year-old driver from Rochester Hills, Mich., has won twice, finished second once and third another time.

What is mind boggling is that he has achieved this enviable streak of success while driving on a broken left ankle, which he suffered in a wreck at Road Atlanta just before the Pocono race in early August – which he won.

His rise into the competitive stratosphere continued Saturday night when he won the Irwin Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway to earn his third victory of the season – second among all competitors – and almost certainly earned at least a “wildcard” entry into the Chase.

Keselowski, who won a fuel mileage race in Kansas in June, has shot to 11th in points, just 21 points behind struggling Tony Stewart and, with his victories, is No. 1 among “wildcard” contenders.

The other driver who ranks among the top 20 who has a victory is Denny Hamlin, who is 13th in points, finished seventh at Bristol and has endured a mediocre season.

Keselowski was steady throughout the Bristol race and made his winning move as the laps wound down.

Under caution on lap 413, Keselowski pitted and came out in second place alongside Martin Truex Jr., who pitted for two tires only.

Keselowski got a jump on the restart and passed Truex Jr. on lap 421 and pulled away.

“Man, I used to watch guys like Dale Earnhardt and Tony Stewart win this race,” said an enthusiastic Keselowski. “This is a race of champions. Some pay more and some have more prestige, but this is the coolest one of all.”

Before Pocono, Keselowski ranked 21st in points with the lone victory at Kansas – out of Chase consideration.

But over the course of the next four races, he has climbed 10 positions in the standings and evolved into the hottest driver of the Cup circuit – something virtually no one expected.

“We’re just a team that starts to click and believe in each other,” Keselowski explained. “We’ve just made good adjustments to our car over the last few months.”

A 27-year-old driver from Rochester Hills, Mich., and a member of a racing family, Keselowski began NASCAR competition in the Camping World Truck Series in 2008, the same year he ran a couple of Sprint Cup races for Rick Hendrick.

He won at Talladega in 2009 in a wild finish with Carl Edwards while driving for James Finch, thereby giving the journeyman team owner is first Cup victory.

But most considered Keselowski’s victory at the 2.66-mile Alabama track, known for unusual finishes, nothing more than a fluke.

Roger Penske put Keselowski to work in 2010. The driver won the Nationwide Series title and competed in 36 Cup events. It took him 32 races to get his first top-10 finish, but he did earn his first career pole position at New Hampshire.

As mentioned, Keselowski was viewed as Penske’s developmental driver, a subordinate to veteran Kurt Busch, the 2004 champion.

Now, perhaps, the perception has changed. Keselowski is presently out-performing Busch, who, nevertheless, has a win and is comfortably among the top 10 in points with an eighth-place.

Busch appears destined to make the Chase, which means the odds are good both Penske cars will be in NASCAR’s “playoff.”

Stewart finished 28th at Bristol and is in danger of failing to make the Chase. If he loses his lead over Keselowski or Clint Bowyer (who, at 12th, is only a single point out of 11th), he’s out.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ninth in points, 18 ahead of Stewart with two races remaining before the Chase begins. While it’s still not certain if he’ll qualify, his position in certainly more secure than Stewart’s.

With a couple weeks to go, the Chase scenario remains uncertain. The only drivers who are assured starting positions are Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, who rank from first to fourth, respectively, in points.

Where he was once considered a long shot to make the Chase field, Keselowski is now a long shot only to NOT make it.

His accomplishments over the last month have indicated to many that he has the potential to become NASCAR’s next superstar – especially since he’s performed so well and courageously under circumstances that might have forced other competitors to the sideline.

Although he’s shown signs that it will happen, we don’t yet know if Keselowski will indeed become another Allison or Gordon.

All we do know is that the potential is certainly there. Keselowski has indeed shown us that – and in no small measure.

The First Of Bristol’s “Streakers” Was “The Golden Boy”

One of the most unique things about Bristol Motor Speedway is that when a driver wins at the 0.533-mile track, he tends to do so repeatedly.

None of this “one and done” stuff. Over the years drivers have accumulated victory after victory at Bristol, dominating the competition season after season.

It reached the point where fans and media didn’t have to guess who was going to win the next Bristol race. Heck, everyone KNEW – it sure wasn’t hard to figure out.

For example, Cale Yarborough won nine times at Bristol during his career in just 16 races. He won eight of 12 events from 1973-78, including four in a row from 1976-77, when he won two straight Winston Cup championships.

Then along came Darrell Waltrip. He is Bristol’s all-time victory leader with 12, including a whopping seven consecutive wins from 1981-84.

Suffice it to say fans weren’t on the edge of their seats during those years.

Interestingly, all of Yarborough’s victories and all but three of Waltrip’s were achieved while they drove for team owner Junior Johnson. That led to the widespread theory that, when it came to racing at Bristol, Johnson had something up his sleeve.

He probably did. But he sure didn’t when he was a driver. Bristol opened in 1961 and Johnson won there only once, in the spring of 1965.

Ned Jarrett won at Bristol in the summer of that same year and, ironically, both he and Johnson retired at the end of the season.

Dale Earnhardt picked up where Waltrip left off, with five victories in eight races from 1985-1988, all while driving for Richard Childress. Like Yarborough, Earnhardt won nine times at Bristol.

Rusty Wallace also won nine times but he never put together a string of victories, although he did sweep both Bristol races in 2000.

All of this continues today.

Kurt Busch won five-of-nine from 2002-2008 and his brother Kyle, currently the Sprint Cup points leader, has done the same thing. The first of his five wins came in 2007 and he won in August of 2010 (making him the defending Irwin Tools Night Race champion) and in this spring’s Jeff Byrd 500.

Thus, the younger Busch will enter this weekend’s activities with two consecutive Bristol victories under his belt.

While it has certainly had more than its share, Bristol wasn’t always a track dominated by “streakers.”

Fact is, there were five different winners in its first five races from 1961-1963.

That, however, changed in the summer of ’63 when a young driver became the first to sweep Bristol events.

Fred Lorenzen came out of Elmhurst, Ill., with dreams of making it big in stock car racing. He tried NASCAR’s Grand National circuit for the first time 1956 when he was 21 years old. He competed in seven races in his own car and averaged only a little more than $33 in winnings. He decided to go home and lick his wounds.

He kicked around the USAC stock car circuit for a few seasons before he returned to NASCAR in 1960.

He moved to Charlotte and took a job with the powerful Holman-Moody team, for which he helped prepare cars to be driven by others.

But Lorenzen wanted to race. He quit his job and competed in 10 events, again driving his own car.

He started out well enough with an eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500 but things soured after that. By the end of the year he had earned slightly more than $9,000 – but had spent considerably more.

Lorenzen sold his car for $7,500. He went in search of a ride but was turned down flat by the top car owners of the day. Again, he went home. Again, he was broke.

This could have been the end of Lorenzen’s story and he would have been a forgotten man. However, his fate changed for the better – and soon NASCAR had a bright new superstar.

On Christmas Eve, 1960, Lorenzen got a call from Ralph Moody, the co-owner, with John Holman, of Holman-Moody. As improbable as it sounds, Moody wanted Lorenzen to drive for the team in 1961.

Lorenzen didn’t know what he had done or said to impress Moody, but he made the most of the opportunity given him. He won three times in just 15 races in ’61, at Martinsville, Darlington and Atlanta.

The next year Lorenzen ran in 19 races and won twice, at Atlanta again and at Augusta.

Then came 1963, the year that defined Lorenzen’s career and earned him the nickname, “The Golden Boy.”

Lorenzen competed on what was, for him, a very expanded schedule in 29 of the season’s 55 races. Truth be known, he never competed on the full Grand National slate, which consisted of anywhere from 44 to 62 events.

But despite the fact he ran in only slightly more than half of the races in 1963, he nearly won the title. That’s because he won six races, including Atlanta, Charlotte, a sweep at Martinsville and his first triumph at Bristol in July of that year.

He finished among the top five 21 times and was third in the final point standings even though he missed 26 races.

But what was most impressive is that Lorenzen established a record most thought unattainable. He won over $100,000 in a single season – $122,587.28 to be exact. That was nearly $50,000 more than 1963 champion Joe Weatherly, who had to run 53 races to earn that.

Lorenzen’s winnings were more than double those of Richard Petty, who made 54 starts, won 14 times, finished second in points and earned about $55,000.

Lorenzen had another good season in 1964 with eight wins in 16 starts, including a sweep of both Bristol races, which meant he had won three straight times at the track and became the very first of its many “streakers.”

With his skill and the type of good looks that made him appealing beyond stock car racing circles, Lorenzen evolved into one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers.

But he often competed on very truncated schedules and did not win another race after 1967. He left NASCAR after the 1972 season, when he ran in only eight events for Ray Nichels. He was just 37 years old with 26 career victories.

Lorenzen – whom you can find today on Facebook – fashioned a glorious career in a short time.

In so doing he became the man who, when it came to “streaking” at Bristol, started it all.

A Tale Of Three Drivers, And Their Fortunes, At Michigan

As it is with most NASCAR Sprint Cup races, there were many story lines in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

One of them involves three different drivers who experienced decidedly different fates. One had what he might call a perfect race – he won it, retained the top position in the Cup point standings and clinched a spot in the Chase, which begins three races from now.

For the other two it was anything but perfection. Had they known what was in store for them at the two-mile Michigan track when they woke up Sunday morning, they probably would have said to heck with it and gone back to sleep.

Truth of the matter is, for themselves, they would not have missed a whole lot.

Kyle Busch, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, won the Pure Michigan 400 to win at MIS for the first time in his career. It was his fourth victory of the season and tightened his hold on first place in the point standings.

Busch came into the race tied, at least in the number of points, with Carl Edwards. Each had 752 points but Busch held the tiebreaker with three wins to one for Edwards.

A tiebreaker is no longer needed. Busch is now 10 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, the five-time champion who moved into second place. Edwards tumbled to fourth place. More on that later.

Busch, who has the most victories this season, is assured a place in the Chase.

He has now won four races per Cup season in every year since 2008. He has 23 career victories on the circuit along with 49 in the Nationwide Series and 29 on the Craftsman Truck Series. That’s 101 wins on NASCAR’s top three national circuits.

“This victory is what we wanted,” said Busch, who held off Johnson and Brad Keselowski on a green-white-checkered restart created after Busch’s brother, Kurt, brought out the final caution when he smacked the wall with four laps to go.

“We wanted to make sure we could come out here and have the opportunity to go for broke. At the end, I thought about coming down pit road, and I’m like, ‘You know what, we might as well stay out and see if we can’t just can’t get it done and hold off the guys rather than come from behind.’

“We felt that was our best opportunity to win the race.”

And Busch made the most of it.

Back to Edwards, the subject of one of our tales of gloom.

As said, the Roush Fenway driver was atop the standings – a familiar position for him for a good portion of the season – before Michigan and was looking to move ahead of Busch.

Instead, his Ford suffered all manner of problems early in the race and he was never a factor. He finish 36th, completing just 174 of 200 laps.

“It was a very tough race,” Edwards said. “I thought we would have a Ford in victory lane. I thought one way or another we would win this thing.

“I don’t know what was wrong with it. It felt like it was running on seven cylinders. We changed a bunch of stuff and then it was fixed. It wasn’t something mechanical, it was probably something with some electrical connection or a coil or something.

“We were going all out to win this thing and we were prepared for something – but we weren’t expecting a failure like that.”

Edwards is now fourth in points but nonetheless is certain to make the Chase.

“It was a frustrating day,” he said. “But we’re in a very good points position. We’ll just absorb this bad day and take it from here.”

Danny Hamlin can’t really say that. He has to do a bit more than “take it from here.” At Michigan, he, too, had a tale of woe.

Busch’s teammate at Gibbs, Hamlin was a strong favorite to win at Michigan, or at least do well, given he had two wins and a runnerup finish in his last three MIS races, with five straight top-10s, and an average finish of 3.4.

He was 12th in the point standings with one victory, and, with Keselowski, was one of two leading candidates to make the Chase as a “wildcard” entry.

He still is. But he’s now 14th in points and has become more vulnerable to exclusion from the Chase.

Just 78 laps into the race, Hamlin hit the wall and was forced to pit. He fell to 31st and was one lap down.

A handful of laps later, Hamlin was back in the pits, the victim of a blown tire. Thereafter, his car did not perform well and he finished 35th.

It just seems like we’ve been very fortunate that the guys around us in points either haven’t won a race or on days we struggle they have a bad race,” Hamlin said. “Any other circumstances and we’d be in big trouble right now, but I’m still glad to be in our spot than anyone else’s at this point.

“We just need to figure out how to finish races and that carries on my shoulders as much as it carries on anyone’s.”

With his third-place finish, Keselowski moved past Hamlin to 12th in points. He also has two victories, which solidifies his standing as the leading “wildcard” candidate.

The only other drivers among the top 20 with wins are Paul Menard (18th) and David Ragan (who moved into 20th after finishing 12th at Michigan).

Menard is 18 points behind Hamlin, Ragan 34. Those differences might be hard for the drivers to overcome in three races, but another victory by either could supplant Hamlin.

Despite his lofty position, Busch is not about to admit he and his team will be the ones to watch in the Chase.

After all, at this point in 2008, Busch had already won eight times and was the favorite when the Chase began.

But he finished 28th or worse four times in the 10-race “playoff” and his championship hopes disappeared.

“We feel like we’ve been better prepared this year,” Busch said. “We’re a lot more consistent. Before, we’d have a bad race and not be able to rebound from it.

“But there’s no way we can be considered the ones to beat. There’s too much that can happen, way too many laps to run, way too many miles to run.

“We have built ourselves into contenders this year and it’s just being able to be consistent. We would love, of course, to carry on our strong runs through the final 10 races.

“It’s just a matter of being consistent.”

Format Provides Plenty Of Intrigue As Chase Start Nears

With four races remaining until the Chase begins – following the Richmond race on Sept. 10 – it’s not unusual that fans hear, read and see plenty of news about the drivers who are still fighting for entry into the exclusive 12-car field.

After all, several different scenarios exist and the questions over the next month will be, which one of them, or one as yet unknown, will be a reality and which drivers will be pleased – or disappointed?

Don’t think for a moment the competitors who are not yet in the Chase aren’t thinking about what they have to do to make it.

For a few of them it’s a matter of consistent performances over the next four races. The higher the finish, the better – and, oh yeah, a win would be great but it’s not really necessary to become one of the 12 drivers who will make the Chase.

For others, a victory is paramount. Can’t worry about points – to do so would be a waste of time. The only way to make up lost ground is to win.

The field for the Chase this year will be made up of the drivers in the top 10 in points after the Richmond race.

The 12-competitor lineup will be completed by two “wildcard” entries – those drivers with the most victories who are ranked among the top 20.

This “wildcard” business has been most intriguing. It has received constant attention from the media and, I daresay, the fans.

It’s NASCAR’s newest wrinkle in its oft-altered point system and it’s been a good one in the sense that it has, at the very least, provided some interest.

Let’s be honest here. If there was no “wildcard” and victories didn’t count for something, would anyone presently pay the slightest bit of attention to, say, Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose or David Ragan?

In the past, believe me, these guys would have been ignored simply because they stood no chance of making NASCAR’s “playoff” under the point systems then utilized. They wouldn’t be given a second thought.

This year, however small their opportunities may be, they are parts of discussions and speculation. As we head into Michigan for this weekend’s Pure Michigan 400 Sprint Cup race, they’re not out of the hunt.

The reason? It ain’t so much about points as it is winning.

Menard is 14th in points with a single victory. Ambrose is 22nd and won for the first time in his career at Watkins Glen. Ragan is 23rd with a win at Daytona in July. He’s tumbled a bit since then and has fallen from a relatively comfortable Chase contender status.

All three of these guys could improve their points position – Ambrose, for example, is just one point out of 20th and Ragan is five in arrears – but it’s highly unlikely that alone is going to cut it.

But another win could make all the difference.

Currently, Brad Keselowski is the “wildcard” leader. He’s 14th in points, but is the only driver among the top 20 with two victories this season.

If Menard, 15th in points, wins again he could join Keselowski in the Chase field. So could Ambrose or Ragan because another victory would very likely push either into the top 20.

Denny Hamlin is, presently, next in line to make the Chase as a “wildcard,” behind Keselowski. Hamlin stands 12th in points with one victory.

For the Joe Gibbs Racing driver the season has been decidedly different than last year. He won at Michigan in June 2010 and finished second when the circuit returned to MIS in August.

He then won at Richmond for his sixth victory of the year and thus was No. 1 in the seeded standings when the Chase began.

Hamlin’s lone win of this season came at, yep, Michigan in June. He will likely be a strong favorite this weekend as he has an impeccable record at the two-mile track.

He has two wins and a runnerup finish in his last three MIS races with five straight top-10s and an average finish of 3.4.

Hamlin could use at least another top-five finish to keep his Chase hopes alive. He’s been in a three-race slump (he was 36th last week at the Glen after a frightening crash) and needs a solid performance.

Hamlin trails the trio of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer, who rank ninth-11th in points, respectively.

Hamlin, however, has an advantage. He’s got the “insurance policy” of a victory. The others are winless – so far.

Earnhardt Jr., trying to make the Chase for the first time since 2008, appears, to some, to be safe. He’s 36 points ahead of Bowyer, the Richard Childress Racing driver who would have to make up more than nine points in each remaining race to catch Earnhardt Jr.

Well, yeah, but what if Bowyer or Stewart wins and Earnhardt Jr. slumps? Beyond that, what if … well, there are a heckuva lot of “what ifs.”

There are several scenarios that could play out over the next four races. In fact, there are so many that involve the contending drivers (not to mention those who could quickly and unexpectedly join them) that to list them all would be, frankly, impossible.

To me, that’s the beauty of the system and its “wildcard” opportunities for drivers who win and are consistent enough to be among the top 20.

How it’s all going to end before the Chase starts is a mystery. And, to be honest, that’s something we didn’t have much of in years past.

One thing is certain: We can expect a lot more news and speculation about the potential Chase lineup over the next handful of weeks.

Ambrose’s Achievement Duly Noted In His Home Country

There it was, on the Internet homepage of The Australian, the national newspaper of the Land Down Under that calls itself “The Heart of a Nation.”

It was a picture of Marcos Ambrose standing in the window of his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, waving a checkered flag after his victory in the Helluva Good At The Glen Sprint Cup race at the Watkins Glen International road course.

The newspaper website is, as you might expect, like any other and its top stories centered on an all-too-familiar topic, the economy.

Seems it’s as bad in Australia as it is here, as the paper featured pieces about dipping stocks, business failures and joblessness.

It wasn’t much different that what’s found on any American newspaper’s website.

But the sports section was, again, as you might expect, quite different. There was no news about baseball or preseason NFL football.

Instead, the main topic was the World Cup of Rugby, to be held in New Zealand. Soccer and cricket also received due notice.

But so did Ambrose, as the evidenced by the Australian’s homepage photo.

The headline read, “Marcos Ambrose finally breaks through to win in NASCAR.”

Reporter Peter Kogoy wrote, “It took Marcos Ambrose 105 starts to break his NASCAR duck.”

I’ve been to Australia, learned some slang, and have no idea what that sentence means.

Nevertheless, a full account of Ambrose’s achievement was presented, including how and why he came to the United States from Tasmania.

“Six years after leaving his homeland, the Tasmanian etched his name in NASCAR folklore by becoming the first Australian to win at the highest level of the sport in the U.S.,” Kogoy wrote.

He continued: “A handful of Australian drivers have raced in the series – regarded as the world’s pre-eminent stock car championship – including Allan Grice and Dick Johnson in the late 1980s.

“Ambrose’s win not only solidified the 34-year-old’s standing as a NASCAR driver, it also provided further justification for his off-season move to the Richard Petty Motorsports team.”

That the newspaper, or any other of the country’s media, reported on Ambrose’s noteworthy accomplishment was the logical thing to do, given that he is a native and is very popular among Australian motorsports fans.

Trip Wheeler, who works with his father Humpy’s marketing firm, was at the point of an effort to capitalize on Ambrose’s popularity a few years ago.

During a trip to Australia, Wheeler found out just how popular Ambrose was. He and the driver decided to go to a pub. They weren’t there very long before Ambrose was recognized.

“That’s Marcos (bleep) Ambrose!” someone shouted. According to Wheeler, fans that sought autographs and offered beers then swarmed the driver.

The personable Ambrose has fans in the United States, too, and many of them felt he could earn his first career Sprint Cup win at the Glen, given that he is an excellent road course driver and had never finished worse than third in his three Sprint Cup starts at Watkins Glen.

He passed Brad Keselowski on the last lap of the 92-lap race on the 2.45-mile road course and was the leader after the race ended under caution following a pair of crashes.

Ambrose is the fifth first-time winner this season, joining Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith, David Ragan and Paul Menard. That ties a NASCAR record set in 2002.

He’s also the 15th different winner of 2011 with 15 events remaining in the season.

And, suddenly, he is in the mix when it comes to making the Chase as a “wildcard” entry. Ambrose is outside the top 20, but not by much. He’s 22nd and only a single point behind Martin Truex Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya, who are tied at 20th place.

Ambrose does have a chance, however slight, to make it into NASCAR’s “playoffs,” which start after Richmond on Sept. 10, four races from now.

He and Ragan, 23rd in points, almost have to pocket a second victory to make it.

But when it comes to the Chase, the big winner out of the Glen was Keselowski. He moved up four positions to 14th in the standings, increasing his chances of remaining in the top 20. He also has two victories that amount to a significant insurance policy. He’s the leading candidate for a “wildcard” slot.

As an aside, with a victory at Pocono and a runnerup finish at the Glen despite a broken left ankle and battered body, Keselowski has fashioned a bright future for himself as a NASCAR competitor.

Denny Hamlin, the victim of a vicious crash at Watkins Glen where he finished 36th, is now 12th in points with one victory and is the other “wildcard” candidate. But he’s more vulnerable.

As is Menard, who finished 32nd at the Glen and fell to 15th in points with one win.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart are, at ninth and 10th, respectively, at the tail end of the list of drivers among the top 10 in points that will be assured positions in the Chase.

However, both are winless this year and while good runs in the next four races would likely keep them in contention, both would rather have a victory.

Which Ambrose finally achieved.

“I’ve travelled halfway around the world and dragged my kids and my wife with me,” said Ambrose in Kogoy’s piece – and also in just about every other one written.

“I kept telling them I was good but until you win in the NASCAR Cup Series, you really can’t put that stamp on it.

“I’ve tried for 2-1/2 years to get to victory lane … and when it happens it’s such a surreal moment.”

By the way, it’s also a very real one.

Weather May Force A Date Change But Not Driver Challenges

When it comes to a race nobody likes a rainout – not NASCAR, not the competitors, not the media, not speedway officials and, especially, not the fans.

Everyone wants the event to run on schedule for a lot of different reasons. Promoters know a postponement is going to cost them money. Fans paid that money and there is no certainty many of them can return the next day.

The media doesn’t WANT to come back another day. They want to finish their work on schedule and get the hell out.

I’ve been there and done that and believe me, for the media, there is no bigger hassle than, given the location of the speedway, to have to hastily reschedule a flight and often increase the company expenses.

Admittedly, for me, that was a while back. Might be easier today. That doesn’t make it any less disliked.

But rainouts happen. It’s all simply a part of the way things are. When a sport is conducted outside – in Mother Nature’s realm – there are going to be times when the old lady just won’t cooperate.

Which is exactly what happened yesterday at Watkins Glen International, where the Heluva Good! 500 Sprint Cup race was supposed to be conducted on the 2.45-mile road course.

Steady rain began just when the race was supposed to start a 1p.m. and did not end in time for track crews to dry the racing surface – a task we were told would take at least two hours.

Jet driers did get on the track but a second front assured the postponement until 10 a.m. this morning.

A delay isn’t popular, but then, the fact that a race is rescheduled for the next day makes the whole thing more palatable than it used to be.

There was a time when a postponed race was re-scheduled for the next clear weekend – be it in seven days, 14 or longer. It was whatever open weekend the schedule would allow.

Cars were impounded in the garage and there they stayed, untouched, for at least a week. When the teams finally returned to the track they were allowed to make minor preparations for the race, but that was about it.

There were times when a practice session was scheduled but they were rare.

The reason for all of this was mostly to ease the promoters’ concerns. Many were adamantly against rescheduling a race for the next day.

They felt that since Monday was a workday most fans wouldn’t – or couldn’t – return to the speedway. After all, NASCAR was a blue-collar sport that was popular among blue-collar workers. And how many of them were able to fashion their own work hours?

But in time NASCAR realized that waiting a week, or longer, to run a postponed race was by far a more expensive proposition for all concerned.

For the teams and media, at the least it often meant rebooked motel rooms for all concerned (which were sometimes unavailable) and maybe another round of airline tickets.

It definitely meant the loss of an otherwise open weekend. That, believe me, was widely despised.

It was the same for the fans, many of whom had planned and saved for a particular race weekend and simply didn’t have the time or money to do it all over again.

So NASCAR came up with its “next clear day” rule, which, of course, decreed that postponed races would run on the very first day the weather cooperated.

It was less expensive and more convenient for all concerned, even the promoters, who discovered that while attendance did drop off on a Monday, it was often better than it was a week or longer after the postponement.

“The next clear day” doesn’t solely mean Monday. A delayed race may run on a Tuesday if need be, although it’s not likely to extend beyond that because of teams’ need to get back to the shops and prepare for the next event.

If the Heluva Good 500 doesn’t get the green flag today – and I suspect that, given its 10 a.m. start, most of us will soon know one way or the other – NASCAR officials have said it might indeed have a go on Tuesday.

OK, while a race’s date may change, its challenges to the drivers do not – nor does what is at stake for many of them.

Several drivers face the same issues they faced before Sunday. Only difference is now they have to deal with them on a Monday.

For example, among other things, the “wildcard” spots for the Chase are still up for grabs. Drivers with the most wins and who are among the top 20 in points when the Chase begins will join the “playoffs” with the top 10 in standings.

At the Glen, those two drivers are Denny Hamlin, 11th in points with one victory, and Brad Keselowski, who stands 18th with two wins.

When it comes to Chase uncertainty, they aren’t alone. Dale Earnhardt Jr. hangs on to 10th in points but he has yet to win this year. Tony Stewart is ninth and is also winless.

David Ragan, once among the “wildcard” contenders after his victory in Daytona in July, is now 19th in points, one position and one victory behind Keselowski.

You can easily see what might happen among these drivers at the Glen, both good and bad. The race’s date has changed, but the circumstances? Not one bit.

That, of course, applies to every driver in the race. One of them is Australian Marcos Ambrose. He has yet to win a Sprint Cup race after 104 starts.

But observers, and his statistics, say that it’s the Glen where he’ll get his best shot at victory. He’s rated as one of NASCAR’s best road-course drivers, if not the best.

He’s won three Nationwide Series races at the Glen but couldn’t land a ride for this year’s event, which, I’m sure, didn’t sit well with him.

He’s never finished worse than third in three Cup starts. And in his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, he held the provisional pole for the Heluva Good 500 until bested by Kyle Busch and A.J. Allmendinger. Ambrose starts third today.

Ambrose said the rain delay hasn’t made him more anxious. I suspect the same can be said for the drivers scrapping for a position in the Chase.

“You can’t fight the weather,” Ambrose said when the event was postponed. “I just worry about the things I can control.

“In our case, the cover is on the car and it’s ready to go. We’re a contender, that’s for sure. But there’s nothing you can do until the sun comes out.”

Which, hopefully and ideally, happened before 10 a.m. today.

For A Time Rudd And Wallace Were Unmatched On Road Courses

When the Watkins Glen International road course in New York returned to NASCAR in 1986 it became one of two multi-turn tracks on the Winston Cup circuit.

The other was Riverside International Raceway in California, which had been around for decades, but had only two more years to live.

Prior to 1986, the Glen’s last presence in NASCAR was in 1965, when Marvin Panch won a race known as the Glen 151.8 in a Wood Brothers Ford.

Some observers were puzzled over why NASCAR would add another road course to its schedule, especially since oval tracks were dominant in stock car racing.

But the sanctioning body was just beginning a new phase of expansion – and it certainly didn’t hurt to add a venue located near some large Northeastern markets.

At the time, most of NASCAR’s regular competitors weren’t all that skilled on road courses and some didn’t care to be. So it was that only a handful of drivers did well at Riverside and, logically, were expected to do the same at the Glen.

Darrell Waltrip, for example, won four times in seven races at Riverside from 1979-81. Tim Richmond, Ricky Rudd and Terry Labonte combined to win six of the California track’s eight races from 1982-85.

So the reasoning was that these well-seasoned road course drivers would be the prime contenders for victory when Watkins Glen made its debut.

Turns out that, for a while anyway, that turned out to be accurate.

Unlike Riverside, Watkins Glen was awarded only one race on the Winston Cup schedule. The first was held on Aug. 10 and Richmond, driving for Hendrick Motorsports, was the winner.

He also won at Riverside in November, which was preceded by Waltrip’s victory there in June. So it seemed that when in came to road courses, it wasn’t difficult to predict a winner – it was going to be one of the “usual” guys.

But 1987 saw the beginning of an unusual streak at the Glen. Yep, races there were still won by drivers considered road course aces. The difference was that for four years, victory was accomplished by just two of them.

It reached the point where Rudd and Rusty Wallace were so dominant at Watkins Glen many began to wonder if anyone else would win on the seven-turn road course.

Wallace entered the ’87 season having won only on oval tracks. But on Aug. 10 at the Glen he was so dominant in Raymond Beadle’s Pontiac that, with a 22.2-second lead, he could still make a last-lap pit stop for gas and finish nearly 12 seconds ahead of Labonte.

Wallace went on to win at Riverside in November and then was victorious in the last race held there in June of 1988.

When the Bud at the Glen rolled around on August 14, Wallace had won three consecutive races on road courses.

He almost made it four in a row. He caught leader Rudd, then driving for Kenny Bernstein, on the last lap and popped him in the rear end, which caused both their cars to break sideways.

Rudd held on for the victory, his only one of the season.

In 1989, it was again Wallace’s turn. He won a late-race duel with Mark Martin and earned his fourth victory in the last six of NASCAR’s road-course races.

However, one of the two he didn’t win was the inaugural event in June at what was then known as Sears Point International Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

He lost to – you guessed it – Rudd, who won a furious, last-lap bumping battle.

By this time nearly everyone figured that when NASCAR went to either of its two road courses, the day was going to belong to either Rudd or Wallace – take your pick.

That opinion intensified in 1990. On June 10, Wallace won at Sonoma to take his fifth win in seven road-course races. He nudged Rudd out of the way (you could have guessed that) on the 60th of 74 laps and went on to beat Martin under caution. Rudd finished third.

Well, you can just imagine what happened at the next road course race. It was, of course, at the Glen on Aug. 12. Rudd, who had joined Hendrick’s operation, overcame an early spin and three flat tires to ultimately cruise to victory over Geoff Bodine.

Wallace was no factor. His engine blew after just 46 laps.

It was the first win of the season for Rudd and the three-car Hendrick organization, which was very surprising considering that the team’s driver lineup included Waltrip and Ken Schrader.

The victory was Rudd’s third in five road-course races.

Rudd and Wallace won all six of NASCAR’s road-course events conducted from 1987-1990 at either the Glen or Sonoma.

They won four of the first five races at Watkins Glen after its return to NASCAR in 1986.

Together they fashioned a truly remarkable competitive streak and established themselves as the premier road racers in NASCAR.

Then something strange happened. After 1990, neither Rudd nor Wallace won again at the Glen.

Each won only one more time at what became known as Infineon Raceway – Wallace in 1996 (his only road-course victory with team owner Roger Penske) – and Rudd in 2002 while with Robert Yates.

A new generation of drivers became NASCAR’s road-course aces, prominent among them Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Wallace retired after the 2005 season. Rudd followed two years later. History records both as two of NASCAR’s best drivers.

That was never more evident than on road courses during the latter 1980s, when both proved to be invincible.

Pocono: Of A Gutsy Keselowski And “Doc” Mattioli

Noting the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway:

 

** I think Brad Keselowski ably showed us what a stock car driver is all about.

He’s supposed to have skills beyond measure when behind a steering wheel of a race car that goes very fast. He’s supposed to be daring and not afraid, especially when it comes to taking the kind of chances that separate victory from defeat.

And he’s supposed to be like every other professional athlete. He is required to play with pain whenever possible.

That, by the way, is something NASCAR drivers have done routinely over the years. If a competitor is unable to race, his physical debilitations must be significant.

Most of us would think a broken left ankle, a pain-ridden right foot and a very sore back would be enough to keep a driver out of his car.

Not Keselowski and not at Pocono.

After he sustained the serious injuries during testing at Road Atlanta on Aug. 3, there was some doubt that Keselowski would be able to compete at Pocono.

But he was cleared to do so – he insisted all the while he would – and in a gutsy performance the driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge won the race and earned his second victory of the season.

Under caution, Keselowski stayed on the 2.5-mile track with old tires with 21 laps left in the rain-interrupted race.

On the restart, leader Kyle Busch left an open path for Keselowski when Busch shot low on the track to fend off a charge by Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski led the rest of the way.

With the victory, which accompanies his first of the season at Kansas, Keselowski is now in a position to claim a “wildcard” spot for the Chase.

He moved up three positions in the point standings and is now 18th, the only driver in the top 20 with two victories. That currently makes him first in line among the “wildcard” candidates.

He’s moved ahead of Denny Hamlin, 11th in points with one win, and Paul Menard, 14th in points, also with a single victory.

Last year at this time Keselowski was 25th in points with no top-10 finishes.

His improvement is impressive, almost as much as his fortitude.

“For him to go through that wreck this week and get back on his horse and find success, it’s only going to make Brad Keselowski a better race car driver.”

And to think he’s pretty darn good right now.

 

** Of the drivers whose chances of making the Chase hinged on improved points position, victory or both, there were no major gains at Pocono.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. raced to his first top 10 in the last seven races with a ninth-place run. However, he remains 10th in points with no victories.

Tony Stewart overcame tire problems to finish 11th, yet remains ninth in points, also without a win this year. He’s only a single point ahead of Earnhardt.

Hamlin led plenty of laps in his bid to win at the speedway for the fifth time in his career, but his chances were spoiled by a wayward lug nut during his last pit stop.

He finished 15th and is still one spot out of the top 10.

Paul Menard, a winner at Indy last week, finished 10th at Pocono for his seventh top-10 run of the season.

But he, too, failed to advance in points and remains in 14th place.

David Ragan got into a crash that severely damaged his Ford. After lengthy repairs he limped home in 34th place.

His Chase hopes took a severe blow. Although he, too, has a victory, he fell three positions to 19th in points. The odds are now very much against him.

 

** When Dr. Joseph “Doc” Mattioli met with the media at Pocono Raceway on Aug. 5 to announce he was retiring as CEO, I suspect several people felt as I did.

Retire? The “Doc?” Heck, he’s 87 years old and in a wheelchair. Hadn’t he put himself out to pasture several years ago?

Obviously not. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why someone continues to work until he or she is nearly 90 years old, and one of them has to be a love of the task and all that comes with it.

I’m certain that applies to “Doc” and his wife Rose, who has been at his side as an associate (and maybe his boss from time to time) for decades.

When Mattioli came along as a force behind the creation of Pocono back in the late 1960s, he became part of an exclusive fraternity. He was one of those few men with the ambition and daring to build a speedway and become a part of NASCAR.

This was an undertaking that promised nothing when it came to financial success. It was always a calculated risk, as was proven so many times over the years as one track after another ceased operations and fell victim to weeds.

I’m sure there were folks who thought that to build a superspeedway in the Pennsylvania countryside was a crazy idea.

I’m also sure that from time to time Mattioli may have thought he’d lost his mind.

But he was very much like the track owners who came along before him – he was determined, smart, stubborn and, most important, tough.

He was no different from his peers, whose tracks survived tough economic times, unsavory characters and the changing local political atmosphere.

They included Clay Earles at Martinsville, Larry Carrier at Bristol, Paul Sawyer at Richmond, Enoch Staley at North Wilkesboro and, yes, Bill France Sr., the NASCAR founder who was also the head of the fledgling International Speedway Corp.

There was also Bruton Smith, who helped create Charlotte Motor Speedway. But his resolve and determination were better displayed after the track went bankrupt.

Smith disappeared, returned and created a racing empire.

Speaking of empires, once there were none. A speedway’s owner was the absolute boss who didn’t answer to stockholders for one very good reason. There were none. There might have been a partner or two but a track was the bastion of a single man and his family.

The track bosses ruled with an iron hand and were fiercely defensive of their speedways.

Once, when I criticized the use of guardrails at Richmond, Sawyer threatened to remove my head from my body.

I suggested that Thursday qualifying at Martinsville was a waste of time. Earles responded by suggesting he’d make my career a waste of time.

This is not to say all these pioneer track promoters were marketing geniuses or, in some cases, even cared to be.

Some realized that in order to attract more fans, make more money and assure a future with NASCAR, funds had to be spent on track improvements, especially when it came to fan amenities.

Others did little or nothing. They simply sold tickets and opened the gates.

Mattioli was often criticized because, to some, his track didn’t keep pace with the times. He’s admitted he heard what he’s called “the bad stuff.”

But, despite the time it might have taken, Pocono has improved all the way around and is a firm part of NASCAR today.

And it stands on its own. It hasn’t folded, like North Wilkesboro, or been gobbled up by ISC, as have Martinsville and Richmond, or is it part of Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. outfit, as is Bristol.

In fact, Mattioli has rebuffed Smith’s offers many times over the years.

“He wanted to buy it for many years,” Mattioli said. “But we always felt that it was something special.”

Pocono has always been a family-owned and operated property and that will continue for many years.

Mattioli’s grandsons and granddaughter are now in charge, holding the positions of CEO, president, COO, Executive Vice President and secretary/treasurer.

They cannot sell the track until after the passing of the Mattiolis and their children.

So Pocono remains the type of track that once was prominent in NASCAR – its success remains in the hands of an enterprising man and his family.

Which means that while he may be 87 years old and in a wheelchair, as a promoter who adhered to the ways of the past and made them work, “Doc” Mattioli stands alone.

The Status Of The Chase Field And Other Observations

Offering a few observations as the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit readies for this weekend’s race, the 21st of the season, at Pocono Raceway.

 

** Counting Pocono, there are six races remaining until the Chase begins after the Richmond event on Sept. 10. The final list of the 12 eligible drivers is, of course, yet to be determined.

But we have plenty of evidence to suggest several drivers don’t have a thing to worry about, some have concerns and others, well, it will be wait until next year.

Not to bore you, but the 12 drivers who make up this year’s Chase field will be the top 10 in points after Richmond and two “wildcard” selections with the most wins who rank between 11th and 20th in points.

Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson, who has won five consecutive championships and is pretty much in everyone’s crosshairs, are first and second in points and unless they both decide to join a monastery, they have clear sailing ahead.

It’s pretty much the same for Kevin Harvick, who is third in points, and Kyle Busch, who stands fourth. Each has three victories this year, more than any other driver so far, and that is going to be more than enough to give them a free pass to the Chase.

Fifth place in points belongs to Matt Kenseth, who has won twice this year, and Jeff Gordon, two spots behind Kenseth, also has two victories.

Neither one of them is losing sleep – they’re in.

Really, it doesn’t take a lot of calculating to figure out that any among the top 10 in points with multiple wins has clear sailing.

Even if they fall out of the top 10, at this point the drivers with two or more victories have paid-up Chase insurance.

Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman also reside among the top 10 with a difference: Each has only a single victory to date.

It’s most likely going to be good enough but it certainly can’t be said they’re on cruise control like the others. If either enters a competitive slump – which can happen in six races – and drops out of the top 10, the situation might become dicey.

It’s definitely dicey for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ranks 10th in points and is one of two drivers among the top 10 who hasn’t won.

There was a time Earnhardt Jr. was comfortable in the standings and seemed well on his way to making the Chase for the first time since 2008.

But he hasn’t finished among the top 10 in the last six races – proof such a slump CAN happen – and thus he’s left with three choices.

He holds his position over the next six races, improves it or gains a measure of security with a victory – which, by itself, is no guarantee.

The situation is similar for Tony Stewart. He’s ninth in points and does not have a victory. He’s three points ahead of Earnhardt Jr. and nine behind teammate Newman.

Like Earnhardt Jr., he can ill afford another drop in points. Either he holds it, moves up or earns that elusive first victory.

Being the competitor he is, Stewart most likely isn’t thinking about points. He wants to win – period.

Denny Hamlin is 11th in points with one victory and leads the pack of top-10 “outsiders,” at least for now. It’s not a secure position. But then, Hamlin should be considered a favorite at Pocono, where he has won four times since 2006.

Paul Menard, who won at Indy for his first career victory, is, at 14th, is the second driver outside the top 10 with a victory. David Ragan, ranked 16th, is the third and last.

However, there’s a sizable handful of drivers among the top 20 who haven’t won yet and probably should have.

It would seem the final field for the Chase is very much up in the air as we enter the final six races before it begins.

The suggestion here is to be watchful of Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., Hamlin, Menard and Ragan. I don’t know for sure, of course, but at least one of them is going to be disappointed.

 

** I can’t say I’m overly surprised that Edwards signed a new multi-year agreement to drive for Roush Fenway Racing, with which he’s been associated since 2004, his entire Sprint Cup career.

I freely admit that, given the amounts of money he was supposedly offered by Joe Gibbs Racing via rumors, I wouldn’t have been startled if he had moved on, either.

Edwards, by the way, never gave us a whiff about making a move and Gibbs was equally silent.

Silence fuels rumors. Lack of denial means one thing – where there is smoke ….

Edwards said he decided to stay because of the opportunity team owner Jack Roush provided him and that he has all the resources he needs to win. He added that he’s leading the points and is in a great position for the Chase.

With Roush Fenway Edwards indeed has all it takes to become a champion. He should have been one already with his nine victories in 2008, the year he finished second in the final standings.

He’s now in the prime position to knock Johnson off the champion’s pedestal – not that it will happen, of course – but the fact he’s where he is has to count for a lot as far as Roush Fenway, and Ford, are concerned.

Roush hasn’t won a title since 2004, the second year of what is now the Chase, nor has Ford, which has had to stand by and watch Chevrolet dominate.

I’m guessing that might well be why Ford tossed in its own bucks to keep Edwards in the fold.

I wouldn’t be surprised if money figured into all of this, of course, but it’s not always the final answer. Team stability, resources and proven competitive certainty count for a great deal. Edwards has that.

No driver can be certain he can still find it all somewhere else – even if evidence suggests it is all there, as it does for Gibbs.

Maybe, among other ones, Edwards reached that conclusion. If so, in one man’s opinion, it very likely played a role in his final decision.

 

** The liquidation sale for the NASCAR Café in Las Vegas began a couple of days ago. Fans were able to buy anything from helmets, uniforms, prints and photos to bar equipment.

At one time there were NASCAR Cafes in multiple locations, including Myrtle Beach, Nashville and Orlando in addition to Vegas. As far as I know, the café in Vegas was the last one standing.

They were created during NASCAR’s tidal wave of popularity in the late ‘90s. The sanctioning body seized the opportunity to put its name on everything from restaurants to Speedparks, arcades with simulators, games, souvenir shops, its own library of books (including romance novels) and a host of other things.

It all seemed to be overkill and that was pretty much proven after NASCAR’s popularity flat-lined.

Besides, theme restaurants, for the most part, have withered on the vine. Planet Hollywood is a good example.

As an aside, the NASCAR Hall of Fame isn’t drawing the attendance the Charlotte tourism folks anticipated.

But don’t look for any liquidation sale any time soon – or ever, for that matter.

Pocono A Track That’s Like No Other, And Always Has Been

All of NASCAR’s speedways have their own design and traits that make them all different from one another.

However, in some cases that’s not easy to determine. So many tracks are of the same length and basic design they look like they came off a factory’s assembly line.

You’ve heard all about the “cookie cutter” speedways right? They are the 1.5-mile dogleg ovals that sprung up with monotonous regularity in the 1990s and into the 21st century.

They all appeared to be little more than clones of Charlotte Motor Speedway and they included Las Vegas, Chicagoland, Kansas, Texas and, most recently placed on the Sprint Cup schedule, Kentucky.

It got to the point where some wags begged anyone who had a notion to build a track make it something different – please?

“Hey, can’t anybody build another short track?” they asked. “How about another Bristol or Richmond so new fans could REALLY see something?”

Of course, however it might appear, all the 1.5-milers are not the same – not exactly. As any driver or crew chief will tell you, there are subtle differences that must be accounted for in car preparation.

In other words, it’s highly likely that a car readied for Charlotte isn’t likely going to run particularly well at, say, Texas.

There are several speedways in which the differences are anything but subtle. All it takes is a quick look to discover they are unto themselves. There are no others like them, in some cases, not even remotely close.

There’s the “paper clip” that is Martinsville. Old, venerated Darlington’s oval is egg-shaped. Bristol, a half-mile track, has high banking that is huge and infamous.

Richmond is the only three-quarter mile track on the Sprint Cup circuit. Atlanta may be a 1.5-mile track but its sweeping turns are about as long as its straightaways. At 2.5 miles, Indianapolis resembles a rectangle.

Infineon and Watkins Glen are road courses. That they are is the only thing they share.

And then there’s Pocono Raceway.

There’s not another track like it anywhere, certainly not in the United States.

It, too, is a 2.5-mile track but it’s triangular in shape. There are only three turns. A long straight separates turn one from sharp turn two – the “tunnel turn.” Then it’s a short jaunt to the sweeping turn three before it opens up to the long, speed-building frontstretch.

Outside of the road courses it’s the only track on which drivers have to shift gears, although for a long time the practice became unnecessary. But it’s back.

Pocono is so unique, and admittedly somewhat strange when it comes to speedway design, that at least one motorsports writer called it “the Duckbill Platypus of NASCAR.”

As you might expect, that name didn’t stick.

 

It was built in Long Pond in the lush Pennsylvania countryside near Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and, of course, in the region of the Pocono Mountains.

It opened in 1971 as a target for open-wheel racing. But by 1974 NASCAR came calling. The first Winston Cup race at Pocono was the Purolator 500 on Aug. 4 that year.

The race was the only major NASCAR event held at Pocono that season and it would be eight years before the track got a second date.

Pocono’s debut season was a very turbulent one for NASCAR. It went through points system changes and what seemed to be constant rule alterations that became monumentally frustrating for the teams.

“NASCAR has things so screwed up I don’t know what’s fair and what isn’t,” said Richard Petty, never known a harsh critic of the sanctioning body.

The nation was also strangled by a shortage of gasoline, created largely by a large reduction in oil shipments from the OPEC countries.

To appease the government, NASCAR boss Bill France Sr. asked that tracks reduce the length of their races by 10 percent or shrink the number of cars in a starting field.

Many speedways, including Daytona, cooperated.

Pocono did not. But to be fair, by the time August rolled around, the fuel situation was not good, but it wasn’t a crisis.

Ironically, the Purolator 500 still never ran its scheduled distance of 500 miles.

Bad weather was the culprit. The race was halted for one hour, 22 minutes after it had completed 300 miles, or 120 laps.

When it restarted, Petty sped into the lead on lap 148 and held it for the remaining distance.

Which was eight laps short of the scheduled 200. Another rain shower hit the track and NASCAR felt that to wait it out made no sense.

It was not an auspicious NASCAR debut for Pocono but ultimately it didn’t matter. The track has survived, made multiple improvements in amenities and had its share of memorable moments.

No single driver has dominated Pocono over the years, not like Petty has done at Martinsville and Richmond, Dale Earnhardt and David Pearson at Darlington and any driver who raced for Junior Johnson at Bristol.

But there have been competitors who have won in clumps at Pocono, among them Bobby Allison, Tim Richmond, Bobby Labonte, Jimmie Johnson and most recently Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin has won four times since 2006, twice that year and back-to-back in 2009 and 2010. He’s the defending champion of the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 set for Sunday.

Not to state the obvious here, but Hamlin would be very happy with another insurance win this season since he currently stands 11th in points.

He’s certainly proven he knows how to get around the weird ol’ track.

That’s no small feat.

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