Friday, October 30, 2009

Johnson needs a rival in NASCAR

Jeff Gordon is entering hostile territory this weekend: Talladega Superspeedway. His victory laps at the Alabama track have been met with beer bottle baths from the fans. The level of hate unloaded on Gordon dates back to the days when he and Dale Earnhardt battled for fan respect in 1990s. Earnhardt, win or lose, was the fan favorite at Talladega. To this day, whenever Gordon wins a race at Talladega, the fans express their disapproval. Even though Earnhardt died years ago, the rivalry lives on in Talladega.
No matter how many races he won, especially at Talledega, Gordon was never going to win the respect of the fans there.
Gordon was asked if people thought he was ruining the show when he was dominating NASCAR the same way Jimmie Johnson is now.
“It didn’t matter to me what other people thought,” Gordon said. “But there was a rivalry there and it was great. It built up that rivalry because it made people that were Earnhardt fans only hate me more and it built up the people that started to like me; it built that fan base up more. And it was really sort of divided and I think the more you dominate, the more they divide and that’s only a good thing for this sport as well as for Jimmie.”

Only problem is, Johnson doesn’t have a rival. It probably should be Tony Stewart. He is Johnson’s only contemporary with multiple championships.
This should be a natural conflict. Johnson is squeaky clean, the NASCAR good guy and hero to all.
Stewart is the scruffy-looking bad boy – a maverick, loner, outsider, wavemaker – the driver Earnhardt fans should gravitate toward.
Yet there is nary a rivalry between Stewart and Johnson. Drivers aren’t allowed to hate each other anymore. For some reason, Stewart fans don’t have a particular passionate hatred for Johnson fans, and vice versa. There needs to be some good hate brewing between these two to make NASCAR a little more interesting.
That’s one more criticism heaped on Johnson for making NASCAR hard to watch these days. Although Gordon said he doesn’t think Johnson is getting too much criticism for dominating.
“Oh, I don’t know if he does,” Gordon said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that. There was a lot of criticism back then too.”

Photos: Top: Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt created a rivalry that still exists in some parts of NASCAR nation. Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama is one of those places. NASCAR needs Jimmie Johnson to find a rival to make things interesting again. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Middle: Jimmie Johnson needs a rival. Jeff Gordon had Dale Earnhardt. Johnson fans need to start rooting against Tony Stewart as much as they root for Johnson. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Bottom: Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet, would be a perfect rival for Jimmie Johnson. At least it would make things more interesting in NASCAR this time of year. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Talladega or Allmendinger: What's the bigger NASCAR story?

What’s the bigger story this weekend: How Talladega will affect the Chase or A.J. Allmendinger’s arrest and charge for drunk driving?
Let’s start with Talladega. In the six-year history of the Chase, the Talladega race has cost the top driver his lead three times. The other three times, the leader in the Chase heading into Talladega went on to win the championship.
In that regard, the Talledega race is a wash.
Jimmie Johnson has a comfortable 118-point lead in the Chase standings heading into Talladega. It’s more than likely, barring any sort of disaster, that Johnson will maintain his lead in the Chase standings.
However, Talladega is designed for disaster. Johnson’s record at Talladega isn’t all that great either. His chances of winning the race are not the best. But Johnson doesn’t have to win. He just has to finish ahead of the other Chase drivers, in particular Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya.
At this point in the season, the winners of races are pretty inconsequential compared to how the Chase leaders finish in races. Johnson can finish fifth and have a great day if the other Chase drivers finish behind him.
In all likelihood, the winner of the Talladega race will probably be someone who has little to do with the Chase.
There have been two Talladega winners who were not in the Chase field. This could be the year a third is added.
Matt Kenseth and David Ragan will have new engines for the Talladega race. Both have found success at Talladega and both should be considered favorites to win the race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is another driver who knows how to race at Talladega and should be considered a threat to win.
As for Chase drivers who should have good races, Gordon has been able to tame Talladega in the past, much to the chagrin of the Talladega faithful who have lobbed beer cans and bottles at him and his car after his winning runs.
Brian Vickers is one of those non-Chase drivers who has won at Talladega in the past. He is part of the Chase this year. Perhaps a win at Talladega could make up for what has turned into a lousy Chase debut.
Allmendinger’s situation has overshadowed the race at Talladega in some ways. He was put on probation by NASCAR for the incident. Some are saying probation is too light of a punishment. Some want to see him suspended for a race. That seems a little drastic for a sport rooted in bootlegging and moonshining.
Besides, Richard Petty, the namesake on Allmendinger’s Richard Petty Motorsports team, will most likely hand down a harsher punishment on Allmendinger than NASCAR ever could.
Remember, Petty would not enter a car or team in NASCAR’s second-tier series when it was sponsored by Busch beer. His feelings on mixing alcohol and driving cars are pretty clear.
It’s a shame Allmendinger is getting so much attention. Blame Johnson again for this. His lead in the Chase standings is so strong, he has made Talladega almost an afterthought to police reports, arrests and drinking and driving.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NHRA standings tight heading to Las Vegas

Here’s what to watch for and who to root for at the National Hot Rod Assn. drag races at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend.
The Countdown to One playoffs have two rounds left. The first is at Las Vegas and the season ends at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Nov. 15. The standings in the top fuel and funny car divisions are tight and history could be made in the final two races of the season.
First, Larry Dixon is second in the NHRA top fuel standings, 47 points behind Tony Schumacher. Dixon is no stranger to championships, but it would be nice to see someone else win the top fuel title. Schumacher has won five in a row. Talk about a dynasty. And to think NASCAR fans are tired of seeing Jimmie Johnson win the Chase every year.
Schumacher even alluded to Johnson’s pursuit of a fourth straight Cup championship and how he knows what Johnson is talking about when he says he doesn’t want to talk about points anymore.
It sounds like Schumacher is tired of seeing his name atop the top fuel standings at the end of the season.
Dixon, a Van Nuys High graduate and driver for Al-Anabi Racing, has the best shot of catching Schumacher.
“I like where the Al-Anabi team is in the playoffs right now; I like the car and everything else that’s going on,” Dixon said. “The team is making great calls, and the whole package is going well. There have been a few dumb things that have happened that have kept us from winning. Sooner or later, those things will run out, and we’ll be able to get our Al-Anabi car back in the winner’s circle. The way the points are, if we win both races, we’ll win the championship. I’m not wishing anything bad on anyone, but if we take care of our own business, everything else will take care if itself.”

On the funny car side, it’s hard to choose between Ashley Force Hood and Jack Beckman. Force Hood is second in the funny car standings, a mere 13 points behind leader and John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight.
She has a chance to become the first woman driver to win an NHRA funny car championship. That would be neat to see, even if she is downplaying it a bit.
“It’s not a big deal to me,” she said, “and I think the reason is because I had nothing to do with being a female. I’m just a race car driver. I have a team of men that work on my car [and] if you’ve ever seen me work on an automobile, you know I wouldn’t be second in points if I was on the crew. It’s them and me, together as a team. We are the ones going for that championship, not just me as an individual.”
Beckman is in a distant sixth place in the funny car standings, but he is only 86 points out of first. He has to work his way through quite a traffic jam to get to the top of the funny car standings and is running out of time to get there.
One thing in his favor, though, is that he won the NHRA funny car portion of the races at Las Vegas in 2006. If he can duplicate that feat again, he will be in a good position at Pomona.

“It’s interesting. We’re actually excited about Vegas this weekend,” said Beckman, who lives in North Hills. “We have an enormous uphill battle. We really need to win seven of the next eight rounds to have a legitimate shot at the championship. Everybody on the team knows that and we’re plugging away with that as the goal.
“We don’t want to finish fifth or fourth or third; we want to finish first. We still have a shot, and we need to hope that the two John Force cars stumble at both races.”

Photos: Top, Larry Dixon is in second place in the NHRA top fuel standings and is looking to snap Tony Schumacker's streak of five straight NHRA top fuel championships.

Middle, Ashley Force Hood is 13 points out of first place in the NHRA funny car standings. She is looking to become the first woman driver to win an NHRA funny car championship.

Bottom, Jack Beckman is sixth in the NHRA funny car standings, but he is the 2006 funny car champ at Las Vegas. He will need another championship run to stay in championship contention with two races remaining in the NHRA season.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Your NASCAR haiku

No worries JJ;
Just survive Talladega;
And Chase is over.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Here's a scary thought

Based on a poll from, Kyle Busch is the most popular search for Halloween costumes among NASCAR drivers.
Equally surprising is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in at fifth, with only seven percent of the vote.
Busch had a whopping 35 percent. It's hard to imagine anyone sincerely wanting to look like Kyle Busch, even for Halloween. It will be interesting to see what NASCAR fans do with a Kyle Busch mask and firesuit.
As good a driver as Kyle Busch is, it's hard to understand why he isn't more popular among NASCAR fans. He's a bit of a throwback in that he will race anything, from trucks to stock cars, on anything, from concrete to dirt and mud, and pretty much anywhere.
He has some of the appeal of Tony Stewart, except that Stewart looks like he would kick Kyle Busch's butt if they ever got in a fight. Heck, Jimmy Spencer took out Kurt Busch with a sucker punch after a race once. Can't imagine Kyle Busch faring much better given the same circumstances.
Still, it would be fun to see some of the Kyle Busch creations people have planned for Halloween.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Football coach?

After his third-place finish at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, Juan Pablo Montoya was asked about the comment Bob Griese made about him and how it made Montoya feel after being spoken in that light by a football coach.
There are so many things wrong with that question, but let's start with the football coach part. Griese was a Hall of Fame college quarterback at Purdue, a great NFL quarterback for the Miami Dolphins and a pretty mediocre football commentator for ABC. But he has no official experience as a football coach.
As for how Griese's comments made Montoya feel, it's surprising Montoya wasted his breath with an answer.
"Football coach? I don't know who it is," Montoya said. "Somebody mentioned it to me. I don't really care to tell you the truth. Yeah, I don't. I could say I spent the last three hours eating tacos, but I was actually driving a car. But that's okay, I don't care."
Good for Montoya. He shouldn't care what Griese said. It's even funnier that Montoya doesn't even know who Griese is.
What is a shame is that a sportswriter from assumably Virginia doesn't know or more likely mistook Griese for a football coach.
As for the race and the Chase standings, Montoya talked about his chances of catching Jimmie Johnson, the leader in the Chase.
Denny Hamlin won the race at Martinsville. Johnson was second and extended his lead with four races to go in the Chase. Montoya jumped back into the top five after the Martinsville race, so Chris Speilman, Griese's broadcasting partner at ABC, shouldn't have any trouble finding Montoya. But time is running out and Montoya doesn't think he has a chance of catching Johnson.
"I'm too far. It doesn't matter," Montoya said. "You've got to say the 48 team (Johnson) is doing an amazing job and they deserve everything they're doing right now. Do we want to beat them? Yeah, we want to beat them. But it's not over.
"You've got to be honest, you go to Talladega and he might have a bad race, or even the race after. He might blow a motor have a bad pit stop. There's still a lot of racing to go, so anything can happen. We've just got to keep running hard and hope for the best."

Photo: Jimmie Johnson led five times for 164 laps, but finished second in the TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

RJ Johnson wins NASCAR Super Trucks championship at Irwindale

R.J. Johnson won the NASCAR Super Trucks season finale race and the Super Trucks championship by the narrowest of margins at Toyota Speedway at Iriwndale on Saturday night.
Johnson, a driver from Canyon Country, and Pat Mintey Jr. of Quartz Hill entered the 100-lap season finale in the Super Trucks division tied for first in the Super Trucks standings at the track.
Johnson won his eighth race of the season on a green-white-checker restart with Mintey close on his tail over the last two laps. It was Johnson’s fourth win in the last five races of the season. Johnson won his first track championship at Irwindale. His dad, Rod Johnson, won the NASCAR Super Late Model championship at Irwindale in 1999.
Mintey, the reigning Super Trucks champion at the track, was second in the race and finished two points behind Johnson in the Super Trucks standings. Jeff Peterson of Riverside was third.
The Super Trucks and the South West Tour Trucks raced together in the 100 lap race.
Dalton Kuhn of San Marcos won the South West Tour Trucks portion of the race. He was ninth overall. Neil Conrad of Arcadia was second, followed by Christian Copley of Ventura in third.
Kuhn won seven of the eight South West Tour Trucks races and the South West Tour Trucks championship. He won four races in a row to end the season.
Ken Michaelian of Lawndale won the Classic Stocks race. It was his 11th win of the season and his seventh in the last eight races. Michaelian won the Classic Stocks championship at Irwindale. In 13 races, he had 11 wins and two runner-up finishes.
Tommy Agosta of Chino was second, followed by Harry Michaelian of Lawndale in third.
Daryl Scoggins of Sunland won the Mini Stocks race and the Mini Stocks championship. It was his seventh win of the season and his third in a row to end the season. In addition to his seven wins, Scoggins had three runner-up and two third-place finishes in 12 races.
Rod Schmitt of Alta Loma was second in the race, followed by Kevin Bernhardt of Fontana in third.
Larry Cerquettini won the NASCAR Super Stocks race, his ninth of the season and second in a row to close out the season. Cerquettini also won the Super Stocks championship at Irwindale. He won seven races in a row to start the season and end the year by winning the last two races. He had 12 top-five finishes in 12 races.
Rich DeLong III of Santa Clarita was second in the Super Stocks race, followed by Gary Reed of La Verne in third.
Michael Zschoche won the Drive Tech Late Models race. Bradly Lloyd was second, followed by David Arnold in third.

Griese told to bite his tongue

Bob Griese’s comment about Juan Pablo Montoya “eating a taco” was ignorant and stupid. Not because it was culturally insensitive, but because it was grossly inaccurate.
Montoya is Columbian. And while tacos are popular food choices in America and parts of Mexico, they are hardly as popular his home country.
What’s more, a quick check on Montoya’s Twitter account and it’s easy to find out that he is a fan of Philly cheese steak sandwiches, cereal and pizza.
In all likelihood, Montoya was probably out ordering a pizza after his disastrous race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, if he was eating anything at all.
Griese has apologized repeatedly for his comments, an obvious directive from ABC executives. But how sincere are his apologies? Is he apologizing for being insensitive or just plain stupid?
The bigger question is how insensitive is his remark? Montoya is all but of the running to win the Chase, but so is about half the Chase field.
If Griese was asked where is Brian Vickers, and he responded “out to lunch,” would there be such an outrage? Probably not. Maybe if Griese said Vickers was eating a Wonder bread sandwich or a box of Oreos, it might upset the moral majority.
Griese made a silly comment, but in all honesty, it wasn’t that bad. Let Griese finish his humble pie and let Montoya eat pizza.

Photo: Juan Pablo Montoya has a laugh in the garage before practice for the TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Hornaday extends lead in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings

Ron Hornaday Jr. finished fourth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia on Saturday and extended his lead in the Truck Series standings.
Hornaday leads second place Matt Crafton by 224 points with four races remaining in the Truck Series season. Hornaday, driver of the No.33 Chevrolet Silverado for Kevin Harvick Inc., has won three Truck Series championships. It was his 13th top-five finish of the season.
Timothy Peters won the Truck Series race, the first of his career. Todd Bodine was second, followed by Colin Braun in third.
“That wasn’t points racing today,” Hornaday said. “Todd was a little slower right in the center. I went up after the race and told him I didn’t mean to run in to him every time, just burned my brakes up behind Todd and Colin got by me. I am sure glad Colin ran in to the side of my door, it straightened me back up. Awesome day for the VFW Chevrolet. This is one hurdle we had to jump and we jumped it.”
Crafton finished ninth in the Martinsville race.
“It wasn’t for lack of effort; these guys changed everything and did everything they could possibly do to try to make this truck,” Crafton said. “We went and tested the other day and we thought we were ok with it. It was real cool up at Sandusky (Ohio) and we thought maybe it was just the track. I don’t know. It wasn’t lack of effort.”
Kevin Harvick, owner of Hornaday's Truck Series team, finished fifth after losing two laps because he had to make a green-flag pit stop to repair a flat tire.
“Ran out of brakes there at the end and kind of used the thing up getting back up to the top five,” Harvick said. “Still a very good day. Both trucks in the top-five. Ron had a great points day and that is big picture. We came to try and win the race and to make up two laps and get a top-five out of it just shows what this team can do.”

Photo: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points leader Ron Hornaday Jr. climbs into his truck before the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Pat Mintey Jr. tied for lead in NASCAR Super Trucks standings at Irwindale

Pat Mintey Jr. and R.J. Johnson were tied for the lead in the NASCAR Super Trucks standings at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on Saturday night.
The championship was going to be determined in a 100-lap season-finale race.
Mintey, a driver from Quartz Hill, is the reigning Super Trucks champion at Irwindale. Johnson has won seven Super Trucks races and three of the last four.

RJ Johnson tied for lead in NASCAR Super Trucks at Irwindale

R.J. Johnson and Pat Mintey Jr. were tied for the lead in the NASCAR Super Trucks standings at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale.
Johnson, a driver from Canyon Country, has won seven Super Trucks races at Irwindale this season, the most of any driver in the division. He has won three of the last four races.
Mintey has won four races this year and is the reigning Super Trucks champion at the track.

Joanides and carburetors

Nick Joanides did not qualify for the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Memphis Motorsports Park, ending his debut in the series before it started.
He had the 47th fastest qualifying time out of 50 drivers. The top 43 drivers started the race.

In response to a comment about NASCAR engines using carburetors, my point was that the engines in NASCAR are so behind in technologically, carburetors are still in use. Ford is touting a number of improvements made to the engines, but there are some things that are so beyond the times they are laughable.
Other motor sports series use fuel-injected engines without any competition complications. NASCAR would do itself a favor by bringing their engines and technologically more up to date.

Daily News: Nick Joanides takes his show Nationwide

Nick Joanides won 16 stock car races, two track championships and a NASCAR Whelen All American California State championship racing at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale this year.
When he talks about how a top-20 finish in his next race would be a great day, it's a little surprising.
Joanides, a driver from Woodland Hills, will be making his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut today at Memphis Motorsports Park in Tennessee. He will be driving the No. 31 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing with engines from Richard Childress Racing and a champion crew chief calling the shots.
Joanides said it's like a dream come true to race at the Nationwide Series level, but he has no unrealistic expectations for the race. While his team has provided him with the resources for a productive race, Joanides said he would be happy to finish in the top 20.
"It should be competitive, anyway," Joanides said. "Paul Andrews is the crew chief, former Cup champion winning crew chief, so he's not a dumb guy. Those two things in place hopefully they'll help them improve from where they've been."
Go to Daily for the entire story.

Photo: Nick Joanides, the NASCAR Super Late Model and Late Model champion at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, will be making his Nationwide Series debut at Memphis Motorsports Park for Rick Ware Racing. (Russell LaBounty/Autostock)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not so fast, Ford

This should be an exciting time in NASCAR. Ford is debuting a new engine for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama in a couple of weeks and it should be the buzz of the motor sports world.
But to be totally honest, there’s not much to be excited about.
It’s not going to make the cars any faster, not going to increase acceleration or handling or speed.
The new FR9 engine is going to make the Ford cars more reliable. That’s great… for a car pool.
Doug Yates is one of the people leading the development of the new Ford engine. He said the new engine will put the Ford teams on a level playing field with the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams.
“Right out of the box the engine is really impressive power-wise,” Yates said. “We feel like it’s going to give us some advantages aerodynamically where, perhaps, we can tape the cars up more and run the engines hotter.”
Aerodynamics are extremely important for stock cars, especially right now when about the only advantage a Cup team can find is in its aerodynamic package. At a track like Talladega, where drafting has become more vital than speed and horsepower, aerodynamics are pretty much all that matters for the top drivers and teams.
But aerodynamics are not the only advantage the new Ford engines will bring, according to Yates.
“The oiling system is designed for a racing engine and, to this day, the current engine has done a great job for many years, but we’ve got to remember when I started 20 years ago the block was already in existence. So a lot of things have changed,” Yates said. “The demands have changed. The RPM and the power levels have changed tremendously, and to have an opportunity to have something new and move forward makes this an exciting time to be part of Ford.”
A brand new oil system – that’ll get all the kids excited about NASCAR.
In a release, and in Ford's defense, the oil system isn't the only improvement in the new Fords engines. Elements such as the induction exhaust, valvetrain, cooling, lubrication and sealing systems have all been improved for greater efficiency and performance, according to a release from Ford. Still, not much there to get too excited about from a fan's or spectator's perspective.
Yates is right about one thing: A lot has changed in the past 20 years. Cars have become incredibly advanced and technologically sophisticated, stock cars even more so.
It seems that NASCAR has not kept up with the changes in technologically, at least in the stock cars. The Car of Tomorrow has some incredible safety features and is on the cutting edge of aerodynamic development, but it has created for some lackluster racing in the past couple of years.
New engines are great for NASCAR and its teams, but wake me when they make one without a carburetor.

Photo: Ford and Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth (17) will have new engine to race at Talladega Superspeedway on Nov. 1. David Ragan, Kenseth's teammate at Roush, will also be racing the new FR9 Ford engine. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Long NHRA layoff great for drivers, bad for fans

Is it really another week before the NHRA Countdown to One playoffs continue? This is taking longer than the NBA playoffs.
The drivers and teams seem to appreciate the three-week layoff between races. The Countdown resumes on Oct. 29 at The Strip in Las Vegas.
For those who need a quick reminder, Ashley Force Hood is in search of her first NHRA funny car championship. She trails teammate Robert Hight by 13 points with two events remaining.
Larry Dixon is in the hunt to bring his new team, Al-Anabi Racing, its first championship in the NHRA top fuel division. Dixon is in second place in the top fuel standings and trails Tony Schumacher by 47 points.
The season ends Nov. 12-15 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
While the drivers are enjoying the time off, the NHRA nation is impatiently waiting for the playoffs to resume.
Force Hood said the break between races is perfect timing.
“It is a little strange when we get back to Vegas; that first day is odd when you have not been to the track for a couple of weeks to get yourself organized and get back into your routine of a race day and qualifying and everything like that,” Force Hood said. “But I think it was well needed and I think it really adds to the excitement that the fans have had to race a couple of weeks and now you’ll get to see the final two big championship races. It was perfect I think it was right what everybody needed.”

Dixon, however, is like most race fans. He would prefer to race every weekend than take a long break.
“I think if you ask most racers, they would like to race every weekend because they love racing,” said Dixon. “But it certainly affords a team, you know, after four in a row, I mean, that’s – you’d have to go back to the few years to go into even rain outs where we have had where we have run four in a row. It’s been a while.”
Force Hood said her timing is off, especially during interviews. It might take some time to get that back on track once racing resumes. The actual racing should not be affected by the long layoff.
“And a funny thing I was actually thinking a couple of minutes ago during one of my answers that was rambling on, I thought, you know, I haven’t done an interview in about a week and it really shows,” Force Hood said in a teleconference on Wednesday. “That’s probably the one thing about the drivers, it seems when you jump right back in your race car, it comes right back to you, because it’s not something you’re thinking about, it’s more your body is reacting in a race car.
“But the talking side of things I’ll definitely need to be warming up and finding my words in the next week to be ready for Vegas, because I feel like I’m mumbling a lot today.”
If anything, it gives team plenty of time to prepare for the last two races of the season, Dixon said. For teams still in championship contention, the time to prepare the cars is invaluable.
“So you know, it lets the teams go over the cars and go over all of the engines and just have everything restocked up, let them catch their breath, check in with their families, pay their bills and get ready to head out west and go to Vegas and Pomona,” Dixon said, “because that’s and it’s nice to have everything restocked and have all of your batteries recharged and get back out there for those last two events because that's, everything is on the line for those two.”

Photos: At top, Ashley Force Hood is in second place in the NHRA funny car standings and trails John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight by 13 points with two races remaining.

In middle, Larry Dixon is second in the NHRA top fuel standings and trails Tony Schumacher by 47 points.

Monday, October 19, 2009

NASCAR Chase has created a big, boring monster

NASCAR Chase has created a big, boring monster

Jimmie Johnson is halfway to his unprecedented fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. But Johnson is not exactly the most exciting or even interesting stock-car driver out there.

His accomplishments should not be understated. No one has ever done what Johnson and his team have done in the last four years.

But what's good for Johnson and his team is really bad for NASCAR. Johnson said he is trying not to get too excited about his position in the Chase standings and his place in NASCAR history.

"We’re only halfway through this thing,” Johnson said after winning Saturday night’s race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in North Carolina and extending his lead in the Chase standings. “So much can happen. Somebody at Martinsville can lose their brakes and clean you out. With the double file restart there’s going to be a lot of bumping and banging. Someone can get into you and knock a valve stem out or cut a tire.”

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NASCAR Chase has created a big, boring monster

Jimmie Johnson leading the Chase is great for Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports, bad for NASCAR.
By my account, the Chase has cost Jeff Gordon at least one, most likely two, more Cup championships.
It probably cost Tony Stewart his third this year.
About the only good thing about this year’s Chase is that it put Mark Martin in the lead for a while and gave him another great shot at a championship. After this, it really wasn’t meant to be for him.
But let’s look at how different the NASCAR would be if the Chase didn’t exist.
First Gordon would be knocking on the doorstep of NASCAR immortality. There aren’t that many polarizing figures in NASCAR. Stewart, Gordon and Kyle Busch are probably the only drivers who have as many fans as detractors.

If Gordon had one more Cup championship, that would make five for his career. In the best-case scenario, Gordon would have six career Cup championships without the Chase format and be one Cup championship away from being mentioned in the same sentence with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. That would drive his detractors, most of the state of Alabama and at least half of NASCAR nation crazy.
Before the Chase started, Stewart was in control of the Cup standings. He was going for his third Chase championship. He is still the only driver to win a Cup championship the old way and win one with the Chase format.
But would have made his pursuit of a third Cup championship so compelling is that he is doing it on his own. The likelihood of that happening, with a team that a year ago was struggling to finish races, let alone win them, and was more associated with the top-35 bubble than the top-12 Chase field, was remote.
Stewart proved the nay-sayers wrong. He brought his experience, savvy, confidence, whatever he wants to call it, to a team that was in desperate need of it. Other drivers will try to duplicate it (see Kevin Harvick), but it won’t work nearly as well for them. Stewart was in the midst of a monumentus season that was ruined because of the Chase.
Martin was the sentimental favorite to finally win a Cup championship. After four runner-up finishes, after retiring, after years of being known as the best driver in NASCAR never to win a Cup championship, he was in perfect position to erase all that.
It’s not like he can’t turn the Chase around and make a run at it, but Johnson is hard to beat at this time of year.

That’s the frustrating part of the Chase. Johnson is so good at this time of year it’s unlikely he and his team will make any mistakes that will cost him another championship. Even racing safe, he’ll end up winning a couple more before the season is over.
But what makes Johnson’s success so frustrating is that he is hard to root for or against.
There are NASCAR fans out there who want to see anyone other than Johnson win the Cup championship. It’s not because they don’t like Johnson, they are just tired of seeing him win.
It would be different if they hated seeing him win. Hated it like seeing Busch or Gordon win races. But it’s not hate, it’s boredom. Fans are bored of seeing Johnson win.
That’s why it’s bad for NASCAR. The last thing NASCAR needs is a tired viewing audience. Part of the problem is NASCAR's fault for creating this playoff system. Part of the problem is that the rest of NASCAR, including the other three teams at Hendrick Motorsports, suck at this time of year.
It would be great for NASCAR if someone other than Johnson won the Chase. But it’s not going to happen.

Photos: At top, Jimmie Johnson celebrates winning the NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America at Lowe's Motor Speedway. With the win, Johnson ties Buck Baker for 13th on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins list. (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

In middle, NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America Grand Marshals Brian France, Richard Petty, Teresa Earnhardt and Junior Johnson prepare to give the command to start engines at Lowe's Motor Speedway. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

At bottom, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin race side by side during the early stages of the NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Johnson won the race, extended his lead in the Chase standings and is halfway to his fourth Cup championship in a row. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Formula Drift at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale

Ryan Tuerck won the season finale Formula Drift event at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on Saturday night. Tuerck, driving a Pontiac Solstice GXP, won when Tyler McQuarrie hit the wall in turn 3 and spun out in the final round.
“This is the epitome of drifting in America,” Tuerck said. “This is where everything started from. To get a win here is definitely a big check mark off the list of accomplishments.”
McQuarrie, a driver from Walnut Creek in a Nissan 350 ZX, finished second. Tanner Foust of Laguna Beach, in a Scion tC, was third.
Tuerck, a driver from Derry, N.H., beat Matt Waldin in the first round, then knocked out Ken Gushi in the second round, Robbie Nishida in the quarterfinals, Foust in the semifinals and McQuarrie in the final.
Chris Forsberg, a driver from Huntington Beach, won his first Formula Drift championship by defeating Doug VanDenBrink in the first round. But Forsberg was knocked out in the second round by Nishida.
“Me and Chris are such good friends,” Tuerck said. “I expected him to win and if he didn’t, I would be really disappointed in him.”
Forsberg qualified seventh and moved into the round of 16 by knocking out VanDenBrink, the 26th qualifier.
Kyle Mohan, a driver from Long Beach, was the fifth qualifier. He moved into the round of 16 with a first-round win over Jodin LeJeune. Mohan lost in the quarterfinals to Matt Powers
Justin Pawlak, another driver from Long Beach, knocked out Calvin Wan in the first round. Pawlak, the top qualifier for the Irwindale event, lost in the second round to McQuarrie.
Alex Pfieffer pulled off the upset of the first round. He was the 21st qualifier and defeated Vaughn Gittin, the 12th qualifier and the reigning champion of the Irwindale event.
Pfieffer lost in the second round to Mohan.

Childress says Kevin Harvick is staying put

Richard Childress was asked at Lowe's Motor Speedway in North Carolina about how his book with Kevin Harvick is progressing. Harvick and Childress have been working on a book, but apparently Harvick told ESPN he's not sure if the book project will continue beyond next year.
It was just another rough patch in a tumultous season for Childress and Harvick. Rumors have surfaced that Harvick will leave Childress and race for Tony Stewart next year.
Childress said Harvick isn't going anywhere.
"Kevin is going to be with us next year and Shell is going to be with us," Childress said. "We'll just see how everything plays out in the future. I didn't see his interview. I've heard some comments on it. But whatever happens, happens. We'll just move forward."
Richard Childress Racing, which has four cars, failed to qualify any of them for the Chase. Harvick has expressed his frustrations with the team.
Childress said no one is more unhappy than him. His team is going through a rough time, but it is something he has experienced previously with Dale Earnhardt.
"No one is happy when you aren't running well," Childress said. "I'm not happy. No one is. We just try to control it as well as we can. Kevin's a driver that really wants to go out and run well and win. I don't blame him for being upset when we don't. We just try to work through it as good as we can.
"I can remember when one of those years we were talking about earlier. I think it was maybe '95 or '96, we didn't have a very good year. Dale was telling me 'It has just got to be me.' I kept telling him, 'Dale, it's not you; we don't have you the equipment you need.' And he worked through it. It is just different times that people look at things different. There is a lot of unhappy people when these cars....
"These cars are tough. I'll tell you. They can bring the best out of you. We are getting them better, we are putting on good shows with them, it is a great product. But there is such a fine line of being good and bad. You can be good through two stops, two runs, and the next one, you wonder what happened."

Pawlak gets powered up - Press-Telegram

Long Beach's Justin Pawlak takes top spot in qualifying for Formula Drift season finale at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale.

Pawlak gets powered up - Press-Telegram

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Formula Drift qualifying at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale

Justin Pawlak, a driver from Long Beach, was the top qualifier for the Formula Drift season finale at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on Friday night.
The 30-year-old transplant from Michigan put his Mazda RX-8 in the top spot for Saturday night races at Irwindale. The top-32 drivers earned spots in the final race of the Formula Drift season.
Chris Forsberg, the leader in the Formula Drift standings, qualified seventh. Ryan Tuerck, the second place driver in the Formula Drift standings, qualified second for the Irwindale races. Vaughn Gittin, in third place in the Formula Drift standings, was the 12th qualifier.
Michael Essa, one of the top rookies in Formula Drift and a driver from Los Angeles, qualified 14th in his Mazda RX-7.
“I’d like to place in the top-eight this weekend,” said Essa, a graduate of Culver City High School. “That would be awesome against all these guys that have been out here for years.”
Cody Parkhouse, a driver from Long Beach making only his second start of the season, put his Nissan 240-SX in the 25th qualifying spot.
“Irwindale usually draws a pretty good group,” said Parkhouse, a graduate of Long Beach Wilson High School.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Kevin Harvick's 10th place run at Auto Club Speedway

FONTANA -- Kevin Harvick wasn’t in much of a talking mood after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday.
Who could blame him?
His crew chief admitted his team took a fifth-place car and wound up in 10th place. Harvick battled tire air pressure and aerodynamic problems after the second round of pit stops. He had a great car on long runs, but got killed on restarts.
“That's just one of the factors of these new cars,” Harvick said. “We have great power under the hood, but getting the air pressure up faster seems to be a problem. I tried swerving, spinning and just about all the tricks to get the air heated up in the tires."
An eight-car pile-up with five laps to go in the race brought out a red flag and stopped the field. Gil Martin, Harvick’s crew chief, called him into the pits to change four tires and get fuel. Harvick returned to the race in 15th place and made up only five spots on the final three laps.
When asked if he was happy with a 10th-place finish, Harvick said, “Not really.”
“We ran better than that all day,” Harvick said.
Martin said he was in no-man’s land at the end of the race. He had Harvick pit with 23 laps to go and had enough fuel and tires to make it to the end of the race, but Mart in had some tough choices to make when a series of caution flags came out with 16 laps to go.
“It’s a no-win situation that you’re in right there,” Martin said. “The way it worked out, that we were able to come back in and get tires there at the end helped us out to get back to 10th. But basically we took a car that was about a fifth place car today and ran 10th with it.”
A dreaded debris caution came out on lap 234. Harvick was running in 10th place at the time. The race leaders pitted a couples lap earlier, so none of them came in again. Martin didn’t want to get fresh tires. He told Harvick over the radio, “Everyone in front of us don’t have tires.”
But on the restart on lap 239, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle spun out through the infield grass on the front stretch and another caution came out.
Five laps later, an eight-car crash that collected Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Marcos Ambrose and Kahne, brought out a red flag. Martin wanted to Harvick to pit and get tires once the race restarted. The move cost Harvick five spots. He moved from 15th to 12th with two laps to go and passed Ryan Newman on the last lap to finish in 10th.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise promising day.
Harvick qualified seventh and quickly worked his way into the top five. He moved into fourth place on lap 11 and passed pole sitter Denny Hamlin for third place on lap 17. He stayed there until the first round of pit stops on lap 38. Harvick and Martin decided to make no adjustments to the car. Harvick said he wanted to see “where the track goes.” The race started under overcast skies and the track was cool and fast. Harvick was able to pass the cars to get in the top five, but he had trouble tracking down the race leaders, Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Harvick ran in third place until the next round of pit stops on lap 60. His car seemed to get stronger the longer the race stayed under green flag conditions. He picked up a spot in the pits and came out in second. When the race restarted on lap 66, Harvick dropped to fifth place. By lap 70, he was in sixth. He said his car left like it had a rear right flat tire. Martin assured him that his car looked fine. But Martin decided to make a drastic change in the tire air pressure on the next stop. He was going to take a half-pound of air pressure out of the rear right tire. It was the beginning of several air pressure and tire adjustments Martin made to Harvick’s car.
Harvick was running comfortably in sixth place when the sun broke through the clouds. The track started to heat up and Martin told Harvick the s un might be affecting the tires on his car. The next pit stop came on lap 83. Harvick’s crew got him out of the pits in fourth place, but NASCAR officials ruled that Hamlin beat him out. Martin didn’t agree. “I’m sure the tape shows it, but it didn’t look like it from here,” Martin told Harvick over the radio.
The air pressure adjustment didn’t work for Harvick’s car. He dropped quickly, from fifth to ninth in seven laps. On lap 90, Harvick told Martin his car was too tight. Meanwhile, Montoya was building a huge lead. On lap 95, he was almost 2.5 seconds ahead of Johnson’s car running in second.
But the longer the race stayed green, the more cars Harvick passed. Even with a tight car, Harvick moved up to sixth place again. The race stayed green until lap 117 when another debris caution came out. Harvick said over the radio, “These debris cautions are a bunch of crap.”
Martin decided to change the air pressure in Harvick’s car again, this time adding a half pound to the right front. That didn’t work either. He dropped to 10th place.
“I’m starting to lose my mind on the restarts,” Harvick told Martin over the radio. “It feels like the freaking tires are flat.”
Harvick battled to stay in the top 10 until the next=2 0round of pit stops. The race leaders pitted under green flag conditions on lap 159. By lap 166, Harvick was back up to sixth place.
Harvick pitted again on lap 184. Martin asked Harvick how the car was running. Harvick said it was too loose. Martin decided to make a track bar adjustment and leave the air pressure in the tires the same. That wasn’t the right combination either.
By lap 205, Harvick dropped to eighth place. He was complaining that he couldn’t handle the car and that it was driving sideways.
“It’s loose, loose, loose, loose,” Harvick said over the radio. But after the race, Harvick said Martin made the right decision.
“That was the right call because of how the car reacted to the air pressure adjustments,” Harvick said.
Harvick came in for what was supposed to be his last pit stop on lap 237. But after two more yellow and one red caution, Harvick pitted with four laps to go, giving up 10th place. He went from 15th to 10th with fresh tires over the last three laps.
“All in all it was a good day,” Martin said. “It wasn’t the kind of day we were needing, but it’s something we can build on anyway.”

Haddock in the Paddock goes to Auto Club Speedway

Haddock In The Paddock's Tim Haddock, (that's me on the left) a member of the Citizen Journalists Media Corps, talks with NASCAR Managing Director of Corporate Communications in the Auto Club Speedway Drivers Meeting Room. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Public Relations)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Kevin's Krew and a 10th place finish at Auto Club Speedway

Kevin Harvick showed two sides of his personality at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday. He showed his generous side before the race started, providing 75 at-risk students with tickets to the race and spending time with them before the driver introductions.
He showed his prickly side after the race when he rushed out of the garage area not wanting to talk much about his 10th place finish.
Harvick can be that way. It was great to see Harvick spend time with some kids who might not otherwise get a chance to see a NASCAR race, let alone meet one of the drivers. He took photos with them, signed autographs and answered some questions all with team representatives urging him to leave and go to the trackside stage for the introductions.
The program, called Kevin’s Krew, has grown from five kids he invited to attend a race at Auto Club Speedway last year to more than 700,000 kids who got a chance to attend races at six tracks.
The program was initiated by Colton Police Officer Todd Smith. Kevin’s Krew has expanded with support from the Avondale Police, Phoenix Police, Oakland Police, Charlotte Police, Henry County Sheriff and Brooklyn Police departments.
With a new group of fans wearing bright yellow Pennzoil colors securely seated in the grandstands, Harvick did his best to give them something to cheer about.
He started the race in seventh, moved into the top five and raced in third place for the first half of the race. He had great pit stops, but he had troubles on the restarts after the pit stops. His crew would gain one or two spot in the pits, but his car did not respond well with fresh tires. Harvick battled his way to a 10th place finish as his team made a number of adjustments throughout the race.
Gil Martin, his crew chief, said after the race he was faced with a tough decision about Harvick’s car. An eight-car crash stopped the race with five laps to go. Martin decided to bring Harvick’s car into the pits for tires and gas. The pit stop cost Harvick track position. With only four laps left in the race after it resumed, Harvick did not have enough time to make up many spots.
Martin said he turned Harvick’s fifth-place car in to a 10th place effort. Harvick said after the race he wasn’t happy with his 10th place finish. That was about all he said as he walked out of the garage area and to his trailer.
Jimmie Johnson won the race. It was his fifth of the season. He also took over the lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Johnson has a 12 point lead over Mark Martin, who was fourth in the race at Auto Club Speedway.
Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, finished second. Juan Pablo Montoya was third.
The race at Auto Club Speedway was the fourth in the 10-race Chase, NASCAR’s playoff. The next race will be at Lowe’s Motor Speedway on Saturday night.

Gil Martin makes tough calls for Kevin Harvick

FONTANA -- Kevin Harvick wasn’t in much of a talking mood after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday.
Who could blame him?
His crew chief admitted his team took a fifth-place car and wound up in 10th place. Harvick battled tire air pressure and aerodynamic problems after the second round of pit stops. He had a great car on long runs, but got killed on restarts.
“That's just one of the factors of these new cars,” Harvick said. “We have great power under the hood, but getting the air pressure up faster seems to be a problem. I tried swerving, spinning and just about all the tricks to get the air heated up in the tires."
An eight-car pile-up with five laps to go in the race brought out a red flag and stopped the field. Gil Martin, Harvick’s crew chief, called him into the pits to change four tires and get fuel. Harvick returned to the race in 15th place and made up only five spots on the final three laps.
When asked if he was happy with a 10th-place finish, Harvick said, “Not really.”
“We ran better than that all day,” Harvick said.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

MK Kanke wins Stockcar Racing League race at Irwindale

M.K. Kanke of Frazier Park won the Stockcar Racing League Southwest Tour Series race at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on Saturday night.
Kanke, the leader in the SRL Southwest Tour Series standings, won his fourth race of the season. He’s won races at All-American Speedway in Roseville, the Bullring at Las Vegas and Madera Speedway. The season-finale is at the Bullring in Las Vegas on Oct. 31.
Rip Michels, a driver from San Fernando and a regular in the NASCAR Super Late Model division at Irwindale, was second. He was followed by Mike Mendenhall of Santee was third.
Greg Voigt of Goleta, who is second to Kanke in the SRL Southwest Tour Series standings, was fourth.
Troy Ermish, winner of the SRL Southwest Tour Series race in July at Irwindale, finished two laps down and in 13th place.
Ken Michaelian of Lawndale won the Classic Stocks race and the Classic Stocks championship. It was his 10th win of the season. In 12 races, was either the winner or the runner-up.
Tommy Agosta of Chino was second, followed by Mike Colato Jr. of Chastworth in third.
Ryan Reed of Bakersfield won the Legends Cars race and the Legends championship. It was only his second win of the season, but it was his seventh top-three finish in a row.
Mark Borchetta of Valencia was second, followed by Brandon Toy of Bakersfield in third. Rookie Dallas Montes of Bakersfield, who won four straight Legends Car races, completed only 17 laps and finished 28th.
Randell King of Riverside won the S2 stock car race and claimed the first S2 championship at Irwindale. It was his sixth win in seven S2 races and his third win in a row.
Reed, pulling double duty at Irwindale, was second, followed by Kyle Longmore of Camarillo. Reed was the runner-up for the third race in a row.

Joanides lands NASCAR Nationwide Series seat

Nick Joanides, a driver from Woodland Hills, will race in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Memphis Motorsports Park on Oct. 24.
The NASCAR Super Late Model and Late Model champion at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale will drive for Rick Ware Racing and his Circle K Racing team for one race.
Rick Ware Racing has fielded cars in the Nationwide Series for drivers Stanton Barrett and Kevin Hamlin in 2009. Hamlin started the race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Saturday and finished 38th.
Joanides said he is looking forward to the opportunity to race in the Nationwide Series, but his expectations are not too high.
“A top 20 would be a solid run for that team,” Joanides said.

Dave Rogers calls Greg Biffle a coward

Dave Rogers, the crew chief for Joey Logano's NASCAR Nationwide Series team, called Greg Biffle a coward after Biffle pushed Logano into the wall during the race at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday.
Logano rallied through the field and worked his battered car to the front.
Biffle ended up getting collected in a wreck late in the race and finished 14th.
Logano and Rogers said after the race the best revenge was winning.

Joey Logano wins "crazy race"

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday. It was his second Nationwide Series win in a row and his sixth career Nationwide Series win in 38 starts.
He has won five Nationwide Series races and has 15 top 10s in 2009.
It was his first win at Auto Club Speedway and his third top 10 in three Nationwide races at Auto Club Speedway.
Logano said after the race, "It was not the race I thought I had a shot at winning."

Carl Edwards talks about cut-throat racing

Carl Edwards talked about some of the tight racing that was going on during the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday night.
Greg Biffle and Joey Logano tangled early in the race. Denny Hamlin was collected late in the race and finished in 31st place.
Edwards said the cars are more competitive and it leads to some tight racing.

Carl Edwards likes Auto Club Speedway

The racing got a little tight at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday for the NASCAR Nationwide Series race. Carl Edwards might have been the greatest benefactor of the rough racing. He finished third in the race, but closed the gap on Kyle Busch, the leader in the Nationwide Series.
Busch started the race, but was relieved by Denny Hamlin after the first pit stop. Busch was suffering from flu-like symptoms.
Hamlin was leading the race, but he was collected late and taken out of contention. Hamlin finished in 31st driving for Busch.
As a result, Edwards knocked 90 points off Busch's lead in the Nationwide standings and is now 155 points out of first.

Kyle Busch not 100 percent

But he's close.
Kyle Busch was feeling some flu-like symptoms on Friday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and they have lingered through Nationwide Series qualifying and Cup Happy Hour today. Before qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Denny Hamlin took Busch's Nationwide Series car out for practice.
Busch qualified his own Cup car. He will start 19th. Not the best qualifying effort, but apparently Busch was fortunate to get in the car for the two qualifying laps.
“I’m not sure how he’s feeling," Hamlin said after Cup qualifying on Friday. "Obviously, if he's getting out of the car, he’s not feeling well at all. It was different. He obviously requires a whole lot different feel on a car than what I do. When I got in it, it didn't feel like a JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) Nationwide car at all -- it felt a lot different so it's definitely getting keen to his driving style."
Swapping seats is nothing new at Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin and Busch are teammates at the Cup level. Joey Logano and Busch have raced the Gibbs cars on the Nationwide level.
"We've been in that situation before, where I've needed Kyle and Joey to kind of step in when that kind of stuff happens and that's the good thing about it though, that we've got good enough talent in our teammates that we can rely on them," Hamlin said on Friday. "I'm sure he'll be fine for tomorrow and if he can’t we'll be there and ready."
Busch was fine enough to put his Nationwide car on the front row for today's Nationwide race. He will start second, next to Logano, his teammate and the pole winner.
Busch leads the Nationwide Series standings.
In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour practice, Busch was 25th and apparently still a race-time decision if he will start the Nationwide Series race.

Photo: Kyle Busch (18) and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano (20) will start 1-2 for the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Logano won the Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway last weekend. Busch finished second. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Best seat in the house at Auto Club Speedway

Richard Childress Racing and Kevin Harvick's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team will let me sit on the pit box during Sunday's race.
I will be writing a story for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. I will also be Tweeting from the pit box during the race.
Let me know what you want to know. I will have Gil Martin's ear during the race and be able to talk to Harvick before the race. Plus I will be able to keep track of the radio traffic between the team and Harvick.
Send me your questions, and I will do my best to provide you with the answers.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Harvick, who led 66 laps, finished the race in second -- his fifth top-10 finish in 18 races at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Racing for second at Auto Club Speedway

Everyone knows Jimmie Johnson dominates at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. He has three wins, eight top fives and nine top 10s in 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at the 2-mile oval. He has an average finish of 6.2, best among drivers in the Chase.
He won the Cup race at Fontana last year in September. He heads into the fourth race of the Chase in second place in the Cup standings.
It would be hard to find a track Johnson has not had success at. But adding Fontana to the Chase only strengthened his chances of winning a fourth Cup championship.
"I think the season comes to us in a way," Johnson said. "I know that we perform well in the Chase but I think the schedule is helpful for the No. 48 car. We have great results and it gives us a lot of hope going into these tracks but we still have to show up and get the job done. So we have a positive mindset looking forward to those tracks. It will make the week easier leading into those tracks but we still have to go in there and get to work. I’m excited for it.”
If Johnson owns Auto Club Speedway, who has the best chance of foreclosing on his property?
He has to look no further than his own teammate and part owner at Hendrick Motorsports. Jeff Gordon has three wins, nine top fives and two poles in 18 races at Fontana. He has an average finish of 10.8 in those races.
"The competition is as even as I've ever seen it, so we must make the most of our bad days," Gordon said. "And we definitely need to take advantage of tracks where we should be good. Like this weekend at Fontana."
But Gordon isn't Johnson's biggest threat. Carl Edwards has an average finish of 6.7 in 10 Cup races at Fontana. He has one win, six top fives and nine top 10s in those 10 races. It's a pretty safe bet he'll be in the top 10 again, if not competing for the win.
Kasey Kahne might be the wild card in this race. In 11 races at Fontana, he has one win and seven top 10s.

Photo: Points leader and three-time Chase for the Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (left), driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, chats with Kansas native Clint Bowyer (right), driver of the Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet, during qualifying Friday for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Price Chopper 400 presented by Kraft Foods at the Kansas Speedway on Saturday. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Kyle Busch seeking first NASCAR championship in Nationwide Series

Kyle Busch is out of the running for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. But he has a commanding lead in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings.
He is 245 points ahead of Carl Edwards in the Nationwide standings with six races remaining.
Busch won the Nationwide Series race at Fontana in February and won last year's Nationwide race in September.
No stranger to victory lane, Busch has gone almost 10 years without a championship. Winning the Nationwide Series championship would mean a lot to Busch.
"It would be big," Busch said. "It'd be my first NASCAR championship, so of course it would mean a lot to me. I haven't won a championship since 1999 when I was racing Legends cars. It's big to win any NASCAR championship, no matter what division it is."

Photo: The crew of the No. 18 NOS Toyota service the car driven by Kyle Busch in a pit stop Saturday during Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Kansas Lottery 300 at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Vickers hoping he can pick up Chase -

Vickers hoping he can pick up Chase -

NASCAR drivers typically don't like to see their names and crash in the same sentence. But there is really no other way to describe how Brian Vickers qualified for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase.

Photo: Chase for the Sprint Cup first-time contender Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota, spun out in the infield grass in Turn 4 to bring out the caution on lap 149 during Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Price Chopper 400 presented by Kraft Foods at the Kansas Speedway. It wasn't a good day for Vickers, who ended up finishing in 37th after having engine problems. (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New start times for NASCAR Cup races

The start times for most of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races will be uniform starting in 2010.
Twenty-one of the Cup races, including the Daytona 500, will start at 1 p.m. Eastern time, 10 a.m. Pacific. Twenty-eight races will start earlier than they did in 2010.
The other races will either start at 3 p.m. Eastern, noon Pacific, or 7:30 p.m. Eastern, 4:30 p.m. Pacific.
Brian France, the Chairman and CEO of NASCAR, said during a teleconference on Wednesday that part of the reason to change the start times was to preserve some of the traditions at race tracks throughout the country.
“NASCAR fans have been asking for earlier and more consistent start times, and we are making this change for our fans, beginning with the Daytona 500 next February," France said. “We are revisiting our sport’s tradition of earlier green flags, and the added consistency will make it easier for fans to know exactly when the races are being televised. Additionally, the new start times will help track operators get fans in and out of the track earlier in the evening. Many fans heading home from the race earlier will be able to eliminate the costs of an extra travel day.”
Both races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana will start at noon Pacific time. The first race is Feb. 21 and the second race is Oct. 10.

Auto Club Speedway essentials

Auto Club Speedway in Fontana is hosting its first Chase for the Sprint Cup race. This is race No. 4 of the 10-race playoff. After three races, Mark Martin leads the Chase standings, with three-time reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson 18 points behind in second.
Johnson pretty much dominated this race last year. He won the pole and the race. The difference is, because Fontana is in the Chase, the race is in October, not Labor Day weekend. It will be much cooler, and consequently much faster than last year's race.
Weather cooperating, the track should yield some favorable conditions for drivers and crew. In talking to some of the drivers, they are especially looking forward to racing in Fontana without 117 degree temperatures. Surely the fans will appreciate not having to bake in the sun for three or four hours.
Here are some record speeds and times that might fall this weekend:
Brian Vickers holds the qualifying record at Fontana. He recorded a lap at 187.417 mph to win the pole in 2004.
Kasey Kahne holds the race record. He had an average speed of 144.462 mph and won the race in 2006 in 3 hours, 36 minutes and 3 seconds.
Denny Hamlin holds the Nationwide Series qualifying record at Fontana. He won the pole at 180.316 mph in 2007.
Greg Biffle won the Nationwide Series race in 2004 with a record average speed of 138.978 mph and in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 31 seconds.

Photo: Mark Martin (5) leads the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings after three races. He has an 18-point lead over Jimmie Johnson, who won last year's race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, site of Sunday's race. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Scary crash overshadows NHRA races at Memphis Motorsports Park

The first-round of eliminations of the funny car portion of the National Hot Rod Assn. races at Memphis Motor Sports Park got off to a rocky start. Daniel Wilkerson lost control of his car and crashed in spectacular fashion on Monday. The race was postponed a day because of rain. Wilkerson said the conditions at the track on Monday were a little misty. His first-round opponent was Ron Capps.
"I just wanted to apologize to all the other racers for causing a mess and huge delay," Wilkerson said. "We sat out all of Sunday, then it kept misting this morning and we weren't sure if we were even going to run, and before you know it my race car goes out there and basically comes apart and I'm into the wall making a huge mess. And, I knew my mom was going to be back there worried sick, so I wanted to let everyone know that I was okay.

According to a report from Wilkerson's team,
various sources provided photographic evidence that both rear wheel assemblies were off the car before it hit the wall, but the team has yet to do any forensic research to track the problem or discover the cause.
"It was really pulling hard off the line, and it sure felt like it was on a huge run, then just a fraction of a second before it all went bad I felt it start to wobble and sashay a little bit," Wilkerson said. "Next thing I know, it feels like I'm riding on the ground and it's making a hard left. For a bit I thought I had it, with the wheel cranked hard right, but then the wall was right in front of me and I knew I was going to hit it. I just held the wheel, gritted my teeth, and held on. With no rear wheels, I basically had no brakes, so then I just skidded down the track until the thing came to a stop."
Jeff Arend won the funny car portion of the races at Memphis. He beat Tony Pedregon in the final. It was Arend's second career NHRA funny car win and only his third career NHRA funny car final appearance.
Ashley Force Hood took over the lead in the funny car standings by three points over John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight. Force Hood advanced to the semifnals at Memphis, losing to Arend.

"We are bummed we didn't win but we are pumped that we went to another semifinal," Force Hood said. "That is our third semifinal in the first three Countdown races. Our Mustang ran really good this weekend that semifinal was just a really good close race. That will sometimes bite you. I don't know if we would have done anything differently. That was one of our best runs of the day. We will just take that and know that we have a really good running car and even in these crazy changing conditions we managed to still have a handle on our Mustang.
"We’ll go to Richmond and I’ll assume the conditions will be cool like this. That is a plus for us. We’ll try and go some rounds there. Semis is our goal every race. If we can just semi-finalize them to death we’ll be good. You are getting a lot of points and if you can get to that second half of the race you are doing well.”

Pedregon, third in the funny car standings, beat Capps in the other semifinal race.

Photo: NHRA funny car driver Daniel Wilkerson swerved across the race track at Memphis Motorsports Park and crashed in the first round of eliminations on Monday. (NHRA)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Memories of the California Jalopy Association"

Thomas Luce, author, publisher and friend of the Paddock, is releasing a second printing of his book, "Memories of the California Jalopy Association."
The book is described as a 14-year journey hunting down nostalgic memorabilia from former drivers, owners, officials, families and fans who dug through hundreds of closets and garages.
To order the book, go to, or

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Joanides wins NASCAR Late Model championship at Irwindale

Nick Joanides put the perfect book end to a championship season in the NASCAR Late Models at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale on Saturday night.
Joanides, a driver from Woodland Hills, won the Late Model season finale and captured his first Late Model championship at the track.
Joanides won the opening night race in March and capped his championship season by winning the last race of the Late Model season.
Joanides added to his championships in 2009. He won the NASCAR Super Late Model championship at the track two weeks ago. He became the first driver to win the Super Late Model and Late Model championships at Irwindale in the same season. He also won the NASCAR Whelen All American Series California State championship.
It was the third Late Model win of the season for Joanides and his first win since April 25. Travis Motley of Tucson, Ariz., was second, followed by Travis Irving of Corona in third.
Mike Johnson of Covina won the first of two Late Model races at the track. He was followed by Tim Huddleston of Agoura Hills in second and Irving in third. Joanides was fourth in the first Late Model race of the night.
Huddleston, the runner-up in the Late Model standings, won five races including three in a row from May 9-30.
Johnson won six Late Model races, the most of any driver in the division. He won four in a row July 25 to Sept. 5 and won five of the last seven races of the season.
R.J. Johnson of Canyon Country won the NASCAR Super Trucks race and moved into a tie for first place in the Super Truck standings at the track. Pat Mintey Jr. of Quartz Hill, the reigning Super Trucks champion at Irwindale, came in as the leader in the Super Trucks standings by 10 points. He finished sixth and lost his lead.
It was Johnson’s seventh win of the season and his third in the past four Super Trucks races. Matt Kimball of Mission Viejo was second, followed by Ron Peterson of Riverside in third.
The Super Trucks season finale is Oct. 24.
Dalton Kuhn of San Marcos won the South West Tour Trucks race. Christian Copley of Santa Ynez was second, followed by Jeff Williams of Newbury Park in third.
Christine Thiebert won the demolition derby after her sister, Alisha Thiebert, was disqualified. Tammy Kalb was second, followed by Shayle Zins in third.

No California race for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

How is it that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is not racing in California in 2010?
The Truck Series schedule includes races in Las Vegas, Phoenix and for the first time at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. But no races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana or anywhere else in California. For a series that has its roots at the old Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, it's a little surprising to see no Truck Series races in California.

Why Brian Vickers thinks he can win the Chase

Brian Vickers is the most unlikely of drivers in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. He secured the final spot in the Chase with a seventh-place finish at Richmond International Raceway and moved from 13th to eighth place in the Chase standings.
What makes Vickers’ surge even more remarkable is that he said Richmond is one of the tracks his team has struggled at in the past. Richmond, New Hampshire and Dover are admittedly three of the tracks he and his team do not like racing at. Partly by design, partly by circumstance, those three tracks have produced poor results for Vickers and his No. 83 Red Bull Racing team for the past three years.
“The two tracks we just left are probably two of our worst,” Vickers said. “I’d like to be a little higher than we are right now in the points. We knew we weren’t probably going to be leading coming out of Dover, but we knew we could at least be within striking distance. I still feel like we are. We’re probably about 30 or 40 points further back than I wish. My goal was to come out of the first two races in the top 10. We came very close to that. We put ourselves in position to do that.”
Vickers was 11th at New Hampshire International Speedway, the first race of the Chase. He was 18th at Dover. After two races in the Chase, Vickers is 10th in the Cup standings and 151 points out of first.
Vickers and crew chief Ryan Pemberton are focused on the next eight races of the Chase. The 1.5-mile ovals, Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Lowe’s Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, have been the types of tracks the Red Bull Racing team has been focusing on since its inception three years ago. Vickers said that was the approach from the start and it is at those tracks where his team is at its best.
“When we started this team, we had to start with nothing,” Vickers said. “We had to pick, we only had so many resources, we got to focus on something. Let’s focus on mile-and-a-half race tracks. A lot race tracks are high downforce, mile, 1.5 and up. Let’s pull our resources there because it’s going to have the biggest impact. That’s what we did and we excelled at those race tracks and we learned a lot. It took time, but we excelled at them.”
Pemberton added Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, site of race No. 4 in the Chase, to the list of tracks that he expects his team to post a good result.
“The rest of the race tracks, we feel confident,” Pemberton said. “We feel like we got a good set-up for and good strategy for getting the car where it needs to be on these tracks that are coming up: California, Kansas, Charlotte. We feel like we got a good baseline going into that weekend. We do have better races in front of us than behind us.”
It’s taken some time, but Vickers said his team has gained the confidence to be competitive at the 1.5-mile tracks. His only win with Red Bull Racing came at Michigan International Speedway in August, a 2-mile speedway.
“Once we reached that level where we felt like we could win at those tracks, then we started to spread our resources toward the short tracks,” Vickers said. “We got better, but it took time. It’s going to take time. Short tracks aren’t our best tracks. The concrete tracks aren’t our best. I believe that they can be our best. What’s our best right now is what we focused on.”
With four races on 1.5-mile tracks and one at Auto Club Speedway, a 2-mile speedway, Vickers said he expects to rise in the Chase standings. He also is confident in his team’s ability to improve because of how his team performed in the 10 races prior to the start of the Chase.
Vickers scored 1,205 points in the 10 races leading up to the start of the Chase. By comparison, that is more than 100 points better than the top three drivers in the Chase standings. Mark Martin scored 1,074 points in the 10 races leading up to the start of the Chase. Jimmie Johnson recorded 1,049 and Juan Pablo Montoya had 1,096.
Vickers said if his team can repeat that type of run, he will have a chance to win the Chase.
“I’m pleased with making the Chase,” Vickers said. “I’m pleased with what all we’ve accomplished to date. But our goal now is to win the championship. I think we’re capable of it. It doesn’t mean we will. That’s a tall order for a young team. The 10 weeks prior to the Chase we collected more points than anyone on average. That’s essentially what you have to do to win the championship, be the best for 10 weeks. We proved that we could do that. That doesn’t guarantee that we can do it again, but I think we proved that we can do it.”

Photo: Brian Vickers enjoyed a hot streak in the Race to the Chase and came into Richmond in 13th place, one position out of Chase contention. He finished seventh at Richmond and qualified for the Chase. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)