Thursday, February 25, 2010
Fans of Saugus Speedway might remember George, who used to race in the old NASCAR Southwest Series at the track.
“I really like Doug, he and I go way back,” said Hornaday. “I raced against Doug for the 1992 Southwest Tour championship. He was always a great competitor. He’s got a confidence about him that makes him likeable and a good leader. Knowing all of the experience that Doug has I feel really good that he is coming to join our team. I think he will be a great addition.”
Hornaday is a four-time Truck Series champion and has won 45 Truck Series races, the most of any driver. George has worked with some of the top drivers in NASCAR, including Kyle Busch.
“This is a really great opportunity to work with Ron and the No. 33 team,” George said. “Ron is a dedicated driver with goals to win races and championships. I’m really happy that Kevin and DeLana put their confidence in me to lead the No. 33 team. We are going to work hard to take the best equipment in the Truck Series to victory lane week in and week out. Ron and I have known each other forever, both as competitors and friends. I look forward to working with him in 2010.”
Photo: Ron Hornaday Jr., right, a four-time NASCAR Truck Series champion, meets Jimmie Johnson, the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Team owner Bryan Herta, a Valencia resident and Hart High graduate, is also entering Saavedra in the Indianapolis 500 in a car backed by Bryan Herta Autosport.
“This is a very proud day for Bryan Herta Autosport,” said Herta. “Sebastian and Stefan will make a very formidable driving team and will help to raise our program to the next level. I know they will be pushing us and each other all season long. And to be able to announce our entry into the Indy 500 this year is another step in the plan Steve and I set for the team when it was formed just one year ago. There is much work ahead for us but today we want to take a breath and enjoy this moment. We can’t wait for the season to get started.”
Saavedra will be the third driver from Colombia to enter the Indianapolis 500. Juan Pablo Montoya and Roberto Guerrero have raced in the Indy 500. Montoya won the Indy 500 in 2000 in his first start in the race. Guerrero has two runner-up finishes in the Indy 500.
“I have been talking to Bryan for some time and now everything is underway and I am very excited,” said Saavedra. “The program looks amazing. It is something we can build on for the future. It will be great to have Stefan as a teammate and to work with Bryan and Steve who know what winning is like. I will be working hard to be the best-prepared mentally and physically. My goal for the championship is to bring the gold home.”
Saavedra is entering his second year of competition in the Indy Lights series. He was third in the Indy Lights standings driving for Andretti Green Racing last year. He won two races and finished on the podium seven times.
Both drivers from Bryan Herta Autosport will be testing this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Jimmie Johnson bounced back after a disastrous Daytona 500 to win the Auto Club 500 in Fontana. He finished 35th at Daytona and put his team in a huge hole in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.
He climbed 23 spots in the Cup standings by winning at Auto Club Speedway and is 12th in the Cup standings.
Johnson said he wasn't too concerned about his poor result in Daytona. If he followed his Daytona race with another 35th-place finish in Fontana, then maybe he would be worried, he said.
After finishing second in the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway, Kevin Harvick was asked if his early lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was hollow. He coupled his runner-up finish in Fontana with a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500 to take a 19-point lead over Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer in the Sprint Cup Series standings.
Harvick shrugged off his pair of top 10s and said he was more focused on getting his next win rather than being first in the Cup standings.
Jamie McMurray, the winner of the Daytona 500, is fourth in the Sprint Cup standings.
Jimmie Johnson, the reigning four-time Cup champion and winner at Fontana, is 12th in the Cup standings.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
There’s no doubt Jimmie Johnson and his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team have been living a charmed life for the past few years.
They have won four straight Cup championships.
They won their fifth Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday.
The way Johnson won the race in Fontana prompted Kevin Harvick to say, “They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass. There’s no getting around that.”
Johnson led the most laps of any driver in the race. He also caught a break during pit stops late in the race. He came in for a green flag pit stop on lap 226. Brad Keselowski spun out and brought out a caution flag. Johnson was able to pit and take over the lead on the next lap. He came out of the pits in first on lap 227 and went on to win the race.
“There’s no way around it. We got lucky,” Johnson said. “We certainly got lucky. We were running third or fourth or fifth at the time, so it’s not like we totally backed into this thing. We got a really nice gift with the way things worked out, then it was kind of up to me to hang on to it.”
Harvick did his best to chase Johnson down, but came up a little short. Harvick slapped the wall with three laps to go and had to settle for second place, holding off a surging Jeff Burton at the end of the race.
While Johnson admitted fortune was smiling on him and his team, crew chief Chad Knaus wasn’t so quick to give luck all the credit.
“We don’t believe a heck of a lot in luck,” Knaus said. “But, you know, if it’s out there, we’ll take it.”
Harvick and Burton gave Richard Childress Racing two cars on the podium. Teammate Clint Bowyer finished eighth to give Childress three cars in the top 10. Harvick leaves Auto Club Speedway as the leader in the Sprint Cup standings.
But that was little consolation to losing to Johnson, the crown prince of NASCAR.
Johnson won the 48th Cup race of his career. He is tied with Herb Thomas for 12th place on the all-time NASCAR win list.
Auto Club Speedway was also the site of his first Cup win.
“So weird how things work out,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. “Look at the first win, then this win. We come back here with the foundation paint scheme on the car and have won a bunch. There’s just something with this track, being in California for me. I wish I could explain it.”
1. Jamie McMurray – Only one driver has ever won a race at Auto Club Speedway from the pole. That driver was Jimmie Johnson.
2. Juan Pablo Montoya – He said in his first NASCAR race at Auto Club Speedway, he qualified well, but he couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. Experience shouldn’t make that much of a problem this time around.
3. Clint Bowyer – Richard Childress Racing is off to a hot start. Bowyer looks like he has the best car in the Childress stable.
4. Kasey Kahne – Fords usually do well at Auto Club Speedway. This will be the first time Kahne will be racing a Ford in Fontana. He won at Auto Club Speedway in 2006 driving a Dodge.
5. Dave Blaney – Really. He qualified fifth. Don’t expect him to be in the top five at the end of the race though.
6. Kevin Harvick – Another good qualifying effort from a rebounding Richard Childress Racing team.
7. Jimmie Johnson – He is a four-time winner at Auto Club Speedway. He won the race in Fontana in October 2009.
8. Sam Hornish Jr. – The driver of the Auto Club-sponsored car is starting in the top 10 at Auto Club Speedway. Coincidence?
9. Kyle Busch – He won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday. He had no business being in the lead on the last lap, mind you.
10. Mark Martin – He won at Auto Club Speedway in 1998 driving a Ford for Jack Roush. It’s been 12 years since his first and only Cup win in Fontana.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Kyle Busch led only four laps of the NASCAR Nationwde Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, but it was enough to notch the 31st win of his Nationwide Series career.
Busch passed Greg Biffle on the last lap.
Joey Logano led a race-high 130 laps, but was passed by four cars on the final restart. The race ended with a green-white-checker finish. Biffle was second, followed by Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Logano.
J.D. Gibbs talks about the last three laps of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway
JD Gibbs, the president of Joe Gibbs Racing, was asked about the last three laps of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Joey Logano had the lead, but was passed by Greg Biffle on the restart. Kyle Busch battled with Biffle on the last lap of the race.
Busch won with a last-lap pass on Biffle. Logano said Biffle tried to wreck him on the restart.
Kyle Busch took advantage of a green-white-checker finish and won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday.
But it was Greg Biffle and Joey Logano who traded paint on the final three laps of the race and then traded barbs after the race was over.
Logano, who led a race-high 130 laps of the 150-lap race, said Biffle tried to wreck him on the final three laps.
“I got hit. I don’t know… We had an awesome race car that should have won the race," Logano said. "The 27 (Biffle) decided to hit us again. I don’t know what his deal is with me, but for some reason in California he feels like putting me in the fence or hitting me towards the end. I know we were racing hard there at the end, but… I don’t know. I think he could have done it a little cleaner than that. Oh well. It was a good run for the GameStop Toyota. Obviously we were the dominant car. I should have won it. It’s tough after leading that many laps and you don’t get a victory out of it.”
Biffle said Logano made a rookie mistake, spinning his tires on the restart, and allowed the cars chasing him the entire race an opportunity to make a run at the checkered flag.
Biffle, Busch, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards passed Logano on the final laps of the race. Busch ended up chasing down Biffle on the final turn of the final lap. Logano ended up spinning across the finish line and through the infield grass.
While Busch walked away the winner, Biffle and Logano reignited a rivalry that started last year when Logano was a rookie and Biffle made a habit of taking advantage of Logano’s mistakes.
“I guess he’s not happy about that,” Biffle said after the race in regard to how Logano was passed by four cars. “But when you got a guy inside of you, you’ve got to give him room, you know. I got a great run off the corner and Kyle just side-drafted me to the line. It was quite interesting down the front stretch. He had my tires off the ground most of the way down. It was a great finish. I think the fans really got to see an exciting finish today.”
Biffle was asked repeatedly after the race about how he passed Logano. All the questions had the same underlying theme: Why can’t you and Logano get along? It prompted Brad Keselowski, the third-place finisher in the race, to say to Biffle, “It’s pretty cool seeing someone else go through this.”
Keselowski has been accused of some aggressive tactics after races. Biffle had to answer some of those questions after the Nationwide race in Fontana.
“A few people saw the interview and said I tried to put him (Logano) in the wall or tired to wreck him or something, but that’s obviously not the case,” Biffle said. “I mean, if I wanted to do that, it’s pretty easy to do. I was just inside him down there and he knows I was inside him. Everybody saw the same thing. It was a lot of fun that last lap.”
Photo: Greg Biffle finished second in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. He passed Joey Logano on the green-white-checker retart and took over the lead, but Kyle Busch won the race.
Patrick would not be making her second career NASCAR Nationwide Series start if she didn’t have a provisional starting spot based on owners points. She was slower in qualifying than two drivers who had to pack up and go home. Six drivers did not make the starting field for today’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Too bad for Morgan Shepherd and Danny O’Quinn. They were both faster than Patrick in qualifying. Patrick didn’t actually have to use a provisional spot to start the race, but she still got in despite posting one of the slowest times in qualifying.
In Patrick’s defense, Shepherd and O’Quinn were faster than seven other drivers not named Danica Patrick in qualifying.
What might be an even bigger surprise than Patrick’s qualifying effort is Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s rise.
Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray won the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 500. His Earnhardt Ganassi teammate Juan Pablo Montoya will start next to him on the front row.
Perhaps this is the year Earnhardt Ganassi can challenge the traditional powerhouses of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.
Montoya arrived last year when he made the Chase and was a Cup title contender.
But McMurray has come out of nowhere to become the surprise of the Cup scene in recent weeks.
McMurray was the odd-man out at Roush at the end of the 2009 season. He lost his car when Roush went from a five-car team to four. He was without a team at the end of last year.
He landed with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, the team that gave him his first chance in the Cup Series. McMurray was a substitute driver for the old Chip Ganassi Racing team, filling in for an injured Sterling Marlin. McMurray won his first Cup race in his second start for Ganassi.
But McMurray left Ganassi for Roush in what amounted to a disappointing stint. One of McMurray’s highlights with Roush was winning at Talladega Superspeedway in last year’s Chase race. It was one of only three Cup wins for Roush last year. Despite the low win total for Roush, McMurray said he was encouraged by the direction of the team.
"Well a year ago it was really high because I finished third in the last three races and we qualified in the top five and our cars were really quick,” McMurray said. “Obviously we just didn't have the set-ups toward the end of the year that we needed. Everybody struggled; all five cars were struggling to get speed. But racing is so strange because you can win one week and you can have two or three bad weeks and you just don't ever seem to remember all the good stuff.”
He struggled with Roush, but it was not a successful year for any of the drivers at Roush. Matt Kenseth started out hot, winning the Daytona 500 and the Auto Club 500. He sputtered after that and didn’t make the Chase.
Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle did get into the 12-driver Chase field, but neither driver won a race and neither was really in contention for the Cup championship.
McMurray got into Victory Lane, but it wasn’t enough for him to keep a seat at Roush. Lucky for him, he landed at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing where it looks like he might be on his way to making his first Chase.
“But what I had tried really hard over the last couple of years to do is not base my confidence on performance or results,” McMurray said. “When the day is over, as long as I feel like I did everything I could all weekend long leading up to the race, that there are certain factors that determine the outcome of a race and you can have a flat tire. You can get stuck in the wrong line on a restart. You can have problems in racing that sometimes are out of the driver's control. As long as I feel like I did everything at the end of the day, my confidence is fine.”
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Part of the bus tour through Los Angeles with Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray included a stop at King Taco in Boyle Heights for lunch. On the way to King Taco, McMurray talked to fans about his favorite foods, the dangers of racing stock cars and why he got so emotional after winning the Daytona 500.
McMurray needed a quick lesson in Mexican food, specifically the difference between carne asada and carnitas. He prefers steak over pork. Give McMurray credit for choosing the spicy red salsa over the milder green salsa for his carne asada tacos.
Boxer Israel Vazquez joined the McMurray tour at King Taco.
Daytona 500 winner was a little nervous about visiting parts of East L.A. on his tour of Los Angeles. King Taco in Boyle Heights was one of the stops on the tour. L.A. Live, the ESPN Zone and Staples Center were also on the tour.
Of all the places and things McMurray saw on his tour, he said the double-decker red bus was the most interesting part of the trip. It had trouble getting out of the King Taco parking lot. The back end was pinned to the street while backing out. Apparently there was too many people on the bus for it to back out without scraping the street.
After the bus was unloaded and reloaded, the tour ended back at City Hall where McMurray took a photo with the tour participants and officially ended his Daytona 500 media blitz.
Next up, the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday, weather permitting.
Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray started his tour of Los Angeles at City Hall in downtown. City Controller Wendy Greuel introduced McMurray to fans and media on the steps of City Hall.
There were three pothole jokes, two from Greul and one from Auto Club Speedway president Gillian Zucker.
McMurray said he couldn't wait to get to the race track in Fontana, so he could take a break from all the media attention after winning the Daytona 500.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Grant Langston, a Monster Energy AMA Supercross rider, says he never liked to read much. That changed when his son, Devin, was diagnosed with autism. Langston said he became interested in one book in particular: “Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism” by Jenny McCarthy.
After practice one day, Langston had the book with him. He had it lying out on top of his gear bag when a family approached him. Sarah Caskey, her husband and their two daughters wanted a picture with Langston. After they were done taking their picture, Caskey noticed the book on Langston’s gear bag.
She asked if Langston knew someone with autism. He told her his son was diagnosed. It turns out she was a teacher who specialized in children, kindergartners and first-graders, with autism.
A couple months later, Caskey e-mailed Langston and wanted to know if his son was going to kindergarten. She remembered that the 5-year-old Devin was ready to start kindergarten. Langston said he was having trouble enrolling his son in a school. Apparently, the schools in his district were overcrowded and there weren’t enough classrooms or teachers for Langston’s son.
Caskey told Langston in the e-mail that she wanted to have Devin in her class.
“That was one of the greatest things that happened to us, because she is just amazing with him,” Langston said. “She goes beyond the call of duty. She definitely made an impact in his life.”
Langston, a 27-year-old rider from Murrieta, has overcome a number of obstacles in recent years. None of them have anything to do with dirt bikes or racing or AMA Supercross. He has battled eye cancer, pneumonia, stomach viruses, a knee surgery and his son’s autism diagnosis.
The Road To Recovery
After nearly two years away from AMA Supercross racing, Langston is making a comeback. Even though he says he has yet to push himself to the limit in Supercross since his return, he has been to the edge and back in so many other areas that racing motorcycles seems an afterthought. But he takes his racing seriously, all the while keeping the other aspects of his life in perspective.
Langston moved to the United States from South Africa 10 years ago to pursue a career in pro motorcycle racing. He found a home in Murrieta, mainly because it was close to test tracks in Corona, and it was where he was told he would fulfill his dream of becoming a pro motocross rider.
He steadily rose through the ranks of AMA Supercross, winning championships in the AMA Supercross Lites West Region and the 125cc East Region. He started his career in AMA Supercross in 2001, entering as the 125cc world champion and was the runner-up in the AMA 125cc motocross championship.
At the start of the AMA Supercross season in 2008, Langston began having blurred vision. He remembers the race in San Francisco that year when he realized something was wrong with his eyesight. He was evaluated by optometrists, opthamologists and other specialists before he was diagnosed with what Langston calls a benign growth in his left eye. He had surgery to remove the growth, but instead of having his vision improve, it got worse.
“Shortly after the procedure, my vision went to the dogs,” Langston said. “I had this gut feeling that there was more to the story or maybe this doctor had misdiagnosed it. I needed to go and get other opinions. Through this whole several months process I went all over the place, including Miami, Philadelphia, Cleveland really to try and get a better feeling. They’re telling me, give it some time, it will be fine. It didn’t sound right in my head because it just wasn’t.”
After further evaluations, doctors determined that Langston had a rare form of melanoma in his left eye. They told him if it went untreated, it could result in death. He had surgery to remove the tumor from his eye. He said doctors had to pull up his eyelid, cut into his eye, place a plate behind his eye and finally use radiation treatment to combat the tumor.
“It was a painful experience,” Langston said. “It felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to the side of my head. Because of the radiation treatment, my wife was only allowed to spend two hours of a 24-hour period with me. She’s in Cleveland in the middle of winter with nothing to do and we couldn’t even spend time together. That was definitely a little bit tough.”
Doctors told him his racing career was most likely over. Langston took a year off from riding and racing to help run his family’s business. But he said he wasn’t ready to give up his dream of racing dirt bikes professionally.
“After a year of not riding or racing, I just really wasn’t happy,” Langston said. “My vision was just slowly improving and improving and improving. I started riding and even though I felt the eye was affecting me a little bit, it kind of seemed like the right eye and my brain started compensating. Meanwhile, through vision tests, my left eye wasn’t improving, minute changes, barely even noticeable in a vision test. But overall my vision seemed like it improved. I wanted to race.”
While his vision improved, his body didn’t. The radiation treatment had taken a toll on his immune system. He came down with pneumonia and stomach viruses as he tried to get back in racing shape. Over time, his body responded better to motocross workouts and practices and he was ready to return to racing. But he injured his knee and that delayed his comeback attempt.
It took Langston a little longer than he expected to make his return to AMA Supercross. He is in 14th place in the AMA Supercross standings after six races. He finished a season-best eighth in the race at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on Feb. 6. He was 10th at the AMA Supercross season opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim on Jan. 9.
“I’m happy. I’m enjoying it. I think being a little older and wiser has helped, not getting carried away and not pushing the limits yet,” Langston said. “I had a strategy and I feel very fortunate to have a second chance. My feeling on this is I have been given a second chance. I’ve come back and I’m really enjoying myself. I don’t recall having this much fun riding in a long time. I think the pressure’s off. People aren’t expecting much. That’s nice. I can just work my way back into it.”
Langston's Son Diagnosed With Autism
When Langston and his wife learned that their son was diagnosed with autism, it was the summer of 2007. Langston was contending for an AMA Supercross championship, battling Chad Reed and James Stewart on a weekly basis and making considerable gains on the top two riders in the series.
“Before he was diagnosed, it was during the summer of 2007 and I was starting to get into this heated championship battle,” Langston said. “That was – I don’t wan to say it took focus off of him – but we were all so focused on racing. I remember coming home after a long day of riding and I’d walk in the house and be like, ‘Hey Dev.’ He didn’t greet me. He just looked the other way and kept watching TV. I thought, ‘This bums me out. This is our first kid.’ I didn’t know any different. You love it when your kid comes up, gives you a hug and says they miss you. He couldn’t do that.”
Langston said he had suspicions that something was wrong with his son. His wife and mother-in-law told him not to worry. They told him boys develop slower than girls and tried to assure him Devin would be fine. Eventually, Langston and his wife decided to have their son evaluated by their pediatrician around the time he turned 3 years old. Their doctor told them Devin had autism.
“My wife and I, we didn’t really know what that meant,” Langston said. “My wife broke down in tears, bawling her eyes out. I felt a little bit the same way, but I felt I had to be the strong one and tell her it will be all right. We’ll work through it and it’s just going to be a challenge.
“The first thing I did was I Googled autism when I got home. There could be a lot worse things. The good news is, we don’t ever have to ever worry about us not having our son in a few years. Being a professional racer, I’m around Make-a-Wish and Dream Maker and these kind of things and you see and hear all these issues these kids have knowing that a kid may not even live to be a teenager. That has to be just devastating as a parent.”
Langston took an aggressive approach to helping his son. He studied about autism, attended seminars, questioned doctors. He became an expert on the topic, educating himself on the most effective strategies to treat the diagnosis. He and his wife have tried changing Devin’s diet, working with therapists and his son’s school district to provide support in needed areas. In addition to going to school, Devin works with a one-on-one tutor two hours a day at home.
It’s taken some time, but Devin is getting re-acquainted to Supercross as well. The stadium environment can be overwhelming at times for Devin. The crowds, noise, fireworks and music can be intimidating. But Devin has learned how to adjust to the noise and the crowds and watch his dad race against some of the top Supercross riders in the world.
“The whole family loves the sports,” Langston said. “They love riding. They love watching. They love coming to races. They love staying the motor home. That’s what I’m really enjoying these days is we’re a family and everyone enjoys what our lifestyle is. It would be tough if not everyone was into it like I was.”
Photos: Grant Langston is 14th in the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series standings after six races. He finsihed 13th in Saturday night's AMA Supercross race at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.(Courtesy of RacerX)
Monday, February 15, 2010
After winning the 50th NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, John Force told a story about how his wife Laurie asked Castrol, one of Force’s sponsors on his funny car, for a six-year extension.
The representatives from Castrol told her they didn’t think Force would live another six years.
The 60-year-old Force ended one of the longest winless droughts of his career by taking the Winternationals on Sunday. He did not win a race in 2009. His last win came in 2008 at Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas.
Force remembers winning that race in Kansas as being a bit of a fluke. It was his first win since his catastrophic crash in Texas the previous year. He broke his legs and had to go through months of surgeries and therapy to recover. He will admit that he hasn’t quite fully recovered from that accident. He readily admits his body will never be the same as it was before the accident.
“I’ll never be a centerfold, but I ain’t too bad,” Force quipped as he reflected on his latest win.
Age and a disregard for convention has carried Force this far. Winning the 50th Winternationals in Pomona meant more to him than winning in Kansas.
“Change has worked for us,” Force said. “My legs were broken. They said I might not walk again. Just to come out of that hospital and win again, that meant a lot.”
The past two years have been a mixture of discouragement, disappointment and pain for Force. He said the strength in his legs was sapped. He couldn’t keep his throttle leg still when he rolled into the starting lane. Some days he would sit in his gym and cry because he didn’t feel like he was making any progress in his recovery.
He didn’t give up though. He questioned his efforts, but he never stopped working. While winning in Pomona has historic significance, it also carries a degree of personal satisfaction.
Force met his daughter, Ashley Force Hood, in the second round at Pomona. One of the parachutes on her car unpacked before the race and there was a slight delay as her team tried to repack it. Force, who was going through his pre-race routine in the other lane, didn’t know his daughter was having problems. Her team got the parachute packed in time for the race, but it wasn’t much of a race. Force won easily and advanced to the semifinals. Even if her daughter’s parachute worked perfectly, Force was going to be hard to beat.
“The hardest was going against Ashley,” Force said. “I said I love you baby, but I may not ever get another chance. I gotta go. I gotta give you all I got.”
For the first time in a long time, Force was able to give it all he had. Some were wondering if Force was nearing the end of his career. Force says he even started questioning how long he might race.
“It wasn’t so much the winning, but coming back from the cellar, and I was in the cellar,” Force said. “When you’ve won all those championships, you just think that winning was easy. Then it got real tough and we just couldn’t do anything.”
Make no mistake, Force is coming to the end of his career. But it looks like he is not one to go quietly into that good-night. He still talks a mile a minute, drives even faster. If the Winternationals are any indication, Force will be giving every driver in NHRA funny cars all he’s got all year long.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Robert Hight won the National Hot Rod Assn. funny car championship in 2009. It was the first of his career.
Hight made an improbable run to the funny car championship. He was the last driver to qualify for the Countdown to One playoffs and proceeded to win three of the five Countdown races.
Before the season-opening NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Valentines Day, Hight was asked how he plans on celebrating Valentine's Day with his wife, what's changed the most since winning the NHRA funny car championship and what is it going to take to repeat as champion.
Ashley Force Hood is coming off her best season racing National Hot Rod Assn. funny cars. She finished second in the funny car standings and gave her father's team, John Force Racing, a 1-2 showing in the NHRA funny car standings.
Being so close to winning a championship, Force Hood was asked if anything short of an NHRA funny car title this year would be a disappointment.
She was also asked about why she brings her two cats to races and how she is planning to celebrate Valentine's Day.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Round 6 of the AMA Supercross season at Angel Stadium on Saturday night ended with Hill and Ryan Dungey tied for first in the standings and Villopoto sitting in third, three points behind the leaders.
Villopoto led from start to finish and built a nearly six-second at one point in the race. His win pulled him well within striking distance of the lead in the AMA Supercross standings.
“It’s a good spot to be in going back East,” Villopoto said. “I can’t ask for anything more.”
Hill has five podium finishes in six races. His runner-up finish coupled with Dungey’s fourth-place finish, put the two riders tied for first in the AMA Supercross standings.
“I’m happy,” Hill said. “I’ve been on the box every week but one.”
After starting the season with three straight podium finishes, Dungey has not finished on the podium in his last three races.
Hill’s second-place finish at Angel Stadium might have been the most challenging.
“I didn’t ride good all day,” Hill said. “I’m happy with second. I’m just pumped to be up here.”
Kevin Windham finished third, followed by Dungey and Davi Millsaps in fifth.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Ryan Villopoto is in third place and 10 points behind Ryan Dungey in the Monster Energy AMA Supercross standings.
He is one of four riders to win a race this year. He won at San Francisco two weeks ago.
Dungey is the only two-time winner, but is coming off a pair of disappointing finishes.
The sixth round of the AMA Supercross Series is Saturday night at Angel Stadium. Dungey won the last race at Angel Stadium on Jan. 23. James Stewart, the reigning AMA Supercross champion, won the opening night race at Angel Stadium on Jan. 9.
Villopoto said he is confident he can beat Dungey and challenge for the AMA Supercross championship.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Ron Capps is a two-time winner at the National Hot Rod Assn. Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. His first win came in 1998. Capps said that race stands out because he and teammate Larry Dixon won for Don The Snake Prudhomme. Capps beat Tim Wilkerson and won the funny car portion of the Winternationals. Dixon beat Jim Head and won the top fuel portion. Capps said it made it a special day to double up for The Snake.
Capps, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing, finished third in the funny car standings last year. He won five races in 2009.
Larry Dixon has won three times in the National Hot Rod Assn. Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. He won back-to-back races in 2002-03. But he said his first Winternationals top fuel win stands out.
He won his first Winternationals in 1998 while driving for Don Prudhomme Racing. His teammate, Ron Capps, won the funny car portion of the Winternationals, giving Prudhomme a double in Pomona.
Dixon remembers that his car broke in the final against Jim Head. Head's car broke too, and Dixon coasted past the finish line, slightly ahead of Head.
Dixon, a two-time NHRA top fuel champion, is coming off a second-place finish in the top fuel standings in 2009. He won five races and made nine final-round appearances.
Jack Beckman said picking a favorite moment from the National Hot Rod Assn. Winternationals is like having six kids and trying to pick a favorite.
In 1975, Beckman attended his first NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
In 1984, he went to the Winternationals just before heading to the U.S. Air Force.
In 1988, he drove from New Mexico to Pomona, an 1,100-mile trek, to watch the elimination rounds of the Winternationals.
In 1998, he won his first national event, a super comp race.
He said he hopes he can add a win in NHRA funny cars in the 2010 Winternationals.
Beckman, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing, had two wins and finished fifth in the funny car standings in 2009.
Bob Tasca III made his first appearance in the 2008 National Hot Rod Assn. Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Tasca said that race stands out because he barely qualified for the elimination rounds. He wasn't even sure if his car would start when qualifying began earlier in the week.
Tasca won two races and finished eighth in the NHRA funny car standings in 2009. He beat Tony Pedregon to win in Gainesville, Fla., and Mike Neff in Reading, Penn.
Antron Brown has been the No. 1 top fuel qualifier in the National Hot Rod Assn. Winternationals the past two years. Even though he made the final last year, losing to Doug Kalitta in the Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Brown said qualifying No. 1 in 2008 was his favorite Winternationals moment.
It was his first top fuel race and he started fast.
Brown has only been in two Winternationals, but he has a win in Pomona. He won the season finale in 2009, beating Spencer Massey in the final in Pomona.
Brown finished third in the top fuel standings last year, behind Tony Schumacher, who won his sixth straight top fuel championship in a row, and Larry Dixon.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Ron Capps won the National Hot Rod Association funny car portion of the Winternationals in at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona last year.
He broke the middle finger on his right hand playing racquetball in December and will have to race with a splint. He says it will not affect his ability to race. He uses his right hand to work the brake on his car and release the parachute. In tests, Capps said his finger has not hindered his ability to drive and stop the car.
He will be wearing a glove modified for his hand for the races this weekend in Pomona.
Capps made seven final round appearances in 2009. He won five, including the season opener in Pomona.
Sunday’s Daytona 500 kicks off the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Johnson was asked if there are any races on the schedule that present any challenges. Johnson said there are a couple, New Hampshire and Texas in particular.
“In the Chase, when the championship is on the line, I feel really good about the tracks in the Chase,” Johnson said. “I think that New Hampshire, we need to be a little bit better there, although we finished, I think, in the top-five. We haven’t won there in a while and it would be nice to start to narrow in on that to start the Chase strong. I think we could send one hell of a message to the garage area if we could come out and win the first race of the Chase.”
Johnson won four of the 10 races in the Chase last year. He won at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Dover, Phoenix and Charlotte. In the past four years of the Chase, Johnson has not won at New Hampshire.
“So looking that far ahead, I would say that is one track in the Chase that we really need to zero in on,” Johnson said. “I would say Texas in the past, but we have done a really good job of understanding Texas and being competitive there. I feel good about those tracks.”
Outside of the Chase, Johnson said he would like to improve at Bristol Motor Speedway. Infineon Raceway in Sonoma and Watkins Glen International, the two road courses on the Cup schedule, have given him problems as well.
“Before the Chase I still look at Bristol, I look at the road course races. That is just kind of a personal thing to me,” Johnson said. “I’m running much better at those tracks and much more competitive, that is just something that is under my skin, I need to win at those tracks in my mind. Other than that, I think it is about winning races. We need to win races, to make sure we are in a comfortable position in the Chase. That is our goal starting the season.”
If anything, seeing what his teammate Mark Martin had to go through to make the Chase last year has Johnson not taking anything for granted.
“We want to win races and win a lot of them and I would love to roll in to Richmond and have ourselves locked in to the Chase, ideally, a race or so out,” Johnson said. “To watch what Mark Martin and that team went through last year, three or four months out being as far behind as they were and to fight all the way in, it took a lot out of them. If possible, I don’t want to be in that position, so winning races is what it is all about.”
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Stewart broke his hand in a crash during the races at Chase Field in Arizona. He raced the following week at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, but missed the race at AT&T Park in San Francisco. He had surgery on his right hand to repair a broken scaphoid bone on Jan. 29, the day before the San Francisco races.
He will skip Saturday’s races at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
“It’s been five days since my surgery and my wrist is feeling a lot better,” Stewart said in a release. “Right now I’m following doctor’s orders so I can get back on the track racing as soon as possible. I want to be out there as soon as I can ride without pain. It was no fun racing Phoenix and Anaheim 2 this way.”
There is no exact date when Stewart will return to the race track, but if progress continues as is, he and his team are hopeful that date will be very soon, according to the release.
Stewart’s teammate, Josh Hill, is in second place in the AMA Supercross standings. Hill has three straight podium finishes and has been the runner-up in the past two races.
Ryan Dungey leads the AMA Supercross standings after winning two races. He won at Chase Field and Angel Stadium and is coming off a fourth-place finish in San Francisco.
Ryan Villopoto won the race in San Francisco, his first of the season and the third of his career.
Three riders have won the first four AMA Supercross races of the season. There have never been four winners in the first five AMA Supercross races.
Chad Reed, a two-time AMA Supercross champion, is recovering from a broken hand and has missed the past three races. The earliest he can return to racing is in three weeks.
Johnson will be in search of an unprecedented fifth Cup championship in a row. The last time the media picked him to win the Cup championship was in 2005, a year he did not win. He did go on to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in 2006-2009.
Last year’s pick to win the Cup championship, Carl Edwards, was voted to finish fifth.
Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing were well represented. Jeff Gordon was selected to finish second and Mark Martin was selected to finish seventh.
Matt Kenseth, last year’s winner of the Daytona 500, was voted to finish 10th. Greg Biffle was selected to finish 11th.
Some notable drivers who did not make the top 12: Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kahne and Vickers made the Chase in 2009. Junior, well, disappointed. Maybe now that the media has lowered its expectations, Earnhardt Jr. might be poised to impress.
Here’s a look at how the media predicted how the Chase will play out:
- Jimmie Johnson: The drive for five begins in a couple weeks at Daytona. How many championships will he win before NASCAR decides to change the Chase rules again?
- Jeff Gordon: When did he become the dark horse at Hendrick Motorsports?
- Tony Stewart: It didn’t take long for him to become a contender for a Cup championship with a new team. He’s making the owner-driver thing look way too easy.
- Kyle Busch: He won the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship and almost half the Truck Series races he entered. It’s hard to think he needs to rebound after a NASCAR season like that.
- Carl Edwards: Last year’s favorite has turned into this year’s underdog.
- Denny Hamlin: Maybe contending for a Cup championship with a torn ACL will earn him some respect.
- Mark Martin: At least the media didn’t pick him to finish second.
- Kurt Busch: He is single-handedly keeping Roger Penske and Dodge relevant in NASCAR.
- Juan Pablo Montoya: So how would the NASCAR nation respond to a Columbian winning the Cup championship? It might happen sooner than later.
- Matt Kenseth: His hot start in 2009 did little to help his Chase aspirations. He, like Kyle Busch, is looking for a return among the Cup elite.
- Greg Biffle: For a driver who didn’t win a race in 2009, Biffle will be lucky to make the Chase in 2010. Then again, he did get the most out of his car last year.
- Ryan Newman: Another winless driver in 2009. Having Stewart and Hendrick’s support has to give Newman a good feeling about 2010.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
His team became a casualty as John Force Racing decided to cut back from four NHRA funny car teams to three.
Ashley Force Hood lost to Neff in the funny car final at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Neff is still with the team, but he is no longer driving. Robert Hight, the 2009 NHRA funny car champion, John Force and his daughter, Force Hood, will be the drivers for John Force Racing when the NHRA season starts in Pomona for the 50th Winternationals in a couple weeks.
Force Hood talked about the downsizing on her dad’s team, racing against Neff and losing to him in the final at Pomona, four-wide racing in North Carolina and preparing for the Winternationals.
“I ran Mike in the finals in Pomona, which is actually a good thing,” Force Hood said. “We love to run our own teammates in the final. Other than in the final, you never want to run your own teammate. But you’re going to run into each other.”
Hight and Force Hood gave John Force Racing a 1-2 finish in the NHRA funny car standings. Hight won his first NHRA funny car championship. Force Hood had her best finish in three years of racing in the NHRA funny car division.
“But hopefully this year, we’d rather be beating the competition in the other camps than our own camp,” Force Hood said. “So hopefully we cannot run each other as much as the three teams and hopefully get one of these three teams in the championship spot again.”
Force Hood was asked about the new format at zMax Dragway in North Carolina. Cars and drivers will race four-wide, instead of the traditional two-wide, for the Carolina Nationals in September.
“And as for the four wide, I am embarrassed to say I didn’t even know it was announced until I had gotten a new computer,” Force Hood said. “I was in the weeklong process of getting everything moved over, which I’ve kind of been out of my -- kind of in my own little world working on that.”
Force Hood said a reporter called her to ask her about the changes and she was unaware of the changes, even though her dad was in North Carolina for the announcement of the format change.
“Well, I knew he flew somewhere but I didn’t actually know where he was going,” Force Hood said. “I think the guy thought I was -- I don’t know what he thought of me. I was a little embarrassed. But he got me up to date on the announcement and everything.”
Force Hood will be making her fourth appearance in the Winternationals. After making it to the final of the season-finale at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Force Hood is eager to return to the track she considers home.
“It’s just a huge event. The first race of the year kicks off everything,” Force Hood said. “Everybody new out there, new sponsors, new fans, it’s the race you want to do well out and start your year strong. It definitely gives you a great confidence boost if you are able to start your season on such a great note. And I think it’s going to be a big deal.
“I know that NHRA is promoting a lot and doing a lot of special events and activities. It’s going to be exciting. I hope we can do well there. It is a tough one to win because you are coming back after a few months off. You might have a change in crew members or changes with your car.”
Photo: Ashley Force Hood lost in the NHRA funny car final to Mike Neff in the 2009 season finale at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. (NHRA)
Monday, February 1, 2010
Ryan Dungey, the leader in the AMA Supercross Series standings, crashed on lap 10 and fell from first to fourth.
“I lost my foot and went sailing,” said Dungey. “It could have been a lot worse. I am glad I am not hurt.”
Villopoto won for the third time in his AMA Supercross career. He is in third place in the AMA Supercross standings, two points behind second-place Josh Hill and 13 points out of first.
“The track was tough and slippery,” said Villopoto. “It was hard to put in 20 perfect laps out there tonight. It wasn’t the start that I wanted, so I played catch-up. It is a long season with a lot of racing left.”
Hill had another strong race, finishing on the podium for the third race in a row. Hill was second at San Franisco, followed by Davi Millsaps in third. Both riders are from Murrieta.
James Stewart, the reigning AMA Supercross champion, did not race in San Francisco. He had surgery to repair a broken wrist last week. He broke his wrist in a crash during the races at Chase Field in Arizona two weeks ago. He raced at Angel Stadium the following week and finished third despite the broken wrist.
Dr. Arthur Ting, an orthopedic surgeon, performed the surgery on Stewart’s wrist on Friday.
“James is a true champion,” San Manuel Team Manager Larry Brooks said in a release. “The fact that he rode as competitively as he did making the podium at Anaheim 2 with a broken wrist (unknowingly) is testimony to that. He’s anxious to heal and get back on the race track as soon as possible.”
Stewart’s return to racing is unknown. He will be evaluated on a weekly basis, according to the team.
The next AMA Supercross race is Saturday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.