Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top Southern California races of 2009

With the year coming to an end, and the best of the year lists making their way around, here is my list of the top races I saw in 2009. I covered several disciplines of racing, from late model stock cars at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale to off-road trucks in Lake Elsinore to Indy cars at Long Beach to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars at Fontana, it’s been a busy year for me.

5. The NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale: Matt Kobyluck won the race, even though he was the second car to cross the finish line. Joey Logano and Peyton Sellers, the leaders in the race, crashed on the final turn of the final lap of the race. Logano actually finished ahead of Kobyluck, but Sellers and Logano were penalized for rough driving. Logano, obviously, went from Irwindale to winning rookie of the year honors in the NACSAR Sprint Cup Series.
“It was an unfortunate ending, but this is the All-Star Showdown,” said Kobyluck, who became the first two-time winner of the Camping World Series portion of the Showdown. “Everyone’s just going for it. Minor error there, or maybe it wasn’t an error, who knows? I’m only in control of my car. It looked like Joey overdrove the corner, couldn’t keep the car down, but he was going for the win. Peyton was going for the win. In a deal like this when there’s no points on the line, it’s all a truck, money, and bragging rights, the outcome’s always crazy.”

4. The February NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana: Matt Kenseth won the race and it looked like he was on his way to a great season. Little did anyone know that it would be his last win of the season. Kenseth won the season-opening Daytona 500 and the race at Fontana. He was looking to become the first driver since Jeff Gordon in 1997 to win the first three races of the year. As it turns out, Kenseth didn’t finish well enough in the rest of the Cup races to qualify for the Chase. In fact, Roush Fenway Racing only won one other race all season. Even though the race at Fontana wasn’t the most exciting, it was significant because it was the pinnacle of Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing’s season.

3. The Grand Prix of Long Beach: Dario Franchitti won the race, a testimony that his place in auto racing is in Indy cars, not NASCAR. (Danica Patrick, are you reading this?) Franchitti won on the birthday of his wife, actress Ashley Judd, and spent a considerable amount of time dedicating the win to his wife. The race was an otherwise uneventful one, except that it saw the return of Helio Castroneves. The “Dancing With the Stars” champion and three-time Indy 500 winner was facing tax evasion charges in Florida, but was acquitted on the weekend of the race. He flew from Florida to Long Beach and made it in time for the race. Roger Penske had three cars in the race, and had to make a tough decision about keeping three cars. Castroneves finished seventh in his first race back. Will Power, the Penske driver who was most likely to be pushed out by the return of Castroneves, won the pole and finished second. Tensions were definitely high in Long Beach that weekend.

2. NASCAR Late Model season finale at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale: Nick Joanides, a driver from Woodland Hills, became the first driver in the history of the track to win the Super Late Model and Late Model championships in the same season. Joanides won the Late Model season finale, only his third win of the Late Model season. It was in the Super Late Model class that Joanides truly dominated. He won 13 races and finished in the top five in all 21 Super Late Model races. Joanides also won the NASCAR Whelen All American Series California State championship and landed a NASCAR Nationwide Series seat. He went to Memphis Motorsports Park, but did not qualify for the race.

1. The NHRA Auto Club Finals in Pomona: The championship in the top fuel division came down to the semifinals of the season-finale at Pomona. Tony Schumacher was in search of his seventh top fuel championship. Larry Dixon was hot on his heels. The two drivers swapped the lead in the standings during qualifying for the finals. But when Dixon lost in the semifinals, Schumacher was in no danger of losing his two-point lead. Schumacher lost in the semifinals too, but it didn’t matter. Schumacher captured his sixth NHRA top fuel championship in a row and his seventh overall.

Photo: Tony Schumacher won the NHRA top fuel championship at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona in November. It was my vote for the top race of 2009. (NHRA)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Johnson voted driver of the decade, AP male athlete of the year

It looks like not only did the NASCAR media get it right, but the Associated Press as well. Jimmie Johnson was voted the NASCAR driver of the decade by the media and the AP male athlete of the year. No race car driver has ever been named AP male athlete of the year in the 78 years of the award.
“We’d been wondering the last few years, ‘When is this going to hit?’” Johnson told the Associated Press. “It seems like the answer is now. The wave is finally peaking and we don’t know where it’s going to take us. The fourth-straight title takes it out of our sport and makes it a point of discussion like, ‘Wow, a race car driver won this thing.’”
To think of all the great drivers who have not won the AP male athlete of the year award. AJ Foyt, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Rick Mears all have the credentials. Johnson has the benefit of great timing.
He beat out tennis star Roger Federer and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt for the honor. Federer has been and is clearly on the decline. If it was an Olympic year, Bolt might have had a chance.
In all honesty, who else could have challenged Johnson this year? Tiger Woods? Tim Tebow? LeBron James? Athletes clouded in scandal or underachievement, at least this year.
It’s been a great year for Johnson and his four straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships are a testament to how great his latest streak has been.
It was a no-brainer to select him as the NASCAR driver of the decade. It was a pleasant surprise to see the Associated Press honor him as athlete of the year.
Here is how the media ranked the top NASCAR drivers of the decade:

1. Jimmie Johnson: Four straight Cup championships, 47 Cup wins in the decade and the only driver to make the Chase is all six years of its existence.
2. Tony Stewart: Two Cup championships, one in the Chase format, one in the old format.
3. Jeff Gordon: Only one of his four Cup championships came in the past decade. Although an argument can be made if not for the Chase, he might have two more Cup championships.
4. Kurt Busch: He won the first Chase, by the narrowest of margins, and has been almost a lock to make the Chase every year.
5. Matt Kenseth: Still being blamed for creating the Chase. Too bad this wasn’t a poll for the most infamous driver of the decade.

Photo: Jimmie Johnson was voted as the NASCAR driver of the decade and the Associated Press male athlete of the year. (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Results: Top NASCAR races of the decade

The results are in for the top NASCAR races and drivers of the past decade. From what’s been Tweeted and posted on message boards, the choices of races NASCAR provided for the media to vote on were not the top races to consider. Most everyone is in agreement that the 2001 Daytona 500, the last, fatal race for Dale Earnhardt, was the top race of the decade. Not only is it the one race everyone remembers, it is the race that led to the development of the Car of Tomorrow and a watershed of safety innovations. The race was the culminating chapter of Earnhardt’s life, but it was only the beginning of his legacy to NASCAR safety.
One of Jimmie Johnson’s wins should have been on this list too. His win at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 15, 2009 -- his fourth of the Chase, by the way -- made him all but a lock to win his unprecedented fourth Cup championship in a row. Plus it was a pretty good race to boot, despite its place in NASCAR history.

Here is a look at how the media ranked the top races of the decade:
  1. March 16, 2003 Darlington Raceway. Ricky Craven didn’t win many Cup races, but this one was the one everyone remembers. He and Kurt Busch collided on the last lap and Craven won by 0.002 seconds, the closest margin of victory in Cup history.
  2. Oct. 14, 2000 Talladega Superspeedway: This was Dale Earnhardt’s last win. He won only two races in 2000. His racing career was on the decline at this point, although he was still a threat to win races. His Dale Earnhardt Inc. team was on the rise however, the most dominant plate-racing team in Cup.
  3. March 11, 2001 Atlanta Motor Speedway: It didn’t take long for Kevin Harvick to win his first Cup race. Driving in Dale Earnhardt’s car and with his crew, Harvick won the race in Atlanta, only the third Cup start of his career. The number was changed, but the spirit of Earnhardt was riding with Harvick that day.
  4. July 7, 2001 Daytona International Speedway: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the summer race at Daytona a mere five months after his father died on the last lap of the season-opening Daytona 500. Junior’s win gave Dale Earnhardt Inc. a season sweep at Daytona. Michael Waltrip, in the No. 15 car for DEI, won the Daytona 500.
  5. Feb. 18, 2007 Daytona International Speedway: Kevin Harvick edged out Mark Martin to win the Daytona 500.
  6. Nov. 21, 2004 Homestead-Miami Speedway: Greg Biffle won the race and Kurt Busch won the Chase. The Chase era was ushered in and the championship came down to the last race of the season, just what NASCAR wanted. Busch took home the Cup championship by eight points in the tightest race in the Chase standings. 
  7. March 20, 2005 Atlanta Motor Speedway: Carl Edwards won.
  8. Sept. 21, 2008 Dover International Speedway
  9. Feb. 15, 2004, Daytona International Speedway
  10. May 16, 2009, Lowe's Motor Speedway, (Sprint All-Star race)
  11. May 20, 2009, Lowe's Motor Speedway (Sprint All-Star race)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A NASCAR Christmas for Toyota: A one-act play

The scene opens in an office at Joe Gibbs Racing. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano are writing Christmas cards to fans, sponsors and family. J.D. Gibbs is in the room, making phone calls and answering questions from the drivers.

Kyle: How do you say Merry Christmas in Japanese?

JD: (With cell phone in hand and held to his hear) I don’t think they celebrate Christmas in Japan.

Kyle: Then why am I sending a Christmas card to Toyota?

JD: (Talking into his cell phone) No, dad, it’s just that I don’t think Christianity is that big in Japan. (He covers the mouthpiece and turns to Kyle) We are all signing a card to send to Toyota for the holidays. No need to write Merry Christmas.

Kyle: Well, what am I supposed to write?

JD: (Talking into his cell phone) Buddhism I think. I’m not sure what religion is big in Japan, dad. I just have a feeling there aren’t that many Christians there. (He covers the mouthpiece on his cell phone again and turns to Kyle) You don’t have to write anything. Just sign your name.

Kyle: I need to add something clever, something snappy. I want to say something cool in Japanese.

JD: How ‘bout a simple thanks. (He uncovers the mouthpiece on his cell phone) Can we talk about this later dad? I have to make sure these cards get out today. All right. Talk to you later.

Kyle: Thanks? For what? Giving me a 13th place car?

Denny: My car worked fine, for the most part. It’s not Toyota’s fault you didn’t make the Chase.

Kyle: Fine. You can thank Toyota. I’m not going to do it.

Denny: Why are you so upset? They gave you a championship Nationwide car. You won almost half your truck races. Those were all Toyotas too.

Kyle: Nobody cares about that. All anybody cares about is why I didn’t make the Chase.

Joey: To enjoy success
One must first find meaning in

Kyle: What was that?

Denny: It’s a haiku, a type of Japanese poetry. Joey’s been talking like that for weeks now.

Kyle: It didn’t even rhyme.

Denny: It’s not supposed to. I guess it can, but not always. It’s just supposed to, y’know, be truthful, profound. It’s supposed to be only three lines too. Short and sweet.

Joey: Poetry needs rhyme
Like a shrub needs a loud voice

Kyle: Yeah, a loud, talking shrub. That would be obnoxious. C’mon Joey, help me write one of them haikus for Toyota.

(Joey does not respond. He closes his eyes and starts to hum)

Kyle: What’s he doing?

Denny: Meditating.

Kyle: What for?

JD: If he has nothing to say, he doesn’t say anything. Especially now since he’s speaking in haikus. Takes some time and thought to put those things together.

Denny: He’ll answer you when he’s ready.

Kyle: This is killing me. I’ve got hundreds of Christmas cards to sign. I just need one cool haiku to send to Toyota.

Joey: Greetings Toyota
Let’s build something together
Sincerely, KyBu

Kyle: Perfect!

(The scene closes as JD and Denny open their mouths to try  to say something to Kyle, then stop. Kyle writes furiously on his Christmas card to Toyota. Joey sits back, puts his hands behind his head and smiles)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top NASCAR drivers of the decade

In addition to selecting the top NASCAR races of the decade, the media was asked to rank the top drivers of the decade. Jimmie Johnson should win this with a unanimous vote. What he has done over the last four years is something no one in the history of NASCAR has ever seen. The only thing that would be more impressive is if a driver ever notched his 201st career win, surpassing Richard Petty’s 200.
In any event, here is how I ranked the top drivers of the decade:
1. Jimmie Johnson: Four straight Cup championships. Hands down the best driver of the decade.
2. Tony Stewart: The only driver to win a Cup championship the conventional way and in the Chase. Plus starting his own team and making the Chase in his first season doesn’t hurt his credentials either.
3. Kurt Busch: He is certainly not the most popular driver, but no one will ever be able to dispute he won the first Chase. For that he will always be a part of NASCAR history.
4. Jeff Gordon: He only won one of his four Cup championships in the decade. He was the 2001 champ and it was the fourth of his career. His best racing days might be behind him, but wouldn’t it be something to see him win a fifth Cup championship 10 years removed from his fourth.
5. Matt Kenseth: He is known as much for winning the last conventional Cup championship as he is blamed for causing NASCAR to implement the Chase. Bottom line is Kenseth doesn’t wreck race cars. He brings them home in one piece and puts them in Victory Lane from time to time. It probably would have been better for everyone if he put his car in Victory Lane more than once in 2003.

You would think with Johnson winning four straight Cup championships that he would be miles ahead of the next closest driver in race wins. That race is actually pretty tight, all things considered.
Johnson has the most wins of the decade with 47. Stewart is not all that far back in second with 34. Gordon is right behind Stewart with 33. Busch has 20 and surprisingly Kenseth has only 18 in the decade.

Photo: President Barack Obama looks under the hood of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet with three-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson at the White House. (Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Top NASCAR races of the decade

NASCAR is asking the media to pick the races of the decade and the drivers of the decade. The first decade of the 21st century was definitely a head-turner, and sometimes a head-scratcher. It saw the introduction of the Chase. And it said good-bye to Dale Earnhardt. In fact, 2001 might have had the most impact on the entire decade. The year 2004, for better or worse, changed the way NASCAR decided its champions. The decade saw the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow and saw the checkered flag drop on some great tracks filled with tradition.
Here’s a look at how I ranked the top five races of the decade:

1. Ricky Craven’s win at Darlington Raceway, March 16, 2003. Craven won the race by 0.002 seconds over Kurt Busch, the closest margin of victory in the history of Cup racing. The two cars collided on the last lap and were joined at the fenders as Craven crossed the finish line a few sparks ahead of Busch.
2. Dale Earnhardt’s last win, Oct. 15, 2000. Everyone knows his last race, but how many can recall his last win. Fittingly it came at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, where he all but perfected the art of drafting. He won two races in what would be his last season in NASCAR. His other win came at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.
3. Kevin Harvick’s first win, March 11, 2001. Harvick was tabbed to drive for Richard Childress Racing at the Cup level after Dale Earnhardt died in the Daytona 500. It was only Harvick’s third Cup start of his career. Harvick drove the No. 29 right out of the box, and no driver has donned the No. 3 on his car since.
4. Kurt Busch captures first Chase championship, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Nov. 21, 2004. Greg Biffle won the race, but Kurt Busch won the Chase. NASCAR decided to implement a playoff system called the Chase after Matt Kenseth won a lackluster championship in 2003. Kenseth won only one race in his championship season, but built up some a huge lead with consistent finishes that it left little drama in the final weeks of the season. That prompted NASCAR to make changes.
5. Dale Jr. wins at Daytona in July 2001. The Cup Series drivers returned to Daytona International Speedway five months after Dale Earnhardt died on the final lap of the season-opening Daytona 500. Conspiracy theorists cast a suspicious eye to Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning this race. Without question it was an emotional win for Junior. It was also an emotional race for everyone in it, from drivers to fans.

There were three races missing from the choices given to the media. These races had a significant impact on the decade. They might not have been the best races to watch, but they were three of the most important races of the decade.

Dale Earnhardt’s last race, Feb. 18, 2001. Dale Earnhardt died on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001. His two drivers, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr., driving for his Dale Earnhardt Inc. team, finished 1-2 with Waltrip out front. Earnhardt was in third place and had the best seat to watch his drivers. No one will ever know if he saw them actually cross the finish line though. He was spun out and crashed head-on into the turn 4 wall, never crossing the finish line himself.

NASCAR races into Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, 2001. This race was originally scheduled for Sept.16 at New Hampshire International Speedway. That of course was five days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. The race was postponed, as was almost every other major sporting event in the United States that week, and moved to the end of November. Robby Gordon won the race under the threat of snow flurries.

Jimmie Johnson all but clinches fourth straight Cup championship by winning in Phoenix, Nov. 15, 2009. Johnson won the race at Phoenix International Raceway and solidified himself among NASCAR greats. No other driver has won four Cup championships in a row. Only three other drivers have as many as four Cup championships. Say what you want about the Chase, but it shouldn’t take away from what Johnson has accomplished in the last four years of the decade.

Photo: At top, The closest finish in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series history came on March 16, 2003 at Darlington Raceway when Ricky Craven beat Kurt Busch to the finish line by .002 second. (Photo Credit: NASCAR) 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Looking back, Carl Edwards was the favorite to top Jimmie Johnson

Before the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season started, the members of the media were asked to predict the top 12 drivers in 2009. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, Jimmie Johnson was not the media’s choice to repeat again as champion.
Until someone beats him, he has to be the favorite.
What’s more telling is that Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin did not receive more support. If anything, those two drivers seemed to be the most motivated to knock Johnson off the top.
The media picked Carl Edwards to win the championship. That was a pretty bold prediction considering he didn’t win a single race in 2009 and only finished in the top three three times. The whole Roush Fenway Racing stable needs improvement. Matt Kenseth’s two wins to start the year at Daytona and Fontana and Jamie McMurray’s fluke win at Talledega were the only victories for Roush Fenway in the Sprint Cup Series.
Here’s a look at the top 12 as voted on by the media:

  1. Carl Edwards: 0-for-36 in 2009. His best finish came at Pocono Raceway in June. He was second. He wasn’t particularly impressive in the Chase either and finished 11th.
  2. Jimmie Johnson: He won an unprecedented fourth straight Sprint Cup Series championship. Chase or not, he is becoming one of the greats in NASCAR.
  3. Kyle Busch: Really? He had four Cup wins. Perhaps more telling, he had five Cup finishes of 30th or worse. Incredibly inconsistent.
  4. Jeff Gordon: Think Gordon wanted to see Johnson tie him with four Cup Series championships?
  5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: It’s easy to see why he is the most popular driver among fans, but there is no excuse for the media to be infatuated with him too.
  6. Greg Biffle: Another underachieving Roush Fenway driver. No wins and 10 top 10s in 2009. How did he make the Chase?
  7. Kevin Harvick: None of the Richard Childress Racing drivers made the Chase. Harvick not only missed the Chase, he might be missing his seat with RCR in the near future.
  8. Mark Martin: Well, at least the media didn’t pick him to finish second, again.
  9. Jeff Burton: This is the perfect spot for Burton. He makes the Chase, but doesn’t push the envelope quite enough to make a run at the championship. Typical Burton.
  10. Matt Kenseth: Roush Fenway Racing got a lot of respect, even though it ended up the team was going in reverse since February at Fontana.
  11. Denny Hamlin: The way he was racing at the end of the Chase this year, it seems like a fire is under him now. This is a bit low and he should have finished better in the poll than Busch.
  12. Tony Stewart: Stewart starting his own team probably made everyone a bit nervous. Everyone, that is, except Stewart.

Brian Vickers, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch proved the media experts wrong by making the Chase. For Vickers and Montoya, it was their first time. For Busch, it’s becoming a right of fall for him to make the Chase.
It will be interesting to see if Vickers and Montoya fall into favor this year.
What might be more interesting to see is if Dale Jr. falls out of favor.

Photo: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet battles for position with Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Penn., in June. Edwards ended up with a second-place finish, his best showing of the year, while Johnson was seventh. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Women in NASCAR

Danica Patrick won't be the the first woman to drive in NASCAR, but maybe she can help out in the stats department.
There have been 12 women who have raced in what is now the Nationwide Series. Patrick is going to be the 13th when she makes her first start, perhaps at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Diane Teel was the first woman to start a race in NASCAR's second tier division in 1982. She made 11 starts in five years and posted two top-10 finishes.
Patty Moise made 133 starts from 1986 to 1998 and had four top 10s.
Tammy Jo Kirk made 15 starts all in one season, in 2003. Unlike Moise and Teel, she never finished in the top 10.
The last woman to start a Nationwide Series race was Jennifer Jo Cobb in 2008.
As for women drivers in Cup, there have been 15 of them. Janet Guthrie made 33 starts in five years from 1976 to 1980. She posted five top 10s in those five years.
Sara Christian made seven starts in 1949 and 1950 and managed one top-five finish. She also had two top 10s.
It looks like 1949 and 1950 were boom years for women drivers in NASCAR. Six women made starts at the highest level of NASCAR in those years. In addition to Christian, Louise Smith, Ethel Mobley, Ann Chester, Ann Slaasted and Ann Bunselmeyer started at least one Cup race in 1949 or 1950.
In the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and its earlier versions, 13 women have started at least one race. Five of them raced in 2009. Chrissy Wallace, daughter of NASCAR driver Mike Wallace and niece of Rusty Wallace, made seven starts last season.

Ron Hornaday Jr. has a new crew chief

Dave Fuge, a two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion crew chief, will be Ron Hornaday Jr.'s crew chief at Kevin Harvick Inc. in 2010.
Hornaday won his fourth Truck Series championship in 2009. Fuge won two Truck Series championships as crew chief for Xpress Motorsports in 2002 and 2003. Mike Bliss and Travis Kvapil were the drivers in those years.
“For me as a car builder and a former team owner this is a dream come true,” said Fuge, on becoming a part of the KHI organization.  “This team has been able to achieve all the things I wanted to accomplish but was never able to when I was a team owner. Kevin and DeLana started this team the way I did, from the ground up and have watched it flourish. I’m proud to be able to join such a successful organization.”
Kevin Harvick Inc. also introduced Doug George as the crew chief for the team's No. 2 truck which will have a variety of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in it in 2010.
“I feel this is a really great opportunity with a world class organization,” George said. “This company has proven they can win races. To be honest I’m just really overwhelmed with the facility and the equipment they have to work with. I’m really happy to be here and I can’t wait to get started on 2010. I’m looking forward to great things.” 
George recently served as crew chief for Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola for Billy Ballew Motorsports in the Truck Series.
“I think both Dave and Doug will be great additions to our organization,” said KHI co-owner Harvick. “The West Coast connection between all three of our crew chiefs is a really neat tie. Dave comes to us with championship experience and I believe that will continue to be a championship winning team. Doug also comes to us with extensive knowledge of the sport and will be a good match to keep that team competitive. I think the chemistry between all three of our crew chiefs will bring KHI to an entirely new level of success.”
Harvick, Hornaday, George, Fuge, Rick Carelli, the general manager for Kevin Harvick Inc., and Ernie Cope, the crew chief for Harvick's Nationwide Series team, all raced against each in what is now the NASCAR Camping World West Series.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kimball joins Andretti Autosport

Charlie Kimball, a driver from Camarillo, will race for Michael Andretti’s team in the Firestone Indy Lights Series starting in 2010.
Kimball, 24, finished his rookie season 10th in the Indy Lights standings in 2009. He had two top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 15 starts.
“I’m very excited to be joining AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport for 2010,” Kimball said. “I learned a lot about the Firestone Indy Lights as a rookie this year and am looking forward to leveraging that experience into a run for the championship in 2010.”
Kimball joins Martin Plowman from Emgland on the AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport team.
Kimball has made one previous start for Andretti Autosport, in the A1GP series under the team USA banner in 2008.
“We’re excited to bring Charlie on board with AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport for 2010,” Andretti said. “He is a great guy and a driver that has a lot of potential. He was a pleasure to work with at Zandvoort back in 2008 and we’re looking forward to watching him develop next season.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Danica isn't the hottest girl in NASCAR

With Danica Patrick officially set to make her NASCAR debut, the big question is when will she win her first race. Time will only tell when that might happen.
As for the questions on the minds of NASCAR fans in 2009, put together a list of the top 10. Most had nothing to do with racing. Two had to do with girlfriends of Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
How NASCAR drivers go to the bathroom was the top question. For the record, they go like everyone else – in a urinal.
Other questions included: What does NASCAR stand for and how do you become a NASCAR driver. NASCAR is the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. As for becoming a NASCAR driver, it’s as easy as buying a late model car, putting in a roll cage and finding a little bullring to race it at. Be forewarned, becoming a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver is no easy feat and racing at your local bullring can easily become a very expensive habit. also compiled a list of questions about the girlfriends and wives of some of the top NASCAR drivers.
If the questions are any indication, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not only the most popular driver in NASCAR, he is also the most sought after.
Here is a list of the drivers who garnered the most attention:
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2. Tony Stewart
3. Kasey Kahne
4. Kyle Busch
5. Michael Waltrip
6. Carl Edwards
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Jeff Gordon
9. Robby Gordon
10. Joey Logano
What do you know? Finally list of top NASCAR drivers that doesn’t include Jimmie Johnson.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rick Ren, Kevin Harvick Inc., part ways

Rick Ren, the crew chief for Ron Hornaday's championship NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team, has left Kevin Harvick Inc., according to a release by the team.
“Ron and Rick have been a powerful combination over the last few years in the Truck Series,” said KHI co-owner Kevin Harvick. "With success comes opportunity and we wish him well in the next step of his career."

Ren is expected to pursue management opportunities in NASCAR, according to the release. Ren led Hornaday to his fourth Truck Series championship and a Truck Series record five wins in a row in 2009. Hornaday also won the Truck Series championship in 2007, 1998 and 1996.
“We have put together a solid foundation with our Truck Series program from top to bottom,” Harvick said. “The guy behind the wheel is the catalyst of everything that has turned this into a championship-caliber team and I feel confident that our program will continue to be successful.”
Harvick said he will announce the next crew chief for Hornaday's team as early as next week.

Photo: Ron Hornaday Jr. and team owner Kevin Harvick celebrate Hornaday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship and Harvick's Ford 200 win at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The championship is Hornaday's fourth in the series and the second for Kevin Harvick Inc. (Photo Credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Tommy Johnson back in NHRA

Tommy Johnson posted on his LinkedIn page that he will be driving for Don Schumacher Racing's National Hot Rod Assn. top fuel team.
The team has yet to release any information and team sources said the deal is unofficial.
Johnson last raced full time in the NHRA in 2008, when he finished 18th in the funny car standings. He updated his LinkedIn profile on Wednesday to say he is a top fuel driver for Don Schumacher Racing.
Don Schumacher Racing has two teams in the top fuel division. Tony Schumacher recently won his sixth top fuel championship in a row and his seventh overall. Cory McClenathan finished third in the 2009 NHRA top fuel standings.
Don Schumacher Racing also has a three-car funny car team with Ron Capps, Jack Beckman and Matt Hagan as drivers.
Johnson, who has won 10 NHRA races in his career in funny cars and top fuel, is married to NHRA driver and drag racer Melanie Troxel.

Photo: Tommy Johnson posted on his LinkedIn page that is going to race in the NHRA top fuel division for Don Schumacher Racing. (NHRA)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Patrick promotes, Johnson takes care of fans

While talk and Tweets of Danica Patrick’s return to the Indy Racing League for another three years, and her deafening silence on her plans for NASCAR, circulated from TVs, PDAs and PCs, Jimmie Johnson was visiting his childhood school in El Cajon to award grants from his foundation to 11 schools in the San Diego area.
Patrick has created quite a buzz with her impending entrance into the stock car arena. She is reportedly close to a deal with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Nationwide Series team, JR Motorsports. The details have yet to surface, but her potential move into NASCAR is already creating a stir.
How well she will perform is anybody’s guess. But if history is any indication, it won’t be an easy transition. The only driver who has been able to make a seamless switch from IRL to NASCAR is Tony Stewart. It took Juan Pablo Montoya three years to become a top 10 driver, a Chase driver. It chewed up and spit out Dario Franchitti. Sam Hornish Jr. is in the way more than he is out front these days.
Patrick will have her struggles in NASCAR, even at the Nationwide Series level. But unlike Hornish, Franchitti and even Montoya, Patrick will draw attention. Even if the curiosity level is to see when she crashes and who she takes out, the interest will be there. Montoya is starting to draw that kind of attention, but it took time to build. Patrick has that already established. She will be a topic of conversation, on TV and in cyberspace, every time she gets in a stock car.
As for Johnson, he is doing some pretty amazing things this week. It must feel like Groundhog Day to him, this being his fourth time making the NASCAR championship rounds. His week started today with a visit to Crest Elementary School in El Cajon, the elementary school he attended.
He will make visits to the Camp Pendleton Marine base and a Lowe’s store in Santee to visit with fans and supporters before heading out to Las Vegas for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series awards banquet this weekend.
He will also mix in visits to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and Las Vegas Motor Speedway before Friday’s award ceremonies at Wynn’s Las Vegas.
It’s a lot of pomp and circumstance, but Johnson is making an effort to give back to his community and his fans. His visit to Crest Elementary will end up doing more good than any NASCAR race Patrick decides to enter.
As much criticism as Johnson has received since taking the lead and winning his fourth Chase in a row, he deserves the same amount of praise for going out of his way to do some good deeds this week.

Photo: Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson holds his Tiffany-made Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup trophy 103 floors and 1,454 feet above Manhattan on Tuesday -- Jimmie Johnson Day -- in New York City. (Photo Credit: Empire State Building)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How Dale Jr. Got the Bird: A One-Act Play

Thanksgiving with the Hendricks
How Dale Jr. Got the Bird

Opening scene: It’s Thanksgiving day at the home of Rick Hendrick. There are two tables set for dinner. The adult table has places for Rick Hendrick, Jimmie Johnson, his wife Chandra, Jeff Gordon, his wife Ingrid, Mark Martin and his wife Arlene. The kids tables has three seats, one for Matt, Mark’s son, Ella, Jeff’s daughter, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Everyone is seated except for Dale Jr. who hasn’t arrived yet.

Rick: Everything looks great. What did everyone bring?

Jeff: I wanted to put together this great cranberry relish recipe I found, but it looked a little too fattening to Ingrid. You have to add so much sugar to cranberries to make them taste good.

Rick: No cranberries, then?

Jeff: Nope. We were looking for something healthy and easy to make. I can’t believe NASCAR has us racing until the middle of November. We’re not machines. It doesn’t give us any time to put together something nice for Thanksgiving.

Rick: So what did you make?

Jeff: Celery sticks. And carrot sticks.

Rick: Oh! Well, that’s nice. Definitely easy.

Jeff: And nutritious. You know, you actually burn more calories chewing celery than the actual calories in the celery. At least that’s what Ingrid told me.

Rick: That’s good to know. How about you, Mark? What did you bring?

Mark: Pies. Lots of pies.

Rick: Ooooh! I love pumpkin pie.

Mark: I didn’t bring pumpkin. I brought a custard pie.

Rick: Custard? That’s nice.

Mark: I also brought an apple pie, a cherry pie and a sweet potato pie.

Rick: But no pumpkin?

Mark: Everyone loves pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. But you know what? Custard is good too. It might be the second favorite pie for Thanksgiving, but it doesn’t mean it’s not good. Just because it’s second-best doesn’t mean people hate it.

Rick: If anything, custard pie is the second-best Thanksgiving pie.

Mark: That’s right. Nothing wrong with being No. 2. For some people, custard pie is No. 1. I like custard pie. I like it better than pumpkin pie. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Rick: Yes, Mark, you’re probably not the only one.

(Ding-dong! The doorbell rings. Rick gets up from the table to answer the door.)

Rick: Hi Dale. Glad you could join us.

Dale: Sorry for being late. I got held up shooting an Amp Energy drink commercial.

Jimmie: You’d think by now you’d get tired of coming in last.

Dale: I was never last.

Jimmie: Oh, that’s right. You were 25th. It went one (pointing at himself), two (pointing at Mark), three (pointing to Jeff), 25 (pointing to Dale). How was the view from there?

Rick: That’s enough. Did you bring anything for dinner, Dale?

Dale: I was supposed to bring something? Nobody told me.

Rick: Don’t worry about it, Dale. There’s plenty for everyone. Besides, it’s not the first time you haven’t brought anything to the table.

Dale: Where do I sit?

Rick: At the kids table.

Dale: The kids table? I’m not sitting there.

Rick: At this point, you’re lucky to have a seat in my house. Maybe next year we can find a better place for you.

(Dale Jr. reluctantly takes his seat at the kids table. Rick returns to his seat at the adult table.)

Rick: So what about you Jimmie? What did you bring?

Jimmie: Mashed potatoes.

Rick: Spicy mashed potatoes? With little jalapenos in them? I love peppers. I hear that’s how they make them down where you grew up.

Jimmie: No. No jalapenos.

Rick: Garlic mashed potatoes? With little pieces of the peel left in? Those are good too.

Jimmie: No. No garlic. Just mashed potatoes.

Rick: How ‘bout gravy? Did you make some gravy? Turkey gravy? Or maybe mushroom gravy? I love gravy.

Jimmie: No gravy. Just mashed potatoes. Plain, white mashed potatoes.

Rick: Well, ummmm, that’s nice.

Jimmie: And look, they’re in the biggest bowl on the table.

Rick: Yes, that’s a lot of mashed potatoes. A lot of flavorless, boring mashed potatoes.

Jimmie: What?

Rick: Nothing. They look great. Everything looks great. Let’s cut the turkey. Dale, would you please come here and do the honors? Everyone, we had a great year. Jimmie’s fourth Cup championship in a row was awesome. We finished 1-2-3, the first team to ever do that in the history of NASCAR. Next year, we’ll have Dale Jr. in the mix. Until then, let’s enjoy Thanksgiving and our time together. Dale, it’s a shame you weren’t in the Chase this year. That shouldn’t happen. We can make you better. It’s going to be better next year. For now, Dale, the best I can do for you is let you have first crack at the turkey. This bird’s for you.

(The scene closes with Dale Jr. cutting the turkey and Rick handing out plates to everyone at the table. Jeff makes a plate for Ella and Matt walks over to stand next to Dale Jr. as he cuts the turkey. Everyone is happy, except for Dale Jr., who sheepishly grins while cutting slice after slice of turkey.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

The NASCAR top 10

Jimmie Johnson has done what no other NASCAR driver has done: win four Cup championships in a row. But where does that place him in the list of all-time great NASCAR drivers?
He is one of the great ones now. He probably was one before his fourth Cup championship in row. He was asked after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway how his streak stacks up among the greats.
“I think it’s up there,” Johnson said. “You know, the fact that nobody has done this, I think it puts me near the top. I certainly look at the seven championships by both Earnhardt and Petty, their race wins, their being in the sport for the number of years and all that they’ve done, those two guys are kind of at a draw at the top.”
You won’t get much debate from anyone that Richard Petty is No. 1 and Dale Earnhardt is No. 2.
From there though, it gets a little dicey. Here’s a look at how I would rank the top-10 NASCAR drivers off all-time.

1. Richard Petty
2. Dale Earnhardt
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Cale Yarborough
5. Jeff Gordon
6. Darrell Waltrip
7. Junior Johnson
8. Bobby Allison
9. Neil Bonnett
10. Harry Gant

Petty and Earnhardt’s seven championships separate them from the rest of the field. Johnson has four and is tied with Gordon for No. 2 on that list. Yarborough’s three championships in a row are incredibly impressive considering who he was racing against at the time.
Waltrip is on the list because he has become the most recognizable voice in NASCAR. His racing career has almost taken a back seat to his commentary.
Junior Johnson was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan for a moonshining conviction. If that doesn’t scream NASCAR, nothing does.
Allison is one of the founding members of the Alabama Gang. That alone puts him among the NASCAR elite.
Bonnett only won 18 races in 18 years of NASCAR racing. One of them was the Los Angeles Times 500 in 1977.
Gant was the Mark Martin of his day, known for finishing second in NASCAR championships. He does have one of the more impressive records in NASCAR though. He won four races in a row in 1991. All totaled he won six races in September of 1991, four in Cup and two in the old Busch Series.
Jimmie Johnson has a chance to move up in this list. So does Gordon. It will all come down to championships. But both Gordon and Johnson have a lot of work to do if they want to catch Petty and Earnhardt.
“Hopefully my stats and win totals and championship totals can rival theirs,” Johnson said. “But it puts us up there, it really does. And the cool thing is we’re not done yet. We’ve got a lot of racing left ahead of us. So hopefully we can improve on that."

Photo: Jimmie Johnson holds up four fingers to signify his unprecedented four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships. (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR) 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Schumacher vs. Johnson: It's no contest

Brad Keselowski is supposed to be the newest NASCAR super villain and all is right with the NASCAR world.
But what has Keselowski done? Won one race? Become the most avoided driver in NASCAR?
NASCAR doesn’t need a super villain. Jimmie Johnson needs a worthy adversary, a rival, a challenger.
After spending the weekend covering the National Hot Rod Assn. Auto Club Finals in Pomona, it is clear that a rivalry does exist there and it’s fueling the top fuel class.
Tony Schumacher and Larry Dixon have a great rivalry brewing. Schumacher has won six straight top fuel championships. Dixon has finished second to Schumacher three times in that span. The latest showdown between the two came down to the semifinals of the last race of the year. Schumacher won by two points, the closest margin of victory in NHRA history.
“It was a classic example of a bases loaded, bottom of the ninth situation,” Schumacher said. “We needed to come up with the big hit and that’s exactly what happened.”
Add to the rivalry that Schumacher’s crew chief, Alan Johnson, left to lead Dixon’s team, and the intrigue increases.
Schumacher has dominated the top fuel class the same way Johnson has dominated the Sprint Cup Series. The only difference is Schumacher has done it longer and under more adverse circumstances. One year Schumacher had to win out in the season finale and set a national record to win the top fuel championship. He did both.

Johnson has not had to perform under such conditions. It’s no fault of his. The rest of the Sprint Cup Series field is just not good enough to challenge Johnson. This year, like most years in the Chase, is over before the season finale in Miami because Johnson built up such a huge lead.
He had one bad Chase race, won four Chase races, and no one else even came close to matching him. His one bad race came at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago, and Johnson is trying to sell that race as a reason for not celebrating too soon.
“Luckily Texas is still really close in my mind and something that I think about,” Johnson said. “And because of what happened in Texas I’m just not letting my guard down. I’m not letting my mind wander and think about the ‘what ifs.’ I'm trying to keep the same focus and mindset that I had in Phoenix. Things obviously went really well there for us.”
Johnson needs to finish 25th or better at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win the Cup championship. Even though he’s not admitting it, he should have no problem being in the top 25 at Miami.
“I am just dying to get in the race car,” Johnson said. “I’m pouring through my notes. I’ve driven hundreds of laps in my mind before I go to bed each night, worrying about qualifying trim, worrying about race trim, all the things I can do to prepare myself on my side. I’m there.”
Schumacher has won his championships with Dixon close on his heels. He’s done it with a different crew chief, having to break records and making clutch runs in the most pressure-packed situations.
“Of all of the championships, this one ranks pretty far up there,” Schumacher said. “Nobody expected us to win a race no less a title. Boy, did we prove them all wrong. I'm already looking forward to the 2010 season.”
The interesting things is, the NHRA could manufacture an element of the Schumacher-Dixon rivalry, but either haven’t noticed it or choose not to notice it.
Schumacher is sponsored by the U.S. Army. Dixon’s team is funded by a sheik from Qatar. There has never been a better time for a natural rivalry between the United States and an Arab nation. But the NHRA isn’t going there. It doesn’t have to. Schumacher and Dixon have a great rivalry without any added manufacturing.
Keselowski is not the savior NASCAR is looking for. He’s not good enough to challenge Johnson. But that’s not a knock on Keselowski. No one in the Sprint Cup Series is good enough to challenge Johnson.

Photo: At top, Tony Schumacher has won six straight NHRA top fuel championships. (NHRA)

At bottom, Jimmie Johnson celebrates winning the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil at Phoenix International Raceway, his seventh victory of 2009. Johnson is on the verge of winning his fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. (Photo Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Schumacher earns another championship --

Seeing Tony Schumacher wearing one of his National Hot Rod Assn. top-fuel championship leather jackets during breakfast Sunday morning didn't look too much out of place. It was a pretty chilly morning for the NHRA season finale at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.

Had it been 100 degrees, Schumacher probably still would have worn one of his six championship jackets. Schumacher, with a hint of premonition, a sprinkle of confidence and proudly donning a reminder of his drag racing dominance, addressed friends and sponsors in the garage area before driver introductions.

Schumacher added to his championship collection and his wardrobe by winning the top-fuel championship by the slimmest of margins.

Schumacher earns another championship --

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Photo: Tony Schumacher celebrates his seventh NHRA top-fuel championship at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.

Brown wins NHRA top fuel final at Pomona

Antron Brown beat rookie Spencer Massey in the National Hot Rod Assn. top fuel final at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Sunday. It was his sixth top fuel win of the season.

Mike Neff won the first NHRA funny car race of his career, defeating Ashley Force Hood in the final race.

Greg Anderson won the pro stock final race, beating Kurt Johnson.

Eddie Krawiec beat Doug Horne in the pro stock motorcycle final.

Brown wins NHRA top fuel final at Pomona

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Is it time for John Force to put it in park?

John Force is in the twilight of his career. But he says he won’t retire from drag racing before his team bus retires from the road.
Make no mistake, his bus is on its last wheel. It leaks oil, the refrigerator door handle is broken, the generator under the toilet doesn’t always work and Force isn’t even sure how to fix it if he could find it.
But when a reporter suggested it's time for Force to pass the torch, he took offense. Force said it was the first time he was mad at the media. Force is a pretty excitable fellow. It’s hard to tell when he’s mad because most of his interviews and conversations are dominated with shouting bursts about everything from his partnership with Castrol to his drag racing daughters.
After Force posted the top qualifying time at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Friday, he came into the press box to talk about his run and his season.
“The credit goes to the brain-trust Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly. John Medlen came over to work on our car. We had Dean Antonelli and Ron Douglas help Jimmy Prock and then Jimmy came over and helped us,” Force said. “What we created was a group that worked together. They got me out of my embarrassing situation.”
He couldn’t help but laugh at himself. The only times he’s been in the press box to talk to the media this year has been when Ashley Force Hood, his daughter, or Robert Hight, his newly crowned funny car champion driver, set a top qualifying time or won a race.
Force Hood and Hight have done their share of winning this year. Hight added a 16th NHRA championship to Force’s collection as a driver and owner. Force has won 14 of those NHRA championships as a driver.
But the wins are few and far between these days for Force. Even though he captured the top qualifying time for a day, he called his 2009 season one of his worst. Statistically speaking, it was one of the worst seasons of his career. For the first time in 22 years, he did not win a race.
“Right now there is a lot of focus just trying to get me back in the game,” Force said. “Castrol pays good money. This is the second worst season I have had since I started.”
His worst season is actually one of two. He ran only five races and won only one round in 1980. He ran five races, did not qualify for two of them and won only two rounds in 1981. Both were equally bad.
He made the Countdown to One playoffs in 2009, but he was hardly a factor, a distant ninth place in the final standings.
Force says he is working on a deal that would keep him in his funny car for another five years. The 60-year-old driver says he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.
There’s no doubt his team puts together quality cars for its drivers. Mike Neff, the fourth driver at John Force Racing, broke through with the first win of his NHRA career Sunday at Auto Club Raceway Pomona. Hight and Force Hood are testaments to how good the John Force Racing cars can run.
How well John Force can run is another question.

Photo: Ashley Force Hood won two races and finished second in the NHRA funny car standings in 2009. Her dad, John Force, did not win a race for the first time in 22 years.

Larry Dixon finishes second in NHRA top fuel standings

Larry Dixon finished two points behind Tony Schumacher in the NHRA top fuel standings.
He said he was "disappointed" to be the runner up in the top fuel standings, but he is optimistic about racing in 2010.
His new team, Al-Anabi Racing, won five events in 2009. Dixon said his team will be in good shape for years to come.

Don Schumacher says qualifying led to NHRA championship

Don Schumacher, the owner of Tony Schumacher's NHRA top fuel team, said his son's qualifying run on Saturday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona was the difference in winning a sixth straight top fuel championship.
Tony Schumacher won his seventh top fuel championship and his first with crew chief Mike Green.

Tony Schumacher wins NHRA top fuel championship

Tony Schumacher won his seventh National Hot Rod Assn. top fuel championship and his sixth in a row at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Sunday.
While waiting for his semifinal run against Antron Brown, he watched from his car as Spencer Massey beat Larry Dixon in the other semifinal race. Dixons loss secured the championship for Schumacher, who won by two points.
Schumacher took over the lead in the top fuel standings on Saturday. He posted the top qualifying time and earned three points in the top fuel standings. That gave him a two-point lead heading into the elimination rounds at Pomona.
Schumacher and Dixon won their first two races, but each lost in the semifinals.

Hight eliminated in NHRA funny cars at Pomona

Robert Hight, who won his first NHRA funny car championship on Saturday, was eliminated in the second round at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Sunday.
Tim Wilkerson beat Hight to advance to the semifinals. Wilkerson will face Mike Neff.
The other semifinal will pit Ashley Force Hood, the top qualifier, against Ron Capps.

Hight eliminated in NHRA funny cars at Pomona

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McClenathan out; Schumacher, Dixon advance to NHRA top fuel semis

McClenathan out; Schumacher, Dixon advance to NHRA top fuel semis

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Robert Hight completes unlikely run to funny car championship --

Robert Hight completes unlikely run to funny car championship --

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Ashley Force Hood moves on to second round of NHRA finals at Pomona

Ashley Force Hood, the top qualifier in NHRA funny cars, advanced to the second round at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Sunday. She beat Bob Bode in the first round.
She will face Del Worsham in the second round.

Ashley Force Hood moves on to second round of NHRA finals at Pomona

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Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon advance to second round of NHRA finals in Pomona

Tony Schumacher, top, has a two-point lead over Larry Dixon in the NHRA top fuel standings. Both drivers won their first-round races at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Sunday.

Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon advance to second round of NHRA finals in Pomona

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Robert Hight wins NHRA funny car championship

Robert Hight won the NHRA funny car championship during qualifying on Saturday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
He was the last driver to earn a spot in the Countdown to One playoffs. He went on to win three of the first five of the NHRA Countdown to One playoff races.
He was the third-fastest qualifier and will face Jerry Toliver in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
During his post-qualifying interviews, Hight made reference to Eric Medlen, his one-time teammate at John Force Racing. Medlen was killed in a crash preparing for a race.

Ashley Force Hood bumps John Force out of top spot in NHRA funny cars

In the tightest qualifying session of the day, Ashley Force Hood knocked her dad, John Force, out of the top qualifying spot on the fourth and final session at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Saturday.
Force Hood and her dad had identical elapsed times of 4.059 seconds, but Force Hood won the top qualifying spot with a top speed of 310.55 mph, a track record.
Force Hood will face Bob Bode in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.

Mike Edwards wins NHRA pro stock championship

Mike Edwards won the NHRA pro stock championship after the first qualifying session at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Saturday. Edwards went on to clinch the top spot in qualifying. He will face Larry Morgan in the first round of eliminations.

Hector Arana top qualifier in NHRA pro stock motorcycles

Hector Arana set a track record in elapsed time and top speed in NHRA pro stock motorcycle qualifying at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Saturday. He will face Bailey Whitaker in the first round.
Arana is the leader in the NHRA pro stock motorcycle standings. Eddie Krawiec in second in the pro stock motorcycle standings and qualified fourth for the elimination rounds.
Krawiec will face Steve Johnson in the first round.

Mike Edwards wins NHRA pro stock championship in qualifying

Mike Edwards wins NHRA pro stock championship in qualifying

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Mike Edwards won the National Hot Rod Assn. pro stock championship during qualifying. His time of 6.575 seconds from Friday’s session held up during today's qualifying round. Ron Krishner and Jason Line posted identical 6.587 second runs, the second-fastest efforts in qualifying.

NHRA driver Chris Karamesines not showing his age

Chris Karamesines started drag racing in 1952. That much is certain. He celebrated a birthday on Nov. 11. Which birthday exactly is anyone’s guess.
According to National Hot Rod Assn. records, it was his 79th birthday. It could be his 81st. When asked about his age, Karamesines said it’s probably best to go with the oldest. He’s not about to reveal his real age.
While his age remains a mystery, his place in NHRA history is cemented. He was the first drag racer to break the 200 mph barrier back in 1960. It was nearly four years before Don Garlits and Frank Cannon, legendary drag racers, were able to go faster than 200 mph. Karamesines has three career runner-up finishes in nearly 60 years of NHRA drag racing, but has never won a race. In 2001, he was named one of the top 50 drivers in NHRA history.
Karamesines was the 10th fastest top fuel qualifier on Friday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. He laid down a lap at 308.57 mph and 3.897 seconds.
After the run, a piston burned up in his car and his team had to push it back to the garage area for repairs. Normally his crew consists of three guys. He has a little more help this weekend, but not enough to keep Karamesines from rebuilding his own engine on Saturday morning.
His hands were covered in grease and oil as his replaced the pistons in his car’s engine. He doesn’t shake hands, preferring to fist pump. It is a greeting formed out of necessity, quick and seamless as he returns to working on his engine.
“It was good to come out here and make a good run in front of all my friends,” said Karamesines, a driver from Chicago. It was much better than Thursday’s run, when he didn’t even get on the track.
Karamesines said his goal is to make it to the first round and see what happens from there.
“I’ve done it so long, it’s in your blood,” Karamesines said. “I enjoy going to the races and I enjoy racing.”

Larry Dixon sets Pomona track record in NHRA top-fuel qualifying --

Larry Dixon sets Pomona track record in NHRA top-fuel qualifying --

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Larry Dixon set a track record at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona and took over the lead in the National Hot Rod Assn. top-fuel standings.

Dixon has a one-point lead over Tony Schumacher after recording the fastest top-fuel time in qualifying Friday for the season-ending NHRA Finals. His speed of 318.99 mph was a track record and his time of 3.801 seconds was 0.008 of a second better than Spencer Massey, the second-fastest qualifier.

"The last time I was in Pomona, I didn't race on Sunday," said Dixon, a Van Nuys High graduate and two-time NHRA top-fuel champion. "We definitely got a better start to the weekend. I'm excited to see how it turns out."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Larry Dixon takes over lead in NHRA top fuel standings

Larry Dixon took over the lead in the NHRA top fuel standings and set a track record in qualifying on Friday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
The last time the NHRA was in Pomona, in for the season opener in February, Dixon did not qualify for the elimination rounds on Sunday. For the time being, he has the fastest car with one more day of qualifying to go.
He is also in pursuit of his third NHRA top fuel championship. He holds a one-point lead over Tony Schumacher, a six-time NHRA top fuel champion and winner of the past five top fuel championships.

NHRA funny car driver John Force has plenty left in the tank

NHRA funny car driver John Force was the top qualifier on Friday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
The 14-time NHRA champion talked about being near the end of his career and if he is considering retiring. He was asked if one of his John Force Racing drivers wins the funny car championship this year, will he pass the torch and retire. Robert Hight leads the funny car standings. Forces daughter, Ashley Force Hood, is second the funny car standings. Both are drivers for John Force Racing.
The 60-year-old Force took exception to the question. He is not ready to retire and said he is working on a deal that would keep him in a car for the next five years.

Jack Beckman racing for second place in NHRA standings

Jack Beckman came into the NHRA races at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona with a mathematical shot at winning the funny car championship. He is in fourth place and would need a lot of help to leap frog his way to the top of the funny car standings.
He said realistically, he is racing for second place. The driver from Norco was the eighth fastest qualifier after Fridays session. John Force was the top qualifier, followed by Robert Hight, the leader in the funny car standings.
Beckman, a driver for Don Schumacher Racing, said he has a car that can win the season finale at Pomona, but he is concentrating on staying ahead of Ashley Force Hood and Tony Pedregon, the two drivers ahead of him in the funny car standings.

Mike Edwards stays on top of NHRA pro stock qualifying

Mike Edwards improved his top time in the NHRA pro stock qualifying on Friday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. His time of 6.575 seconds was 0.36 seconds better than the second fastest qualifier.
Edwards has a comfortable cushion, but he said he thinks he needs to go even faster on the final day of qualifying to maintain his top spot.
Allen Johnson was second in qualifying at 6.611 seconds, followed by Rodger Brogdon in third at 6.621 seconds.
Edwards, the leader in the pro stock standings, added three points to his lead for being the fastest qualifier.

Karen Stoffer remains top qualifier in NHRA pro stock motorcycles

Karen Stoffer remained the top qualifier in NHRA pro stock motorcycles on Friday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. She did not best her time of 6.982 seconds set on Thursday, but no other riders were able to set a faster run either.
Four riders are in the 6.98 range after the second day of qualifying. Andrew Hines is the second fastest qualifier at 6.986 seconds. Larry Cook is third at 6.987 seconds and Douglas Horne is fourth at 6.989 seconds.
Stoffer, a graduate of St. Genevieve High School in Sun Valley, is seventh in the NHRA pro stock standings.

NHRA leaders post top qualifying times

It was a good day of qualifying Thursday for the leaders in the National Hot Rod Assn. top fuel, funny car and pro stock standings.
Tony Schumacher doubled his lead in the top fuel standings. Don’t get too excited. His lead went from one point to two. Schumacher was the top driver on the first day of qualifying for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
"Seriously, this is an intense deal going on right now,” Schumacher said. “Every lap we make this weekend carries so much importance. We want to leave nothing on the table."
Larry Dixon was the second fastest qualifier, followed by Doug Kalitta. Schumacher earned three points for being the top qualifier. Dixon, a Van Nuys High graduate, earned two points and Kalitta earned one.
Cory McClenathan, who is third in the top fuel standings and within striking distance, 51 points out of first, was the fourth fastest qualifier.
In funny car, Robert Hight added to his 105-point lead with the top qualifying run. He has a 108-point lead over John Force Racing teammate, Ashley Force Hood. Mike Neff, another John Force Racing driver, was the second fastest qualifier, followed by Jack Beckman of Norco and a driver for Don Schumacher Racing.
“We need to stay focused,” Hight said. “This is what we have worked for. We’ve earned it and we deserve it. It is not over yet. He wants us to get out there and work hard but have some fun. That is what we are doing now.”
Force Hood was the eighth fastest qualifier.
Mike Edwards, the leader in the pro stock standings, was the top qualifier. But he was only able to extend his lead by one point as Greg Anderson, the second place driver in the pro stock standings, was the second-fastest qualifier. Roger Brogdon was the third fastest qualifier.
The biggest surprise came in the pro stock motorcycle qualifying. Karen Stoffer, a graduate of St. Genevieve High School in Sun Valley, was the top qualifier in pro stock motorcycle. She is seventh in the pro stock motorcycle standings.
"Were looking for a win," Stoffer said. "There's no question about it. A victory would be the best way to go into the off-season."
Andrew Hines was the second fastest qualifier, followed by Hector Arana, the leader in the pro stock motorcycle standings.

Photo: Tony Schumacher doubled his lead in the NHRA top fuel standings after recording the top speed on the first day of qualifying on Thursday at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Three out of four NHRA drivers ain't bad

National Hot Rod Assn. drivers Tony Schumacher, Cory McClenathan and Robert Hight spent Wednesday at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Pasadena talking about this weekend’s drag races at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona.
Larry Dixon, a Van Nuys High graduate and two-time NHRA top fuel champion, was supposed to be at the luncheon too, but his plane was delayed and he did not make it on time.
Schumacher, who holds a slim one-point lead over Dixon in the top fuel standings, was asked if he thought it was God’s plan to have Dixon’s plane to stay lost until Sunday.
“That’s my plan,” Schumacher said. “That’s not God’s plan. I don’t think he does that to anybody.”
The tightest NHRA championship race is in the top fuel division. Three drivers are still in contention. In addition to Schumacher and Dixon, McClenathan is in the hunt, in third place and 48 points out of the lead. McClenathan and Schumacher are teammates at Don Schumacher Racing.
“We’ve won two championships coming back that far,” Schumacher said. “It’s definitely not out of reach. It’s wide open. It’s going to be a stout battle. He’s got two good cars ahead of him. But he can be assured that these two cars ahead of him are going to be going for it on Sunday morning, and all kinds of things happen. If we can’t get it done, we sure hope he does.”
McClenathan has been the runner-up in the top fuel division four times in his NHRA career, but has never won a top fuel championship.
“But it is one of those things where you come back to a race, the final of the season, and it’s going to be the last race, and Tony has been here before, too, and won the whole thing, set a record to do it and went on to win the championship that day. So anything can happen,” McClenathan said. “I mean, I don’t wish anything bad for my teammate, but if something goes on, I’d sure like to know that he’s got my back, too, and I know he does.”
Hight has a comfortable 105-point lead in the funny car standings. His John Force Racing teammate, Ashley Force Hood, is in second place in the funny car standings.
“You know, Ashley Force, my teammate, she’s had a great race car all year long, and then they just stumbled last weekend, and it ended up being some parts problem,” Hight said. “That’s the kind of stuff that can keep us from winning this weekend. So we’ve got to stay focused and just worry about every run and do our best because it’s not that easy. These cars are tough. There’s a lot of tough competition, and just do our best to try to get qualified. That’s No. 1 for us right now.”

Photo: Tony Schumacher has a one-point lead over Larry Dixon in the NHRA top fuel standings entering the season-finale event at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. (NHRA)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ashley Force Hood's five favorite songs

National Hot Rod Assn. funny car driver Ashley Force Hood was the latest personality to serve as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. She was in studio with DJ Raul Campos to talk about the five songs that inspired her through her racing career and her life.

Here are her five songs:

Gavin Rossdale: "Adrenaline"

Foo Fighters: "Best of You"

Garth Brooks: "The Dance"

Sting: "Fields of Gold"

Thomas Newman: "Orchard House"

To listen to the broadcast, download the podcast and hear the songs, go to KCRW 89.9 FM.

Photo: Ashley Force Hood was a guest DJ on KCRW 89.9 FM. She will be racing at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona this weekend in the final event of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Credit: NHRA

Ashley Force Hood's five favorite songs

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Little payoff for auto racing playoffs

Playoffs are not good for auto racing. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase has been dominated by Jimmie for four straight years. It probably cost Tony Stewart a championship this year. It cost Jeff Gordon at least two since the Chase started.
The National Hot Rod Assn. Countdown to One playoffs aren’t much better.
Sure, it’s created what can described as a winner-take-all weekend in the top fuel division at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Tony Schumacher leads Larry Dixon by one point with one race remaining.
The other three divisions, funny car, pro stock and pro stock motorcycle, lack that kind of suspense.
Robert Hight has a 105-point lead in the funny car standings over Ashley Force Hood. Mike Edwards is safely in the lead in the pro stock standings, 139 points head of Greg Anderson.
Hector Arana has some work to do in the pro stock motorcycle division, but still holds a 54-point lead over Ed Krawiec.
The one NHRA driver who should be the biggest critic of the Countdown format is funny car driver Ron Capps.
He won five funny car events, the most of any funny car driver, and had the lead in the funny car standings in the first 18 regular season races. But once the Countdown started, he dropped to fifth place with little chance of winning the funny car championship.
“Obviously, the opportunity to win a championship this year is pretty slim,” said Capps, a driver for Don Schumacher Racing. “But, I have to tell you, I am focused on ending the season like we did last year at this event. We went to the final round and had the quickest car. We also won here in the first race of this season, and now we have a very good chance of finishing No. 2 in the points.”
Hight has put together one of the best Countdown runs, winning three of the first five races, but he has little business leading the funny car standings at this point in the season.
“To have a 105 point lead going into Pomona it gives you a lot of confidence,” Hight said. “It is still not over. I think the only (teams) that really has a chance are Ashley along with Tony (Pedregon) and (Jack) Beckman.”
The chances of one of those three drivers, Force Hood, Pedregon or Beckman, catching Hight in Pomona are remote. In the history of the Countdown, no funny car driver has lost his lead heading into the finals at Pomona. It’s unlikely it will happen again.
Auto racing playoffs create paper champions. The winner of an auto racing championship should be rewarded for an entire season of success, not six or 10 races at the end of the year.
Johnson has done amazing things in the Chase.
Hight put together one of the best Countdown runs in the history of the NHRA.
But neither had stellar regular seasons. Hight’s was near disastrous and qualified for the Countdown by the skin of his teeth.
Yet, both are on the verge of winning auto racing championships. It doesn’t reflect well on the auto racing season when only a handful of races at the end are all that really matter.

Photo: Ron Capps won five NHRA funny car races, but is fifth in the Countdown to One standings with one race remaining. (NHRA)

Monday, November 9, 2009

22 is magic number for Hornaday to be No. 1 again

Ron Hornaday Jr. needs to finish 22nd or better in his last two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races to win the championship.
Given that he has 18 top 10s in 23 races in 2009, finishing 22nd or better shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
Still, Hornaday said he is taking nothing for granted.
“To me right now we are just focused on two more races,” said Hornaday, driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet Silverado for Kevin Harvick Inc. “I don’t look at the championship until Homestead. The No. 33 team is not only racing for the driver’s championship, we want to make sure Kevin and DeLana win the owners championship as well. I don’t go into it looking at how many points we are ahead. I know that we just need to win the last two races. That’s what I want to go do and then the points will take care of themselves.”
While Hornaday has a commanding 197-point lead in the Truck Series driver standings, Kevin Harvick Inc. holds a 75-point lead over Billy Ballew Motorsports in the owners standings.
Kyle Busch, winner of the past five Truck Series races he’s started, is the driver for Billy Ballew Motorsports. He will be in the truck for the final two races of the Truck Series season at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"This is an awesome race truck," Busch said after the race on Friday. "This is the same one we won with at Chicago. We’ve got a match to number 11 (chassis). This is (number) 32 here, 11 was always our chassis that kicked butt, so now we found another one. All these guys, they do a great job.”
For the Phoenix race, Hornaday will be driving the truck that finished second at New Hampshire International Speedway in September. Hornaday led the most laps in that race, but finished behind Busch, winner of a Truck Series best seven races this year.
“I have been pretty successful at Phoenix International Raceway over the years,” Hornaday said. “I have had a lot of great races there and have two wins there in 1998 and 1999. It’s a flat race track for the most part. It has a little more banking in turns one and two than in turns three and four. We have been really good this year on the flatter, shorter tracks. Phoenix is a place that I have been running for a number of years and I really like going back to one of the roots of the Truck Series.”

Photo: A heated battle between Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 51 Miccosukee Resort/Graceway Toyota, and Ron Hornaday Jr., driver of the No. 33 VFW Chevrolet, in the closing laps of Friday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 350 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. Busch went on to win the race, while Hornaday Jr. finished third. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Chase tightens, but too little, too late

Like a twister in a trailer park, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway proved to be a disaster for Jimmie Johnson.
But don’t worry if Johnson and his team will recover. They will. By the end of the month, they will have another Cup championship.
Johnson saw his lead in the Cup standings trimmed to 73 points and all of sudden there’s intrigue in the Chase. At least that's what NASCAR and some writers would like you to believe. Seventy-three points is still a huge lead with two races remaining.
Mark Martin is the driver in second place in the Cup standings, 73 points out of the lead. No one is more deserving than Martin to win a Cup championship. But it looks like the four-time runner-up is going to come up short for a fifth time.
As for Johnson, he was collected in a crash caused by Sam Hornish on the third lap of the race at Texas. He ended up in 38th place. Martin came in fourth, the biggest benefactor of Johnson’s misfortune, and cut into Johnson’s lead.
“You know it’s still a respectable lead. Seventy-three with two to go is still a good position to be in. I hate that we gave up all these points tonight,” Johnson said after the race on Sunday. “Sam just lost it inside of me and I wish he would have waited a little longer to lose it. I saw he lost it later on in the race and he can do that from time to time. I just wish he would have waited a little while longer and didn’t take me out in the process. It was just one of those things. There’s not much we can do about it. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Kurt Busch won the race at Texas and moved up two places in the Cup standings. He is in fourth place, showing how insignificant winning a race means at this point in the season.
Not that Busch should be rewarded any more for winning one race when Johnson has won three in the Chase. But even with the win, Busch needs a lot more help to climb in the Cup standings before the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It’s very competitive, no matter who is in the lead, who is behind trying to gather points,” Busch said. “We hope it always goes to Homestead and there’s five, six guys eligible, like the first year, 2004.
“Jimmie Johnson, they’ve won an incredible amount during this Chase. A couple years ago we thought the Chase format needed adjusting, so we gave more points to race wins. Now he’s so far ahead, we’re thinking we have to adjust it again. We can’t keep doing that. They’re that good. For them to stumble today puts everyone back in the picture, within a reasonable amount.”
Not really. Making up 73 points, or in Busch’s case, 171 points, is unreasonable. Johnson would have to have another poor race, which more than likely isn’t going to happen, and Martin, or Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart, would have to have two spectacular races. The way things have gone this year, it is unlikely any of that will happen in Phoenix or Miami.
Johnson even said he feels fortunate he built up such a huge lead early in the Chase so he could afford to have a bad race.
“It was definitely not the day we wanted,” Johnson said. “We did not want to lose points like that. Luckily we had a big margin. We’re going to two great tracks for us here and we’ll just keep racing. We’ve been saying all along that anything can happen, I just wish that Sam could have waited a little while longer before he hit something. Instead, he lost it and hit me and off we went.”

Photo: At top, Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, pushes the car into the garage after Johnson was involved in an incident on the third lap with Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the No. 77 AAA Dodge, during Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson returned to the race on lap 115. Hornish went back on track, but later hit the wall to bring out the caution again, ending his day. (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

At bottom, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, celebrates by performing a burnout, followed by a reverse lap with the checkered flag after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday in Fort Worth, Texas. This is the first win at Texas Motor Speedway for Busch, who outran -- and out-gassed -- his brother Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota. Busch gained two positions in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to fourth, 171 points behind points leader Jimmie Johnson. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)