Friday, February 27, 2009

Kenseth going for three in a row

The storyline out of Las Vegas will be watching Matt Kenseth try to become the first NASCAR driver to win the first three races of the season. This is of course at the Cup level, be it Winston Cup, Nextel Cup or Sprint Cup. The last driver to win the first two races of the Cup season was Jeff Gordon who did it in 1997. It's been a while.
Kenseth won the season-opening Daytona 500 and followed that with a win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. He will have a chance to win his third straight race as Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Sunday. This coming after a 2008 season in which he did not win one race.
“I haven’t really thought a whole bunch about it, to be honest with you," Kenseth said from Las Vegas. "I didn’t think we would have won the first two races, so I haven’t really thought about the third. We’re just gonna take it one race at a time like we always do and just be business as usual. Hopefully we can get our car to handle good this weekend and have a shot."
One of the reasons Kenseth won the Fontana race was because of great pit stops. His crew won the race off pit road on the last set of stops and gave Kenseth the lead late in the race.
"The pit crew has been operating at an extremely high level, and so have all the guys getting the cars to handle and run – the engine guys and everything – so I feel like we have the tools to be competitive and we’ll just try to be as competitive as we can and hopefully be somewhere in position at the end,” Kenseth said.

Hendrick engine gremlins

A couple of the Hendrick Motorsports cars had issues at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana last weekend. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car lost a transmission and it had to be replaced before the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Mark Martin's car had engine troubles during the race. Neither driver finished and had to withdraw early.
As for Jeff Gordon, his car was strong. He ran up front and battled Matt Kenseth for the win before settling for second. Jimmie Johnson's car actually led from the pole, even though he qualified second, and finished ninth.
Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, who get their engines from Hendrick for their Stewart-Haas Racing team, made it to the end of the Fontana race. Stewart actually led a few laps, and finished eighth. Newman was a couple laps down in 28th.
Johnson was asked about his team's engine troubles during qualifying for this weekend race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“It appears that a batch of valve springs that got our other two cars and they literally broke on the same lap," Johnson said referring to the cars for Earnhardt Jr. and Martin. "Fortunately my car and Jeff’s car didn’t have those in them or the No. 39 (Ryan Newman) or the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) and we made it through. So it’s frustrating on that part because there is no way to x-ray valve spring and components beforehand to find impurities. Once something breaks, you can get in there and look at it and it’s pretty easy at that point for our guys to know what went on. But it’s frustrating on the front side."
Johnson added that the team tests the parts on cars as much as possible and it has no control if a bad batch of parts comes in. He said it's part of the risk of racing.
As for his car at Fontana, he said it started racing tight and he made it worse by offering some bad advice.
"At the start of the race, the car was really good, but tight," Johnson said. "As we tried to help the car, we actually kept making it tighter. Looking back on it, I really felt like the splitter was on the ground. So we made adjustments to help the front travel of the car to get the splitter off the ground and it just made the car worse. Come to find out after looking at our travels afterwards, the splitter wasn’t on the ground. So I kind of steered us in the wrong direction there. I was just tight. It wasn’t the splitter dragging and making the car tight. And the adjustments we made to try to help that just hurt it even more. We kind of missed it a little bit there and tuned ourselves out, which is not common for the No. 48 car but you live and learn and we have a better idea of what to do this week.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

From Saugus Speedway to Auto Club Speedway victory lane

Here’s a blast from the past.
Doug George, who used to race in the old NASCAR Southwest Series and Winston West and made regular visits to Saugus Speedway, is the crew chief for Kyle Busch’s Camping World Truck Series team. George won his first Truck Series race as a crew chief Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
“It feels awesome,” said George, who raced against Ron Hornaday Jr., Dan Press and Rick Carelli, among others, when they were on the Southwest Series and Winston West. “We started out a little bit tight. It’s kind of new for me because I have not worked with Kyle before, but his skills with the truck are a lot different than with guys I’ve worked with in the past. I does help that he knows what he wants for a feel from the truck.”
When George, who calls Atwater, Calif., home, was asked about his days racing against Hornaday and Carelli, he said they would be the better ones to ask. Then Ricky Carmichael, a driver for Kevin Harvick Inc. and a teammate of Hornaday’s in the Truck Series, wanted to know about racing against Carelli. Carelli is an advisor for Kevin Harvick Inc. and works with both drivers during the season.
George didn’t have any good stories to offer about Hornaday or Carelli. He wanted to focus on working with Busch.
“The biggest thing that I see with Kyle is that even though he is young he does have a lot of experience behind the wheel and he has a feel that he is looking for,” George said. “I mean I’ve crewed for Denny Hamlin and for rookies that have never run in the Truck Series and I’ve had the whole realm of different drivers and Kyle just has that aggressive driving style and what he wants for a feel is just a little different for me to get used to.”
Busch won in dominating fashion, led 95 of 100 laps and had a nearly 10-second margin of victory. Hornaday, a three-time Truck Series champion, finished sixth at Fontana. He was a little embarrassed by the show he and the other Truck Series drivers put on.
"I don't think the fans got their money out of that race,” Hornaday said. “It was a pretty boring race for the fans and I am ashamed to say I was a part of that race there. We had to put fuel only in twice, just because you don’t have enough tires and somebody is going to get hurt. I hate to say that but we'll take a top 10 out of it and go on.”
NASCAR implemented some new rules in the Truck Series to cut down on costs and make it more affordable for teams to race. One of the rules limits what crews can do on pit stops. Trucks can either change tires or take fuel, but not both. If a driver wants both, the truck needs to come into the pits twice. That makes green-flag pit stops timely and challenging.
“We just have to figure out how to strategize because you don’t know if the race is going to go yellow and you hear they are talking about debris, then not talking about debris, then they are talking about oil, then they are not talking about oil,” Hornaday said. “So do you put fuel in or to you put tires on? You just don’t know. It’s tough. It’s the second race and we’ll just have to sit down with NASCAR and see what we can do to make this think a little better.”

Indy Lights testing in Florida

Testing began for the Firestone Indy Lights drivers this week at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
It wasn’t that stellar of a debut for the newly formed Bryan Herta Autosport team. Herta, a Valencia resident and Hart High graduate, has a one-car team and is making his first venture into race car ownership. Herta spent his racing career in the IndyCar Series, American Le Mans Series, Champ Car and the CART Series. He is also an Indy Lights champion.
Daniel Herrington, the driver for the team, was responsible for the only crash of the day on Tuesday. He crashed in Turn 2 and damaged the rear of his car. It was not seriously damaged, but it ended the day of testing for the new team.
“We had made two pretty big changes to the car and went out hoping it would be better,” Herrington said. “I think we got caught out by the wind. It had picked up quite a bit since we made the changes. In retrospect, maybe we could have been more conservative and not made such a big change, but we got away with not too much problem.”
There were 20 Indy Lights cars at the test session this week. The Indy Lights season opens April 5 with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida.

Super Trucks and Showdowns at Irwindale

R.J. Johnson tested the waters of the NASCAR Camping World Series in January at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale. He tried to qualify for the Toyota All-Star Showdown in a car owned by Bob Farmer, who owns a stable of race cars based in Castaic.
Johnson had to race his way into the Showdown, and found himself competing against some tough drivers. Jarit Johnson, the younger brother of three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson, Matt Crafton, a regular on the Camping World Truck Series, and Andrew Myers, a Camping World Series West veteran, were all in the qualifying race.
Johnson didn’t make it into the main event that night. But he did gain some valuable experience running against some of the rising stars of NASCAR.
“Take what you can and move on I guess,” said Johnson, a 19-year-old from Canyon Country who will be racing regularly in the NASCAR Super Trucks division at Irwindale.
Johnson came on strong in his rookie season at Irwindale last year. He won the last two races of the season, including the season-finale 100-lapper, and did not finish worse than second in the last five races of the year. He was fourth in the Super Trucks standings at the track and was the rookie of the year. There were three rookies in the final top 10 Super Truck standings.
“I’m excited because I didn’t expect to do that good last year,” Johnson said. “And I kind of went into last year, just do your own thing, learn as much as you can, then next thing you know we’re running top five, winning races.”

Johnson proved to be a quick study, but he took a simple philosophy into every race: Follow the fast guys.
“You run with them and you learn where your limits can be,” Johnson said. “Once I got comfortable running up there, then we just fine-tuned and everything just fell together.
“After putting together a nice run to end the season, Johnson says he has championship aspirations. But it won’t be easy. Pat Mintey Jr. of Quartz Hill, the reigning Super Trucks champion, is expected back. Joe Herold of Poway, who won two races in only nine starts, will undoubtedly make his return to the track for select races. Mason Britton, a driver from Sacramento who finished third in the Super Trucks standings and won a race last year, is expected to return as well. The other two rookies in the top 10 from last year, Grant Hebner and Jeff Peterson, will most likely use the Super Trucks division to hone their skills for another season.
“In the back of m y head, the championship is number one,” Johnson said. “I think the best way to get the championship is what my dad always taught me. Go out and run as hard as you can every race. Take what you can get. Try not to put yourself in harm’s way. Win as many races as you can.”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscars, attendance and boring races

The list of things that are wrong with having NASCAR races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana in February start with the date and includes poor attendance, little support, boring races and bad weather.
First the date. The Auto Club 500 goes up against the Oscars every year. They have been on the same day for the past four years. This year, the NASCAR races went head to head with the Oscars. The Auto Club 500 started at 3:30 p.m.; the Oscars started at 5 p.m. TV viewers, those without Tivo or DVRs, had to choose between the race and the Academy Awards.
Gillian Zucker, the president of Auto Club Speedway addressed that conflict, and answered questions about attendance, the start time of the race and the reputation the track has for not producing exciting races.
"The doom and gloom that California can't support a NASCAR race is wrong," Zucker said.
The crowds that turned out for the Cup race supports that statement. While it was far from a sellout, it was more than she expected and more than NASCAR expected. Estimates are anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000, which is a fairly good turnout compared to past February races at Fontana.
As far as Fontana being a boring race track, Zucker defended her track. She said the drivers have few criticisms, enjoying the wide open racing and smooth, sweeping turns.
"The races are not boring, they're different," Zucker said. "Drivers love this race track. There's a lot going on if you know about racing."
As for the Oscars, Zucker said, jokingly, that she welcomes the challenge. She has no problem competing against the Oscars.
Finally, the start time of the race was a little late. That was a decision by Fox. If the race started a little earlier, the rain that starting falling on the race track would not have been much of a factor. So far, there have been three cautions for weather. If the race started at 11 a.m. or even noon, the rain would not have come into play.
But weather is one of the things no one can control. Still, the race might have been a little more interesting without all the weather delays.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rookies and restarts

Brendan Gaughan, a NASCAR West Series champion and veteran NASCAR driver, is considered a rookie by Nationwide Series standards. He has raced in the Truck Series and the Cup Series, but only has three Nationwide Series starts.
When he finished ninth in the Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, he was the highest finishing rookie in the race.
"This is the most fun I've had in years," Gaughan said.
Gaughan, a driver from Las Vegas, won a couple of West Series championships racing for Bill McAnally Racing. He spent a few years racing in the Truck Series and had a stint with Penske Racing in the Cup Series driving the No. 77 car for the team.
Now he's driving the No. 62 Chevy for Rusty Wallace, who has a two-car team in the Nationwide Series. His son, Steven Wallace, drives the No. 66 car for the team and finished 10th in the race at Fontana.
"Ninth and 10th, I hope the boss is happy," Gaughan said. "He's got his job and he can't be in the booth and be too excited but I hope we excited him tonight."
Rusty Wallace is a commentator for ESPN and was working in the broadcast booth during the race.
As for Gaughan, he said he was able to make up three or four spots on the restarts. It could have been a 15th place night for him, but instead he ended up as the top rookie.
"I've raced here in Sprint Cup and I've raced Winston West and I've raced Craftsman Truck and I've been to a lot of places, but I've never raced Nationwide," Gaughan said. "Fortunately the rules say that I can get an extra set of tires every week by putting a big yellow stripe on my bumper and it gets me a little extra media. I mean, right now I'd be ninth place getting in my street clothes driving home if I wasn't the Raybestos rookie tonight."

Two down, one to go

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. He's already made history by becoming the first driver to win two NASCAR races in the top three divisions in the same day.
He can become the first driver to win a NASCAR Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Cup Series race at the same track on the same weekend if he can win the Auto Club 500.
He says he has a top five Cup car, and his biggest challenge awaits him.
When asked if he thinks he can sweep the NASCAR races in Fontana, Busch said he didn't know.
"The Interstate Batteries Camry on that side was decent, it wasn't the best (Saturday) but I'm sure Steve (Addington, Busch's crew chief) is thinking about it and I'll call him after this race to see what I learned and talk to him a little bit and see if we can't figure something out to make it a little better for tomorrow," Busch said.
For the record, only two drivers have won NASCAR races in two of the top three divisions in the same weekend at the same track. Greg Biffle did it at Phoenix in October 2001 and Busch did it at Phoenix in 2007.

Billy Ray Cyrus and other familiar faces

Kyle Busch, top, won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Auto Club Speedway, his second in a row at the Fontana track.
Billy Ray Cyrus, middle, sang the national anthem before the Truck Series race, then visited the NASCAR garage after the Truck Series race.
Ricky Carmichael, AMA Supercross star turned Truck Series driver, was the highest finishing rookie. He was eighth in the Truck Series race.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Elliott Sadler's stimulus plan

Elliott Sadler had a novel idea to improve attendance at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, site of this weekend's NASCAR races.
As much as the track would like to dance around the subject, attendance for the two NASCAR races in Fontana have not been that great. Estimates have been in the 70,000 to 80,000 range ever since the track got two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, but a more accurate estimation would be around 50,000. It's still probably more than Darlington Raceway draws or Kentucky Speedway would draw, but far from a sellout at a track that can hold nearly 100,000 people in the grandstands.
Sadler was asked how he would improve attendance. Mind you the reporter who asked the quesiton suggested making Auto Club Speedway a restrictor-plate track to make the racing closer, and consequently more dangerous. Sadler didn't think that was a great idea, but he was not opposed to giving away tickets to put people in the stands.
"If I had anything to do with this race track, I would go to every single middle school within 50 miles of this place and give away free tickets," Sadler said. "What’s the difference in an empty seat and a free ticket? You might sell a Coca-Cola to them in the stands. I would go to every Boys and Girls Club, the Girl Scouts, middle schools … give away tickets. Give them a chance to come to this race that might not have come before. You might make a fan; you might not."
It doesn't seem like that crazy of an idea. In the track's defense, kids under 12 are admitted free on Friday and Saturday. If that isn't incentive enough to go watch NASCAR, free tickets for Sunday won't help much.
Still Sadler said the there's not much to lose in giving away tickets to kids.
"If you don’t make a fan, what have you lost?" Sadler said. "You really haven’t lost anything because you didn’t have anyone in the seat anyhow. If you gain a fan, you maybe gain a couple tickets for next year. That’s my Emporia (Virginia) opinion which is not worth two cents out here in Los Angeles, California. I think changing the racing (to restrictor-plate), you would have to spend a lot of money on the race track and who knows if it will work. I think that we’re competing against a lot of things … with the Oscars … there’s a lot of things that go on out here other than Sprint Cup racing. I would really concentrate on Ontario and surrounding areas rather than L.A. L.A is a long ways from here.”

Working for The King

Kasey Kahne, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, has a new boss in Richard Petty, the all-time leader in NASCAR wins with 200.
Petty and Gillett Evernham Motorsports merged in the off-season creating Richard Petty Motorsports. Kahne, Reed Sorenson, A.J. Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler are the drivers for the newly formed team.
Kahne was asked during interviews Friday at Auto Club Speedway if he's had much time to talk to Petty now that he's the owner of his race team.
“You see ‘The King’ all day," Kahne said. "Whether he’s a part of your team or not, the guy walks. He’s always around. I’ll run into him five times today and he won’t be looking for me once. I ran into him when I got here this morning. We just crossed paths walking and we sat there and talked for about 10 minutes. Usually, when I run into him, it’s because we’re walking the same path at the same time. He’s on the run always.”

Triple duty for Kyle Busch

It's nothing new to see Kyle Busch in three races in the three national touring divisions of NASCAR on the same weekend. He will be racing in the Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Cup Series races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana this weekend.
He's done it before, more than once, at a number of tracks across the country. It's gotten to the point where he will have to win all three races in the same weekend to impress anyone.
Even Busch, who grew up racing in Las Vegas, doesn't think it's that big of a deal to be entered in three races in two days.
“Not my first rodeo here this weekend," Busch said. "Looking forward to the triple -- have a pretty good truck, had a lot of speed there in qualifying. Think we’re on the pole there and wasn’t expecting that so the truck’s pretty good. Nationwide car seems to be pretty good -- we unloaded it and it was a little different than what we ran here last fall and didn’t quite have the speed we were looking for. We made some changes and made it better. Cup car so far was good in race trim and as soon as we came off the truck it felt pretty good. Went to qualifying trim and wasn’t too pleased -- I think we really missed it so we’ve got some work to do to try to get it better there."
Busch did win the pole for the Truck Series race. He was 10th in qualifying for the Cup race. Nationwide Series qualifying is Saturday morning.
"Looking forward to the race on Sunday -- 500 miles will be a long one," Busch said. "Hopefully it will be a nice, hot day for everybody. Besides that, last weekend was a bit of a downer, but we put it behind us and look forward to the future. This week is the start of the season for us anyways -- Daytona you’re down there for too long and doing so much stuff that you just want to get out of there. Looking forward to here in California and Vegas, Atlanta and so on.”

Vickers' gas man young at heart and body

Doug Newell, the gas man for the Brian Vickers' No. 83 Toyota for Red Bull Racing, is one of the oldest crew members, if not the oldest crew members in NASCAR.
He turned 50 in May. Part of the reason he has been able to work on a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pit crew at such a seasoned age is because he started working for Cup team pit crews in his late 30s. He spent much of his early days in NASCAR working for teams in the old Southwest Series and Winston West.
Another reason for Newell's ability to stay in NASCAR into his 50s is because he been active and fit since he was attending Hueneme High School.
"I’ve always played sports and done sports," said Newell, who grew up in Oxnard and was M.K. Kanke's crew chief in the Southwest Series. "All the years I did Southwest Tour racing, I would run or ride bikes for myself. Our races were short. We ran maybe two or three races a year where we actually did pit stops. Back then I was a tire changer. There’s a definite wear and tear factor there, but we didn’t do enough of it to really abuse me."
Newell ran track and cross country in high school. He played a little football and was on his college lacrosse team at Oregon State. He was also on the rowing team at Oregon State. Those low impact sports kept him in good shape and didn't wear down his body like some other sports would.
"Talking to our coach now -- we have a strength and conditioning coach that works with us at Red Bull -- one of the advantages that I’ve had is that all the sports I have played in my life I haven’t played contact sports," Newell said. "The second one is I’m not one of those fanatic workout guys that measure every gram of fat that they eat. For the most part I’ve tried to stay relatively healthy and eat well. I never really went over the wall until I turned 40, as for doing it every week. The fact that I’m doing it at 50, I’ve only been really doing it for 10 years."

Hornaday looks back on Truck Series start

Ron Hornaday Jr. was a pioneer of the old NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. He was one of the first drivers in the series, racing for the late Dale Earnhardt.
Back then, when the series started in 1995, Hornaday had aspirations of rising through the ranks of NASCAR and racing in the Cup Series. He made it, for a while, but found the most success racing in the Truck Series.
He is the winningest driver in the series and has three Truck Series championships. He came close to a fourth last year, finishing second to Johnny Benson.
“You look back in 1995 when NASCAR had a 10-year plan with the truck series and in the first year, Mike (Skinner) and I can vouch for it, we passed it," Hornaday said. "Just the crowds we had, the truck racing we put on, what we wanted to do to make a name for ourselves to move on to a different series and look, we’re both back here. That says a lot for the sport."
The Truck Series was supposed to be a developmental series to prepare young drivers for Cup and the Nationwide Series. But it has become a place for experienced and seasoned drivers to continue their racing careers. Some of the current Cup drivers yearn for the days when they can start racing in the Truck Series.
"Kevin Harvick just can’t wait to get into a truck, he loves running the trucks -- Jimmie Johnson wants to drive one now," Hornaday said. "There’s a lot of people that see the truck racing puts on a good show and they don’t understand that when we get in the truck and the green flag drops -- it's wide open from the first lap to the last lap and it’s a short enough race where we’re hanging on."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New Truck Series rules

The newly named NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has a few rule changes regarding pit stops, pit crews and engines. Some drivers like the changes. Todd Bodine, who won the season-opening Truck Series race in Daytona, has some reservations.
I had a story in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin about the changes.
I will be covering the NASCAR in Fontana for the Daily Bulletin and the Ventura County Star this weekend. One of the crew members for Brian Vickers and his No. 83 Sprint Cup Series team grew up in Oxnard and graduated from Hueneme High School in 1976.
Plus I will be writing for The Signal next week, complete with updates from the Hornadays and Lance Hooper, a Saugus High graduate and former Saugus Speedway racer who is making a run in the Truck Series after a five-year absence.
Let me know if you have any questions for the drivers. I will do my best to track some of them down.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kenseth's California notes

Matt Kenseth, winner of the season-opening Daytona 500, heads to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana with a strong start and ton of confidence.
But there's not much drivers can take from Daytona, where cars are run with restrictor plates, to the other tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit.
Fontana is where the real season starts for many of the Cup drivers, especially those with aspirations of making the Chase at the end of the season.
For the first time, the notes teams have from previous races at Fontana will be valuable. NASCAR started using the Car of Tomorrow at all tracks last year, and Kenseth said the two races the Cup drivers had at the track will give teams useful information.
“I think it’ll be pretty important," Kenseth said. "If it was any other year, I’d say they wouldn’t be that important with the other car, but since we’ve switched to this car and we ran it at every race track last year, there have been zero rules changes to the car, so we have the same exact aerodynamic package we had when we went to both races last year."

The cars and the rules haven't changed. But there are some other variables. Goodyear has a new tire and weather and track conditions could be a factor as well.
"Of course, if the tire is different there are still some variables there with track conditions and tires and stuff like that," Kenseth said, "but, basically, we rely on our notes from last time with what we do and then they try to improve on that everytime we go back.”

Reggie Jackson will be Mr. February in Fontana

Being a lifelong Dodgers fan, I never rooted for Reggie Jackson. I will surely be in the minority when he takes to the track as the pace car driver for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday.
Jackson, a member of the then California Angels, and three-time Dodgers World Series killer, will be driving a 2009 Chevrolet Impala and leading the field of Cup cars to the start of the race.
"In my lifetime I've played in six World Series, hob-knobbed with movie stars and been a part of the excitement of New York and the Yankees," said Jackson. "With all that, it’s hard to get excited over many things. But being behind the wheel of the pace car for the Auto Club 500, is right up there with some of the most exciting things I've ever done."
I'm just glad the Dodgers finally got the better of Jackson and his Yankees in 1981. It was also equally pleasing that he couldn't get the Angels to the World Series in 1986.
It's the little things...

For Beckman, first things first in Phoenix

The NHRA visits Firebird International Raceway near Phoenix this weekend. It was the site of Jack Beckman's first win of the 2008 season. It was also the beginning of a roller coaster season for Beckman.
He went from winning the second race of the NHRA season to dropping out of the top 10 in the Funny Car standings and out of the Countdown to One championship field.
But Beckman recovered in time to win a couple more races before the end of the season, qualify for the Countdown and finish third in the Funny Car standings.
"Last year, even though we did win Phoenix, we didn’t really hit our stride until Denver," said Beckman, a driver from North Hills and a driver for Don Schumacher Racing. "And there's no panic right now. We’ve had a couple of minor hiccups with the tune-up that I think we're close to getting worked out, but the way the Countdown format goes, you can take four or five races to work them out."

Beckman is coming off a wet week in the season opening event at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. He beat the reigning Funny Car champion, Cruz Pedregon, in the first round, but had to wait two days before racing resumed because of rain. Beckman lost in the second round and enters the Phoenix event eighth in the Funny Car standings.
His teammate, Ron Capps, came away as the winner in Pomona.
"I don't see anybody showing any signs of dominance this year, although I'm very thankful that my DSR teammate Ron Capps and the NAPA car are back to being one of the top cars again," Beckman said. "That will be a lot of fun."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Daytona 500 interviews

Strange finish in Daytona 500

Because of the rain and because Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were fighting to stay on the lead lap, the Daytona 500 produced a strange list of finishers, with some unfamiliar names and unlikely teams in the top 10.
Matt Kenseth made the NASCAR world right by winning the race and Kevin Harvick, a former Daytona 500 winner, came in second.
“I think in the garage it will definitely be a popular win,” Harvick said. “I think Matt’s obviously a pretty stand up person and a great racecar driver, accomplished a lot in this sport. I think a lot of us can relate to Matt for kind of going out of the spotlight. I think he’s one of those guys that he can win seven or eight races in a year and never receive any credit. He’s a really good racecar driver. He’s a champion, Daytona 500 champion. I think a lot of times some of those things are overlooked.”

After the top-two drivers, the list of finishers gets a little curious. A.J. Allmendinger was third and Elliott Sadler was fifth, giving the newly formed Richard Petty Motorsports two drivers in the top five. This coming days after Kyle Petty criticized the new team. This coming weeks after Sadler had to fight and threaten a lawsuit to keep his seat in the No. 19 Dodge.
“I’m going to be honest with you. I’m not going to lie to you. I was getting pretty emotional under the caution when it was raining a little bit in turn one and two,” said Sadler, who was leading moments before rain started falling on the race track. “I thought it was going to be called a little bit earlier than it was. I was getting emotional in the car thinking, Wouldn’t this be the coolest story? I came down here as a fan the first time in 1979 and finished second to Ward Burton, and now to have a chance to win the race.”
David Ragan was sixth, Michael Waltrip was seventh, Tony Stewart was eighth and Reed Sorenson was ninth.
It shouldn’t be that surprising to see Ragan in the top 10. He has been expected to be a top 10 driver, even a contender to win races, since joining Roush Fenway Racing last year.
It was Waltrip’s best finish since winning a rain-shortened Daytona 500 in 2003.
Stewart, driving for his own team for the first time in his NASCAR career, and driving a back-up car because he wrecked with teammate Ryan Newman in practice on Saturday, actually led the Daytona 500 for a time and looked like he might have a car that could win the race.
Sorenson, driving another one of the Richard Petty Motorsports cars, made it quite a debut for the newly formed team.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Daytona growing on Hornaday

Ron Hornaday Jr., a former Saugus Speedway champ, is preparing for the season opening NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway in Florida tonight. Hornaday is the career leader in Truck Series wins, but he has never won a race at Daytona. He was not a huge fan of racing trucks at the high-banked Daytona superspeedway, but when he got the opportunity to race one of Rick Hendrick’s trucks at Daytona, he changed his mind.
“First o f all, when the trucks first came here, I didn’t get a chance to run it,” said Hornaday, who now races for Kevin Harvick Inc., in the No. 33 Chevrolet Silverado. “When I heard they were coming down I thought they were nuts -- I thought NASCAR did the stupidest thing they ever did with trucks.”
Hornaday had to wait a year before he could actually get on the Daytona track in a race truck. When he did, it changed his perspective. “What we’re doing today with testing and these new valences on the front is just remarkable of what these trucks do on big tracks,” Hornaday said. “I’m just really fortunate enoug h to run a truck here at Daytona.”
It would mean a lot for Hornaday to win a race at Daytona, not only for his statistics, but for his family. His father, Ron Hornaday Sr., died in December. The senior Hornaday was a champion NASCAR racer from California, making regular visits to Saugus Speedway when it was part of the Winston West schedule, but never got a chance to race in Daytona.
“This has been my dream to come to Daytona and it’s be en my dad’s dream and I’m going to try to win this race for my dad,” Hornaday said. “This means a lot to our family and to come to Daytona, this is our Super Bowl and I’m looking forward to Friday night’s race.”

The doctor is in

Hugh Laurie from the Fox TV show "House" will be the grand marshal for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
He will give the order, "Gentleman, start your engines," before the race.
Laurie also will be featured in the movie, "Monsters vs. Aliens," with Reese Witherspoon and Seth Rogan. "Monsters vs. Aliens" hits movie theaters on March 27.

New team for Casey Mears

Casey Mears spent the past two years driving for Hendrick Motorsports and was a teammate of Jimmie Johnson for two of his three straight Cup championships.
Mears is now the driver of the No. 07 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, but he had a unique perspective on Johnson's team for the past two seasons. He was asked if Johnson gets proper credit for what he has accomplished in NASCAR.
“I think that’s a good question," said Mears, a driver from Bakersfield. "I think the people that know, for the most part, I think he gets great credit. He’s such a damn good guy. I think he gets overlooked a lot, probably. Here’s a guy who has done something that nobody has done in a long time in an era that isn’t even close to how it was in the past."
Johnson and Cale Yarborough are the only two NASCAR drivers to win three straight championships in stock car racing's highest level. The difference between the two feats is that Johnson accomplished his during the Chase era, when NASCAR implemented a 10-race playoff. Some argue that Johnson wasn't the best driver over the entire season, just during the Chase. Kyle Busch won the most races of any driver in the series last year, but stumbled when the Chase started and fell out of contention. Jeff Gordon, Johnson's teammate at Hendrick, emerged as the Chase favorite in 2007, but Johnson put together a better Chase than Gordon and won his second championship.
Mears said the level of competition is greater now than it was when Yarborough was winning his championships.
"Obviously it was competitive in the past, but not near as competitive as it is now," Mears said. "And to do what he’s done in these days, it ridiculous, you know? But I think he’s not one of those guys who is jumping up and down and saying look at what I did. He’s not asking for that attention."
Even though Johnson has won the past three Cup championships, Carl Edwads, a driver for Roush Fenway Racing, has emerged as the favorite to win the Cup championship this year.
"No offense to Carl, and I don’t want this to be taken in a bad way, but when Carl wins, everybody is looking for a back flip," Mears said. "Jimmie does a burnout like everybody else and goes to victory lane. It’s different people get different attention in different ways. And I think Carl is obviously very talented. The fact that he’s picked to win the championship this year is probably just because somebody wants to see something different happen. And he was the next best guy.”

Harvick watching his pennies

Not only is Kevin Harvick a driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he's a NASCAR team owner. He has a Nationwide Series team and two teams in the Camping World Truck Series. One of his drivers in the Truck Series is Ron Hornaday Jr., who started his NASCAR career racing in Southern California and won a number of track championships at Saugus Speedway.
Harvick said the economy has forced him to watch more closely how he budgets his teams.
“Basically, there isn’t any part of the company we haven’t touched," said Harvick a driver from Bakersfield and driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. "We have gone from everything to renegotiating our travel deal, to deciding how many people you are going to have in the shop left behind. How many rental cars rented at the track. There is not anything within any of these companies that hasn’t been looked at, all right; this is what we are going to do. This is what we need to change and this is how many people we are going to have."

As challenging as it has been for Harvick to manage his teams, he said the two truck teams are in good shape. Hornaday, a three-time Truck Series champ, and AMA Motocross star Ricky Carmichael will be driving for Harvick in the Truck Series this year.
"We are a little bit short on the Nationwide," Harvick said. "We are committed to running that car the full season. All in all, everything from top to bottom has been touched and looked at and adjusted. There is not any company in the world that hasn’t done that, I hope with the economic times that we are in. I think as business owners, you look at everything and make the adjustments on the fly and try to do the best you can with all the knowledge you have.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Skies clear in Pomona

The rain stopped, the track dried and the NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona finally came to a conclusion Tuesday.
Jack Beckman, an NHRA Funny Car driver from North Hills, cleared the toughest hurdle of the week on Sunday when he beat reigning Funny Car champ Cruz Pedregon in the first round.
But two days later, Beckman fouled out to Robert Hight in the second round and was eliminated.
"Incredibly disappointing," said Beckman, a driver for Don Schumacher Racing. "I started squeezing the throttle up there. You're focused on the Christmas tree, you want to get a good light and I caught myself doing that. So I went to go back to idle and I double-stepped the throttle. Not only did it red-light, it threw the tune-up on the race car completely off."
Beckman's teammate Ron Capps eliminated Hight in the semifinals and went on to win the Funny Car portion of the races.
"The only bright spot of my day is that Capps walked out of here with the Funny Car win," Beckman said. "And we only have to wait a week to get back and do it again."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Kevin Harvick: The anti-Jimmie Johnson

Bakersfield boy Kevin Harvick started the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign by winning the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway.
He started 27th in the 28-car field and had to race 78 laps of a scheduled 75-lapper to win the race. Even though the Shootout is not a points race, it did wonders for Harvick's confidence.
He was asked after race if he has what it takes to be the anti-Jimmie Johnson. Not sure what that exactly means, but it boils down to whether Harvick can challenge Johnson, winner of the past three Cup championships.
"I think over the last five years we've had moments of everything that we needed to do, but we just need to put it all in one year," Harvick said. "Last year from Chicago on, we ran in the top 10, top five every week. 2006 we won a ton of races. 2003 we were consistent. Just kind of fell behind in the beginning.
"We've got all the ingredients. We've made a couple small changes to the teams. We added a team. We made a couple small changes within our team. It's a lot easier to take these teams apart than it is to build a championship team. We have good chemistry. I think we're all a lot calmer than we were five years ago and relaxed, really get along well with each other. So I think that means a lot."
Harvick said experience has made him a better drivers, definitely and more patient driver. He has a seasoned team and a veteran crew, all which will be valuable as the season unfolds.
"I think our experience carries us when we're having a bad day," Harvick said. "Like (Saturday), we could have all flipped out and had something crazy happen. But we all kept our heads on, stayed calm, wound up winning the race.
"I'm not going to sit up here and promise you can beat that 48 (Johnson) because they've been hard to beat the last three years. Right now we don't think anybody can beat us."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

NHRA qualifying spots

Jack Beckman, a NHRA Funny Car driver from North Hills, qualified eighth for the NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. He will face Cruz Pedregon, the reigning Funny Car champion, in the first round of eliminations on Sunday.
Rain washed out the first two days of the Winternationals. Drivers got one round of qualifying in before rain postponed track activity on Saturday.
"Craziness," said Beckman, a driver for Don Shumacher Racing. "You know, you spend this whole off season getting parts, pieces, getting new people together, getting the bodies painted, then you come out here and sit in the rain for three days. And it's fair for everybody, but it's going to be an interesting scenario."
Beckman said he wasn't happy with his run, but it got him in the field.
"We went out there and made what, by our standards, would be a poor run, and it landed us in the top half of the field," Beckman said. "And we have to face the reigning world champ first round, who obviously struggled a little bit (No. 9 qualifier). It's going to be a crazy day tomorrow."
The rain made for some interesting match-ups in the Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions.
Robert Hight was the top qualifier in Funny Car and he will face Jerry Toliver in the first round. Tim Wilkerson, the runner-up in the Funny Car standings last year, did not qualify for eliminations.
Antron Brown was the top qualifier in Top Fuel and he will face little known Steve Faria in the first round. Another little known driver, Joe Hartley, was the second-fastest qualifier and he will face Morgan Lucas in the first round.
"I think this is one of the things that the fans pay to see, where you've got a lot of underdogs, especially in Top Fuel, who are qualified well, and in Funny Car you have a lot of heavy hitters and some of them aren't running the way they're used to running," Beckman said. "With one session each, I think it's equal parts crew chief and driver tomorrow. The crew chiefs have to try to figure out the track and the drivers have to be prepared to save the run if they have to."

Friday, February 6, 2009

A.J. Allmendinger update

A.J. Allmendinger isn't quite sure if he has a contract with Richard Petty Motorsports. He has an understanding, that he will race in the first eight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of the year and the July race at Daytona International Speedway in the No. 44 Dodge for RPM.
His first action in his new car will be in the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night at Daytona. As for a contract, details are a little fuzzy.
"I think that’s actually been signed in between all the stuff, so I actually do have a contract for the first eight races, through Phoenix and there’s an option for 2010," said Allmendinger, who calls Los Gatos his hometown. "Ultimately, the objective is to run up front and stay up front all eight races. Hopefully, we can find more backing and run the whole season. The goal is to run up front and find a sponsorship for the rest of the season.”

Allmendinger is entering his third season in the Sprint Cup Series and has 44 career Cup starts, but this will be his first Shootout.
“Obviously, as a racer, you want to win. That’s important," Allmendinger said. "Ultimately, I need practice on superspeedway racing. I haven’t done a lot of it. That’s the way I’m taking the Shootout. If I have a chance to win, we’ll try to win the thing. If not, I want to run all the laps and get as much practice as I can in the Valvoline Dodge.”
Allmendinger started the 2008 season driving for Red Bull Racing, but was let go after the Kansas Speedway race. He finished the Cup season with Gillett Evernham Motorsports and had three top-15 finishes in the last five races. He was named driver of the No. 44 Dodge for RPM after Richard Petty Enterprises merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports to create Richard Petty Motorsports in January. It ended a tumultous offseason for Allmendinger.
“You can sit there and feel bad for yourself about how bad things are happening to you, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that bad," Allmendinger said. "There are a lot of people right now in this world that are a lot worse than myself worrying about running only eight races in Cup. I’m still at Daytona. We’re still talking about racing cars. I’m still getting in the racecar. There are two options. You keep fighting and find a ride or sponsorship or you quit. I’m not going to quit. So, you have to keep digging.”

Jimmie Johnson's Shootout car

It's hard to believe Jimmie Johnson won't be driving a winning car in Saturday night's Budweiser Shootout at Daytona International Speedway.
The car he will drive was the runner-up in the October 2007 race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. With all the races Johnson has won over the past three seasons, it seems his team could have found a superspeedway car with at least one win.
His back-up car has an even worse record. Its best finish came last year at Talladega in October -- ninth place.
With no points on the line and with NASCAR's new restrictive testing policy, any time on the track is valuable.
“Without any testing this year, the Shootout is going to be a great practice session for all the teams," Johnson said. "It’s always been a benefit to be a part of it, but this year probably more than ever. I’m really excited to get back in the car and get back racing. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of our season and that’s really the first part of it.”

Pace cars for Daytona

This has nothing to do with racing on the West Coast, but these are a couple of cool looking cars. The 2010 Shelby GT500 from Ford (left) will be the pace car for the NASCAR races at Daytona International Speedway. The 2010 Ford Fusion Sport (right) will serve as a backup.

Favorite to win Sprint Cup Series

Depending on who you ask and where you look, Carl Edwards has emerged as the favorite to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
The season-opening Daytona 500 is more than a week away, but it's never too early to start the Cup debate.
Greg Biffle, teammate of Carl Edwards at Rouch Fenway Racing, said Edwards is a favorite only because it's unlikely Jimmie Johnson will win a fourth straight Cup championship. Johnson, a driver from El Cajon, has won the past three Cup championships, tying a mark set by Cale Yarborough.
“I think a lot of people like to play the odds game," Biffle said. "What are the odds of him winning four in a row? I’m not counting him out. I wasn’t the one who said he wasn’t gonna win it (laughing), but I’m just telling you that’s the way people will look at it. They’ll think, ‘Aw, he’s already won three in a row, he won’t win four.’ How many he has won in that past doesn’t have an impact on how he’s gonna do today.”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mark Martin on Joey Logano

Apparently word of Joey Logano's exciting finish in the Toyota All-Star Showdown in Irwindale made it all the way to Daytona. At least within earshot of Mark Martin.
Martin, a NASCAR veteran who will be racing full-time for the first time in three years in the Sprint Cup Series, was asked about Logano and his daring attempt to win the Showdown for the second straight time.
To refresh, Logano was passed for the lead on the final lap of the race, but he slapped the turn 4 wall, cut down on the nose of race leader Peyton Sellers and crossed the finish line in first place. But NASCAR officials at the track deemed Logano's move unfair and dangerous. Logano was the first driver to cross the finish line, but he ended up in 40th and last-place after NASCAR penalized him for his last lap pass.
“I don’t get involved in judging NASCAR’s -- the move he (Joey Logano) made appeared to be called for and just based on what had happened to him five laps earlier, if that’s what you’re asking and you want my opinion,” Martin said in an interview Thursday from Daytona International Speedway, site of the season-opening Daytona 500.
Martin was also asked if he has given Logano any advice. Logano will be racing for Joe Gibbs Racing in the No. 20 Toyota in the Sprint Cup Series in 2009.

“He’s gotten a lot of advice from me already and I’m very proud of him," said Martin, who will be driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. "My biggest concern for him was -- I’m certain that he will be a Cup champion -- so my biggest concern was for him to stay humble because when you’re as good as he is it’s not always easy. He appears to be hanging on to that fairly well. I was very proud of him in his recent interviews. He appeared to be humble and that’s not always easy."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rain, drivers expected for NHRA season opener

It's supposed to rain in Southern California this weekend, which means it could be a wet start to the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
Rain or not, the top drivers in NHRA are expected to converge on Pomona for the first race of the year.
Tim Wilkerson, the runner-up in the NHRA Funny Car division, will be there. He has formed a technical alliance with Bob Tasca III and Tasca Racing, which should lead to better resuts in 2009. After finishing second in the Funny Car standings last year, there's only one way to improve.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t think that we have to do anything different," Wilkerson said. "We had a great car all year long; my guys did a terrific job working on it. I think the Mustang, again, will really help our cause and the alliance with the Tasca. And to have some technology that we’ve never seen in our life with being with Ford. So I think that is going to be a first step for us."
The NHRA implemented a playoff system a couple of years ago, the Countdown to One. After a few tweaks, the playoff system makes it possible for the top 10 drivers in each national division to compete for the championship. Wilkerson finished second to Cruz Pedregon last year.
"And the second step, we just need to not screw up in the playoffs," Wilkerson said. "That’s all it was to it. I just had some bad luck there in the playoffs and my predecessor that won the thing really did a better job, so he deserved to win. He got the wins when he needed and he was hot when we were cold. Hopefully, we can just stay consistent like we were this year because I think that was our key last year, we were consistent all year long. We weren’t the fastest guy, but boy, on Sunday if you made a mistake, we were right there beside you showing you what you shouldn’t have done. So hopefully we can just show that consistency again and bring a trophy home.”
Tasca begins his second season in the NHRA Funny Car division. He is looking forward to heading to Pomona for the season opener, even if it is a little different than the other races on the NHRA schedule.

“Pomona has a little different format," Tasca said. "You run once on Thursday, once on Friday and twice on Saturday. Where typically, we run twice on Friday, twice on Saturday and then go into Sunday. Pomona is spread out. As a driver and as a team, you want to race. To go out on Thursday and hit the gas one time, then you have to wait until Friday, then you hit the gas one time, then you go into Saturday where you have the back-to-back runs. Our strategy is to get down the race track Thursday. It is very important that you hit the track; you go A-to-B, and not try to set the world on fire."
Despite the different format, Tasca and his team have a strategy to attack the weekend.
"You want to get the car qualified on the first day and get data that you can use on Friday," Tasca said. "Then you can be more aggressive on Friday and on Saturday you’ll start to see conditions that you’re going to race on Sunday. For me, going into Pomona, with Tim Wilkerson, arguably the best race car on the circuit last year, to have that team alongside our team and the data that we can start to accumulate is amazing. We don’t have four qualifying runs anymore; we have eight because of the alliance. You can’t stress the importance of that kind of information. We have the same clutch. We have the same chassis. We have the same car body. We have different engine configurations.
"Tim is going to try some things that he thinks will work. At the end of the day, the crew chiefs get together and they talk about what went right, what went wrong and that’s what I most looking forward to about Pomona and this whole season. I’m looking forward to having two triple-A caliber teams working together with two fast race cars to compete for the championship. I really feel that Tasca Racing and Wilkerson Racing together are a whole lot stronger than we are on our own. And that says a lot because Tim almost won the championship last year, on his own, and he has put a lot of value in this relationship. It will be an exciting race. It will be great to just get back together with the all the guys. You are really family with a lot of these teams, drivers, telecasters and everybody there: you’re around them so much. It’s almost an eternity to get back to Pomona. But it is right around the corner now.”