Saturday, February 28, 2009

"You Asked for It, You Got It; Happy Birthday Mario.."
Kyle Busch may not be the only Toyota driver going to the rear of the field for the Shelby 427 here in "Glitter Gulch". Toyota Racing Development (TRD) boss Lee White talked with a few reporters about some problems with the engines built by his shop. We hear at least David Reutimann and the Red Bull tandem on Brian Vickers and Scott Speed have changed engines. There's an issue with the valve train in the engines from TRD, which power the Michael Waltrip and Red Bull squads. This is a setback also for Michael Waltrip who has had a better start to 2009 than in past years. Starting from the rear makes any chance for a top 10 finish--let alone a win--not so easy. The Kyle Busch team had to change their engine, for an unrelated piston problem. Max Papis put his Toyota in the field in 26th place...the NASCAR rookie is one of the most demonstrative drivers ever. His team is using an earlier generation of the Toyota pushrod V8. Mark Cronquist is the veteran engine builder for Joe Gibbs Racing--his engines have not suffered the valve train problem.
Also, we'd be remiss if we did not wish a happy birthday to the feisty native of Montona, Italy, by way of Nazareth, PA--Mario Andretti. Mario, for those who do not remember history, is the only driver ever to win the World Driving (Formula One) Championship, the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.

Friday, February 27, 2009

"An Oscar Goodman Weather Day; Busch Brothers Ace Qualifying"

Las Vegas is a place where dreams are usually broken--but some come true. The dream that might come true (if you ask track boss Chris Powell and Las Vegas' legendary mayor Oscar Goodman) is that there would be a big walkup crowd on Sunday to see the local Busch brothers--Kyle and Kurt--start the race from the front row. The weather forecast calls for much of the same chamber of commerce seasonal weather for the weekend.
"The Show", a/k/a Kyle Busch, kept some of the heat from Fontana last week. Kyle's pole winning lap was clocked at 185.995 miles an hour--setting a new track qualifying record.. Kurt (whom you will hear this week on Race-Talk) stopped the timer at 185.707 miles an hour. Kyle had to change an engine in practice, so he will lead a pace lap, then drop to the back to the pack for the green flag Sunday. That means Kurt Busch will lead the field once the green flies. Jimmie Johnson (remember him) will start 2nd after qualifying 3rd. All of this is, of course, dependent on whether any other team has to change enough parts that NASCAR will send their car to the rear.
Today marks the first time the Busch brothers swept a Sprint Cup front row. The last time it was done was in April 2000, when Rusty and Kenny (the "Hermanator") Wallace did it at Martinsville.

Goodyear brought a new tire for the 1.5 mile speedplant. Twelve drivers broke Kasey Kahne's 2007 qualifying record during the qualifying session.
Dale Earnhardt Jr talked about his bad luck so far this season. Jr. says there's no lack of trying in the #88 team garage, pits or shop. Jr will start 31st.

Pointleader Matt Kenseth went backward and will start the 427 mile Shelby 427 from the 40th starting position.
The reason the race is called the Shelby 427 is that Shelby Automotive sponsors the mail event. Yes, that is Carroll Shelby the legendary automotive genius, whose company makes some bad fast hand built performance cars just down the road from the Neon Garage, the interactive infield experience that fans marvel over (and you can see a glimpse of above).

We'll join you on Sunday for showgirls, Elvis impersonators, racers, celebrities, and maybe even some racing.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Matt Kenseth the Man at Auto Club Speedway"
The crowd who did attend the Auto Club 500 saw 50 late race laps of slice and dice hammer and tong racing between 4 time series champion Jeff Gordon, who came up 1.4 seconds short behind the 2003 series champion and Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth. Kenseth, along with crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, is now 2 for 2009. That battle again denied Kyle Busch his chance to sweep all three of NASCAR's National Touring Series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck) in a single weekend. The younger brother of 2004 champion Kurt Busch (finished 5th) had to settle for a distant third.
The race had four rain cautions, and some uncharacteristic engine woes for the Hendrick crew of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin. Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress racing, was NOT "happy" after smacking the turn one wall; he was credited with 38th place.
Points going into Las Vegas:
Matt Kenseth/385
Jeff Gordon/304
Kurt Busch/294
Tony Stewart/294
Greg Biffle/268
Clint Bowyer/266
Michael Waltrip/264
David Ragan/262
Carl Edwards/260
Juan Pablo Montoya/256
Elliott Sadler/248
David Reutimann/248
We'll catch up with you in Las Vegas. In the meantime, you can catch our weekly "Race-Talk" via podcast, and you will not need an iPod to do it. Just enter this in your browser:
"Halfway-Official Race"
Barring unforseen circumstances, Kyle Busch will have to settle for two NASCAR National Touring Series wins in a weekend. He's mired back in 8th, and has nothing for leader Jeff Gordon (yes, the four time champion) who was leading as the Auto Club 500 reached the halfway point. Gordon took the lead from teammate and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson. Gordon pitted on lap 127 and gave up the lead to Roushketeer Greg Biffle. Oh, by the way, Gordon trailed Biffle by less than a half second, and was gaining after that stop. Another of the Roush Fenway drivers, Matt Kenseth, was 4th. At lap 133 the top five were Biffle, Gordon, Johnson Kenseth and Kurt Busch.
We're out and waiting for Victory Lane.

Update--Sprinkles on Lap 4

It took just four laps before the sprinkles fell upon Auto Club Speedway. At the time, Jimmie Johnson was leading, and Kyle Busch was on the move from 10th to 5th. There is no disguising the empty seats here, as we caught the ServiceMaster Clean crew jet drying the track. NASCAR hopes the sprinkles hold off...because it could be a night of sprinkles-jet dryer-sprinkles-jet dryer until the halfway distance plus one lap. There are lights here, in case you needed a reminder.

We'll be here to chronicle Kyle Busch's quest for the trifecta.

"The Show & Breakfast"
Kyle Busch has many nicknames (some of which we won't print). Some commentators hung "The Show" upon young Mr. Busch, who whupped the field in both the Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series races at Auto Club Speedway. The sparse few who made the trek to the Speedway saw part of history being made. Busch the younger is attempting to become the first driver to score victories in each of NASCAR's major divisions in a racing weekend. He has to beat Jimmie Johnson who will be starting out front, the beneficiary of polesitter Brian Vickers' team opting to change out the engine--and thus, starting from the rear of the field when the green flag falls. Johnson, if you remember, is the three time and defending Sprint Cup champion, and qualified 2nd.
Breakfast on race mornings does not have to mean a hockey puck sausage from a drive through window. We found a place where value and good food in large portions mean a waiting line--The Tole House Cafe, 8733 Etiwanda, Rancho Cucamonga, CA...right down the road from Auto Club Speedway. Their menu is on line here. If you go away from breakfast at the Tole House hungry, it is your fault.
We'll certainly post up a winner's snapshot once the festivities end. Like last week, we'll keep one eye on track, and one on the weather radar (Weather Underground or Weather Channel). Of course, we'll chime in with developments if warranted.

Friday, February 20, 2009

"Wiiiings on the Pole"
Brian Vickers won the pole for the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, with what he described as an almost perfect lap of 183.439 miles an hour around the 2 mile oval, which seemed to have more participants than spectators on this second day of festivities--the traditional pole day for the Sprint Cup cars. Upon further review by his Red Bull Toyota team, the engine was found to be lacking and was slated to be replaced. This will, if it happens, do two things: it elevates three time and defending Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson to the point when the green flag falls on Sunday, because if Vickers' team does replace the engine, Vickers will be placed in the rear of the field after taking a lap as the pole sitter. That change will also move Jamie McMurray to second for the start. McMurray drives for Roush Fenway Racing--with four victories in the last four years. The rest of the "Roushketeers"--Greg Biffle 5th (starts 4th); David Ragan 13th (starts 12th); pointleader Matt Kenseth 24th (23rd) and last year's winner, Cousin Carl Edwards 25th (24th).
Kurt Busch would move to third starting spot as a result. This is, of course, contingent on no one else having to go to the rear of the field.
The Dale Earnhardt, Jr. vs Brian Vickers controversy is getting old. Both drivers talked about it. The Italians have a word for all of this: "Basta!" (Enough, already!).
Rookie Scott Speed was the fastest rookie, and will start 9th (8th); fellow rookie Joey Logano takes the green from 34th (33rd).
We'll rejoin you on Sunday for the Matinee.

"More Texts than Calls; In-N-Out for Kurt"
2009 Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth said he received a lot more texts and e-mails than phone calls. He said that his Sprint Blackberry vibrated like crazy after he won the Daytona 500 last week in the first half hour after the race finished. He thought the David Letterman appearance was cool, but quickly reminded us that the focus had to be turned back to the track and the "rest of the season". Kenseth won here in 2006 and 2007. His teammate Carl Edwards won the rain delayed race last February. Greg Biffle won the February 2005 race here.
We talked with Kurt Busch for next week's "Race-Talk" program earlier today...and the 2004 Sprint Cup champion, like many of us, heads for the iconic In-N-Out hamburger chain for their freshly made products once he gets back to the West Coast and his native Las Vegas. My personal favorite is the "Double-Double, Animal Style" combo. I kid my acquaintances that all the cars I have have an autopilot for the In-N-Out near Los Angeles International Airport on Sepuldeva.
We'll be here for a long day, and post a snapshot from the polesitter for Sunday's West Coast Matinee, later on.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Drew, Matt and the Cat"

When a driver wrecks a couple of cars at Daytona, you could be in for a long afternoon, especially starting 39th, as did Roush Fenway Racing's Matt Kenseth. But if that driver has quick enough pit work, and can put the car in the right place at the right time, anything can happen--just ask Matt what happened when he passed then leader Elliott Sadler on lap 146 and then the last of eight cautions flew the next lap later. The 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion won the 51st Daytona 500, when NASCAR called the race after 152 laps. 2007 winner Kevin "Happy" Harvick finished 2nd; A. J. Allmendinger 3rd (a popular podium finish and some say not the last one for the driver from Los Gatos, California) Clint Bowyer 4th and Sadler 5th. Rookie phenom Joey Logano was in an accident and wrecked out 43rd...Kyle Busch led 88 laps and was caught up in the "big one"--he was credited with 41st. Tony Stewart led 15 laps and came home 8th...his teammate Ryan Newman not so lucky--36th after all his woes.
We'll be catching breakfast at the Daytona 500 Experience with Kenseth (middle), crew chief Drew Blickensderfer (left) and team owner Jack Roush (right) tomorrow.

"Soggy Harley J Earl"
An mid morning shower sprinkled upon this trophy as it was hauled into the Infield Media Center for photos and presentations before the start of the 51st Daytona 500. As a reminder, the Daytona International Speedway does have lights, and you may be assured that NASCAR will pull out all the stops to get the race in today--even though it may end at midnight or later. Here's what they are facing: Local weather forecasts call for a 60 percent chance of showers today. That's not so bad if it's a sprinkle. If something more than that falls, the ServiceMaster Clean track crew will go to work to dry the track and do so for at least 2 hours and 15 minutes, as they circle the 2 1/2 mile trioval.
The US Army crew and the Office Depot/Old Spice crew of Stewart-Haas Racing are taking advantage of each minute...we just saw the Army car enter the "room of doom", a/k/a NASCAR Inspection room. Team co-owner Tony Stewart was taken out when Ryan Newman had a right rear tire explode in final practice yesterday morning. Stewart was, as you might expect, less than pleased with the official tire sponsor, Goodyear. Stu Grant, Goodyear's racing boss, had his engineers look at what was left of the tire, and said that a hole in the tire caused the explosion and subsequent crash. Mr. Stewart was not impressed, even though he won the Nationwide Series race (on Goodyears) yesterday.
Kevin "Bono" Manion likely enjoys the focus being placed on Stewart and Newman (who'll go to backup cars and start from the rear of the 43 car grid when the green flag flies) so his driver, pole sitter Martin Truex, Jr, can prepare for the race, whenever it runs.
We'll update definitely with a winner's snapshot, either in the Media Center or in Victory Lane. When, depends on the weather.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"American Hero Visits the World Center of Racing"

Sergeant First Class Samuel Potter is another one of those men and women we thank for the freedom to do what we do. He saw enough rough stuff with the 1st Infantry Division in Tikrit, Iraq (the home of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein) to earn an award of the Combat Action Badge, and was also awarded a Purple Heart for combat wounds. Potter is back in the States, and is assigned as a recruiter in nearby Orlando, FL. He is a senior non-commissioned officer, responsible for the supervision, education, training and welfare of his junior soldiers. His counterpart on Ryan Newman's #39 US Army Chevy Impala SS team is crew chief Tony Gibson. Gibson is getting a backup car ready for Newman on Sunday after Newman's woes in the second Daytona Duel.
I mention Sgt. 1st Cl. Potter because this morning after the Duels, many things were said about giving back by Jeff Gordon, who walks the walk and talks the talk with his foundation, and Greg Biffle, who mentioned his foundation (like Army driver Ryan Newman, Biffle has a soft spot for animals) in press conferences. That's important and appreciated.
But none of us could exercise our freedoms if it were not for the selfless service and leadership of soldiers like Sgt 1st Cl. Potter. The Army is calling 2009 the "year of the non-commissioned officer". So when you see a soldier in uniform wearing stripes, you are looking at the reason the US Army is able to do what it does every day.
Not so much to report from on-track...with practice for Sunday's Daytona 500 just concluding.
Jamie McMurray topped the charts in practice number 5 at 191.546 miles an hour. Newman did get on track to run 20 laps--his best speed 187.750 miles an hour. T'would seem that Chad Knaus used this session--by running 40 laps, the most of any of the 37 drivers--as a test by three time and defending Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson.
We'll lay low until the race, unless developments warrant a break-in.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Daytona Duels and other short takes"

Greetings from the "World Center of Racing", where the best seats in the house--along the start finish line--are on sale. Daytona boss Robin Braig told me that the best value seats ($55) are almost sold out...and that he feels confident that the 51st running of the Daytona 500 will end up being a sell out.

Chris Browning of Darlington Raceway tells me that plans proceed for the May race at the track too tough to tame and the "all you can eat grandstand" will make its return. Remember, you read it here first.
Jeff Gordon (a multiple Daytona 500 winner if you remember) won the first Daytona Duel...the two drivers who had to race their way in were past series champion Tony Stewart (who is now a team owner) and Scott Riggs (whose team basically began operations 23 days ago). Polesitter Martin Truex led most of the laps until a tire problem relegated him to the back of the pack. No damage so the pole winning car will start up front as per NASCAR rule.
Kyle Busch won the second duel...the two drivers who had to race their way into the 500 were A. J. Allmendinger and Jeremy Mayfield. Ryan Newman had issues during his duel, so the defending winner of the 500 will have to start near the back. Both Allmendinger and Mayfield had interesting off seasons...their persistence proves that there is a silver lining in every cloud.
We'll kinda lay low until Sunday...when our work begins in earnest.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"This is NOT Carl's Car"

Ever wonder what Carl Edwards' Aflac Ford Fusion would look like if designed by the Aflac Duck? I submit the preceding photo for your viewing pleasure.
You'll see this creation in some new Aflac TV ads.
I bet the ServiceMaster cleanup crew is happy that Aflac's duck is not on the property. It might take a few of the 700 bags of speedy dry in case the duck did what ducks normally do.
Now, for the serious business--Edwards says that he wants to stay near the front in both the Duels and the Daytona 500--not necessarily in the lead--but something like what Happy Harvick did to Jamie McMurray on Saturday night. On a green-white-checker restart, that strategy changes. Edwards wants to stay on the point, because the green portion of the lap might last just a few seconds before crashing begins and the final yellow is unfurled.
Those of you who migrated here since the Daly Planet suspended operations, might like to hear about the comments of ESPN Motorsports boss Rich Feinberg. I asked Feinberg about the tendency to use all of the special effects in the television truck, to the detriment of the storytelling by Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree. Feinberg says it's kind of hard to strike a balance. He admitted that a few times last year, the Worldwide Leader went too heavily on effects and not heavily enough on the story. Bottom line: They are still and continually trying to find a good balance--and you will see that process unfold when ESPN begins their Nationwide Series race coverage on Saturday.
Also, Jamie Little told me that she WILL be back in Long Beach to defend her title in the Pro Celebrity Race at the Toyota Long Beach of Grand Prix Weekend on April 18. Jamie patrols the pits for ESPN coverage, and will miss a couple of weeks to prepare for the race. She'll start in the Pro Category.
Tomorrow, the Duels will sort the starting spots among the drivers already in the 500 (except for polesitter Martin Truex and second starter Mark Martin), and the four who will have to race their way in. Thirteen drivers will go home.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

"Truex, Bono get Redemption, Daytona 500 Pole; Mark Martin Starts Second"
Despite the sturm und drang of the off season, Martin Truex, Jr and crew chief Kevin "Bono" Manion led the way for the merged Earnhardt Ganassi racing squad with a second career pole position in NASCAR Sprint Cup's biggest race. Truex qualified his Bass Pro Shops Chevy Impala with a 47.872 second lap of the 2 and 1/2 mile Daytona International Speedway, which translates to a speed of 188.001 miles an hour. Sharing the front row is Mark Martin who clocked in at 187.717 miles an hour. Some of the other notables: 2008 winner Ryan Newman ran third; last night's Bud Shootout winner and 2007 Champion Kevin "Happy" Harvick ran 49th of 56 qualifiers. Three time and defending Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson clocked in 6th.
Scanners are neat things. We had the FOX TV intercom channel up and heard the announcers (Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds) comment off air about the crowd, which was down, despite weather the rest of the United States would envy. There will likely be good seats available for Thursday's Daytona Duels...and the rest of the weekend, too.
Now the redemption--Truex's team was whacked by the lash of NASCAR justice last July here at the "World Center of Racing" for irregularities in inspection. The team wanted to show that it had something. It did.
Mark Martin is jacked up for this race...he, too has unfinished business, after the 2007 loss to "Happy" Harvick.
We're off until late Wednesday unless there's some developments.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

"Happy Harvick--Bud Shootout Winner"

The 2007 Daytona 500 winner, Kevin Harvick, ended up in victory lane tonight, ending a dearth on on-track activity for the Sprint Cup cars since Homestead last November. Harvick took the lead from then leader Jamie McMurray on the last lap of a green-white-checker restart, which added three laps to the posted 75. McMurray finished second...and Tony Stewart was third. The race was punctuated by 8 caution periods, including a last lap accident which Harvick, McMurray and Stewart avoided. The race saw a record 23 lead changes among 14 drivers. The win was Harvick's first win in five tries. A. J. Allmendinger finished 5th in an RPM Dodge...and the best Toyota (as it was for most of 2008) belonged to Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch (10th). The much ballyhooed debut of Gibbs teammate Joey Logano didn't live up to the hype this evening--the rookie was involved in an early (lap 4) crash with David Ragan, Robby Gordon, and fellow rookie Scott Speed. Logano survived the ARCA event a few minutes prior...which was drawn out by some spectacular crashing...which sent drivers to Halifax Medical Center down the road from the track. Logano finished second to eventual ARCA winner James Buescher.
Tomorrow is Pole Day for the 500...when the 51 cars will take timed laps...that will take some time because cars with restrictor plates don't get up to speed as quickly. The two fastest drivers will lock in a guaranteed 1 & 2 front row. The rest is decided by a mix of results from the Gatorade Duels, qualifying results, past champion provisionals and top 35 points from 2008--that will make your brain hurt at a late hour. So, we'll get some rest, and explain it to you tomorrow morning.