Sprint Cup Series News (8071)
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the Lone Star state this weekend for a Texas-style showdown. At the end of the race Sunday, one driver will be hoisting the six-shooters at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS).
One year ago, the championship battle came down to Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Johnson put on a clinic by dominating the race at TMS and propelling the No. 48 team to a sixth Cup championship. Kenseth finished fourth at 1.5 mile track and fell short at the end of the season to Johnson.
The roles have reversed in 2014, as Johnson is out of the championship talk and Kenseth, still in the championship talk, has yet to win this season. The new Chase format has differed from years past, as drivers are eliminated in three of the first four rounds. Big names like Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch racing for pride in the final three events.
Last week at Martinsville, a non-Chaser finally cracked victory lane. 10 years to the weekend of the Hendrick plane crash, one of the team’s driver was back in winner’s circle. Earnhardt made the pass on Tony Stewart with five laps to go to claim his first grandfather clock at the Virginia track. Jeff Gordon led the most laps on the day, but a speeding penalty set the No. 24 team to the rear and rebounded to finish runner-up and take over the points lead.
Going into Texas, the Penske and Hendrick cars have been the ones to beat on any type of track recently. Both teams have combined for six of the seven Chase wins, with the exception of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick winning at Charlotte three weeks ago. His teammate and owner, Tony Stewart, tied his best finish of the year with a fourth at Martinsville. Harvick is the only SHR driver left in championship contention.
The California driver’s looks to rebound after being caught up in an accident with Matt Kenseth and relegating the No. 4 team to a 33rd place finish. Another Chaser had trouble at the Paper Clip as well. Brad Keselowski’s transmission went on the No. 2 car a few laps after a restart mid-way and was tagged from behind by Casey Mears and resulted in a smash-up of Kasey Kahne’s car. Texas, and next week at Phoenix, will be must-wins for the No. 2 and 4 teams, as the two drivers can likely score a win in either week.
The odds are good for Keselowski, since his Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano won at Texas in the spring. Logano escaped Martinsville with a top-five finish and sits third in the standings. Only two drivers have swept at Texas: Carl Edwards in 2008 and Denny Hamlin in 2010.
Hamlin was a bright spot last week at Martinsville leading laps late, but getting shuffled back to finish ninth. Matt Kenseth is the leading Joe Gibbs Racing driver in fourth in the points standings. After getting into Harvick at Martinsville, Kenseth apologized for the contact. Kyle Busch is racing out the next three weeks to look for his second win of 2014.
A non-Chaser could play the spoiler role again this week. Rookie Kyle Larson has been close on several occasions to winning in 2014, including runner-up finishes at Auto Club and Loudon in September. Larson led the late stages at Chicagoland before finishing third. Jimmie Johnson is the two-time defending winner of the Texas fall race and could make it three-in-a-row in his red Lowe’s car, representing all the company's employees all across America.
The green flag for the AAA Texas 500 drops at 3 p.m. ET and will be shown live on ESPN.
Less than two weeks ago, Brad Keselowski was the talk of NASCAR World after he pulled out an improbable victory in a “win or go home” situation at Talladega that propelled him into the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Going into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN), Keselowski finds himself in a similar predicament. After finishing 31st in the opening Eliminator Round race at Martinsville, the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford driver is 26 points behind the Chase cutoff line and essentially needs to win one of the next two races at Texas or Phoenix to move on to the Championship final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“We were doing the things we needed to do, we were surviving,” said Keselowski about his performance at Martinsville. “We were gonna probably have ourselves a fifth or sixth-place day, which is certainly something we could be proud of and move forward with, but this kind of puts us in a position now where we need to win.”
Fortunately for Keselowski, winning hasn’t been a problem for him this season. The 30-year-old Michigan native leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with six victories and has captured a checkered flag in each of the first two rounds of the pressure-packed Chase.
Unfortunately, winning at Texas and Phoenix has been a problem for Keselowski throughout his career. In a combined 22 starts at the two tracks, Keselowski has yet to collect a victory.
Recent success at the pair of courses suggests Keselowski is on the verge of breaking through for his first win at either of them. In his last four starts at Texas, Keselowski claims three top-10 finishes, including a runner-up showing in the fall of his 2012 championship season. While Keselowski struggled in his first five career starts at Phoenix with no showing better than 15th, he has placed sixth or better in his last five races at the Arizona track, including a third-place result from the pole this spring.
Keselowski feels confident in his ability to pull off a victory, especially after coming through in the clutch at Talladega.
“Yeah, it’s still tough to do,” Keselowski said. “It’s not like we’re just gonna go and guarantee a win at Texas and Phoenix, but it’s also not impossible, and we’ve got the team, if there is one, to pull it off.”
NBC Sports Group announced today that Krista Voda has signed a multi-year agreement to serve as host of NBC Sports’ upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series pre- and post-race coverage, beginning in 2015. Her on-air duties will also include regular appearances as host of NASCAR AMERICA on NBCSN, as well as a range of assignments across NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. The announcement was made today by Sam Flood, Executive Producer, NBC Sports and NBCSN.
"Krista is a talented host that has established a strong connection with NASCAR viewers over the course of an already impressive career," said Flood. "Her passion for the sport and comprehensive grasp of its stars, personalities and history will provide for an engaging and informative race day experience for the fans."
Krista’s résumé is among the strongest in NASCAR broadcasting. When she joins NBC Sports in 2015, it will mark her 14th continuous year covering the sport on network television. She is the current host of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series pre-race show for Fox Sports, and was the first female to ever host NASCAR’s Daytona Duels, as well as the NASCAR All-Star Race in Charlotte. She recently concluded her eighth season as a pit reporter for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series coverage on Fox and has hosted or co-hosted every NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, many NASCAR Awards Banquets, and several Fox Sports studio shows. Outside of motorsports, Krista has an impressive breadth of experience, including NFL sideline reporting, and on-air contributions to numerous major sporting events, including postseason MLB broadcasts, Bowl Championship Series coverage, the Kentucky Derby, multiple NCAA men’s basketball tournaments and the PGA Championship.
"This role is a dream opportunity for me and I'm honored to be a part of NBC’s return to NASCAR," said Voda. "We say it often, but it's true: NASCAR is more than a sport, it’s a community. I’ve been blessed, for many years, to stand alongside colleagues who I also consider dear friends. I’m looking forward to this new chapter and the chance to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for storytelling."
On July 23, 2013, NASCAR and NBC Sports Group reached a comprehensive agreement that grants NBCUniversal exclusive rights to the final 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, final 19 NASCAR XFINITY Series events, select NASCAR Regional & Touring Series events and other live content, beginning in 2015.
With this partnership, NBC’s 20 Sprint Cup race schedule includes a designation as the exclusive home to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, when the elite national series races through its final 10 events of the season. The Chase culminates with the season-ending championship event, which returns to network television in 2015 for the first time since 2009. Of NBC Sports Group’s 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events, seven will be carried on NBC annually, with 13 airing on NBCSN. Four of NBC Sports Group’s 19 NASCAR XFINITY Series races will air on NBC, with 15 airing on NBCSN.
NASCAR AMERICA premiered in February, following Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 victory and NBC Sports Group’s multi-platform coverage of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. The weekday 30-minute news and highlights program is hosted primarily by NASCAR on NBC lead race announcer Rick Allen and features regular appearances by NBC Sports NASCAR analyst Jeff Burton, reporters Marty Snider, Kelli Stavast and Nate Ryan, as well as guest analysts such as Kyle Petty, Bobby Labonte, Wally Dallenbach and Frank Stoddard.
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When Trevor Bayne and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team hit the track at Texas Motor Speedway, team founder Glen Wood will have one eye on the No. 21 Ford Fusion and the other on the three Ford drivers among the eight in the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Additionally, Wood likely will be paying more attention to how Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards fare in the championship battle that he did to his own team back in 1963 when it won the owner’s championship in the series now known as Sprint Cup.
Joe Weatherly, who drove for the Woods early in his career, won the driving title in ’63, but he did it by driving for nine different car owners throughout the season, so none of them accumulated a significant number of owner points. Wood’s team ran 24 of the 55 races that season with five different drivers behind the wheel of their No. 21 Ford. Fred Lorenzen, Tiny Lund, Dave MacDonald, Marvin Panch and Wood himself all spent time behind the wheel, and the team won three races and had 17 top-five finishes. Lund scored the biggest victory, winning the Daytona 500. Panch, who was burned in a sports car crash prior to the 500 and was unable to compete in the Great American Race, returned to the No. 21 later in the season and won at North Wilkesboro, while Wood himself took the victory at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.
But in that era of the sport, championships didn’t carry the significance or pay the amount of money they do today.
“We didn’t even know we were in that category until the season was over,” Wood said. “It wasn’t like today when there’s a big fuss over it. It wasn’t until Winston came along and sponsored the series that championships became so important.”
The Woods’ championship trophy actually bears the name of another Wood Brother - Ray Lee Wood, a crewmember and tire changer in the team’s early years.
Glen Wood said he listed his brother as car owner back in the day as a cost-saving move.
“Times were hard back then, and I probably saved $10 or $15 by listing Ray Lee as the car owner,” he said. “I had to buy a driver’s license for myself, and if I listed myself as the car owner, I’d have to have two licenses. So it saved one license by putting Ray Lee as the owner.”
Despite running a limited schedule for most of their NASCAR careers, the Woods have had several strong finishes in the championship battle. In 1974, with David Pearson at the wheel, the Woods ran just 19 of the 30 races that year but still finished third behind champion Richard Petty and runner-up Cale Yarborough on the strength of seven wins and 15 top-five finishes, five of which were second-place.
“Some of those years, all we would have had to do to win the championship was run a few more races,” Wood said, adding that if his team were to get the sponsorship needed to run all the races each year he’d relish the chance to compete for another championship.
Wood said the new format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup has brought much more publicity to the sport, especially in the final weeks of the season, but it also makes for some nerve-wracking times for the participants.
“There’s been a lot of ink about the Chase,” he said. “But the way it is now, even the best teams can get knocked out by an accident that’s no fault of theirs.”
“No matter how it goes, somebody will be the champion when it’s over.”
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In slang, the term “old school” can refer to anything that is from an earlier era or anything that may be considered old-fashioned. The term is commonly used to suggest a high regard for something that has been shown to have lasting value or quality.
Call him nostalgic, but Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has always seemed to gravitate toward, and respond well with that old-school feel in an age where racing has embraced an engineering-based leadership.
So, when the Haas Automation team arrives at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, it will have a different, yet familiar look thanks to a crew swap between the teams of Busch and Danica Patrick that will go into effect this weekend in preparation for the 2015 season.
Busch, spotter Rick Carelli, and the No. 41 team’s pit crew are the only remaining members from the Haas Automation team that began the 2014 season. Beginning this weekend, the mechanics, engineers and entire road crew for the No. 41 team will be led by crew chief Tony Gibson, who will take the seat atop the Haas Automation pit box.
For Gibson, leading a race team isn’t just about making the right calls during any given race. Instead, the Daytona Beach, Florida native takes a hands-on approach with his racecar at the SHR shop, and it extends all the way to the racetrack – something many consider to be old school. He oversees every aspect of the development of the team’s fleet of racecars. He takes great pride in working with his cars, from bare chassis, to hanging the car’s body, to painting and decaling the car, to setting up the car for each track. Gibson wants to be there with his racecars each and every step of the way.
Gibson came to SHR in 2009 from Dale Earnhardt, Inc., to serve as Ryan Newman’s crew chief of the No. 39 Chevrolet. Many of the crewmembers who worked with him came to SHR, as well. As such, Busch gets a close-knit crew that believes in the old-school mentality that has been a key to the group’s success.
A look at Busch’s career shows that he’s seemed to thrive when he’s paired with a crew chief who shares that same, old-school mentality that Gibson has. Busch has been quick to compare Gibson to Jimmy Fennig, with whom he’s won 14 Sprint Cup races and the 2004 championship.
While the team may look different this weekend, the goal remains the same. Even though he’s no longer in contention to win the Sprint Cup championship this year, Busch wants to finish the season with as many solid finishes as possible and, ideally, wins. Beyond that, as Gibson enters the picture with three races remaining in 2014, Busch and his new-look No. 41 Haas Automation team are working together to get a jump on 2015.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Texas Motor Speedway for a trip around one of the biggest and fastest tracks on the circuit.
It’s also hunting season and as most know, it’s one of Clint Bowyer’s favorite times of the year. In fact, before visiting the 1.5-mile oval Bowyer will spend a little time in camouflage. He will trade in the camo attire for his 5-hour ENERGY firesuit on Friday riding momentum after two weeks of top 10 finishes.
At Talladega he finished third and last weekend at Martinsville he had another shot at a win when he started fourth during a green-white-checkered restart. Unfortunately, he got hung in the high line during the final laps but still managed to finish seventh.
He carries that momentum into Texas where Bowyer has finished in the top 10 in six of the last eight races, including an eighth-place finish at the Ft. Worth track back in April.
And while Bowyer may be hunting game during the week, this weekend he is hunting something else to go on his mantle, a trophy from victory lane.
How do you approach the closing races of this season?
“For us it’s more of an organization deal, not just a team thing. We’ve got to figure out how to collectively get better with both cars. We’ve got a lot of areas that we can improve on. It’s easy to point fingers on a lot of big areas that you think, but in all honesty in this sport and in this garage it’s the little things that make up the difference. There’s clearly a lot of things we have to get better at.”
Is there a different approach to these races knowing the team will have a new car and new rules for 2015?
“To be honest, that’s a good thing for me. It’s quite obvious that we missed the mark on this car for this year. The best thing that I can see is the light at the end of the tunnel is a completely different animal -- starting from scratch again next year with a new car and new rules and everything else. Hopefully, we can be a lot better to the punch line at the beginning of the year than we were and not have to play catch up all season long like we’ve been.”
Brian Vickers and the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine team at Michael Waltrip Racing are getting a jump on the 2015 season testing the newly unveiled 2015 Toyota Camry this week at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
After Tuesday and Wednesday’s Goodyear tire test, Vickers and team will travel to Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s 500-mile race on the 1.5-mile ultrafast oval in Fort Worth. The Thomasville, N.C. native finished fourth at Texas in April.
BRIAN VICKERS ON TESTING 2015 CAMRY IN CALIFORNIA: “It was good to get some time behind the wheel of the 2015 Camry (on Tuesday.) We brought a lot of engineers from MWR and Toyota Racing Development to Fontana to work on the car. I don’t know if you have ever been to a test, but it isn't very exciting for a race car driver. I drive for a couple of laps, tell them what I feel, then the engineers will pour over the data, make some changes and back I go out on the track. We just repeat that throughout the day. It might not be as fun as racing but testing is where we learn what the Goodyear tires, our car and engine like and don’t like. I enjoy the science behind testing. The more you learn in testing the better you will be in the race. With the reduction in testing planned for next season, days like this are very valuable. So far I love what I see with the new Camry. It looks good, and drives good.”
TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY: “The thing that jumps out at you at Texas is how fast it is. The pole speed was over 195 mph in April and that’s on a 1.5-mile track. I heard a stat the other day that 21 of the 27 winners at Texas have come from drivers starting in the top 10. That means getting a good start is important so Friday’s qualifying has added emphasis. We won the pole there in 2006 and I’d sure like to get another one on Friday.”
Few positions in sports are as important to the success or failure of their teams as the NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chief.
It’s why as the Wood Brothers Racing Team prepares its famed No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, no one on the team is busier or has more responsibility for the preparation of the race car than crew chief Donnie Wingo.
Nothing happens to the race car – no set up tweak or tire change – unless the crew chief says so. That level of responsibility often results in blame in the face of failure and little glory on the heels of success. That tends to fall on the driver like victory lane confetti and champagne spray.
“It’s the hardest job in here by far,” said Eddie Wood, co-owner of the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion. “Earlier crew chiefs had to worry about everything about the car and the people, and they still do. There’s just more of it. The job hasn’t changed. It’s just become harder.”
Wood explained that as the race cars themselves become more sophisticated, so do their support mechanisms. “There are so many more elements of the crew chief job now with engineering, simulations, aerodynamics and engines,” he said. “It’s so much more complex. He’s like an air traffic controller. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on him. Everything’s got to work and the crew chief is the one who puts that all together.”
Following in Leonard Wood’s footsteps as crew chief of the iconic No. 21 is Wingo, who said, “It’s changed a lot. Back when I first started, the crew chief was a mechanic like everyone else. I changed springs, put motors and gears in, whatever needed to be done. It’s evolved since then. You’re more of a people person, more like a manager.”
Wingo, who started in racing as a “gofer” for a small, independent racing team in the early ‘80s before becoming a crew chief for Brett Bodine in Bud Moore’s operation a decade later, is the primary conduit of information between the team and Wood Brothers Racing’s current technical alliance partner, Roush Fenway Racing.
“This sport changes from week to week and with us running a limited schedule, without that information coming back, you’d be in trouble,” Wingo stated. “It would be tough, really tough - a lot tougher than it already is.”
Today, tough equals delegating responsibility for every aspect of the Motorcraft/Quick Lane race car to a crew of approximately 30 people. It includes managing the resources of a limited-schedule team trying to stay competitive on the race track against teams with more people and many more millions of dollars in funding. For Wingo and his Wood Brothers Racing Team, that starts two weeks before a race in which they are scheduled to run.
“We get the car on the Monday the week before race week,” Wingo explains. “We try to take the car to the wind tunnel to get the best balance. The engines usually come on Wednesday and by the end of the week before the race we install all the springs that we plan on running.”
On Monday of race week, the No. 21 goes into the chassis dyno at the Wood Brothers shop to make sure the engine is running the way the Roush Yates Engines says it is supposed to be running.
“On Tuesday we’ll grid the car and make sure everything’s good NASCAR-wise, roll through a preliminary tech (inspection) and after that we’ll final scale it and do all the final touches,” Wingo explains.
Depending on the track schedule of a particular race, the team will start the car in either race trim or qualifying trim, then change during the practice session to suit their needs. “If we have two practices before we qualify, we’ll start in race trim, then move to qualifying trim and get a better balance,” he said.
Wednesday of race week will find the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team loading all the parts and pieces the team will need for that week’s race, including the primary and back-up race cars, on the hauler to get the vehicle on its way to the track before lunch. Thursday is a travel day.
“When I started, I drove the truck,” Wingo recalls. “We drove everywhere in the truck. We didn’t know anything about traveling to races on airplanes.”
Race weekend begins on Friday with the crew unloading, setting up the garage and putting the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion through its first NASCAR inspection in time for practice to begin at around noon.
“During that first practice, you’re basically communicating with the driver to see where the balance of the car is and adjust it from there,” Wingo said. “In qualifying trim you’re just trying to get the most speed out of it that you can. Some places you go, you have to scuff the tires and we’ll start with that. While you’re doing that you’re trying to work on the balance a little bit.”
Communication is also key in NASCAR’s new knock-out qualifying system, according to Wingo. “Once you make your first run you can see where your balance is and then you go from there. Just like practice you’re trying to fine tune the balance to get the best speed you can.”
The refinement continues during Saturday’s practice sessions. “Driver feedback is really all you have at a race weekend,” he said. “You don’t have telemetry. You’re going off what the driver says when you’re tuning the car. It’s not like a test where you have all the data coming from the car.”
Race day finds Wingo supervising the final touches of race car set up before the last pre-race inspection. He also checks out the pit box to make sure everything and everyone is in place and ready to go.
“About an hour before the race we have our little team meeting in the hauler and go over what the trends are for this track, how many laps we think we can go on fuel so everybody’s got a good idea when we’ll be pitting and get ready to race,” he explained.
During the race the crew chief becomes the team’s master strategist in an environment that is as ever-changing as war.
“There are a lot of things that can happen,” Wingo said. “There’s track position. You have to decide what’s best for a particular situation based on your pit window. Maybe it’s best to stay out or take the wave around. It’s changing as the race goes on and you have to do what’s best for you at that point.”
Like in practice and qualifying, the only data available to the crew chief during the race are lap times and driver feedback.
“You feed the driver lap times as often as possible because he’s always looking for the best line around the track,” Wingo said. “You may not be the quickest car on the track but you find a line that will give you the best lap time for you at that particular moment.”
When the checkered flag drops, the crew puts everything back on the hauler and the process starts all over with one exception.
“As long as the car’s not torn up, we’ll debrief it when we get back to the shop to make sure we didn’t have anything change during the race,” he said.
Eddie Wood, who has seen the crew chief position evolve during his many years in racing, said earlier that the job was like being an air traffic controller. He amended that later to a sports analogy.
“If you compare it to football, he’s kind of the quarterback, but also the coach and a little bit of general manager.”
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