Sprint Cup Series News (4543)
Penske Racing won't be getting any money or points back, but the organization won a substantial reduction of suspensions to key personnel at an appeal Tuesday before National Stock Car Racing Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook.
NASCAR levied the penalties for use of unapproved parts in the rear end housings of Penske's two Sprint Cup cars on Apr. 17 after confiscating the housings before the Apr. 13 NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Middlebrook upheld $100,000 fines to Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon, crew chiefs for the Nos. 2 and 22 Fords of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, respectively, and upheld penalties of 25 championship points each to Keselowski and Logano, and to the respective owners of record of the two cars, Roger Penske and Walt Czarnecki.
The chief appellate officer, however, reduced the suspensions of seven key team members from six points races to two. Wolfe and Gordon, as well as their car chiefs (Jerry Kelly and Raymond Fox), race engineers (Brian Wilson and Samuel Stanley) and Penske team manager Travis Geisler, will miss Sprint Cup points races at Darlington and Charlotte, as well-as the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte, but will be eligible to return to competition for the May 31-June 2 Cup weekend at Dover.
Penske initially appealed the sanctions May 1 to the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel, and all penalties were upheld. The organization then escalated the appeal to Middlebrook, who heard from both Penske executives and NASCAR officials on Tuesday, separately and jointly.
Roger Penske said an important element of Tuesday's appeal was a frank dialogue with Middlebrook and Sprint Cup Series director John Darby.
"Today we had the opportunity to sit down across from John Middlebrook, the chief appellate officer and also John Darby," Penske said after the ruling. "(John) Darby gave us specifics on our penalty -- not just sections of the rule book.
"We were able to talk about areas that we worked in, which obviously were undefined in the rule book, and I think, at the end, after consideration by John Middlebrook, he felt that the fines and the penalties were overreaching and made the decision to reduce them."
Penske indicated he was pleased with the outcome and said the team would announce replacements from the suspended personnel later this week.
"We'll go to the track at Darlington without our key members, obviously," Penske said. "We have a real strong bench. It's past us now. We'll move on, and I'll have to say that the process was very fair and equitable that NASCAR was able to provide for Penske Racing and our whole team."
NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp suggested that Tuesday's hearing was a validation of NASCAR's bifurcated appeals process.
"NASCAR is one of the few sports in America that has a two-tier appeals process," Tharp said. "We believe in the teams getting due process when it comes to rules and regulations, and we believe that has happened here again today."
The penalties imposed by NASCAR after the Apr. 13 race at Texas were historic in terms of the number of suspensions to key personnel.
NASCAR inspectors discovered the infractions involving the rear housings during pre-race inspection at Texas and confiscated the housings that were installed on both the No. 2 and 22 Fords. The Penske teams were required to replace both housings before the race. Keselowski's car arrived at the starting grid in the nick of time, but Logano's was late.
Consequently, Logano started the race from the rear of the field, but both drivers rallied to post top-10 finishes.
After Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, Brad Keselowski on Twitter in essence accused David Ragan of trying to manipulate his running position before the green-white-checkered restart.
On Tuesday, Keselowski took the high road and apologized for his comments in an open letter on his www.bradracing.com web site, indicating he had jumped the gun in blaming Ragan for the confusion before the restart. An abundance of web hits crashed the site for more than two hours.
Here's the text of Keselowski's apology:
"I finally had a chance to digest what happened at the end of the Cup race at Talladega on Sunday. I owe David Ragan and his fans an apology. I placed blame on David Ragan for the restart lineup confusion when it wasn't his fault.
"I was very passionate about the finish because I thought we had a chance to win the race if I restarted the race in the 10th position instead of ninth. Passion is a very important characteristic to a champion driver. That passion is not something I will apologize for. The outside line -- the 10th spot, in particular -- was a huge advantage over the 9th position. David executed that positioning perfectly for the win.
"I know first-hand what it's like to take a lower-budget team (to) Victory Lane. My comments were never to detract from their victory. They were only to express my opinion that I thought we had been wronged.
"Basically what happened is that, when the yellow came out at lap 184 the lineup was supposed to be Scott Speed, myself and David (in the eighth, ninth and 10th positions, respectively). We were actually lined up David, Scott and me because we were unsure what the lineup was. NASCAR did not change this before opening pit road so by procedure we were lined up in the proper positions. NASCAR made a last-minute lineup change that we missed as we were getting ready to go back to green. David attempted to make it right by letting me go at the start/finish line with one to go. I thought he was attempting to change the pylon (scoring tower) because the order is supposed to be set before pit road opens.
"With the multicar wreck (on Lap 183), the rain and the impending darkness it is easy to see how NASCAR could have made that mistake.
"It was a confusing time for all of us. I want to send a sincere congratulation out to David Ragan and everyone at Front Row Motorsports. It was a very cool win for our sport." -- Brad
NASCAR issued a statement after the race saying that Ragan had lined up properly for the restart.
Anything can happen at Talladega Superspeedway.
Anyone can win at Talladega.
That's the allure of racing at the 2.66-mile behemoth in Alabama. And that's what all drivers will have in the back of their minds this weekend as they prepare for Sunday's Aaron's 499 (1:00 p.m. ET, FOX).
They all know they have a chance to be the lucky driver celebrating in Victory Lane. They all know it's an unpredictable race … even with a couple laps left.
"Talladega is like rolling the dice at a craps table -- how do you do it, when you do it -- are you going to get on a roll," said Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. "I mean, that's exactly the way it is. Everybody has a shot at winning. Everybody has the same dice. You just have to have a lucky roll, lucky push and just get up there. That's really what it's come down to."
Bowyer knows what he's talking about having won there twice in the past five races. He is also the proud owner of four top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 15 starts at the track.
"We've been on a roll here recently with our race team and we're hoping to get through Talladega with a good finish -- if not a win -- and keep digging," said Bowyer.
In last spring's race, the Kansas native finished a respectable sixth. Then, in the fall 2012 race, he was leading the field with one lap to go when a 25-car pile-up coming out of turn 4 knocked him out of contention for the win and relegated him to a 23rd-place finish.
The 2011 Aaron's 499 provided the typical Talladega excitement, especially on the final lap. Bowyer battled Jimmie Johnson door-to-door around the track only to be beaten by Johnson at the finish line by 0.002 seconds, tying the closest finish in NASCAR since the introduction of electronic timing in 1993. Bowyer led a race-high 38 circuits.
Bowyer's second-place showing was sandwiched between two Talladega performances that both resulted in victories. In the fall 2010 race, Bowyer had barely passed Kevin Harvick on the white-flag lap when a five-car accident brought the race to an end under caution. Bowyer passed Jeff Burton on the final lap of the fall 2011 race to capture the checkered flag in the Good Sam Club 500. The finish was another nail biter with Bowyer winning by only 0.018 seconds.
Bowyer, arguably, has had more success than any other driver having collected 151 championship points over the past four races at Talladega, more than any other driver since NASCAR introduced a simpler scoring system prior to the 2011 season.
This season, however, brings an unknown element to the high-banked, restrictor-plate track with the introduction of the Generation-6 race cars. Although Sunday's race will be the first time the Gen-6 cars will face competition at Talladega, it will be the cars' second go with restrictor plates.
One of the biggest advocates for the new Gen-6 cars and the on-track action it provides is Bowyer, especially after last Saturday's race at Richmond International Raceway.
"Look at these highlights. Isn't this awesome! I love this sport, I'm telling you. Whoever designed this new car, we should kiss 'em every weekend. It's creating drama," exclaimed an elated Bowyer while highlights of last Saturday's Toyota Owners 400 played on televisions in the Richmond media center after finishing second to Harvick in the race.
"Look at that. There we go right there, Joey [Logano]. Right up the inside. Here we come."
Bowyer, who jumped from eighth to fifth in points after last week's runner-up performance, finished 11th in the season-opening Daytona 500 -- the first restrictor-plate race of the season. In nine races this season, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship runner-up, has four top fives and five top 10s.
With the exception of a 27th-place finish at Las Vegas and a 35th-place finish at Auto Club, all of Bowyer's finishes were in the top 15.
Fantasy Focus: This week there are two veteran drivers everyone should look at -- one obvious and one not so obvious. First, let's start with the obvious one. Although he's only won twice since 2007 and hasn't been to Victory Lane at Talladega since 2004 (ok, maybe he's not quite that obvious), Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s success there is undeniable. He has five career victories there; four of them came in consecutive visits from fall 2001 to spring 2003. He has the second highest driver rating (89.6) among active drivers and is among the best in categories like fastest laps, laps in the top 15, green passes and quality passes. In the past six spring Talladega races (dating back to 2007), Earnhardt has finishes of seventh, 10th, second, 13th, fourth and ninth. What about the driver with the highest driver rating (91.4) and most green passes (6,338) and quality passes (4,327) at Talladega? That would be none other than South Boston, Va., native Jeff Burton. Although he has never won a NASCAR Sprint Cup event there, Burton has finished in the top 10 during his last three visits and was runner-up in the fall 2011 race.
I finally had a chance to digest what happened at the end of the Cup race at Talladega on Sunday. I owe David Ragan and his fans an apology. I placed blame on David Ragan for the restart lineup confusion when it wasn’t his fault.
I was very passionate about the finish because I thought we had a chance to win the race if I restarted the race in the 10th position instead of ninth. Passion is a very important characteristic to a champion driver. That passion is not something I will apologize for. The outside line – the 10th spot, in particular – was a huge advantage over the 9th position. David executed that positioning perfectly for the win.
I know first-hand what it’s like to take a lower-budget team victory lane. My comments were never to detract from their victory. They were only to express my opinion that I thought we had been wronged.
Basically what happened is that, when the yellow came out at lap 184 the lineup was supposed to be Scott Speed, myself and David. We were actually lined up David, Scott and me because we were unsure what the lineup was. NASCAR did not change this before opening pit road so by procedure we were lined up in the proper positions. NASCAR made a last-minute lineup change that we missed as we were getting ready to go back to green. David attempted to make it right by letting me go at the start/finish line with one to go. I thought he was attempting to change the pylon because the order is supposed to be set before pit road opens.
With the multi-car wreck, the rain and the impending darkness it is easy to see how NASCAR could have made that mistake.
It was a confusing time for all of us. I want to send a sincere congratulation out to David Ragan and everyone at Front Row Motorsports. It was a very cool win for our sport.
- Brad Keselowski Facebook
On May 7, 2013 the Chief Appellate Officer heard and considered the appeal of the penalties from the No. 2 and No. 22 Penske Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams. These penalties stemmed from pre-race inspection for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Texas Motor Speedway April 13.
The penalties concern Sections 12-1: Actions detrimental to stock car racing; 12-4J: Any determination by NASCAR Officials that race equipment used in the event does not conform to the NASCAR rules detailed in Section 20 of the NASCAR rule book, or has not been approved by NASCAR prior to the event; and
20-12: All suspension systems and components must be approved by NASCAR. Prior to being used in competition, all suspension systems and components must be submitted in a completed form/assembly to the office of the NASCAR competition administrator for consideration of approval and approved by NASCAR. Each such part may thereafter be used until NASCAR determines that such part is no longer eligible. All suspension fasteners and mounting hardware must be made of solid magnetic steel. All front end and rear end suspension mounts with mounting hardware assembled must have single round mounting holes that are the correct size for the fastener being used. All front end and rear end suspension mounts and mounting hardware must not allow movement or realignment of any suspension component beyond component normal rotation or suspension travel.
The original penalties assessed to the No. 2 team were:
· Crew chief (Paul Wolfe): $100,000 fine; suspended from NASCAR until the completion of the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events (plus the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race); placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31;
· Car chief Jerry Kelley, team engineer Brian Wilson and competition director Travis Geisler (serves as competition director for both the No. 2 and No. 22 cars): Suspended from NASCAR until the completion of the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events (plus the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race); placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31;
· Car owner Roger Penske: Loss of 25 championship owner points;
· Driver Brad Keselowski: Loss of 25 championship driver points.
The original penalties assessed to the No. 22 team were:
· Crew chief (Todd Gordon): $100,000 fine; suspended from NASCAR until the completion of the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events (plus the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race); placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31;
· Car chief Raymond Fox and team engineer Samuel Stanley: Suspended from NASCAR until the completion of the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events (plus the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race); placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31;
· Car owner Walt Czarnecki: Loss of 25 championship owner points;
· Driver Joey Logano: Loss of 25 championship driver points.
The results of the Chief Appellate Officer hearing were:
- Upholding the fines and points penalties that were originally assessed.
- Reducing the suspensions of the seven team members from six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events (plus the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race) to two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points events (plus the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race).
The seven team members in question will be suspended for the next three upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race weekends at Darlington Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. They will return for the race weekend at Dover International Speedway. They remain on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31.
“After looking at all the facts and data and interpretations from the rule book, I have decided to uphold the original fines and points penalties,” said John Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Officer. “However, I have decided to reduce the suspensions of the seven team members involved from six points races and the all-star race to two points races and the all-star race.”
John Middlebrook – Chief Appellate Officer
It’s entirely appropriate that Ryan Newman calls Darlington (S.C.) Raceway his favorite stop on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.
As the story goes, the 1.366-mile oval is uniquely configured thanks to a pond that its owner refused to relocate when constructing the racetrack in the late 1940s. The track’s architect made one end of the track tight, narrow and high-banked while the other he made wide, sweeping and flat.
The resulting egg-shaped layout has created quite the challenge for engineers, crew chiefs and drivers for decades. But the small pond located right outside the racetrack was not disturbed and could still be fished.
Not surprisingly, Newman ranks the South Carolina racetrack among his favorites, considering he’s an avid outdoorsman who has been fishing as long as he has been racing – since the age of 4.
But it isn’t simply the fact there’s a pond right outside the racetrack that makes the driver of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) look forward to the 64th annual running of the Southern 500.
While he’s fished the pond, his affinity for the place is mostly because of its on-track action.
For Newman, there’s nothing quite like the challenges of racing at Darlington, where drivers and their teams are constantly adjusting to the tires, the bumps and the overall character of the racetrack – and racing that predominantly occurs just inches from the outside SAFER Barrier.
From racing the racetrack to racing the 42 other competitors on the track, Newman says there’s none better on the circuit. It’s the most challenging and the most rewarding. It’s also one of the most historic Sprint Cup races, which is why a win at the Southern 500 ranks among the top wins a driver can earn, in Newman’s opinion.
While the Sprint Cup veteran has yet to find victory lane at the 1.366-mile oval, he has amassed impressive stats at the “Track Too Tough To Tame.”
Newman has scored top-five finishes in half of his 14 starts at Darlington, and also has nine top-10s.
His best finish at Darlington came during his rookie campaign in the fall 2002 Southern 500. In just his second start at the legendary racetrack, Newman was 12th on the grid, led one lap and finished second to Jeff Gordon. Newman also had a third-place finish in spring 2004, fourth-place efforts in 2007 and 2009, and fifth-place runs in the spring 2002, 2005 and 2011 events at Darlington.
And since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009, Newman & Company has produced solid performances at the racetrack. Newman has not started worse than sixth in the No. 39 car, and has two top-five finishes and three top-10s in four starts.
With Newman’s recent history at Darlington, this could be the year for him to “Bring it Home” in the form of a victory in the Southern 500.
Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Smithfield Ford team are looking to make history this weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway with a fifth consecutive top-10 finish. If the team can finish in the top-10, it will mark the first time that the Petty-owned No. 43 has more than four consecutive top-10 finishes since Richard Petty posted seven consecutive top-10s in 1983. It will also mark the first time Richard Petty Motorsports has posted five consecutive top-10 finishes.
With a 10th-place finish at Talladega, the team moved to the seventh position in championship points, a first for any Richard Petty Motorsports team after 10 races. The No. 43 team is trailing the sixth spot by six points and has a 14 point lead on 11th.
Almirola made his Darlington debut last season with the No. 43 team, where he started in the 13th spot and finished 19th. The Tampa, Fla., native also has two Nationwide and one truck start at the 1.37-mile track. His best Darlington start (fourth) and finish (ninth) came in his lone truck start in 2010. Veteran Crew Chief Todd Parrott knows how to get around the 'Lady in Black.' In his 23 starts as crew chief, he has an average start of 12.9 and finish of 11.1, including three wins and three poles.
Comments from Smithfield Ford Fusion Driver Aric Almirola:
"We sure are on a roll lately. I think we are the only people that aren't surprised we are seventh in points and have the longest current top-10 streak in the series. Todd (Parrott), the guys and I are really clicking. We worked hard over the off-season to maintain our momentum, and it worked. We just need to keep it up and start moving to top-fives and hopefully a win soon.
"Darlington is a really tough track. Last year, I felt like I learned a lot during the race and got into a good rhythm by the end. We had a decent finish for my first time out and only a few 'Darlington stripes.' Todd has a great track record here, so I should be able to feed off of his experience. Obviously, our goal is to get another top-10 finish, but we are really eyeing victory lane. I think if we can put ourselves in a good position during the majority of the race, we can have a good shot at getting the 43 its first win since 1999."
Comments from Smithfield Ford Fusion Crew Chief Todd Parrott:
"Darlington is a very difficult track. You never know when the 'Lady in Black' will come out and bite you. It's a long race from daylight to night, so it's really important to keep up with the track changes and make the right adjustments. Our team's relationship is stronger than ever, which is important here. It will be key to have good communication from Aric about what the car is doing, so we can stay ahead of the track with changes."
Coming off their second top-15 finish of the season, Marcos Ambrose and the No. 9 Stanley Ford team wasted no time getting back onto the track this week. The team spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the Sonoma Raceway in California preparing for the June event. Ambrose is always a consistent threat to win the event which could quickly propel him into Chase contention.
But, the team has shown plenty of capabilities to be in the Chase discussion before June. In the first 10 races, the team has started inside the top-five in three of these events. They have proven to be very competitive in race events with only bad luck ending top-10 runs. After a 14th-place finish at Talladega and moving up two spots to 21st in the championship, the team is now ready for a solid run at Darlington.
Amrbose has four starts at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in the Sprint Cup Series. He tallied his best start of sixth in 2011 and finish of ninth last season, both with Richard Petty Motorsports and the No. 9 team. The Australian driver also has two Nationwide starts under his belt, including a best start of fourth and finish of 10th.
Comments from Stanley Ford Fusion Driver Marcos Ambrose:
"This was a busy week for our Stanley team. We went out west to test at Sonoma. We really want to have everything go perfect when we go back to race, and the test will help us prepare for June. But, we want to have a few wins before that too. We have shown the speed. We have the resources, and the team is working hard. We survived Talladega and now get to a track where the driver and car really make a huge difference.
"We have worked really hard to piece together decent finishes after bad luck hits us during the race. So many times this season we have come back from some sort of damage, and it shows how strong our team really is. If we can get a string of good runs put together, we're going to be in a good spot.
"Darlington is a tough track. Last year, we finished ninth, and that was a very hard earned top-10. Handling is so important at Darlington. We will have to work really hard on Friday to find a good setup and speed for Saturday's race."
Comments from Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer on Darlington:
"We keep showing perseverance week in and week out. Our car last week may not have looked pretty, but the guys did a great job of piecing it back together after two incidents to give Marcos a car that could finish in the top-15. Darlington is a fast track where handling is very important. We'll work really hard in practice on Friday to get the car where it needs to be for Marcos on Saturday.
"The test at Sonoma was important for us. We all know that Marcos will be a favorite out there, and we want to give him the best Ford possible. It's a technical road course that demands a good car. Our goal is to get it locked in for June."
Fans of Roush Fenway Racing (RFR) driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are encouraged to visit www.BestBuy.com/Racingand ‘hit the link’ to help vote the RFR rookie and Best Buy racer into this season’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 18.
In addition, fans of Stenhouse are encouraged to use the special hashtag #LETRICKYRACE when tweeting, in an effort to escalate the ‘cause’ to viral proportions.
“Make no mistake, my clear intention is to race my way in,” said Stenhouse, who has led in two of the last three Sprint Cup races. “However, I’ve learned it never hurts to have a solid backup plan and if that is relying on my great fans to help a little, then I have no problem with taking it. The folks at Best Buy have set up this link to help ‘rally the troops’, and if we don’t get that win, hopefully that will be the difference maker.”
The defending two-time Nationwide Series Champion will also have the opportunity to race his way into the event via a win this weekend in the Sprint Cup Series at Darlington or in the Sprint Showdown prior to the All-Star race..
Once in the race, Stenhouse will have the opportunity to become the fourth Roush Fenway driver to win the prestigious event. Carl Edwards won the famed All-Star race two years ago. Edwards and fellow RFR driver Greg Biffle are both locked into this year’s event.
Representatives of McCall Farms Inc. today announced Peanut Patch is sponsoring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Driver David Ragan, fresh off his win at Talladega Superspeedway, in the Bojangles' Southern 500 on Saturday, May 11 at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C. This will be the second consecutive year the boiled peanuts brand is backing Ragan in the Southern 500. He will drive the No. 34 "Peanut Patch" car, a Ford Fusion.
Woody Swink, regional director of sales and an owner of McCall Farms, said the company is excited about its presence at the Bojangles' Southern 500 because Ragan is a stellar example of racecar driving at its finest and represents the Southern aesthetic of the Peanut Patch brand well.
"We made our debut last year at the Darlington Raceway with David Ragan, and he was an ideal fit because of his Southern roots, exuberance and strong connection to NASCAR and its fans," Swink said. "Therefore, it was just a matter of plain common sense to reconnect with David Ragan, an impressive talent who is respected and recognized as a formidable competitor among car racing enthusiasts."
Ragan, a 27-year-old native of Unadilla, Ga., has thus far won four NASCAR victories - two in Sprint Cup and two in the Nationwide Series.
"It's great to have Peanut Patch back on our car this year, especially here in Darlington for their first primary race of the season," said Ragan, who is in his second year with Front Row Motorsports. "Not only is the Southern 500 one of the most prestigious and historical races in NASCAR, but Darlington is right up the road from McCall Farms' headquarters. So you could say that Peanut Patch is the home team at this race."
Prior to the race, from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., on Friday, May 10, Ragan will participate in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series autograph session that will take place in the Sprint Unlimited Experience display, which is behind the front stretch grandstands in the fan display area at Darlington Raceway. Ragan, a native of Unadilla, Ga., will don his Peanut Patch trademark racecar suit dominated by the insignia "Green Boiled Peanuts," written in white against an emerald green background bordered by a sea of canary yellow, on Friday and Saturday.
"We'll be proud to have the Peanut Patch colors on our No. 34 Ford Fusion," Ragan said.