Speedway Digest Staff
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As far as Matt Crafton's concerned, Friday night's 16th annual WinStar World Casino 350K at Texas Motor Speedway -- where Crafton's riding a string of four consecutive top-six finishes -- comes at just the right time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule for his No. 88 Fisher Nuts / Menards Toyota team.
After a caution-marred conclusion last weekend at Martinsville Speedway that knocked Crafton from running third with 12 laps to go to finishing a season's worst 17th, Crafton still has a 51-point lead over defending series champion James Buescher with three races left to run.
Crafton, who has a series-best 14 top-10 finishes and 16 lead-lap finishes in 25 career TMS starts -- plus two pole positions in the last five years -- counts Texas among his favorite racetracks for a very simple reason: the worn-out track surface emphasizes driver input.
"I definitely like Texas because it's a cool racetrack," Crafton said. "For the majority of the time, we've run really well there. The older the track's gotten the better it's become for us.
"So hopefully we can keep that momentum going and maybe get us a cowboy hat (that's awarded to the victor following the race, in Victory Lane)."
Crafton's certainly been consistent enough to make that a distinct possibility, in general and for sure at Texas, where he has an average start of 15.32 and an average finish of 10.76. Crafton's currently riding streaks of 36 consecutive races in the top 10 in the standings, 20 consecutive races in which he's finished on the lead lap and 40 consecutive races in which he's been running at the finish.
Those are championship-contending numbers, and Crafton's used that consistency to fashion his healthy advantage in the points. If Crafton starts Friday's race the most he could lose would be 40 points -- but that would require a perfect day by the race winner and a last-place finish for Crafton, who's the only driver in the series that's completed every lap run this season: 2,946 laps.
He'll try to continue that streak in a rather unique piece, a Tundra chassis that was loaned to Todd Bodine's ThorSport Racing team to run at Kansas -- where Crafton won but Bodine was involved in a vicious accident that wiped out the truck's front and rear "clips," or chassis components.
The truck was sent to Hopkins Enterprises in South Carolina where the chassis was rebuilt before it was finished in Sandusky and put back into Crafton's chassis rotation. He used the truck at the Chicagoland Speedway intermediate track, where it qualified eighth and finished fourth as part of Crafton's string of 16 consecutive top-10 finishes with which he opened the season.
"Those are the only two races it's run this year," Crafton said. "It was a really good, fast truck for us at Chicagoland and Todd was running good with it at Kansas as well, before he got taken out."
Even though more of Crafton's Texas top-10 finishes have come in TMS's June race, where Crafton finished second behind ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter a year ago, Crafton has finished fourth and sixth in his last two November races.
"The cooler temperatures we'll have this weekend mean the track will have a lot more grip and it'll be a lot faster," Crafton said. "The tires (grip) won't fall off as much just because it'll be so much cooler. When we race there in June it's always so hot and slippery."
Crafton just laughed at the month-to-month comparison at a track where the goal is to be able to run with a wide-open throttle. Counting the laps you're wide open isn't an option for a driver, Crafton noted with a smile.
"No, no counting," Crafton said. "You're usually just going 'wow' and holding your breath to be able to get through (a lap). It's a pretty exhilarating place, no question about it."
Crafton's current streak at Texas virtually coincides with the time long-time cohort Carl "Junior" Joiner has been his crew chief, since the start of the 2012 season.
Crafton, who's led the championship standings after the last 16 races, has a series-best 17 top-10 finishes in the 19 races held this season. He plans to make his NCWTS record-extending 314th consecutive start Friday night at Texas in an event that's the first of three NASCAR tripleheaders -- in conjunction with the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series -- that will close the season.
The Texas Truck Series weekend begins Thursday with a pair of practice sessions, from 6-7 p.m. ET and 7:30-9 p.m. Keystone Light Pole Qualifying to set the starting lineup is scheduled at 3:10 p.m. ET on Friday, with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.
As the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth for race No. 20 on the 22-race schedule this season, owner-driver Kyle Busch will be back behind the wheel of the No. 51 ToyotaCare Tundra. With just three races remaining, the Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) team has slowly but surely climbed back into contention for the 2013 Truck Series owner's championship and currently finds themselves just 15 points behind the series leading No. 88 team.
The No. 88 team left Pocono (Pa.) Raceway eight races ago 53 points ahead of KBM's No. 51 entry, who at that time stood third in the championship battle. Over the last eight races, crew chief Rudy Fugle and his Toyota Racing team have reeled off seven top-10 finishes with four different drivers behind the wheel. Busch has led the charge collecting two of his four victories during that span, winning at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., and adding a runner-up finish at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Rookie Chad Hackenbracht earned the team a runner-up finish at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, while Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin have each contributed a top-10 finish.
Busch has nine career victories at "The Great American Speedway," including two in the Truck Series (2009 and 2010). Another victory Friday night is just what the No. 51 ToyotaCare team needs to keep lassoing in the No. 88 team in an effort to coral KBM's second Truck Series owner's championship in its four-year existence.
Ryan Blaney (@RyanBlaney22), driver of the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford F-150, will make his third career start at Texas Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) during the WinStar World Casino 350K, Friday night.
Earlier this season Blaney started sixth and finished eighth during a wild finish at Texas.
Doug Randolph will be calling the shots for Blaney this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
The No. 29 BKR team currently sits sixth in the NCWTS driver points standings, 92 points back from first.
"Texas Motor Speedway is a really fun racetrack with a lot of character. I am looking forward to getting the Cooper Standard team back out there after a solid run in Martinsville. Friday night under the lights will be a great show." - Ryan Blaney
Brad Keselowski (@Keselowski), driver of the No. 19 Draw-Tite Ford F-150, will make his fifth start this season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway in the WinStar World Casino 350K.
Keselowski will pilot the No. 19 BKR Ford F-150 in his fourth career NCWTS start at Texas Motor Speedway.
This weekend, Keselowski will be aiming for the weekend triple, piloting the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang on Saturday and the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.
Proud sponsor, Draw-Tite, will have guests on hand at Texas Motor Speedway for Friday night's race.
Crew chief, Chad Kendrick, will be calling the shots for Keselowski.
The No. 19 BKR team now sits third in the NCWTS owner points standings, 46 points back from first.
"It's always exciting to race in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. I can't wait to get my Draw-Tite Ford F-150 on track in Texas on Friday night. Hope we can start the triple header weekend off strong with a win and keeps the momentum going." - Brad Keselowski
The 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has no respect for conventional wisdom.
Think about it. Matt Kenseth led the standings by four points midway through this year's championship battle, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series headed to Talladega for the sixth Chase race.
Kenseth has embraced restrictor-plate racing, having won the 2009 and 2012 Daytona 500s as well as the 2012 Chase race at Talladega.
Johnson, on the other hand, has said he'd gladly take a 10th-place finish at Talladega and watch the race from his couch.
Accordingly, conventional wisdom said Kenseth would extend his Chase lead at Talladega before the series moved to Martinsville.
That didn't happen. Johnson ran 13th at Talladega but led the most laps (47) and managed an eight-point swing over Kenseth, who finished a disappointing 20th at NASCAR's longest closed course.
A week later, the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers battled at NASCAR's shortest track, Martinsville, where Johnson's career record is vastly superior -- an average finish of 5.3 entering Sunday's race versus Kenseth's 15.8.
Accordingly, conventional wisdom said Johnson would extend his points lead at the paper-clip-shaped short track and begin to grind his way toward a sixth championship.
Wrong again. At Martinsville, it was Kenseth who led the most laps (202). That, combined with Kenseth's second-place finish to Johnson's fifth, deadlocked first place in the Chase standings with three races left.
True, Kenseth gave up the lead to race winner Jeff Gordon with 21 laps left, but the second-place run was the best in 11 years for the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Was Kenseth elated with his effort? You be the judge.
"I have nothing to complain about," Kenseth said. "(You) just you always feel bad when you're leading at the end, and your crew puts you out front, and you can't hold on to win. So I'm disappointed about that.
"But, overall, what a great day."
For the low-key Kenseth, that's the functional equivalent of a victory jig down the full length of pit road.
For his part, Johnson tried to maintain an even strain after a fifth-place run that left him tied with Kenseth at the top of the standings.
"It's going to be a dogfight to the end -- the way that I would want to go racing for a championship, and I know that's exactly what the fans want to see," Johnson said. "We'll keep digging hard. We had a decent day today and see if we can't get this Lowe's Chevrolet to Victory Lane here soon."
Johnson may need to do just that. As it stands now, if the Chase should end in a tie, Kenseth would win the championship on a tiebreaker based on most victories (seven to Johnson's five). That's not a far-fetched outcome. Two years ago, the tiebreaker decided the title race between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards in Stewart's favor.
Johnson acknowledged before Sunday's race at Martinsville that his primary focus is on Kenseth. The superstitious five-time champion completed a 20-mile run as part of his training during the week before the race -- because 20 is Kenseth's car number.
But is it fair to discount other competitors? With his win on Sunday, Jeff Gordon gained ground on both frontrunners and now stands third, 27 points behind Kenseth and Johnson.
Conventional wisdom says it would be highly unlikely for Gordon to make up nine points per race against both drivers ahead of him.
But as we've seen in the first seven weeks of NASCAR's playoff, nothing about this Chase is conventional.
Two of the world’s leading innovation conferences have invited NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O’Donnell to serve as a panelist. O’Donnell will participate in a discussion at Harvard Business School’s Cyberposium on Nov. 2 about how technology will help transform sports and other industries over the next several years.
On Nov. 20, he will join a panel focused on ways to create and nurture sustainable innovation at the World Innovation Convention in Cannes, France.
“From the track to the office, for our fans and partners, we’re injecting technology and interactivity into nearly every facet of the NASCAR experience,” said NASCAR President Mike Helton. “With innovations such as the Air Titan track drying technology, continued safety improvements, and the state-of-the-art Fan & Media Engagement Center, NASCAR has become a great place where technologies are validated. We also feel the best is yet to come, as we’re excited with the progress we’re making on our officiating technology project, which will inject exciting new elements into our competition in 2014 and beyond.”
Cyberposium, now in its 19th year, is billed as the largest MBA technology conference in the world. The conference facilitates an interactive network of current and future business leaders to engage in provocative dialogue about technology. For more information, visit www.cyberposium.com.
The World Innovation Convention at Cannes is a platform for global innovators who join to collaborate with industry peers and experts. The direct mission of the conference is to learn, share and discover how innovation happens faster and better within their organizations. For more information, visit www.winovc.com.
NASCAR’s high-tech R&D Center in Concord, N.C. continues to serve as a model for innovation throughout all of motorsports. Earlier this year, NASCAR announced the addition of Gene Stefanyshyn as Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development to oversee that facility. Stefanyshyn brings more than 30 years of engineering and innovation leadership from General Motors to NASCAR. The R&D Center has generated nine U.S. patents.
The Air Titan was developed in-house at the R&D Center. Following testing in the summer and fall of 2012, Phase 1 of the technology was on-site at Daytona International Speedway in February. Earlier this month, NASCAR announced Air Titan will be available during every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 2014. As part of its research and development, NASCAR also identified a track conditioning value from the use of Air Titan whereas the technology cleans dirt, grime and other materials found in a track’s surface.
With safety enhancements that range from safer cars to the enforcement of the HANS device to the installation of SAFER barriers, as well as ongoing innovation each year, NASCAR has continued to put a premium on driver and fan safety. Its work in that space has significantly elevated the safety across all motorsports. NASCAR’s research, specifically in crash analysis, has been recognized in partnerships with NASA, Toyota’s Total Human Model for Safety (THUMS) and the U.S. Air Force. Leaders in the sanctioning body’s critical safety engineering group have authored several research papers in peer review journals.
NASCAR, the No. 1 recycler in sports, just celebrated the fifth anniversary of its heralded NASCAR Green platform. Through strategic partnerships with teams, tracks and Official Partners, NASCAR Green continues to set new benchmarks. NASCAR features the world’s largest solar-powered sports facility, a tree planting program capturing 100 percent of the emissions produced by on-track racing, and the largest recycling program in sports that includes such partners as Coca-Cola, Coors Light, Creative Recycling, Goodyear, Safety Kleen, Liberty Tire and Sprint. Additionally, NASCAR has put nearly five million tough, competition miles on Sunoco Green, a biofuel comprised of 15 percent ethanol made from American-grown corn, which has reduced emissions in all its racing series by 20 percent.
The NASCAR Fan and Media Engagement Center (FMEC) is a revolutionary resource that allows NASCAR to analyze what’s discussed and written about the sport in social, traditional, and broadcast media. The system aggregates digital content that is relevant to the NASCAR industry, and allows NASCAR to analyze and respond to trends in real time. The FMEC facility is part “broadcast control room,” part “NASA Command Center,” powered by a sophisticated media monitoring and measurement system custom-built by HP.
Aric Almirola returns to Texas Motor Speedway after finishing seventh in his first race in a Gen-6 car at the 1.5-mile track. Behind the wheel of the No. 43 Farmland Ford, Almirola and teammate Marcos Ambrose will tally Richard Petty Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 500th start since the team's inception in 2009. Almirola looks to hit another milestone this weekend and drive the No. 43 to Victory Lane for the first time since 1999.
Almirola has three top-10 finishes and six top-15 finishes at the Fort Worth, Texas track in all three national NASCAR Series competition. He scored his best track finish of seventh this spring with the No. 43 team as well as in the truck series race the spring of 2010.
In 2013, Farmland is expanding its Helping Hungry Homes initiative and is providing cash and protein donations to food banks in selected markets as part of a continued partnership with Richard Petty Motorsports and the No. 43 Ford team. To kick off race weekend in Texas, Farmland will present a cash and protein donation to Tarrant Area Food Bank that will help feed thousands of families, children and seniors in the Ft. Worth area. Almirola and Richard Petty will participate in the announcement.
Comments from Farmland Ford Fusion Driver Aric Almirola:
"Texas is completely different. The shape is very similar to Atlanta and Charlotte but completely different in its own right. The way the banking falls away off Turn Two and the entry to Turn Three is really flat, so both of those corners are tricky. The asphalt is old and wore out, which is fun to race on a track like that. I'm really looking forward to going to Texas. We had a really good car there in the spring. We ran really well there and were really fast. We have learned a lot over these last several months since we were there in April. I feel like we will be really good this week.
"I'm really proud to be a part of Richard Petty Motorsports' 500th start. This team has gone through a lot in the past few years. We've really come a long way and have made strides this season to get to where we know we can be. Hopefully, we can hit the 500 mark and celebrate in Victory Lane this weekend."
Comments from Farmland Ford Fusion Crew Chief Greg Ebert:
"With the new Gen-6 car, we have shown a lot of improvement over the season at 1.5-mile tracks. Texas is a really fast track, so we'll work hard to make sure the car handles well. We'll really focus on turning well in the corners, so we can pick up speed on the straightaways. We finished really well at Texas this spring, and I think we can follow that up with another good finish this week."
This weekend, Marcos Ambrose and the No. 9 Mac Tools team will help celebrate Richard Petty Motorsports 500th NASCAR Sprint Cup start. RPM was formed in 2009 with Ambrose joining the organization in 2011. In his three seasons with the team, the Australian native has made 105 starts and tallied two of RPM's four wins. He has also posted eight top-fives, 26 top-10s and three poles while racing for "The King" Richard Petty.
At Texas, Ambrose has 10 starts and posted his best finish of sixth in the spring race in 2011. Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer is not a stranger to Victory Lane at Texas. He won the Nationwide race in 2007 with Matt Kenseth at the wheel and a Sprint Cup Series pole in the 2011 with David Ragan.
Comments from Mac Tools Ford Fusion Driver Marcos Ambrose:
"It is really exciting to reach the 500 start mark with RPM. This team has come a long way since it started and even in the three years I have been here. I came here and we quickly had to get over some adversity, but we developed a strong base with Richard Petty, Andrew Murstein, Doug Bergeron and our other investors and partners. We developed a base and were able to capitalize by winning at Watkins Glen for consecutive two years. We also put ourselves into a position to make the Chase for the past two years. This year wasn't what we hoped for on the track, but off the track, we're stronger than ever.
"We look at our partnerships with STANLEY, DEWALT and Mac Tools, and they have been with Richard Petty Motorsports since 2009. They have been with me for every race that I've raced here. You can't say that about many companies in this sport. It just doesn't happen, and we're very fortunate to have that relationship.
"I'm looking forward to being with Richard Petty Motorsports and the No. 9 team for many more races to come. Hopefully, we're just starting on our road to much more success."
Comments from Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer on Texas:
"The handling at Texas is very important. We'll really focus on that during practice and the race. We've been really successful at the intermediate tracks the second half of the season, and I think we can keep that momentum heading into this weekend. We qualified really well here in the spring, so hopefully we can repeat that this weekend. Hitting the 500 mark for RPM this weekend, we are really focused on running well, and hopefully, we can bring home a win."
No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota driver Elliott Sadler tests at Homestead-Miami Speedway Tuesday and Wednesday before traveling to Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race. In 2004, Sadler won the second of his three career victories on the 1.5-mile Texas oval.
This weekend he and his Michael Waltrip Racing teammates race with the knowledge gained from testing at the Texas track Oct. 21-22.
Sadler led six laps Sunday and finished 25th at Martinsville in his first start in the No. 55 replacing Brian Vickers who will sit out the remainder of the season for medical reasons. Vickers joined Sadler on the grid before the race and on top of the team’s pit box during the race in Martinsville. Vickers vowed he’ll be ready for full-time competition in 2014.
ELLIOTT SADLER ON TESTING WITH NEW TEAM: “It’s hard to put in words how much it helped me to go to Texas and test with this team instead of being thrown right into the fire. I didn't really know Billy Scott (race engineer) and a lot of the guys on the team. I have worked with Scott Miller (crew chief) before at Diamond Ridge Motorsports, but not at this capacity. So, we got to go to the test at Texas and work through a lot of different things for two days. When they told me (about the Texas and Homestead tests) over the phone I was like, ‘Man, this is great.’ A lot of track time in the Cup car here in a 10-day period is definitely good for me. Track time, you can’t buy that!”
BRIAN VICKERS: “I feel like I could drive a race car, I just can’t. I feel great. Still training, still exercising -- I miss being here, I wish I was here today. All in all, I feel good. I’ve told many people this since everything happened. I can’t complain. I’ve got a great life and family and friends. I’m frustrated and I’ve been bummed since obviously all this happened again. I’m just kind of looking forward. Things happen in life -- that’s part of it. You just keep fighting and have faith. That’s all you can really do. I’m going to be out for three months and back in time for Daytona to race for a championship.”
Well respected career race track promoter H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler is offering the chance for one Speedway Benefits member race track owner/promoter and guest to accompany him to the famous Lucas Oil "Chili Bowl" Midget Nationals presented by General Tire event to showcase what he considers to be one of the most well-promoted events in grassroots racing.
Speedway Benefits founding members that submit their membership contracts no later than 5 p.m. EST on December 2, 2013, will automatically be entered to win an all-expense paid trip and full-access credentials for two, for three days and two nights to Tulsa, Okla. A winner will be randomly selected on December 3, 2013, for the January 14-18, 2014, event.
Recently founded by Wheeler, Speedway Benefits is a marketing alliance that consolidates the sponsorship negotiating rights and group buying power of the approximately 1,200 grassroots race tracks in the United States and Canada. The consolidated group represents approximately 50 million consumers and over $1 trillion in consumer spending. When consolidated, Speedway Benefits is the second largest sports property in the United States in attendance, larger than the NFL, NHL, NBA and NASCAR combined. Speedway Benefits also provides consulting services to its members, which include oval track, dragway and road course venues.
Organized by grassroots racing promoters Emmett Hahn and Lanny Edwards, the Chili Bowl plays host to more than 15,000 fans for the main event at the Tulsa State Fairgrounds and is widely regarded as racing's answer to the Super Bowl since its inception in 1987. World of Outlaws sensation Sammy Swindell has the most wins with five in the famed event, followed by Kevin Swindell who has won four of the last five including the last two. Tony Stewart is a two-time Chili Bowl champion.
"The Chili Bowl is a bucket list item for any short-track racing enthusiast who has never been," said Wheeler. "It is one of the most well -run events in all of racing and it's steeped in tradition. It's just a fun race event.
"Lanny Edwards was among the first promoters to sign on as a Speedway Benefits founding track member, and he gave us the opportunity to offer this trip to our other founding members. So we thought that as part of our consulting services, I would personally accompany one of our members to the event and explain the inner workings and why the event it is so successful. We can then share that experience with our other members."
More than 400 grassroots racetracks have given the thumbs up to Speedway Benefits membership, and with the "one click" membership contract submission system now live on www.speedwaybenefits.com, members who have not completed their paperwork can easily register online to be eligible for the Chili Bowl promotion.
Founding memberships are free and will be limited to the first 500 members. Memberships are risk-free, as members can choose to opt in or out of any vendor or sponsorship program offered by Speedway Benefits to customize a program that best fits each member track's needs. National sponsorship and vendor deals in at least four major categories are in progress and will be available to the first 500 member tracks.
Member tracks also have exclusive access to free weekly conference calls and webinars with Wheeler and other experts including today's call about how to utilize and maximize social media to attract fans, sponsors and media with social media expert Terri Marascio of Mint Marketing Solutions and ESPN's Ryan McGee.
For further information, photos and news conference video footage, please visit www.speedwaybenefits.com and Facebook, and follow us on twitter @SPDWYBenefits.
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