Saturday, Oct 01

The famous No. 21 Ford has a vacancy for the 2015 season. Trevor Bayne, who has driven for the Wood Brothers since Texas in 2010, is set to move over to Roush-Fenway Racing on a full-time basis next year as Roush will bring back the No. 6 car which was driven by Mark Martin for nearly two decades.

However, the Wood Brothers have plenty of options to fill their coveted seat, in part due to their alliance with RFR. This year, Bayne has recorded three top-20s in the No. 21 car, each of which has come at intermediate tracks. But this team has not raced full-time since they attempted to do so in 2008, but missed a handful of events with Jon Wood and Marcos Ambrose.

Now that the team is looking for a new driver, they might just go back to racing on a full-time basis. The Wood Brothers have not run more than 17 races per year since Bayne joined the team, even after winning the 2011 Daytona 500. They just have not been able to piece together more sponsorship packages to run additional events.

Rumors have been swirling around that Sam Hornish Jr., the former Indianapolis 500 winner, might be able to piece together some funding to run full-time with the Wood Brothers next year. But history shows that the Wood Brothers are by far less successful when they run their No. 21 car on a full-time basis. Just look at what they did in the 1970s – winning over 50 races while racing on a part-time basis each season. And since Morgan Shepherd won a race for the team in 1993, the Wood Brothers have won a mere two races (not including Michael Waltrip’s All-Star Race victory).

Hornish is currently racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, and he has already won a race this season. But like Hornish has said in the past, he won’t race in the Cup Series if he doesn’t have a chance to win races week-in and week-out. That might take him out of the picture since the team has yet to score a top-10 finish at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since Las Vegas of 2012.

With Roush’s heavy alliance with the organization, they might encourage the Wood Brothers to stay racing on a part-time basis with one of RFR’s developmental drivers.

Currently, Roush has Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed racing in the Nationwide Series. Reed is struggling more than initially thought, partially because he has finished on the lead lap just three times this year. Although he has showed signs of improving, Reed is not going to be ready to tackle the Sprint Cup Series for at least another season.

That leaves Buescher, the younger cousin of former Camping World Truck Series champion, James Buescher. After missing the season-opener at Daytona because the entire Roush camp struggled to create a strategy to lay down respectable laps, Buescher has raced his way into the top-10 in points. Buescher would make a good candidate for the No. 21 seat as he has had similar results to that of Bayne’s when he started his Nationwide Series career.

Even though Buescher stated that he is going to run at least one more season before running full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he did admit that he would like to get at least some experience in NASCAR’s top-tier division before tackling it for the entire season.

Ryan Blaney will also be a candidate to race the No. 21 car next year. Even though the Wood Brothers don’t work with Team Penske too much, they are both Ford teams. Blaney made his Cup Series debut at Kansas, and ran inside the top-20 until having to make a late race pit stop. It appears as if he will move up to the Nationwide Series on a full-time basis next year, and racing with the Wood Brothers would save Team Penske the trouble of having to field a third Cup Series team for Blaney – enabling them to possibly run Juan Pablo Montoya in some additional events.

Then there are some other drivers who might be able to seal the deal with the Wood Brothers. Here are some of the possible candidates:

-Elliott Sadler: Sadler drove for the Wood Brothers to start his career, but was not extremely successful with the exception of his fuel mileage win at Bristol in 2001. Currently, he drives for JGR as a title contender in the Nationwide Series, and he might be able to bring over his sponsorship to the Wood Brothers to run full-time with a Cup Series team.

-Regan Smith: Smith has a strong relationship with Chevrolet, so it is unlikely he will go to the Wood Brothers. However, if they offer him a full-time deal, he might just take it after racing in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports since last year.

-Josh Wise: Wise has shown in the past that he is capable of running well if given the equipment. He clearly outran Danica Patrick in the No. 7 Chevrolet in multiple Nationwide Series races in the past, but he has been stuck racing for underfunded teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. A part-time move to the Wood Brothers would help build Wise’s brand, especially if he can take all of his Reddit.com followers with him.

-Parker Kligerman: Kligerman is still searching for a ride in basically anything that has a motor and four tires. The former Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has notably been looking in the Verizon IndyCar Series for a ride, but he has yet to seal a deal. Racing for the Wood Brothers would enable him to run at the intermediate tracks, his strong suit, and he would be able to get the exposure of racing in the Cup Series which 

Even while having the most dominant car at Pocono on Sunday, Brad Keselowski’s luck ran out as the laps winded down. Keselowski led 95 of the 160 laps at the Tricky Triangle for the Pocono 400, but was unable to secure his second victory of the year.

After securing a gap surpassing one second over Dale Earnhardt Jr., the No. 2 team made a decision that ultimately cost him the win. Keselowski fell back behind Earnhardt Jr. by approximately two-three tenths of a second in a desperate attempt to get a piece of debris off of his Ford.

“I was trying to do something to help my car out and I knew it was going to break and I was going to get passed, so I was trying to make whatever move I could do to help clean it off, and I’m not sure I did enough to make a difference,” Keselowski said.

The debris on his grille caused the temperature to sky rocket on his engine. However, Keselowski wasn’t the only one to have trash on the front-end of his car. Earnhardt Jr. also has debris on his car, but it was not as severe as Keselowski’s. Keselowski was never able to get close enough behind Earnhardt Jr. to get the debris off his front bumper, causing him to lose horsepower on the straightaways.

“It was definitely a mistake because the engine made it, but it probably shouldn’t have. It was one of those deals - I think I was going to get passed because I was really down on power down the straightaway. It’s hard hard to say,” he said.

Keselowski now sits fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings after entering Pocono eighth in points. With a win and seven top-10s this year, he has been able to illustrate his consistency throughout the year. His teammate, Joey Logano, experienced an engine failure which sent him back to finish 40th after losing oil pressure under caution.

Even while having the most dominant car at Pocono on Sunday, Brad Keselowski’s luck ran out as the laps winded down. Keselowski led 95 of the 160 laps at the Tricky Triangle for the Pocono 400, but was unable to secure his second victory of the year.

After securing a gap surpassing one second over Dale Earnhardt Jr., the No. 2 team made a decision that ultimately cost him the win. Keselowski fell back behind Earnhardt Jr. by approximately two-three tenths of a second in a desperate attempt to get a piece of debris off of his Ford.

“I was trying to do something to help my car out and I knew it was going to break and I was going to get passed, so I was trying to make whatever move I could do to help clean it off, and I’m not sure I did enough to make a difference,” Keselowski said.

The debris on his grille caused the temperature to sky rocket on his engine. However, Keselowski wasn’t the only one to have trash on the front-end of his car. Earnhardt Jr. also has debris on his car, but it was not as severe as Keselowski’s. Keselowski was never able to get close enough behind Earnhardt Jr. to get the debris off his front bumper, causing him to lose horsepower on the straightaways.

“It was definitely a mistake because the engine made it, but it probably shouldn’t have. It was one of those deals - I think I was going to get passed because I was really down on power down the straightaway. It’s hard hard to say,” he said.

Keselowski now sits fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings after entering Pocono eighth in points. With a win and seven top-10s this year, he has been able to illustrate his consistency throughout the year. His teammate, Joey Logano, experienced an engine failure which sent him back to finish 40th after losing oil pressure under caution.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back in victory lane. No, it is not on a restrictor plate track either. Earnhardt Jr. was able to hold off Brad Keselowski for his second victory of the 2014 season after taking the lead with five laps to go. Even though Keselowski led 95 laps during the Pocono 400, he was not able to tame the Tricky Triangle.

With 10 laps to go, Keselowski had debris on his grille and opted to drop behind Earnhardt Jr. in a desperate attempt to cool off his engine. During a post-race press conference, Keselowski said that “it was definitely a mistake” to drop back behind Earnhardt Jr. as he was starting to lose power on the straightaways.

“It’s elusive, man. For any team – it is hard to get that competitive where you can win races. We see teams that get that strong like Jimmie (Johnson) and Chad (Knaus). Chad is really good at putting people together to give Jimmie a lot of chances to win races. Our group has been working together for a number of years now, and each year we saw a progression in performance and we have seen an increase of performance,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a post-race press conference.

“This makes sense to me when I see what we do and how we run – it makes sense to me. It was a logical result in my opinion for this team as we have gotten better each year, and we have been fast every week. We kind of started that towards the middle of last year. We have not peaked as a team. We have not reached our ceiling. We are doing some of our best work right now. We have a lot of passion and there is a lot of emotion after last year, and I think that adds to the drive to the team to do as well as we can. We can be dangerous.”

The victory marks Earnhardt Jr.’s first non-restrictor plate victory since Michigan in 2012, and it is the first time has had recorded more than one win in a season since he won six races in 2004. Entering Sunday’s race at Pocono, the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet had never won a race at Pocono – coming up just shy in 2001 and 2007.

 “I’ve never had that happen under caution before. I swerved my tires getting ready to go and we were rolling around turn three to take the green and all of a sudden it started sounding weird and we lost some power somewhere and lost,” Keselowski said.

“Oh yeah, we weren’t going to make it. It was already starting to (blow up). It is just one of those deals.

Tony Stewart led at halfway – first race he has led since leading 74 laps at Texas. After leading 24 laps, Stewart won the race off pit road with 40 laps to go during a caution, but he was caught speeding in four different sections which sent him to the tail end of the field.

The majority of the field stayed out of pit road after the second caution – creating two different pit strategies. The drivers that pitted were able to stretch out their fuel mileage as they attempted to make just one more pit stop in the race compared to those who might have had to make two more stops which would put them out of contention.

Harvick blew a tire with 43 laps to go, but the caution flag came out a lap after he pitted. Before the blown tire, he had cut Stewart’s lead to just a second and a half.

“We’ve had plenty of speed in all four cars all weekend. We had one, two or three but never all of them together. A big part of the day, three of them were right in there. The team has done a really good job. They have built really good cars. We just have to figure out how to close the deal,” Stewart-Haas Racing competition director, Greg Zipadelli said after the race.

However, even with all of the inconsistent runs surrounding Stewart-Haas Racing, Kurt Busch was able to capitalize on a solid run with a third-place finish. Busch ran inside of the top-10 throughout the Pocono 400, and led the race for a total of five laps.

“We just swapped around. Each of us were right up in the mix, and that is what we want to see – that our SHR Chevys are up there. Today, for us to finish in the top-10 because Stewart had a penalty speeding on pit road and the No. 4 car had a left front tire go down, and we didn’t have any type of trouble we had to overcome. We cashed in on a top-five finish,” Busch said.

“For each car number, this is the point of the season when we have to build our own identity. For my team, as young as we are, this is the type of finish that will help boost the confidence levels up. The meeting we had this week – we had to say ‘are you willing to step this up? Are you willing to put in the extra hours? Are you willing to go the extra mile to make this happen?’ And everybody said yes. When you cash in on a top-five run after that, it really builds everyone’s self esteem up.”

After entering the race 28th in points, Busch is now 27th with a 71-point gap on 30th place in the standings – Michael Annett.

On Lap 32, a fire started in Turn 3 which was the area that the track launched pre-race fireworks – forcing the first caution of the day after the first set of green flag pit stops.  During the restart, Matt Kenseth sustained damage to the front end of his No. 20 Toyota after slamming into Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 car entering Turn 1.

Kasey Kahne was having a top-15 run when his No. 5 car shot into the wall off of Turn 2. Kahne’s battered up Chevrolet then collected Carl Edwards who was trailing right in his path.

“I just passed him and he was pissed off because his car was slow. I didn’t lift. I thought I could pass him back on the straightaway. We had a pretty good Great Clips Chevy,” Kahne said. “It was pretty hard. It hit hard right after the tunnel. He was thinking that I would lift but that was Kyle being Kyle.”

On Lap 73, Johnson was running inside of the top-10 and slammed into Marcos Ambrose’s No. 9 car on pit road during the second caution of the day. Johnson’s No. 48 car received major damage to the right front quarter panel and had to return to pit road. He reported that the right front of the car was “extremely towed out,” and was mired outside of the top-25 after the incident. Johnson briefly took the lead during a green flag pit cycle, but pitted with 50 laps to go.

After finishing eighth on Sunday, Jeff Gordon now retakes the lead back in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings with a 16 point margin over Kenseth. Earnhardt Jr. has now moved up to the third position after entering Pocono fifth in points.

Here are some notables for the Pocono 400:

-Kyle Larson was the highest finishing rookie as he finished in the fifth position after running the ARCA Series Pocono 200 on Saturday afternoon.

- Martin Truex Jr. earned his third straight top-10 finish after finishing 25th or worse in four times in the first 12 events of the year.

-David Ragan earned his best finish of the year – ending the day in the 18th position.

-Travis Kvapil had his best finish of the season as he finished 29th in the No. 32 Ford.

-29 cars finished on the lead lap with three drivers (Kahne, Edwards and Joey Logano) recording DNFs.

-There were 21 lead changes among 10 different drivers.

 

After a dominating performance on Saturday afternoon at Pocono, Kyle Larson showed once again that he has a boatload of talent. However, Larson also utilized his NASCAR Nationwide Series crew from Turner Scott Motorsports.

Larson’s crew, led by Scott Zipadelli, proved to be the difference maker in Saturday’s ARCA 200 at Pocono. The No. 4 car had a lead over Matt Tift at one point the event which surpassed 20 seconds – that’s nearly half of the entire Pocono Raceway.

After making a green flag pit stop, Larson received a pit road speeding violation – forcing his Chevrolet to have a pass-through penalty. Due to his large lead, Larson still held a five second lead over Tift. A large part of holding a 20 second lead was because of his Nationwide Series pit crew, who noticeably had about a five-10 second quicker pit stop compared to the rest of the top-10.

But with a car that was clearly going to be dominating this weekend with his Nationwide Series team, should he have raced on Saturday? Wouldn’t have participating in the ARCA Series test at Pocono been enough for the 21-year-old?

Well, on Friday Larson told Speedway Digest that he did not believe it was going to hurt him by racing the ARCA Series race. However, at the time, he believed it wasn’t helping him an exceptional amount considering the differences between the ARCA Series and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Not only does the ARCA Series use a different tire combination as they throw on Hoosier tires to their cars, but they also have less horse power than the Cup Series. In the Cup Series, drivers have been shifting at least two-four times per lap at Pocono. Moreover, the ARCA Series does not shift at all at Pocono besides on the restart. Larson even joked about how Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates was making his practice shifting by driving around town in a manual vehicle – a Chevrolet Camaro to be specific.

The only driver who was able to contend with Larson for the victory was Mason Mitchell. Mitchell led several laps after the final restart, but as the field was coming to two laps remaining in the 200-mile spectacle, Larson flew by Mitchell, who owns his own team – Mason Mitchell Motorsports. He ended up beating Mitchell by approximately one second.

Justin Boston and Matt Tift had strong cars that might have been able to contend with Larson, but they’re days came to an end early as both of them got into a wreck with 15 laps remaining in the event. Justin Allison also had a strong car, yet his No. 88 Ford was stuck in fourth gear and caused him to fall back mightily on the restart.

Larson might have dominated the race, but he stated that he learned a few things which could help him on Sunday for the Pocono 400. He had to maneuver through traffic for the majority of the day, and also had an intense battle with Mitchell. Another thing which Larson could have learned this weekend was the line which he takes going to pass drivers in the corners. But that is about all he could learn with such drastic differences in the two divisions.

The California native was 12th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice held early Saturday afternoon after running 25 laps – the third highest amount behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski. He was also inside of the top-10 in the second practice of the weekend, and was fourth of nine cars to run 10 consecutive laps.

Larson will start his first Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono in the 14th position. 

Kurt Busch will start on the outside of the front row for Sunday’s Pocono 400. Busch’s second-place qualifying run was the best of the year for the No. 41 team.

Entering Pocono, Busch is 27th in points, but his results do not show how strong he has been throughout the year. Although his average finishing position is 26th with five DNFs, he has run inside of the top-15 on a weekly basis.

Now, Busch believes there is light at the end of the tunnel. After having just two top-10s to this point, Busch is poised to run well at Pocono – a track which he has two victories at in 25 starts. Last year, he nearly captured the checkered flag as he finished third behind Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon, but this weekend might be different.

“It has speed again and now the track is warming up, so now we just need to make adjustments to the track warming up,” Busch told Speedway Digest after the first practice session on Saturday morning.

In Saturday’s first practice, Busch put up a time of 51.070 seconds which was good enough for ninth on the speed charts. His teammates, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick were each fast in practice as well. All of the Stewart-Haas Racing cars were each in the top-16 during the first practice. Harvick and Stewart were first and third, respectively, out of the nine drivers which ran 10 consecutive laps.

“If we win one more race, then we are definitely locked in. But it’s a matter now of developing the No. 41 team into a championship contender, not just a Chase contender.” 

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