Thursday, Oct 21

Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle, and Kyle Larson used the Sprint Showdown to run in tonight’s Sprint All Star Race. Chase Elliott and Danica Patrick won the fan vote in order to advance. After being washed out yesterday, today’s Sprint Showdown showed intensity from the drivers to make tonight’s race.

 

In the first 20 lap segment, Trevor Bayne became the surprise winner upsetting Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney who were running one-two before the final one lap dash, after the caution waved with five laps to go.

 

In a Ford press release, Bayne stated, “We had a fast race car for no practice and no teammates in the earlier practice.  My guys did a great job guessing where we should start at.  The car was good in clean air, but in dirty air I just couldn’t go, so with one lap to go all you’ve got is the restart and I kind of treated it like it was for the win for the All-Star Race for a million bucks.  You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get in.  I thought that would be our best shot.  I got a good restart and off two there was a tiny hole and somehow our car got through it without getting beat up, so we’ll take it.”  

 

When the caution flag flew in the first segment, Kyle Larson and others went ahead and took two tires because they knew that they would have to come down within two laps to take the mandatory two tires between segments. Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott started on the front row, but Blaney was black-flagged for jumping the restart. Bayne and Elliott battled it out on the final lap, leaving Bayne with a margin of victory of .005-seconds. During the segment break, Brian Scott was found to have a loose lug nut following the mandatory lug nut check after the pit stops.

The second segment started with Chase Elliott at the front, but once the segment started, he was tight, which caused him to drop in positions. Austin Dillon took the lead from Elliott. However, a possible tire issue occurred causing him to fall back, giving Biffle the race leader. Biffle was able to set sail to win the second segment.  

Greg Biffle, being one of the few drivers to play the four tire strategy, explains the decision that ultimately led for him to win segment two. “Brian Pattie is a very, very smart veteran crew chief in this sport and it was his call.  I was skeptical of it, trust me, but I tell you what, what really made the difference was we made a chassis adjustment, two left side tires, the car was really fast the last single lap that we made under green and I was able to pass four cars in one lap.  Then we came down and the guys ripped off a great two-tire stop like a lot of other cars did and got us out third.  Really, that’s what did it.  I was being as aggressive as I could be, and I knew it was 20 laps and I knew that was my chance.  The 3 car was a little bit loose and so was I, but I made some adjustments on my driving style and was able to get by him.” 

 

The third segment saw the momentum from Chase Elliott return, a momentum that was lost during the second segment. The last half of the 10-lap third segment saw Larson and Elliott battling for the lead. Coming off of turn four in the final lap, Elliott and Larson were neck and neck heading to the line. In a 2003 Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington style, Elliott and Larson were beating and banging, using the wall as the mediator. Larson was able to hold off Elliott to win the third segment.

 

“I knew (Elliott) was going to be good on four tires and was probably going to win the fan vote, so I knew I had to win because I knew I wasn’t going to win the fan vote,” Larson said. “So, I did what I could do. Hopefully, they can repair the right side good enough or we can pull out the backup — or whatever. "I’m sure Chase is upset with me. He has all the reason in the world to be but hey, tonight we’re going for a million bucks and I’ve never had a chance to do that before. Hopefully we can get this car back in victory lane and hold a big check later.”

 

Elliott and Larson are allowed to go to a backup car for the Sprint All Star race, according to NASCAR, if they cannot fix their cars.

 

Qualifying for tonight’s Sprint All Star Race will begin at 7 pm on Fox Sports 1. 

Tony Stewart has caused a raucous in the NASCAR world this weekend heading into Richmond.  Stewart, who is in his final season as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, suffered a L1 vertebrae injury back in January made news two times on Thursday.

 

First, around 11 am Eastern, Tony Stewart announced that he would return back to competition this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. Stewart will have only missed eight races in a quicker-than-expected comeback. Although he will return to the track this weekend, at Talladega Superspeedway, Stewart will practice, qualify, and start his Chevrolet in the Geico 500, where Ty Dillon will take the reins. Stewart went to Twitter to make the announcement stating, “Well, the long wait is over. I’ll be back in my Mobil 1 Chevy this weekend at Richmond. I can’t wait to race again. The Dr’s said my scans ‘looked much better than they thought they would after 3 months.’ So they cleared me. Thanks for everyone’s support & well wishes.”

 

About an hour after the announcement, NASCAR announced that Stewart would be granted a waiver to compete in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. "NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities. We also have granted the request from Stewart-Haas Racing for a waiver for Tony to be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. As he begins his final season, we wish Tony the best of luck,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer.

 

Nearly a few hours later of the announce of Tony’s return, NASCAR placed an absurd $35,000 fine for his comments earlier in the week about lug nuts. Tony expressed safety and concern for the tactics teams are taking with their tires on pit stops. Stewart denounced NASCAR for leaving their mandatory five lug nut rule from years past. In an event with Mobil1 on Wednesday this week, Stewart stated “You see the problem getting worse. Well if you see a problem getting worse like that, where’s the bottom of that trend going to happen? It’s going to happen when somebody gets hurt, and that’s going to be one of the largest black eyes I can see NASCAR getting when they’ve worked so hard and done such a good job to make it safe. In this one particular area, they are totally dropping the ball on and I feel like really made a grossly bad decision on.”

 

Late Thursday Evening, the NASCAR Driver’s Council released a statement about the Stewart penalty. The statement from the council was released by councilmember Denny Hamlin. The statement announced that the nine members of the council were going to equally pay for the fine. In a statement to NBC Sports, the Driver’s Council stated, “We as drivers believe Tony has the right to speak his opinion on topics that pertain to a sport that he has spent nearly two decades helping build as both a driver and an owner. While we do not condone drivers lashing out freely at NASCAR, we do feel Tony was in his rights to state his opinion. We as a Council support him and do not agree with the fine. Therefore, we fellow council members have agreed to contribute equally to paying his fine."

 

Today at Richmond International Raceway, drivers were supportive of Tony and his comments. Many drivers continue to question where the line is of making comments to not make NASCAR mad.

 

After activities at Richmond, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition, Scott Miller, spoke to the media about where NASCAR stands. It was announced that NASCAR is reevaluating the policy for lug nuts because of the driver’s concern. Miller was adamant that there are rules in place to penalize teams for loose wheels if the lug nuts are not tightened correctly. “Technology is the way to see us home on the matter,” said Scott Miller.

 

This has been a crazy 72-hour news cycle. Here are my thoughts:

First, I am glad to see that Tony Stewart is returning to the track. NASCAR is better when Tony Stewart is around. Hopefully, this return will bring a boost to attendance and TV ratings, which have been at an all-time low, but have beat other sports. I wish Tony the best in his final season.

 

Second, Tony Stewart does know how to keep people on their toes. This is the second time in 2016 that fans have been blindsided from announcements from Stewart-Haas Racing. The first happening earlier in the season when it was announced that SHR would transfer manufacturers from Ford to Chevrolet. The announcement of his return was also a shocker because at the day before, Stewart was adamant that he did not know when he was going to return.

 

Third, NASCAR needs to get thicker skin. Why would you fine a driver who has legitimate concerns about safety more than someone who stated that you “fix” races? Why is one penalty more than the other? The concerns from Stewart about safety are valid. Why did you not fine the sports most popular driver, Dale Jr., when he basically made the same comments as Stewart? NASCAR wants the drivers to be open about their concerns, but this penalty basically gives the mentality that “If it is something that NASCAR does not like, then they will penalize.” NASCAR has taken away the personality of the drivers. To me, the penalty shows that NASCAR is not taking the concerns very seriously. NASCAR should rescind the penalty handed down to Stewart after today’s statement from Steve Miller.

 

Lastly, I applaud the Driver’s Council for taking a stand against the rule of NASCAR. I was amazed to hear that the members agreed to equally pay this penalty for Stewart. My hope is that this council will continue to take a stand on important issues facing NASCAR. 

Kevin Harvick continued his dominance at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday afternoon. Harvick wins the Good Sam 500 by edging out Carl Edwards by .010 seconds in NASCAR overtime.  This became the closest race in Phoenix International Raceway’s history, edging out the 2010 margin of .013 seconds. The race went 313 laps for 313 miles.

 

Harvick explains the final lap of the race “I felt like coming off of Turn 4 I had some momentum but I needed to do everything I could to try to scrub some momentum off of his car, and it just worked out timing, and I needed to get away, and by the time he realized that I had that momentum and he tried to do the same thing, scrub the momentum off my car, we were too far towards the start-finish line.  It all worked out.  Sometimes I can tell you that you plan it all that way, but sometimes you're just lucky as hell.”

 

Harvick continued to praise the low downforce package. “I think as drivers and as a sport, that's really the benefit -- one of the benefits of the low downforce package and the tire situation.  The tire situation being the biggest thing is so you have those different strategies with the late cautions to where you have two tires, you have no tires, you probably have four tires, I'm sure, to have the comers and goers and the exciting finishes.”

 

Edwards, finished second, was impressed by the efforts of his team. “Well, I'm really proud of my guys for giving me a shot to win the race.  We were a third-place car there at the end.  Dale and Kevin were both really fast.  Caution came out, Dave rolled the dice, and we got a shot at it.  We made him work for it.  That's more than we've been able to do here the last few times.  Just a lot of fun.  I really wish it would have worked out a little bit differently, but it's a good race.  I ran into him about as hard as I thought I could without wrecking him, and it ended up being a drag race.  It was kind of fun coming to the line because I thought, man, I got him, and then he doored me real hard and then he got a little run and then I tried to door him and slow him down, but it just didn't work.”

 

The caution waved five times for 30 laps during the race because of tire issues. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., all experienced tire issues. Goodyear states that tire problems were because of melted beads due to brake heat.

 

The Sunoco Rookie of the year battle is shaping up to be between Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. Elliott and Blaney both finished in the top-10 of the Good Sam 500.  Elliott, in his first start at Phoenix, was excited about his finish today. “First off, my guys have been bringing such fast race cars to the racetrack every week since Daytona, and I haven't been doing a very good job of getting the finishes that they deserve.  I'm just happy today that we could finally finish one of these things and get a solid top-10 finish.  I felt like we made gains throughout the day.  The guys did a great job on pit road picking up spot there.  Alan made good adjustments and gave up a couple spots on that last restart, but I was proud of the effort and hopefully we can take it and try to get a little better in Fontana.”

 

The race went on for 2 hours 45 minutes and 43 seconds. The average speed of the race was 113.212 mph. There were no issues in post-race inspection, but the cars of Harvick and Edwards will be taken back to the R&D Center.  Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch unofficially lead the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points followed by Jimmie Johnson, who is 14 points behind.

 

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California for the final race of the West Coast Swing. The first practice will begin on Friday March 18 at 1:30 pm Eastern on Fox Sports 1. 

Richard Childress Racing is currently in its longest winless streak in team history. The current drought sits at 73 races, going back to when Kevin Harvick was victorious at Phoenix in Nov. 2013.

There is optimism within the camp heading into the new season.

Ryan Newman and Paul Menard both made the Chase for the Sprint Cup last season, but had early exits within the first two rounds. It was the Menard’s first time competing for a championship after joining RCR in 2011.

In 2014, Newman made it to the championship race at Homestead, still having a legitimate shot at the championship. Unfortunately for the No. 31 crew they came up one-point short of beating Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing team for the championship. The Indiana native set his personal best finish of second in the championship standings in his first year with RCR.

Last season, Newman began the season with a lot of raw speed. In the first five races, he posted four top-10 finishes, including three top-fives, with a best finish of third at Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Following the ninth race of the season, momentum began to swing in the wrong direction. Crew chief Luke Lambert was suspended following the race at Auto Club Speedway, but appealed. The final decision didn’t come until after Richmond, in which he was suspended for six races, moving veteran crew chief Todd Parrott atop the pit box after he was named the XFINITY Series Competition Director at RCR during the 2014 off-season.  

In the first three races, the duo clicked off three-consecutive top-10 finishes, but then fell off the map with finishes of 18th, 39th and 18th respectively. Lambert came back at Daytona in which the team recorded an eighth-place finish.    

It was a tale of two halves of the season for the No. 31 car.

 In the first 18 races, the team posted 10 of its 15 top-10 finishes. In the second half of the season, the team fell off the map, but made it to the second round of the Chase when Newman was eliminated after Talladega in a controversial finish.

“We’ve got to win,” Newman told Speedway Digest. “That’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to win for the Chase, but you’ve got to win for momentum on your team, your organization, everybody involved. We saw last year because of our alliance with the No. 78 car how big that momentum really is when you do get that victory.”

In order to win a race, Newman will need to spend more time at the front of the field. He is coming off a season in which he led just 20 laps, and in two seasons with RCR, he had led a mire 61 laps. He has been consistent, but in order to put the Caterpillar Chevrolet in Victory Lane, the team needs to lead more laps and contend for top-five finishes on a regular basis.

“After finishing second two years ago, we really expected it (win) to happen last year and it didn’t,” Newman said. “We were close several times, but we didn’t lead enough laps to put our self in position to do that. That’s really what we need to work on is just putting our self in a better position to win and that’s leading laps and the guys in the pits did a good job of stepping up.”

Newman hasn’t won a race since he won the Brickyard 400 in 2013 when he beat Jimmie Johnson. That was when he was with Stewart-Haas Racing, but the move to RCR has had its positives and negatives.

 “Everybody on the team has to do a perfect job and then you might still get beat by ability by some other team,” Newman said. “There are so many variables in our sport that you have to have everything right on a given day to put yourself in contention and you still might get beat.”

Menard, on the other hand, is coming off what would seem to be a career year. That is not the case.

The No. 27 car finished inside of the top 10 just five times in 2015, down from a career-high 13 in 2014. Two of those top-10 finishes were top fives, but he led just 10 laps on the season, the lowest amount he’s led in a single season since 2009, when he was a part of Yates Racing.

His best finish of 2015 in May at Talladega, where he finished third and had a shot at the victory until the tri-oval, but Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was victorious blocking from the bottom of the track all the way to the top.

One positive for the organization was that Menard completed 98.7 percent of the laps on the season, with an average finish of 17.1. Though he didn’t record the top 10s necessary to be competitive in the Chase, he is coming off his highest finish in the championship standings of 14th, beating Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth in the 10-race battle.

Menard’s goals are set for this season. He wants to be better than last season, but also make the Chase for the second-consecutive year.

“Our plan is to be in the Chase again and advance further,” Menard said. “When the Chase started last year we were not at our best, we were probably at our worst all year. We got eliminated in the first round.

“Justin is in his second year as being crew chief. He’s got more experience under his belt. We basically have the same team together as last year.”

The team is nearly the same except for an engineer change during the off-season. The same pit crew that pitted Menard’s car in the Chase will be back on the team after shuffling over to his car midseason.

One thing that has eluded Menard from his Cup career is a victory outside of the 2011 Brickyard 400.

It is strange that as to why Menard made the Chase last season, as it could be argued that it was his worst seasons in his tenure at RCR. There is reason to optimism for the team as he seems to always get off to hot starts then collapses in the summer. He doesn’t think that will happen in 2016.

“I feel like it can be any given week,” Menard said. “Especially toward the end of last year we hit on some things that I felt really good about. I feel like we can roll into Daytona with as good of a shot as anybody. When we get to Atlanta which is the low-downforce and the first true test of the season everybody has a clean slate.”

The other driver that yet been mentioned is Austin Dillon. Though he was the lone RCR driver to not make the Chase last season, he led the most laps out of all three teams and seemed to have the most speed throughout the second half of the season.

RCR will look to come out guns blazing in 2016 starting at the Daytona 500. Newman is a former Daytona 500 winner, while Menard and Dillon typically run well on restrictor plate tracks. It would make the season a lot easier for the organization if one of the three drivers wins the Great American Race.

In the middle of 2008, Tony Stewart took a chance of a lifetime. Like an everyday citizen, taking a risk has its rewards, but also has many downfalls along the way. The grizzly veteran’s move to join Gene Haas and create a NASCAR super team has paid off.

Prior to Stewart joining Haas as a co-owner, the team had never won a race. The highest finishing driver that Haas had ever been a part of was Mike Bliss in 2005 and Jeff Green in 2006 each finishing 28th in the championship standings.

Once Stewart made the move to invest in the team, it instantly gave Haas CNC Racing more credibility. Over the span of the seven full-time seasons that the duo has been together as owners, it has resulted in great success. The organization has accumulated two championships, 30 wins, 136 top fives and 258 top-10 finishes to go along with 26 poles.

The team was running strong in the summer of 2013 before releasing Ryan Newman. However, in the next race, he went out and won the 2013 edition of the Brickyard 400 for the No. 39 team. But then, it was announced that the organization was adding 2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch after he had a successful season with Furniture Row Racing. With an already announced Kevin Harvick coming over the driver lineup at SHR became one of the fiercest companies in all of motorsports.

As Stewart approaches his final season behind the wheel of a stock car, he personally has nothing to worry about as far as his career. He has had a dismal three seasons. But those years will not define the legacy he has left on the sport.

Stewart knows that his team needs to step up the game in order to have a successful season and make the Chase in his final year. He’s confident that with the addition of Mike Bugarewicz on top of the pit box, he has an opportunity for success. The new crew chief of the No. 14 car has led Harvick to two-consecutive winning seasons as the team engineer.

“I think we got two guys for sure that definitely have a great opportunity to race for a championship,” Stewart told Speedway Digest. “If you can win a race, you’ve got that opportunity. You don’t have to win every race to get to Homestead, Jeff proved that last year. I definitely feel like we have two drivers that have that opportunity to get to Homestead and be successful.”

The last two seasons have shaken Stewart’s confidence level. There is no reason why he can’t go out and be dominant like the old “Smoke.” The new aerodynamic package will be in his favor. It puts the car back into the drivers’ hands to an extent, and allows them to maneuver the car through traffic, something that he is magnificent at.

The three-time Sprint Cup champion is a living legend. No matter the outcome of his final year, he has had one of the most successful careers of any NASCAR driver, winning three championships and capturing 48 checkered flags. The Indiana native hasn’t forgotten how to drive, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he wins his first Daytona 500 in his final season behind the wheel of the No. 14.

“It’s a coin toss on what could happen with me,” Stewart said. “It could be the same, it could be worse, it could be better. If we make it any better I think it has potential to be a lot better. I’m excited about that opportunity on our side.”

If speed is any indication on the performance of SHR in the coming seasons, Harvick is one of the front-runners for the championship. Winning his first Cup title with the organization in 2014 and having the raw speed that he’s just never had before has elevated the No. 4 car as the one to beat week-in and week-out.

The team led by Rodney Childress is destined to do great things because there is simply no reason why they will struggle in 2016. Since the driver and crew chief combination began working together it has been the most successful combination in NASCAR.

Winning eight races in the last two seasons, and having a career-high 28 top-10 finishes just last season, Harvick is hitting on all eight cylinders as they approach the new year.

“I think as you look at the situations and scenarios that our team has had to deal with over the past couple of years with running well, kind of having that little bit of a target on your back, you learn to ignore a lot of those things,” Harvick said about winning the championship. “For us, it’s really about keeping your head down and trying to do the same things again.”

In his first two seasons with SHR, the California native has led more laps than he did in his previous 13 seasons with Richard Childress Racing. In 2015, he led a career-high and series-high 2,294 laps. But for him, that isn’t good enough. He wants more.

Harvick, 40, wants championships. He’s won every big race that there is to win. He’s a former Daytona 500 champion, Brickyard 400 champion, two-time winner of the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500.

 “We expect to go out and be competitive and hopefully be in position to win races, work hard on a weekly basis to try and do that,” Harvick said. “Your goal is to be around when it gets to Homestead every year.”

After coming up just short of winning two-consecutive championships, it has motivated Harvick and company to be better than they were last season. Finishing second was the theme of the year last season with 13 second-place finishes. The one that hurt the most was finishing second in the championship race to Kyle Busch, resulting in a second-place finish in the point standings.

“We constantly try to improve,” he said. “I think for us one of the big areas to improve on was Homestead. We didn’t feel like we ran as well as we should the last two years in that particular race, and we’ve already been back there and tested. We’ve changed some internal parts and pieces.

“We’ve added a lot of people from within the engineering department. We’ve added some time in the aero department. As a company we’ve definitely strengthened our self in a lot of departments to try to improve on that.”

One thing that improved throughout the 2015 season was the relationship between Busch and crew chief Tony Gibson. The No. 41 team had two wins, 10 top fives and 21 top-10 finishes, the most he has had since 2009 and tied for a career-high.

After competing in his second full season for SHR, Busch’s chemistry with the start-up team has been tremendous. He has gone from working with an engineer in Daniel Knost, to now two straight seasons with veteran crew chief, Gibson.

If it weren’t for a rain shortened race in Phoenix, potentially, the team could have been racing for a championship and slotted his car in the championship battle with with Harvick.

No one has ever questioned the Las Vegas native’s talent. He has had to build chemistry with numerous different crew chiefs over his tenure in the Cup Series, but working with Gibson is a lot like working with another old-school crew chief in Jimmy Fennig. When that dominant duo worked together, they won the championship.

“There is no reason to think that we can’t be front-runners,” Busch said. “With the results that Kevin has posted, especially him, we have to do a better job on the No. 41 car to mimic that, but for sure.

“Tony Stewart is going to have a new drive within him. He’s got a new crew chief and what I’m seeing is more collaboration amongst the four Stewart-Haas cars. It’s better than I’ve ever seen it before. I would definitely give us the thumbs up on being a front runner.”

Including Danica Patrick, all four of the SHR drivers have different personalities, which have allowed the team to grow closer together. Now as they enter their third season of working together, SHR has established itself as one of the top teams in NASCAR. Getting equipment and engines from Hendrick Motorsports won’t ever hurt, and the alliance has given SHR the boost it needs to compete for wins.  

In 2015, two of the teams performed, Patrick improved and Stewart is motivated as he begins his final season as a driver. Patrick is coming off of arguably her best season as she had a 23.5 average finish the best of her young career, and finished in the top 10 twice, down from her total of three in 2014.

After this season, SHR will look a lot different as Clint Bowyer will come in and drive the No. 14 car in replacement of the legend, so this year could be the most pivotal, yet fun year in the eight years of existence for Stewart-Haas Racing.

 

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