Bristol Will Make Immediate Changes To Track
The fans have spoken. And Bristol Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith listened. Now he will act. Smith announced Wednesday that he has ordered changes to the track surface of the 0.533-mile, high-banked concrete oval. The chairman of parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc., Smith said an announcement will come soon on what exactly will be done to the track, which was resurfaced and reconfigured in 2007, making it easier for drivers to race two-wide and eliminating much of the rough driving necessary to pass. The 158,000-seat facility, which used to be one of the toughest tickets on the NASCAR circuit, appeared half-full for its March 18 Cup race, continuing a trend of declining attendance at the track. (Sporting News)
Changes Made To NASCAR's All-Star Race
Another year, another format for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Sprint announced Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway the blueprint for a five-segment, 90-lap all-star showdown, scheduled May 19 at the 1.5-mile track. The 28th running of the event will continue to pay the winner a cool $1 million. Changes have been nothing new to the annual invitational event, ever since it debuted as a 70-lap exhibition in 1985. This year, though, each segment carries a unique benefit while keeping a premium on pit-crew performance.
The race will consist of four 20-lap preliminary segments, culminating in a 10-lap shootout. The field will make a mandatory final stop before the final leg of the race, then will line up according to the order in which they leave pit road. This year, though, winners of the four preliminary portions will enter pit road first, giving them an edge for the final segment. In the event one driver wins multiple preliminary segments, the second-place driver in a given 20-lap run would receive the benefit. "It makes you really want to get one of those first four 20-lap races," said Kasey Kahne, the 2008 All-Star winner. "The way you come off pit road for that final 10 is (whether) you have a shot to win or not."
For crew chiefs, the stakes will be just as high, with the strategy of whether to take two tires, four tires, fuel only or a mere stop-and-go on the final stop potentially determining the outcome. "I think it's pressure on everybody," said Steve Addington, crew chief for Tony Stewart. "Everybody wants to win that race, but you can throw caution to the wind, so it's up to the call from the top of the pit box as to how much pressure (you put) on them or yourself. But if you call for a tire change, they're going to have to be spot-on."
In addition to the leaving the seven-figure winner's payout unchanged, race organizers made no tweaks to driver eligibility. The field will consist of race winners from 2011 and the 2012 season up to May 12, plus any past champions of the all-star event or NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from the past 10 years. Additionally, three transfer spots are left open before the main event. The top two finishers in the 40-lap Sprint Showdown earlier in the evening will qualify for the race. Another driver will be selected on the basis of fan votes cast online or through mobile devices. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Earnhardt Jr. Surprised His Rivals Weren't Better Weather Men
To Dale Earnhardt Jr., the decision not to pit when rain hit Auto Club Speedway on Sunday was a no-brainer.
Earnhardt stayed out and finished third in the rain-shortened Auto Club 400, which NASCAR called after 129 laps when the rain intensified. Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, however, came to pit road under caution for the initial shower, giving up positions in the top five and costing themselves better finishes. Earnhardt was shocked that anyone came to pit road. "I was pretty certain by watching the weather and studying the weather all night long and all day today that once it began to rain, it wasn't going to stop," Earnhardt said. "I was surprised that some guys came down pit road and gave up track position." Having made the right call, Earnhardt gained three positions in the Sprint Cup standings and now trails leader Greg Biffle by 17 points.
(NASCAR Wire Service)
Jimmie Johnson Gets A Gift
Forget the 25 points Jimmie Johnson regained on appeal of the No. 48 team's Daytona penalty early this season.
Johnson was equally fortunate Sunday -- despite pitting under the caution for rain -- when the stoppage of the race left him 10th in the running order, instead of in the garage repairing a broken oil line. As the cars circled the track in the rain, Johnson's car began smoking. The driver of the No. 48 Chevy didn't know whether the cause was a broken oil line fitting or an oil cooler problem, but he was happy his team didn't have to make the diagnosis during the course of the race. "It was just a wild chain of events, because when I came to pit road and took four tires, I wanted it to dry up real quick," Johnson said before NASCAR called the race. "Now I'm sitting here praying for rain. So, as I'm sending the signals to the man upstairs, he's really confused about what I'm asking for the last three or four minutes." Johnson got his wish, and the unrelenting rain kept him 10th at the finish -- his fourth straight top-10 -- and allowed him to gain two positions to ninth in the Cup standings. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Stewart Wins Rain-Shortened California Cup Race
Tony Stewart made all the right moves Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, and the last one proved decisive in taking the three-time champion to Victory Lane in the rain-shortened Auto Club 400. After raindrops slowed the race on Lap 124, Stewart, the race leader, faked a move toward pit road but stayed on the track and matched the pace car's speed of 65 mph, a far cry from the lightning-fast laps he ran under the green flag.
But that move -- staying out and running slow caution laps before NASCAR stopped the race on Lap 129 -- proved decisive for the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, who claimed his second victory of the season, his second at Fontana and the 46th of his career, tying him with Buck Baker for 14th on the career victory list. Kyle Busch, who stayed out with Stewart, finished second, with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards completing the top five.
Greg Biffle ran sixth, followed by Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch, all of whom gambled on protracted rain and stayed on the track during the initial shower. Jimmie Johnson and polesitter Denny Hamlin came to pit road and finished 10th and 11th, respectively. "I don't think that I faked him out," Stewart said of Hamlin. "I'm sure he had made his decision already -- looked good, though."
In Johnson's case, the top-10 was a godsend, given that the No. 48 Chevrolet developed an oil line problem as the cars circled the two-mile track under caution. Johnson's car began smoking and he kept it rolling on the apron until NASCAR stopped the race. The event ran caution-free for 124 laps, until rain in Turns 3 and 4 brought out the first yellow flag of the afternoon. Stewart had retained the lead through a third cycle of green-flag pit stops, with Hamlin chasing him.
Hamlin had made a run at the leader when the rain began to fall, but he and Johnson opted to give up positions in the top five and come to pit road, after Stewart made his feint toward the pits but remained on the racetrack. Feint or not, Hamlin was committed to the trip to pit road, and he explained the
decision. "We were planning on the race going back to green, and if it doesn't, we'll lose some spots, but if we chose to stay out there, we would have to be behind all the cars that pitted (if the race restarted)," Hamlin said as the rain intensified. "(In that case), your chance of winning decreases greatly. So you could give up a few spots if it finishes up here and lose a chance to win in the grand scheme of things -- we had finally gotten to (Stewart's) bumper when the rain came."
That left Busch in second place. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota had led 80 laps to that point, but Busch had rubbed the wall in traffic before the halfway point, and the handling of his car deteriorated thereafter. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Joey Logano Gives JGR 8th Consecutive Nationwide Win At California
Joey Logano kept the Joe Gibbs Racing streak alive. Fighting off challenges from a succession of rivals, Logano gave JGR its eighth straight Nationwide Series victory at Auto Club Speedway in winning the Royal Purple 300 by 1.066 seconds over runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The victory was Logano's first of the season, second at Fontana and the 10th of his career. Logano is the first Sprint Cup Series regular to win a Nationwide race this season. Brad Keselowski ran third, followed by Brian Scott and rookie Austin Dillon. Brad Sweet, Kenny Wallace, Kyle Busch, series leader Elliott Sadler and Brendan Gaughan completed the top 10. After debris punctured the radiator of her No. 7 Chevrolet, Danica Patrick retired with an engine failure and finished 35th.
By the time Sam Hornish's wild spin in Turn 4 brought out the second caution of the race on Lap 91, Logano had led 54 laps, but the yellow flag bunched the field and made for dramatic racing at the front. Logano, Stenhouse, Busch, Gaughan and Allgaier all made runs at the top spot before a caution for debris in Turn 4 on Lap 104 slowed the field and brought a round of pit stops for the lead-lap cars.
Busch, who restarted sixth on Lap 109, was the only driver exiting pit road in the top 10 who took tires on the pit stop. Busch's crew chief, Mike Beam, opted for right-side rubber, while the cars that restarted ahead of him took fuel only. Within three laps, Busch was in the lead, passing Logano for the top spot on Lap 112, with Keselowski in pursuit. The 2009 Nationwide champion kept the 2010 Nationwide champion at bay until Lap 125, when Keselowski moved around him for the lead.
Logano soon rejoined the battle and took over the top spot on Lap 129, a position he held until Blake Koch's Lap 133 spin in Turn 4 necessitated the fourth caution and set up a final round of pit stops, with Trevor Bayne leaving pit road with the lead, thanks to a two-tire call. A slow pit stop cost Busch 14 positions, but he rallied to post the first top-10 finish of the season for his new Nationwide team. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Appeal Over, But Dispute Over Jimmie Johnson's "C" Posts Still Rages
In the aftermath of Hendrick Motorsports' successful appeal of penalties imposed on the No. 48 team for a Daytona rules infraction, Jimmie Johnson made a bold assertion Friday at Auto Club Speedway. "Through the appeal process, we proved that those 'C' posts were legal," Johnson said of the parts NASCAR confiscated on opening-day inspection Feb. 17 at Daytona.
NASCAR president Mike Helton would take issue with that statement. In Helton's view, when NASCAR's chief appellate officer, John Middlebrook, upheld a $100,000 fine to Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, that vindicated the inspection problem that uncovered the alleged violation. "We believe in our inspectors," Helton told reporters Friday at Auto Club Speedway. "We think that the decision that was made this week supports the inspection process, because the elements of the penalty that were upheld indicate that the inspection process, or the inspectors, did their job correctly."
In upholding the fine and leaving Knaus and car chief Ron Malec on probation, while rescinding six-race suspensions to Knaus and Malec and 25-point penalties against Johnson and car owner Jeff Gordon, Middlebrook made no comment about the nature of the violation itself. He simply altered the punishment. So were the "C" posts legal or not? Asked whether they would be confiscated again if the 48 car featured the same "C" posts at Talladega, Helton said, "I would hope so."
Legal or not, Johnson, Knaus and team owner Rick Hendrick expressed confusion over the rescission of some penalties and the upholding of others. "I'm not totally happy with the decision," said Johnson, who climbed from 17th to 11th in the Cup standings after his 25 points were restored. "I'm pleased that the big issues had come down, but I share confusion as well. "I think our message -- I know our message all along through Hendrick Motorsports and myself -- we didn't feel that a penalty was warranted in the first place. We're just as curious." (NASCAR Wire Service)
NASCAR Hotpass Lineup At Auto Club Speedway
NASCAR Hotpass on DirecTV is free to all DirecTV customers. Four dedicated driver channels offering viewers multiple camera angles, real-time statistics and audio of the network broadcast augmented by live communication between the drivers and their pit crews are available for all 36 point-paying races during the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The NASCAR Hotpass lineup for the Auto Club Speedway at Fontana, California is as follows:
DIRECTV Channel 795: Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Ford team of Roush Fenway Racing
DIRECTV Channel 796: Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet team of Richard Childress Racing
DIRECTV Channel 797: Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s / Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet team of Hendrick Motorsports
DIRECTV Channel 798: Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard Chevrolet team of Hendrick Motorsports