Dale Earnhardt Jr. recognizes that he might not have the longevity or accomplishments at Hendrick Motorsports of four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon or five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, but Earnhardt doesn't believe his teammates are better drivers than he is. "There is a bit of a pecking order, and it really comes down to what you've done lately," Earnhardt said Friday at Kansas. "I think that Jimmie and Jeff will always carry a certain role in that company that I will probably never achieve, just due to them being there that long and having that trust built up with Rick (Hendrick) and all the employees there -- and their accomplishments, obviously." Asked whether he thought Johnson was a better driver, however, Earnhardt was emphatic in his response. "No, he's a hell of a race car driver, but I feel like I'm the best," Earnhardt said. "I think that's the way you have to feel. I feel like I'm smarter than everybody, and I can drive better than everybody, and I know a lot of people ain't going to agree with that, but I feel pretty strong about it." (NASCAR Wire Service)
An aspiring stock-car driver is suing NASCAR, claiming he was denied the opportunity to compete in NASCAR’s diversity program because he looks “too Caucasian.” NASCAR argues that in trying to change the “face” of the sport, it has the right to select drivers for its diversity program based on skin color, attorneys for the sanctioning body and its former diversity program administrators have told a U.S. District court. Michael Rodriguez, a driver from Pennsylvania, says in his complaint filed in U.S. District Court that he was denied the opportunity to compete in the 2005 and 2006 Drive For Diversity combines. Rodriguez is suing NASCAR and Access Communications, which operated NASCAR’s diversity program from its inception in 2004 until 2008 and conducted the combines that are designed for teams in NASCAR’s regional series to scout minority drivers. Judge Max Cogburn did not issue a ruling immediately after Wednesday’s hearing and indicated that he was uncomfortable with the case. “The core question for the court,” the judge told the attorneys, “is can you discriminate on color in an effort to diversify?” ...TO READ MORE... (sportingnews.com)
Sponsor and Manufacture News
Michael Waltrip Racing got positive news from sponsor 5-hour Energy, which picked up 12 additional Cup races with driver Clint Bowyer to go with the 25 announced last year. Bowyer, who will be sponsored by Aaron's May 6 at Talladega in his only event not sold to 5-hour Energy, is 10th in the series standings through seven races.
In Sunday's STP 400 at Kansas, Aric Almirola's No. 43 Ford will be dressed appropriately. The car will feature a throwback STP paint scheme similar to the one seven-time champion and team owner Richard Petty made famous. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the company's association with Petty, STP is donating $43,000 to Victory Junction Gang Camp, founded in memory of Petty's grandson, Adam Petty, who lost his life at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in May 2000.
On May 22 at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) U.S.A. in Salisbury, N.C., reporters will get their first look at the new Camry to be raced by Toyota teams in 2013. Ford and Dodge already have revealed their 2013 Fusion and Charger, respectively. Chevrolet has yet to schedule the unveiling of its 2013 race car. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Bowyer, Edwards, McMurray Eager For Kansas Homecoming Victory
While any NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory would qualify as "big," a win in Kansas City would hold a special place in the heart of a trio of drivers. Clint Bowyer, a native of Emporia, Kan., and Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray -- both from neighboring Missouri -- hope to enjoy the home-track feel that Kansas Speedway offers in Sunday's STP 400 (FOX, 1 p.m. ET). None of the three have won at Kansas, but Bowyer and Edwards have come the closest. Bowyer was runner-up in 2007, when Greg Biffle nursed his fuel-starved car to victory in a race that ended in near-darkness. Edwards finished second at Kansas the following year, coming up just short to Jimmie Johnson after trying a bold crossover move in the final lap. McMurray has a seventh-place run as the best finish among his two top-10s there.
For Edwards, a Kansas win would be the salve for a 40-race winless streak, but it would also represent a cherished moment in his already memorable career. "There would be no bigger win on the circuit," Edwards said. "If I had to choose between winning one race throughout the year, that would be the one I would pick. The amount of pride that I would have winning that close to home and in front of so many people that are friends of mine and people that have helped me, that would be huge." --/-- Having friends and family close by is a home-track perk, but does have some hurdles. Bowyer said he planned to arrive Wednesday in his home state for a string of appearances that include throwing out the first pitch at Friday night's Kansas City Royals' home game against Toronto. "That's the thing," Bowyer said. "It's difficult to go home because of getting pulled in all the different directions -- all the while trying to focus on getting a good run, because that's really what's important to you the most there. It's important to me to run well in front of all my fans, friends and family. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Jeremy Mayfield Faces More Criminal Charges
Jeremy Mayfield’s legal troubles have spread to a third North Carolina county, as he was indicted on 10 more criminal counts this week, according to a Mooresville Police Department news release. Mayfield is charged with five counts of felony breaking and entering of tractor trailers and one count of subsequent felony larceny from alleged crimes that occurred in the latter part of 2010, according to the police department. He is also charged with two counts of felony breaking and entering and felony larceny from a building. The former NASCAR driver—who has not raced since a May 2009 drug test that NASCAR says was positive for methamphetamines—already faces nine felony counts in other North Carolina counties. In Catawba County, he faces three charges of possession of stolen goods, one count of obtaining property by false pretenses and one count of possession of methamphetamine. His next court date on those charges is June 25.
In Caldwell County, he faces four counts of felony larceny. His next court date on those charges is April 30. After his indictment in Catawba County, Mayfield said the charges were “baseless” and that law enforcement officials appeared to be coordinating with NASCAR officials, whom Mayfield has sued over his suspension and failed drug test. “This investigation apparently started and is based upon the statements of man with a lengthy criminal record,” Mayfield said of an alleged informant when indicted in Catawba County. Mayfield is free on bond from the charges in Catawba and Caldwell counties. ...TO READ MORE...(sportingnews.com)
Obama Welcomes Tony Stewart, Other Chase Drivers to White House
President Obama gave NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart plenty of light-hearted ribbing during his remarks at the champion's tour of the White House on Tuesday. But he did seem pretty serious about one thing. He really wants to drive the car. "It's good to see No. 14 back on the South Lawn," Obama said. "Every year, I try to take a lap. Nobody lets me do it. But I am still holding out hope that at some point, I'm going to be able to get behind the wheel." Despite the President's high hopes, the commander in chief did not climb into one of Stewart-Haas Racing's 800-horsepower Chevrolets. But it didn't stop Obama from offering high praise for Stewart's accomplishments in closing out his third title in the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. "This was Tony's year," Obama said, "and Smoke gave us one of the most dramatic finishes that we've ever seen."
Stewart said he was humbled by the President's remarks, but for his part, he wasn't quite willing to play the accomplice in getting Obama behind the wheel of one of his cars. "That's what I was worried about when he went over to it and was looking. That's why I never took the window net down," Stewart said. "I can imagine Secret Service coming out of the woodwork as soon as we put him in that car. So yeah, I think that would be something he'd be genuinely interested in. "He mentioned how nice a job we did at not tearing the lawn up. I don't think it would remain that way if he was driving the car. But, it's your yard, so . . ." Stewart was joined at the White House by the other 11 drivers in last year's Chase field. In his remarks, Obama singled out the unprecedented five-year reign of former champion Jimmie Johnson and gave credit to 2011 runner-up Carl Edwards, a member of his Presidential Fitness Council.
While it was not the first White House visit for Stewart as NASCAR's reigning champion, he said the experience of being in the heart of the nation's capital with dignitaries never gets old, especially since it was his first title since 2005. "We got to do this twice as a champion before this, luckily, but it was kind of the same show for the last five years with Jimmie," Stewart joked. "Like I say, it's not only an honor to be here, but it's the first time that we've been here and had the other drivers with us winning the championship." -- Obama also took time out to make mention of the NASCAR Unites - America Salutes initiative for patriotism and military support. "One thing especially I want to thank NASCAR for is the support that you guys have provided to our men and women in uniform," Obama said. "You give active-duty soldiers, wounded warriors, veterans all a VIP experience at races."
That mention wasn't lost on Dale Earnhardt Jr., who currently sports sponsorship for the National Guard and whose car was on The Ellipse near the National Mall with a special red, white and blue paint scheme for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll last week. Earnhardt, who called the experience of being on stage with the President "surreal," said that he's proud to be a part of the patriotic salute, especially with Memorial Day and Independence Day on the horizon. On Tuesday, though, the day belonged to the privilege of being a special guest in the President's home. "I was just glad to have the opportunity to shake his hand and have my picture made," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I've got a picture from last year hanging on my wall at the house, so it's something that means a lot to me." (NASCAR Wire Service)
Kentucky Speedway GM Confident That Traffic Problems Are Solved
If there's a lasting image from last year's inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, it doesn't involve the streams of headlights inching toward the racetrack long after the event had started. It doesn't involve the streams of red brake lights inching away from the track after the race's midpoint, when the state police and speedway officials had no choice but to reverse the traffic pattern and turn away fans who had spent hours in traffic but had fallen short of their destination. The indelible memory from last year's Cup date was octogenarian track owner Bruton Smith, chairman of parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc., standing in the middle of an clogged intersection, directing traffic at the bottleneck leading to the infield tunnel.
Thankfully, Smith's services won't be required when the Cup series makes its next visit to the Bluegrass state for its June 30 date. An overpass for tram traffic has eliminated the funnel at the tunnel. Within 45 days after last year's race, Smith had acquired a 143-acre farm across Highway 35 from the speedway, all to be used for additional parking. With the cooperation of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and the state legislature, Highway 35 has been widened to seven lanes, an extra lane has been added to the primary off-ramp from Interstate 75, and a 42-foot-wide tunnel has been built under Highway 35 to bring fans from the new parking areas to the speedway without snarling traffic with pedestrian crossings. The improvements, tested extensively with computer simulations, prompts speedway general manager Mark Simendinger to say, "I am as confident as you can possibly be, short of having it already over," that the traffic issues that plagued the race last year have been solved.
Roughly 15,000 fans whose tickets were not scanned last year took advantage of a ticket exchange for this year's race. Ostensibly, those fans never arrived at the track, but it's hard to place an exact number on those who didn't make it, given that the speedway stopped scanning tickets after the race started to facilitate getting fans into the stands. At an industry average of three passengers per car, those 15,000 fans will come to the track in 5,000 cars. According to Simendinger, the extra parking areas will accommodate 15,000-20,000 more vehicles. Smith didn't stop with the acquisition of the 143-acre tract. On Jan. 2 he flew to Kentucky in hopes of buying an adjacent property. "If you had a normal job, and you didn't work with Bruton, you'd take that week off and ease into your job," Simendinger said. "There wasn't any easing in. He shows up, and said, 'Let's call that guy; see if he's there.' So we go down there, and Bruton says, 'I want to buy your property, I'm going to give you this much money, and let's do this thing right now.' Boom. He flies in, commits to buying it, so now we've got another 30 acres that connect with the 143."
Extra parking spaces don't mean much, however, if you can't fill them quickly. That's where the computer simulations figured in. "We needed to get some engineers and do a really sophisticated modeling program on this thing, because we had so many new lanes and all these different lots, and we really needed to figure out how this was all going to fit together and what the strategy ought to be," Simendinger said. "It helps the people that are putting the traffic management plan together. It helps the parking people. We have 20 different lots, and we have to decide which lots are we going to have for which lanes, which ones are getting loaded first. "So we plugged all that into this model, and then we ran a bunch of different scenarios with it. We said, 'OK, what do we think is the most expected case?' So we ran that. That came back really, really good -- probably better than we thought it was going to come back. So then we're like, 'Let's make it harder. What if we've got people concerned and they all come really, really early?' So we moved a lot of the distribution back and bunched it up. In that scenario, it still came back very good. So we said, 'What if one of the lanes breaks down on (Interstate) 75 for 30 minutes?'" Though all the permutations, the models produced satisfactory results. "When you had happen to you what happened to us that first year, you're getting into to a lot of detail," Simendinger said. "We've got to make sure that everything's going to go good. Everything has come back very, very positive, so I'm really confident that those types of issues are not going to occur." (NASCAR Wire Service)
Penalty Ruins Piquet Jr.'s Best Efforts at Rockingham
Nelson Piquet Jr. had plenty of positives to savor in his first visit to Rockingham Speedway, but the turn of events in the second half of NASCAR's return to The Rock left a sour taste. A pit-road penalty for speeding derailed Piquet's bid for his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory Sunday, leaving him settling for seventh place in the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200. Piquet won the pole position in Saturday's qualifying and appeared poised to make the race a runaway, leading 103 of the first 123 laps. But a longer pit stop during the race's third caution period bumped him back to fifth place.
He worked his way back up to second place behind race winner Kasey Kahne, but was nabbed for speeding on the 176th lap, during the race's final yellow flag. The penalty made him the last truck on the lead lap, leaving Piquet 12th for the final restart. "We had lost position on one pit stop and I was trying to recover it back on another pit stop. So we speeded a little bit trying to find the limits, so unfortunately, it wasn't a race which we could've won," Piquet said. "Obviously, it wouldn't have felt that bad if we weren't in that position." Piquet's penalty was for being too fast exiting the pits, which was no easy feat considering he owned the first pit stall as the pole winner. One stall in front of him was left vacant for TV's use, which added some real estate for Piquet ahead of the final pit-road timing line. Piquet gained two spots to take sixth place in the points standings after his second top-10 finish in three races this season. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Kasey Kahne Wins Rockingham Truck Race
Kasey Kahne capped a successful weekend of triple-duty Sunday afternoon, winning the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 to mark NASCAR's return to Rockingham Speedway for the first time since 2004. Kahne -- who finished seventh in the Sprint Cup Series on Saturday and third in the Nationwide Series on Friday at Texas Motor Speedway -- surged to the front in the 155th lap of 200 to notch his fourth win in five starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. James Buescher finished second with Matt Crafton third and Johnny Sauter fourth. Timothy Peters jumped into the series' points lead with a combination of a fifth-place finish and an early wreck for teammate John King, the Daytona winner who led the points coming in.
Brad Sweet qualified the No. 4 truck fifth, but Kahne had to start at the rear of the field because of the driver change. Even with traveling from Fort Worth overnight, getting approximately 4 1/2 hours of sleep and having no track time in preparation for the race, Kahne was poised to pounce in the late stages. "This is probably the best weekend I've had in a long time," Kahne said. "I got out of that truck and I've got three clean race cars and I ran three hard races this weekend, and everything's clean -- not a dent on 'em. It was a good weekend, tons of energy, and I'll sleep good tonight when I finally decide to go to bed."
Kahne played a prominent part in NASCAR's last race here, when Matt Kenseth edged him at the line for a Sprint Cup Series victory. The memory of that race was on his mind when he returned to the mile oval. "I've watched it on video and I can run it through my head and remember so many things about how that race finished," Kahne said. "Those are kind of the memories that I have." Until now. Kahne withstood Buescher's last-ditch effort on a restart with 20 laps left and had nowhere near as close a finish as last time around. Kahne was a comfortable 1.478 seconds ahead at the checkered flag.
Pole-starter Nelson Piquet Jr. -- Kahne's next-closest competition -- dominated the early stages of the race, leading 85 of the race's first 100 laps. But Piquet became mired in traffic after a lengthy pit stop shuffled him back to fifth during the third of the race's four cautions. He worked his way back to second place until incurring a pit-road speeding penalty during the final caution period. He rallied to finish seventh. John King's grasp on the series' points lead fizzled early in the race, when he spun and nosed into the inside wall on the backstretch on Lap 4 to bring out the race's first caution. King returned to the track after repairs, but wound up completing 56 laps and finishing 33rd, dropping him seven spots to eighth in the standings. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Greg Biffle Wins Texas Sprint Cup Race
Saving his equipment for the final green-flag run, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Greg Biffle finally put a win on the board, cruising to a 3.235-second victory over Jimmie Johnson in Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Biffle took the lead on Lap 304 of 334 and pulled away to win his first race since Oct. 3, 2010 (at Kansas), his second at Texas and the 17th of his career. Johnson, who led a race-high 156 laps, scraped the wall trying to run down Biffle in the late going. "I just dug deep," Biffle said. "I knew I had to do it and kept trying and trying and trying. I knew the team would forgive me if I wrecked it trying to beat him, so I gave it all I had."
Mark Martin came home third, followed by Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth. With Kasey Kahne finishing seventh and Dale Earnhardt Jr. 10th, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers ran in the top 10, but Biffle denied them their most coveted prize, a 200th Cup victory for team owner Rick Hendrick. The victory was the first in the Cup series for Biffle's crew chief, Matt Puccia. "I could say it's about time," said Biffle, who snapped a 49-race winless streak. "But I'm just thankful to be able to drive these cars, as fast as they are. We knew it was a matter of time that we were going to win one soon -- we've been running so good."
From the moment he passed pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. for the lead on Lap 180, Johnson was dominant, as Biffle chased the five-time champion lap after lap through three cycles of green-flag pit stops. Biffle frequently gained ground when Johnson hit traffic, but the margin would expand when Johnson got to clean air. The lead stayed at roughly one second -- give or take -- and by the time the race hit Lap 300, Martin in third at 7.8 seconds back was the only other driver within 10 seconds of the leader. With 34 laps left, however, Biffle turned up the wick. On Lap 304, as Johnson tried to work his way through traffic, the series leader made the pass for the top spot, streaking to the inside of Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet as the cars approached the start/finish line.
Biffle said he was "foaming at the mouth" with Johnson in his sights, but he had to conserve fuel and save his tires for the first few laps of the final run after his last pit stop. "I was a little short on fuel, so I kind of lifted a little early and let the car roll down through the corners," said Biffle, who expanded his series lead to 19 points over Earnhardt and Kenseth. "When he started catching a little bit of traffic, that's when I started going. I just pushed as hard as I could, and I was driving the thing sideways around the corner trying to catch him. I could tell I was catching him, and he had a little trouble with traffic."
Johnson took issue with drivers of lapped cars -- particularly the No. 39 of Ryan Newman -- who Johnson felt failed to show the respect due a race leader. "When I caught lapped traffic, some guys that were multiple laps down didn't show much respect for myself, the leader," said Johnson, who posted his fifth runner-up finish against one victory at Texas. "Before I knew it, the 16 (Biffle) was there inside of me and got by. We ran with him for the next eight or 10 laps, and then I made a mistake into (Turn) 3 and hit the fence. At that point, I just needed to make sure I brought it home. A great night, all in all. I certainly wish we could be in Victory Lane, but we'll try again next week."
Notes: The race featured only two cautions and ended with a green-flag run of 234 laps. That was a race record, as were the average speed (160.577 mph), fewest number of cautions and fewest number of caution
laps (10). Hendrick put four cars in the top 10 for the first time since last year's spring race at Talladega. . . . Roush Fenway Racing earned its series-best ninth Cup win at Texas. . . . Both Johnson and Martin posted their 13th top-10 at TMS, Johnson in 18 starts, Martin in 23. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Nelson Piquet Jr. On Rockingham Pole
Nelson Piquet Jr. has driven a little bit of everything over the course of his racing career -- go-carts, Formula One and the developmental rungs of stock-car racing. Saturday afternoon, his transition to NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series reached a major milestone with his first pole position in his 33rd start. His fast lap of 144.387 mph at Rockingham Speedway was just one-thousandth of a second faster than rookie Paulie Harraka, who will share the front row for Sunday's Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 (SPEED, 1 p.m. ET). Timothy Peters qualified third, Jason Leffler fourth and Brad Sweet fifth. Barring a postponement of Saturday night's Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, Sweet will cede his seat in the No. 4 Chevrolet to Kasey Kahne, the only driver attempting to compete in all three national NASCAR series this weekend. The driver change will require Kahne to start at the rear of the 36-truck field.
Piquet has raised eyebrows with his performance so far this season. He qualified second for the truck series' opener at Daytona before a late-race wreck left him 22nd. He followed that with an admirable sixth-place run at Martinsville, where he had only competed twice before. That effort came just two weeks after he won from the pole at Bristol in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. "Every day I sit in the car has been very important -- a big, big learning curve for me," Piquet said. ". Now we continue the momentum, bringing it over here. I think it's just a result of all the hard work and everything I learned last year. It makes a difference."
Harraka, making just his third start in the truck tour, posted his best qualifying effort to date despite battling a fierce amount of understeer during his lap. "It was a good lap; it wasn't a great lap," Harraka said. "So if we're able to be P2 with that, it makes me really excited for the race." Series points leader John King will start 25th. Clay Greenfield, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chris Fontaine, Wes Burton and Brian Weber failed to qualify for the series' first race at the one-mile track. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Hillenburg Optimistic For Rockingham Trucks Sellout
Rockingham Speedway president Andy Hillenburg is no weatherman, but he sounded like one Saturday afternoon while making his forecast for ticket sales for Sunday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the historic one-mile track. "Two weeks ago, I would've told you that there was no chance we could sell out the Rockingham Speedway for NASCAR's return," said Hillenburg. "We were doing well two weeks ago; we're doing even better today. And sitting here, 24 hours before the race, I'm going to tell you we've got a 30 to 40 percent chance of possibly selling out. "I do expect a crowd of 25,000-plus; we hold 31,000. We are definitely going to rock the house whether it be 25, 26 or 31 (thousand)."
The weather forecast for the Rockingham area may go a long way toward helping Sunday's walk-up crowd. Temperatures in the low to mid-80s are expected with zero percent chance of rain. Hillenburg has been credited with reviving the historic track in the years since he bought the facility at auction in October 2007. Now, with NASCAR back in town for the first time since 2004, Hillenburg could hardly contain his pride. "Here, that's all everybody's talking about -- NASCAR's return to The Rock," Hillenburg said. "If I bumped into a pin, I'd probably bust." (NASCAR Wire Service)