Beaten and Battered, Kurt Busch Wins Nationwide Race at Daytona
The Great Pumpkin arrived early, and Kurt Busch left Daytona International Speedway with something more than peanuts after winning Friday night's Subway Jalapeno 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race in a battered No. 1 Chevrolet that looked like a refugee from Halloween. With a strong push from defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Busch took the checkered flag in a wild race that ended with Austin Dillon wrecking in the tri-oval as Busch crossed the finish line. Stenhouse came home second, followed by Michael Annett, who was pushing Dillon during a green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the race one lap beyond its scheduled distance of 100 laps. As the action intensified over the final quarter-mile, Dillon slid sideways across the stripe in fourth place, with Joey Logano and series leader Elliott Sadler taking fifth and sixth, respectively. The top-five for Logano, the series' top winner with five victories this season, took a sour turn in post-race inspection when his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was ruled too low in front. Penalties for the No. 18 team are possible early next week.
Busch picked up his second win of the season and his fifth in 23 Nationwide starts, in a day-glow orange car that differed from the usual bright red he drives for owner James Finch. "I showed up at the shop on Tuesday, and we talked about how our Kentucky week went, what we could have done better," Busch said. "I went out back in the fab (fabrication) shop, and they were wrapping on both of our cars, this fluorescent orange color. And I'm like, 'What's going on?' "It's just the energy James Finch has for Daytona. He wanted his cars orange, so they could be seen up front, so that car could be recognized without a sponsor on it. And we drove an unsponsored car into Victory Lane tonight. I was just being my normal sarcastic self on the radio, and I said, 'The Great Pumpkin is here, and the Great Pumpkin isn't going to lift coming to the checkered flag.' "
Stenhouse saw an opportunity on the restart with two laps left and planted the nose of his car on Busch's rear bumper. "That last restart, we didn't have many people to work with, and I saw him (Busch) hung out there in the center, and I got a good restart and jumped to the middle and caught up with the 1," Stenhouse said. "He was fast all night, and I just pushed him to the win. "I was hoping I could make a move there (coming to the finish), but I saw the 3 (Dillon) and everybody coming, so I kind of tried to duck out and block them, and we ended up second. It was exciting, and I hope the fans enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun."
Danica Patrick led 14 laps and escaped one major wreck before being collected late in the race. As Kevin Harvick and Mike Wallace tried to swap positions at the front of the field on Lap 66, Patrick pushed Justin Allgaier to the front as a 15-car wreck erupted behind her. Wallace moved down the track into the Chevrolet of James Buescher, then bounced up into Brad Keselowski's Dodge in the outside lane. The chain-reaction wreck also collected Harvick, series leader Sadler, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Cole Whitt (Patrick's JR Motorsports teammate), Clint Bowyer and Annett, among others. Sadler's damage was minimal, and he soon regained the lead. Annett's crew repaired cosmetic damage on his car as well. In fact, Sadler held the point on Lap 83, when an off-center push from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. turned Jeffrey Earnhardt sideways in front of the main pack of cars. As drivers checked up in reaction to the wreck, Patrick was launched toward the inside SAFER barrier and took a vicious hit when her No. 7 Chevrolet slammed into the wall. Busch made six pit stops under caution as his crew repaired the damage to his car -- enough to get it to Victory Lane.
Notes: One week after he claimed his first top-five finish in 120 Nationwide starts, Annett picked up his second one . . . Stenhouse, Annett, Dillon and Sadler qualified for the first leg of Nationwide's Dash 4 Cash next Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The top finisher among those four drivers wins $100,000 . . . Dillon started 42nd after his pole-winning qualifying time was disallowed because a cooling tube in the No. 3 Chevrolet was left open into the cockpit, contrary to a technical bulletin NASCAR issued earlier in the week . . . The race set a Nationwide Series track record for lead changes (42 between 16 drivers). (NASCAR Wire Service)
Matt Kenseth Claims Daytona Sprint Cup Pole
By a narrow margin, Matt Kenseth edged out Ryan Newman for the top starting spot in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Kenseth, the series points leader, toured the 2.5-mile superspeedway in 46.781 seconds (192.386 mph) during Friday's time trials. Tony Stewart, Newman's Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, was initially second after posting a lap of 192.361 mph, just .006 seconds off Kenseth's run. Stewart's time, however, was disallowed when inspectors found an open cooling hose into the cockpit of his No. 14 Chevrolet, the same duct work violation that had cost Austin Dillon the Nationwide Series pole earlier in the day.
Stewart will start from the rear, elevating Newman to the second position. In winning his first Coors Light pole award of the season and the eighth of his career, Kenseth was .008 seconds faster than Newman (192.353 mph). With Stewart's ouster, Kasey Kahne qualified third at 192.291 mph, followed by Greg Biffle (192.239 mph) and Jeff Gordon (192.012 mph). Bill Elliott, Casey Mears, AJ Allmendinger, Brad Keselowski (last week's winner at Kentucky) and Marcos Ambrose will start from positions six through 10, respectively. The pole was the first at a restrictor-plate track for Kenseth, the reigning winner of the Daytona 500. It was an enjoyable, suspenseful qualifying session for the 2003 series champion, because Friday's first practice -- during which the qualifying order was set -- didn't reveal which cars had the best straight-line speed. Robert Richardson Jr. failed to make the 43-car field. Elliott, making his second Cup start of the season under a one-off arrangement with Turner Motorsports and sponsor Walmart, was fastest among the drivers required to qualify on speed.
(NASCAR Wire Service)
Dillon Wins Nationwide Pole, Car Failed Post Qualification Inspection
There's a habit Austin Dillon's NASCAR Nationwide Series team needs to break -- immediately -- if the driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet hopes to win the series championship. Bluntly, the No. 3 team needs to stop failing inspection. Dillon's pole-winning time for Friday night's Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona International Speedway was disallowed after inspectors found an open cooling hose into the cockpit of the car, a duct work violation that in theory would provide an aerodynamic advantage. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., second to Dillon in Friday's time trials, gets credit for the pole, but Dillon retained his pit selection, with pit choices already having been made. Dillon was required to start from the rear for Friday's race.
A week earlier, Dillon's team was penalized when the winning car at Kentucky Speedway failed the post-race height stick test. Crew chief Danny Stockman was fined $10,000 and Dillon lost six driver championship points, dropping him from the series lead. Car owner Richard Childress attributed the ride height failure (too low in the rear) to a jack bolt that had worked its way loose on the bumpy Kentucky racetrack. Stockman and car chief Robert Strmiska were on probation before the Kentucky infraction for using unapproved upper front bumper covers at Richmond, an infraction discovered on RCR and Turner Motorsports cars during opening-day inspection for the April 27 race. NASCAR will review the cooling hose violation in its competition meeting early next week and may impose additional penalties then. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Brian France: Embracing Technology Will Fuel Closer Racing
If NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France wanted to get one point across during his mid-season meeting with the media at Daytona International Speedway, it's that NASCAR will use all the technology at its disposal to enhance its product on the race track. "Our goal is to use a lot more science than art for us to keep up, solve issues, create rules packages on the intermediate tracks and alike that produce closer, more competitive racing," France said Friday in the Daytona media center. "That's a stated goal. We're doing a number of things to achieve that." NASCAR has given senior vice president of racing operations Steve O'Donnell purview over its research-and-development center in Concord, N.C. Though the tech center works hand-in-glove with NASCAR's competition department, it has been split off from competition to give the group at R&D "more clarity and more autonomy," according to France.
France cited the evolution of tandem racing at superspeedways as a problem NASCAR needed to solve technologically, given that the majority of fans expressed displeasure with the two-car hookups. "We going to use more science than we ever have to get those rules packages where we want them," France said. "Even when we get them where we want them, they're going to change. That's just the nature of this business, the nature of the teams, and so on." NASCAR already has begun experimenting with rule changes this season, shortening the side skirts on the cars to lessen downforce, for example. Rule changes this year will inform the development of the next generation of Sprint Cup car, which will be on the track in 2013. France indicated NASCAR is open to any suggestion that will enhance the quality of racing, short of measures that border on gimmickry. "I've heard, 'We ought to throw a caution every 10 laps' -- that's nonsense," France said. "We won't do gimmicky things, but we will do things that incentivize performance, incentivize wins. That we're open to -- the wild card does that, but it does it in an authentic way."
France also said NASCAR is receptive to ideas that mirror the shorter attention span of today's society -- shorter races, perhaps, or two shorter races replacing one long one. France also acknowledged that it's time to get down to serious negotiations with NASCAR's broadcast partners, given that current TV agreements come to term after the 2014 season. "We're getting into the timeline where were having serious discussions about what the future will look like. We have our incumbents (FOX, ESPN, TNT and SPEED), some of the best partners we've ever had. We'll have to see how that goes. "The good news for NASCAR and, frankly, any high-powered sports content is there is a lot of demand for it. So the sport will be in very good shape, and we're looking forward to those discussions and how they materialize."
(NASCAR Wire Service)
NASCAR Hotpass Lineup At Daytona International 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 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway is as follows:
DIRECTV Channel 795: Tony Stewart and the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet team of Stewart-Haas Racing
DIRECTV Channel 796: Greg Biffle and the No. 16 3M Ford team of Roush Fenway Racing
DIRECTV Channel 797: Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team of Hendrick Motorsports
DIRECTV Channel 798: Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the No. 88 National Guard-An American Salute/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet team of Hendrick Motorsports
Daytona Race To Be Simulcast on TNT and TruTV
TNT’s telecast of the Coke Zero 400 traditionally is one with extra racing on the screen, thanks to a split-screen format for most of the commercials on the Turner-owned network. This year, TNT will also add an extra channel to its telecast — the race Saturday night from Daytona International Speedway will be simulcast on the Turner-owned truTV. In what appears to be the signature event of its six-race Cup schedule, Turner also is tapping into one of its biggest names. Robin Meade, an anchor and host for Turner's HLN news channel, will sing the national anthem. She will conduct interviews with troops attending the race for her “Morning Express with Robin Meade” show the following week. Race coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET. (Sporting News)
Austin Dillon's Team Penalized, Falls From Nationwide Points Lead
The No. 3 NASCAR Nationwide Series team and driver Austin Dillon were penalized Monday for rules violations at Kentucky Speedway, knocking the rookie driver from the top of the points standings. Dillon took over the points lead after dominating Friday night's Feed the Children 300, leading 192 of 200 laps in his first Nationwide victory. But his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet did not pass the post-race inspection, failing to meet the minimum rear car height. Dillon was docked six points in the driver standings, dropping him to four points behind Elliott Sadler and ending his ride atop the NASCAR Nationwide Series at just under three days. Additionally, NASCAR stripped Morgan Shepherd, the car owner of record, of six points in the owner standings. Crew chief Danny Stockman Jr. was fined $10,000 for the infractions. He and car chief Robert Strmiska remain on probation until Dec. 31 for illegal modifications to the No. 3 Chevy found during inspections at Richmond International Raceway in April. (NASCAR Wire Service)
Denny Hamlin Extends Contract With Joe Gibbs Racing
Denny Hamlin, whose contract with Joe Gibbs Racing was set to expire after the 2013 season, has signed a multiyear extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin announced the extension Saturday night prior to the Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. After his third place finish in the Quaker State 400 on Saturday night, Hamlin said the length of the contract for "a long time." He said he wasn't sure when FedEx would extend its deal but expects the company will do so soon. "I think that they're talking," Hamlin said "So everything should be done. Me, FedEx and Joe Gibbs, hopefully will all be together for a really long time." The 31-year-old Hamlin, who has 19 career wins in 240 career starts, all for Joe Gibbs Racing. He nearly won the Sprint Cup title in 2010, where he led the points going into the final race before Jimmie Johnson was able to come back to win the crown. (Sporting News)
Brad Keselowski Picks Up Third Victory
Three's the charm -- particularly if you're Bad Brad Keselowski. Building a big lead during the final green-flag run and saving enough fuel to get to the end of the race, Keselowski won Saturday night's Quaker State 400 Sprint Cup race in a backup car. Keselowski, who wrecked his primary car after tangling with Juan Montoya on the first lap of Friday's first practice session, picked up his series-best third victory of the season and the seventh of his career, all but assuring himself of a position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. "Now we can look forward," Keselowski said, assessing his chances of making NASCAR's playoffs. "We don't have to look back at all, and that's so big."
Runner-up Kasey Kahne rallied from an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel on Lap 52 to finish 4.399 seconds behind Keselowski, followed by Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jeff Gordon came home fifth, one spot in front of pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson, as Hendrick Motorsports drivers claimed four of the top six positions. "This just shows the importance of teamwork, and the group of guys I have on this Miller Lite team that are just badasses," Keselowski said after the race. "I'll tell you what, they put together a backup car from last year in 100-degree heat in an hour's time -- not even an hour. It was like 40 minutes. Got it on the race track and got to run our laps for practice to make the adjustments we needed to be fast today. That's what badasses do, and that's what got us to Victory Lane today, and I'm proud of these guys for it -- damn proud of them. I think that sums it up."
Crew chief Paul Wolfe had a different slant. "All I heard was that Bad Brad was back this weekend, and I don't know whether that's good or bad," said Wolfe, whose driver had a chip on his shoulder after, in his view, Montoya pulled up in front of him at half speed on the first lap of practice and caused the wreck. In Wolfe's view, Keselowski can find extra speed when his blood is up. "Maybe it's human nature that, when you're ticked off or whatever, you're able to find another level," Wolfe said. "There are definitely a lot of instances where I've seen Brad be able to find speed in the race car when he is ticked off. Whether or not he's doing it, it seems like it happens."
Hamlin was saving fuel at the end of the race and had to surrender second place to the charging Kahne. Earnhardt was pleased with his fourth-place run, but his drought-breaking victory June 17 at Michigan, which snapped a 143-race winless streak, has whetted Earnhardt's appetite for more. "We're just ready to win," said Earnhardt, who gained one position to second in the series standings, 11 points behind seventh-place finisher Matt Kenseth. "I really had fun winning the other week, so I'm ready to get back to Victory Lane. I ain't going to be as patient this time."
Ignition troubles ruined defending series champion Tony Stewart's night almost before it started. Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet fell off the pace on Lap 26. By the time his team diagnosed and fixed the problem in the garage, Stewart was 35 laps down. He finished 32nd and dropped from fifth to ninth in the series standings. A bad night got worse for Stewart-Haas Racing on Lap 210, when Ryan Newman, Stewart's teammate, blew his engine, spun in his own oil and slammed into the outside wall in Turn 2, with Regan Smith hitting the wall behind him. Newman retired from the race in 34th and dropped two spots to 15th in points, leaving both Kyle Busch (10th Saturday) and Kahne ahead of him in the race for the two wild-card positions in the Chase. Chase spots are available to the two drivers in positions 11-20 in the standings who have the most victories in the first 26 races. Busch (12th), Kahne (14th), Ryan Newman (15th) and Joey Logano (16th) have one win each and are the only drivers in positions 11-20 to have won a race.
Clint Bowyer, last week's winner at Sonoma, was the innocent victim of contact that jeopardized his seventh-place position in the standings. Shortly after a restart on Lap 155, Bowyer was racing in close quarters with Newman, on new tires, and Joey Logano, who took fuel only during a pit stop under caution on Lap 150. With a huge run off Turn 4, Newman clipped the back of Logano's Toyota in the tri-oval, turning him into Bowyer's Camry. On Lap 166, Bowyer brought his car to pit road, fearing he had a tire losing air. Bowyer lost two laps in the process and fell to 32nd in the running order. But a cycle of green-flag stops and a free pass as the highest-scored lapped car returned Bowyer to the lead lap under the caution for Newman's wreck, and the driver of the No. 15 Toyota salvaged a 16th-place finish and held seventh in the standings. (NASCAR Wire Service)