There hasn’t been a shortage of drama and excitement this season as the 2013 NASCAR schedule has reached its quarter mark. Just eight races into the season and there is one thing that is abundantly clear; NASCAR isn’t playing any games. The 2013 season started off without a hitch. The biggest race of the season was made even bigger after Rookie Danica Patrick won the Pole for the Great American Race and became the first woman to do so in the Cup Series. After Daytona though, things started to get interesting.
Driver of the No. 11 Toyota Denny Hamlin was fined $25,000 for comments he made after the Phoenix race about the new Gen-6 cars. NASCAR found his comments to be “disparaging remarks” against its racing product. Fans, and Hamlin himself, were outraged by the fine and Hamlin refused to pay but decided not to appeal the fine. The fine, per NASCARs rulebook, will be taken out of Hamlin’s race winnings.
Hamlin’s fine was just the start of what will probably be known as the toughest start to a race season in recent NASCAR history. Before the start of the race at Texas, two Penske cars, driven by reigning Champion Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, were found to have illegal rear end housings. Each driver and car owner was docked 25 points, their Crew Chiefs suspended, as well as a few other penalties. Penske has decided to appeal the penalties which will be heard on May 1st at the NASCAR R&D Center.
Most recently, Matt Kenseth has been heavily penalized for illegal engine parts found on his race winning car from Kansas Speedway. Kenseth and car owner Joe Gibbs have been docked 50 points and his Crew Chief has been suspended and fined. Other penalties were also involved with the No. 20 team.
Martin Truex Jr., Johnny Sauter and Ron Hornaday have all received penalties from NASCAR in one form or another this season and I guess the real question is what will happen next? Or even better yet, who will be next?
It’s clear to see that NASCAR is cracking down on the teams and drivers this season with the new cars but many fans seem to think that they are going too far although the penalties and fines have been consistent with infractions from the past. Other teams better take note, NASCAR isn’t playing games this season; either follow the rules, or take the punishment.
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For a two-time Nationwide Series Champion, transitioning to the big leagues of the Sprint Cup Series should be a piece of cake, or at least that’s what people would think, but for Rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a great run at Kansas is just what he needed after a tough run at Texas.
Coming off of a wreck and 40th place finish at Texas, it was clear to see that Stenhouse was geared up for the race weekend in Kansas, the same place where he won in the Nationwide Series last October. After a few practice sessions, Stenhouse’s No. 17 Zest Ford Fusion was lightning fast and an easy pick for the pole position when qualifying came around. In fact, he sat on pole until the late stages of qualifying when Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth knocked him to third, his highest qualifying start of his young Sprint Cup career.
“It feels good,’’ Stenhouse said after his qualifying run Friday. “We had a track bar break at Martinsville and cut a left-rear tire at the beginning of the Texas race, so it feels good to come here and be fast.’’
Having a great qualifying run was just the beginning of Stenhouse’s great week. In fact, all of the Roush Fenway Racing cars were fast the minute they unloaded from the trucks.
“It seems like when you roll off the truck with a fast car, you generally have that fast car throughout the weekend,” said Stenhouse, “so that’s what we’re hoping to obtain, and carry this throughout the weekend.”
When the race rolled around, Stenhouse was up front, well, for most of it. Stenhouse took the lead on lap 190 after passing teammate Carl Edwards and former driver of the No. 17 Matt Kenseth and was up front for 26 laps. With a long green flag run, teams, including Stenhouse, started making green flag pit stops. Just as he hit pit road, the caution flag flew, leaving him and others in the back of the pack.
“We pitted under green and it really got us when the caution came out,” Stenhouse said after the race, “but all in all, I think we can take a lot of positives from this weekend. We were fast in practice, fast in qualifying and made the car better through the race and that’s what it’s all about is making your car better throughout the race.”
Although the untimely pit stop and caution cost Stenhouse the chance of a win, he still battled back for an 11th place finish, tied for the best of his Sprint Cup career. His top-15 finish moved him up two spots to 18th in the point’s standings, and he is two points behind fellow Rookie of the Year competitor, and girlfriend, Danica Patrick, in Rookie standings. (Want to know how Rookie points work? Click here)
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NASCAR handed down multiple penalties to four different drivers yesterday and when the news broke, the twitterverse lit up. Tweets full of outrage and anger filled my timeline so quickly that it was hard to keep up.
The biggest outrage seemed to be towards the penalties given to the Penske Racing teams of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano whose cars failed pre-race inspection because of illegal rear end housings. Each team’s Crew Chiefs have been fined $100,000 and suspended for six championship points’ races as well as put on probation until the end of the year. Their team managers, car chiefs, and team engineers have also been suspended for the next six point’s races and put on probation until the end of the year as well. Each driver has lost 25 Championship points and each car owner has lost 25 owner points. The only comment that Penske Racing released in regards to these penalties was that they were going to appeal, and the paperwork has already been filed.
Many people were outraged by the severity of the penalties given to Penske Racing but looking at the penalties given to the No. 48 team at the beginning of the 2012 season, they are very similar; the only difference is the suspension of the team managers (run down of the No.48 penalties here). The No.48 team appealed the penalties and most were overturned, the fine against Knaus was the only penalty that was not overturned.
I can see the same thing happening in the case of these Penske Racing penalties and since both teams have already filed the appropriate paperwork, both Crew Chiefs and the rest of the team will be in full force this weekend at Kansas.
Michael Waltrip Racing driver Martin Truex Jr came so close to winning Saturday’s night race at Texas but found himself coming up a little too short, literally. After post-race inspection, NASCAR announced that the No. 56 car was too low in front. When NASCAR released the penalties for the No. 56 team, they were pretty predictable. Crew Chief Chad Johnston was fined $25,000 and placed on NASCAR probation until June 5, Truex has been docked 6 driver points and Michael Waltrip has been docked 6 owner points. In a statement released by MWR, they said they will not appeal the penalty.
These penalties won’t be very detrimental to the team but the six points could cost Truex Jr. in the end. Remember the points battle between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards for the Championship in 2011? The six points Truex lost could be the difference between making the Chase and missing out.
The last set of penalties that NASCAR handed down Wednesday was given to NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Ron Hornaday. Hornaday has been penalized by NASCAR following his involvement in an on-track incident on Sunday at Rockingham Speedway. Honaday drives the No. 9 truck and wrecked fellow competitor Darrell Wallace Jr under caution. NASCAR found him in violation of Section 12-1 which is defined as just that, wrecking another competitor under caution. Hornaday has been fined $25,000 and docked 25 championship points and placed on probation until June 12.
His penalty seemed pretty lenient considering this wasn’t the first time someone had been penalized for wrecking someone under caution. Hornaday himself was the victim of Kyle Busch’s rage when Busch wrecked him at Texas under caution in 2011. Busch was immediately parked and suspended. Hornaday’s penalty seemed like a little slap on the wrist compared to Busch’s penalty when in all reality, the incidents were the same.
NASCAR isn’t always consistent when it comes to penalties and fines to drivers and teams, but all in all, I think the ones handed down on Wednesday were right on par with the usual. Expect the Penske Racing penalties to be part of the racing news for the next few weeks as they start the appeals process and see if their outcome is similar to that of the No. 48 team last season.
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He has won almost every race he has been in this season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, 4 out of 6 to be exact, but how much is too much for this full-time Sprint Cup Series driver?
Kyle Busch has been in all six NASCAR Nationwide Series races this season driving the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. He started off the season finishing 32nd in the Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona when he lost an engine. He was running high all day, even leading 22 laps, until his unfortunate mishap sent him to the garage.
Then came Phoenix, Bristol, Fontana and Texas. Each of these tracks saw Busch not only winning the race, but basically leaving every other driver in the field in a cloud of dust. Busch took home both the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series wins at Texas leaving him with a clean sweep of the weekend. The only other race heÂ hasn’tÂ won this season besidesÂ DaytonaÂ in the Nationwide Series was Las Vegas where he finished second to Championship contender Sam Hornish Jr.
Itâ€™s pretty clear to see that Kyle Busch can win in the Nationwide Series, but does he really need to prove that each and every week? The Nationwide Series is supposed to be a place for drivers to race and improve their skills and ultimately work their way into the Sprint Cup Series, not a place for Sprint Cup Series regulars to come and prove that they can dominate and win.
With four wins already this season in the Nationwide Series, when will it be enough for Kyle Busch? More importantly, how much is too much? I am all for letting Sprint Cup drivers race in the Nationwide Series, especially if it is only on occasion like Tony Stewart or Jimmie Johnson but every weekend seems to be a little much.
I think it is time that Championship contenders get a chance to duke it out on the track and not have to worry about Kyle Busch. Fans want to see Nationwide Series regulars out there battling for the win, not second place. It might be time for Rowdy Busch to hang up his Monster Energy helmet for a bit and focus on Sprint Cup.
There is no Nationwide Series race this weekend but they will be back on track at Richmond April 26th and you can probably guarantee that the No. 54 of Kyle Busch will be in the race and if recent tradition continues, putting you money on a Rowdy win would probably be a safe bet.
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The GoDaddy team went into this weekend with little expectations. Martinsville is known for being tough on even the most experienced veterans yet this Rookie driver finished 12thin her debut at the paperclip.
"I don't know what to expect." That's what Danica had to say before she took her first laps at this small half-mile track. Her boss and car owner Tony Stewart said her first time here would probably be pretty comical, but boy was he wrong. Not only did Patrick finish higher than Stewart in Sunday's race, but she was the highest finishing Stewart-Haas car all weekend.
Qualifying 32nd, it seemed like this was going to be another struggle for Patrick. Then during final practice, she shifted from 4th to 3rd gear and over-revved the engine. The Hendrick Engine Specialists decided it was in the team's best interest to change it and start from the rear. It was not looking promising for the No. 10 and the race hadn't even started yet.
Patrick had made it just 17 laps into the race when she spun in turns three and four and brought out a caution. The spin eventually put her 2 laps down to the leaders, but Crew Chief Tony Gibson kept his team and driver calm and rallied back.
Taking the wave-around on laps 242 and 288, Patrick got back on the lead lap, and drove the race of her life. By the closing laps of the race, she was P11 and ahead of her boss Tony Stewart. A little bumping and banging dropped her to 12th and that was where she would cross the finish line.
"I tried to guard the inside right there at the end and then (Brian) Vickers gave me a bump, and I get it," She said in the post-race report released on her personal website. "I was trying to defend and hold my position. We still came away with a 12th-place finish. I think you take what the car gives you And my car was pretty good all day. We kind of bounced around from being a little loose to a little tight, but we got the GoDaddy Chevy back up there. We obviously went down real early with that spin and were two laps down at one point in time. So I feel like that's almost one of the things I'm most proud of is coming back from two laps down to being on the lead lap and then grabbing a 12th place at the end."
Her Crew Chief Tony Gibson was impressed with his driver, even crashing the end of her post-race interview to give her a hug and high-five. "I figured if we could finish top 25 and be a couple of laps down, it would be a miracle," Gibson said after the race. "I never dreamed this. I knew after Saturday and Friday that we had a good Go Daddy Chevrolet. I knew she was capable of doing it. To be able to go through all that beating and banging and survive and finish 12th is unbelievable."
At the end of the race, it seemed like there were many notable people who were impressed with Patrick's run at Martinsville (see tweets below).
@SherylCrow: Way to go @DanicaPatrick finishing 12th! #NASCAR #martinsville
@HollyCain: Interesting. @DanicaPatrick 12th place in 1st trip to Mville is better Mville debut than @tonystewart @JimmieJohnson & @RustyWallace #NASCAR
@DanicaRacing: . @JimmieJohnson just sent his spotter over to tell @danicapatrick ‘s spotter that she’s doing a heck of a job. First time @MartinsvilleSwy
Patrick and the GoDaddy team head to Texas next weekend and according to Gibson are testing there this week before the race. It looks like the season is looking up for Patrick, but can she bring her success from Martinsville into the Lone Star State?
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He never really flies under the radar but no one really looks at Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a Championship contender until he is on the top of the standings. Earnhardt Jr. is heading into Martinsville on top of the points standings and it doesn't look like he is going to be slowing down any time soon.
He started off the season with a second place finish in the Daytona 500, finishing just behind teammate Jimmie Johnson. Since then, he hasn't finished outside of the top 10. He is coming off of another runner up finish from California but his great run has been largely overshadowed by the chaos that followed Kyle Busch's win.
As the Sprint Cup Series heads to the paperclip known as Martinsville Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. could very easily keep his top-10 streak going. Although he has never won at this half-mile track, it is arguably his best track on the circuit. Since 2000, the lowest he has finished in the spring race has been his inaugural event where he finished 26th. Since then, his worst finish is 15th and he has nine top-10 finishes.
Earnhardt Jr. doesn't mind riding under the radar, in fact, he would like it that way.
"I feel like it gives us the opportunity to keep focusing on what we need to do. We're still not winning races, and I don't expect to get much attention until we can win races," he said in a conference call earlier this week. "We've finished well, but I think there's a lot of areas where we can improve. If we go out and win some races, we'll get credit where credit is due. But we've run well, we've gotten lucky, we've had good cars, we've worked hard. There are other guys in the series not doing anything any flashier than we are. So I wouldn't expect the spotlight to be much brighter than it is."
Earnhardt Jr. broke his 140+ race winless streak last season when he went to victory lane at Michigan and hopes to add to that win record again this season. The No. 88 team seems to get better as they get farther into the season and that will definitely play into Earnhardt Jrs favor.
He was well on his way to a strong Chase run last season until a concussion caused him to miss two races in the middle of the Chase. You could say that No. 88 team and their driver have some unfinished business to take care of and it looks like they are well on their way to making the Chase in 2013 and could very easily be a serious Championship contender.
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