The NASCAR off season may be one of the shortest in the sports industry, but it feels like one of the longest. From Mid-November to Mid-February, there is absolutely no racing, at all. No angry drivers looking for their nemesis. No twisted sheet metal to clean up. No race fans ready to cheer on their favorite driver every week. As an avid race fan, I think I can speak for all in saying that the Off Season is miserable.
Now, there are a few things you can do to make these three months not seem so terrible. There is Christmas and New Years to celebrate, I mean, who doesn't like partying and getting new things? But the Christmas and New Year's celebration take up slightly more than one week, what about the other 12? Below is a list of possible remedies to help with your NASCAR withdrawal.
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The day after she was named the Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver, and the day after her seventh wedding anniversary, Danica Patrick and her husband Paul Hospenthal have decided to end their marriage.
Danica took to Facebook Tuesday afternoon and posted this statement.
“I am sad to inform my fans that after 7 years, Paul and I have decided to amicably end our marriage. This isn’t easy for either of us, but mutually it has come to this,” she said. “He has been an important person and friend in my life and that’s how we will remain moving forward.”
Danica and Paul met when he was treating her for a yoga injury. He is 17 years her senior. The two were married in front of friends and family in 2005; yesterday marked their seventh wedding anniversary.
Whether or not you are a fan of Danica’s, divorce is devastating.
Fans across the nation are reaching out in support for their favorite driver on twitter:
Camille Jones @annaxcamille “So sad to hear about Danica Patrick’s divorce… Your fans support you all the way. We’re always here for you!”
Alyson @AlysonP7 “We are here for you.”
Bill Zahren @Pressdog “The Big D happens. Props to Danica for getting it out there. Best wishes to both her and Paul getting through a difficult time.”
Thomas Stirton @Thomas71096 “hope she stays strong and will be ok! Us fans are here for her ”
Michele Smith @michelesmith710 “we will always have your back and never give up on you.”
Bottom line, divorce is awful and a last resort, no matter who you are. Well wishes to both Danica and Paul in this time of heartbreak.
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When you look at high school and college sports, like football and volleyball, they have a junior varsity and varsity team. You have to prove you are worthy of playing varsity by competing at the junior varsity level first. NASCAR is a lot like that. The NASCAR Nationwide Series is the junior varsity to the Sprint Cup Series varsity. While there are many drivers who compete in one series full time and dabble in the other throughout the year. Sprint Cup drivers can find a Nationwide ride pretty easily; Nationwide drivers trying to find Cup rides? Now that is a different kind of battle.
Austin Dillon may have just come up to the Nationwide Series in 2012, but he has definitely proven that he can drive a race car. With multiple wins in 2012 and a third place finish in the series standings, this kid at least deserves a part time ride in Cup. Dillon will also be named the Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year at the banquet Monday, November 19th. Dillon won the 2011 Truck Series Championship before moving on to the Nationwide Series. His Grandfather, Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing, would be able to put him in a cup ride, but the real question is, what number would he drive, the three? Either way, Austin Dillon needs to be put in a Cup car, even if it is just a part time ride. Getting him that experience, seeing how he measures up to drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, will be a real test of his talent.
Elliott Sadler has been a driver in the NASCAR circuit for many seasons. He lost his Cup ride in 2009 when A.J. Allmendinger replaced him in the No. 19. Since then, he has been racing in the Nationwide Series, competing for the Championship. This season, he lost to Ricky Stenhouse Jr buy only 23 points. Sadler has proven that he can race with the Cup guys and he needs to get back in the Cup series. Sadler will not be returning to the Nationwide Series driving for Richard Childress Racing, instead he will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. I really hope he gets back into the Cup Series full time soon. He is a talented driver who really deserves to run with the big boys and girls.
When he was called on in the middle of the season to replace A.J. Allmendinger in the 22, he quickly came running. Sam Hornish Jr took over in the summer Daytona race after Allmendinger was suspended following a failed drug test. Hornish continued to drive the 12 car in the Nationwide Series as well as the 22 for the rest of the season. When Penske announced that they would be looking for a full time driver for the 22 in 2013, all eyes were on Hornish. He had performed well in the car in the 19 races he had run with the team and many thought he deserved to get back in the car that he had driven for the majority of the season. When it was announced that Joey Logano would be driving the 22 car, you could see Hornish was disappointed. Penske also announced that he wall looking at a fourth part-time car for Hornish for 2013. I think Sam Hornish Jr deserved to be in the 22 car for Penske Racing, but that is just my opinion. I hope someone can see the potential in the great driver and give him the chance at a full time Cup ride.
Austin Dillon, Elliott Sadler and Sam Hornish Jr are just three drivers in the Nationwide Series that deserve Cup rides, whether full or part time. Sponsorship is getting harder to come by with the slowing economy, leaving many drivers in both series looking for rides period. Look for these three drivers to be Cup Championship contenders in the next few years. Their talent is definitely some of the best on the track.
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This season, the Championship for the Camping World Truck Series is extremely close, with only twelve points separating the top three drivers. James Buescher, Timothy Peters and Ty Dillon are all neck and neck heading into Homestead with Peters trailing Buescher by 11 and Dillon trailing by 12. Point's leader Buescher has four wins this year, Peters with two and Dillon with one. Buescher, Dillon and possible contender Parker Klingerman were all involved in wrecks at Phoenix that had a drastic effect on the point's standings. Klingerman's wreck cost him a chance at the Championship, leaving him 4th in points and 37 behind Buescher. Each of the three drivers has a chance at winning their first Championship and it really is anybody's game.
Heading into Phoenix, the Nationwide Series Championship was tied between two drivers, defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Elliott Sadler. As we head into the final race of the season, Sadler is now twenty points behind Stenhouse Jr and rookie Austin Dillon is only five points away from second place. Sadler definitely has the most experience going into this final race. He has made 12 starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway and has an average finish of 28th.Â Stenhouse has two starts at Homestead, finishing second last season and 4th in 2010. Dillon has not made any starts in the Nationwide Series at Homestead but he has in the Truck Series. Dillon was also took home the Championship last season in the Campingworld Trick Series. If Stenhouse can keep on the path he has been, running well and finishing well, he could easily take home his second consecutive Nationwide Series Championship. Stenhouse would have to have a pretty bad day for Sadler to take is away from him and Dillon would have to win and finish 15 or more places ahead of Stenhouse and Sadler to win. Both of those scenarios are not out of the question but the racing gods will have to be focusing all of their energy on the rookie for him to take the trophy. My prediction is that Stenhouse will walk away with yet another shiny trophy and Sadler will yet again be left in the dust. I wouldn't count Dillon out for 2013 though; he is, after all, the grandson of Richard Childress.
Sprint Cup Series:
As we head in to the final race of the season, the Chase has gone from 12 to 2: Brad Keselowski versus Jimmie Johnson. Going into Phoenix, it was anybody's Chase Johnson led Keselowski by seven points and third place Clint Bowyer still had a shot at stealing the Championship away from both drivers. After the mayhem and craziness of Phoenix, Keselowski now has a 20 point lead on Johnson, Bowyer is now fifth in points, and anyone third and below is mathematically eliminated from contention. Keselowski has a pretty good chance of taking this Championship from Mr. 5-time himself. In order for Johnson to win his 6th Championship, Keselowski will have to finish below 15th and not lead a lap. In other words, Keselowski will have to have a day like Johnson did in Phoenix and vice versa. It is entirely possible though. In 2010, Johnson went into Homestead 15 points behind point's leader Denny Hamlin. Johnson finished second and won his 5th Championship. Taking the track at Homestead, Jimmie Johnson has nothing to lose; he can take risks, try different strategies and go for all or nothing. Brad Keselowski doesn't have that option. He needs to be consistent and play it safe. One wrong move and his Championship hopes could go down the drain. Johnson has never won at Homestead and finished second twice yet his average finish is 13.45. Keselowski on the other hand only has 2 top 20s and his average finish is 20.25. Keselowski has had extremely good luck during this Chase.
He has avoided accidents like its no one's business. Some of his best finishes in the Chase have come on tracks where he wasn't predicted to get a top 10. His luck is bound to run out someÂ time, and it just might be this weekend at homestead. Johnson, on the other hand, has had to overcome a few accidents and fight his up from a few bad qualifying positions. His rally back to a ninth place finish after rear-ending the wall at Kansas is proof that this team is not going down without a fight. Â Even though he is 20 points behind, I still have my money on Johnson for this Championship. Chad Knaus and the 48 team are way too good to let 20 points stop them.
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After months of fans complaining that the racing was boring, that they were tired of long green-flag runs, that they were tired of “debris” cautions, they finally got what they wanted, but at what expense? Going into the second to last race of the 2012 season, for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, we knew Phoenix was going to give us some good racing. What we didn’t expect is for the championships in both series to take a drastic turn, for some of the best drivers in the sport to lose their cool, and others to almost lose everything. So the question is, with everything that happened this weekend, who is the real “Bad Luck Brian?”
Saturday started with Elliott Sadler hitting the wall during his qualifying lap and having to switch to a back-up car. Sadler, in contention for the Nationwide Championship, went into the race tied with defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and starting from the rear of the field Sadler had fight his way up to the front. By lap 85 he had moved up to 6th place. At halfway, after bad restarts and a slow pit stop, Sadler had dropped back to 11th. Lap 186, Sadler got loose off of Turn 4 and managed to save it but lost a few spots. Bad luck didn’t stop there for Sadler, after fighting his way up into the top 10 with 2 laps to go, Sadler, Cole Whitt, and Brendan Gaughan crashed between Turns 3 and 4. The wreck totaled Whitt’s car and tore the front off of Sadler’s. The race was red flagged and the cars are parked on the track as the crews clean up. Danica Patrick, parked with a clear view of Sadler’s damaged car, talked to her spotter about how he was going to be able to continue. Bottom line, he could run without the nose, but his rear spoiler needed to be in a certain spot. Elliott finished the race P22 and is currently 20 points behind Stenhouse and only 5 points ahead of Austin Dillon. So the question is, did Sadler’s bad luck all but guarantee Stenhouse Jr a second championship?
Stenhouse Jr isn’t the only championship contender whose chances got a little better. Sprint Cup contender Brad Keselowski can also breathe a tad easier now that 5-time champion Jimmie Johnson is 20 points behind him. After a melted bead in Johnson’s Kobalt Tools Chevy caused him to slam into the outside wall, the 48 team had to make extensive repairs to the underside of the car. Coming into Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 with a 7 point lead over Brad Keselowski, Johnson did everything he could to stay ahead of the Blue Deuce, but fate had a different idea.
“All along I was just hoping to either come out of this race a few points ahead or a few points behind heading into Homestead,” Johnson said. “I thought we were on course to do that.”
After spending multiple laps behind the wall, Johnson’s seven point lead is all but a memory. After finishing 32nd and almost 40 laps down, he goes into Homestead twenty points behind Keselowski. Johnson can win the race and still not have enough points to take the championship away from Keselowski. Brad will have to finish 15th or worse without leading a lap in order to lose this Championship.
“I think we would have finished in the top five, maybe seventh or eighth, if I hadn’t had that happen and hit the wall,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, as a result, we lost control of this championship. We can go down there and try to win the race and do all that we can, but we’re not in control of our own destiny now.”
Is 5-time going to have to wait another season in order to get his 6th Championship?
Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon; it’s hard to say which one had a worse day. Both drivers have been at each other’s throats all season long, blaming each other left and right for various hits on the track. Gordon finally had had enough of Bowyer.
After Bowyer had bumped Gordon, sending him up into the wall, Gordon deliberately slowed down on the track, waited for Bowyer, and wrecked him. Not only did he take him out, Joey Logano’s day was ended as well. This all went down with two laps to go, and the event led to a red flag. After he climbed out of his car, Gordon was all but jumped by Bowyer’s pit crew. NASCAR officials, media members, crew members and law enforcement all jumped in to stop the fight from getting even farther out of hand. Many individuals, including Gordon, were escorted to the NASCAR hauler. Bowyer parked his smoking 5 Hour Energy Toyota and sprinted toward Gordon’s hauler, being followed closely by a cameraman, who held the camera surprisingly still considering he was sprinting as well. Bowyer was stopped in front of Gordon’s trailer and also escorted to the NASCAR hauler.
”It’s pretty embarrassing,” Bowyer said. ”For a four-time champion, and what I consider one of the best this sport’s ever seen to act like this is pretty ridiculous.”
Gordon had also had enough of Bowyer. ”Things just got escalated over the year, and I’d just had it,” he said. ”Clint has run into me numerous times, wrecked me, and he got into me on the back straightaway and pretty much ruined our day. I’ve had it, fed up with it and I got him back.”
Both drivers and crews are awaiting possible penalties for their actions, which will be handed down later this week.
Last but not least, Danica Patrick. Danica started her final Sprint Cup race of the season 37th. After being lapped early in the race, Patrick spent the day picking off cars one by one and spent most of the day running in the mid-20s and eventually back on the lead lap. Throughout the entire race, Patrick’s Crew Chief Tony Gibson, formally with Ryan Newman, was relaying lap times of her car owner Tony Stewart and also the race leader Kyle Busch. Patrick’s lap times were equal to and even better than theirs throughout most of the race. Her spotter, Tab Boyd, as well as Gibson, guided her through this tough short track and, after a small tangle with Sam Hornish Jr., got her into the Top 20. At the restart for the Green-White-Checkers, Danica was 13th and well on her way to a Top 15, even a Top 10 finish, in her 10th Sprint Cup start. Coming around Turns 3 and 4 to the white flag, Jeff Burton came sliding up the track and into Patrick’s left rear, sending her sliding into the wall then into the middle of the track. With no caution, despite her neon green GoDaddy car leaking fluid, Patrick nursed it down to pit wall and across the finish line, one lap down. As Kevin Harvick led the leaders around to the checkered flag, mayhem corrupted behind him. Drivers slid in the large oil patch left behind by Patrick’s wounded car, sending cars spinning everywhere. Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin and others were all a part of the carnage. Patrick’s car served as the proverbial ping-pong ball and even got airborne after getting hit in the rear by Kurt Busch and Paul Menard, who had crashed behind her.
Patrick had this to say about the incident with Burton. “Clipped my left-rear, spun me around, and I just tried to limp back to the line. I didn’t know exactly how much damage I had or what it was, but just trying to limp to the line and get the finish on the lead lap, whatever that was. Still our best finish, but you always want more. I was 14th, I think, or something right around there and that would have been a really good finish for the Go Daddy Chevrolet.”
Danica finished the final race in her 10-race schedule in 17th, her best finish in the series yet.
Well, fans shouldn’t be complaining now. Phoenix brought us one hell of a race weekend in what should really be known as the “Festival of Twisted Sheet Metal” (credit to @pressdog). With Championship shake-ups in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series, we head to Homestead not really knowing what to expect. Many prominent drivers had awful luck this weekend, possibly costing two of them the chance at a very shiny trophy. So I guess the final question is this, who really was the Bad Luck Brian? My vote goes to Sprint Cup race winner Kevin Harvick, whose end to a 44 race winless streak has been over-shadowed by all of this drama.
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They say everything is bigger in Texas and that was definitely true last weekend for Danica Patrick. Texas has always been a good track for Patrick, whether in IndyCar or NASCAR. With her best finish of 4th coming at Texas just last year, high expectations were already set before her tires hit the asphalt. But Danica’s weekend started a little early when she was the guest of honor for Texas Speedway’s Turn 2 “Speed to Read” Awards on Thursday November 1st.
Accompanied by 1,500 Elementary School students, their teachers and principals, shouts of DAN-I-CA came booming through the stands. “I feel like Taylor Swift,” she said after hearing the children chanting her name. Talking about the importance of reading and dreaming big, Danica and Sonic the Hedgehog, presented the top readers of the group with trophy’s and awards. The winners, teachers and principals were also treated to an autograph session and pictures with Danica and her Sonic themed car.
“It’s great any time that you can do things with kids or do things that help communities or something outside of the norm are always things we try and do if we can make it work on a race weekend,” Patrick said.
Saturday’s Nationwide race was expected to be Danica’s best finish this season, but the final result was far from that. Starting 8th in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge, several adjustments were made to the car in the first pit stop, leaving the car much to her liking. Running in the Top 10 much of the night, it looked promising, until she thought her right front tire was going down, causing her to pit sooner than planned. Looking at the tire after her team completed the pit stop, the tire was not only going down, but it was completely shredded.
Restarting 1 lap down, Patrick quickly passed cars and after green flag stops, she was back on the lead lap. Hitting a race high of fourth on lap 144, things started taking a turn for the worse. After being told to save fuel, a caution allowed her to pit with the pack for adjustments and full tank, but changing track conditions made her car tight and off balance leaving her with a 14th place finish.
“Well, this was a much better day than this,” She said after the race.
“Holy (crap) I felt like I was on ice at the end,” She told the team over the radio. “The grip level felt like it was 100 degrees and sunny out.y than this,” Patrick said after the race.
Her Crew Chief Ryan Pemberton was pleased with the result considering how their night had gone. “You guys did a nice job. There’s nothing we could do about getting a flat tire. We had all the right stuff at the end if we wouldn’t have. There’s just nothing we could do about that.”
Starting in her ninth Cup race, Sunday was bound to be another long 500 mile run. With Green Flag at midafternoon and ending under the lights, the AAA Texas 500 was bound to be yet another test for Patrick. In her first weekend with her new Cup team and Crew Chief Tony Gibson, it was a learning experience for everyone.
Tony Gibson and his team came over from Ryan Newman’s 39 team to Crew for Patrick full time next season.
Patrick, her spotter Tab Boyd, and Tony made a great trio Sunday night. Both Tab and Tony kept the radio chatter light-hearted and kept her spirits up. Danica started Sunday’s race towards the back of the field but quickly gained track position. Losing laps during green-flag stops, Patrick spent some of the first half of the race fighting her way back up. Gibson gave Danica tons of information about what was happening and why, what was going to happen next, and more throughout the race.
Patrick spent much of the night racing drivers like Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and even her Car Owner, Tony Stewart. Gibson was feeding her Stewart’s lap times along with her own, showing that she was running comparable, even faster, times than he was.
Tab Boyd is an incredible spotter, especially when it comes to his relationship with Danica. Tab spots for Danica on weekends where she pulls double duty. He keeps the radio chatter funny and light while also giving her great feedback on the cars around her. Using words like “mo-mentum,” “you’re cool,” and calling her a badass, he is never short on jokes, especially when it comes to other drivers.
Danica: “He’s such a pain in the ass to pass.”
Tab: “He’s a Bayne in the ass to pass.” (Referring to Trevor Bayne)
Danica: “I just laughed out loud in the car. That was funny.”
It is exchanges like these that make Danica and Tab such a great match.
Danica spent most of the 500 miles running in the Top 25, even reaching as high as 16th at one point. After a long batch of yellows towards the end of the race and a Green-White-Checkers finish, Danica ended the night 24th and on the lead lap making it her best finish in the No.10 GoDaddy Chevrolet.
With one last Cup race before jumping into it full time next season, she and Tony have much to figure out about each other. Danica still has a lot to learn when it comes to NASCAR but one thing is for certain, she is definitely making a lot of progress.
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