With all of the media surrounding Stewart-Haas Racing these last few weeks, it seems like NASCAR’s “silly season” has been all about the organization and its drivers. From co-owner and driver Tony Stewart breaking his leg to the sponsor and car number announcement with new 2014 driver Kevin Harvick to the signing of Kurt Busch that took the entire racing world by surprise, SHR has been one big story after another. Somewhere among the media frenzy and press releases, there has been one integral part of SHR that seems to be overlooked by the rest, Danica Patrick. Patrick came in to the organization in 2012, driving ten races in the No.10 Chevrolet in preparation for her Rookie season in 2013. With Ryan Newman and Stewart as teammates, Patrick was never short of help and guidance. When news leaked of Harvick joining SHR in 2014, the strength of the organization grew immensely.
Then, the ball dropped. Newman was let go from SHR when they decided they weren’t ready to expand to four cars. Stewart broke his leg in a Sprint Car crash and was out indefinitely. Then suddenly, rumors arose that Gene Haas, the other half of Stewart-Haas Racing, had offered Kurt Busch a ride, thus expanding the organization to four cars.
When Busch and Haas signed a two-year agreement on Tuesday, social media exploded with tweets and posts about how great the three teams were going to be. Stewart, Harvick and Busch were going to be the power team, going nose to tail with Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Penske Racing and the rest of the field. Even a suggestion of a reality show featuring the three drivers quickly spread through the twitterverse, but something seemed to be missing from all of the media buzz. What about Danica Patrick?
Tweets from drivers, crews and fans and even articles arose about the great dynamic that SHR will have in 2014 but rarely was there a mention of Patrick. Busch sent out a tweet about his new teammates, excluding Patrick from the bunch. Even is girlfriend tweeted about the dynamic trio and their 2014 success but left out Patrick. She is still new to the Sprint Cup series but she is still factor at SHR.
Patrick’s advice and input could be of importance in a difference sense as well. What if Busch decided to run the double on Memorial Day Weekend? Patrick could give some much-needed advice to her new teammate as Busch plans on running the Indy 500 for the first time. She may not take the NASCAR world by storm in 2014 but Patrick’s input with the team is just as important as that of Stewart, Harvick and Busch.In her transition from IndyCar to NASCAR, Patrick hasn’t put up the best results but excluding her from the success that SHR could possibly have in 2014 and beyond doesn’t seem fair. Patrick may still be green (no pun intended) when it comes to experience in the Sprint Cup Series, but her input and experience at tracks such as Daytona, Talladega and even tracks like Martinsville and Bristol could be key to the other drivers success in the coming seasons.
Excluding Patrick from the congratulatory tweets and posts to Busch seemed unfair, especially coming from her new teammates. Busch later tweeted out that he was looking forward to working with all three of them next season. With “Smoke,” “Happy,” “the Outlaw” and “the Danistar” all under one roof next season, SHR is not going to be short on excitement and talent. Stewart, Harvick, Busch and yes, Patrick will all be key in the growing success of Stewart-Haas Racing in the many seasons to come.
The most recent, exciting Rookie of the Year battle was back in 2009 between Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Although Keselowski was not eligible for the award due to Cup starts the previous season, the competition between the two was exciting. Now teammates, the two are highly competitive and worth watching every weekend. This season, another exciting ROTY battle is in full swing. In 2013, there are three contenders battling for the “Sunoco Rookie of the Year” honors. Those drivers are Timmy Hill, Danica Patrick and two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Although there are three rookies competing for the ROTY trophy this year, only two of them have full-time rides in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series –Patrick and Stenhouse Jr.
What goes into determining the Rookie of the Year?
According to Jayski.com, “Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates are awarded points based on entry, competition, top-10 bonus points and voting panel points. Points are awarded based on his/her best 17 races in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series action.”
The points are broken down as follows:
- Attempting to qualify for a race earns the rookies one (1) bonus point.
- Highest finishing Rookie is awarded 10 points, second highest is awarded 9 points, etc.
- Top-10 finish earns the Rookie one (1) bonus point.
At the end of the season, a panel meets to evaluate the performance of the rookies. Some factors judged are conduct with NASCAR officials; conduct and awareness on track; and personal appearances and relationship with the media. Each rookie is evaluated and rated on a 1-10 scale. The scores are averaged and added to their points earned throughout the season.
For the rookies, only their top 17 finishes are counted for points at the end of the season. The winner is announced and presented with their award at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship banquet in Las Vegas.
The 2013 battle reignites the validity of the award
With two high profile rookies battling for top spot, this season’s battle has been one to watch. Patrick took the top honors in the season opener in Daytona. She became the first woman to capture the Pole in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and then went on to finish eighth. Since that historic season opener, Patrick has been running mid-pack, finishing in the top 20 just five times this season.
After winning back-to-back NASCAR Nationwide Series championships, Stenhouse Jr. had to learn how to battle his way through the field in the Sprint Cup Series. With just five previous Cup starts he has faired well in 2013. Although he has yet to finish in the top-10 this season, he has posted 17 top-20 finishes, including an 11th place finish in Kansas.
According to Jayski.com, Stenhouse currently leads Patrick and Timmy Hill in the standings as of Michigan.
Car#-Driver, Races Attempted/Races Run; Attempt Pt + Race Rookie Pts + Bonus Pts = Total Rookie Pts
#17-Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 23/23; 23 + 170 + 0 = 193
#10-Danica Patrick, 23/23; 23 + 157 + 3 = 183
#32-Timmy Hill, 11/11; 11 + 92 + 0 = 103
Danica Patrick may be trailing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by 10 points, but don’t count her out just yet. Improving each and every week, this battle is just starting to heat up. While many are watching the Chase to the Sprint Cup, the 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year competition is one to keep an eye on. With a third of the season left in competition, it is far from over.
Jimmie Johnson has been on top of the points standing all but two weeks this season and currently sits a comfortable 75 points ahead of second place. With five straight Sprint Cup Series Championships, it’s clear to see why he is one of the favorites to hoist up the big trophy in Homestead. Johnson, after his eighth place finish at Watkins Glen last weekend, became the first driver to officially clinch a spot in the 2013 Chase. This feat ties for the earliest Chase qualification since Jeff Gordon in 2007 when he, too, earned himself a spot in the Chase at Watkins Glen. Johnson has also become the only driver to qualify for all 10 editions of NASCAR’s post-season celebration.
Since coming into the Cup Series in 2002, the lowest he has ever finished in the points standing was sixth in 2011, the year he lost the Championship after five consecutive wins. Since that season, Johnson and the Lowes No.48 team have been on an uphill climb to reclaim their rightful place; on top of the points at the end of the season.
Johnson excels at almost every track on the NASCAR circuit, which is what makes him the driver to beat each and every weekend, but for Johnson, there are a few tracks that he still has yet to tame. One of those tracks that “5-Time” has yet to conquer is that of Michigan International Speedway. With only four top-10 finishes in 23 starts, Johnson has definitely had his struggles at this fast track.
Michigan’s victory lane isn’t the only one who hasn’t had a visit by Johnson. The other four tracks where Johnson has yet to win all have one thing in common; the Sprint Cup Series only visits the track once per season. Chicagoland, Watkins Glen, Kentucky and Homestead are all tracks where Johnson continues to struggle.
Chicagoland, the track that kicks off the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, is a track where Johnson can’t seem to find a path to victory lane. With an average finish of 9.3, Johnson knows how to race the track well, he just can’t seem to close the deal when the checkered flag waves.
Although he has finished in the top-10 seven out of his twelve visits to the track, Watkins Glen seems to be another track where Johnson just can’t close the deal at the end. But with just one road course win in 24 starts, Johnson isn’t the only driver who tends to cringe when the series takes to the right turns.
Kentucky is a track that is still new to the Sprint Cup Series schedule. With only three starts, Johnson’s average finish is 6th and he has started from the pole there once before. Don’t expect this track to be on Johnson’s “winless list” for too long.
The final track that Johnson has yet to conquer is that of Homestead-Miami, the final race in the season and the final race in the Chase. To say Johnson hasn’t conquered this track is a bit misleading. More often than not, Johnson hasn’t needed to see victory lane; he just had to reach the checkered flag in one piece.
Johnson is no doubt one of the best drivers in the Sprint Cup Series and with five consecutive Sprint Cup Series Championships; he has all but solidified his name among the greats of Earnhardt and Petty. As the Chase nears, Johnson is guaranteed a spot in the final 12 and will no doubt be a threat for the Championship.
LATE NEWS: Johnson will be starting the Pure Michigan 400 from the rear of the field after a crash in practice, requiring a backup car be used. With this added challenge, can Johnson overcome and find his way to victory lane?
The grandson of racing icon Richard Childress may not have any wins yet this season but he did keep his points lead after a hard-fought battle at Watkins Glen International Raceway. Austin Dillon, the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion, has posted seven top-5 and 13 top-10 finishes this season and has been on fire during this season’s summer stretch. With six pole wins in a seven race stretch, from Charlotte in May to Daytona in July, Dillon has been consistently fast and up front which led him to where he sits now; on top of the point standings for the third straight week.
Dillon is on track to move to NASCAR’s top tier in 2014, driving for his grandfather at Richard Childress Racing. With only two wins in the Nationwide Series, both coming in 2012, is he ready to move up and will the lingering pressure of winning the Nationwide Series title cost him the point’s lead?
After his 12th place finish in Saturday’s Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen, Dillon holds a small three-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr. and is just 18 points away from fifth place. With another road course race next weekend at a new track, Dillon and his team will need to be on their A-Game if they want they want to stay on top.
In 2012, Dillon ran his first full time Nationwide Series schedule and finished an impressive 3rd place in point standings. Going in to 2013, Dillon was pegged as one of the favorites to win the Championship with his biggest competition being Sam Hornish Jr. and Elliott Sadler.
There are 12 races left in the Nationwide Series season and still a lot of racing and competition left. Can Austin Dillon stay atop the point’s standings? If he continues to perform and run up front, Dillon can easily stay in contention for the Nationwide Series Championship when the series heads to Homestead in November. One thing Dillon will need to have before then though is a win. He has four drivers nipping at his heels for the Championship lead and two of them have wins already this season.
Austin Dillon is one of the best wheelmen in the Nationwide Series circuit and has great equipment underneath him but if he wants to hoist that trophy up at the end of the season, both he and his team are going to need to step it up a notch in these final 12 races.
With 11 top-10 finishes in the final 12 races in 2012, including a win at Kentucky, Dillon has a good stretch of tracks ahead of him to round out the season. Don’t take your eyes off of Austin Dillon; he is going to be a threat to be reckoned with.