NASCAR Blog - End of 2012, start of 2013

Brad Keselowski 2012 Champion

Well the 2012 Chase for the Cup has come and gone and our champion is Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski. Now as we head into a new season with a new car here's a few notes and nuggets about last year and the COT "Gen-5" car.

Keselowski is just the third driver in NASCAR's modern era (1972-present) to win a championship by his third season. He joins Dale Earnhardt, who did it in his second, and Jeff Gordon who also did it in his third year.

Another thing Keselowski and Gordon have in common is that by the end of each of their 3rd seasons both drivers had a career total of 9 wins and had won the championship. Brad won a race driving part time for James Finch in 2009, 3 wins in 2011, and 5 wins in 2012. Gordon won twice in 94 and 7 times in his 95 championship season.

Keselowski tied with Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin for most wins in 2012. Each driver scored 5 victories.

This was Roger Penske's first Sprint Cup Championship, and just his second overall title in NASCAR, the other being the 2010 Nationwide championship; also with Keselowski.

Dodge snapped a 7 year streak of Chevrolet winning the championship. Ironically Dodge will not return in 2013 as Penske has switched to Ford.

Jeff Gordon won the season finale at Homestead-Miami. It was Hendrick Motorsports 1st win at the track.

Gordon wins the season finale

Gordon's longtime sponsor DuPont announced it's paint division had been bought by the Carlyle Group and would be renamed Axalta Coating and would continue their sponsorship. Fitting that the last time DuPont was a primary sponsor on Gordon's car it went to victory lane in celebration of their 20 year partnership.

Hendrick Motorsports won the first and last races with the Gen-5 (Car of Tomorrow) with Kyle Busch winning at Bristol in the Spring of 07 and Gordon winning the last race of 2012. Gordon also claims the last win in the Chevrolet Impala.

Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with 32 wins in the Gen-5 car.

Johnson tied Earnhardt and Gordon with 3 wins in the All-Star race. Johnson also tied Gordon for most wins (4) at the Brickyard 400.

With Johnson's win in the Southern 500 at Darlington team owner Rick Hendrick celebrated his 200th win as an owner.

Jr returns to victory lane

Dale Earnhardt Jr snaps a 143 race winless streak by winning the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan. Jr made his second straight appearance in the chase, however, a concussion sidelined him for two races thus taking him out of contention.

The second place curse continues as 2011 runner-up Carl Edwards went winless and missed the chase, finishing 15th in points. Edwards also fell victim to the jinx in 2009 when, after finishing runner-up with 9 wins in 08, he went winless and finished 11th.

Kyle Busch missed the chase and scored a single victory, his fewest number of wins per season since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008.

Michael Waltrip Racing put cars in the chase for the first time with Martin Truex Jr and Clint Bowyer. Bowyer had the best season of his career scoring 3 wins and finishing second in the points.

Jimmie Johnson scored the most wins in the Generation 5 car

Matt Kenseth ends a 13 year Cup career with Roush Fenway Racing to join Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. His tenure at Roush produced 24 wins, the 2003 championship, two Daytona 500s, and the 2004 All-Star race.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr joins notable drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr and Martin Truex Jr in winning back to back Nationwide championships. Stenhouse will step up to Cup and replace Matt Kenseth in the 17.

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NASCAR Blog - The Chase

Wow. I got lazy with this, huh? Well, regardless, time has flown and the field for the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup is set.

  1. Denny Hamlin - 4 wins
  2. Jimmie Johnson - 3 wins
  3. Brad Keselowski - 3 wins
  4. Tony Stewart - 3 wins
  5. Greg Biffle - 2 wins
  6. Clint Bowyer - 2 wins
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr - 1 win
  8. Matt Kenseth - 1 win
  9. Martin Truex Jr - no wins
  10. Kevin Harvick - no wins
  11. Kasey Kahne - 2 wins*
  12. Jeff Gordon - 1 win*

*Kahne and Gordon entered the Chase as Wild Cards, and don't recieve bonus points for their wins, and thus, start with the same points as Truex and Harvick.

Gustafson and Gordon ecstatic about making the Chase

Super stoked that Gordon made it in. He was on the outside looking in before the race at Richmond started as Kyle Busch had the second Wild Card spot. Technically Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose, and Joey Logano all had a legitimate shot at the Wild Card as each had a single win and was within the top 20 (Carl Edwards had a slim chance of making it but had no wins to fall back on). But everyone knew it'd come down to Busch and Gordon. Gordon's been on a roll (3rd at Bristol, 2nd at Atlanta) but the odds were stacked against him, Richmond is arguably Busch's best track. But I took comfort in that all 4 of Busch's wins came in the spring race and also the fact that Jeff would be starting on the front row with teammate Earnhardt jr, whom gotten the pole. It started off well enough (after the rain delay, of course), with Gordon leading early - thanks in no part to Jr - to get a precious bonus point. But after a mere few laps he began to fade in a big bad way. When the rain came back and brought out the red flag Gordon was already a lap down and clearly upset with the way his night had gone. Kyle wasn't setting the world on fire, but was firmly in the top 10 and clinging to his Wild Card status. But Gordon wasn't going to give up and crew chief Alan Gustafson worked tirelessly to fix the car. It appeared an act of desperation with ESPN's Dale Jarrett commenting that what they were trying to do he'd never seen work. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Another rain-induced caution that many, including Kyle Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers, thought would end the race allowed Jeff and a few others to gamble and come down pit road for tires and fuel. Well the rain wasn't enough to stop the race and Gordon was able to stay far ahead enough of Busch (whom was forced to pit and went 2 laps down) and clinch the Wild Card by finishing second to Clint Bowyer. It was amazing. Loved seeing how pumped he was, like he'd won the race. And, who knows, a couple more laps and he just might have.

The Four Horsemen

Now all four Hendrick Motorsports teams are in the Chase and each has been to victory lane. Each has a legitimate shot at the championship. Kahne and Gordon may have gotten in on the Wild Card rule but they deserve to be there. Earnhardt Jr has clearly been the most consistent of the bunch. He's raced cool and smart, and, hey, that long winless skid is finally over, and he continues to head in the right direction. Sure, he's going to have to lead more laps and get some more wins to get a championship, but he can do it. And what can we say about Johnson? Three wins and he should probably have five or six. I like that he thinks big. He doesn't want six championships, he wants eight; six is just a stop on the way. He'll be in the mix till the end. Kahne's first year with HMS started out rough with more than a few finishes outside the top 30, he admittedly pushed the cars harder than he needed to. But he's had some damn fast car and he typically qualifies great too. With two wins under their belt the 5 team knows they can get it done; they just have to make sure that the bad luck that plagued the 24/5 shop is gone for good. Which brings us to Jeff Gordon. He wants it. Bad. Drive for five started over a decade ago and the destination could be within sight. With three straight top 3 finishes he's got momentum on his side and if the team could save the car from Richmond they can do it anywhere. This could finally be the year he hoists a "Sprint" Cup trophy.

Obviously we know who I'm a fan of, but there are other drivers in the Chase as well. How about Michael Waltrip Racing. Both Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr are in the Chase and part time drivers of the 55 (Mark Martin and Brian Vickers) have been competitive. This is the first time the team has put drivers in the Chase. And what about Denny Hamlin? I think he gets a little too cocky when he wins, but he well could be on his way to erasing his heartache from 2010. And, Bad Brad continues to prove that he's a serious threat for the title, and unlike last year this time his three wins count for bonus points. Of course there's the model of consistency Matt Kenseth, whom just announced (surprise!) that he's replacing Joey Logano in the 20 car next year at Joe Gibbs Racing. I don't think his departure from Roush Fenway will be a detractor, he's going to be tough. Same goes for his teammate Greg Biffle, who's coming off a recent win at Michigan. If the Biff wins he'll be the first driver in the history of the sport to have a championship in each of NASCAR's top three series. Last, and, well, in my opinion least, there's Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick. Because of what Tony did last year he can't be discounted. And while, for most of the season, Harvick has simply just been there the return of crew chief Gil Martin has pushed the team to be more competitive. On a personal level I don't like either Stewart or Harvick and don't want to see either of them win.

Now the stage is set. Twelve drivers, one trophy. I know who I want to see holding it at season's end. How 'bout you?

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NASCAR Blog - Auto Club 400 (Fontana)

Got some work to do on pit road

Tony Stewart wins the rain-shortened Auto Club 400 at Fontana. Only 5 races in and it's his second victory. Not my favorite guy, certainly would've rather seen someone else win it. The biggest kick in the pants is the horrible luck that befell Jeff Gordon and the 24 team. He started 21st and right from the drop of the green flag started powering to the front. First cracking the top 15, then moving through the top 10 and up into the top 5. Several times turning out the fastest laps. But then he went down pit road and the gas man got the fuel dispenser stuck in the car and actually got drug into the next pit box. Ultimately that's removing equipment from your pit stall, that's a no-no. He has to come back in and do a stop and go pass through. Then more problems on pit road, a runaway tire this time, that results in another pass through. When it's all said and done he's p26 when the rain comes and the event is called. Now he's 25th in points. Pretty rough start to the season. He's had top 5 cars at Daytona, Bristol, and now Fontana only to have serious problems at each event. Ironically he wasn't competitive hardly at all at Phoenix and Vegas yet managed 8th and 12th place finishes respectively.

Meanwhile, fresh off winning the appeal to get his points back and Knaus and Malek's suspension removed Jimmie Johnson finishes 10th. He actually had mechanical issues that probably would've taken him out of the race but the rain came just at the right time. Probably feels good to have that horseshoe back. And June-Bug finishes 3rd and is also 3rd in points, continuing to carry the flag for Hendrick Motorsports. He's running great this year, think that winless streak (134 races now?) will finally come to an end.

Another head scratcher is Darian Grubb calling Denny Hamlin onto pit road as the rain came out, losing him 9 finishing positions. I like Grubb, he's a smart guy, but not the best call, they certainly knew hard rain was coming. At least they already got a win this year (Phoenix). And I'm sure Grubb doesn't want to make many bad calls after being fired from being Stewart's crew chief despite leading him to his third championship. He needs to show that Tony made a mistake in letting him go. Which is a futile effort if Tony and Steve Addington (a great guy) keep winning races. Tony's won 2 of the first 5 races and this reminds me of when Jimmie won 3 of the first 5 in 2010. Jimmie slowed down a little after that and I hope Tony does too.

On the Nationwide side of things Joey Logano won extending JGR's steak to 8 consecutive wins at Auto Club Speedway. Loved seeing the big smile on Joe Gibbs' face. Think he loves winning races with Joey, not having to put up with either Tony or Kyle has got to be a big part of that grin.

Well, next up is Martinsville. Feel good about this. Jeff leads all active drivers with 7 victories and right behind him is Jimmie with 6. And to top it all off Jr was leading late last year only to lose it to Harvick at the end. So the chances of Rick finally getting win 200 are looking pretty good. And the 24 team could certainly use a win right now.

~Later

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NASCAR Blog - Bad Brad is the Real Deal

Burnin it down all the way up to victory lane

Brad Keselowski won this past weekend's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in dominating fashion; leading the most laps to win his fifth Cup race and second in a row at BMS. An especially satisfying win for him considering the whole timing lines thing (more details in previous blog). The blue deuce was just hot all day long, and, although, Vickers led for a good while I think only Kenseth and Gordon had fast enough cars to get a close enough to have a shot. But, ultimately, there was just no catching the wheelman of the blue deuce. I don't think it's the only time we'll see him in victory lane this year.

I think he's done just about everything right in his career. He never rushed into anything, he took time and honed his skill and now it's paying off in a big way. After driving for his family-owned team he was tapped by Dale Jr to drive the 88 in the Nationwide series where he spent a few years proving that he could compete with Cup stars like Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Carl Edwards (going on to have feuds with each one of them, actually) and, of course, scoring the upset in James Finch's 09 at Talladega.

2010 saw him join Penske Racing full time in both Nationwide and Cup. I'm no doubt sure he was giving it his all on the Cup side but the chemistry just wasn't there, in fact his first full time Cup season will likely be remembered for Carl Edwards sending his car airborne at Atlanta. But what did click, however, was his relationship with Paul Wolfe and his Nationwide team. Together they produced 26 top 5 finishes, including 6 wins, which led to the 2010 Nationwide championship. It was Roger Penske's first championship of any kind in NASCAR.

A year later a sponsorship swap saw him step in the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, famously driven by Rusty Wallace and Kurt Busch. Paul Wolfe joined him in Cup this time as well. While they started off luke-warm, even with a fuel-mileage win at Kansas, things got red-hot in the summer when they scored two more wins and jumped over 10 spots in the points and making their first chase. All this after sustaining a broken ankle in a hard crash testing at Road Atlanta. What was really impressive to me was where they finished and who they finished in front of. 5th place. Five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson finished 6th, and with one less win. It's a pretty big deal when you can say you out performed the 48 team.

more to come

All this was possible, I believe, because Brad took his time, learned all he could and didn't rush into the first Cup ride available to him. Granted these days if a Cup ride becomes available who could or would say no. But if he'd jumped the gun early would he and Roger have their first championship? Would he be the top driver at an elite Cup team like Penske? Looking at two other drivers I see Ricky Stenhouse Jr taking a similar approach and can't help but wonder what would have been had Joey Logano had a full season or two in the Nationwide series.

It seems it isn't a question of "if" but "when" Brad and Penske will celebrate their first championship in the Cup series. I have a strong feeling it will be sooner rather than later.

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NASCAR Blog - Food City 500

Well, here it is. A NASCAR blog. Been thinking about doing this for awhile now. I guess we just dive right in.

End of the race weekend and your winner at the Cup level is Brad Keselowski. Obviously I'm a Jeff Gordon fan (points to avatar), but Brad's a pretty cool dude. This is the first time he's led the most laps and won at the Cup level, I think he'll take a lot of pride in that, as well he should. It's his second win in a row at Bristol. I feel there's some vindication for him because last year when he won people say he abused the timing lines on pit road to win. He certainly took advantage, but ultimately didn't do anything outside the rules; which boils down to it being smart racing and a well-deserved win. Now, they've adjusted the scoring lines to prevent that from happening again and he still wins. Good for him. Plus, I think it's great to get a win early and alleviate the fear of having a winless season and that win could very well come in handy should he need it for the wild card come chase time.

Gordon, meanwhile, had a great car, at times the best, but slight contact from his teammate cut down his left rear tire and ultimately ruined his day. He finished 35th and fell to 23rd in points. Ouch. And Jr, the aforementioned teammate who also had a great car, got hit speeding on pit road and had to settle for a 15th place finish. The accident wasn't really anybody's fault and it was only a matter of time before two of my favs wrecked each other, but it just kinda stinks when they both have top 5 cars and don't get the finish they could've. Oh, well. We'll head to California and look for a change of luck out west. Oh, and the press is going to make the accident a much bigger deal than it is. They'll both be fine.

Jeff and Jr's teammate Kasey Kahne had yet another terrible day, wrecking early and settling for a 37th place finish. In his first 4 starts with Hendrick Motorsports his best finish is a lousy 19th place. Not the results many anticipated. I like Kahne, but I can't say I'm surprised, this kinda thing just always seems to happen to him. Jimmie Johnson was the only Hendrick driver to finish in the top 10. Probably glad the poor showings of his teammates took some of the attention off him, he's been the subject of the media for over a month because of penalties incurred prior to the Daytona 500. Final appeal will be heard Tuesday. At least win or loose he can just deal with the aftermath and move on. While I disagree with NASCAR's decision to penalize him I don't think he has a chance with the appeal process. But props to Rick Hendrick for sticking up for his guys.

As for the Nationwide race, the winner was Elliott Sadler. This is the 4th race in the season and Cup regulars have yet to visit victory lane. With Carl Edwards taking a break from Nwide and Kyle Busch running for his own team (which, at least so far, doesn't have the resources of JGR) the Nwide regulars are having much better luck at getting to victory lane. I expect will see more wins from Sadler and last week's winner defending champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr in victory lane much more often.

Well that was the first effort. Pretty unpolished, I know. Well see if I can keep it up and add some more finesse to it.

~Later

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