Who is hot and not entering this weekend’s Cup race at Phoenix

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Here’s a look from Racing Insights on who is hot and who is not heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Phoenix (green flag at 2:36 p.m. ET on NBC):

Kevin Harvick

Round of 8 – Hot

• Won at Texas (1st in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 177 laps led)
• Finished 10
th at Martinsville (9th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Great

• Advances to Championship 4 for 4th time in career (missed 2016)
• Won 8 of last 33 races
• Finished in Top 10 in 13 of last 16 races
• Finished in Top 5 in 12 of last 21 races
• 34 races in 2018: 27 top-10s (including 8 wins) & 7 finishes of 12
th or worse

ISM Raceway – Scorching Hot

• Top 10 in the last 10 races at ISM the longest active streak
• Won seven races at ISM since the track was reconfigured
• 9 career wins at ISM Raceway the most all-time at ISM
• Career bests at ISM Raceway: 15 Top 5s, 1,522 laps led
• Only driver to lead more than 1,000 laps at ISM Raceway
• Started 6
th, 5th in Stage 1, 6th in Stage 2, finished 5th in this race one year ago

 

Chase Elliott

Round of 8 – Hot  

• Finished 6th at Texas (9th in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2)
• Finished 7th at Martinsville (11th in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Red Hot

• Finished 7th or better in 6 of last 7 races and 9th or better in 12 of last 15

ISM Raceway – Very Good

• Finished 9th or better in 4 of 5 career starts at ISM Raceway (3rd in March)
• Never finished worse than 12th in 5 career starts at ISM Raceway
• 6.8 career avg. finish is best of active drivers at ISM Raceway (2nd all-time to Alan Kulwicki)
• Started 4th, 3rd in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2, 34 laps led, finished 2nd in this race one year ago; contact with #11 off turn 4 on lap 270 while battling for 3rd

 

Joey Logano

Round of 8 – Red Hot

•Finished 3rd at Texas (6th in Stage 1, 5th in Stage 2, 54 laps led)
•Won at Martinsville (2nd in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 309 laps led); knocked Martin Truex Jr. out of the way exiting turn 4 on last lap to win

2018 Season – Red Hot

•Advanced to Championship 4 for 3rd time in career (2014, 2016, 2018)
•Finished in Top 10 in 6 straight races and 10 of last 12
•Finished in Top 5 in 7 of last 11 races

ISM Raceway – Trending Cold

 •Finished 12th or worse in 3 straight races at ISM Raceway and 4 of last 5 (19th in March)
Last 10 races: 6 finishes of 9th or better (including win in Nov. 2016) and 4 finishes of 12th or worse 

Round of 8 – Great

• Finished 7th at Texas (2nd in Stage 1, 8th in Stage 2)
• Finished 6th at Martinsville (5th in Stage 1, 5th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Good

• Finished 7th or better in the last two races
• Last 8 races: 4 top 10s and 4 finishes of 14th or worse
• Finished top 10 in 12 of last 16 races

ISM Raceway – Trending Down

• Finished in top 10 in 6 of last 8 races at ISM Raceway but 21st or worse in 2 of last 3
• Started 15th and finished 21st in this race one year ago; damaged on Lap 282 restart

 

MARTIN TRUEX JR.

Round of 8 – Great

• Finished 9th at Texas (5th in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage ), started in rear due to engine change; pit to address vibration on lap 247 while running 7th and penalized for driving through too many pit boxes
• Finished 3rd at Martinsville (7th in Stage 1), 4th in Stage 2, 18 laps led), qualifying time disallowed after failing post-qualifying inspection; knocked out of the lead on last lap by Joey Logano.

2018 Season – Streaking

• Finished top 10 in 3 straight races
• Last 8 races: 5 top 10s and 3 finishes of 14th or worse

ISM Raceway – Trending Up

• Finished in top 5 in 2 straight races but outside top 10 in 6 of last 9
• Started 5th, 8th in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2, finished 3rd in this race a year ago

 

NOT HOT

Clint Bowyer

Round of 8 – Ice Cold

•Finished 26th at Texas (30th in Stage 1, 28th in Stage 2); contact with Denny Hamlin on lap 1; pit on lap 10 with flat RR tire after contact with Hamlin; penalized for crew over the wall too soon on lap 164
•Finished 21st at Martinsville (4th in Stage 1, 8th in Stage 2, 1 lap led); damaged RF fender after contact with William Byron on pit road on lap 133; spun after contact with Jimmie Johnson on lap 457 while running 10th

2018 Season – Trending Cold

•Finished outside Top 20 in 3 of last 5 races and outside the top 10 in 4 of last 5
•Last 11 races: 5 top 10s and 6 finishes of 13th or worse (2 DNFs)

ISM Raceway – Bad

•Finished 13th or worse in 9 of last 10 races at ISM Raceway (6th in March)
•Started 20th, 12th in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2, finished 13th in this race one year ago

 

Jamie McMurray

• Finished 19th at Texas (22nd in Stage 1, 17th in Stage 2); penalized for speeding in pits on lap 30

2018 Season – Pretty Bad

• Finished 16th or worse in 5 straight races
• Last 13 races: 4 top 10s and 9 finishes of 16th or worse
• Finished 15th or worse in 26 of 34 races this season

ISM Raceway – Not Good

•Finished outside the top 10 in 5 of last 6 races at ISM Raceway (26th in March)
•Started 13th, 11th in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2, finished 6th in this race one year ago

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

• Finished 11th at Texas (11th in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2); penalized for uncontrolled tire on lap 155

2018 Season – Bad

• Finished outside the top 10 in 3 straight races
• Finished 14th or worse in 25 of 34 races in 2018

ISM Raceway – Trending Up

•Finished top-10 in 2 of last 3 races at ISM Raceway (23rd in March)
•Both ISM top-10s have come in the last three races
Started 27th, 23rd in Stage 1, 22nd in Stage 2, finished 8th in this race one year ago; started in the rear after changing tires pre-race

Jimmie Johnson reflects on some of the best stories of his career

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for SiriusXM
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With seven championships and 83 victories in Cup, it’s pretty clear Jimmie Johnson loves to win.

But there’s something else Johnson loves to do: Tell stories and reflect on his racing career, particularly before he became one of NASCAR’s most legendary drivers.

Before leaving Thursday for Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Johnson spent time reminiscing and telling stories about his racing development on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Happy Hours with Kevin Harvick and Matt Yocum. He also talked about competing in next month’s Boston Marathon.

Here are some excerpts of Johnson’s tales, related from the pool house/radio studio at Harvick’s house in Charlotte:

Home Sweet Hornaday

Early in the careers of Johnson and Harvick, both were short on cash. As a result, they crashed on the couch of NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. as they were working their way up the racing ladder.

“I never saw Kevin,” Johnson said of Harvick. “I saw his luggage. We seemed to be passing and racing in different places all the time.”

Added Harvick, “I think back to Hornaday’s house and that time, and (Johnson) had some unique gatherings at your house, as well. Hornaday always had a spot that everybody showed up to, but Jimmie’s house was always entertaining, as well.”

It almost was IndyCar and not NASCAR for Johnson

Long before NASCAR and stock car racing were even a possibility, Johnson began his racing career on two wheels, racing dirt bikes. His grandparents owned a motorcycle shop near San Diego.

“Really, my whole world, all my heroes, everybody I looked up to were on two wheels,” Johnson said. “We just loved racing. I’d go to many races, a lot of sprint car races, went to Riverside (now-defunct Riverside International Raceway) a couple times and hung on the fences in the esses and watched Richard Petty make a straight line out of it and throw a lot of dirt around the place.

“Then, in the early 1990s, I got a chance to race a buggy in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series. Through that and my dad’s relationship with B.F. Goodrich Tires, it got me a chance to race other types of off-road buggies in the desert and stadiums. That’s kind of the world I was in. Then Herb Fishel (GM motorsports manager) spotted me in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1991 or 1992 (at the age of 15 or 16) and they were looking to bring a second truck along, so I took a Polaroid (picture) with him.

“He went back to Detroit, threw it on the conference room table and said, ‘Let’s put this guy under contract, he’s going to develop our second stadium truck. That was my introduction into Chevrolet. And I thought IndyCar was going to be my route, but (Chevy) pulled out of IndyCar and said if I wanted a future in motorsports, NASCAR is where it’s at. And then, Hornaday’s couch, here I come.

“I was just trying to figure it all out. I’m still trying to figure it out, I guess. My whole view and world was just dirt-related. I didn’t think much of the asphalt side, especially stock-car racing. (IndyCar) seemed interesting, also the Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix was right there in the area, so IndyCar was a bit of an idea, but I didn’t think it was going to work out.”

How stalking Jeff Gordon paid off

Johnson was racing in the Busch Series with Stan and Randy Herzog in 2000. Johnson had previously raced two seasons in off-road competition and then ASA Racing for the Herzogs, and Fishel had hoped they could groom him as well as build a Cup team themselves.

Unfortunately, the Herzogs said they couldn’t afford to go Cup racing and told Johnson he could seek out other deals.

“The Herzogs said if they couldn’t find a sponsor, they didn’t want to hold me back, and that maybe I should put word out that I’m available,” Johnson said. “Opportunities came along, but they all meant leaving Chevrolet. I was struggling with that and couldn’t do it.

“I needed to get some advice, so I totally stalked Jeff Gordon at the August 2000 Michigan race. He gave me some advice and said, ‘Man, you’re not going to believe this, but (Hendrick Motorsports) is looking to start a fourth team and the only name that has come up is yours. So we might be able to fix your problem altogether.’

“A month later, I had a signed contract with (Hendrick) to start in 2002 (he would race one more season in Busch for the Herzogs in 2001, with significant help from the Hendrick camp).”

How Johnson won his first championship – with a broken leg

At 8 years old, Johnson was seeking his first dirt bike championship. The season was growing late, and he took a jump but landed the wrong way.

“I went down, got tangled up with the bike, I destroyed my left knee, broke my tibia and fibula and in the end, was in a cast for nine months when it was all said and done,” Johnson recalled. “I was tied for (the lead in) points, and we rigged something up and welded something to the front of the bike, brought my leg up, and I rode the next two events, got the starting points and was able to win the championship.

“For me, I go back to school, I had to try so hard to accomplish what I needed to. I learned things differently and was a little slow in picking things up. But when I’ve been focused about accomplishing something or I’m passionate about it, I just go all-in. And that all-in is what’s helped me through my whole life.”

Oh, dear – uh, make that deer

Johnson recalled how he was in a group riding bikes in some off-time during one of the Pocono race weekends when a deer decided to crash the party – and almost crashed into Johnson and some of his fellow riders, as well.

“We’ve had a couple run-ins with deer, for sure,” Johnson said. “We had this mini-tornado come through and about crashed us all out. We had to hang on to trees.

“Then I did a big charity ride a few years back and we had some deer running next to us in the field, they made a turn and tried to come across the road and just about wiped us all out. It was like Talladega all over again.”

I’m holding out for a hero

Harvick explained how four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears was his hero growing up in Bakersfield, California.

Which led to Johnson talking about his own hero growing up: legendary off-road racer Ivan “The Iron Man” Stewart – and how he became the focus of an equally legendary book report for Johnson on his favorite driver.

“(Stewart) lived in our neighborhood and the one that really stalked Ivan to help me with my book report was my mom,” Johnson said. “Her school bus route went right by his house. I had started my book report about (Stewart). My mom knew she probably could help and popped in to see Linda, his wife, because we all knew each other from the off-road (racing) community.

“She came home with a life-size cutout of Ivan and all these pictures and stats and stuff. It was probably one of the only A’s I ever got in school.”

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Watch NASCAR America live today from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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In the second edition of The Motorsports Hour, NASCAR America will welcome the defending champion of the Indianapolis 500, Will Power of Team Penske.

Host Krista Voda will be joined by analysts Parker Kligerman and A.J. Allmendinger from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The Motorsports Hour will highlight the upcoming weekend’s NASCAR races and also shine a light on the latest news in motorsports including IndyCar, IMSA, American Flat Track, Supercross, Motocross, Mecum collector car auctions and more.

In coming weeks, other analysts will join the show including former IndyCar drivers Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell, former IMSA GT driver Calvin Fish and Motocross and Supercross legend Ricky Carmichael.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Toyota exec explains how Gibbs-Hendrick deal at Daytona took trust

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The alliance between Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing in the 2019 Daytona 500 was essentially a handshake deal, but the details were much more complex.

“The thing is with this strategy is it’s not just saying, ‘Do you want to work together? OK, great,’ ” Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson said Thursday on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. “You have to sit down with crew chiefs in one room looking each other in the eye, plotting a definitive strategy of what you’re doing with pit stops because it’s about coming in and leaving together.

“It’s more than just shaking hands and saying, ‘OK, we’ll work together.’ The credit goes to crew chiefs, spotters and the level of trust and unselfishness it takes from the drivers. These guys aren’t programmed in this manner.”

During an interview with co-hosts Danielle Trotta and Larry McReynolds, Wilson shed some more light on the unusual partnership between the Chevrolet and Toyota teams, which came to light through in-race scanner chatter and winner Denny Hamlin’s postrace comments to NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long.

The strategy was most evident during the second stage when a fleet of six cars – three Hendrick Camaros and three Gibbs Camrys – got off sequence and ran much faster that the field (putting some good cars a lap down).

“When you saw that pack about to lap the entire field, how do five to six cars go three 10ths (of a second) faster? It was because they weren’t racing each other at the time,” Wilson said.

“To be clear, we also agreed that with 10 (laps) to go, it’s every man for himself. In the end each driver was working toward winning that race, not pushing one of their competitors to the win. But awful proud of the innovation and creativity deployed that particular Sunday.”

The impetus for the Gibbs-Hendrick deal was Ford sweeping the top three spots in both qualifying races last Thursday.

“I have to admit that it wasn’t something we’ve been plotting for weeks,” Wilson said. “It really came together a couple of days before the race. Looking at how we fared in the Clash and Duels, we knew we had fast cars, drivers happy with power, but we knew when it came down to it, we needed numbers.

“We could do it with our five Toyotas. The problem is if one or two drop out, you don’t have enough. It was in that moment after the Duels where we looked at what else can we do. We approached one of our competitors.”

Drivers’ patience could be tested with new aero package at Atlanta

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If fans thought Cup drivers’ patience was tested at Daytona, just wait until this weekend’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Sunday’s race will be the first with the new aero package (with some minor variations) that fans and racers will see going forward for each of the 35 remaining races on the Cup schedule this season.

With brake ducts in place at certain tracks such as Atlanta, and aero ducts in place at others (such as next week at Las Vegas Motor Spedway, the racing could be significantly different. Drivers also will be adjusting to lower horsepower (in the 550 range) and speeds, which could impact the action.

“In general, they’re still loose and tight so we haven’t messed up the balance of the race car,” NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development John Probst said Thursday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s On Track with Danielle Trotta and Larry McReynolds. “They’re still learning how to complete the pass. The side draft, racers didn’t just learn about it. It took a period of time for them to perfect it, and I think you’ll see the same thing with this package.”

But drivers who struggle with the new package could cause issues for others who adapt more quickly.

“There are going to be times when drivers are going to get a little less patient with the folks in front of them and they’re going to go two- and three-wide, and that will force the drivers behind them to make decisions on who to go with,” Probst said. “I think you’re going to see that ebb and flow. You’ll see drivers that run good at particular tracks in years past will probably still run good, so you’ll probably still see that competitive element.

“I think they’re going to learn as they go, but the cream of the crop is still going to be at the top We’re not trying to change any of that. Time will tell for the rest of them in how they pick up the new package.”

Probst said NASCAR will monitor whether tracks that have cars using brake ducts to tighten the racing this year may switch to aero ducts next year and vice-versa. He also hopes teams don’t push the limits of the new package too much in inspection (which has happened in previous Atlanta races) but conceded it’s possible.

“We don’t want pack racing per se at intermediate tracks,” Probst said. “We don’t think this package will do that. We do feel we will have more side-by-side racing, closer racing, more cars on the lead lap, probably a bigger penalty for a mistake, like if a driver gets loose on entry or something. It’s very possible that will cost them positions now and they’ll have to recover that.

“I think the nature of this package will lend itself to some pretty cool racing depending upon what track we’re at. It will look a bit different at Atlanta vs. Vegas vs. Fontana. Each week will be a little different with the same package. I expect Atlanta will be a very exciting race. And when we go off to Vegas, it’ll likely lend itself even more to side-by-side just because of the fall-off and how smooth that track is there.

“It’s going to look different at each track, but we’re very confident it will provide our goal of having more entertaining races for our fans.”

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