Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Clint Bowyer fastest in first Cup practice; Corey LaJoie crashes

Leave a comment

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Clint Bowyer paced Saturday morning’s practice at Martinsville Speedway, where he scored his first victory for Stewart-Haas Racing a year ago.

Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford turned a 97.673-mph lap on the 0.526-mile oval in the first session for Sunday’s STP 500. Teammate Daniel Suarez was second fastest, followed by Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.

“Our Ford is pretty fast,” Bowyer told FS1. “With more downforce, it enables you to roll the corner faster, but it’s still the same old Martinsville.”

Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott rounded out the top 10.

There were two incidents during 50-minute session. Corey LaJoie heavily damaged the right front of his No. 32 Ford with a hard impact in-between Turns 1 and 2 because of a brake problem.

LaJoie was OK after the crash but lamented losing a car. “There is no coffee strong enough that will wake you up like losing brakes into Turn 1 at Martinsville,” he told FS1. “It’s not a good feeling losing brakes. It’s unfortunate because small teams like ours, we don’t really bring a backup that’s fully ready to go, so my guys have a lot of work ahead of them.

“Obviously our backup’s not going to be as good as our primary. Hopefully, they can work on the backup and make it just as good.”

In the opening minutes of the practice, William Byron also hit the Turn 2 wall and damaged his right front of his No. 24 Chevrolet after suffering a punctured right-front tire.

His team was able to make repairs to put his primary car back on track.

The No. 34 Ford of Michael McDowell was held out for 15 minutes at the end of the first session because of multiple prerace inspection failures before the March 17 race at Auto Club Speedway.

Click here for speeds from the first practice at Martinsville.

Clint Bowyer posts fastest lap in final Cup practice at Atlanta

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

HAMPTON, Ga. – Clint Bowyer recorded the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bowyer’s top speed was 179.104 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (178.873 mph), Austin Dillon (178.712), Michael McDowell (178.672) and Corey LaJoie (178.436).

Click here for final practice results

“I feel like we learned quite a bit,” Bowyer said. “You have to check the boxes off. I was talking about the balance of this thing and the ability to work on balance with the drag vs. downforce. You know it is going to be different at this racetrack than it will be at Vegas or any other racetrack. You are going to have that adjustability built into the car and the understanding of where you are at and where you need to be.

“There will be teams (Sunday) that drastically miss this, and ones that hit it. The ones that hit it are going to have a lot of fun. The ones that don’t are going to be miserable. There isn’t a whole lot you can do in the race to change that.”

Busch went to a backup car after he hit the wall less than 10 minutes into the session. He did not return to the track after the incident. Busch had the best average over 10 consecutive laps (177.302 mph) before he hit the wall. Kyle Larson was next at 176.534 mph over 10 consecutive laps.

“The corner speeds are higher so when you do have an issue, the issue happened really fast, happened faster than it typically would because of the corner speeds are higher,” Busch said. “The crash was harder to save. In the past, I feel I would have been able to do a better job (of saving the car).”

Austin Cindric filled in for Brad Keselowski, who was suffering from flu-like symptoms. Cindric drove the car 13 laps. Keselowski got in the car late in the session and ran 23 laps.

Kevin Harvick ran the most laps at 75. He was 21st on the speed chart with a top lap of 176.932 mph.

Erik Jones suffered a power steering problem during the session. Bowyer said that Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Daniel Suarez also had power steering problems a day after Harvick did.

“It is very weird,” Bowyer said of the steering problems this weekend. “(Suarez) had one, too. It is something that is a gremlin that people are fighting, yeah.

“You get out there on this long race, and I guarantee you that you are going to be sawing on the wheel (Sunday) if you are up front and asking a lot of that steering component. Hopefully, it will be fine. I know there were more cars than just (Harvick) that had issues, so it is a concern across the board, but I don’t think there is anyone better than our group at figuring things out.”

Friday 5: Daytona Speedweeks proves costly for Cup car owners

1 Comment

Restrictor-plate racing and crashes have always been tied together, but last weekend’s Daytona 500 saw something that has rarely been seen.

The 36 cars listed in NASCAR’s race report as involved in an accident is believed to be among the most in the event’s 61-year history. Racing Insights, which provides statistics to NBC Sports, listed 37 of 40 cars in accidents — Racing Insights included Corey LaJoie’s car after a tire damaged the front of that car.

What happened in last weekend’s race matches what happened in just one incident in the 1960 Daytona 500. That race had a 37-car crash. 

The Daytona 500 has been tough on car owners the past three years. An average 32.7 cars (out of a starting field of 40) have been involved in accidents in the race. It is the largest three-year average going back to at least 1980.

Last weekend’s Daytona 500 concluded one of the costliest Daytona Speedweeks for Cup car owners. A total of 60 cars were listed as involved in accidents in practice, the Clash, the qualifying races and the Daytona 500. Since 2010, only one year has seen more Cup cars in crashes during Speedweeks — 2015 when 61 cars were involved. 

The 60 Cup cars in a crash in Speedweeks is an increase of 16.7 percent from last year and up 28.3 percent from 2016 and 2017.

Here’s a look at the number of Cup cars listed in a crash during Daytona Speedweeks in recent years:

Even with all the Cup cars in crashes — and 26 trucks in crashes in that race — this year’s Speedweeks saw a decline in the total number of vehicles in incidents. The total for Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series for all of Speedweeks was 88 vehicles. That is down 9.3 percent from last year and 15.4 percent from 2017.

Here is how many vehicles in the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series were listed in a crash throughout Daytona Speedweeks in recent years:

Kevin Harvick has suggested doing away with the Clash, the exhibition race held a week before the Daytona 500. Seventeen of the 20 cars in that race were involved in a late crash. That came a day after a four-car crash in practice. Eliminating that race could be one way to help teams save money.

2. What to expect at Atlanta?

A sampling of what some drivers anticipate this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which features the debut of NASCAR’s new aero package that includes limiting the engines to 550 horsepower at tracks that are 1.33 miles and larger:

Austin Dillon: “I think this year restarts are probably going to be more fire than usual. It’ll be more amped up. I feel like you’ll see guys spread from top to bottom trying to make time, and you’re hoping that your line moves forward. So, it’ll be impressive, I think. Once you get to Atlanta, it’ll be a good show and then Vegas will really be wild on these restarts.”

Chase Elliott: “I really don’t know what to expect.”

Jimmie Johnson: “I think when handling comes into play, you’re going to need clean air (at Atlanta). When you’re at Michigan and the tires don’t wear out, you can be in dirty air and it doesn’t affect the car. Same thing I think for Vegas. When you get to Fontana, Atlanta, you’ll have a short window of time to really dice it up, but you need clean air to plant your car on the ground.”

Kyle Larson: “I was excited talking with Erik Jones the other day. He said the top was really fast at Atlanta. I think that there will be a lot of places where now you’ll be able to run the top, but, then again, I think that hurts me because everybody will be able to run the top. I feel that as we’ve taken spoiler away from the cars it’s just made it harder for other people, so it kind of opens up a lane for me up there. So, I think the tracks where I’ve had my own line up around the wall, I think it will be easier for other people to run up there. But it could benefit me more than others. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Martin Truex Jr.: “When we go to Atlanta, it’s going to look a lot different than it did at Charlotte. When we go to California, it’s going to look a lot different. It’s going to be certain tracks it looks one way and certain tracks where it looks another way. There’s no way to make the same exact racing at all the different tracks because they’re just so different. We’ll have to wait and see I think and wait a little while to kind of make a judgment on this thing and what it looks like and whether we’re happy with it or not.”

3. Who to watch?

One of the beliefs from NASCAR has been that even with the new rules package, the best teams still will be expected to race at the front.

If that’s the case, there will be six drivers to watch Sunday at Atlanta — since they were the only drivers to win on a 1.5-mile track last season.

Kevin Harvick, the defending Atlanta victor, won four of the 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks last year. Kyle Busch won three times at such tracks. Winning once at these tracks were Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.

Those six drivers have combined to win the last 17 races on 1.5-mile tracks, dating back to Austin Dillon’s 2017 Coca-Cola 600 win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

4. Looking ahead

Toyota Racing Development driver Chandler Smith, who is 16 years old, will compete in four Truck races for Kyle Busch Motorsports this season.

Chandler Smith. (Photo: Kyle Busch Motorsports/Toyota)

As a 15-year-old, he won a record four consecutive ARCA poles and won his first race in his fourth series start last year. He will compete in Truck races at Iowa Speedway (June 15), Gateway (June 28), Bristol (Aug. 15) and Phoenix (Nov. 7).

KBM is a key step in the development of several Toyota Racing Development drivers.

Raphael Lessard, 17, will drive in three races for KBM: Martinsville (March 23), Dover (May 3) and Bristol (Aug. 15).

Christian Eckes, 18, started on the pole for the Daytona Truck race but was eliminated by a crash and finished 22nd. He’ll drive six more Truck races for KBM: Gateway (June 22), Pocono (July 27), Las Vegas (Sept. 13), Martinsville (Oct. 26) and two races to be announced.

Of course, Todd Gilliland, 18, is competing for the full season this year after running 19 of 23 races for the organization a year ago, and Harrison Burton, 18, also is running the full season for KBM. Burton ran in eight races for the team last year.

5. Can history repeat?

Kyle Busch will make his 500th career Cup start this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Only twice in the sport’s history has a driver won in their 500th start. Richard Petty did it in 1970 and Matt Kenseth accomplished the feat in 2013.

 and on Facebook

 

Sassy & Sweet tweets from the Daytona 500

Ryan Blaney
Leave a comment

After two-and-half months of buildup the Daytona 500 arrived Sunday, was slowed by two red flags and then was over, with Denny Hamlin claiming his second win in the race in overtime.

Between Lap 1 and Lap 207 a lot happened that led to celebration, reflection, anger and plenty of jokes.

That’s all wrapped up here in a collection of “Sweet and Sassy” tweets that sum up the “Great American Race.”

The Sassy

The day before the Daytona 500 Corey LaJoie went out on a limb to predict it would be a lot more eventful than Saturday’s Xfinity race.

He was right.

For most of Speedweeks there were plenty of complaints about the style of racing, with fields running single file against the wall.

Many feared the 500 would provide only more of that.

Those fears vanished when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. quickly got the bottom groove working in the opening laps as he led a line of cars to challenge the top lane.

The first caution of the race struck on Lap 50 for a six-car wreck that involved Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick, the latter who was making his first Cup start.

Reddick jabbed back at Wallace after a passive aggressive, AKA a subtweet, directed at him.

Kyle Larson had a Daytona 500 to forget. He was involved in three separate incidents inside the final 30 laps, including a spin after he cut a tire.

But in the same vain as his Charlotte Roval performance last year, Larson brought a mangled No. 42 Chevrolet home to the checkered flag, finishing seventh for his third top 10 in 11 Daytona starts.

The Sweet

Ryan Preece made his Daytona 500 debut and after having a brief shot to compete for the win in overtime before he placed eighth.

During the late stages of the race, the crowd at Daytona began a chant in support of the rookie driver.

Hamlin led a 1-2-3 finish in the 500 for Joe Gibbs Racing, the first time that’s happened in the team’s history. It came a month after the passing of J.D. Gibbs, the son of Joe Gibbs and co-founder of the team.

Customers at the Steak N’ Shake near Daytona International Speedway got a surprise Sunday night as they shared the restaurant with Joe Gibbs Racing’s celebration dinner.

Sunday also marked the first Cup race since the passing of Wood Brothers Racing co-founder Glen Wood. Ryan Blaney, who drove for the team from 2015-17, sported a special helmet in Wood’s memory. It was designed after a helmet Wood wore when he raced.

Matt DiBenedetto experienced the best race of his career, leading a race-high 49 laps before being part of a wreck on Lap 191.

But on Monday the mind of the former Joe Gibbs Racing driver was still on the team and what it was able to do to honor J.D. Gibbs.

Driver Cody Ware‘s 500 ended with a wreck 41 laps from the end of the scheduled distance. But on Monday morning Ware’s thoughts were on being able to help others after sharing his story of dealing with depression and anxiety.

 and on Facebook

What Drivers Said after Daytona Qualifying Duels

1 Comment

Duel No. 1

Kevin Harvick — winner: “It handled good when we were behind cars. Last week taught us that we needed to have track position. They did a good job on pit road and got on and off pit road and then we had a couple Ford Mustangs behind us as well. Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) and Paul (Menard) worked with us and we were able to keep the track position and our cars were fast enough together to keep everyone else back there. I am really proud of everybody on our Busch Beer Ford Mustang. It is a great way to get Mustang into victory lane. I think that low line is going to come into play on Sunday just because when you get all the cars out there we won’t have as big a discrepancy in the speed of the lines. Once we get all the cars out there you will have a lot tougher time guarding the bottom.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 2nd: “That was a great start for the Mustang, finishing 1-2-3 there. I was just talking to Paul (Menard) and I spent the last 25 laps just trying to figure out how to time it right where I could get a run on Kevin (Harvick) and just couldn’t seem to time it. We didn’t have as many cars out here tonight as we will have come Sunday. All in all a really good strong night for us. We wanted to be in victory lane but we learned a lot and I think we can make our car better. It was handling a little bad there in the middle part of the race – a little loose. When I restarted on the bottom I felt I could be aggressive with it and that gives me confidence for Sunday.”

Paul Menard — finished: 3rd: “We really had a bunch of fast Fords up front, and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang was really good. Ricky [Stenhouse] and I had some fun at the end there. He came over after the race and we were trying to figure out if we should have gone earlier, later, whatever else might’ve worked. I was faster than him through the trioval, he had me by a bit down the back… at the end I had a little run and I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep tonight if I didn’t try at least something there.”

Matt DiBenedetto — finished 4th: “I learned a ton, so that was good for us and finished fourth. A good way to start the year. We just raced hard and didn’t make any crazy moves – just smart, decisive moves and that’s kind of what picked up spots at the end and got us to fourth.”

Martin Truex Jr. — finished 5th: “Just getting a feel for our Camry – you know what it does well, what it needs to do better. I feel like we have really good speed in it. I feel like we need to handle a little bit better, especially looking at Sunday, it’s going to be 80 degrees. Tonight, is a night race and we still could have handled better, so I think we learned plenty of things that we can work on the next two days and we’ll see what we can do with it. I’m thankful that we get to hopefully race this car Sunday. We really wanted to get through tonight unscathed and we did that. I feel like we probably should have finished third or fourth – a little bit undecisive on that last move when they got side-by-side going into (Turn) 3. I wasn’t sure which way to go and I probably picked the wrong lane, but like I said, we were just looking to get out of here clean and take this car on to Sunday.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 6th: “Got to do something. I hate riding around. I am not a fan of riding around the top. It’s like everybody knows if more cars go to the bottom we can race on the bottom, but it’s just where momentum takes us with the aero package we’ve got now. I was trying to just learn. Last year it was all just stay in line and ride and I’m not saying I’m over that, but I’ve got to learn at some point. I’ve got to have the guys, the veterans, behind me saying well he made that move in the duel so maybe he’s got a little bit more confidence. Just trying to build that. It’s always a learning game, it’s always a guessing game who is going to go, who is going to go where, but our AfterShokz Chevy was okay.”

Jimmie Johnson — finished 8th: “Yeah, I just got it wrong. Clearly. We got three wide and I just kind of misjudged that situation in being three wide and trying to tuck in behind Kyle. Unfortunately, just turned him around. Apologies to he and his team and I know that is not what they wanted with their 500 car, but I just got it wrong there.”

Ryan Newman — finished: 9th: “I thought we had a good Mustang. We need to work on it a little bit and get some more raw speed in it. Our Oscar Mayer Ford performed good strategy and executed well in the pits. We had a shot of maybe being in the top-five but I was conservative with it that last lap and didn’t feel the need to be crazy. It is a better start to the Daytona 500 than what we qualified with for the Duels. It is a good improvement and we will keep trying to improve on it.”

Ryan Preece — finished 10th: “I felt like I was patient the entire race. I just at the end… I could have been conservative. I wanted to win, but at the same time I just wanted to make a move. I was expecting… I kept trying to get that run and time it and going into (Turn) 1 I was kind of expecting and hoping that two or three more would have done it too and when I went no one went so I was the odd man out and that is what it is.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 11th: “I feel like our Mustang has good speed. It is a little different than our Clash car and we will work on it and try to tune up for Sunday. It was okay in traffic. I feel like we need to make a couple adjustments with the handling of the car to be able to be a little bit better. We just have to keep working on it. It was the very first time I have been in the draft with this race car, so we have to work on that a little bit.”

Parker Kligerman — finished 12th: “I mean, first of all I’ve got to thank Kyle Busch, a Toyota teammate. When he back out of the draft that is what it took. If we didn’t have him and all of that TRD power working together there’s no way I would’ve been able to pass Tyler Reddick. Ryan Truex, man I hate it for him. He put up a heck of a fight. It was so weird that we came out of pit lane together and we were drafting together, and I was like, ‘I mean, of all things.’ Us two just locked together. We have been our whole career. This is awesome. This is an amazing feeling for how hard everyone has worked to put this Toyota in the race, but its bittersweet knowing that he’s out. He’s a good friend of mine and I really think he’s one of the most underrated drivers in the sport so I really hope he can find a way in.”

Ryan Truex — finished 14th: “(Martin Truex Jr.)  just asked me what happened. He said when we came off pit road, he saw me and the No. 96 were with each other the entire race, me and Parker (Klingerman). Just yeah, we got on our own and when you are three cars riding around like that you can’t create a pass. The No. 96 was able to create a huge run by backing up to the No. 18 and that was that. There was not much I could do about it.”

William Byron — finished 16th: “We raced for a while there. I thought we learned a little something towards the beginning of the race with leading and how our car was going to be. And then we were able to make some moves that were pretty good. After that restart we got in a huge hornet’s nest and we were on the bottom of three- wide, so we just bailed on that. Overall, it was good. Pretty happy with it. It was mission accomplished for us so far.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 20th: “Looks like just a discrepancy over what the rules are and we got the bad end of it tonight. It is what it is. We will start the Daytona 500 from the back and have to go from there. The good news is that Daytona is a place where you can move up. It is just going to take us awhile to get there.”

Duel No. 2

Joey Logano — winner: “You have the whole race to think about making a move and we were all out there just waiting. Everyone behind me really wanted to go and I just knew that I had to wait. The later you can do it, the less the risk if it doesn’t work. I got a good run from the 12 (Ryan Blaney) behind me and went to the bottom and got a good run. Was able to side draft the 10 (Aric Almirola) and pull him back and just barely get enough to break that plane in front of the 14 (Clint Bowyer) and clear him up. From there I was just blocking to the finish like. My spotter TJ (Majors) did a great job feeding me all the information I needed to make a decision.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 2nd: “I guess I could have gone down there and blocked a little bit but when you are leading the train like you can’t see the runs that are coming behind you. All you can do is hear your spotter telling you that they are coming but I can’t tell if he pulls out how fast they are coming or anything else. They came with a big run and by the time he got to me, I could have gone down there and blocked it and gotten myself wrecked. It was just one of those things. I thought we would still be able to connect and get back up through ‘em. It is what it is. We will start up front for the 500 which is the goal and the car is still in one piece. The Mustangs are fast. That is two Mustangs winning both Duels and we did all the right things.

Denny Hamlin — finished 4th: “I mean guys just don’t want to race until the end. There’s just nothing rewarding until the end. Short of giving us points every 10 laps, this is going to be a lot of what you see on superspeedway races simply because guys just want to get to the end. Knowing it’s 500 miles, there is no reward for running the first 150 miles aggressively.”

Kurt Busch — finished 5th: “We need heat, we need daytime and we need handling to come into play. Right now, everybody is just doing fuel only and the cars are driving pretty easy. With the handling, the draft is still very unstable, so we will see how it plays out.””

Ryan Blaney — finished 6th: “We were all just kind of hanging out, riding around. I got passed by a couple of cars on that pit stop. Riding in fifth behind Joey [Logano] and we were just waiting to make our move, didn’t really know what anyone else was going to do and I didn’t want to dump him. We waited until last lap entry to Turn 1 and I was able to push him from fourth all the way to the lead… bad thing was just that I had no one behind me. I almost got to third but the 11 (Denny Hamlin) stopped me… just so easy to stop cars to the right, at the top. If I would’ve had a push I probably could’ve gotten it done. People don’t want to just watch that train up at the top, so now that we’re through the Duels I’m hoping for some side-by-side racing in the 500.”

Chase Elliott — finished 8th: “Yeah it was hard (to make moves). Certainly, was very doable. Really hard to do, but you could make your way forward, I think, with it like that. Luckily, Joey (Logano) was far enough up where he could time it to get all the way to the lead. He did a really good job of that and yeah, I just couldn’t get far enough up to the front.”

Ty Dillon — finished 10th: “My GEICO Camaro ZL1 was dialed in tonight. It handles incredibly well in the draft, and I was able to move around pretty easily when I wanted to try the bottom lane. I love that handling is a thing we can talk about at Daytona now with this new package. It really fits my aggressive driving style. After tonight, I am more than ready to get to Sunday to show everyone what this machine can do.”

Alex Bowman — finished 13th: “I mean I would have liked to have raced a little more, but just kind of got in a bad box there. When we were going around those lap cars, I got stuck on the bottom of three-wide and I was going to be at the back of the group running anyway. The blue oval gang (Ford) did a little better job on and off of pit road than we did. That was frustrating because I think we were on both sides of the strategy between the first and second Duel and they did a better job both times. That is frustrating. We’ve got to get that part of it together if we are going to go beat them, but it’s good to have the car in one piece and the No. 88 Nationwide Camaro was pretty good.”

Brendan Gaughan — finished 15th: “I always come off as a class clown, but I haven’t been that nervous in a long time getting behind the wheel of a race car. The Beard family put so much into this and we come here to run very well; not run like that. You’ve got to have discretion of valor, you’ve got to make do with what you have to make do with. I had to change strategies on the fly. Darren Shaw, my crew chief, and Ron Lewis, my spotter did a great job. Thank you, Corey LaJoie. He just kind of stuck right in there with us on that pit stop and that’s what got us in this position; so, thank you, guys. We’ll see you at the Daytona 500!”