The early 2010s were a different time for NASCAR when it came to restrictor-plate tracks and it can be summed up in two words: Tandem racing.
For a brief time, the signature image of a huge pack of cars streaming around Daytona and Talladega was replaced by the visual of two-car pairings, usually teammates, frantically pushing each other for position.
The tandem era arguably peaked on April 17, 2011 at Talladega in a race that featured 88 lead changes.
With five laps to go in the Aaron’s 499, 10 groups of tandem partners jockeyed for the win, with Dave Blaney leading into Turn 1 via a push from Kurt Busch. Neither driver would finish in the top 15 after Busch nearly wrecked Blaney with four laps to go.
With two laps to go, the parings of Edwards/Biffle and Bowyer/Harvick had a good advantage over the rest of the field. But by the time the field exited Turn 4, the Gordon/Martin duo had passed Bowyer/Harvick. They were the leaders as they took the white flag.
When the field reached Turn 3 for the final time, Johnson/Earnhardt had entered the fray. They were behind Bowyer/Harvick and Gordon/Martin as they entered the tri-oval. Edwards/Biffle trailed them.
Johnson/Earnhardt then dove to the lower lane in the tri-oval and started a three-wide drag race to the finish line that would become a four-wide finish at the last moment.
Johnson beat Bowyer by .002 seconds.
“I drove through (Turns) 3 and 4 and I’m like, ‘We’ll get another chance, I hope,'” Johnson told Fox. “They were worried about each other in the second and third lane and left that bottom open and we had some big (momentum) on our side and off we went.”
Also on this date:
1960: Joe Weatherly won his second race in two nights with a victory at Wilson (N.C) Speedway, a half-mile dirt track. But Weatherly wasn’t the first to cross the finish line. That was Emanuel Zervakis. NASCAR disqualified his win after they found his fuel tank was oversized, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.”
1965: Rookie Dick Hutcherson earned his first career win in a race at Greenville-Pickens (S.C) Speedway. He went on to win nine poles and nine races that season on his way to a runner-up finish in the points. He’d only compete in two more seasons, winning five times. He went on to crew chief for David Pearson during Pearson’s 1969 championship run.
1977: Cale Yarborough led 495 of 500 laps and won a Cup race at Bristol by seven laps over Dick Brooks.
1994: Terry Labonte led only the final 29 laps and beat Rusty Wallace and Ernie Irvan at North Wilkesboro for his first win as driver of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet.
2009: Greg Biffle led the final 106 laps and beat Jason Leffler at Phoenix Raceway for his 20th and final Xfinity Series win.
Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?
It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.
While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.
It became a game of who would blink first and take off.
When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.
“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.
“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.
“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”
Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.
What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.
Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.
These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.
But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.
What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.
Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.
Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.
That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?
The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.
This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.
“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.
“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”
There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.
For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.
The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.
The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.
Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.
Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).
They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.
The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.
Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:
Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.
The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.
According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.
The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.
4. First time in new garages at Phoenix
ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.
Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.
Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.