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Long: Will Joey Logano’s actions lead to repercussions or another title?

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Joey Logano isn’t making friends in the playoffs, but does it really matter?

For the third time in the last eight playoff races, a driver climbed from his car upset with how Logano raced them and suggested a form of payback could be coming.

* Martin Truex Jr. called Logano’s bump-and-run on the final lap of last fall’s playoff race at Martinsville a “cheap shot” and said days before the championship race in Miami: “I won’t just wreck a guy … unless it is the 22.” (Logano did take part in the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation Catwalk for a Cause event in May). 

* Aric Almirola was upset with how Logano raced him in last fall’s playoff race at Texas, which was a week after Logano had assured his spot in the championship event by winning at Martinsville. Almirola said then: “He just continues to make things harder on himself. … When Homestead comes around if I’m not in it, he’ll know it.” Asked how, Almirola responded: “Just make it really difficult on him.” (Almirola and Logano talked a day later).

* Denny Hamlin expressed his frustration with Logano after last weekend’s playoff race at Dover. Logano was 24 laps down when Hamlin, who was leading, couldn’t get around him late in stage 2. Hamlin lost the lead and finished third in the stage, costing him a playoff point. “He just pissed off some guys that he’s racing with now,” Hamlin said of Logano. “So now we’re going to race him extra hard for what? For the reason he didn’t want to go 26 laps down? Anybody would tell you that’s just not a good choice.”

So far nothing has happened — except Logano winning last year’s Cup title.

That Logano races hard is no surprise. It’s a part of his DNA. His second career Cup win came in 2012 after he did a bump-and-run on Mark Martin in the final laps at Pocono. Logano has had issues throughout his career with Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Truex, Almirola and Hamlin, among others. So, yes, this is Logano’s style.

But even Logano admitted during last weekend’s race at Dover he was in a tough position. This was his radio conversation with crew chief Todd Gordon after stage 2 ended:

Gordon: Did a good job there, man. I know we got eaten up there at the end, but you did a good job of hanging in the whole time.

Logano: Yeah. I dunno. Trying to do the right thing by everyone.

Gordon: Yeah. You’re in a tough spot. You are. I totally understand it.

Logano: What’s our situation now? How many more laps do I have to make up?

Gordon: 54 is 14 laps down. We’re 24 laps down. The 52 is 13. The 51 is 12. Some of those guys won’t end up having enough tires to run the whole race, so, we’ll see where it gets. We’re 36 right now. Every spot we can get from here is a point.”

Logano would not pass the 54 (Garrett Smithley), 52 (JJ Yeley) or 51 (B.J. McLeod). Logano finished 34th, gaining spots only after mechanical issues caused Chris Buescher and Ryan Blaney to the garage.

While Logano’s conversation was taking place, other team radios were lit about his driving.

Hamlin didn’t realize Logano was so many laps down. Told he was, Hamlin said on his radio: “Then what the (expletive) is he doing racing us like this? Twenty-four laps?”

Logano also was a discussion point on Kyle Larson’s radio.

Larson: He’s racing awful hard, huh?

Crew chief Chad Johnston: You sound like you’re surprised. Nothing new.

Larson: I am surprised that he’s racing that hard at 24 laps down, I can see one up.

Johnston: Yeah. I think it is all things we have to put in our memory bank. And when we get the opportunity to do the same thing to him, we remember that, don’t cut him any slack. But, for today we have to race to win, so, we’ll let him go to the back or do a wave around and get one of ‘em back so he can be 23 down. And we’ll go race for a win.”

Memory bank is the key word. Drivers and teams don’t forget. Should Logano advance to the third round, he could face quite a challenge.

Two of the three races in the third round are at Martinsville and ISM Raceway near Phoenix. Both feature plenty of traffic and can be difficult to pass at — and that’s without someone mad at you. NASCAR is expected to approve a traction compound to help drivers pass at ISM Raceway, the last chance for competitors to earn a spot in the Championship 4 race the following week in Miami. 

Will Logano’s actions catch up to him in the coming weeks? Or will he be on his way to a second championship while divers are left to mutter about how the No. 22 Team Penske Ford races?

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Potential can be such an overbearing description for some. While Kyle Larson exudes California cool, many have expected him to win more often. In some cases, his team needed better cars or pit stops. In other cases, Larson needed to be better.

He said that last weekend’s win at Dover was an example of how he is improving.

“It takes focus to win in any type of car, but it takes a different type of focus to win a 400‑ or 500‑mile race,” Larson said after his sixth career Cup victory, which moved him to the next round. “You know, in a sprint car race, it’s 30, 40 laps, and they don’t have an opportunity to work on their car at any point in the race to make it better, where in this I’ve tried to get better at my communication and tried to make it easier for the team to figure out what adjustments to make because it felt like when I look at other people in the past, I’ve been good the first half of races or even past that, but then it seems like as other people get to work on their cars, that’s where they maybe get better than me at the end and that’s what they find to go out there and win.

“(Sunday) I felt like I was struggling, I was getting frustrated in the early part of the race, and then took a deep breath, changed up what I was doing behind the wheel, and we also made our car better at the same time, and here we are with a win.

“I think that’s just the things that guys like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick and Logano, Truex, Keselowski are really good at just staying focused, and not that I wasn’t focused, it just takes a different level of focus.”

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It was easy to miss Kyle Busch’s finish Sunday at Dover. Other than the speeding penalty he incurred on Lap 122, he was not noticeable on the way to a sixth-place finish.

Busch had expressed his disappointment not only with the racing but his result at Dover in May when he finished 10th and did not exude confidence heading into the playoff race. He qualified 18th, worst of the remaining playoff drivers. He said his car’s setup was similar to what teammate Martin Truex Jr. used to win at Dover in May but still didn’t work for him.

That Busch came out of a race that he didn’t seem to feel good about with nearly a top-five finish could be viewed as a good sign for his fans. Those points earned could mean more should he encounter problems in Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC). Busch enters the race third in the standings, 48 points ahead of Joey Logano, who is the first driver outside a transfer spot.

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Rodney Childers agrees to multi-year extension with Stewart-Haas Racing

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Rodney Childers has agreed to a multi-year extension to remain as crew chief for Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal first reported the news Monday.

Childers then took to Twitter to confirm the report.

 

Childers, 43, has 28 career wins as a Cup crew chief, 25 of those coming with Harvick. Harvick and Childers both joined SHR in 2014 and went on to win the Cup championship that first season together. They also finished runner-up in 2015 and third in both 2017 and 2018.

In addition to Harvick, Childers has also worked with several other drivers in his Cup career, including Scott Riggs, Patrick Carpentier, Elliott Sadler, David Reutimann, Brian Vickers, Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip.

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By the Numbers: Dover’s first 100 Cup races

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2019 has been a notable year for anniversaries in NASCAR.

Among them are the four active Cup Series tracks that are celebrating their 50th anniversary. Those include Talladega Superspeedway, Michigan International Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and the track NASCAR returns to this weekend – Dover International Speedway.

The “Monster Mile” will host its 100th Cup Series event Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the first race in the second round of the playoffs.

The Cup Series first ventured to Dover, Delaware, for a race on July 6, 1969, when the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was “In The Year 2525” by Zagar & Evans and the film “Easy Rider” was eight days from being released.

On that day, Richard Petty took his No. 43 Ford to victory lane after leading 150 of 300 laps (the first 500-mile/lap race was in 1971). It was his first of seven wins there, including his 199th Cup win in 1984.

Richard Petty won his 199th Cup race in 1984 at Dover (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images).

Also of note, the inaugural race was held only two days after the July race at Daytona International Speedway, almost 900 miles away.

“So we had to come up all the way up the East Coast, brought the car up here and had never seen the race track,” Petty recalled in 2013. “We were pretty dog tired by the time we drove the (Daytona) race, drove all the way up here and run the race.”

Here’s a look at interesting stats and facts from the track’s first 50 years.

– Dover first opened as a facility used to accommodate both harness racing and motorsports events.

– Sunday’s race will be the 50th held on the oval since the track went from an asphalt to concrete surface in 1995. The track’s surface is the oldest the Cup Series races on.

– The track changed its name from Dover Downs International Speedway to simply Dover International Speedway in 2002.

– The track changed the length of its races from 500 to 400 miles in 1997.

Jimmie Johnson leads all drivers with 11 victories. His last win there in 2017 was also his most recent win overall.

Jeff Gordon is the last driver to win three consecutive Cup races at Dover, from 1995-96. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

– NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Petty are next on the list with seven wins. Hall of Famer David Pearson holds the top-mark for pole positions with six. Ryan Newman’s four poles leads current drivers, with the most recent in 2007.

– Three times a driver has won three consecutive races – Pearson (1972-73), Rusty Wallace (1993-94) and Jeff Gordon (1995-96). The last time a driver won back-to-back races was Johnson in 2013-14.

– Kyle Petty won his last Cup Series race in 1995 at Dover after starting from 37th, the deepest in the field a Cup winner has started at the track.

– Mark Martin, a four-time race winner, holds the record for most runner-up finishes (eight).

– Ricky Rudd has the most starts at the track with 56. His first came on May 16, 1976 and his final start was on June 4, 2007. In-between, four of his 23 career Cup wins came at Dover.

– Hendrick Motorsports holds the record for most wins (20) for an organization at Dover. Since 2009, the team has not gone more than one season without a Dover win.

– Chevrolet leads all manufacturers with 40 wins in the first 99 races.

– Bad news for any driver hoping to get their first career Cup wins at Dover: It’s only happened twice, with Jody Ridley in May 1981 and Martin Truex Jr. in 2007.

 

Long: Let drivers be who they are, especially Bubba

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LAS VEGAS — Please don’t change Bubba.

And please nobody change him.

Bubba Wallace was a whirling dervish of personality, opinion and openness Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway — as he has been throughout his career. And as the sport needs.

Drivers fuel NASCAR. It’s a point NASCAR President Steve Phelps stressed last year before the season finale in Miami, saying that “every driver is really important for us to help drive star power in our sport.”

Drivers are akin to the quarterback in the NFL and the superstar in the NBA. But unlike athletes in those sports, NASCAR drivers can struggle in how much personality they reveal.

That’s not a problem for Wallace. Although his team has funding, it doesn’t have a major corporate presence choking his personality.

For that, he was Friday’s headliner at the track even if his car was not in the top 25 in either practices in single-lap speed.

Bubba Wallace in the media center Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Among his pearls in a 20-minute session with reporters:

# He warned veteran drivers upset about being raced hard that “shit changes every day. Get accustomed to it.”

# He was realistic about his chances this weekend, noting that his team finished third at Indy with a new car. The car he’ll race this weekend was last run in March at Las Vegas. “Hopefully we can show up and run top 15.”

# He called the search for funding for his Richard Petty Motorsports team an “uphill climb. … It’s still been a gruesome battle on that side of things.”

While there are many personalities in NASCAR — recall Clint Bowyer going into the stands at Darlington to interview a fan sitting in the rain — some are reluctant to express themselves as freely because of past experiences, social media or sponsor considerations.

Wallace isn’t deterred by such things, discussing the depression he’s battled this year and blasting Kyle Busch with an expletive-filled tirade at Watkins Glen.

Look, this is someone who plays video games on Twitch for others to watch, is constructing a drum room and flew Fit for a King’s drummer in to help set the room up, and is active on social media.

Wallace’s comments Friday came a day after former champion Brad Keselowski acknowledged that expressing one’s opinion can be detrimental in auto racing.

That it is Keselowski, who offered outspoken opinions earlier in his career on everything from how the sport could be better to raising questions about concussion diagnosis, talking about the limits to a driver’s personality is disheartening.

“The penalties for having a big personality are real, and I want to win,” Keselowski said. “Winning comes before anything else. You can’t win when you don’t have sponsors.

“The last thing sponsors want is big personalities. That’s just a reality of it. Sponsors want safe personalities, they want personalities that sell a lot of whatever and that’s not necessarily a big personality. It’s the reality, whether you like it or not. It’s part of the business model.”

Kurt Busch, whose public flare-ups have cost him rides, said that “I know what Brad is talking about. I agree with Brad on his main point, winning is everything.”

The question is if Wallace can thrive with more sponsorship. Sponsor World Wide Technology, through a leadership donation in May from founder and chairman David Steward, provided additional funding and led to Victory Junction being on Wallace’s car for a select number of races, including this weekend at Las Vegas.

With the extra money, the team had a new car built for Indianapolis. Wallace took advantage of problems by others and moved into the top 10 and continued to climb. Once he was third, he held others off in the final laps to finish there.

After scoring his best finish of the season, Wallace yelled on his radio: “Yeah! That ain’t supposed to happen! That is not supposed to happen! We did it! Nice job!”

He called out haters on Twitter during his NBC Sports interview after the race.

“I’m just here taking it all in and enjoying it and making the most of it,” Wallace said in his interview after the Brickyard 400. “But again, that’s not supposed to happen. We’re not supposed to run with these big teams. What the hell? Somebody can drive.”

And will drive hard. He says he’s not afraid to race hard when needed.

Every generation changes the racing. Veteran drivers were upset with Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson, with how hard they raced when they came in as rookies in 2002. Now, the same refrain is heard as a new generation makes its impact.

Asked if the etiquette on the track is changing, Kyle Busch noted how “those rules are changing.

“I think it’s just the nature of Mark Martin not being around and (Tony) Stewart and (Jeff) Gordon and Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and some of those guys that knew how to race, but also the aero-package and what these cars drive like nowadays.

“A lot of these  younger kids now come up running Late Models and K&N cars and beating the doors off of one another throughout their careers and here they are doing it at the Cup level. It’s just a different form of where these guys are being taught to race.”

Bubba Wallace’s car at Las Vegas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The challenge is to be aggressive and successful. Wallace seeks success. It has only been fleeting in NASCAR’s premier series, although his two best finishes there — second in last year’s Daytona 500 and third at Indy last week — are at two of racing’s iconic tracks.

“I love how aggressive we race,” Wallace said. “That’s just what I was taught growing up; be as aggressive and clean as you can. There is a fine line, but if the opportunity presents itself for me to force the issue onto you, absolutely it’s going to happen.

“I fell victim to it at this race earlier this year. Ryan Preece and I were racing for I think the lucky dog or something. We came out on a little different pit strategy about two laps or so and we were racing hard against each other. In my Monday morning debrief, I texted him and said I was sorry and it was just hard racing. He was like, ‘Why are you apologizing for racing hard?’ I was like, ‘you are absolutely right.’”

Just as there was no need to apologize how he raced, there is no need for Bubba Wallace to apologize for who he is.

Let’s keep it that way.

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Long: Indy success provides emotional lift for Bubba Wallace, Jeb Burton

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INDIANAPOLIS — Amid the weekend’s celebrations at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most emotional moments came not in Victory Lane but on pit road.

One driver cried. Another beamed.

Jeb Burton and Bubba Wallace have faced various challenges in their careers. The 27-year-old Burton, son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton, has fought to remain relevant in NASCAR. The 25-year-old Wallace, whose dynamic personality is engaging, has been open about his struggles on the track and off.

In a sport where the focus often shifts to the next young driver, it’s easy to forget how much racing Burton and Wallace both could have left and the impact they could make.

Of course, racing, as in life, isn’t always fair. Short tracks across the country feature drivers who had the talent to race in NASCAR’s premier series but never got the chance whether because they didn’t have the proper funding, right look or were too old when discovered.

So in that sense, Burton and Wallace can be considered among the fortunate to have climbed NASCAR’s ladder. That isn’t satisfying for either, though. They want more.

Burton has not had a full-time ride in any of NASCAR’s top three national series since a 2015 Cup effort with BK Racing, a team that no longer exists after going through bankruptcy court a year ago. Burton has pieced together rides with whatever sponsorship he can find. He’s run three Cup, 14 Xfinity and four Truck races since 2017.

He will drive two more Xfinity races this season (Texas and Miami) for JR Motorsports, giving him seven starts in the team’s No. 8 car this season.

Burton finished fourth in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis, tying his career-best result. He could not contain the tears after exiting his car.

Asked where the emotion was coming from, Burton said in a quivering voice: “Two years ago I didn’t know if I was going to drive again. That’s where it comes from.”

Burton later said: “Every time I get into a race car I feel like I’ve got something to prove. You don’t know, this could be the last time out there. You don’t know. I cried like a baby in my TV interview because it means so much. You don’t know when this could be your last day. You’ve just got to cherish every moment.”

That’s not been easy for Wallace at times this season. He tweeted in early May that he had not “been (in) a good place for some time now.” A few days later at Kansas Speedway, Wallace said how “you try to be the best you can and sometimes it ain’t good enough.”

The session with reporters ended with Wallace later burying his head in his hands.

He won a segment in the Monster Energy Open in May, received a heartfelt embrace from Ryan Blaney and was emotional in his interview with FS1, saying “Damn, I’ve been feeling like a failure for a really long time.”

His struggles on the track haven’t helped. Richard Petty Motorsports struggled to find proper funding for nearly the first six months of the year. The results showed.

Until Sunday’s Brickyard 400, Wallace had not finished better than 14th this season and had only four top-20 results.

After he finished third Sunday, Wallace screamed on his radio: “Yeah! That ain’t supposed to happen! That is not supposed to happen! We did it! Nice job!”

Wallace could not stop smiling after climbing from his car. Richard Petty hugged him.

“We needed this,” Wallace said. “We needed this weekend. We unloaded with speed and I was bragging to everybody.”

Wallace called Sunday “an unforgettable day at Indy.”

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There are many places one can find points gained or lost over a 26-race regular season that can determine who makes the playoffs. Such is the case for Daniel Suarez, who finished four points behind Ryan Newman for the final playoff spot Sunday.

Here are a couple of key moments this season that had they gone differently could have given Suarez the chance to race for a championship instead of Newman:

# Suarez won the pole at Kentucky in July but did not score any stage points.

Suarez led the opening 49 laps at Kentucky but when a caution came out, the team decided to change four tires. Two cars took no tires and 10 cars took two tires during that caution. Suarez restarted 13th, the first car on four tires. He finished the opening stage in 14th and scored no stage points.

In the second stage, Suarez had a flat tire and had to pit under green and then was called for speeding. He fell three laps down at one point and never had a chance to score any stage points.

That was one of three times this season that the driver who started on the pole failed to score any stage points. Austin Dillon did not tally any stage points after starting on the pole at Auto Club Speedway in March, and Denny Hamlin failed to do so after starting on the pole at Bristol in August.

Drivers who started on the pole scored an average of 10.2 stage points per race in the regular season this year. Suarez could have used those 10 points Sunday.

# Newman’s extra pit stop at Michigan in August.

Twenty-seven cars, including Newman, pitted for fuel on Lap 150 at Michigan, putting them all on the edge of making it the rest of the race on fuel. Newman and teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came back to pit road the next lap to top off on fuel.

With no caution the rest of the way, fuel mileage was critical. Newman went from 18th to 12th in the final three laps as cars ahead of him had to pit for fuel or ran out on the track.

Newman ran out of fuel on Turn 4 of the last lap but easily made it across the finish line. Had he not stopped on Lap 151 to top off, he wouldn’t have made it to the end and would have lost several positions.

Instead, those six points gained by others running out fuel helped Newman secure the last playoff spot.

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Ryan Newman helped snap the playoff drought for Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 car.

The car once piloted by Hall of Famer Mark Martin last made the playoffs in 2006 — the year Jimmie Johnson won the first of his record-tying seven Cup titles.

Newman’s team has gone through key changes since last season’s finale in Miami. Scott Graves became the team’s crew chief for this season. The team also has a different engineer and car chief from last year’s Miami race.

“Our team is so new,” Newman said. “It is newer than I have ever experienced. That is huge. With all the changes we had in our sport in the offseason, I think it was underestimated by me and a huge change to tackle.

“I feel like we have done a good job but to answer your question, we just need to continue to progress to make our cars go faster. I think we have had some good strategy and pit stops and good moves on the race track. All those types of things. Good things need to turn into great things and keep progressing as a team.”

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Leaders crashing late in a race can can create ill will and lead to spicy exchange between competitors. Not for Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis.

Instead, fans saw sportsmanship after the two drivers wrecked with seven laps left.

Reddick approached Bell on the track and gave him a tap on the back.

Reddick told NBCSN after leaving the infield care center: “No one in this garage or in NASCAR racing in general should ever question Christopher’s driving ability. That wasn’t the issue there.

“His car just simply got loose, and we just got together and we didn’t really have a lot of race track. It’s (the) end of the race, we’re going for it type deal. Nothing against Christopher. He did nothing wrong. His car just got loose. Just part of racing at the end at this place.”

Refreshing to see how this situation was handled.

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Shortly after celebrating Kevin Harvick‘s victory at Indianapolis, crew chief Rodney Childers was focused on the challenge of the playoffs, which begin Sunday (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I think this season is just tough,”  he said. “I think it’s going to be tougher the next 10 races than it’s ever been. You’ve got 550 (horsepower) races that you have to be good at. You’ve got 750 races you’ve got to be good at. You’ve got road course cars you’ve got to be good at. You’ve got to have a good Martinsville car. There’s so many different things in the playoffs this year that it’s going to be so important to have great race cars every week.”

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The quote of the weekend belonged to Kevin Harvick’s son Keelan.

Asked what it was like to kiss the bricks after his father’s win, Keelan said: “They don’t taste great, but it was fun kissing the bricks.”