NASCAR weekend stories
Monster Mile A Monster Hurdle For Points Leader Stewart
Tony Stewart has already accomplished the unthinkable in going 2-for-2 to open the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, winning at both Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
In capturing his first two victories of 2011 in such a fashion, Stewart became only the second driver to start the Chase with two consecutive wins. The first was in 2008 by Greg Biffle, who went on to finish third in that season’s championship points.
Now, can he do the seemingly impossible? For one, he’d be the first to open the Chase with three consecutive wins. Two, it’d be the first time in his career he has ever won three straight. Three, you have to go all the way back to the 2007 Chase for the last time anyone won three straight in the Chase (Jimmie Johnson won four consecutive Chase races that season). And four, he’d have to win at Dover, something that hasn’t happened for Stewart in more than a decade.
Stewart enjoys-loathes a love-hate relationship with Dover. His career at the one-mile concrete oval, a series of peaks and valleys, includes two victories – but none since his Dover sweep of 2000.
There has been the good – that 2000 sweep at Dover, the only track sweep in his illustrious career. There has been the bad – a Driver Rating of 71.4, making Dover his worst track (by a good bit) in terms of the Loop Data statistic. Driver Rating includes all Dover races since 2005, a span of 13 events. His second-worst track in terms of Driver Rating is Charlotte Motor Speedway (82.2).
And there has been the bizarre – the Dover race in June of 2006, when he opted to hop out of the car after he injured his shoulder a week earlier. Ricky Rudd relieved Stewart after 38 laps, finishing the race in what was then Stewart’s No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet.
Stewart’s cushion going into Sunday’s race is a small one – seven points ahead of Kevin Harvick. The last time Stewart led the points during the Chase: In 2005, when he won his second NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
"Bad” Brad Anything But
In only nine races, Brad Keselowski has moved from 23rd in points to his current position of third. And since he broke his ankle, a span eight races ago, he has scored more points than any other driver – by a lot. Over the last eight races, Keselowski has scored 332 points. Second during that span is Jeff Gordon, with 304.
Here’s why. Numbers over the last nine races look like this: two wins, six top fives, eight top 10s and a Driver Rating of 96.3. His worst finish over the last nine races is still-solid 12th at Richmond.
Keselowski’s third-place points position is the best of his career, and currently 11 points behind leader Stewart, he’s inching towards the first points lead in his career. There’s no sign of him stalling anytime soon, and past statistics don’t really tell the story for Keselowski. If they did, he probably wouldn’t be considered a favorite. His stats at the upcoming eight tracks: 31 starts, two wins (Talladega and Kansas), two top fives, five top 10s, an average finish of 19.6 and a Driver Rating of 69.2.
In three NASCAR Sprint Cup starts at Dover, Keselowski has finishes of 18th, 22nd and 13th, which came in May of this year. He won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Dover in May of 2009.
Johnson Facing Tall Order To Overcome Early Deficit
Jimmie Johnson has been down – but not out – before.
Three times he’s fallen to ninth in the championship standings, twice in 2004 when he scratched his way back to finish runner-up to Kurt Busch. Johnson opened the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup ninth after a 39th-place finish in 2006, the season in which he claimed the first of five consecutive titles.
Two races into this year’s postseason, Johnson finds himself at an all-time Chase low of 10th, 29 points behind leader Tony Stewart.
The deficit doesn’t seem like much at first glance but consider:
• Those 29 points represent roughly 120 points under the previous system.
• He’s more than half a race in the hole, points-wise.
• Even more disturbing, Johnson cannot race his way to the lead without help. Wishing for nine rivals to stumble over the course of eight races may be an extremely tall order.
All that may have prompted this tweet from Chase rival Brad Keselowski on Tuesday afternoon, moments after ESPN announced that the ratings for Sunday’s New Hampshire race were up from last season: “I think ratings are up cuz [sic] it doesn't look like J.J. will win it again.”
Humorous trash talking aside, Johnson has another reason to smile. Dover International Speedway is one of the California native’s best tracks. He has won three of the last five races and six times overall, and has posted eight top fives and 13 top 10s along with three Coors Light Poles. Johnson owns a series-best Driver Rating of 117.4 at the Monster Mile, where he finished ninth in May. Click here for video of Johnson discussing how Dover is his favorite track.
These Four Hope To Spoil The Party At Dover
It’s a given that during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup a non-Chase qualifier must do something spectacular to get noticed – like win a race.
Several drivers came close at Chicagoland Speedway and most recently in New Hampshire.
Two, Martin Truex Jr. and Greg Biffle, ride front-of-the-field momentum as well as owning stellar records at Dover International Speedway.
• Truex, winner at Dover in spring 2007, has led the past three races at the track. He finished 18th and 16th in the first two Chase races but led both and had the looks of a winner in Chicago.
• Biffle counts a pair of victories at Dover, most recently during the 2008 Chase. He finished third in New Hampshire, a 2011 season high.
• Another who shouldn’t be counted out is Mark Martin, a four-time Dover winner who’ll be making his 51st start at the concrete surfaced track. Martin raced at the head of the field in New Hampshire leading 46 laps.
Finally, Brian Vickers finished fifth at Dover in the spring. He’s also riding a bit of momentum with a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.
Good news for Kevin Harvick, currently second in the points: During the Chase era (2004-Present), the points leader after the second Chase race has never gone on to win the championship. In four of the seven previous Chases, though, the driver in second after two Chase races did go on to win the championship – including Jimmie Johnson in each of the last three seasons. … Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford, will appear at the Bayhealth Foundation Charitable Golf Tournament, co-sponsored by Dover Motorsports, Inc., on Thursday, Sept. 29 at Wild Quail Golf and Country Club in Wyoming, Del. Biffle will compete in a putting contest against tournament participants and attending media members at 11:30 a.m. The winner will have Biffle drive them to the first three holes of the tournament in a golf cart, and will be eligible for a 3M crew shirt, a Dover International Speedway prize bag, and two tickets to all three days of the Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2011 race weekend at Dover. After the tournament’s start, at 1 p.m. Biffle will participate in a media availability during a media lunch in the Wild Quail clubhouse. … Melora Hardin, best known for her role as Jan Levinson on the hit NBC series “The Office,” will sing the National Anthem prior to the running of the “AAA 400” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Oct. 2 at Dover International Speedway. … Milestone Watch: David Ragan will make his 300th NASCAR National Series start, Mike Bliss will attempt to make his 125th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, Ryan Newman will attempt to post his 50th series Coors Light pole and 150th series top-10 finish, Juan Pablo Montoya will attempt to post his 50th series top-10 finish.
Pressure Builds For Contenders As Final Stretch Approaches
The pressure cooker is whistling, which means with six races to go on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule, time is running out for the top three championship contenders. Only 14 points separate series standings leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and second place Elliott Sadler; while 47 markers stand between third-place Reed Sorenson and the standings lead.
Consistency and the acquisition of bonus points have been the keys to Stenhouse’s success this season. He has accumulated a series’ high 22 bonus points and has posted two wins (Iowa sweep), 12 top fives, 20 top 10s and three Coors Light poles.
Stenhouse’s late season dominance is backed up by his season-to-date Loop Data stats. He leads all championship contenders in five major Loop categories: Driver Rating (107.1), Average Running Position (8.296), Laps in the Top 15 (4,790 laps), Fastest Lap Run (526) and Laps Led (424 laps).
If recent history is any indication, Stenhouse’s outlook is bright. Of the three championship contenders – Stenhouse, Sadler, Sorenson – Stenhouse has the best average finish at the upcoming six tracks with an 11.6 compared to Sorenson’s 14.7 and Sadler’s 22.0.
Dover is the first of the remaining six races of the season and Stenhouse has improved each time out at the one-mile speedway. He was 18th in his track debut in the 2010 spring race, finished 11th in this event last year and jumped to fourth in May. His average finish at Dover is 11.0 and his pre-race Driver Rating 91.4.
Saturday’s event is sponsored by the same company – OneMain Financial – that adorns the hood of Elliott Sadler’s No. 2 Chevrolet. Sadler finished sixth at Dover in May, his first top-10 at the track since a sixth-place finish in this race in 1997. Driving for JR Motorsports last fall, he was relegated to 31st due to an accident. His average finish at Dover is 15.0 and his pre-race Driver Rating is 83.3 – both are the worst among the top three championship contenders.
Dover Provides Great Stepping Stone In Sorenson’s Championship Hopes
There is nothing like a great comeback.
Reed Sorenson, currently third in the standings 47 points back from Ricky Stenhouse Jr., has the opportunity to kick off his own comeback and make a run at the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship this weekend at Dover.
In 10 career races at Dover, Sorenson has six top fives and nine top 10s. His only hiccup was a 27th-place finish in 2007 when an accident took him out of contention. His average finish in five fall races is 5.2, including a fourth-place result in this race last year. He was third at Dover in May.
Sorenson leads Stenhouse and Sadler in pre-race Driver Rating (100.9), Average Running Position (9.240), and Laps in the Top 15 (1,722 laps) 85.4% at Dover.
A lot of Sorenson’s success this season is due to his ability to move through the field and his season-to-date Loop Data stats back that up. He leads all championship contenders in Quality Passes (1,013) and Green Flag Passes (1,531).
In three of the last six tracks on the schedule, Sorenson has the best average finish amongst Stenhouse and Sadler – Dover, Charlotte and Texas.
Ryan Truex Comes Home As Rookie Standings Remain Close
In 2010 Ryan Truex, a native of Mayetta, N.J., won his second consecutive NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title and was officially awarded the crown at Dover International Speedway, his home track.
Truex, 19, brother of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr., began the 2011 season driving for Pastrana-Waltrip Racing, the team with which he won his K&N championships (then Michael Waltrip Racing). However after 10 races, that opportunity shifted, gearing more toward the preparation for team co-owner and action sports superstar Travis Pastrana to make his way into NASCAR.
Truex was given the green light to look for other options. In early August, Truex signed a six-race deal with Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 20 Toyota. Halfway through that schedule, he seems to have found his groove.
Truex was 11th at Atlanta in his first race since June at Chicagoland. He backed that up with his career-best finish – fourth – in Richmond’s fall race. In his fall return to Chicago he was 13th. Each of those results was better than all but one of his finishes in those first 10 events (eighth at Richmond in May).
He finished 18th at Dover earlier this season and has a pre-race Driver Rating heading into this weekend of 83.1.
Timmy Hill continues to hold a slight edge in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings over his nearest competitor – and good friend – Blake Koch. Hill has a two-point lead over Koch with six races remaining. Koch needs a good result at Dover – where he finished a season-worst 43rd in May after an incident on the first lap – in order to put more pressure on Hill. Although he’s cut into Hill’s lead considerably over the summer months, Koch has finished better than Hill only once in the last five races.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
Michael Annett will make his 100th series start Saturday at Dover. He’s currently 10th in the points and has six top-10 finishes. Coming into this season, he’d had a career total of six top 10s. … Brian Scott posted his first series Coors Light pole at Chicagoland Speedway and went on to match his series career-best finish of third. He hopes to continue his success this weekend at Dover a track he has run well at. In three starts he has one top-10 finish. He also won at Dover in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2009. … “Concrete” Carl Edwards goes for the Dover sweep having won earlier this year in May.
Points Lead Changes Hands Yet Again With Dillon Taking No. 1
Another race; another championship lead change.
Austin Dillon backed up his Chicagoland victory with a runner-up finish to Kyle Busch in New Hampshire to reclaim the top spot in the standings. Dillon holds a two-point lead over former No. 1 James Buescher with six races remaining.
Dillon led once previously after August’s Pocono stop but surrendered the spot when he finished 22nd at Michigan.
The New Hampshire race marked the ninth time this season the championship lead has changed hands. Johnny Sauter, leader on 10 occasions, remains a close third, seven points behind Dillon. Timothy Peters and Ron Hornaday complete the top five.
Fans will see a double dose of Dillon this week as the 2010 Sunoco Rookie of the Year’s younger brother, Ty Dillon, is set to make his NASCAR Camping World Truck debut. The younger Dillon, age 19, is the current ARCA championship leader and will step into his older sibling’s truck when Austin Dillon moves to the NASCAR Nationwide Series next year
KHI Sale To Eddie Sharp Racing Enables Legacy To Move Forward
Kevin Harvick Inc., arguably the series’ most successful team over the past decade, will be no more after the checkered flag falls at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
The good news, however, is the organization will live on as part of Eddie Sharp Racing which announced its purchase of KHI’s assets last week. Two of the Harvick team’s trucks will be competing fulltime under Sharp’s ownership with drivers yet to be named. Sharp currently fields the No. 6 Chevrolet with Justin Lofton at the wheel.
"We are ready to take this opportunity head on to utilize what Kevin and DeLana (Harvick) have built,” said Sharp. “It was a marriage made in heaven, because we were ready to move forward at ESR, and this opportunity worked out perfectly. With KHI, you have a turnkey, successful program at the ready.”
Added Harvick, “Our main concern when we decided to do what we did with KHI was to do everything we could to keep everything on the track. With Eddie acquiring the two teams that’s going to give everybody the opportunity to move forward.”
KHI has won two NASCAR Camping World Truck titles with Hornaday in 2007 and 2009 and owner championships the same seasons. Its 39 wins stand No. 2 on the all-time series victory list.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Etc.
Saturday’s Kentucky 225 marks the first time the Sparta, Ky. track has hosted two events during the same season. Kyle Busch won the first stop in July. … No NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points-eligible drivers are entered in this week’s race. Hornaday is due to drive KHI’s No. 2 Chevrolet, the owner championship leading team, with Cale Gale taking the helm of the No. 33 Chevrolet. Brian Ickler will drive Busch’s July-winning No. 18 Toyota. … Brendan Gaughan was the series’ highest points eligible finisher in July with a third-place performance, his best of the season. … Busch’s New Hampshire victory was his 30th in 99 series starts. Hornaday, the only other series driver with more wins (49) required 131 starts to reach win No. 30 at Charlotte in 2007.