by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.June 21, 2011 2:18 pm UTC No Comments
Twice a year the silence is broken by the noise of race cars and the swelling of a population.
While much activity is present on the race track, the first race of the year at Michigan International Speedway rarely has a lot of silly season activity.
NASCAR’s silly season is highlighted by sponsor, driver and crew chief changes for the next race season; but rarely is the June race at MIS the beginning of that process.
This year however was a different story. News of Red Bull Racing pulling out of the sport came as a shocker to most. While RBR has not exactly set the NASCAR world afire, they have been a respectable race team. Poor cars early on forced RBR to miss races and driver inconsistencies have wreaked havoc with the program.
Now what will be left of RBR will either be sold off or morphed into another race team. What will become of Brian Vickers? Kasey Kahne was a lend-lease driver from Hendrick Motorsports for 2011 so his future is secure and paints a picture that Red Bull had an idea that 2011 was going to be its last year.
It looks as if Home Depot is loosing its patience with coming in second to its big-box home improvement competition and may push for Joey Logano’s removal as the driver. Carl Edwards name has been thrown into the mix as a possible replacement brand spokesman. Edwards could move into a fourth Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with Home Depot on the side if another sponsor can be secured for Logano .
JGR also made headlines this week, not only by taking Denny Hamlin to
Victory Lane, but by showing up to tech inspection with illegal oil pans. NASCAR took away the offending units and have fined each crew chief $50,000 and put each on probation, along with their respective car chiefs, until December 31, 2011.
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler/ON PIT ROW
by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.June 9, 2011 6:12 pm UTC No Comments
Oh, god, Pocono. 500 miles of it. This weekend’s Sprint Cup race is going to feel like an even longer event than the Coca-Cola 600, and that’s saying something. A big, fast track, plus the scorching summer heat, should make Pocono one of the greatest tests of endurance on this year’s schedule, as it usually is.
More importantly, though, Pocono signals the start of the second half of the Sprint Cup “regular season,” where the top drivers will jostle for Chase positions. A solid performance is more important now than ever, as currently struggling teams look to establish momentum for the Race to the Chase and sneak in by virtue of race wins or even the lower part of the top 10 in points.
So, with that in mind, who looks good this weekend?
Denny Hamlin: Look, I may be feeling some of the heat stroke from Pocono already, but I’m not an idiot. Not only is Hamlin the sport’s best Pocono driver, he also fits that label of “struggling” (well, somewhat; they’ve begun to pick it up recently) and will probably need some race wins to guarantee himself a Chase spot. With all that in mind, there’s no better place for him to do it than Pocono, and probably no better driver to pick for the same reasons.
Tony Stewart: Smoke has always been pretty good at Pocono, but four finishes of third or better in his past five starts at the track may very well cement him as its elite driver as of late. One of those was a win in this same race, from the pole, two years ago. And with Stewart only up 11 points on teammate Ryan Newman for the final Chase spot, he, too, could use some good runs to give him breathing room.
Brian Vickers: Here’s an interesting pick. Vickers will either give you a fantastic finish (twice a runner-up at Pocono, four top five finishes in 12 starts) or a bum-out (four of his past six finishes were 21st or worse, although all four saw him stay on the lead lap). Adding to the drama is the fact that it’s been more than a year since he’s competed at the track, owing to last year’s blood clots keeping him out of the car. Regardless, while Vickers is a high-risk pick, he leaves open the potential for high reward as well.
by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.August 17, 2009 12:23 pm UTC No Comments
Congratulations to Team Red Bull driver Brian Vickers, who won yesterday’s Carfax 400 at Michigan. It was Vickers’ second Sprint Cup victory and the first points victory for TRB. It was also the first victory for Toyota at Michigan, the home track for NASCAR’s American manufacturers.
The win, Vickers’ first since Talladega in 2006, came on a weekend that he dominated from start to finish. He won the pole for the Sprint Cup race on Friday, qualified first for the Nationwide race on Saturday, and led the most laps in that race, finishing second.
Vickers was engaged in a heated battle with Kyle Busch in the closing laps of the Nationwide race, leading to a heated confrontation in the pits. In a post-race interview, Vickers apologized for ruining “the Kyle Busch show,” one of the sharpest and funniest comments a driver has made all season.
A fired-up Vickers then came to the track on Sunday hungry to make up for failing to win on Saturday. He only led 12 laps of the Cup race, but they were the laps that counted; Vickers watched race leader Jimmie Johnson run out of fuel for the second time in two Michigan races this year. Both times Johnson had led the most laps, but saw fuel mileage cost him the victory.
The loop data shows just how strong Vickers was on Sunday. His average running position through the race was 5th; he was in the top 15 99 percent of the time, tops among all drivers; and his driver rating of 126.8 was tops among the field. He also had the best driver rating in the Nationwide race, an absurdly high 145.0.
This win, Vickers’ first with the Red Bull organization, has been a long time coming. It’s been apparent for a long time just how talented Vickers is – his 2003 Nationwide Series championship at age 20 is a testament to that. He was just starting to get his Sprint Cup legs in 2006, finishing 15th in points with the fourth Hendrick car, when he signed with Red Bull.
Jumping to a fledgling Toyota team with no owners points in 2007 may have been a miserable short-term career move (13 DNQ’s), but it began paying off last year, when he jumped to 19th in points. The Red Bull team is even better this season, especially as of late, with each of Vickers’ past six finishes 11th or better. Vickers’ six poles also lead the Sprint Cup Series.
Picking up a talent like Vickers has paid off for Red Bull, both on the track and off. Vickers is a marketable face willing to take part in almost any Red Bull promotions, from skydiving to a pit stop in the middle of New York City. An avid social networker, Vickers engages with fans much in the way that the energy drink company does.
On the track, Vickers provides TRB with a lead driver that can compete for wins and a Chase berth over the course of a full season. He also serves as a mentor for Scott Speed, the ex-Formula One driver/loose cannon, who, like A.J. Allmendinger before him, still needs a bit of seasoning to make his transition from open-wheel racing successful.
It’s impossible to deny that after all the work Vickers and TRB have done over the past three years, they were due for their first win. Now sitting 13th in points, they’re also peaking at the right time to potentially steal a Chase spot from another worthy driver.
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler, OnPitRow.com
by Matt Mercer, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I'm the former blogger of The Catfish Show NASCAR Blog and a contributor to On Pit Row. Follow me on Twitter: @mattmercerMay 28, 2009 7:12 pm UTC 8 Comments
As I was reading a story this afternoon on what new Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief Lance McGrew plans for the #88 team, I started worrying about the chances of Mark Martin’s title run this year. McGrew says that among the first items to be evaluated is the #88 team’s relationship with that of their shop-mate, the #5 team. McGrew says that they aren’t a unified outfit because they were two entities brought together, unlike the #24 and #48 teams. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the #5 and #25 teams were together since what, 2002 when Hendrick added a 4th car? The teams have been there, with mixed success, since the days of Terry Labonte/Kyle Busch in the #5 and Joe Nemechek/Brian Vickers/Casey Mears in the #25. McGrew was even a big part of that #25 team, serving as crew chief for Vickers in that time. I have to wonder why McGrew seems to fault the new combination of Martin and crew chief Alan Gustafson in the #5 for being successful. Maybe I’m reading the story wrong, but that’s how it looks.
My main concern here is that Martin’s team has been very successful with fast cars nearly ever week of the year while Earnhardt Jr. and his team haven’t adjusted their equipment to meet the demands of 2009 yet. It’s no guarantee the change will work the first time around. Is McGrew implying that he wants to change the way Gustafson is running the #5 team? This quote scares me:
“Basically, the crew chiefs have to steer the ship. If you want [the 5/88] building to perform and function with the 24/48 shop does, it has to be managed like the 24/48 shop is. The crew chiefs steer the ship there. I feel like you have to do that in unison, because the idea is to have two teams in one building that operate as one. Those [24 and 48] teams do that. Right now that’s not happening [in the 5 and 88 shop].”
Right. Because it’s the #5 team’s responsibility for the #88 not using the notes and setups the #5, #24, and #48 do. McGrew is right about this part: ideally, both teams in the shop should operate as one. It seems that the #88 team led by Tony Eury Jr. was willing to break away from that and do things their own way.
All I’m saying is, this could easily drag down Martin during the rest of the 2009 season. If McGrew wants to change the #5 team’s method (which is clearly working) it could derail Martin’s title hopes this season. I do not want that to happen and I suspect that even Dale Jr. himself wouldn’t want that to happen. Hendrick needs to be careful he isn’t tearing down the strong to build up the weak.
Photo credit: Sports Illustrated
by Steve Wronkowicz
I am co-host of the syndicated radio show: ON PIT ROW. Over ten years on the air and three on the net; see what can happen when I don't let the facts get in the way of my opinions.February 18, 2009 10:42 am UTC No Comments
Dale Earnhardt Jr was not having a good day before he was involved in “The Big One” on Sunday at Daytona.
Two pit road mistakes put Junior behind the eight ball early on in the rain shortened Daytona 500. Perhaps the frustration that ensued after those two problems helped trigger the late race incident that took out nearly one fourth of the field.
Junior totally missed his pit stall when he didn’t recognize his pit sign early on. Then he compounded the problem later when he stopped past the pit box end line. This mistake put him a lap down and put him in position behind Brian Vickers where during the restart the two got together. As expected, each driver blamed the other for the cause of the incident.
Vickers never denied that he was blocking Junior. The difference of opinion seems to come down to Junior’s options after he was blocked. His version includes being forced “almost into the grass” and having no option but to get back up on the racing surface. Vickers believed he was wrecked on purpose and didn’t have many kind words for Junior.
This all brings us to this week’s BUZZ ON PIT ROW:
Jason Leffler got a five lap penalty on Saturday for a similar incident to Junior’s on Sunday. Was this a different deal or is NASCAR using “Junior Rules”?
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media
by Charlie Turner
Thanks for stopping by OnPitRow.com and the Bench Racing with Steve and Charlie blog. The best NASCAR and IndyCar news and opinion, exclusive pictures and video. I'm Charlie Turner. Follow me on Twitter @onpitrowAugust 2, 2008 9:40 am UTC 1 Comment
Joe Gibbs Racing star Denny Hamlin sports Jimmy Johnson-like Loop Data stats for this week’s Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway.
Whether that means he’ll win again is debatable, but the numbers are compelling. A NASCAR Loop Driver Rating of 100 or above is very strong. Three guys have numbers above 100 for Pocono this week. But Hamlin, with 130.4 is far and away the leader in that stat category.
In fact, Denny leads in seven of the Loop’s 16 Box Score stats. The others are Ave Mid Race Position – 2.6, Ave Position – 5.6, Ave Finish – 2.8, 75.9 percent Quality Passes, 92.6 percent of Laps in the Top 15 and 33. percent of all Laps Led.
In five career races at the Long Pond, PA track Hamlin has two wins, four top fives, five top tens and two poles. Spell Denny’s dominance with capital “D”s.
Can Kurt Busch or Tony Stewart Shake Off Early Struggles?
Second and third best in the Loop are Kurt Busch with 113.4 and Tony Stewart at 102.2 Driver Ratings. Kurt is the top Ave Points per Race gainer at 1094 in seven races. He also leads in Fastest Laps - 208, Laps in the Top 15 – 1074 and Laps Led with 343. He’s a two time winner with seven top fives and eight top tens.
Tony Stewart has one win, five top fives and 13 top tens at Pocono Raceway. He sports a series high 300 Quality Passes and a second best 1032 (78.8 percent) Laps in the Top 15.
Pocono could be the place for either of these guys to start a 2009 run. But I’m not confident. I think Stewart is too distracted. Kurt’s team, though they have a 2009 win, has not looked good most weeks this year.
There are three drivers with DR’s of 97 or better. Ryan Newman – 98.7, Brian Vickers – 97.9 and, who else, Jimmie Johnson – 97.3. Johnson, with two wins, four top fives and eight top tens looks strong again, especially coming off the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard win on the similar Indy track.
Newman has won at Pocono too and has five top fives and six top tens. But the winless Vickers. with four top fives is the Cup driver most likely to get his first ever win soon. Pocono Raceway is the perfect track for him and his Red Bull Toyota.
Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards all have 90 plus Loop Driver Ratings. Gordon is a four time Pocono winner. Martin has 19 top fives and 30 top tens. Edwards is a past winner and Kasey Kahne won here in June.
If this were an IQ test, you might flunk it if you didn’t pick Hamlin. My pick is Vickers. And my dark-horse is his Red Bull Racing Teammate, A J Allmendinger.
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler – ON PIT ROW