Friday, February 22, 2013

Sprint Cup 2013: Race 1: Daytona 500 -- Stock (looking) Cars Return

Handicapping the 2013 Daytona 500 is no easy task but so far based on the Twin 125’s and the Sprint Shoot Out, Kevin Harvick’s #29 Chevrolet is looking mighty tough having been dominant both in Saturday night’s race and his victory in the first 125. While they were two different cars, it certainly looks like both the Childress shop is doing good work setting up for the race, but just as importantly, Harvick is the one driver who has truly mastered the new Generation 6 car.

The second conclusion is Chevrolets look awfully strong; Fords don’t but Toyotas certainly have potential. The three top cars, Danica Patrick, Jeff Gordon, and Kevin Harvick, are in Chevrolets as are drivers in positions six through nine, Kasey Kahne, Juan Pablo Montoya, Austin Dillon, and Jimmie Johnson giving Chevy seven of the top ten spots.  Kyle Busch starts 4th in the top Toyota and Greg Biffle 5th in the top Ford, but Ford doesn’t make another appearance until defending champ, Brad Keselowski checks in at #15. Ford dominates the “twenties” with six drivers positing positions from 21st through 28th.

Looking at the starting line up, Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon hold the front row based on their qualifying positions. The next thirty rides down to starting position #32 established their starting position racing in the Twin 125’s, odd numbered drivers racing in the first Twin race and even numbered starters coming from the second race. The next four drivers established their position based on qualifying time with Carl Edwards being the last driver whose performance put him in the race in a distant 36th place. The last seven positions were established based on 2012 owners’ points with Martin Truex Jr., a Chase participant, being the first of the final grouping. No championship provisional was needed to put a driver in the race. Two cars did not qualify: Mike Bliss ad Brian Keselowski, failed to make the race.

Weather could be a factor with summer-like weather, hot and humid reaching 86 degrees on Saturday, cooler moist whether could impact racing on Sunday with temperatures in the 70’s but a chance of showers. The change in weather would certainly make car setup issues chancy given their last practice conditions would be quite different from anything they’ve seen so far but also different from what’s expected on Sunday. AccuWeather is currently indicated a chance of showers or possibly a thunderstorm but indicates no certainty at which time rain could hit. While certainly no one looks forward to rain being an issue for a second year in a row, NASCAR would get a chance to demonstrate its new moisture removal system. Massive air compressors will direct bursts of high pressure air upon the track where vacuums and get dryers will do the rest of the work. NASCAR boasts the new system could reduce drying time by 80%. With at least a ten percent chance of rain, they might get their chance to showcase the new gear.  

Starting Lineup:

Pos. Car # Driver Mfg. Sponsor Speed
1 10 Danica Patrick # Chevrolet  196.434
2 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger  196.292
3 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Budweiser  194.742
4 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's  195.767
5 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M  194.729
6 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Farmers Insurance  195.852
7 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet Target  195.508
8 33 Austin Dillon* Chevrolet Honey Nut Cheerios  195.385
9 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's  195.084
10 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 5-hour Energy  195.228
11 78 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Furniture Row  193.657
12 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota Dollar General  195.725
13 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1  195.925
14 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine  194.683
15 2 Brad Keselowski Ford Miller Lite  194.961
16 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Menards/Peak  195.503
17 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO  195.495
18 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar  195.156
19 88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Chevrolet National Guard  195.584
20 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet McDonald's  195.042
21 22 Joey Logano Ford Shell Pennzoil  195.767
22 34 David Ragan Ford Detail Doctor  194.616
23 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Kroger  192.563
24 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Stanley  194.793
25 38 David Gilliland Ford Love's Travel Stops  194.654
26 43 Aric Almirola Ford Smithfield  194.742
27 87 Joe Nemechek* Toyota Maddie's Place Rocks 190.046
28 17 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.# Ford Best Buy  195.537
29 26 Michael Waltrip Toyota Sandy Hook School Support Fund  194.313
30 7 Dave Blaney Chevrolet Florida Lottery  192.996
31 95 Scott Speed Ford Leavine Family Racing  193.54
32 35 Josh Wise Ford  194.254
33 21 Trevor Bayne* Ford Motorcraft/Quick Lane  195.976
34 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Quicken Loans  195.946
35 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express  195.771
36 99 Carl Edwards Ford Fastenal  195.24
37 56 Martin Truex, Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts  195.207
38 51 Regan Smith(i) Chevrolet Guy Roofing  193.096
39 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Burger King/Dr.Pepper  190.142
40 83 David Reutimann Toyota Burger King/Dr.Pepper  190.339
41 32 Terry Labonte Ford C&J Energy Services  193.515
42 36 JJ Yeley Chevrolet Golden Corral  192.094
43 98 Michael McDowell Ford K-Love/Curb Records  193.544

#Rookie of the Year 2013 contender

*Not competing for 2013 Sprint Cup Championship

Manufacturer's representation: Chevrolet - 17 cars; Ford - cars; Toyota - 11 cars.

Past champions represented: (8)
Jimmie Johnson: 5 (2006-2010)
Jeff Gordon: 4 (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001)
Tony Stewart: 3 (2002, 2005, 2001)
Terry Labonte: 2 (1984, 1995)
Bobby Labonte: 1 (2000)
Matt Kenseth: 1 (2003)
Kurt Busch: 1 (2004)
Brad Keselowski: 1 (2012)

Previous Daytona 500 Winners 
Jeff Gordon: (3) (1997, 1999, 2005)
Matt Kenseth (2) (2009, 2012)
Michael Waltrip (2) (2001, 2003)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (1) (2004)
Jimmie Johnson (1) (2006)
Kevin Harvick (1) (2007)
Ryan Newman (1) (2008)
Jamie McMurray (1) (2010)   
Trevor Bayne (1) (2011)

Wins by Manufacter
Chevrolet - 21 (GM -- 30 wins [Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick])
Ford - 13 (Ford Motor Company -- 16 wins [Mercury])
Toyota - 0
Dodge (no current entries) - 4 (Chrysler Corp. -- 8 wins, [Plymouth])

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sprint Cup 2013: NASCAR's 6th Generation Ready to Erupt

The 2013 Sprint Cup Season is ready to fire up the engines and begin sports longest season from Daytona in February to Homestead in November. The upcoming season brings forth certainly the most extensive changes to the sport since the “Chase for the Championship” format was incorporated in 2004. The most anticipation surrounds the new Generation 6 race car which finally looks like a real showroom car again, a feature than has increasingly vanish into complete oblivion by the introduction of the 2008 Car of Tomorrow. Aside from its more street-like appearance the car is lighter and promises to be more nimble putting the driver more in control of his results on the race track.  Finally, once again, Fords look like Fords; Chevys look like Chevys; and Toyotas look like Toyotas. Larger roof flaps and improved aerodynamics are also designed to make even safer cars than the COT. Note – Dodge is not in the mix. With Penske’s departure to Ford, no more MOPAR.

The method for determining the starting field eliminates the automatic status for teams in the top 35 in owners’ points, a system that has been in use since 2005. Instead, the top 36 positions will be determined by qualifying position. The next six positions will be provisional starts based on owners’ points with no limit on how many provisionals a team may accrue. The 43rd position is reserved should a past champion not make the field and need a fall-back for a starting position; otherwise, that spot would go to the next in line in owners’ points.

Whether this process reduces the onerous “start and park” entries that have grown out of control with upto eight teams pulling out of contention in 2012 remains to be seen, but it certainly makes all teams take qualifying more seriously.

Qualifying order will be established by random draw not practice speeds; however, practice speeds will be used to determine the field. Provisionals will be determined in the first three races based on last year’s owner points.

The rookie of the year battle will be between Chevrolet and Ford, woman and man, with romantic involvement as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will race the #17 Ford for Roush-Fenway and Danica Patrick will race the #10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing.  The most noteworthy team change finds Matt Kenseth leaving Roush-Fenway for Joe Gibbs Racing’s #20 car pushing Joey Logano to Penske’s #22 ride as the full-time replacement for A.J. Allmendinger, who departed last season for a drug infraction. Penske’s teams, including the defending champion, switches from Dodge, who will no longer compete in NASCAR’s top series, to Ford.

Hendricks Motor Sports (Chevrolet)
#5 Kasey Kahne
#24 Jeff Gordon,
#48 Jimmie Johnson
#88 Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Much will be expected from the series premier team as late season accidents pushed five time champ, Jimmie Johnson, from winning his 6th championship with his three teammates all making the chase. 2012 was a dreadful year for Jeff Gordon, were it not for his win in the August Pocono race and the final race at Homestead to brighten an otherwise dreadful year. Dale Earnhardt Jr. working with Steve Letarte broke his long winless streak with a win at Michigan in June looking to find the formula to maintain consistency for a driver whose career has been all too subject to ups and downs. Despite a rough start, Kasey Kahne’s fortune grew better as the year progressed as he and crew chief, Kenny Francis became more integrated and at home in the Hendricks stable side-by-side Jeff Gordon.

The #5 car picks up limited sponsorship from Time-Warner cable for four races and Great Clips for three. Missing from the #24 car will be its familiar Dupont sponsorship as the product was sold to new ownership, Axalta Coating Systems, on board for 14 races. #48 and #88 will go into action with no major team changes. Johnson will aim for his 6th championship while Earnhardt will attempt to continue the improvement so evident last year.

Roush-Fenway (Ford)
Greg Biffle #16
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #17
Carl Edwards #99

The 2012 season had to be a nightmare for Jack Roush. From Matt Kenseth winning the Daytona 500, it would seem like everything there after was bad news not the least of which was Kenseth’s early announcement he was leaving the team for 2013 later to be announced to be Joe Gibbs Racing. Carl Edwards who had a close to being champion in 2011 without winning did not even make the chase in 2012. Greg Biffle was the team’s hottest driver who never could quite budge into position to compete for the cup. With Kenseth’s departure, there is no longer a Sprint Cup champion in house; however, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brings two Nationwide trophies as powerful experience to run for Rookie of the Year versus his girlfriend, Danica Patrick.

Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
#11 Denny Hamlin
#18 Kyle Busch
#20 Matt Kenseth

All eyes will be on former champ, Matt Kenseth, joining the Gibbs operation adding maturity and experience to a team who has not scored a championship since Tony Stewart’s departure.

2012 was a disappointing year for the team as Denny Hamlin never caught fire in the chase and Kyle Busch was outside looking in after a year of multiple mishaps and hardware failures.

The pressure is on for marked improvement in 2013. While Matt Kenseth’s authority will help the competitive frame of mind, the mechanical issues must also improve if a JGR team will be battling for the trophy in November. 

Richard Childress Racing (Chevrolet)
#27 Paul Menard
#29 Kevin Harvick
#31 Jeff Burton

2012 was an absolute disaster for the hardworking Childress garage with only Kevin Harvick making a token appearance in the Chase. There was nothing worth noting in the past season adding insult to injury including Kevin Harvick announcing 2013 would be his last year with RCR. He’ll run with crew chief, Gil Martin, this year to hope re-establish his winning ways while Drew Luke Lambert will support Jeff Burton’s attempt to return to form. On a related note, the shared engine program with Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing was terminated as Chip Ganassi’s shop decided to move the Hendricks horsepower, a possible reflection on RCR quality. Meanwhile, eyes will be to the future as Austin Dillion will no doubt be eyeing the rookie hot seat for 2014 possibly in a #3 car?

Penske Racing (Ford)
#2 Brad Keselowski
#22 Joey Logano
(?) #12 Sam Hornish Jr.

The team celebrating its first championship on the Sprint Cup level is now a “Blue Oval” team racing Fords with Roush-Yates engines. Joey Logano pilots the #22 with crew chief, Todd Gordon. While the “Blue Deuce” works to secure a second title, a change of scenery and Roger Penske’s guidance should help Joey Logano re-ignite his young career.

Stewart-Haas Racing (Chevrolet)
#10 Danica Patrick
#14 Tony Stewart
#39 Ryan Newman

No team has gotten more publicity in the off-season than that of Stewart-Haas racing. Speculation runs wild on how Danica Patrick will handle her first year of full-time racing on the Sprint Cup level with added attention focusing on plans for next year when Kevin Harvick joins. Tony Gibson will head the #1 racing team while Matt Borland joins to run the #39 pit. While much attention will focus on Danica Patrick’s run for Rookie of the Year, Tony Stewart will be aiming for the rare status of a 4th championship, a feat only four other drivers have accomplished. Pressure’s on Ryan Newman after a disappointing 2012 campaign. With Harvick joining next year, there is no guarantee Stewart-Haas will be poised to field four teams.

Richard Petty Motorsports (Ford)
#9 Marcos Ambrose
#43 Aric Almirola

Drew Blickensderfer takes command of the #9 crew while veteran crew chief, Todd Parrot will run the #43 operation as Richard Petty’s team looks to find more victories than what the Tasmanian Devil, Ambrose, achieves on the Watkins Glen road course. Marcos Ambrose will try to prove he can win on ovals not just road courses having become much more competitive last season.  Aric Almirola will strive to move up in the standings from 20th position last year having only one top five and four top 10’s.

Michael Waltrip Racing (Toyota)
#15 Clint Bowyer
#55 Mark Martin, Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip
#56 Martin Truex Jr.

2012 marked the year MWR finally arrived in Sprint Cup racing with two drivers in The Chase and Clint Bowyer battling his way to 2nd in the standings with his hard-nosed driving in the last race of the year at Homestead. NASCAR’s original Toyota team will try to consolidate its gains for 2012, win more races, and attempt to fight for the 2013 championship by November.

Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing (Chevrolet)
#1 Jamie McMurray
#41 Juan Pablo Montoya

The highlight for EGR came early in 2012. During a rain delay yellow flag in the Daytona 500, Juan Pablo Montoya provided one of the most replayed video clips of the entire season losing control of his race car and crashing into a fully fueled jet dryer that exploded on impact.  That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the year. Thus, 2013 would be a year for change despite retaining both drivers. EGR will no longer partner with Richard Childress to supply its engines. Instead Engines will be supplied by Hendrick Motor Sports. Cessna/Textron will sponsor the #10 car for 10 races.

JTG Daugherty Racing (Toyota)
#47 Bobby Labonte

Brian Burns takes over as crew chief as the one time champion driver attempts to find a winning formula again after almost a decade in obscurity. Having achieved only two top 10’s last year, there’s much room for improvement.

BK (Burger King) Racing (Toyota)
#83 David Reutimann
#93 Travis Kvapil

David Reutimann with Pat Tryson take over the #83 car in an attempt to make the BK team a more viable presence in 2013 after inheriting the remnants of the defunct Red Bull team to start last season.

Front Row Racing Motorsports (Ford)
#34 David Ragan
#35 Josh Wise
#38 David Gilliland

Coming to life as an operation out of the merger mania which saw Robert Yates Racing being absorbed into Richard Petty Motorsports in 2010, the three car operation continues to attempt to find competitive legitimacy running on limited funds with Roush/Yates horsepower. David Ragan, unable to stay with Roush/Fenway due to lack of sponsorship joined last season bringing a legitimate up and coming presence to the team but only managed one top five and no additional top tens only good enough for 27th in points.

Furniture Row Racing (Chevrolet)
#78 Kurt Busch

One of the most powerful small independent teams, Furniture Row racing gained notoriety in 2011 winning the Darlington Southern 500 in 2011 with Regan Smith at the helm. With engines and technical support from Richard Childress, the Denver, Colorado based team now has mercurial former champ Kurt Busch and crew chief, Todd Berrier, to attempt to further their fortunes with talk of possibly adding a second team if funding can be arranged.

Wood Brothers (Ford)
#21 Trevor Bayne

Despite their part-time status, the “legendary” Wood Brothers are always a factor when participating in Sprint Cup events re-igniting their legacy with Trevor Bayne’s bold Daytona 500 win in 2011. They’re always a threat to snag a poll or slip into the top five any time they compete.

All the Rest

There’s not much sense in publicizing the rest of the field other than to note it appears unlikely the #51 Phoenix racing team will continue in operation beyond Regan Smith’s presence in the Daytona 500.  A handful of teams might attempt to compete at some level in NASCAR’s premier season but most of the remainder would do the sport a favor by closing up shop and getting out of the way. No recognition or discussion is warranted for “start and park” teams who represent a sick embarrassment to a sport seeking full major league status.

We shall not be so bold as to attempt to handicap the field; however, it's hard to imagine  a team that has not made "The Chase" before would have a breakthrough season this year though perhaps some different car numbers or drivers might. The only real possible breakthrough would be if one of the Richard Petty teams would excel. Likewise, much improvement must be forthcoming for Earnhardt-Ganassi to be in the hunt. Meanwhile, Hendricks, Roush-Fenway, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress, Stewart-Haas, and Michael Waltrip all look like strong candidates to provide teams to be in the final hunt for the 2013 championship. For the remaining teams not mentioned, will any of them show significant growth toward being a contender in the future. For some, it's long past time to hang in up. We shall see if what 2012 showed so clearly remains just as obvious, the starting field for Sprint Cup competition might be too large. NASCAR wisely reduced the Nationwide starting field down to 40 entries which was certainly a step in the right direcion but almost certainly not bold enough. 

Fire 'em up. The Harley Earle Trophy is polished up and ready for the celebration. 35 more awards remain before the most valuable one of all, the Sprint Cup for 2013 will be awarded in November at Homestead, Florida.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Given that the writer for this blog is a fanatic Baltimore Ravens fan, any kind of coverage of the 2012 NFL Playoff run was simply impossible.  Does anyone really want to read another person hoot and holler for Ray Lewis and the boys?

Nevertheless, a fine post season it was and to see Baltimore explode with joy when the Ravens won the Lombardi trophy in New Orleans was such a joy. How wonderful it is, if not for more than a fleeting moment to live in the happiest place on earth.

So the engines are ready to roar in Daytona and we're on top of it.