Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sprint Cup 2013: Race 9 - Richmond Saturday Night

The ninth race of the 2013 season brings the Sprint Cup tour to Richmond, Virginia for good old Saturday night racing at its best. When they return to Richmond in September, the stakes will be much higher.  The ¾ mile short track with fine weather expected provides some of NASCAR’s most exiting racing as the only track with such dimensions. The front curved part of the D oval provides good old short track bumping and banging, but then there’s a nice long straightaway down the back stretch where the cars can really accelerate. Like short tracks, tempers and brake pads are bound to heat up.

With Matt Kenseth on the pole, the driver must feel vindictive pride standing tall after NASCAR’s vicious penalty against the #20 team having just won impressively at Kansas last week. All personnel remain on board pending appeals being heard with a seven week suspension holding in the balance for crew chief, Jason Radcliff. Another Joe Gibbs ride shares the outside poll, the #11 FedEx Toyota, driven by Brian Vickers filling in for injured Denny Hamlin.

A story starting to develop is the absence of Fords both in the top five and qualifying.  Only Joey Logano checks in at 7th in the top ten. The next Ford contender is Marcos Ambrose for Richard Petty in 11th. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is the top Rauch driver in 12th, but no more Fords appear until 20th, David Ragan racing for Front Row Racing. Brad Keselowski starts 23rd, but the Rauch veterans find Carl Edwards in 28th and Greg Biffle in 33rd followed by the next Petty entry, Aric Armirola in 34th. Maybe it’s time for the King, the Captain, and the Hat to have a little engineering summit? 

POS CAR # Driver Mfg. Sporsor Speed
1 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota Dollar General  130.334
2 11 Brian Vickers(i) Toyota FedEx Delivery Manager  130.303
3 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger  130.252
4 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Quaker State / Menards  130.183
5 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota  Care  130.158
6 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet Depend  129.851
7 22 Joey Logano Ford Shell Pennzoil  129.758
8 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's  129.633
9 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Brakes  129.596
10 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine  129.577
11 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford DeWalt  129.565
12 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. # Ford Zest  129.552
13 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet McDonald's  129.534
14 78 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Furniture Row Racing / Sealy  129.422
15 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Outback Steakhouse  129.385
16 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Airgas / Bulwark  129.372
17 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Bell Helicopter  129.366
18 7 Dave Blaney Chevrolet SANY  129.292
19 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet National Guard  129.187
20 34 David Ragan Ford CSX / Play it Safe  129.162
21 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Rush Truck Centers / Mobil 1  129.112
22 83 David Reutimann Toyota Burger King / Dr Pepper  129.112
23 2 Brad Keselowski Ford Redd's Apple Ale  129.032
24 51 AJ Allmendinger Chevrolet Phoenix Construction  128.915
25 30 David Stremme Toyota Swan Energy  128.811
26 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's Dover White  128.780
27 35 Josh Wise(i) Ford MDS Transport  128.743
28 99 Carl Edwards Ford Geek Squad  128.725
29 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Menards / CertainTeed  128.719
30 10 Danica Patrick # Chevrolet  128.700
31 33 Landon Cassill Chevrolet Little Joe's Autos / Precon Marine  128.682
32 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Bush's Beans  128.608
33 16 Greg Biffle Ford American Red Cross  128.516
34 43 Aric Almirola Ford Smithfield  128.351
35 98 Michael McDowell Ford Phil Parsons Racing  128.053
36 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Dominion Raceway  127.956
37 38 David Gilliland Ford Long John Silver's  127.883
38 19 Mike Bliss(i) Toyota Plinker Tactical / G Oil  127.485
39 36 JJ Yeley Chevrolet NASCAR Foundation  126.547
40 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO  126.404
41 87 Joe Nemechek(i) Toyota Acredale Vending / AM FM Energy  125.886
42 32 Timmy Hill # Ford OXY water  125.692
43 52 Brian Keselowski Toyota Highland Wealth Advisors  123.751

NASCAR on the Warpath; Penske Teams and #20 Joe Gibbs Team Await Appeal

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NASCAR on the War Path

Two weeks in a row, NASCAR has found infractions by two of the sports’ top most successful teams resulting in severe penalties, who unless the driver’s name is Carl Long, appear unprecedented in recent NASCAR history. First, after Texas, they essentially levied the death penalty against team Penske particularly championship hopes for the #2 car. The #2 and #22 cars were slow out to the track as NASCAR did not like the rear end assemblies on how the suspension was mounted on the two Penske cars which would be deemed illegal equipment. Now after post race inspection in Kansas, race winner, Matt Kenseth’s car was found to have a slightly too light rocker arm assembly resulting in an even more vicious smack down against Joe Gibbs racing including the coach himself.

The sanctions against Team Penske, the #2 and #22 cars are: Each driver, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are docked 25 points. Their crew chiefs Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon are suspended for six points races and the Charlotte All-Star race plus each hit with $100,000 fines landing on probation until the end of the year. Team mangers and engineers for both teams are likewise suspended and on probation.

Penalties against the #20 team and owner, Joe Gibbs were far more harsh since the infraction involves the big three areas that NASCAR is most insistent on being precise – no engine, tire, or fuel violations. Matt Kenseth loses 50 driver points. Crew chief Jason Radcliff is suspended for seven races and fined $200,000. Owner, Joe Gibbs, NASCAR license is suspended for six races meaning no owner points will be accrued during that time period. Additionally, Kenseth’s win will not earn him 3 points toward the chase selection standings and his pole win won’t count toward next February’s shootout race in Daytona for pole winners.

The sanctions against Joe Gibbs and Matt Kenseth are most severe in that the one out of eight rocker arm assemblies found too light was not an issue of design or intent by anyone in Joe Gibbs racing nor does it provide any competitive advantage. The engines are furnished by Toyota Racing Development, who also supplies power for Michael Waltrip racing. The engines are shipped to Joe Gibbs Racing, fitted and installed in the race cars and at no point in the process would anyone in the Gibbs shop have any opportunity or need to tear down the engine. In the entire chain of custody of the motor in question, there is no point at which any Gibbs staff had any opportunity to tinker with the engine nor could one argue any intent on their part to run an illegal engine. Long gone are the days of the amazing Junior Johnson “mystery” engines. It’s hard for anyone with a sense of justice to see how this episode adds up for JGR unless they clearly failed to follow any appropriate due diligence expected of race teams preparing for their race.

The consequences of the Joe Gibbs penalties surely send chilling shockwaves through the garage area as only three competitive teams run their own engine programs: Hendricks, Roush, and Childress.  Hendricks supplies Stewart-Haas and Earnhardt/Ganassi; Roush supplies all Ford teams; Childress also supplies Furniture Row racing. Imagine this, suppose Penske’s car were in the championship chase and a similar infraction were noted on his car with an engine from Roush who’d also have a car in the chase. The whole ownership supply system could explode and the scandals would be unimaginable.

Both Penske and Gibbs will appeal their penalties but this puts NASCAR in another touchy situation. Last year in prerace inspection, NASCAR inspectors found the #48 Jimmie Johnson car noncompliant with aerodynamic specifications. The team was sanctioned with similar levies to that of the Penske infraction, crew chief, Chad Knaus would have been suspended for six races. A $100,000 fine was assessed and both driver and owner docked 25 points. Chad Knaus and car chief, Ron Malic, faced substantial probation. The appeal process stretched out until mid-March. The first round of appeal wouldn’t budge – the team remained penalized; however, on the second round of appeal, NASCAR’s chief appellate official, John Middlebrook, revoked the points deductions and suspensions leaving only the fines in place. John Middlebrook is a former General Motors executive contracted by NASCAR for $1.00 a year to serve as its top arbiter.

The buzz a year ago stirred up angry suspicions that it only seemed logical that a former GM officer might play favorites with the manufacturer’s flagship ride. The obvious appearance of possible conflict of interest was hard to ignore.

Suppose this year similar appeals considerations are not granted. The cars involved this year are Penske Fords, Penske who won the Championship last year, and Gibbs Toyotas. What would be the salient factors that would justify a different appeal tact with this year’s infractions particularly those of Joe Gibbs when TRD appears to be the culprit.

The integrity of NASCAR is on the line with how they handle these cases. They can’t issue harsh penalties without the expectation of their charges being just. The drivers and fans cannot accept even the slightest appearance of an arbitrary, vindictive, or partial judgment when infractions are cited. Penske team members didn’t like being in the garage adjacent to the Hendricks stable at Texas and feel they were “ratted” out. That much made the press. Of course would they do the same if the situation were reversed?  The presumption should be one would get caught regardless. The Joe Gibbs situation is far more complicated particularly given the coach’s good reputation. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sprint Cup 2013: Race #7 -- Go for Your Guns in Texas

The Sprint Cup tour is poised for its second race on a 1 ½ track, the kind of track that makes up half of the facilities where teams compete in the Chase for the Championship next fall.  The NRA 500, the season’s 2nd 500 mile race will be the first of two races at Texas Motor Speedway this season. The PC police and gun control freaks are already outraged that NASCAR would dare accept sponsorship from the National Rifle Association, but considering the traditional American character of NASCAR fans, such a sponsorship deal is quite okay with them, thank you.

While the Texas Motor Speedway most closely appears to resemble its sister track, another Bruton Smith investment in Charlotte, history has shown it to have a character all its own. Richard Childress Racing driver, Kevin Harvick, will take the green flag at the rear of the field for having to replace an engine during practice. The starting field is a battle of brothers, with the Busch Brothers, Kyle, 1st and Kurt, 2nd occupying the front row.  The second row also features a related paring with the two Richard Petty Racing cars starting next, Aric Almirola in car #43, 3rd and Marcos Ambrose in car #9, in 4th. For good measure, we’ll take the theme into the 3rd row with two Juniors checking in next. Martin Truex, Jr. starts the #55 Toyota 5th while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. posts a 6th starting spot in the #88 Chevrolet. Okay, the match maker was working overtime for the 4th row with two more Hendricks cars, lining up three in order with Jimmie Johnson in the #48 Chevrolet and Jeff Gordon in the #24 Chevrolet taking spots #7 and #8. This gives the gimmick crazed media something to talk about tomorrow. But equally noteworthy is that the Joe Gibbs team is shut out of the top 10 and only Carl Edwards in 9th gives the Roush Boys a top 10 starting spot.

We’re pleased to note that so far this year, the number of “start and park” entries has decreased substantially but clearly it’s time for Phil Parsons to get his trash off the track as clearly his team has no intention to compete nor attempt to build for a more glorious future. As a former series driver, it’s especially irksome that a former competitor would embarrass the sport accordingly.

1 18 Kyle Busch Toyota Interstate Batteries  196.299
2 78 Kurt Busch (PC4) Chevrolet Furniture Row Racing / Serta  195.688
3 43 Aric Almirola Ford Eckrich  195.009
4 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford DeWalt  194.946
5 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts  194.770
6 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet National Guard  194.532
7 48 Jimmie Johnson (PC3) Chevrolet Lowe's Dover White  194.503
8 24 Jeff Gordon (PC6) Chevrolet Cromax Pro  194.168
9 99 Carl Edwards Ford Fastenal  194.147
10 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet Target / Kellogg's  194.007
11 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet Bell Helicopter  193.819
12 51 Austin Dillon (i) Chevrolet Bruce Lowrie  / Realtree  193.764
13 14 Tony Stewart (PC2) Chevrolet Mobil 1 / Bass Pro Shops  193.632
14 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Time Warner Cable  193.451
15 11 Brian Vickers (i) Toyota FedEx Office / March of Dimes  193.444
16 2 Brad Keselowski (PC1) Ford Miller Lite  193.431
17 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. # Ford Best Buy  193.195
18 22 Joey Logano Ford Shell Pennzoil  192.885
19 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Quaker State / Menards  192.781
20 20 Matt Kenseth (PC5) Toyota Dollar General  192.761
21 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar  192.761
22 21 Trevor Bayne  Ford Motorcraft/QuickLaneTire&AutoCenter  192.754
23 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine  192.644
24 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO  192.596
25 34 David Ragan Ford Love's Travel Stops  192.555
26 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota Gander Mountain  192.267
27 38 David Gilliland Ford EZ Pawn / EZ Money  192.102
28 7 Dave Blaney Chevrolet SANY  191.891
29 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Rheem  191.734
30 47 Bobby Labonte (PC7) Toyota Bush's Beans  191.571
31 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Quicken Loans  191.557
32 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Dr Pepper  191.279
33 30 David Stremme Toyota Lean 1 / Swan Energy  191.144
34 19 Mike Bliss Toyota Plinker Tactical / MCM Elegante  190.927
35 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M  190.921
36 36 J.J. Yeley Chevrolet Accell Construction  190.705
37 98 Michael McDowell Ford Phil Parsons Racing  190.698
38 83 David Reutimann Toyota Dr Pepper  190.020
39 33 Landon Cassill Chevrolet Little Joe's Autos / Precon Marine  189.361
40 35 Josh Wise  Ford MDS Transport  189.129
41 87 Joe Nemechek  Toyota  188.160
42 10 Danica Patrick # Chevrolet  188.094
43 32 Timmy Hill # Ford OXY water  186.290
95 Scott Speed Ford Tracking Point / B&D Electrical  187.617
44 Scott Riggs Ford JPO Absorbents  186.149

# Indicates candidate for Rookie of the Year
PC indicates "past champion,, digit indicates ranking for "Past Champion Provisional.