Chicagoland Speedway Gets a New Boss

July 20, 2009 by Warren Hayashi  
Filed under Racing

Fans, NASCAR professionals, and even viewers on television might have been surprised by thousands of empty seats being visible in the stands at Chicagoland Speedway last weekend during the NASCAR competitions being held at this facility in Joliet, Ill. This must be a stress filled site for NASCAR officials watching the race and employees of this track on the far outskirts of Chicago. Especially since this track isn’t one of the larger capacity tracks that have been having trouble filling up to capacity, but a moderate facility designed for around 75,000 fans. Craig Rust, the new track president at Chicagoland Speedway has been asking questions and apparently fans have been filling up the email boxes in response and the reasons probably aren’t what NASCAR officials were expecting.

There were over 20,000 empty seats during the LifeLock.com 400

There were over 20,000 empty seats during the LifeLock.com 400

Why are fans deciding to skip NASCAR events like last Saturday’s LifeLock.com 400 Sprint Cup competition and staying home instead? Apparently, since the Chicagoland Speedway opened in 2001 it hasn’t made available for sale any single-day tickets to events such as the LifeLock.om 400. Instead fans have only been able to buy what is called a track pack, which gives them access to the Indy Lights and IndyCar races, as well as the Nationwide Series race, Camping World Truck Series race, and ARCA ReMax event.

This fact combined with the current economic conditions around the world could have a lot to do with the 20,000 seats in the stands last Saturday. They should probably think about going to a season-ticket setup for fanatical fans who want to go to every race or maybe even a seat license might be a good way to go. They could always sell single tickets to individual events and which makes sense considering the economic climate.

In response, Mr. Rust has been talking about making sweeping changes to the way tickets are being sold to race fans who want to attend NASCAR events at Chicagoland Speedway. He hasn’t given any specifics on planned changes, but the buzz is that this guy knows his business, so it’s expected that the fans will be back in the seats shortly.

“Image: Zuma Press”

Joey Logano Wins the Dollar General 300

July 15, 2009 by Warren Hayashi  
Filed under Racing

A critical choice by crew chief Dave Rogers at the right time propelled NASCAR racer Joey Logano to victory Friday night in the Dollar General 300 Nationwide race held at Chicago’s Chicagoland Speedway.  Staying out on the track during the second caution of the Dollar General 300 on Lap 185, Logano was able to pull away from teammate Kyle Busch after the restart on Lap 192 on his old tires and the choice turned out to be the right one. Kyle Busch for his part had taken two fresh tires during the restart and was astonished when Logano was able to pull away on his old rubber, exclaiming over his radio after the restart, “He’s driving away from me!”

Carl Edwards had to settle for sixth in the Dollar General 300 Nationwide Series race

Carl Edwards had to settle for sixth in the Dollar General 300 Nationwide Series race

In fact, Logano was running so good he was able to increase his lead and crossed the finish line almost three seconds ahead of Busch, who always seems disappointed when he doesn’t win. Despite finishing second Kyle Busch increased his lead in the Nationwide Series to 192 points over Carl Edwards, who finished sixth in the Dollar General 300. This win is the third of 2009 for Logano on the Nationwide Series and his first on the 1.5 mile oval of Chicagoland Speedway. Logano’s Toyota was definitely handling a little tighter in the corners than his teammates, which allowed him to come off the corners with more speed and keep it through the stretches.

The day was a troublesome one for JR Motorsports as both Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman ran out of fuel before pitting on Lap 57. Keselowski lost two laps trying to restart his car and ended up finishing 18th after rallying near the end, while Newman lost a lap because of his fuel problems and finished 22nd.

Brian Vickers had a good race and was able to finish third; Jason Leffler tried to rally for fourth but had to settle for fifth, while Kevin Harvick held off a late charging Carl Edwards for fifth. Greg Biffle had a pretty fast car all day but had a few pit problems and settled for seventh, David Reutimann took eighth, Mike Bliss finished ninth, and Justin Allgaier rounded out the top ten.

“Image: Zuma Press”

NASCAR Pulls Into Chicagoland Speedway

July 10, 2009 by Warren Hayashi  
Filed under Racing

The sparks will be flying and the wheels screaming again on Saturday night in Joliet, Illinois as the Sprint Cup Series rolls back to Chicago’s Chicagoland Speedway this week for the running of NASCAR’s LifeLock.com 400. Chicagoland Speedway is a 1.5 mile intermediate oval track that’s similar in requirements and construction to the other tracks of this type in NASCAR, which do make up the majority of the tracks currently used for Sprint Cup Series competitions at present. Chicagoland Speedway does have one twist that the other tracks of this type don’t have, it’s closer to being one continuous circle due to its backstretch, which has a noticeable bend to it, rather than the perfectly straight backstretches of the other 1.5 mile ovals used in the Sprint Cup Series. This fact means that the racers will always be turning the wheel as they go around Chicagoland Speedway and the cars will be setup to provide the racers with greater handling sensitivity as compared to the other 1.5 mile oval tracks.

LifeLock.com 400 this Saturday

LifeLock.com 400 this Saturday

The history of NASCAR at this track isn’t as long and noteworthy as many of the tracks that have been raced on by NASCAR competitors over the years, but the LifeLock.com 400 in years to come should become one of the iconic races in NASCAR. Last year’s race saw Kyle Busch win the pole and lead for 165 of 267 laps in the LifeLock.com 400. This year we might see more of the same, but Kyle has gotten a little smarter lately, and come to realize he doesn’t have to win every lap, just the last one. Expect Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch to once again duel it out Saturday night for the victory in the LifeLock.com 400. Throw in a few wild cards like Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards into the mix and the possibilities for an entertaining race increase geometrically.

Image: Zuma Press

Toyota’s Horsepower Just Got Real Loose in Turn 3

July 25, 2008 by Tim Zaegel  
Filed under Racing

Kyle Busch passes Landon Cassill for the lead at Chicagoland

Before I get into this week’s topic, I would like to point out that Bruce Simmons, who normally joins us here in our weekly “Loose in Turn 3″ segment representing Bruce’s NASCAR Bits ‘n’ Pieces, will to be joining us this week as he is off in San Diego on a separate venture at the moment. He will be returning with us next week, but in his place today is our guest blogger, one of DYN’s very own loyal readers, Rocky Akins. I’d like to give a special thanks to Roc for filling the gaps for us this week, and as a bonus, he even brought in this week’s topic of discussion for us.

Now, onto business. Earlier this week NASCAR announced that they would be implimenting new rules in the Nationwide Series that would restrict the horsepower that the engines can produce by limiting the airflow. The amendment they put in place states, verbatem:

“At all Events, unless otherwise specified, all engines with a cylinder bore spacing less than 4.470 inches must compete using a tapered spacer with four (4) 1.125-inch diameter holes. At all Events, unless otherwise specified, all engines with a cylinder bore spacing of 4.470 inches or more must compete using a tapered spacer with four (4) 1.100-inch diameter holes. Unless otherwise authorized, the carburetor restrictor will be issued by NASCAR.”

The change comes after several months of complaining from teams of other manufacturers, particularly Chevy and Ford, as well as from several conspiracy theorists that watch weekly from the grandstands or from the comfort of their living room. The complaints finally drove NASCAR to conduct two dyno tests on the engines, one following the race at the Milwuakee Mile, and the other after a couple weeks ago at Chicagoland. The Milwuakee tests revealed a significant horsepower advantage for Toyota, but after Chicago, NASCAR tested ten cars - 3 from Toyota, 3 from Chevy, 2 Ford’s, and 2 Dodge’s. David Reutimann’s car topped the testing charts, and Kyle Busch - the eventual race winner - tested second.

Q: NASCAR recently placed restrictions on the engines in the Nationwide Series, limiting the airflow, and therefore putting a restriction on the horesepower. Should we expect to see similar measures be implimented into the Sprint Cup Series, and if so, when?

TZ: I think it all depends on next year, to be honest. If the Toyotas - particularly Kyle Busch - start to run away with things again in 2009, then yeah, I think NASCAR will start considering such moves. But, to be honest, I think their decision for the Nationwide Series was purely a financial one. From everything (credible) that I’ve read, the only true advantage that Toyota has had is that they didn’t have to upgrade their long-term engine packages. They came into stock car racing with an idea of what they wanted to do, and it turned out to be much better than what the other manufacturers were running. Chevy and Ford started making gripes, but in reality, they are fully capable of putting out the same product, but they don’t want to put forth the extra buck for the sake of the NNS. Notice that it’s not Toyota’s running away by a mile in the Cup Series, just Kyle Busch. That tells me that they’ve put forth the effort to upgrade in Cup.

Roc: I agree T.Z. Kyle’s car is wicked fast on all restarts, and he is the guy to beat every week which we’re not really seeing from the other Gibbs cars. Toyota will spend a bunch of money to be at the top, and with all the other corporations really in finacial trouble, I look for nascar to find a way to even out the field in Cup, too. I haven’t seen the rating this year, but as you know I’m pretty die-hard. But, there were a couple races that I just couldn’t watch, having certain cars that dominate every week hurts the sport  a lot more than it helps it so I look at early next year a horsepower change to be in effect.

Charlie:  The Nationwide Series horsepower initiative was put in place  to help save the teams money. Toyota experimented - all on their own by the way - in 2007 with making engines for the Craftsman Truck Series that lasted for more than one race between rebuilds. Johnny Benson actually won races with those motors as I recall. It is not surprising that Toyota has an edge there. In Cup, NASCAR will always play with things to level the field. It might be carburetors or it might be spoilers or splitters. Ido not believe that NASCAR will limit engines in the Cup Series across the board.

the Rest of the Discussion:
Tony Stewart, currently tenth in Sprint Cup points, is 49 markers ahead of 13th place Clint Bowyer. Four drivers, icluding Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne, within 49 points of each other with only three spots up for grabs. Who doesn’t make it to the Chase?

Be sure to visit On Pit Row as the three of us wrap up this week’s conversation by debating amongst ourselves to answer the above question concerning the Chase. And, just because Bruce isn’t with us this week is no reason not to continue giving his site some love, so don’t forget to continue checking out his Bits ‘n’ Pieces to get the latest and greatest on all that is NASCAR. Have a great weekend, everyone!

BallHype: hype it up!

NASCAR Rivals: Kyle Busch Gets Jimmie Johnson on the Restart

July 16, 2008 by Tim Zaegel  
Filed under Racing

Sure, this section is typically reserved for one of the week’s better wrecks, but like him or not, let’s face it - Kyle Busch’s restart to win the Lifelock.com 400 last Saturday was just too good to pass up. After starting from the pole and leading more than 160 laps in the race, Kyle nearly let one get away after getting passed by Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps of the race. But, a blown engine by David Gilliland with just 6 laps to go bunched the field back together and gave Kyle one last crack to pick up the “W”.

Lining up for the final restart for a two-lap shootout to the checkers with Kevin Harvick behind him and Johnson out in front, Busch timed the restart perfectly and was able to get side-by-side with Johnson going through the first set of the tri-ovals before ultimately making the pass and picking up his seventh Sprint Cup win of the 2008 season.

Let’s take you back with some video footage of that remarkable move that Kyle Busch put on Johnson to get the win:

BallHype: hype it up!

Rating the Race: Chicago - Lifelock.com 400

July 13, 2008 by Tim Zaegel  
Filed under Racing

LifeLock.com 400
Image details: LifeLock.com 400 served by picapp.com

Kyle Busch continued his dominating run over the Sprint Cup Series Saturday night as he picked up his series-leading 7th win of the season by taking the checkers in the Lifelock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL. After rain cancelled Friday’s qualifying session, Busch was awarded the pole position due to leading the championship points standings, and that proved to be invaluable as he led the first 44 laps of the race en route to setting a new track record by leading a total of 165 laps, erasing the previous record set by Tony Stewart.

After a competition caution on lap 35 brought the field together, Carl Edwards passed Busch for the lead on lap 45, but then surrendered the lead just a few laps later when Denny Hamlin brought out the caution as he fell off the pace due to issues with his ignition box. While Edwards and most of the other race leaders came into pit, five cars remained out on the track, including Jeff Gordon who was then scored as the race leader, and also Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, and Ryan Newman who were able to use the track position to their advantage for the rest of the evening. Biffle took the lead from Gordon on lap 57 and held onto until the five cars that stayed out had to pit around lap 92, at which time Tony Stewart became the new race leader.

The rest of the field started cycling through their green flag stops around lap 100, and many cars had costly stops, including Kurt Busch who was penalized for too fast entering pit road, and Travis Kvapil who was penalized for hitting the commitment cone as he entered pit road. Both drivers were forced to make pass-through penalties, and both found themselves a lap down following the incidents.

Greg Biffle re-assumed command of the race after the pit stops finally cycled their way through, but a caution on lap 112 involving Patrick Carpentier, Michael Waltrip, and Jeff Burton erased the lead. Seeing the strategy that some of the other drivers used earlier in the race, four more drivers stayed out on the track, and Matt Kenseth led the race for the first time. Kyle Busch, David Ragan, and AJ Allmendinger also stayed out.

Kurt Busch was able to drive his way ahead of the leaders on the restart to get back onto the lead lap, and then some of the best racing of the evening came when Kenseth and Kyle Busch raced each other side-by-side for several laps until Kenseth finally gave way on lap 120, and then was forced to pit four laps later when he had a tire going down. The pit stop put Matt a lap down to the race leaders, but he later gained that back when a caution came out on lap 177 for debris and he was awarded the lucky dog.

Carl Edwards made his way back to the front when he passed Kyle Busch for the lead on lap 203, but the troubles continued for the Roush-Fenway Racing bunch when he pitted on lap 208. He had originally thought that he also had a tire going down, but it was later determined that he had broken a splitter, causing the handling on his car to go away. He was able to get back out on the track, though he was stuck a lap down and was never able to recover. About the same time, Kurt Busch watched all the progress he’d made in recovering from the earlier penalty on pit road go away as his car dropped a cylinder, sending him all the way back to the tail end of the lead lap.

Kyle Busch re-assumed the lead after the Edwards pit stop, and remained up front until Jimmie Johnson challenged him for the lead with just 17 laps to go. Johnson won the battle and appeared to be poised for his second win of the season as he pulled away from the field until David Gilliland’s engine blew up 11 laps later, bringing out the ninth and final caution of the day, and also setting the field up for a 2-lap shootout.

Johnson had already proven that he had the most dominant car of all those in position for the win, so Kyle Busch knew that the only way to get to him was to get him on the restart, and that’s exactly what he did. He timed the restart perfectly as he clung to Johnson’s rear bumper and was able to pull up next to him going through turns 1 and 2. He made the pass on the no. 48 car on the high side and then pulled down in front of him.

Johnson hung with him, though, as Kyle took the white flag with Kevin Harvick also hanging tough in third right behind Johnson. He made one last attempt to pass Kyle going through the final turns, but Johnson overdrove the corner and got loose, securing the win for the no. 18 team. Johnson went onto finish 2nd, and Harvick wound up 3rd.

Greg Biffle’s race strategy paid off as he finished in 4th, and after a long week in the spotlight, Tony Stewart came home in 5th. The no. 83 Red Bull Racing team of Brian Vickers also used some strategy in the pits, and they were able to walk away with a 6th place finish. Matt Kenseth ran out of time in his charge back up to the front of the field, but still managed to salvage a 7th place effort. David Ragan finished in 8th. Martin Truex Jr. found the good run that he desperately needed and crossed the line in 9th, and Ryan Newman’s strategy paid off as well, as he rounded out the top-ten finishers.

Other Notables:
Jeff Gordon’s bid for a second Chicagoland victory came up short as he finished just outside of the top-ten in 11th ….. Elliott Sadler and AJ Allmendinger both had good runs going, but dropped outside of the top-ten in the closing laps as they wound up in 12th and 13th ….. Kasey Kahne recorded the best Chicagoland finish in his career as he finished 15th ….. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a disappointing run. After starting the race in 2nd, he wound up 16th ….. Kurt Busch wound up 28th, and Carl Edwards was 30th.

For Kyle Busch, this was his third win in the last four races, being trumped only by older brother Kurt’s win at New Hampshire. It was also his seventh Sprint Cup victory of the season, which will equate to 35 bonus points when the series enters the Chase for the Cup in October. He has now also opened up an astounding 262 point lead in the standings over second place Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The top six spots in the standings remained unchanged, but there was quite a bit of shakeup in the bottom half of the top-12. Greg Biffle moved up four spots to 7th, and his Roush teammate, Matt Kenseth, also continues to gain ground as he moved up a spot to 8th. Kevin Harvick made his way back inside the Chase field, as he moved from 13th to 9th, and Tony Stewart is a little more comfortable now in 10th. Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin are now on the bubble in 11th and 12th, and Clint Bowyer has dropped outside of the top-12 as he now sits 27 points out in 13th.

Grades:
the Race: 85%
the Drama: 93%
Coverage: 86%
Pre-Race: 95%

Overall Grade: 87.8%

Complete Results (from nascar.com):

FIN ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 1 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M’s 195/10 267 Running
2 5 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe’s 175/5 267 Running
3 13 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Shell / Pennzoil 165/0 267 Running
4 11 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M 165/5 267 Running
5 12 20 Tony Stewart Toyota The Home Depot 160/5 267 Running
6 15 83 Brian Vickers Toyota Red Bull 155/5 267 Running
7 9 17 Matt Kenseth Ford USG Sheetrock 151/5 267 Running
8 14 6 David Ragan Ford AAA Insurance 142/0 267 Running
9 19 1 Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Cub Cadet 143/5 267 Running
10 17 12 Ryan Newman Dodge Kodak / The Mummy 134/0 267 Running
11 6 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Nicorette / DuPont 135/5 267 Running
12 26 19 Elliott Sadler Dodge Best Buy / Garmin 127/0 267 Running
13 39 84 A.J. Allmendinger Toyota Red Bull 124/0 267 Running
14 29 44 David Reutimann Toyota UPS 121/0 267 Running
15 8 9 Kasey Kahne Dodge Budweiser 118/0 267 Running
16 2 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet AMP Energy / National Guard 115/0 267 Running
17 16 8 Mark Martin Chevrolet U.S. Army 112/0 267 Running
18 22 42 Juan Montoya Dodge Juicy Fruit Slim Pack 109/0 267 Running
19 3 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet AT&T Mobility 106/0 267 Running
20 38 66 Scott Riggs Chevrolet Haas Automation 103/0 267 Running
21 24 26 Jamie McMurray Ford Crown Royal 100/0 267 Running
22 10 07 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet Jack Daniel’s 97/0 267 Running
23 30 22 Dave Blaney Toyota Caterpillar 94/0 267 Running
24 40 96 J.J. Yeley Toyota DLP HDTV 91/0 267 Running
25 31 7 Robby Gordon Dodge Jim Beam / Sa
veOurName.com
88/0 267 Running
26 27 15 Paul Menard Chevrolet Quaker State / Menards 85/0 267 Running
27 43 70 Jason Leffler Chevrolet Haas Automation 82/0 267 Running
28 18 2 Kurt Busch Dodge Miller Lite 84/5 267 Running
29 20 43 Bobby Labonte Dodge Cheerios Betty Crocker / Richard Petty’s 50th 76/0 267 Running
30 42 10 Patrick Carpentier * Dodge LifeLock 73/0 265 Running
31 32 41 Reed Sorenson Dodge Target / Maxwell House 70/0 265 Running
32 4 99 Carl Edwards Ford Office Depot “Taking Care of Business” 72/5 265 Running
33 25 5 Casey Mears Chevrolet CARQUEST / Kellogg’s 64/0 265 Running
34 33 01 Regan Smith * Chevrolet DEI / Principal Financial Group 61/0 265 Running
35 37 21 Bill Elliott Ford U.S. Air Force 58/0 265 Running
36 28 55 Michael Waltrip Toyota NAPA AUTO PARTS 55/0 264 Running
37 35 77 Sam Hornish Jr. * Dodge Mobil 1 52/0 263 Running
38 36 45 Terry Labonte Dodge Marathon American Spirit / Richard Petty’s 50th 49/0 263 Running
39 41 78 Joe Nemechek Chevrolet Furniture Row Racing 46/0 263 Running
40 7 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express 43/0 262 Running
41 21 28 Travis Kvapil Ford FreeCreditRep
ort.com
40/0 260 Running
42 23 38 David Gilliland Ford FreeCreditRep
ort.com
37/0 259 In Pit
43 34 00 Michael McDowell * Toyota Champion Mortgage 34/0 258 Running

Sprint Cup Series Standings (from nascar.com):

RANK +/- DRIVER POINTS BEHIND STARTS POLES WINS TOP 5 TOP 10
1 Kyle Busch 2881 Leader 19 2 7 12 13
2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2619 -262 19 1 1 7 12
3 Jeff Burton 2590 -291 19 0 1 4 10
4 Carl Edwards 2509 -372 19 0 3 7 13
5 Jimmie Johnson 2494 -387 19 1 1 5 9
6 Jeff Gordon 2384 -497 19 2 0 7 8
7 +4 Greg Biffle 2318 -563 19 2 0 6 8
8 +1 Matt Kenseth 2317 -564 19 0 0 4 12
9 +4 Kevin Harvick 2308 -573 19 0 0 3 6
10 +2 Tony Stewart 2305 -576 19 0 0 6 9
11 -3 Kasey Kahne 2295 -586 19 2 2 3 9
12 -5 Denny Hamlin 2283 -598 19 1 1 5 9
13 -3 Clint Bowyer 2256 -625 19 0 1 4 9
14 +1 Brian Vickers 2188 -693 19 0 0 3 5
15 -1 David Ragan 2185 -696 19 0 0 3 6
16 Ryan Newman 2094 -787 19 1 1 2 7
17 +1 Martin Truex Jr. 2050 -831 19 0 0 2 6
18 -1 Kurt Busch 2038 -843 19 0 1 3 4
19 Bobby Labonte 1905 -976 19 0 0 0 1
20 +1 Juan Montoya 1863 -1018 19 0 0 1 2
21 -1 Travis Kvapil 1841 -1040 19 0 0 0 3
22 +1 Jamie McMurray 1823 -1058 19 0 0 0 3
23 +2 Elliott Sadler 1794 -1087 19 0 0 1 4
24 Casey Mears 1782 -1099 19 0 0 1 4
25 -3 David Gilliland 1772 -1109 19 0 0 1 2
26 Paul Menard 1727 -1154 19 1 0 0 0
27 David Reutimann 1717 -1164 19 0 0 0 1
28 Mark Martin 1683 -1198 14 0 0 2 6
29 +1 Robby Gordon 1572 -1309 19 0 0 0 2
30 -1 Michael Waltrip 1563 -1318 19 0 0 1 1
31 Dave Blaney 1563 -1318 18 0 0 0 2
32 Reed Sorenson 1496 -1385 18 0 0 1 2
33 Sam Hornish Jr.* 1422 -1459 19 0 0 0 0
34 Regan Smith* 1421 -1460 18 0 0 0 0
35 Scott Riggs 1314 -1567 17 0 0 0 0
36 +2 J.J. Yeley 1138 -1743 15 0 0 1 1
37 Patrick Carpentier* 1121 -1760 16 1 0 0 0
38 -2 Joe Nemechek 1107 -1774 16 1 0 0 0
39 Michael McDowell* 955 -1926 14 0 0 0 0
40 A.J. Allmendinger 851 -2030 11 0 0 0 0

Recommended Reads:
- Live on Type Delay: Chicago (RevJim’s Rants ‘n’ Raves)
- Race Wrapup: Lifelock.com 400 at Chicago (Restrictor Plate This)

BallHype: hype it up!

Fantasy Follow-Up: Chicago

July 13, 2008 by Tim Zaegel  
Filed under Racing

TZ’s Picks (Chicago):
1. Matt Kenseth - 7th - 40 points
2. Jimmie Johnson - 2nd - 42 points
3. Kyle Busch - 1st - 42 points
4. Kevin Harvick - 3rd - 40.5 points
5. Tony Stewart - 5th - 39 points
6. Kurt Busch - 28th - No points

Lock of the Week - Tony Stewart - Top Five - 10 points
Sleeper Pick - Travis Kvapil - Outside Top Fifteen - No points
Steer Clear of - Martin Truex Jr. - Top Ten - (Minus) 15 points

Roc’s Picks (Chicago):
1. Kevin Harvick - 3rd - 42 points
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - 16th - No points
3. Matt Kenseth - 7th - 39 points
4. Tony Stewart - 5th - 39.5 points
5. Clint Bowyer - 22nd - No points
6. Jimmie Johnson - 2nd - 40 points

Lock of the Week - Matt Kenseth - Top Ten - 7 points
Sleeper Pick - Mark Martin - Outside Top Fifteen - No Points
Steer Clear of - Kasey Kahne - Top Fifteen - (Minus) 10 points

Head-to-Head:
TZ - 198.5 points (3,175.5 cumulative)
Roc - 157.5 points (3,067 cumulative)

Do You NASCAR Fantasy League
Standings After Chicago:
1. Dalli’s Mom
2. TMAX Racing
3. Super Smokers
4. Team Legacy
5. Bruce’s Team of Bits
6. raracing
7. AlexRyan
8. Jimmie’s Rockets
9. Vanilla Thrillaz
10. Do You NASCAR

*It looks like the bottom four teams either forgot to set their rosters for this week’s race, or signed up for the league too late, so I just wanted to remind you all that this won’t necessarily put you too far behind as your bottom three weekly scores will drop from your points throughout the segment.

BallHype: hype it up!

Who’s Going to Fill the #20 Seat at Joe Gibbs Racing?

July 11, 2008 by Tim Zaegel  
Filed under Racing

The Meijer 300
Image details: The Meijer 300 served by picapp.com

Good morning, everyone. It’s another Friday here in mid-July, and it’s a hot one out there ….. which is rather fitting, because that’s the only way to describe the NASCAR scene as of late! I welcome you to another edition of our overly-glorified “Loose in Turn Three” segment. Of course you all know me, and with me as usual are my fellow NASCAR Bloggers, Bruce Simmons and Charlie Turner.

Just as we do every week, we have a trio of topics that the three of us are going to be discussing, but before we jump right into that, let’s start with some background on this week’s featured stories just to make sure that we’re all caught up. Over the last two weeks we’ve seen things already begin to shape up for one helluva 2009 season as the two biggest announcements for NASCAR’s Silly Season have taken place within that timeframe.

Last week in Daytona, Mark Martin was announced as the driver-to-be for the #5 car over at Hendrick Motorsports, which at the time was the easily the most coveted available ride on the market, and knocked down what we thought could be the biggest “domino.” Tony Stewart apparently must have had an Ace up his sleeve, though, and decided to trump that announcement with one of his own, as he announced yesterday in Chicago that Joe Gibbs Racing has granted him his release from the organization prior to the expiration of his current contract. Stewart will depart the no. 20 ride to head over to Haas CNC Racing, which will be renamed to Stewart Haas Racing next season with Stewart as a 50% owner of the company.

Stewart’s announcement now sort of realligns the “dominoes,” and sets the no. 20 car atop the pedestal as the best available car on the market, and makes Ryan Newman the marquee name that could be entering free agency this offseason. Whatever Joe Gibbs Racing and Ryan Newman decide to do from here could have a major impact on the rest of the garage area next year. If Newman winds up in the no. 20 car, then that would keep young Joey Logano out of a full-time Cup ride for at least another season. If Newman joins Stewart over at Stewart Haas Racing, then the no. 12 car at Penske Racing becomes available. If he stays at Penske, then the second Stewart Haas seat will remain open.

There are still a lot of drivers out there waiting to see what these guys intend to do. Their actions will play a factor to who Casey Mears is driving for next year, and could determine if guys like David Stremme or Scott Riggs have a job in the Cup Series at all. That said, let’s take a look and see what exactly Joe Gibbs Racing should do from here.

Q: With Tony Stewart’s departure from Joe Gibbs Racing, who should they look to fill the #20 seat?

TZ: Of course, the obvious answer is Joey Logano, which is what would most likely happen, but I don’t think that’s the best course of action for them to at least pursue. Imagine this … give Logano a full season racing the Nationwide Series in 2009, and field a fourth team car to get him in a few Cup races late in the year. Instead of rushing him into the #20 seat, take advantage of the driver market while it’s worthwhile. Put a damper on all of the Stewart / Newman to Haas CNC talks, and go after Newman. Ryan’s got nothing to gain at Haas CNC in terms of ownership, so why wouldn’t he want to consider driving one of the most marketable cars in NASCAR? A 2010 lineup of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman would make it a lot easier for that organization to handle losing Smoke.

Bruce:  You already put out the good answer with Joey Logano filling the seat, and my Ryan Newman fan mode likes the idea of him moving to Gibbs rather than Logano filling the seat right away.  But the chemistry of driver and crew chief:  That’s out next concern!

The other aspect to ponder is with the economy in the down slide that it’s in, is fielding a fourth car going to be worth it for Gibbs?  Food for thought.

Charlie:  Joey Logano has been doing most of the CoT testing for Joe Gibbs Racing this year. He won’t be any younger than Kyle Busch was when he started with Hendrick Motorsports. That #20, Home Depot Chevy with Stewart at the wheel was one of NASCAR’s most recognizable brands. That’s gone after 2008. Might as well start building the new #20 right off the bat.

Now, Ryan Newman moving over to Joe Gibbs Racing next season is certainly a possibility - and, probably a dream come true for most Flyin’ Ryan fans - but, the consistent rumors floating around right now would put Newman driving the car opposite of Smoke over at Stewart Haas Racing.

Newman was tearin’ up the track his first couple of seasons in the Sprint Cup Series, but ever since Matt Borland departed as Newman’s crew chief, the road’s been a little rocky for the no. 12 team. He’s shown signs of life this year - particularly with his win at the season opening Daytona 500, but the team has had their struggles as well, and Newman now currently sits outside the top-15 in points with just 8 races remaining until the cutoff for the Chase. Read more on this over at Bruce’s NASCAR Bits ‘n’ Pieces as we answer the question of:

With the rumors of Ryan Newman signing on with Tony Stewart under Haas-CNC, and Jack Daniels as his sponsor, do you think his on-track performance will improve?

Moving down to the Nationwide Series for a moment, rumors have begun to circulate that the Navy may be pulling out of their sponsorship program there with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and JR Motorsports. The organization picked up their first two wins earlier this season with both Mark Martin and Brad Keselowski pulling into Victory Lane, but with a lack of backing from the Navy, this could potentially jeopardize the operation as it stands now.

There was some talk earlier in the season as to whether or not Earnhardt would be looking to promote JR Motorsports up to the Sprint Cup level as early as next season, and then most recently there has been rumors (though they’ve already been denied) that DEI could be looking to sell or maybe even grab hold of some financial backing. Head over to On Pit Row to read the rest on this one as we answer the following question:

It has been reported that Dale Earnhardt Jr’s JR Motorsports has lost the Navy sponsorship for the #88 Nationwide Series car for 2009. If you’re Jr, now what?

BallHype: hype it up!

Stewart Haas Racing Becomes Official

July 10, 2008 by Tim Zaegel  
Filed under Racing

LifeLock.com 400 Practice
Image details: LifeLock.com 400 Practice served by picapp.com

It was the hardest easy decision in Tony Stewart’s career, but the two-time Sprint Cup Series champion addressed the media today at Chicago, and just as expected, announced his departure from Joe Gibbs Racing a year premature, and that his newest venture will be as a 50% owner of Stewart Haas Racing, currently competing as Haas CNC Racing.

Stewart took the time on Wednesday afternoon to address his friends and co-workers at Joe Gibbs Racing, and explain to them why he was leaving. He said that by the time he was done speaking, everyone at the company offered their applause and congratulatory remarks, and that he’d gotten the best night’s sleep that he’d had in a long time.

Tony has spent his entire NASCAR career driving for Joe Gibbs Racing and has had Crew Chief, Greg Zipadelli, in his corner every step of the way, but the offer that Gene Haas made to him at the end of last season was too enticing for him to pass up. As previously stated, without putting any capital on the line out of his own pocket, Stewart will assume 50% control of the company, and beginning next year, the organization will begin racing under the banner of Stewart Haas Racing. The moved also will reunite Stewart with General Motors, whom he had a long-standing relationship with prior to making the move to Toyota in 2008.

In respect to car numbers, sponsors, and a second driver, Stewart said it’s all still a work in progress, and general manager, Joe Custer, backed him by stating, “We’ll take his lead on personnel matters.”

The team is rumored to have already come to terms with Office Depot to be the primary sponsor of Stewart’s car next season, and Old Spice and Jack Daniels are reported to be in negotiations as well. As for the second driver, popular opinion is that Ryan Newman holds all the cards right now on that deal as he is in the final year of his contract with Penske Racing, but Casey Mears, Martin Truex Jr, or even Scott Riggs could wind up in that car just as easily. It has been confirmed, however, that the team will continue to receive their engines, chassis, and technical support from Hendrick Motorsports.

“We had always thought I would start and finish my career at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Stewart said. “But, this is where I’ll be next year, and hopefully for the rest of my life in NASCAR racing.”

In response to what he expected from the move, Tony responded, “I really feel like when you look at this program, we have support with Hendrick engines, chassis, and technical support. I feel like we have the variables in place to go out and be competitive right away. At the same time, we know it’s going to be a rebuilding and adjustment period. How long will that adjustment process take? We don’t know.”

Recommended Reads:
- The Berthing of Stewart Haas Racing (Full Throttle)
- It Will Be Stewart Haas Racing in 2009 (RevJim’s Rants ‘n’ Raves)

BallHype: hype it up!

Race Preview for the Lifelock.com 400 at Chicago

July 10, 2008 by Tim Zaegel  
Filed under Racing

USG Sheetrock 400
Image details: USG Sheetrock 400 served by picapp.com

NASCAR will return to Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL this weekend. Saturday night’s race will mark the eighth trip to Chicagoland for the Sprint Cup Series, and the first NASCAR event there run under the lights. The 1.5 mile tri-oval track has produced only two repeat winner to-date (Kevin Harvick & Tony Stewart), and no driver has ever won the pole here twice. With the points shakeup that occurred as a result of the mele’ at Daytona last week, all eyes are certain to be focused on the Midwest this week with only 8 races remaining until the official cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins.

Recent Winners:
2007 - Tony Stewart
2006 - Jeff Gordon
2005 - Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Recent Polesitters:
2007 - Casey Mears
2006 - Jeff Burton
2005 - Jimmie Johnson

the Usual Suspects:
You can’t visit Chicago without Kevin Harvick ranking amongst your favorites to win the race. Despite some lackluster performances as of late, the no. 29 team showed some positive signs of life at the last three weeks at Infineon, New Hampshire, and Daytona, but consistently managed to find themselves the victim of poor circumstances. Now, Harvick will be looking to get back into Chase contention, and Chicago’s certainly a place he can do it. He’s one of only two 2-time winners here in the Cup Series, and his 8.0 average finish at Chicago ranks best amongst all active drivers.

Tony Stewart’s wins at Chicago in 2007 and 2004 qualify him as the only other repeat winner at Chicago, he’s got the third best driver rating here, and his 5 top-five finishes at the track are tops in the Sprint Cup Series. He’s experienced some extremely bizarre luck this year and has yet to record a victory in 2008 despite being amongst the frontrunners on several occassions, but many people feel that with Smoke finally putting an end to all of the contract speculation, a clear head might be able to finally translate into some marks in the “W” column for the no. 20 team.

Jimmie Johnson recorded five consecutive finishes of 6th or better before finishing 37th here last season, which included a 2nd place finish back in 2004. Johnson’s average finish of 9.2 is second best in the series ….. Matt Kenseth holds the best driver rating at Chicago over the past 3 races, and has been one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR over the past two months as he’s worked himself all the way up to 9th in the points standings. Matt has not yet recorded a win here, but he does have a pair of runner-up finishes in 2005 and 2007 ….. Kurt Busch has never recorded a top-five finish at Chicago, but he does have 5 top-ten’s and holds the best average Chicago finish over the past three races, recording finishes of 8th, 8th, and 6th in that span ….. Jeff Gordon won the 2006 race held here, and has also recorded a total of 4 top-five’s and 5 top-ten’s at Chicago.

the Unusual Suspects:
Running only one race a year here can make it tough to use history as a reference when looking for your sleeper picks this week, but Reed Sorenson should be considered a leading candidate for this position. He’s finished 7th and 12th in his only two visits to the track, and ranks 8th in the series for average driver ratings ….. Sorenson’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, Juan Pablo Montoya, has typically been able to improve - or, at least match - his finishes from his rookie season in 2007. Last year he finished 15th at Chicago, so all indicators are that he should be a solid pick this weekend ….. On the heels of the huge announcement that Tony Stewart will join Haas CNC Racing next year, Scott Riggs has two things in mind: 1) Get his team back inside the top-35 in owner points, and 2) Petition for a ride next season. He finished 15th the last time he raced at Chicago, back in 2006.

the Unusual Slackers:
Kasey Kahne has been one of the better drivers in the series since the middle of May, but Chicagoland Speedway has not had a history of playing nice with the no. 9 team. Kahne has never recorded a top-20 finish at the track, and his average finish of 33.0 is the worst amongst all active drivers with four or more starts at Chicago ….. Martin Truex Jr. is in desparate need of a good finish after a 150 point penalty following Daytona has turned a disappointing season into an even worse one, but he’ll have his work cut out for him as he’s finished 16th and 39th in his only two starts here and will be driving without crew chief Kevin Manion in his corner ….. Denny Hamlin has had some disappointing finishes at some of his better tracks over the last month or so, but this weekend he’ll need to reverse that luck with a good finish at Chicago, where his only two starts have resulted in 14th and 17th place finishes.

Best Driver Ratings (from racingone.com):
1. Matt Kenseth - 126.2
2. Kevin Harvick - 114.6
3. Tony Stewart - 112.2
4. Jimmie Johnson - 107.2
5. Kyle Busch - 105.0

Best Average Finish (from racingone.com):
1. Kevin Harvick - 8.0
2. Jimmie Johnson - 9.2
3. Reed Sorenson - 9.5
4. Clint Bowyer - 9.5
5. Kyle Busch - 10.0

Chicago Facts:
- Kevin Harvick has the slowest race record to-date at 121.200 mph in the inaugural race back in 2001. He also holds the race speed record, clocked the following year, at 136.832 mph.
- No driver has ever won the pole award at Chicago more than once.
- All seven Chicagoland races have recorded between 7 to 10 cautions during the race.
- Chevrolet has won 6 of the 7 Sprint Cup races at Chicago.
- No driver has ever won the race from a top-five starting position, and only two have won from the top-ten.
- 17 drivers in the field have competed in all seven Cup races at Chicago.
- Three drivers have finished runner-up at Chicago that have not won at the track: Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth.

Storylines for the Weekend:
- Tony Stewart has announced his departure from Joe Gibbs Racing at the completion of 2008, as he will move to Haas CNC Racing as a driver and a 50% owner. The new company will be renamed Stewart Haas Racing, and the team will continue to receive their engines and chassis from Hendrick Motorsports.
- Martin Truex Jr. was docked 150 points for his car failing to meet NASCAR’s roof template prior to last weekend’s race at Daytona. The penalty drops Truex from 14th all the way down to 18th in the standings, and crew chief, Kevin Manion, has been suspended for six races.

Six-Pack Challenge:
Winner - Matt Kenseth
2nd Place - Jimmie Johnson
3rd Place - Kyle Busch
4th Place - Kevin Harvick
5th Place - Tony Stewart
6th Place - Kurt Busch

Lock of the Week - Tony Stewart
Sleeper Pick - Travis Kvapil
Steer Clear of - Martin Truex Jr.

Video footage of Tony Stewart’s win at the 2007 USG Sheetrock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway:

BallHype: hype it up!

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