Vickers Pilots the Dream Machine to Victory at Loudon

Brian Vickers, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

 

7/14/2013

By: Billy Tewes

A big day for Brian Vickers and the dream machine, as he breaks through to victory lane at the Camping World RV 301. Vickers survived a green white checkered and a three wide threat from Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch to snap a 75 race winless streak. Vickers pounded hard out of turn two to get around Stewart. Vickers led 16 laps and like Stewart was also very close on fuel as he ran out doing celebratory burnouts! This race is Vickers third career win and first with Michael Waltrip Racing!

The race day at the New Hampshire International Speedway began with the #22 of Joey Logano sailing off into turn one on lap 4 and pounding the wall. His day was effectively ruined and would eventually finish 40th. The mayhem would continue just ten laps later where Marcos Ambrose and Kevin Harvick were racing hard for position. Harvick was upset with Ambrose and simply dumped him to which he claimed he “just got into him” and that he (Ambrose) is a hazard every week.

The carnage carried on at lap 225 when Kurt Busch dove into turn one and slid up in front of Matt Kenseth. It appeared as if Busch was racing like it was the last lap because he had nowhere to go. Kenseth bumped into Busch and sent Busch sailing into Ryan Newman. Newman would end up finishing 39th and Busch would get back out on track but would finish 31st.

Kenseth would come to pit road multiple times for four tire stops and valiantly tried to race his way back to the top 10. Amazingly, Kenseth finished 9th after racing from the back half of the top 20 multiple times due to the four tire pitstops. Kenseth led the race at one point and looked poised to be in position to get his fifth win, but due to the aforementioned tangle with Busch and Newman, Kenseth will be happy to salvage a top 10.

Tony Stewart and team made a track position decision to make their final stop with 98 to go and it came up short due to the green white checkered. Stewart ran out of fuel while contending for the win at the gwc and ended up finishing 26th. He will take a huge hit in the points. Their team really ran the risk and I think he should have pitted in sequence with the rest of the field. They were too focused on the win and this race might end up crushing their chances at a chase berth.

Teams that did not suffer from strategy mishaps were the teams of Jeff Burton and Aric Almirola. Burton earned his first top 5 since Richmond earlier this year winding up 3rd and Almirola proved that he could hold his own in the top 5 by finishing 5th. Points leader Jimmie Johnson wrapped up a controversial weekend by finishing 6th after having to start the race in the 43rd position due to being penalized in qualifying.

Vickers win proves that Michael Waltrip racing is catching on with some of the bigger teams in Sprint Cup. MWR has two wins this year and is quietly becoming a threat for contending for a title. I hope that Vickers gets a full time ride in the 55 as I think he will be the most consistent chance at putting this car in victory lane multiple times next year.

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Ratcliff’s Gamble pays off as Kenseth a winner at Kentucky

Matt Kenseth

 

6/30/2013

By: Billy Tewes

Matt Kenseth flexed his muscles late and Jason Ratcliff put him into position late to win the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky. The final pit stop which came out for Brian Vickers’ flat tire with 26 to go, put Kenseth in the lead as Ratcliff called for no tires while everyone else took two. On the final restart Johnson got loose entering turn one and spun out. Kenseth held off a late charge by Jamie McMurray who seemingly came out of nowhere to challenge Kenseth. Had he not been slightly held up by Clint Bowyer, he may have passed Kenseth for the win!

This race was supposed to take place last night, but was rained out for Sunday morning which may make it one of the only Kentucky races to ever be ran during the day as opposed to night. Kenseth got his first Kentucky win in three tries and this win marks the fourth win on the 2013 season. Huge championship implications as Kenseth is going to try to win as many races as he possibly can to separate himself from the rest of the field come chase time.

Kenseth stated in victory lane that he thought Ratcliff was “slightly crazy” for making the call. I have been very critical of Jason Ratcliff this season as I think he has cost Kenseth a win at Lowes and a few top 10s due to poor strategy call. But when I heard Ratcliff was going to put Kenseth in clean air, I knew he made the right call. Clean air is king with this gen 6 car and the gamble paid off.

Race dominator Jimmie Johnson ended up finishing 9th after spinning himself out. Johnson complained about Kenseth’s restart. Kenseth was slightly slow on the restart; however, he still leads them to the green flag. Johnson has nothing to cry about here as he knows the rules. And like Kyle Petty said in today’s broadcast, “I hate to be a smartaleck, but I’m going to be, let’s just let Jimmie write the restart rules on how to do it because nobody does it right, everybody else does it wrong, he’s the only one who gets it because he’s complained  all year about restarts.” Basically Jimmie, let NASCAR take care of the rules, they’ve been in the business longer and have been pretty fair in governing the sport.

A controversial point in today’s race came when Kurt Busch swept down to the apron to gain momentum on Brad Keselowski and ended up clipping his left rear quarter panel which sent Keselowski down the apron and back up into the track. Keselowski collected Greg Biffle and Dave Blaney in the process. All drivers were ok but Keselowski’s chase hopes took a hit as fell out of the top 10 to 13th.

All of the Cup series excitement heads down to Daytona for the 4th of July weekend Coke Zero 400. The 400 miler is the final wild card before the chase and it will be a game of survival for some of the drivers like Kahne, Gordon, Keselowski and Kurt Busch who are right on the edge of making it in to the chase.

According to driver ratings, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are the most powerful drivers at Daytona. Both were incredibly strong during the 500 this year and if it weren’t for blown motors within a lap of each other, one of them may have very well been in victory lane. Now that the gen 6 car has been to two plate races this year, we’ll be able to see if drivers race a little harder with that gained knowledge.

The Mayhem under the lights at Daytona!

 

Truex Jr Sensational In Napa Valley

Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

 

6/23/2013

By: Billy Tewes

The Toyota SaveMart 350 was conquered by a second consecutive Michael Waltrip Racing driver as Martin Truex Jr won his second career Sprint Cup race in dominating fashion. Truex made it look effortless as he weaved in and out of the eleven turns of Infineon Raceway.

Truex Jr snapped a 218 win-less streak at Sonoma and this should come as no surprise to anyone as he has been successful on road courses before. In the Busch Series (now Nationwide), Truex Jr. won his first career road course race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez course in Mexico City.

This race is extremely important to Truex Jr’s chase chances. He is now sitting in 10th, with an eight point lead over 11th place Paul Menard and this win could play into a potential wild card scenario if Truex is not able to stay in the top 10.

It appeared as if only three or four drivers had a serious handle on their cars all day. Kurt Busch looked poised to win and dominated early until he set himself up to be off pit sequence to try to make it on only two stops. Busch fumbled the race away by speeding on pit road not once, but twice! In a miraculous comeback, Busch would wind up finishing 4th. I’m still convinced that Kurt Busch will be in victory lane this year with the completely underrated Furniture Row race team.

Jeff Gordon’s team made the right adjustments throughout the race and got his car to sail through the turns like a hot knife through butter. But Truex Jr’s car was so good down the stretch that once he pulled away from Juan Pablo Montoya, he was able to take care of his tires and save enough fuel to make it to the end. This was not the case for Montoya as he ran out of fuel, coasting to a disappointing 34th place finish.

Also disappointing were the runs of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers. The only driver that possibly saw some light at the end of the tunnel was Matt Kenseth in the 20. Kenseth stayed upfront for majority of the race except for when most of the field was off pit sequence with the few leaders that stayed out for strategy purposes. Kenseth’s day took a dive when crew chief Jason Ratcliffe decided to keep him out and try to stretch him on fuel. This gave Kenseth track position but put him at an extreme disadvantage as he had to go over 40 laps on a run. Kenseth was able to save enough fuel to finish but slipped from 3rd to 19th where he would finish. It was a rough day for Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin as well as both were involved in accidents and finished

The three drivers I had picked to look out for at Sonoma were Marcos Ambrose, Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers. All three were at one point in the top five but the only one who looked like he could have mounted a serious challenge was Ambrose who finished 7th. I will tip my hat to Vickers though who started 40th due to racing the Nationwide race at Road America and missing qualifying. Vickers raced his way to a 13th place finish.

Nascar will go east to the Kentucky Speedway for some Saturday night action! Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski have won the only two races here and Keselowski could definitely use a win to turnaround his season. It will be interesting to see how important qualifying will be as the two races at Kentucky have been won from the pole and 8th place. Will there be a repeat winner, or will we see a first time winner at Kentucky this weekend? Tune in Saturday night as Kentucky has yet to disappoint!

Start

Stewart Runs Down Montoya To Conquer The Monster

Race winner Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet celebrates
6/2/2013
By: Billy Tewes

Tony Stewart mounted a charge in the closing laps to beat Juan Pablo Montoya and end a 30 race winless streak, by conquering the Monster Mile at Dover. Stewart came out of nowhere after the final caution and ran down Montoya, passing him with three to go to win the FedEx 400.  This win at the Monster Mile is Tony Stewart’s 48th career Sprint Cup victory and first of the 2013 campaign.

The race began with early domination by the Joe Gibbs drivers of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Even Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr appeared incredibly strong early on. Hamlin, Kenseth and Busch led majority of the first 250 laps. Kenseth’s day would be ruined by a blown engine, which has plagued Toyota Racing Development all season. Kenseth was chasing down leader Kyle Busch and came over the radio saying he had blown up. Another Toyota driver, Martin Truex Jr, suffered a similar fate to Kenseth as his day was cut short due to engine failure.

The final caution of the race came out when Denny Hamlin cut a tire and grazed the wall. Juan Pablo Montoya came out of the pits in front of Jimmie Johnson, who looked poised to run away from the field after leading 143 laps prior to the pit stop. Montoya starting first as opposed to second was crucial because coming to the green flag, Johnson jumped Montoya on the restart. Johnson was in front of Montoya in the restart box and was black flagged and called to pit road. Johnson’s had the responsibility of giving back the lead to Montoya and he failed to do so. Johnson would finish 17th a lap down.

Montoya would end up finishing second after valiantly fighting off Stewart up until the final three miles. Montoya was discouraged yet again, as he would lose his second race of the season in the closing laps (Richmond was the other). Stewart’s win marks his third career win at Dover. Today’s race could very well play into Tony Stewart making the chase as he currently sits 16th in the standings and is on the outside looking in for the chase.

Nascar heads to the Pocono Raceway where drivers prepare for long straights and only three turns as opposed to four. The race is 400 miles instead of 500 like it was for many years. Last year was the first year they tried a 400 miler and in my opinion the racing has been much better. The extra 100 miles is very hard on engines and sometimes drivers end up stretched out and the action is MIA. Last years race was rain shortened and awarded to Jeff Gordon. Pocono is rich in history as it has been known for many close quarter finishes. One that comes to mind was the 1998 Pocono 500 where Jeremy Mayfield bumped legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. out of the way in the final corner to win.

Mayfield quoted Earnhardt in that he was “just trying to rattle his cage a bit”, something that Earnhardt did to many drivers over his storied career. For next weekends race, I am going to go with Denny Hamlin to win. He looks as if he is fully healed from his crash earlier this year and is a four time winner at Pocono. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the Gibbs drivers (barring engine failure) end up competing for the trophy next week.


Pocono’s unique configuration as seen from aerial view!

Showdown in the Desert

Race winner Carl Edwards, Roush Fenway Racing Ford celebrates

Showdown in the Desert: Subway Fresh Fit 500 Race Recap

By: Billy Tewes

3/5/2013

The second stop on the Nascar Sprint Cup Schedule takes us to the Phoenix International Raceway. Carl Edwards and his #99 Subway team would conquer the one mile oval and win a race for the first time in nearly two seasons! After starting 15th, Edwards came out of the gate slow, but by lap 120 cracked the top 5. On the final pit stop, Edwards’ pit crew had the fastest two tire stop and would leape from 4th to 1st. Edwards would then outlast 2013 Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson for the final 78 laps of the race. Edwards’ pit crew put him in position to win and that pit stop would be the difference maker for Edwards.

The big story line heading into Phoenix was how well the newly designed cars would handle at a downforce track (one-two mile ovals). In 2013, Nascar redesigned the car template (dubbed “generation 6 car”) so that the manufacturers could build cars that handled better and created better racing. Much like Daytona, the drivers continued to complain about an aero push when attempting to pass. Aero push is caused by a drastic change in air flow when one car approaches another and this push was key to the limited amount of passing at Phoenix. Drivers just couldn’t pass without sliding up the track and almost wrecking. The #18 car of Kyle Busch was a perfect example as he spun out trying to pass earlier on.

The surprise of the week happened a few days before the actual race. Mark Martin, driver of the #55 Aaron’s Toyota was fastest in qualifying and started from the pole position. The 54 year old Martin is the second oldest driver to start from the pole position (oldest being Harry Gant). Martin couldn’t capitalize on his starting spot as he would end up finishing 21st. Traditional Nascar fans like myself take pride in seeing a 54 year old driver like Martin still succeed years after he once “retired” in 2005. I think Mark could possibly race until he’s 60. Now that would be something else!

As a race fan, I believe the Subway Fresh Fit 500 was worth watching. While there wasn’t a lot of passing, there was still a lot of close quarter racing and a lot to talk about after the race. Strategy clearly played a huge role in determining the outcome of this race as Carl Edwards essentially won the race via a great pit stop. I don’t think we can be too harsh on the newly designed car just yet as it is only the second race of the year. The car itself is a work in progress and will get better once teams begin to figure it out. Next week, the Sprint Cup Series goes to Las Vegas. The generation 6 car will face yet another crucial test as fans hope for more passing and better racing!