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!

 

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!

Harvick Survives To Win At Lowes

Race winner Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

5/27/2013

By: Billy Tewes

A full moon was clear indication of the mayhem of the longest race of the year, The Coca Cola 600. Kevin Harvick survived all of the craziness that is the Lowes Motor Speedway to take home the checkered flag. Harvick’s 21st Cup Series victory came after a KaseyKahne decided to stay out when a caution waved with 15 laps to go. With fresher tires, Harvick blew past Kahne and never looked back. This win is Harvick’s second Coca Cola 600 win and second of the 2013 campaign.

The race started with a frenetic pace as drivers quickly got spread out and Kasey Kahne looked to be the class of the field. Kyle Busch then emerged as a strong challenger but a very unusual incident happened as Busch took the green flag after a caution. A nylon wire that held up one of the Fox broadcast cameras snapped and damaged both the cars of Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose as well as ten spectators. The first of two red flags were brought out and halted the action. Luckily all of the fans are ok and did not get seriously injured.

Kyle Busch surveying the damage after hitting Fox’s nylon camera cable

All drivers were able to pit after this red flag and both Busch and Ambrose were able to fix their cars under that red flag. Unfortunately for Kyle Busch,  his night would be ruined as he had a “catastrophic engine failure” on lap 257.

As the sun began to drop, it became evident that the 20 car of Matt Kenseth would become the dominant driver of the race. Kenseth took control of the race and led 112 laps before his crew chief made a huge error and did not bring him to pit road when the rest of the field pitted. Jason Ratcliffe claimed that he did not hear much radio chatter and that is why he kept Kenseth out in hopes of keeping his track position.

Initially this did not doom Kenseth as he held his own after being passed by Kasey Kahne for the lead. Kenseth pitted at lap 300 which then forced the hands of the rest of the lead lap cars. This would have worked except for the fact that Kasey Kahne stayed out long enough to take advantage of a caution for debris which trapped Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth one lap down.

Kenseth would eventually get back on the lead lap but when trying to race his way back to the front, Jimmie Johnson lost control of his car and Juan Pablo Montoya slammed into Kenseth. Kenseth’s car was never the same and he would end up finishing 15th.

The last 100 laps proved to be a wreck fest as Ricky Stenhouse Jr clipped Danica Patrick who then crashed into last years champ Brad Keselowski. The final big wreck happened when Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Aric Almirola were going three wide into turn one. Martin clipped Almirola who then slammed into Jeff Gordon.

This caution would end up causing heartache for Kasey Kahne. Kahne was the only driver to stay out when everyone else pitted. One is the loneliest number and that was exactly how Kahne felt. Kahne was able to hang on to finish second but this allowed Harvick to steal his second win of 2013.

Next week Nascar heads to the monster mile another incredible track for great racing. It’s really difficult to predict a winner of Dover. Jimmie Johnson has won four of the last ten Dover races and Matt Kenseth would be a safe pick as it seems that he has been a contender for every race this year. However I am going to pick Martin Truex Jr. to get his first win since his very first career victory at this very track.Don’t miss this race Nascar fans as it is sure to be action packed and full of thrills!

Miles the monster in all of his glory!

Elite Form For Matt Kenseth At Darlington

 

5/11/2103

By: Billy Tewes

Once a year, one lucky driver is able to say they conquer “The Lady In Black”. The track that is often too tough to tame was handled by one man tonight. That man was Matt Kenseth. After running in the top 5 for majority of the race, Kenseth’s crew made a late race adjustment on the final caution and passed race leader Kyle Busch with 13 laps to go to win the Bonjangles Southern 500. The Southern 500 is Kenseth’s 27th win and his very first at Darlington!

This race meant the world to Kenseth. “Honestly, I’ve only dreamed about winning the Southern 500,” Kenseth said. “This to me feels to me probably bigger than any win of my career. Kenseth who started 7th, ended up leading a total of 17 laps. Kenseth led the final 13 laps and faced no challenges after he blew past Kyle Busch who said he had a tire going flat.

The Lady In Black was manhandled by Kyle Busch tonight. Busch led 265 of the 367 laps. With 35 laps to go, Busch took the air off the left rear quarter panel of the 5 car of Kasey Kahne as Kahne tried to pass him on the high side. Kahne got loose and slid up into the wall which caused the final caution. . This is last caution where the Husky Tools #20 team made the right adjustment to make Kenseth’s car the superior one. If Kahne had not spun and if there was no caution, I don’t think Kenseth’s team would have been able to put him in position to win. Not to mention that Kyle Busch was the class of the field and Kenseth lucked out with Busch getting a flat around 15 laps to go. Somehow Kyle Busch was able to hang on to finish sixth

This race was relatively clean for a Darlington race. There were only five cautions and there was plenty of green flag racing. Talladega race winner David Ragan would end up finishing 39th with a blown engine.

There were only two lap leaders other than Kenseth and Busch. Kyle’s brother Kurt who qualified first led 69 laps and Jeff Gordon, who started his 700th career race, led 16.

For Kenseth and crew this win was giant. Kenseth’s crew cheif Jason Ratcliffe was suspended for only 1 race after Joe Gibbs Racing appealed the bogus penalty that was handed to Kenseth and co. after their Kansas victory earlier this year. Originally Kenseth was penalized 50 points and his crew chief Jason Ratcliffe was going to be suspended for six races. The Nascar appeals process changed this penalty to 12 points and only a one race suspension for Ratcliffe. Tonight, interim crew chief Wally Brown took over and won his first race as a crew chief!

For the first time all year I was correct in picking the race winner. He didn’t lead the most laps, but he did win the race! Next week is the Spint Cup Showdown (formerly known as the All-Star race) which is one of the most fun races to watch. The winner gets $1,000,000 and there are three different segments throughout the course of the night. Due to the nature of it being a non points paying race and that the winner takes home $1,000,000, this race has intensity written all over it. In a wacky turn of events, I see Kurt Busch taking home the victory for Furniture Row Racing!

Jimmie Johnson celebrating his all-star victory in last years Sprint Cup Showdown!

 

Flawless Victory For Matt Kenseth At Kansas

4/21/2013

By: Billy Tewes

The #20 Car of Matt Kenseth became the 3rd repeat winner of the 2013 season taking home the STP 400 at the Kansas Speedway. Kenseth was extremely fast all weekend as he set a new track record in qualifying as well as being fastest in practice. Kenseth faced a staunch challenge from Kasey Kahne as it was deja vu all over again. Kahne stalked Kenseth at Las Vegas earlier this year and finished second today. Kenseth’s second victory at Kansas marked his 26th career victory.

The action was a plenty at the 1.5 mile track. Drivers like Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr and even rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all showed they had the ability to get to the lead and hold onto it. It was hard to gauge who was strong enough to win the race as there was 13 different lead changes. This race saw eight cautions which was a stark contrast from last falls race of 14 cautions. Last weeks winner Kyle Busch complained of a loose race car early on and eventually crashed out and collected Joey Logano in a hard hit down the track.

With 20 laps to go the action really heated up as Kasey Kahne began to chisel away at Kenseth’s lead. Kahne was roughly one second off Kenseth’s back bumper and slowly but surely closed in. Lapped traffic helped Kahne close the gap as Matt Kenseth had a difficult time passing the slower cars. Kasey Kahne got into the corners better than Kenseth, but Kenseth sped off the corners faster and that was just enough to keep Kahne at bay.

One driver appeared poised to win late in the race had a caution ruin his shot at victory. Ricky Stenhouse Jr and a handful of others were on a different pit sequence than the rest of the field. They were 13 laps short of the regular pit sequence. These drivers pitted on lap 162 whereas the rest of the field had pitted at lap 175. This caused a problem for Stenhouse Jr when it came down to what would be his final pit stop. Stenhouse Jr came to pit road and completed his stop but the caution came out and he went a lap down. Stenhouse Jr got the free pass as he as the first car a lap down but there wasn’t enough time for him to challenge for the win and he would finish 11th.

Nascar heads to Richmond for the first night race at a short track. Night racing at short tracks is always exciting and there is bound to be a lot of close racing and more than likely a lot of crashes. Last year’s winners at Richmond were Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch. Toyota has had a stranglehold on Richmond winning 7 of the last 8 races. So look for the Toyota teams to be up front next week and all of the excitement that Richmond brings!

Kahne Wins the Crashfest 500

3/18/2013

By: Billy Tewes

Just as expected, the drivers put on a show at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Food City 500 trophy belongs to Kasey Kahne. Kahne won his first race of the season as well as first career race at Bristol. Kahne finished runner up to Matt Kenseth last week at Vegas after having the dominant car, but the real race winner might have been wrecked out of the race with nearly 100 laps to go.

Jeff Gordon was leading the race and facing mounting pressure from Matt Kenseth. Jeff Gordon’s pit crew decided to take left side tires only when the rest of the field took four tries. Jeff Gordon’s right side tires had 154 laps on them and on lap 391 as he sailed into turn 3, his right rear tire cut and sent him hard into the wall. Gordon would end up collecting Matt Kenseth, as he was right on his back bumper at the time. Many will question why Gordon’s team put him out there for so long as tire failure had been a noteworthy issue throughout the day.  Kenseth had a great car and it looked as if he was a serious threat for winning back to back races and was a participant of unfortunate luck.

Matt Kenseth was one of the only drivers who could consistently drive the bottom lane of the track with success. I continue to reference the generation six car as a test for the sport.  Nascar is hoping we see good racing, but it has been a challenge for drivers when it comes to these shorter tracks. Bristol proved to us today that drivers preferred one lane and that was the top. This is due to the newly designed progressive banking that was reconfigured for this year.

They call it “progressive” because the degrees of banking increase from bottom to top. Tracks like Phoenix and Las Vegas feature this style of banking. Tracks that get a reconfiguration packages usually end up with progressive banking as it supposedly allows for more passing. As of 2013, the bottom lane at Bristol is 26 degrees and the top features 30 degrees of banking. Before the reconfiguration  Bristol had 36 degrees of banking from top to bottom. Instead of having to bump a driver out of the way, drivers are supposed to be able to pass on the top or the bottom. Ironically now they are only running the top line, something we won’t see next week at California.

California will yield better racing than the short tracks. The generation six car performed much better at Las Vegas, so I have a good feeling we will see more passing. It seems as if only a few drivers have really grasped the generation six car early in the season. Look for Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne to be front runners at California. I could be wrong though, as there have been four different winners in four races this season!

View of Auto Club Speedway in California from a jet fighter!