NASCAR Fans Forever's Blog Wed, 20 Feb 2013 05:09:43 GMT No description Lineups take shape for dicey duels at Daytona &nbsp;<img title="[162172360AT00256_55th_Dayto]" src="" height="30" alt="[162172360AT00256_55th_Dayto]" width="200"> <p>Qualifying races present both opportunity and peril ahead of 500</p> <p>DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon locked up the top two spots for the Daytona 500 after Sunday's pole qualifying, but even though the rest of the field is an uncertainty, two other starting lineups came into much clearer focus.</p> <p>The qualifying speed chart determined the grid for Thursday's Budweiser Duel, the pair of 150-mile qualifying races that will set the starting order for the Feb. 24 Great American Race. Patrick will set the pace from the pole position in the first race and fellow front-row starter Jeff Gordon will start first in the second event of the twin bill.<br><br>The top 15 finishers in each Duel race -- excluding Patrick and Gordon -- will clinch a Daytona 500 berth, filling in spots 3-32 in the field. The rest of the 43-car field will be set by a mix of qualifying time (positions 33-36) and provisional berths (positions 37-43), with just two cars on the entry list failing to make the main event.<br><br>While teams will be eager to make the most of their track time to gain positions on the starting grid and learn more about their Daytona 500 vehicles, drivers also enter the two races with some anxiety over protecting their primary cars.<br><br>"That is our fastest car that we have. We want to keep it clean but we still have to learn what we need to do with it to have the best setup for the Daytona 500 when it comes on Sunday," said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who will start sixth Thursday in the second Duel. "We will be out there trying to work on it each time we have pit stops and in practice. We will try to get it driving good. By the end of the 500 you want a car that is driving good, not just on speed."<br><br>Results of the qualifying races can often cast a preliminary winner as a Daytona 500 favorite. Matt Kenseth prevailed in the second Duel event last year before winning his second 500 crown, but he was the first driver to sweep both races since 2004, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. accomplished the feat.</p> <p>The lineups:</p> Race 1 Race 2 Pos. No. Driver Pos. No. Driver 1 10 Danica Patrick 1 24 Jeff Gordon 2 21 Trevor Bayne 2 39 Ryan Newman 3 14 Tony Stewart 3 5 Kasey Kahne 4 11 Denny Hamlin 4 18 Kyle Busch 5 22 Joey Logano 5 20 Matt Kenseth 6 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 6 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 7 42 Juan Pablo Montoya 7 27 Paul Menard 8 13 Casey Mears 8 33 Austin Dillon 9 99 Carl Edwards 9 15 Clint Bowyer 10 56 Martin Truex Jr. 10 31 Jeff Burton 11 48 Jimmie Johnson 11 1 Jamie McMurray 12 2 Brad Keselowski 12 9 Marcos Ambrose 13 29 Kevin Harvick 13 43 Aric Almirola 14 16 Greg Biffle 14 55 Mark Martin 15 38 David Gilliland 15 34 David Ragan 16 26 Michael Waltrip 16 35 Josh Wise 17 78 Kurt Busch 17 98 Michael McDowell 18 95 Scott Speed 18 32 Terry Labonte 19 51 Regan Smith 19 7 Dave Blaney 20 47 Bobby Labonte 20 36 JJ Yeley 21 83 David Reutimann 21 93 Travis Kvapil 22 87 Joe Nemechek 22 19 Mike Bliss 23 52 Brian Keselowski &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; <p><em>We are actively working on a fan community solution and hope to have it up and running soon. As we work through this enhancement, we are temporarily disabling the comments function. We appreciate your patience and apologize for the inconvenience.</em></p> Wed, 20 Feb 2013 05:09:43 GMT bluefire012 Underdog label no longer fits Kahne <ul> <li></li></ul><img title="[159347607SL00039_NASCAR_Tes]" src="" height="520" alt="[159347607SL00039_NASCAR_Tes]" width="922"> <p>No. 5 driver finds long-awaited continuity at Hendrick Motorsports</p> <p>One by one, the principals of Hendrick Motorsports walked onto the stage to meet the press during the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway with their impressive credentials serving as an introduction.</p> <p>Dale Earnhardt Jr., the runaway 10-time most popular driver. Jimmie Johnson, the five-time champion. Rick Hendrick, a winner in NASCAR's top series 209 times over. Jeff Gordon, the four-time champ and third on NASCAR's all-time win list.</p> <p>And then came Kasey Kahne, the fifth Beatle, fresh with a new, polarizing haircut.</p> <p>While his 14 career Sprint Cup victories are nothing to dismiss, Kahne still seemed like a scrappy fifth seed in a bracket full of No. 1s when comparing the portfolios on Hendrick's impressive roster. That's when Hendrick issued a decisive note of caution and perspective.</p> <p>"Hopefully this year can start better and we can get rolling early."</p> <p>-- Kasey Kahne</p> <ul> <li><a href=""><img src="" height="194" alt="[2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Media Tour]" width="345"> </a></li> <li>For Dale Jr., Daytona crash turns to hope <h3>&nbsp;</h3></li></ul> <p>"I would not call Kasey Kahne an underdog," Hendrick said. "He has not had all the components around him yet and I think we're getting there. Kasey Kahne has got the talent. He can run short tracks, speedways, has an unbelievable amount of car control and is a smart race car driver. He'll win a championship. He will be a champion. He just hasn't been in the right position. I think he's in that position now."</p> <p>The position Hendrick references is an enviable one for any driver, but especially for one who has withstood as much turnover as Kahne has in recent years. Although Kahne became a staple in the red No. 9 in the early stages of his career, the changes to his teams' infrastructures reached far beyond the car number.</p> <p>Ray Evernham's team, which negotiated Kahne's ascension into NASCAR's big leagues, eventually became Gillett Evernham Motorsports before merging to form Richard Petty Motorsports in 2009. Petty's organization then joined forces with Yates Racing later that year.</p> <p>By 2010, Kahne was ready for a move to greener, more permanent pastures. On April 13, three days after his 30th birthday, Kahne announced he would join Rick Hendrick, but not until the 2012 season as the powerhouse team navigated Mark Martin's transition to a part-time driving career. That left Kahne in a one-season whistle stop at Red Bull Racing before taking the reins of Hendrick's No. 5.</p> <p>Now Kahne's position is one of growing stability and continuity, more seasoned and more familiar with the organization's system as his sophomore season at Hendrick begins.</p> <p>"It's the first time in a long time we've come into the new year with the same team behind us and the same working group," said Kenny Francis, Kahne's crew chief since the final race of the 2005 season. "The past three or four years, there's been a lot of turmoil, a lot of change. Now we hope that it's just a little more relaxing getting there."</p> <p>If anyone seems relaxed, it's Kahne, despite the high expectations and burbling talk of a championship run in 2013. Those expectations start from within and at the top at Hendrick, where the team made good on the owner's bold goal of landing four cars in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last season. It's the sort of confidence that can add pressure or motivation, or perhaps a healthy mix of the two.</p> <p>"It's probably a little bit of both," Kahne says, "but I feel like the reason he says that is because he knows what he has. He knows the people that he has here and it didn't happen overnight. Rick's just really confident and it's neat to be a part of all that."</p> <p>Kahne possessed similarly high hopes for the start of the 2012 campaign, when the team stumbled out of the starting blocks in a major letdown. By April, Kahne had claimed two pole positions but a crash, an engine failure, multiple miscues and instances of bad luck in the first six races left the team 31st in points with all the appearances of a Chase outsider.</p> <p>From that resounding thud, Kahne ripped off seven consecutive top-10 finishes -- including a Coca-Cola 600 victory -- to jump 17 spots in the standings. Another, more modest run during the summer helped Kahne rally against the long odds to clinch a Wild-Card berth in the Chase.</p> <p>"Even starting out slow, I always knew we had the speed and we were kind of in the ballpark," said Kahne, who eventually converted his Chase eligibility into a career-best fourth-place finish in the standings. "Once we got past the bad luck, the driving errors, the little issues we had, I thought things went pretty smoothly from that point on. ... We have a lot of things we can work on and I feel like we've looked at a lot of them throughout the offseason, so hopefully this year can start better and we can get rolling early."</p> <p>The one thing that won't require much fine-tuning will be the bond between driver and crew chief, one of few constants for the two during their pre-Hendrick years. With that amount of longevity, the critical art of communication has become second nature for the pairing, which will mark Kahne's 10th Sprint Cup season as their eighth together.</p> <p>That's why keeping Francis, who said he communicates with Kahne "by osmosis sometimes," was a high priority for Hendrick when he hand-picked Kahne.</p> <p>"I think now Kenny's got a year under his belt. He didn't even know half the guys on the crew when he started last year," Hendrick said. "We've refined that, and I predict he won't have as rough a start this year, so I think it should be a much easier season. Every time you can go back and not change much with that chemistry between crew chief and driver and engineer, you're better off.</p> <p>"It's like they've been here forever now. So I think this could be Kasey's year."</p> Sat, 02 Feb 2013 14:50:54 GMT bluefire012 Kyle Busch signs multi-year deal to stay with JGR <p>HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) Joe Gibbs Racing announced Thursday that Kyle Busch has signed a long-term extension to continue driving the No. 18 Toyota Camry.</p> <p>In addition, JGR will field the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota in the Nationwide Series for at least 25 races with Busch as the primary driver. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.</p> <p>"It's something that is really exciting that we've been working on for a long time," Busch said. "I probably took a few years off coach's life, but hopefully not. I'll repay him somehow, maybe with some championships."</p> <p>Busch has 105 career wins spanning all three NASCAR series, including 51 in the Nationwide Series. However, the 27-year-old Busch is coming off a disastrous season by his own standards.</p> <p>He finished 13th in the Sprint Cup standings and missed the Chase. And while he ranked second in the Cup in laps led, he only found Victory Lane once and finished the year with 13 top-five finishes after winning a combined 19 races the previous four years.</p> <p>Busch ran his own car in the Nationwide Series<strong> and was winless in 22 races</strong>, posting three seconds and two thirds after winning 40 races in the previous four seasons. He competed in three events on the Camping World Truck series but failed to win there, too.</p> <p>He called it his "worst season ever."</p> <p>"So I will be rejoining forces here and running about 25 races and then filling out the rest of the races with some younger talent in the non-companion races," Busch said.</p> <p>Busch said he feels comfortable working for Gibbs, which made the decision to return fairly easy. Of course, the lucrative contract didn't hurt either.</p> <p>With Matt Kenseth joining Busch and Denny Hamlin on the Sprint Cup Series, Gibbs said this is the most excited he's been entering a season.</p> <p>He expects his Sprint Cup team to be competitive every week and also is excited about the prospect of running four cars on the Nationwide Series with Brian Vickers joining Kenseth, Busch and Hamlin.</p> <p>While his drivers are friends and teammates, Gibbs said he expects some of that to wear off when February arrives.</p> <p>"I was thinking this whole offseason they got along great and everything, but that's going to last until about the first time they get alongside each other up front," Gibbs said. "And I'm going to be ducking and dodging. All of these guys driving for us, we know each one is going to be going after (a championship)."</p> <p>The good-natured jabs heated up at Thursday's Sprint Cup Series media day.</p> <p>While on stage with his teammates, Busch was asked when Hamlin will get to sign a long-term extension with JGR.</p> <p>Hamlin jabbed back, "I make up for it in talent."</p> <p>Hamlin admittedly is a little sleep-deprived of late. He and his longtime girlfriend, Jordan Fish, welcomed their first child, a daughter named Taylor James Hamlin, born on Jan. 20 at 8:20 p.m. (20:20 military time) and she was 20 inches long.</p> <p>"We squelched the rumor that Denny will now be driving the No. 20 car," joked JGR president J.D. Gibbs.</p> <p>Kenseth brings a winning resume to Gibbs Racing. A two-time Daytona 500 winner and the 2003 Sprint Cup champion, Kenseth has won 24 Cup races including three last year for Roush Fenway Racing.</p> <p>"It sounds like Kyle and Denny are already tied for the championship this year, but I'm looking forward to this anyway," Kenseth joked as he looked over at his teammates. He called it a "new beginning" and said sometimes change is good.</p> <p>"I feel like it's a great opportunity to go and hopefully compete for some wins and try to compete for a championship," Kenseth said.</p> <p>Said Gibbs: "It's great having Matt on board. He's somebody that we all respect. It's a thrill for us to have him."</p> <p><br>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Tue, 29 Jan 2013 23:11:43 GMT bluefire012 Media Tour to feature plenty of optimism. <p>NASCAR's week of "excitement" in January will feature plenty of optimistic drivers and crew chiefs and even team owners. </p> <p>The annual NASCAR Media Tour, hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, will feature several race teams meeting with the media to preview the 2013 season this week. Some will have big announcements to make, others will just have their obligatory driver interview sessions. </p><img src="" height="366" width="650">Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of several NASCAR stars who will meet the media this week. (AP Photo) <p>Everyone has a chance to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Everyone has a chance to win races and have a better year in 2013 than they did in 2012. </p> <p>Here are 10 things to watch for and questions that actually might be answered this week. </p> <p>1. How is the world of Danica? </p> <p>After a year during which she struggled on the racetrack, was slightly unsure of her status in future Super Bowl commercials and also began going through a divorce, 2012 was a roller coaster year for Danica Patrick. </p> <p>And yet she seemed pretty happy, enjoying life in the NASCAR world and confident that this is where she is supposed to be racing. </p> <p>She will face questions this week about how she will put 2012 behind her and about her approach to 2013, her first full-time Cup season. </p> <p>It is in these settings that Patrick typically shines. She is used to answering probing questions. She will be asked about whether she's ready to go Cup racing and how in the world she is going to compete in Cup when she struggled to finish in the top-10 in Nationwide races. </p> <p>She will be asked about her status as a female driver and what being a woman has meant to her career. </p> <p>She likely won't get flustered and likely won't drop any big bombshells. But it's the world of Danica, and her crossover and international appeal - news of her divorce was covered in London newspapers - will have people hanging on her every word. </p> <p>2. How is the Harvick-RCR relationship? </p> <p>With Kevin Harvick expected to move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, two questions remain: </p> <p>When is he going to officially announce the move? </p> <p>When will he and Richard Childress butt heads and have a big shouting match? </p> <p>Harvick swears that he has learned from the past and will conduct himself professionally. The proof will start with the media tour. </p> <p>Harvick and all the RCR teams struggled in 2012. The real test will be whether Harvick can keep from getting frustrated and whether he can handle adversity without he and Childress pointing fingers and claiming the other is giving up. </p> <p>3. How will Kurt Busch fare in his first big appearance with his new team? </p> <p>Kurt Busch will make his first major media appearance since his first week at Furniture Row Racing last year. His problems with the media are well documented, but don't expect anything too outlandish from Busch. </p> <p>In the typically relaxed setting of these sessions, Busch typically is at ease and quite personable. </p> <p>This season is critical to his career. With some rides opening up for 2014, Busch can parlay this into a ride with an elite team if he runs well and stays out of trouble. Or if he feels comfortable with Furniture Row and makes the team a Chase contender, they might reward him with a big contract and he will have found a new home. </p> <p>4. Will Earnhardt Jr. be fully sponsored in 2013? </p> <p>Dale Earnhardt Jr still has about a dozen races left to be sponsored in 2013 as the National Guard will sponsor 20 races and Pepsi (through Diet Mt. Dew and Amp) will sponsor five. </p> <p>While there is no threat that Earnhardt won't run if sponsorship isn't found, it obviously would be startling for him to have a plain white car or one with team owner Rick Hendrick's "" aboard for some races. </p> <p>It's not that Earnhardt can't get sponsorship. It's that sponsorship has always come at a high price for Earnhardt. So don't be alarmed if no sponsor is announced. It will be just another sign that no matter the popularity of an athlete, the dollars just aren't what they used to be in this sport. </p> <p>5. What will Kyle Busch's schedule look like? </p> <p>Busch is expected to announce he has signed a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. </p> <p>But JGR also will announce its Nationwide Series plans and how many races he could run in that series as well as his plans for his own Nationwide and Truck Series teams. </p> <p>Busch cut back on his Nationwide and truck races last year and had one of his worst seasons. </p> <p>His failure to make the Chase in 2012 will be a topic, and he talked about how running fewer races didn't seem to help him. </p> <p>He'll get to talk happily about his 2013 schedule and how he will be back in a more comfortable pace of races rather than just worrying about his Cup car on a weekend. And he won't have to worry about questions on his future at JGR, which is now secure. </p> <p>6. What will new champion Brad Keselowski have to say? </p> <p>Give 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski a microphone and you never know what's going to happen. </p> <p>He will have stock answers for whether he can repeat as champion but at the media tour, he will be asked his opinion on several topics. </p> <p>The typically engaging Keselowski will have at least 30 minutes of having to toe the line between offering his honest, outspoken opinions and NASCAR's view of what could be denigrating to the sport. </p> <p>Here's hoping that maybe he'll have some of his sponsor's product (Miller Lite) before his one-on-one interviews commence. </p> <p>7. Will Dillon race the No. 3 in Cup? </p> <p>Austin Dillon is driving the No. 33 car at Daytona, but couldn't that easily turn into a 3 for some of his other Cup races? Probably not. If Childress is going to bring back Dale Earnhardt's famous number, he'd like to do it for the full season. </p> <p>Dillon will run the full Nationwide schedule again while running select Cup races before moving to Sprint Cup full-time in 2014. </p> <p>But Childress no doubt will be asked about the No. 3. And whatever his answer, it will be news. Expect him to say that he's leaning toward bringing it back, like he has the last few times he has been asked about it. </p> <p>That's what he said last November and it's doubtful anything this winter has changed his mind. </p> <p>8. What about the future of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing? </p> <p>The team is expected to announce additional sponsorship for the organization, including a deal for Jamie McMurray. </p> <p>It also could detail plans for development driver Kyle Larson, who is considered one of the top young prospects. The 2012 K&amp;N Pro Series East champion, who battled for the lead for several laps at the Chili Bowl last week, could run a full Nationwide season in 2013. </p> <p>A year ago, team owner Chip Ganassi said his team had a "pathetic" 2011. He can't be much happier this year and if there is a team with its back is against the wall, this would be it. </p> <p>9. What is the format for the Sprint Unlimited? </p> <p>Sprint will announce the format for the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona Monday and it is expected to include fans voting on such things as whether there will be pit stops and whether drivers should be eliminated throughout the race. </p> <p>The race will be 75 laps but apparently a 75-lap race isn't enough for the preseason exhibition event. </p> <p>Will the field be inverted at some point? Will there be a final segment like the Sprint All-Star Race? </p> <p>Sprint already has ruffled the feathers of some by turning the name of what was known as the Budweiser Shootout into something totally marketing oriented - it is trying to promote that it offers unlimited phone plans. </p> <p>This is a slippery slope. Sprint might view this as a marketing platform but fans don't want too many gimmicks, especially ones that make the race look too much like the all-star race. </p> <p>10. Will NASCAR announce Eldora format? </p> <p>In recent years, NASCAR has used the media tour to announce its new points system and its diversity drivers. </p> <p>It already has announced its diversity drivers for this year and is happy with its points system. </p> <p>Expect NASCAR to continue the promotion of its 2013 Cup car, which it has dubbed the "Gen-6" in hopes that it sounds better than the "car of tomorrow" or COT. </p> <p>Some of the talk at the NASCAR stop will center on television negotiations and the status of TNT and ESPN for 2015 and beyond. Is NBC a player and trying to get part of the NASCAR deal? </p> <p>NASCAR also might answer questions about the dirt-track truck race at Eldora as far as the format. Without a pit road and an expected field of 30 instead of 36, NASCAR needs to get the news out on how it plans to conduct the dirt event. </p> Mon, 21 Jan 2013 18:11:13 GMT bluefire012 D.W. Speaks <h2>FOX Sports Exclusive</h2> <h1>On a mission</h1><a href="" title="Darrell Waltrip"><img src="" height="70" alt="Darrell Waltrip" width="185"> </a>Share This Story <h2>Darrell Waltrip</h2> <p>Legendary stock car driver Darrell Waltrip - winner of 84 career NASCAR Cup Series races and a three-time champion - serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become <a href="">a fan on Facebook</a> or <a href="">follow him on Twitter</a>.</p> <p>When someone is given a mission, you will find most times they are determined and focused to make it happen. The really good ones find ways to overcome all obstacles and complete the task they were assigned. Even though we only have two of our 36 races in the books so far, I can tell you there are a bunch of drivers, crew chiefs and teams on a mission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most obvious example I can give you were those two cats in Victory Lane Sunday - <a href="">Denny Hamlin</a> and Darian Grubb. It's no secret that I am a big Darian fan. He's neither the flashiest crew chief out there nor the most vocal; he simply goes to work and succeeds.</p> <p>In our last 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, the 10 Chase races and the two so far in 2012, Darian has been in Victory Lane six times as the crew chief of the winning car. If that wasn't enough, he has now done it with two different teams.</p> <p>As I've said before, it says a lot about Grubb's character that he knew he wasn't returning to Stewart Haas Racing in 2011, but his only focus and mission was to help Tony Stewart win the championship. After the season was over and the split had taken place, Darian wasn't acrimonious about it. He took the high road and wished the No. 14 car well.</p> <p>Now Darian's on a mission to show everyone there's a reason why he is the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup championship-winning crew chief. He had his new driver, Denny Hamlin, running well at Daytona. Denny was very aggressive and came home with a great top-five finish there.</p> <p>I think the pairing of Darian and Denny is perfect because Denny is also laser-locked on a mission - a mission of redemption. You all know the story - in 2010, Denny was the talk of NASCAR. He won eight races and took the points lead late in the Chase, only to see the championship slip through his fingers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><img src="" height="97" alt="Subway Fresh Fit 500" width="202"> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As good as the No. 11 car was in 2010, it was equally as dismal in 2011. Having been there and done that, I can tell you the emotional toll 2010 took on Denny in 2011 cannot be overlooked. Denny won one race last year. It was nail-biting time to even make the Chase, but they did. Once that goal was accomplished, however, the No. 11 car was a non-factor in last year's Chase. They limped home to an overall ninth-place finish last year with only one win, five top-five finishes and only 14 top-10 finishes.</p> <p>Last year is over, however. Crew chief Mike Ford is gone, and Grubb is in. Denny and Darian can prove to be a powerful combination this year. Both have the same goal, and what each guy brings to the table can set the No. 11 car up for a spectacular 2012.</p> <p>If you need further proof, simply look at the statistics. Last year as they headed to Las Vegas this weekend, the No. 11 was 14th in the points, no wins, no top fives and no top 10s. Now they are leading the points. They already have a win under their belt, plus two top fives and two top 10s. My, what a difference a year can make.</p> <p>Denny's teammates are also on a mission. This is a contract year for Joey Logano. He unfortunately hasn't lived up to all the hype that surrounded him when he came into NASCAR's top series. So he's on a mission to prove he deserves to be here. He has a new crew chief as well.</p> <p>Then there is <a href="">Kyle Busch</a>. For all his God-given ability to win in anything he sits behind, he still hasn't been able to translate that into a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. I spent time with Kyle last year and again at Daytona. He gets it. He knows he has to control his emotions. Being parked by NASCAR at Texas following the Ron Hornaday incident in the truck race really did get his attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><a href="" title="NASCAR weekend at Phoenix"><img src="" height="97" alt="NASCAR weekend at Phoenix" width="202"></a> <h3><a href="">HEATIN' UP</a></h3> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has a full plate being an owner in the Camping World truck and the Nationwide series, but he is on a mission to win that one thing that continues to elude him - the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.</p> <p>I like the new combination of <a href="">Kevin Harvick</a> and Shane Wilson. These last two seasons have been really good for that No. 29 car, but they seemingly could never put it all together and win the championship. So crew chief Gil Martin moved on, and Shane is now calling the shots for Kevin. I've always liked Shane. I think he is a sharp guy, and I think the combination of he and Kevin will be a powerful one as well.</p> <p>I also believe you are seeing the No. 48 on a mission. On the Big Picture front, they were finally knocked off the top of the mountain. So you know they are on a mission to get back there. On the Short Term front, after everything they went through in Daytona, you have to suspect they have something to prove, too.</p> <p>Let's face it, Daytona was U-G-L-Y for them. Their crew chief and car chief were suspended for six races. Crew chief Chad Knaus was also fined $100,000. Then owner Rick Hendrick and driver <a href="">Jimmie Johnson</a> were each docked 25 points. Sunday's race at Phoenix was only the second time since 2007 that a driver started a race with negative points. Now if all that wasn't enough, Jimmie gets wrecked out of the Daytona 500 on the start of the second lap.</p> <p>So it was no surprise to me to see them come to Phoenix last weekend on their own mission. Early in the race they were easily the fastest car. Unfortunately problems continued for that team on pit road, and that set them back. They overcame it, though, and came home with a fourth-place finish. Jimmie is still buried deep in the points back in 37th position, but the good news is that top-five finish jumped him up 12 positions.</p> <p>I believe we will see the No. 2 and the No. 22 on a mission as well. Last week came the announcement that Penske Racing is going back to Fords in 2013. I think Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger will be out to prove that they are anything but lame-duck Dodge teams. Their goal is to win races and get both Dodges in the Chase.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <h3>&nbsp;</h3> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within all that, Allmendinger is on his own personal mission. As the new driver replacing <a href="">Kurt Busch</a>, he wants to prove to everyone, especially Roger Penske, that he made the right choice.</p> <p>How about <a href="">Mark Martin</a> winning the pole for last Sunday's race? Mark's 2011 season pretty much mirrored Denny Hamlin's to a certain extent. For all the success Mark enjoyed in 2010, the magic just wasn't there in that No. 5 car in 2011. So Mark is off to a great start in 2012 with his partial schedule. In just two races he has a pole position and two top-10 finishes this year. Heck, in all of 2011, Mark only had 10 top-10 finishes in 36 total events.</p> <p>Kurt Busch is another who is on a mission in 2012. The end of 2011 found Kurt publicly humbled and on the outside of his second top-tier NASCAR team. Now he is trying to rebuild his career with the No. 51 car, driving for a small organization. He ran up front at Phoenix, and I just know Kurt is on a mission to make that car a weekly threat.</p> <p>The list can go on and on. Folks are more determined than ever. I think having one year under their belts with the new points system and the new way to qualify for the Chase has finally sunk in to everyone that they have to go and go now. Sitting around and expecting it to come to them is no longer an option.</p> <p>So from Mission Control here in Franklin, Tenn., I'll keep an eye on things as we head to Las Vegas and see who the big gamblers are this weekend. I'm excited to see who hits the jackpot Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.</p> Tue, 06 Mar 2012 20:09:00 GMT JKINDELRAY Moody On Frogetta <a name="3036370933801283466" title="3036370933801283466" class="mceItemAnchor"></a> <h3><a href="">Early Lessons For Danica Patrick</a> </h3><br>Danica Patrick has pegged her first full season of NASCAR Nationwide Series competition as a learning experience. Based on the first two races of the 2012 campaign, there are indeed some lessons that need to be learned. <br> <a href=""><img src="" height="320" width="232"></a> Ms. Patrick is NOT amused<em>LESSON ONE: You haven't been here long enough to lecture anyone.</em> <br>Patrick crashed out of last weekend's Nationwide Series opener at Daytona International Speedway after an ill-timed attempt at bump drafting by JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt. Whitt apologized repeatedly over his in-car radio, and again to the media following the race. That did not curb the wrath of Patrick, however, who responded to Whitt's in-person attempt at an apology with a verbal tongue-lashing in which she reportedly told Whitt - in pointed terms - that he did not have enough experience to attempt such a move and needed to give her "more room" on the race track. <br>For the record, Patrick has just 28 career starts in NASCAR's three national divisions; 27 in Nationwide and one in Sprint Cup. The "inexperienced" Whitt, meanwhile, has taken the green flag 33 times in his NASCAR career: five in Nationwide, 26 in Trucks and two in the Sprint Cup ranks. Generally, NASCAR drivers wait until they've got a season or two under their competitive belt before giving driving lessons to their less-experienced brethren. Even then, they usually confine their remarks to drivers who have less stock car experience than they do, not more. <br><em>LESSON TWO: Sullen Doesn't Sell.</em> <br>In her brief NASCAR career, Patrick has already become adept at blowing off the media. After her Daytona Nationwide Series wreck, she climbed from her Chevrolet, stomped immediately into the team's transporter and dispatched a public relations representative to inform the waiting media horde that she would not comment until the event was over. In the Daytona 500, she sat in her crumpled Chevy for nearly 70 laps while her crew attempted repairs; window net affixed in the universally recognized symbol for "leave me alone." A 21<sup>st</sup>-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway today once again saw the GoDaddy girl offer only cursory comments to the media. <br>There's no law requiring Patrick (or any other driver) to speak to reporters. But as an athlete whose brand arguably is longer on marketing than actual on-track success, she should realize the value of submitting herself to the microphones and cameras, in both good times and bad. <br> <a href=""><img src="" height="320" width="256"></a> Do NOT call this woman sexy!<em>LESSON THREE: Be Careful What You Complain About</em> <br>Patrick earned a slew of headlines at the Daytona 500's annual Media Day when she complained about the media describing her - and other female athletes -- as "sexy." <br>"Is there any other word that you can use to describe me?" she asked, eschewing - at least for a moment -- those bikini-intensive GoDaddy commercials and photo spreads in <em>Maxim </em>and <em>FHM. </em>If you're going to appear in a national men's magazine; splayed out across the hood of a Lamborghini in barely-there beachwear, be prepared for words like "sexy." <br>They come with the territory. <br>Danica Patrick is an outstanding racer, with all the tools necessary for a long and successful NASCAR career. She'll win races in the Nationwide Series this year, and will eventually learn everything necesary to advance to the sport's highest level; the Sprint Cup Series. She doesn't ask to be hounded by a merciless crush of reporters and fans, but she's also savvy enough to exploit "Danica Mania" to its full economic impact. Network television does her no favors by fawning over finishes like today's 21<sup>st</sup>-place Phoenix showing at the expense of - say - Cole Whitt and his 13<sup>th</sup>-place finish. But again, she didn't ask for that. <br>At the end of the day, Patrick needs simply to relax, see the big picture and accept the fact that in the wild, wonderful world of NASCAR, not every day is going to be a good day. Sun, 04 Mar 2012 05:48:08 GMT JKINDELRAY Robby Gordon Is Right On The Money <h1><a href="">COMMENTARY: Robby's Right, It's Time To End The Past Champion's Provisional</a> <a 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title="Edit"></a></h1><br><a href=""><img src="" height="200" width="145"></a> Robby Gordon raced his way into the Daytona 500 Thursday, rebounding from a tire rub at the start of his Gatorade Duel 150 qualifier to post an unlikely Top-5 finish and punch his ticket to the "Great American Race."<br><br>Afterward, the always outspoken Gordon ignited a bit of a controversy by criticizing the rule that allowed former Sprint Cup Series champion Terry Labonte to qualify for the race, despite running just 12 laps in his Gatorade Duel before heading to the garage with what was generously termed a "vibration." <br>"I think (the guaranteed starting spot) should be based on if you were with that team when you win the championship, not just because you win a championship," said Gordon yesterday. "That takes a spot from teams that are working really hard to get in the Daytona 500. Rules are rules, and we made (the race) fair and square by being fast enough. I'm proud of my team and I'm proud to be in the Daytona 500." <br> <a href=""><img src="" height="315" width="224"></a> Robby Gordon speaks out...Labonte's FasLane Racing, owned by former Roush Fenway Racing crew chief Frank Stoddard, races on a limited budget and came to Daytona without a backup car. A crash in yesterday's Duel would prevent the team from competing in Sunday's main event, so Stoddard wisely instructed his driver to make an early day of it and withdraw from the race, claiming a Past Champion's Provisional good for the 43<sup>rd</sup> and final starting spot on Sunday.&nbsp; <br>Labonte insisted he took advantage of the rules as they exist; doing the smart thing for both himself and his team. "It's the only car we've got," he said. "That wreck was right in front of us, and we just couldn't take a chance on wrecking it. We practiced enough in a pack and... the car's really good.&nbsp; <br>"We just couldn't risk it." <br>Gordon wasn't buying it, saying, "I've got a lot of respect for Terry. This is not a Terry Labonte thing, (but) there are only eight cars that make the Daytona 500. He takes one of those spots; now seven guys make the Daytona 500. Four make it in qualifying races, three make it on speed. It's just not right. Why take a free ride when the rest of us have to bust our butts to get into the 500?" <br>Gordon's remarks touched a nerve with many fans, who feel - right or wrong - that there are too many guarantees in NASCAR these days. Counting Labonte, 36 drivers arrived in Daytona Beach last week knowing they were locked into the season's most important event, leaving only seven spots to be filled by Saturday afternoon's time-trial qualifying and 300 miles of heat racing yesterday. To many, qualifying for the Daytona 500 has lost its luster, reduced to little more than a week of busy work en route to a starting lineup that is pre-determined in a corporate board room, well in advance. <br>NASCAR is the only professional sport to reward athletes and teams for something they accomplished long ago. For all their past glory, the Green Bay Packers do not receive a guaranteed spot in the NFL playoffs. The New York Yankees own 27 World Series champions; a lofty statistic that earns them not a single advantage on Opening Day. <br>Perhaps it's time for NASCAR to simply celebrate its past, rather than living in it. Eliminate the outdated Past Champion's Provisional and begin awarding the final Daytona 500 starting spot to a team that excels today, rather than a driver who excelled a decade or more ago. &nbsp; <br><strong><em>&nbsp;Photo Credit: Ashley Dickerson/ASP Inc/Icon SM</em></strong> <img src=";base64,R0lGODlhAQABAPAAAP/wAAACH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAICRAEAOw==" height="1" width="1"> Fri, 24 Feb 2012 19:10:31 GMT JKINDELRAY NASCAR Fantasy Group <p>Hey Guys, I started a fanyasy group on ESPN Stock Car Challenge.&nbsp; Group name = Funke Family Racers and password = funkers.</p><p>FM me wit an email address if you have any problems getting in. </p><p>All are welcome, have fun and good luck! <br></p> Thu, 23 Feb 2012 15:14:02 GMT UnBiasedPerspective Charger Will Remain As Dodge Choice In Cup. Dodge has confirmed that it will continue to field the Dodge Charger as its make of choice in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next season, and beyond.&nbsp; <br> <a href=""><img src="" height="170" width="280"></a> &nbsp;Dodge's new NASCAR ChargerAll four manufacturers - Dodge, Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota -- will debut new, more stock-appearing models next season, and Dodge's newly designed NASCAR Charger is slated to be unveiled at the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 11.&nbsp; <br>Ford debuted its new 2013 Fusion recently, Chevrolet and Toyota have yet to make official announcements regarding the models they will field in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition next year. &nbsp;Dodge's Ralph Gilles told Autoweek Magazine, "You'll be shocked when you see it. It looks like the street car with fat rubber on it. There is a lot of correlation between the race car and the street car."&nbsp; <br>Clandestine pictures of the new Charger have already begun to leak, including a shot taken by a fan at Penske Racing shops recently. Wed, 22 Feb 2012 04:43:10 GMT JKINDELRAY Lee Spencer Talks With Jooonya. <h3>DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.</h3> <p>Dale Earnhardt Jr. was still beaming one day after the Budweiser Shootout.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><a href=";amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;state=RACEINFO" title="2012 Speedweeks schedule"><img src="" height="97" width="202"> </a> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His demeanor on Sunday was quite different than after qualifying at Talladega Superspeedway in October - the previous time NASCAR ran at a restrictor plate track - and it had nothing to do with posting the third-fastest lap of 194.028 mph in time trials for the Daytona 500.</p> <p>Earnhardt's change of heart is simple. After two years of tandem racing at Daytona and Talladega, tracks where he's scored seven of his 18 career wins, Earnhardt was back in control of his car during the Shootout. No longer did he have to rely on whether his teammate was ready to make a move from the back of the pack or push him to make a pass. Earnhardt could wheel his car on his own.</p> <p>And Sunday night, Earnhardt appeared to be back in old form - before he was caught up in a wreck and finished 20th. Still, the potential for racing was there.</p> <p>"I was feeling really good and really happy with the way things were going," Earnhardt said after the race. "I felt like I was doing a good job. I felt like I had control of my race and had potential to win the race if I made all the right moves. That is all I can ask for."</p> <p>With NASCAR's new rules package, cars are less stable aerodynamically and drivers no longer can push draft each other for extended periods of time since the size of the radiators were cut in half. While the Shootout was hairy at times, the drivers appeared more confident running their own races - even when they were on the verge of wrecking. And certainly, the new rules package benefited the wheelmen of the sport. Like most race fans, Junior was impressed by the level of racing and particularly the skill exhibited by Shootout winner <a href="">Kyle Busch</a>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><a href=""><img src="" height="97" width="202"> </a> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"It was amazing some of the saves he did," Earnhardt said of Busch. "He should go back there (in the garage) and give his track bar a high-five because the track bar mount saved his tail on a few of those deals. It was pretty awesome what he did, and to come back after all the things he went through to win the race was pretty spectacular.</p> <p>"It was a great race because of the way Kyle won it and because of the style of racing we had in there. It was a lot of fun. It was fun to be able to get offensive and go up there and try to take the lead. I think the fans really enjoyed all the lead changes we had (26 in 82 laps) and everybody out there being able to work on their own deal and not having to have a partner to make something happen."</p> <p>Earnhardt's anticipation of the upcoming Daytona 500 is understandable. He was bitten several times last year in tandem-style restrictor plate racing. After winning the pole for the 500 and leading nine laps, he wrecked with six laps remaining and finished 24th. At Talladega in April, he pushed teammate Jimmie Johnson to the win - because his car was better in the pushing position than it was in the lead. Earnhardt faced a similar fate at Daytona in July, when he led one lap and finished 19th after getting involved in a late-race wreck.</p> <p>But perhaps the greatest disappointment of all was the fall race at Talladega, where he was never a factor. Earnhardt rode around at the back of the pack with Johnson throughout the race and waited too long to move forward. The strategy bit both drivers and Earnhardt finished 25th.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><a href="" title="dale earnhardt jr"><img src="" height="97" alt="dale earnhardt jr" width="202"></a> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Junior was asked whether he would help his JR Motorsports Nationwide Series driver Danica Patrick when she makes her Sprint Cup debut in the Daytona 500 next week, he just laughed. With his newfound freedom in restrictor plate races, don't be surprised if Junior doesn't turn a tad bit selfish.</p> <p>"I'll help her just like I help anyone else - whatever helps me," Earnhardt said with a maniacal laugh. "Whatever helps me. If she needs help and it helps me, I'll help her. I want to be up front, and I want to lead every lap."</p> <p>And after having his hands tied for the past few years, it will be all about Junior next Sunday.</p> <h3><br>&nbsp;</h3> Wed, 22 Feb 2012 03:01:00 GMT JKINDELRAY