Danica Patrick announces her divorce
Tough personal news out of NASCAR today, as Danica Patrick has announced via her Facebook page that she and Paul Hospenthal, her husband of seven years,will be divorcing.
What old crew chief is new again for Kevin Harvick. For Bristol, anyway.
Gil Martin will replace Shane Wilson atop Harvick’s pit box for Saturday night’s race at Bristol. Wilson, who worked last year with Clint Bowyer on Richard Childress Racing’s No. 33, moved over to Harvick’s car after Bowyer went to Michael Waltrip Racing and RCR slimmed down to three full-time teams. Martin became Harvick’s Sprint Cup crew chief in the 10th race of 2009 and held the title until the end of last year.
From Fox Sports:
“We’re just trying to turn things around to make sure we get in the Chase, then be competitive once we get into the Chase,” Martin told FOXSports.com. “It’s not a question of us knowing each other’s history, we’ve worked together before.
“This is a good team. We’re just trying to get things turned around.”
While the No. 29 teams seems likely to be in the Chase in three weeks, that turnaround primarily means getting to victory lane. Harvick is winless this season, one of two drivers in the top 10 in the Sprint Cup points series without a win. He and Martin won four races last season and three in 2010, including 26 top 10s in 36 races that year. This year, through 23 races, Harvick has nine top 10s.
At the moment, it’s unclear if the pairing will be for the rest of the season, or even beyond Bristol. Childress told Fox that it was “definitely a temporary situation.”
Nobody saw Jimmie Johnson’s engine failure coming with six laps to go in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Instead of extending his points lead over Greg Biffle, Johnson fell to fourth in the standings at a time when many thought him invincible. Biffle inherited the victory and the points lead.
In other words, what you think you know about the rest of this Sprint Cup season might be all wrong.
There’s plenty of unpredictability left in the final 13 races on the schedule, from the three events before the Chase to the 10 events that make it up. Today, we’ll be checking off the five tracks that offer the greatest chances for surprise finishes, along with an example of an exciting race from the Chase era (2004-present).
Joey Logano has had a wild ride with Joe Gibbs Racing since he was 16-years-old. He was thrust into the prestigious Home Depot No. 20 Cup car perhaps before his time, now it is time for him to cut the cord with JGR.
There is little doubt that much has been invested in the young driver by JGR. The last two years though, have been a true test for Logano with him not knowing how his future will play out.
During the 2011 season, Logano had the threat of Carl Edward's decision to stay or leave Roush Fenway Racing and his possible move to JGR and the No. 20 car.
Logano, 22, has had to wonder once again about his future this season, a contract year for him.
Matt Kenseth announced he would leave Roush Fenway Racing in June. It is perhaps one of the worst kept secrets in the sport that Kenseth is coming to Joe Gibbs Racing.
Logano has talked to one other team owner, likely Roger Penske. The coveted seat in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford for 2013 could well be a possibility for Logano.
Sam Hornish Jr. currently has control of that ride with Penske, but it is probable that there will be a third Cup team at Penske Racing next season.
Sponsorship is key to decisions with not only Penske, but Joe Gibbs Racing as well. Should Logano stay with JGR he might be relegated to a new Cup team that could have funding for only a partial schedule.
He would then have to drop back down to the NASCAR Nationwide Series and run for the title. He has had considerable success in that series, but it is not the way he wants his future to go.
If indeed Penske is the other option being considered by Logano, he needs to make the leap of faith and go with the highly respected owner who will be loyal to the young driver.
Joe Gibbs stated recently to ESPN, “Everything is up in the air” so far as the status of Logano and his future with JGR.
Gibbs added that he hoped to make an announcement within the next two weeks. The timing just may coincide with the race at Atlanta, which by-the-way, is home base for Home Depot.
Lee Spencer of Fox Sports reported that Penske hopes to make an announcement regarding who will drive the No. 22 before the start of the Chase at Chicagoland.
The pieces are slowly falling into place with upcoming announcements. Logano is maturing and with two career Cup wins, he has served his apprenticeship with JGR.
It is the biggest decision of this young driver’s career and one that can’t be easy. He owes a lot to Joe Gibbs Racing, but the time has come for him to move on. It is often said that change is good.
Read more NASCAR news on BleacherReport.com
Ever since NASCAR switched to their version of playoffs—the Chase for the Championship in 2004 and then tweaked it with wild-cards and reduced points—the Chase for the Sprint Cup has added intensity to the first 26 races of the long season.
The last 10 races under the Chase plan brought renewed competition for fans. The changes have altered team strategy. With that added, stress plays on driver and team-member emotions. It’s a race to get in and then a race to win.
In short: Along the way, renewed intensity is bound to cause additional frustrations.
The latest race in Michigan was important for many teams as it was one of four before the contender list is reset for the Chase. Several drivers are desperate for a win or two to secure a playoff berth.
Greg Biffle roared to the finish line after 201 laps to take the checkers after Jimmie Johnson snatched the lead with less than eight laps to go only to blow an engine. Johnson uncharacteristically left the track without comment.
Five-time champion Johnson is frequently available and amiable with media, but if he chooses to exit without comment from a bad race day—that is his option and right.
Three-time champion Tony Stewart is not one to hold back and could have spewed salty comments after engine problems ended his day, but he was simply candid.
“It’s not something I’m concerned about,” Stewart said. “It’s just a bad day. We have the best engine department in the world, definitely in this series, and they did everything they could do.”
A fine edge exists between being competitive, aggressive or abusive on a racetrack. After Jeff Gordon declared his displeasure with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the track, his engine gave up as well. Later he explained.
“I don’t care who I’m racing out there; I’m going to show my displeasure if I’m not happy about something,” Gordon said. “But that one was pretty close, but no big deal. I’m glad to see he’s running good.”
Brad Keselowski and team have been near the front or winning this season, and he chased Biffle hard at Michigan to get another second place finish. Keselowski shared his thoughts about overtaking Johnson and more.
“The 48 has the most speed and the best history as far as the Chase is concerned. But it's my job to not roll over and give it to them. We're doing everything we can do, and we nailed it on that last green-flag sequence. I'm proud as hell of my guys for doing that.
“We're going to keep 'em honest through this Chase. That's our goal. I think it's good to know that they're frustrated 'cause they should be. We nailed it.”
Greg Biffle commented on Johnson and his thrilling win in the MIS media center.
“This car is so fast,” Biffle said. “Once I got out front in clean air I could pass one car at a time pretty easy. The car was really, really bad in dirty air, and I had a tough time with that. I knew my car was bad ass. I didn’t want to say anything until I got here to victory lane.
“I got it turned around and was catching him, and then he had the engine failure. It was going to be a great race no matter what. I felt like I could catch him, but we will never know. Passing him might have been a different story, but I certainly think with seven to go I could have probably pulled up close to him.”
The top dozen select NSCS “rock and drop” list this week: (includes points behind and position moves)
1. Greg Biffle Leader [+1]
2. Matt Kenseth (-20) [+1]
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-22) [+1]
4. Jimmie Johnson (-28) [-3]
6. Martin Truex Jr. (-60) [--]
8. Kevin Harvick (-85) [+1]
9. Tony Stewart (-95) [-1]
11. Kasey Kahne (-129) – [--]
12. Carl Edwards 689 (-134) [--]
13. Ryan Newman 680 (-143) [--]
14. Kyle Busch 669 (-154) [--]
16. Jeff Gordon 650 -173 [-1]
Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski are in solid contender position with their wins and points. With three races to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup start, they shared confident words as well.
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Dodge)
“I can taste the legitimacy of being a championship contender,” Keselowski said. “With a little more speed today I think we could have got us a win. I know in the Chase we can get a bunch of 'em. Hopefully we'll find that little bit of speed to go with the execution we have and be in even better condition to close the deal out.”
Greg Biffle (No. 16 Ford)
“I know that a lot of people don’t expect us to win the championship and don’t expect us to compete for the title,” Biffle said. “But I don’t care what they say or who they want to talk about or what they want to talk about. We will be a factor when it comes down to Homestead. I promise you that.”
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of motorsports topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanctions, teams or track representatives.
Read more NASCAR news on BleacherReport.com
The race is done, and that means it’s time for Power Rankings. Each week throughout the season, we’ll size up who’s rising and who’s falling, based on current standings, behind-the-scenes changes, expected staying power, recent history and general gut feelings. It is not scientific, nor is it meant to be. And remember, whoever your favorite driver is, we’re biased against him and like someone else better. We continue with a guy who’s setting up camp up top:
1. Brad Keselowski: 1, 8, 5, 9, 4, 2, 2. It’s not just a rundown of your last seven dates, it’s BK’s last seven finishes. Nobody’s as consistent as he is right now, and even though he’s still relatively young by NASCAR’s Jurassic standards, he’s now an absolutely legit championship contender. Maybe the Jimmie Johnson stomp for six isn’t as predestined as we thought. Last week: 1.
2. Jimmie Johnson: I don’t care who you are, you’ve got to feel (in the abstract) the tiniest bit bad for Johnson losing the way he did on Sunday, seeing his engine vaporize with six laps remaining. If Hendrick’s motors are faltering, that might just be the opening other teams need to catch him. Maybe. Last week: 2.
[Related: Greg Biffle outruns Brad Keselowski for win and points lead]
3. Greg Biffle: After his win on Sunday in Michigan, Biffle complained that people aren’t taking him seriously. Winning is a good way to do that, GB. Do you think he’s a championship contender? We think he’s close, very close. One more win, especially one in the Chase, and he’ll be right there in the upper-echelon mix. Last week: 5.
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Everybody always wants to know how Junior’s doing any given race. It’s the NASCAR version of “Roll Tide”; no matter what the situation, “Junior update?” Try it next time you’re at the grocery store, at a wedding, at a funeral … long as the deceased isn’t a Junior. That could go badly, as the dearly departed has gone to that great Garage in the Sky. Last week: 4.
5. Kasey Kahne: HurriKahne is legitimately close to catching Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart for that 10th spot; he’s within 35 points of both, and could legitimately run down one or the other by Richmond. Neither driver is in danger of missing the Chase, but they’d lose out on those tasty bonus points. Last week: 7.
[Related: Mark Martin's crash was bad, but could have been worse]
6. Martin Truex Jr.: When do we start to consider Michael Waltrip Racing an elite team? Truex needs to get a win, definitely, but he’s running up front every week, as is Clint Bowyer. And Mark Martin was tearing it up until he got shishkebabbed on the pit road wall. You’ve got to admit, though, they’re getting close. Last week: 10.
7. Matt Kenseth: What’s up with MK? You think the indecision and uncertainty regarding his future is affecting his team? He hasn’t won in a looooong time, and you’ve got to wonder if his plans to leave are starting to have an impact. Easy to say from our vantage point, of course. Last week: 5.
8. Jeff Gordon: You knew it couldn’t last. Gordon’s star-crossed year continues as he gets into a fight with, like, the guy least likely to get into a fight: one Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’s still got a chance, and he’s got options to win at both Atlanta and Richmond, but oh, it’s going to be a rough next few weeks for him. Last week: 3.
[Related: Jeff Gordon was really unhappy with Dale Earnhardt Jr.]
9. Clint Bowyer: Clint, please. I’m begging you. Do something interesting for me. Every time I get to your entry in these lists, I have absolutely nothing to write for you. You continue to drive very strong races with very little color or interest, like medium-hot salsa. So please, win or wreck somebody spectacularly. Thanks, bro. Last week: 9.
10. Marcos Ambrose: What do you think? Can Kangaroo Meat make a run at the wild card? He’s waited just a wee bit too long to go at it via points, but with a Hail-Mary win, he could get in. Boy, wouldn’t that just tick everybody off? Last week: NR.
11. Denny Hamlin: What the heck happened to Hamlin? One moment he’s stomping everyone flat, and then we look up and he’s stumbling along the low edge of the standings. We’ll avoid sweeping judgments except to say that we blame this all on Obama. And also Romney. Last week: 8.
12. Tony Stewart: If it were any other driver, we’d call Tony Stewart toast. No chance in the Chase, regardless of how many wins he has in the regular season. But Stewart has a way of wringing victory out of certain defeat. Seriously, if he had been in Custer’s army, he’d have routed Crazy Horse and the rest of ‘em. They would’ve been mystified by the appearance of the No. 14 at Little Big Horn, that’s for sure. Last week: 11.
Dropping out of the rankings: Kyle Busch.
Lucky Dog: Sam Hornish Jr. The guy is doing his level best to lock up a Cup ride again next year. He’ll be fighting (presumably) Joey Logano, but he’s doing all he can to prove himself on-track.
The Carl Edwards DNF: Carl Edwards, who had a chance to take this race, lining up third on the Green-White-Checker, but couldn’t even begin to hang with Biffle and Keselowski.
All right, your turn. Fire away, friends.
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Just when NASCAR appeared to have all the holes patched, its drivers showed Sunday that they can always find new ways and new places to crash.
Mark Martin’s frightening crash on lap 64 of Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 uncovered yet another weak spot in NASCAR’s quest to make its events as safe as possible, one that must be amended as soon as possible.
If you missed it, contact from Kasey Kahne sent Martin's car spinning down the entrance of the pit road, where it eventually made contact—driver's side first—with the end of the pit wall at one of the points where the wall opens into the garage area.
Martin and the pit crew of Kahne, who was ironically pitted in the stall closest to Martin’s point of impact, were all luckily unscathed.
But that doesn’t change the fact that give or take another foot, Martin’s accident could have been catastrophic for himself and others in the area.
Having those openings in the pit wall is extremely dangerous, and Sunday’s incident shows that it is beyond time to close them up while the cars are at full speed on the racetrack.
Had Martin’s car hit the wall just a foot or two forward of where it did, the wall would have made a direct impact with the driver’s compartment, resulting in potentially-dire consequences. Another foot or two forward from that point, and Martin’s car could have been spun around and wound up behind the pit wall, injuring scores more.
Now, the thought process of most readers will likely start with one notion: The fact that Martin’s car hit that precise spot was sheer luck or chance, unlikely to ever happen again.
This is a valid point. Cars sliding that far onto pit road is rare, but that doesn’t change the fact that what happened yesterday highlighted a portion of pit road that is remarkably unsafe. And if it happened once, there’s nothing to say that it can’t happen again, with less-desirable results.
Honestly, it’s a wonder that a car hasn’t already taken a nasty lick on one of those openings before now.
NASCAR has a history of acting swiftly in response to complaints about similarly unsafe areas.
In 2008, after Jeff Gordon endured this frightening hit on an opening in the inside wall at Las Vegas, promoter Bruton Smith and NASCAR responded swiftly, closing the opening and installing safer barriers (via Associated Press/ESPN.com) along the inside wall to prevent a similar impact.
The Sprint Cup Series’ 2010 trip to Pocono saw Elliott Sadler suffer NASCAR’s hardest hit ever recorded to an oddly-shaped barrier along the straightaway between the triangle’s Turns 1 and 2 (at about the 1:35 mark of this video). NASCAR’s response? Working with Pocono to immediately revamp that portion of the track, straightening out that guardrail in an effort to avoid another crash like Sadler’s.
And in 2011, after David Reutimann and David Ragan were involved in this wild crash at Watkins Glen, NASCAR and the racetrack changed the configuration of that area of the course, widening the racing surface and paving the nearby grass to give drivers more runoff room to avoid contact.
Now is another one of those times for NASCAR to act, not just at Michigan, but at all racetracks. Having these openings in the pit walls poses a grievous threat to the safety of not only the drivers, but the crew members working in the stalls adjacent to the openings.
It is imperative that NASCAR work with these racetracks to implement some sort of gate or barrier that can be opened and closed; something that can provide quick garage access, but protect drivers from potential hits like the one Martin took Sunday.
The sooner it happens the better, because as drivers are so apt to show, they can find ways to crash just about anywhere.
What do you think? Do NASCAR and its racetracks need to fix this problem? Or is a big deal being made about nothing? Answer the poll above and tell us why you feel the way you do in the comments below!
Read more NASCAR news on BleacherReport.com
The boys of NASCAR traveled to the Irish Hills of Michigan this weekend for the Pure Michigan 400 at the Michigan International Speedway.
The two-mile D-shaped oval was kind to the Blue Oval as well as the hometown boy and a few others, including the winner at Michigan back in June, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Unfortunately, the long straightaways took their toll on more than a few engines and the wide, sweeping turns sparked a potentially new rivalry involving a couple of Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
The face atop the rankings changes this week, as do 16 of the 20 positions after a big shakeup in this week's edition of NASCAR Power Rankings.
Who moved up and who moved down after Sunday’s race at Michigan? We’ve got you covered!
Greg Biffle took advantage of Jimmy Johnson’s blown engine late in Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race to earn Ford a win for the first time in four years in Michigan.
The win, Biffle’s 18th career victory, became significant as he regains a 21-point lead over teammate Matt Kenseth and 28 points over Johnson with just three races remaining before the Chase battle begins.
The sunny afternoon event started with Mark Martin leading the pack to the stripe for the 55th time in his career, but just first time in Michigan. The 53-year-old veteran ran away and easily led the field for the first 66 laps before coming upon the lapped cars of Bobby Labonte and Juan Montoya. His white and blue Toyota had no where to go but into the two cars—then he had help getting turned around by Kasey Kahne.
Martin’s No. 55 car then went for a wild ride towards pit lane, where it spun around and smacked the end of the pit lane wall with a resounding thud, right behind the driver, nearly cutting the car in half. Pit crew members scrambled, the car went in the air briefly then caught fire before NASCAR officials quickly extinguished the flames.
Martin was OK, but the car was toast in more ways than one, a shame considering how fast it had been and that there are only so many opportunities for a part-time driver to be in a lead position.
Once underway, Kenseth took control of the race with Craig Bowyer and fellow MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr. nearby. All the while, Roush teammates Biffle and Carl Edwards were running among the top 10 and often the top five.
Twenty laps later, Montoya had yet another run in, this one with Joey Logano, who wound up in the outside wall twice before leaving the track. Montoya couldn’t have made any friends today and was called to the NASCAR hauler following the end of the race.
With 50 laps remaining, Dale Earnhardt Jr. entered the fray and led for several several laps, with Johnson, Kahne, Biffle and Brad Keselowski running among the top five.
Ten laps later, Johnson zoomed by teammate Earnhardt with ease. Keselowski took a shot out front before Johnson regained the lead with 10 circuits to go, heading for what appeared to be his fourth win of the season.
With six laps remaining, Johnson’s car started to chug and slow as Biffle zipped by for the final time and into the winner’s circle. Finishing not far behind Biffle were Keselowski, Kahne, Earnhardt Jr., Marcos Ambrose and Edwards.
It was certainly a bad day for Hendrick Motorsports as three motors hand-grenaded, the result of bad valve springs. The ‘unfortunates’ included Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Johnson, who actually had two engines let go for the whole weekend.
Stewart slipped to 10th in the Chase standings and Gordon fell to 16th.
The road race in Montreal for the Nationwide series was another barnburner with numerous lead changes and more beatin’ and bangin’ than a Saturday night local short-track race.
With race-long leader and hometown favorite Jacques Villeneuve running on fumes during the final lap, Justin Allgaier went on to win his first Nationwide race of the year, his third career trophy. Finishing behind Allgaier were Sam Hornish Jr., Villeneuve, Elliott Sadler and road-race ace Ron Fellows.
Villeneuve was skunked once again after leading for many laps and having the car fail him. Eight caution periods for 22 laps slowed the action down, but overall, it was a great event.
Sadler’s top-five finish keeps him atop the standings, now 22 markers ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Hornish Jr.
Camping World Trucks
Despite Kurt Busch leading most of this race at Michigan, the event turned into a gas economy run in the closing stages with several teams rolling the dice on enough go-juice to run the distance. Nelson Piquet Jr. wound up as the winner, his first career trophy in this division, besting the likes of Jason White, Dakoda Armstrong, Parker Kligerman and James Buescher.
Busch wound up an undeserving ninth.
As reported by ESPN.com's David Newton, an unnamed source recently commented on A.J. Allmendinger’s claim to have ingested just one Adderall pill (which resulted in failed a NASCAR drug test) is more than likely false. In addition, A.J.’s claim that he will complete NASCAR’s Road to Recovery plan in just one month is more than likely not going to happen.
I’m no doctor, but I tend to agree with both concepts.
One little pill to have lasting results 2-3 days later and only one month on the ‘Road’? There’s more to this story than meets the eye. We’ll see how it all works out and maybe find out the real story someday.
That’s it for this week. Next week, Race With Russ will review the NASCAR Truck, Cup and Nationwide action from the newly revamped Bristol Motor Speedway along with more racing news from around the globe.
Read more NASCAR news on BleacherReport.com
For the drivers in NASCAR's top series, winning at the fast two-mile Michigan track is important not only because it is one of four chances to secure position for the Chase, but also for bragging rights in Motor City.
Michigan International Speedway is located near the home of the major American car manufacturers. Placing a Chevrolet, Ford or Dodge in Victory Lane is a special source of pride for the entire team.
Drivers dive into turns at speeds of 200 mph with banking of 18 degrees. At superspeedway speeds, it appears almost as a flat track to the pilot of the race car. Grip and balance with the car is mandatory.
The Pure Michigan 400 gave us racing that was fast and furious with much at stake for many drivers. Along the way to the checkered flag, we learned a few lessons, so let’s see what they were.
BROOKLYN, Mich. — I can just envision Rick Hendrick at Monday morning’s post-race review taking off his ever-present ball cap, running his fingers through his hair, bending over the conference table, looking at the dozen or so employees present and then breaking into a Desi Arnaz imitation:
“Somebody’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.”
Indeed, someone has a lot of explaining—if they can, that is—on why three of Hendrick Motorsports top six teams (okay, four teams plus the two Stewart Haas Racing Satellite teams) all had massive engine failure in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
First, a valve spring issue developed in Tony Stewart’s car. Then a few laps later, the same calamity struck Jeff Gordon’s car.
But the biggest and most disappointing episode occurred with six laps to go when the motor in Jimmie Johnson’s car let go at the worst time possible: with Johnson in the lead and only six laps from the finish line.
As if to add insult to injury, it was the second engine failure Johnson suffered over the weekend, prompting crew chief Chad Knaus to change engines for Sunday’s race.
Sure, Hendrick motors powered Johnson to a record five consecutive championships from 2006 through 2010, with near-bulletproof performance. But that was then, and this is now—and after Sunday, one has to wonder how the HMS engine department will respond.
If it was just one engine failure, no problem. Prior to Sunday, HMS has suffered seven engine failures this season: Jeff Gordon (Daytona 500), Johnson previously had a motor let go at Talladega, Kasey Kahne lost one at Martinsville, Ryan Newman suffered a pair of failures (Talladega and Kentucky) and Kurt Busch’s leased HMS motors failed at Dover and Indianapolis.
On the flip side, neither Dale Earnhardt Jr. nor Tony Stewart suffered engine failure this season prior to Sunday’s race.
So let’s do the math: multiply seven drivers that use Hendrick motors by the first 22 races prior to Sunday and you come up with seven motor failures in 153 starts (remember, Busch was benched for a race earlier this season) thus far in 2012, That’s about a five percent failure rate. I can live with that, and even with HMS’s penchant for perfection, no one is going to be taken to the woodshed for those disparate and rare failures.
No one’s perfect, not even HMS.
Even two engine issues Sunday might have raised a few eyebrows back at the HMS campus in Concord, N.C., but that would probably have been all.
But when you have four engines go south among seven drivers on the same weekend, including three on race day, that suddenly becomes a nearly 60 percent failure rate and a major cause for concern. I'm betting that not just a few eyebrows were raised, but also the collective blood pressure of the entire HMS motor department and probably much of the rest of the company went through the roof Sunday.
Let’s face it: Hendrick Motorsports lives and dies by the success of its motors. It hasn't won over 200 Sprint Cup races—far and away No. 1 among all teams and manufacturers—in less than 30 years or kept its motors together simply by happenstance, bubble gum and bailing wire.
No, HMS has some of the best technology and personnel in the business. They find horsepower and speed in places where other teams don’t even begin to think of.
But Sunday’s massive across the board failures have to give the folks at the fabled HMS engine shop a great deal of concern, particularly with the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup set to start in less than a month. As Johnson has proven, consistency wins championships in the Chase, but you don’t have that consistency without motors that do what they’re supposed to and designed to do: don’t break parts, don’t blow up and that do finish races.
The last thing guys like Johnson, Earnhardt and especially Stewart (his Chase chances appear a bit shaky right now that he’s dropped to ninth place, just one point out of 10th) need is to worry about whether their engines will hold up at demanding tracks in the Chase including Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.
And then there’s Kahne, Gordon and Newman, who are all hoping for a miracle in the next three races prior to the start of the Chase to indeed make the final 12-driver field (Kahne appears pretty much a lock, but Gordon and Newman’s chances aren’t looking all that great just now). And as for Kurt Busch, unless he wins the next three races, forget about his Chase chances altogether.
Knowing the HMS engine program like I do, I can guarantee you there’s going to be lots of long days and nights over the next few weeks, with nearly non-stop 24/7 testing of anything that even looks like a motor. I wouldn’t be surprised if they even break out things like stethoscopes, lasers and other non-traditional scientific measuring instruments to make sure what happened Sunday stays what it was: nothing short of a nightmare, and hopefully not a sign of even more trouble still to come.
Read more NASCAR news on BleacherReport.com
“This one is over.”
That was the phrase that undoubtedly crossed the lips of many on Sunday when Jimmie Johnson took the lead from Brad Keselowski with 10 laps to go at Michigan. After completing the pass, Johnson set sail, opening up a gap over Keselowski and Greg Biffle that looked almost insurmountable as the laps started to tick down.
Yes, Johnson’s Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon had retired earlier in the race because of a valve spring issue, and a valve spring issue had also sidelined Tony Stewart, whose Stewart-Haas race team uses Hendrick horsepower. But Johnson was just more than six laps from the finish and he had a fresh engine that was installed on Saturday; a fresh engine that had helped him drive from a 41st starting position to the front of the field with relative ease. Gordon and Stewart’s problems came a whole lot earlier in the race, Johnson’s engine was going to make it to the end. Right?
Wrong. Johnson started radioing to his crew that the motor was laying down — the same verbiage that Stewart used when describing his engine woes. Was Johnson serious? Or was he playing around given the gap he had drawn on the field? Then the lead dwindled, more than half a second in one lap. Oh no, Johnson wasn’t kidding.
He slowed on the backstretch. Biffle screamed by for the lead. Then Keselowski and others zoomed past. Johnson’s frustration on the radio apexed. And soon, his engine was billowing smoke and causing a caution flag.
After inheriting the points lead thanks to a third place finish last week at Watkins Glen, Johnson talked openly about how he looked forward to having the pressure of being the points leader on his team; pressure that the No. 48 crew had obviously responded positively to. And claiming Michigan’s checkered flag would not only have kept Johnson in the points lead, but also meant that he’d likely start the Chase at the top spot as well.
That frustration was still at a crescendo as Johnson pulled his car behind his team’s hauler in the garage. He exited his car quickly and walked past his hauler with his helmet still on his head. He kept walking, and turned towards the motorcoach lot, pausing for no one. It was obvious how much this win meant for one of the most media-affable drivers in the garage.
While, as of now, Johnson would be tied for the lead when the Chase begins, he’s now fourth in the points standings, 28 points behind Biffle with three races to go before the 10 race playoffs. Barring any major misfortune, Johnson and company won’t get to feel the pressure of being the points leader any more before the Chase. But for the 193 laps that they did on Sunday, it was obvious what the response was.
After he got to victory lane Sunday at Michigan, Greg Biffle threw down a jubilant proclamation.
“We’re going to make a run at the title. I know they don’t talk about us a lot, but they will when we get to Vegas,” Biffle said.
Las Vegas, of course, is the site of the Sprint Cup Series championship banquet in December. And Biffle was referring to that head table on the banquet stage where he envisions his team sitting. And while Jimmie Johnson, the driver he ultimately overtook thanks to engine trouble to win Sunday at Michigan may be considered the favorite in the minds of many, it’s probably wise not to overlook Biffle, who now leads the points standings by 20 points over teammate Matt Kenseth.
Biffle looked destined for second place with eight laps to go, but suddenly, Johnson, who had stormed past Brad Keselowski for the lead just a few laps earlier, started having engine trouble and Biffle breezed by.
Johnson’s engine expiration brought out a caution just shortly after Biffle seized the lead, but Biffle drove away from Brad Keselowski on the final lap to take his second win of the season, matching a statistical oddity that has no bearing whatsoever on this year’s championship but is too bizarre not to point out.
Biffle has won exactly, yes, exactly, two races in every even numbered year since 2004. Not more, not less. And it’s 2012, an even numbered year. Will the pattern continue? If it does, Biffle’s got little shot at the title. Just once — Tony Stewart in 2005 — has a driver won the Chase without winning a single Chase race. Kurt Busch in 2004 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006 are the only two drivers to win the Chase with a single Chase win. With Tony Stewart’s five Chase victories (and subsequent tiebreaker), it’s apparent that in this Sprint Cup age, it will likely multiple Chase wins to secure the trophy.
Unless you believe in the power of quirks, there’s no reason to think that Biffle isn’t one of the drivers capable of denying Johnson his sixth title. Biffle’s first win of the season came at Texas, the site of the eighth race in the Chase and of the eight tracks in the Chase that the Sprint Cup Series has already visited, he’s got five top 10s and a lowest finish of 13th. If that success carries over, those are finishes that can put you squarely in title contention.
It appeared that Jimmie Johnson would finally bring home a victory at the Pure Michigan 400, but a late engine failure opened the door for Greg Biffle, who got the win for Roush Fenway Racing.
Johnson led all the way until lap 193 of 200, but when his Hendrick Motorsports engine started trailing water and smoke out of the exhaust pipes, Biffle took the lead on the caution and Johnson was unable to finish the race.
This is the fourth time the four-time Driver of the Year has been the victim of the final lead change at Michigan International Speedway. He has yet to win there.
Biffle, on the other hand, has had much more success in the Great Lakes State. This was his third win at Michigan and his second at the Pure Michigan 400.
It was also the second win of the year for Biffle, who becomes the new points leader as the Chase for the Cup narrows down.
Pure Michigan 400 Leaderboard
For a complete look at the full leaderboard, check out NASCAR.com.
Position Car Driver
1 16 Greg Biffle
2 2 Brad Keselowski
3 5 Kasey Kahne
4 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
5 9 Marcus Ambrose
6 99 Carl Edwards
7 15 Clint Bowyer
8 39 Ryan Newman
9 27 Paul Menard
10 56 Martin Truex Jr.
Updated Sprint Cup Standings
The current standings obviously aren't crucial quite yet, but they still give you a solid look as to what to expect over the next few weeks. Biffle, as already stated, made the jump to first, while Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also took advantage of Johnson's forgettable day.
Other notable movers: Kevin Harvick passed up Tony Stewart, and Paul Menard—with his fifth top 10 of the season—passed Tony Stewart.
For a complete look at the standings, check out NASCAR.com.
Rank Driver Points
1 Greg Biffle 823
2 Matt Kenseth 803
3 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 801
4 Jimmie Johnson 795
5 Brad Keselowski
6 Martin Truex Jr. 763
7 Clint Bowyer 757
8 Kevin Harvick 738
9 Tony Stewart 728
10 Denny Hamlin 727
The drivers head to Bristol Motor Speedway to take part in the Irwin Tools Night Race, which takes place on Saturday, August 25, 2012.
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