NASCAR Rising Star: Austin Dillon

August 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Austin Dillon has been headlining lists of top NASCAR prospects for a couple years now, and the early returns show nothing but a rapidly filling reservoir of untapped potential. Coming from a lineage of veritable NASCAR royalty – his grandfather is the legendary Richard Childress, his father is former NASCAR racer and current RCR General Manager Mike Dillon – Austin certainly has been primed for future success from an extremely young age, but his results in his first few years of organized competition prove that it is far more than mere nepotism that is thrusting young Dillon into the spotlight.

Despite his early success, Dillon and his handlers are taking a cautious approach when it comes to moving up the NASCAR ladder – evidentially hoping to learn something from the plights of recent racecar phenoms such as Joey Logano, who was rushed up to full-time Sprint Cup competition as a teenager amid much fanfare, but who has yet to find much success through four seasons driving the #20 Home Depot Toyota.

Dillon first gained attention as a rising star in 2008, after his performance in the K&N Pro Series East Series, a developmental circuit sanctioned by NASCAR, earned him a couple of starts in the Nationwide Series – one of which he cashed in for a fourth place finish.

By 2010, Dillon was racing full time in the Camping World Truck Series, where he earned his first NASCAR victory and was named the series’ Rookie of the Year following a season where he put up two wins, seven top 5s, and 16 top ten finishes. For an encore, Dillon returned to the Truck Series in 2011 and won the championship, and also earned a start in the biggest of the big leagues, the Sprint Cup Series.Soon after it was announced that not only would Dillon be moving up to the Nationwide Series in 2012, but he would have the honor of driving the #3 car that racecar legend Dale Earnhardt made famous.

Dillon’s performance in the Nationwide Series thus far has only fueled speculation that he will soon be joining the big boys in the Sprint Cup Series. He recorded his first Nationwide win in June (though his car failed a post-race inspection) and currently sits at #4 in the standings.

Despite this success and the fact that he is part of a family that can only be described as NASCAR royalty – his grandfather is Richard Childress – it was recently announced that Dillon will be returning to the Nationwide Series in 2013. He will, however, be competing in a handful of Sprint Cup races next year and if he continues to build on his success, we can anticipate him competing for spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship as early as 2014. And, interestingly enough, he may be joined soon after by his younger brother Ty, who has been competing admirably in the Truck Series this year.

After jumpstarting one NASCAR family dynasty — the Earnhardts — Richard Childress just might be doing it again, this time with his own grandsons.

Article contributed by Jack Payton

NASCAR Advocates Return to Pack Racing

January 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Two-car tandem racing has become a feature at Daytona and Talladega, with drivers working together to gain the highest speed possible around the track. In this two-car collaboration the trailing driver pushes the lead car around the track. Due to the position of the cars, the driver doing the pushing has a limited view of the road ahead and relies on the leader to make the right moves. However, the close proximity of the two cars can lead to overheating, and so the pusher needs to trade places with the leader from time to time. The temporary breaking of the pusher-leader partnership causes a dramatic reduction in speed for both cars and is potentially hazardous.

Three days of testing at Daytona saw NASCAR trying to break this two-car tandem racing pattern, and revert to the pack racing format that auto racing fans enjoy the most. During the testing, Kyle Busch clocked a 205.813 mph in a pack racing format, while Regan Smith and Kurt Busch formed a two-car tandem, with Kurt Busch clocking an incredible time of 206.058 mph.

Bearing in mind that NASCAR has traditionally been against exceeding speeds of 200 mph, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon reportedly queried the high speeds being achieved on the track, and was assured by NASCAR officials that they have no problem with the new record speeds. Nevertheless, with pack racing bringing in the fans, in November last year NASCAR Chairman Brian France made it clear that he wants drivers to move away from two-car tandem racing, so in addition to a series of changes to rules governing aerodynamics of racing cars, driver-to-driver communications over their scanners has been banned.

While a number of changes have been made during testing, with drivers and their teams kept informed all along the way, it is very likely that more changes will be made before the much anticipated Speedweeks begin, with the iconic Daytona 500 taking place on February 26. NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton noted that while there may be some loose ends to tie up as they make final plans for Speedweeks, and was reported as saying that “everything is going according to plan.”

Tony Stewart on Winning Streak

January 2, 2012 by  
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Tony Stewart continued his winning streak by taking the checkered flag at the 14th annual Rumble in Fort Wayne 50-lap midget car event on New Year’s Eve. Driving the twenty-year old VW-powered Munchkin, Stewart completed the race at 11:04 pm, later noting that the car in which he had claimed seven victories was easy to work with and fun to drive. Stewart ended the year on a high note and added to his list of achievements which include being the fast qualifier in his past ten races, and winning nine times in fourteen career starts.

Although it had an unpromising start, 2011 turned out to be an exciting year for both Stewart and his fans as he claimed his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, with his previous two title wins being in 2002 and 2005. The final race of the NASCAR season turned into a nail-biting duel between Edwards and Stewart, with Stewart crossing the finish line in first place and claiming the championship title.

In a post-race interview, 40-year old Stewart was reported as saying that it was the first time he had raced on New Year’s Eve, and that it was a great way to have finished the year. He also noted that it would be hard to keep up his winning streak, but he anticipates that it will be a lot of fun trying.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Tony Stewart has revealed that he will be part of a four-car “Team of Champions”, along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bryan Clauson and Jake Blackhurst, to participate in the 26th annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals set to start on 10 January. Driving the Chevrolet Performance Parts Sponsored No. 14 Chevrolet/Spike, which he has dubbed “Back in Black”, Stewart intends to challenge the Esslinger/Ford dominated event. Clauson will be driving a No. 39c Essingler/Spike Indycar/Indy 500 race car, while Stenhouse Jr. will be competing in a No. 39a Esslinger/Spike, and Blackhurst will be driving a No. 39b Esslinger/Spike Kitchen Cooked entry.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Ends with a Duel

November 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

As the final race of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday offered excitement from start to finish, ending with Tony Stewart taking the checkered flag and the championship title. Having won the NASCAR season championships in 2002 and 2005, this was Stewart’s third championship victory – a victory for which he had to battle against very strong competition. The last 40 laps of the 267-lap event proved to be a duel between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards that kept fans in suspense right to the finish line. Although Stewart and Edwards ended the season tied in points, the championship title went to Stewart because of his five victories during the season, compared with one victory for Edwards.

What made Stewart’s victory even sweeter was the fact that it was not without obstacles. Eearly on in the race he discovered a hole in his car’s front grille forcing him to stop for repairs. His team put a new grille over the damaged one, securing it in place with electrical tape, and sending him on his way again. At one stage Stewart was 40th in the field, but climbed to 5th place before a 74-minute rain delay broke his stride once more. But nothing was going to stand in Stewart’s way as he fought his way to the front of the field, and the battlefor first place became a duel between himself and Edwards.

In a post-race interview, Stewart acknowledged that the first 109 laps of the race had been very challenging and commended his crew for their hard work. Commenting on his daring driving style which saw him passing a trio of cars on the inside of the track, Stewart said:”That shows you how bad I wanted to win this thing.” He also noted that a driver can’t hold anything back when going for a championship.

Martin Truex Jr. finished in third place, with Matt Kenseth taking the fourth spot and Jeff Gordon coming in fifth. Having scored two wins in the season, Jimmie Johnson had a disappointing finish to the season, finishing 32nd due to engine trouble and an incident in lap 143 where he spun out and hit the wall. Nevertheless, Johnson ended in sixth place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Standings with 2304 points. Both Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards clocked up 2403 points, with Kevin Harvick taking third place with 2345 points, Matt Kenseth at fourth place with 2330 points, and Brad Keselowski in fifth place with 2319 points.

Kenseth’s Position Boosted by Charlotte Victory

October 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

Claiming first place in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, 15 October, Matt Kenseth has moved up to third position in points in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Carl Edwards is in first position with points, and Kevin Harvick in second. While Kyle Busch took the lead in 111 laps of the race, Kenseth moved into a serious battle for the lead late in the race, bagging his third win of the season and moving up in the championship stakes. He is now just seven markers behind Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards, and with Talladega Superspeedway next on the championship calendar, the competition is definitely heating up.

The 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship started off on a disappointing note for Kenseth as he came in 21st with the opening race at Chicagoland. His form showed definite improvement as he finished in 6th place at Loudon, 5th place at Dover and 4th at Kansas, with his win at Charlotte showing his talent as a driver. Since his rookie campaign in 2000 when he took the checkered flag at Charlotte, Kenseth counts the 2003 Cup championship and a Daytona 500 win among his achievements. Reportedly considered by some to be a “boring” driver, Kenseth has stated that he was hired to try and win races and that’s what he tries to do week after week.

The top-five of the Bank of America 500 were Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Marcos Ambrose. Other highlights of the racing action at Charlotte on Saturday included some intense on-track rivalry between Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, which they resolved off-track after the race. Jimmie Johnson – five-time defending series champion – was involved in a hard accident just 17 laps short of the finish line, when he made contact with Ryan Newman. As the winner of the race at Kansas last week, Johnson had started Saturday’s race ranking third in points, with only four points between him and Edwards – he has now dropped to 8th in the standings. But as all auto racing fans know, each new race presents its challenges and opportunities, and anything can happen as drivers Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

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