Reinforcing the fact that positions on a racetrack can change in the blink of an eye, the wreck involving Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano on the final lap of the NASCAR Auto Club 400 at Fontana on Sunday put Kyle Busch in the lead for his first Sprint Cup win of the 2013 season. It also shifted Dale Earnhardt Jr. into second place, putting him at the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings with 199 points. Following his victory at Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, the Auto Club 400 victory on Sunday was Kyle Busch’s 25th NASCAR win.
Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano made contact in the final lap of the Auto Club 400, sending Logano into the outside wall and Hamlin into the inside wall. Hamlin was initially attended to in an ambulance, but was airlifted to a hospital where he remained overnight for observation. In off the track drama, Tony Stewart reportedly confronted Logano following the race, most likely related to the fact that Logano had blocked Stewart out of a late restart, resulting in the Sprint Cup series champion finishing the Auto Club 400 in 22nd place. Earnhardt started in 15th place, working his way up the field, but dropping to 22nd place during the race, hampered by a slow pit stop, before making his way back to fourth place and ending in second place after the Hamlin and Logano wreck. /p>
The top ten in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings are:
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr – #88 Chevrolet – 199 points
2. Brad Keselowski – #2 Ford – 187 points
3. Jimmie Johnson – #48 Chevrolet – 183 points
4. Carl Edwards – #99 Ford – 164 points
5. Greg Biffle – #16 Ford – 164 points
6. Kyle Busch – #18 Toyota – 163 points
7. Kasey Kahne – #5 Chevrolet – 159 points
8. Paul Menard – #27 Chevrolet – 154 points
9. Joey Logano – #22 Ford – 146 points
10. Denny Hamlin – #11 Toyota – 145 points
Matt Kenseth had reason for a double celebration on Sunday as he took the checkered flag on his 41st birthday. Driving for Joe Gibbs racing, Kenseth managed to hold off Kasey Kahne to clinch his third win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – his previous Las Vegas victories being in 2003 and 2004 – bringing his career victories to a total of twenty-five. Following Kasey Kahne’s second place, the top ten for the 2013 Kobalt Tools 400, in order, was Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard.
The 400-mile race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was a defining event for the new Gen-6 car, as it was the first competitive race on an intermediate track. Most drivers appeared to be keen to see how the Gen-6 would perform on the 1.5-mile track. If any of the drivers had reservations about the new car’s performance, they kept it to themselves, with the notable exception of Denny Hamlin who was fined $25,000 by NASCAR for overstepping the boundaries in voicing his doubt in the Gen-6 after the race at Phoenix International Raceway, in which he came third after starting at the rear of the field. Hamlin is reportedly considering appealing the penalty.
Finishing if 4th place, Kyle Busch proved that it is definitely possible to pass in the Gen-6 as he twice moved his way up through the field, taking the lead after a restart with 102 laps to go. Kahne noted in a post-race interview that his car performed well throughout the race, saying that he drove hard on every single lap and commenting that it was a lot of fun.
Several drivers did report problems with their cars early on in the race, with Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart both being effected in opening laps. Bowyer finished 27th with Stewart managing an 11th place finish. Having earned the privilege of pole position at Daytona two weeks ago, Danica Patrick appeared to have problems with her car from the beginning of the race and finished 33rd.
With oil, reportedly from Bobby Labonte’s No. 47, turning the track into a slip ‘n slide, it was a close match between Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski at the end of the Finger Lakes 355 Sprint Cup race, with Ambrose taking the checkered flag for the second year in a row at Watkins Glen International Raceway. In a post-race interview Ambrose noted that it was ‘chaos at the end’ with the oil on the track. Nonetheless, he managed to pass Keselowski and clinch the win. Owner of Ambrose’s No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty, also commented on the slippery state of the track while commending Ambrose for staying with it through the race.
Crew chief of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, Dave Rogers, commented on No. 47 leaving oil on the track noting that Busch hitting the oil gave Keselowski the opportunity to move ahead – a sentiment many may agree with. Busch hit the oil and skidded sideways as he came out of the first turn on the final lap. In his No. 2 Dodge Keselowski connected briefly with Busch before heading uphill with Ambrose close behind. Ambrose and Keselowski remained side-by-side nearly all the way around the 2.45-mile, 11-turn layout, even racing together over the grass in the inner loop of the top of the S-curves (commonly referred to as the bus-stop) in a nail-biting battle to the finish.
Jimmie Johnson finished the race in third placeputting him in the points lead over Greg Biffle by one point. Fourth place went to Clint Bowyer, with Sam Hornish Jr. in fifth and Greg Biffle in sixth.
The current Sprint Cup standings top ten are:
1. Jimmie Johnson – #48 Chevrolet – 777 points
2. Greg Biffle – #16 Ford – 776 points
3. Matt Kenseth – #17 Ford – 775 points
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – #88 Chevrolet – 760 points
5. Brad Keselowski – #2 Dodge – 733 points
6. Martin Truex Jr. – #56 Toyota – 728 points
7. Clint Bowyer – #15 Toyota – 719 points
8. Tony Stewart – #14 Chevrolet – 716 points
9. Kevin Harvick – #29 Chevrolet – 710 points
10. Denny Hamlin – #11 Toyota – 693 points
Taking the lead in 209 of the 250 laps in Sunday’s NASCAR Nationwide race at the Iowa Speedway, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. claimed his third straight win on the short oval. In a post-race interview, Stenhouse noted that he found it to be a lot of fun leading that many laps and that it felt good to win three in a row. His 209 laps lead tied the track record set in 2010 by Kyle Busch, while his three-in-a-row win at the same track was the first by a Nationwide driver since Busch set that record at Texas in 2009-2010. Stenhouse’s victory also extended his point lead to 28 over second-place winner Elliot Sadler. Michael McDowell finished third with rookie Austin Dillion and Kurt Busch coming in fourth and fifth respectively.
While Elliot Sadler started on the pole, Sam Hornish Jr. soon took the lead, holding it for thirty laps before losing it to Stenhouse. Cole Whitt, Kyle Busch and Justin Allgaier each had a short stint in the lead, but were unable to hold Stenhouse back for more than a few laps. Having worked his way to second place, Sadler commended his team for coming back from the previous week’s disappointment with a car worthy of winning the race.
For the second time this season, Danica Patrick failed to finish the race. Starting ninth, Patrick fell back to 16th place before her tire reportedly blew, and she drifted wide slamming into the wall on her 115th lap of the 250-lap event. The damage suffered by the No.7 car was too extensive for Patrick to continue the race. Admitting that she was disappointed, particularly in light of the fact that they were having the best short track weekend ever, Patrick noted that there are 34 weekends of racing where anything could happen.
Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, 18-year old Darrell Wallace Jr. Started eighth in his first Nationwide series career start, and finished in ninth place. Wallace is sponsored by NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Program. This initiative was started in 2004 and has experienced a measure of success in increasing participating by women and minority groups in this fast-paced sport.
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.”