SURF’S UP!

It’s a beautiful day in Surfers Paradise for the first of three days in the Armor All Gold Coast 600 weekend. The skies are mostly blue with the cloud cover dissipating. The breeze is up so there shouldn’t be any heat prostration.

V8's heading out.

V8's heading out. Photo by Lynne Huntting

The V8 Supercars have 29 cars and four practice sessions on Friday. Each car has two drivers, with 18 of the co-drivers being ‘International’ – i.e. they aren’t V8 drivers and come from a wide-ranging number of international race series.

STEVEN RICHARDS/No.6 Dunlop Super Dealer FPR Falcon FG was the fastest V8 driver in the first session for Primary V8 drivers. His time was 1:13.0720. His co-driver, SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, will run in the second session for the International/Guest drivers.

Second through fifth were MARK WINTERBOTTOM/No.5 ORCON Steel FPR Falcon FG; JAMIE WHINCUP/No.1 Team Vodafone Holden Commodore VE; V8 Points leader JAMES COURTNEY/No.18 Jim Beam Racing Ford Falcon FG; and LEE HOLDSWORTH/No.22 Fujitsu Racing/GRM Holden Commodore VE.

The session was marred by the red flag caused when NATHAN PRETTY/No.30 Gulf Western Oil Holden Commodore VE hit the Turn Eleven tire wall. It caused some damage. Co-driver SCOTT PRUETT, will miss his session in Practice Two while the car is repaired. The engine has to come out, the lower frame is damaged. Pruett is hopeful of being back on the road by the fourth/last Friday practice.

The 40-minute first practice was for Primary drivers – no Internationals.

An hour later the (40-minute) second session will be for the Internationals. The CAMS (Sanctioning body Confederation of Australian Motor Sports) stewards said the International drivers must park parallel when in Pit Lane. This is so the Internationals can practice pit stop and meeting their marks. Normally the V8′s park at a 45 degree angle. I was told to expect pit stop and driver change practices going on during that session.

The third (afternoon) session is again open, which will be run by Primary drivers, and the last will be for all co-drivers including the Internationals. Do they sound like a musical group or not?

All 29 V8′s were on course.

PRIAULX FASTEST IN V8 TEST

Andy Priaulx and Craig Lowndes

Andy Priaulx and Craig Lowndes. Photo by Lynne Huntting

ANDY PRIAULX/No.888 Team Vodafone Commodore VE was the fastest International driver Wednesday at Queensland Raceway in Australia. His best time was 1:11.3 seconds around the 1.988 mi/3.2 km road circuit. Priaulx is paired with CRAIG LOWNDES, who looked on beaming, but did not get in the car. Lowndes and MARK SKAIFE recently won the Aussie’s biggest race – the Bathurst 1000 endurance race.

The weather was strange all day – gloomy and cloudy, very rainy, drying, still gloomy, and more rain. Several teams left mid-afternoon with nothing more to gain by further testing. The teams used a mixture of used and new tires. Some of the teams primary drivers also were on track, and the fastest of those was TIM SLADE/No.47 Wilson Security Racing Ford FG. The young driver is paired with HELIO CASTRONEVES, and the two have bonded well with Slade joining Castroneves when he lunched and hung out with his fellow IndyCar drivers.

Castroneves has a way to go to meet his goal of being the fastest IndyCar driver in the race. He was ninth, but that’s not bad for someone who was in a V8 for the very first time.

The fastest IndyCar driver. running second overall, was RYAN BRISCOE/No.22 Toll Holden Racing Team Commodore VE. Briscoe, an Aussie, was the fastest International driver who bested the time of his primary driver, WILL DAVISON, who was ninth. But this was only a test, designed to give the ‘Rookies’ a chance to learn the car and how it worked. For many there was a lot to learn: left-hand shifting, in and out driver changes, and dealing with a 600 hp car which goes fast. But as DAVID BRABHAM/No.4 IRWIN Racing Falcon FG told me – “They don’t stop well.”

SCOTT DIXON/No.7 Jack Daniels Racing Commodore VE was the fastest International driver, who had never been in a V8 car. – fourth overall. He is teamed with TODD KELLY.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS/No.19 Dick Johnson Racing Falcon FG also was inside a V8 for the first time. He and Castroneves had a lively lunch discussion with Slade and ALEX TAGLIANI/No.11 Rock Racing Commodore VE – who has raced V8′s before. The visual alone of them describing their various driver changes was a YouTube moment.

For the test, the cars ran with the car transponder, so who actually was driving wasn’t recorded on the monitors, but somehow Timing & Scoring figured it out. For the race, each driver will have a transponder chip in his helmet, wedged in the lining, so it will be known who is driving. There are also two lights on the left lower inside windshield. The top bright green one indicates the Guest Driver, whilst the lower bright orange light indicates the Primary Driver.

An aside here, for the sprint races – with only one driver, the lights are used to indicate when the drivers are running soft tires. These special tires aren’t used at endurance races. The other V8 endurance race is Phillip Island which runs a 500 km race. The reason for the tire indicator lights is that the various tests for sidewall painting has not yet been successful.

UNOFFICIAL TIMES – INTERNATIONAL DRIVERS
Andy Priaulx 1:11.3s
Ryan Briscoe 1:11.9s
Patrick Long 1:12.0s
Scott Dixon 1:12.0s
Yvan Muller 1:12.3
Jacques Villenueve 1.12.4s
Gianni Morbidelli 1:12.4s
David Brabham 1:12.6s
Helio Castroneves 1:12.6s
Alex Tagliani 1:12.7s
Tiago Montiero 1:12.7s
Dario Franchitti 1:12.7s
Sebastien Bourdais 1:12.9s
Mika Salo 1:13.0s
Alain Menu 1:13.1s
Fabrizio Giovanardi 1:13.1s
Will Power 1.13.3s
Scott Pruett 1:15.2s

UNOFFICIAL TIMES – PRIMARY DRIVERS
Tim Slade 1:11.3s
Tony D’Alberto 1:11.6s
Steve Johnson 1:11.8s
Jason Bargwanna 1:11.8s
Steven Richards 1.11.8s
Michael Caruso 1:11.7s
Paul Dumbrell 1.11.9s
Jonathon Webb 1:11.9s
Will Davison 1:12.0s
Greg Murphy 1:12.1
Todd Kelly 1:12.2s
Jason Bright 1:12.2s
Karl Riendler 1:12.2s
Andrew Thompson 1:12.8s
Alex Davison no time
Nathan Pretty no time
Craig Lowndes no time
Dean Fiore no time

ROOKIES AND RIDERS IN THE RAIN

Sunscreen need not apply. An abrupt and unexpected weather change in Willowbank, Australia changed the program for the V8 Supercars testing at Queensland Raceway. It was a dark and gloomy day Wednesday and and early on quite wet on the 1.988 mi/3.2 km six-corner road circuit. The teams got a chance to test the Dunlop wets, which to some resembled intermediates because the grooves weren’t deep. V8′s run on a control tire.

The one-day test was geared toward orienting eighteen ‘International’ drivers for the upcoming Armor All Gold Coast 600 race in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia. They were paired with existing V8 teams for two weekend races.

Gianni Morbidelli

Gianni Morbidelli. Photo by Lynne Huntting

One driver laughed at the morning rain and deliberately stayed out on his slicks. GIANNI MORBIDELLI/No.12 Triple F Racing Ford Falcon wanted to push it to the limits to see what the car could do. Morbidelli, eight-time DTM champion, held his own. His co-driver is DEAN FIORE.
Dean Fiore

Dean Fiore. Photo by Lynne Huntting

PATRICK LONG/No.34 Fujitsu Racing/GRM Commodore VE hopped to his car, trying to keep his pedal foot dry. His crew/valet then wiped down both feet before he went on track, the idea being to keep his pedal foot from sliding.

Scott Pruett

Scott Pruett. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Other drivers came in during the rain, including SCOTT PRUETT/No.30 Gulf Western Oil Racing Commodore VE. His co-driver is MARK NOSKE, who hans’t run the full V8 season. Pruett didn’t feel there was much to be learned in the rain.

The rain cleared and the track dried….until an hour after the lunch break, when down it came and the cars all came in. After that, only a lone car here and there ventured out.

There were some offs, but nothing major. HELIO CASTRONEVES/47 Wilson Security Racing Falcon FG met the the gravel trap up close and personal. He will be co-driving with TIM SLADE.

WILL POWER/No.6 Dunlop Super Dealer FPR Falcon FG found the grass. He co-drives with STEVE RICHARDS.

During the lunch break all the drivers and media met for an informal lunch and some brief chatter. Castroneves hung out with two of his IndyCar pals, past and current: SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS/19 Dick Johnson Racing Falcon FG, who left IndyCar for overseas racing including F1, and ALEX TAGLIANI/No.11 Rock Racing Commodore VE. Tag’s co-driver is JASON BARGWANNA.

For Castroneves and Bourdais, the test was their very first experience in a V8 Supercar and it was an eye-opener. They both were cognizant of their inexperience. They wanted to help their series drivers, who were in a points championship, but even more they “didn’t want to screw up.” They thought their IROC experience (run in stock cars) would have helped, but no.

Bourdais said the V8′s were very different cars, and even with sequential gearing instead of the old H gearbox patter, left hand shifting was a challenge. Castroneves admitted it took him awhile before the sequential gearing became easier. Tag just smiled. He’d raced a V8 in 2006 and had the H pattern gear, so he adapted quickly to the sequential.

Castroneves said it was fun to drive different cars, and he was getting lots of tips from Slade and the team. He said it was an adjustment driving a heavier, bigger car. Bourdais said the V8′s were very different, hard to handle and not easy to drive. When asked about downforce, Castroneves said “What downforce?”

Scott Dixon Pit Stopping

Scott Dixon Pit Stopping. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Mastering the driver changes was another new experience.

SCOTT DIXON/No.7 Jack Daniels Racing Commodore VE and co-driver TODD KELLY practiced their driver changes over and over in the garage.. At first glance it looked like friendly rough housing. One driver stood outside the driver’s door, hoses in hand. The doors have handles to open, the window net comes down, and the exiting driver jumps/is yanked out, and the new driver gets shoved in. Each driver needs help keeping his HANS device from getting caught in the roll cage. The departing driver pulls down the visor, pushes in the legs and generally seems to be shoving 10 pounds into a five pound sack. One assisting person is allowed, and is usually the co-driver.

Castroneves admired the flexibility of his young co-driver during pit stops. The Brazilian said he was 35 and not able to bend into a pretzel like Slade.

Castroneves also practiced pit stops in pit lane.

Castroneves Pit Stop Practice.

Castroneves Pit Stop Practice. Photo by Lynne Huntting

WILL POWER/No.6 Dunlop Super Dealer FPR Falcon FG said for him the pit stops were different, and hard. His co-driver is STEVE RICHARDS.

TONY COCHRANE, Chairman V8 Supercars Australia said they were expecting a big race crowd, of 135-150,000.

STEWART SMOKES THEM • RACING ON THE WILD SIDE

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart. Photo by Anne Profitt

TONY STEWART/No.14 Chevrolet won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 race Sunday afternoon at Auto Club Speedway. The cars were running five wide coming out of Turn Two, positions swapping, and it was a wild last two laps after the late race caution/restart. The average race speed was 131.953 mph

This was Stewart’s first Auto Club win, and the thirty-ninth of 422 Cup races. He lived up to his nickname, Smoke, with a spectacular wide-flying victory doughnut.

Stewart heaped praise on his Stewart-Haas team, which he co-owns with MARGARET and GENE HAAS, as well as Hendrick Engines and Chassis. “They refuse to give up, they refuse to back down. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing here. When I woke up this morning, I thought if we had a top ten day, that was going to be good, and if we ran in the top five today, that was going to be an outstanding day.”

Stewart was short and to the point with his “No” answer to the question about worrying about points while racing.

CLINT BOWYER/No.33 Chevrolet passed four-time Sprint Cup champion JIMMIE JOHNSON on the last lap to finish runner-up, and their gap was only 0.0045 seconds at the checkered flag.

Fourth was KASEY KAHNE/No.9 Ford, followed by Stewart’s teammate, RYAN NEWMAN/No.39 Chevrolet.

MARK MARTIN/No.5 Chevrolet let the most laps-41, and finished sixth, followed by Hard Luck HARVICK, as in Kevin/No.29 Chevrolet.

Harvick had a long pitstop, which must have just piled on his frustration from Saturday afternoon’s Nationwide Series race when at least one bad pitstop cost him the race. Harvick was not a happy camper and gossip whirled in Pit Lane and elsewhere regarding the future of that pit crew. The speeding ticket Harvick got in the Cup race which dropped him from sixth to twenty-eighth, didn’t add to his humor. But he persevered and finished seventh.

Eighth through tenth were DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 Toyota-who started at the back due to a transmission change; JEFF GORDON/No.24 Chevrolet, and DAVID REUTIMANN/No.00 Toyota.

Gordon the driver is fourth in the points, while Gordon the owner is first in the points with his driver, Johnson.

Pole sitter JAMIE McMURRAY/No.1 Chevrolet led the first fourteen laps, before dropping back to finish seventeenth. He turned the fastest race lap of 179.699 mph on Lap Two.

Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer. Photo by Anne Profitt

Bowyer’s spoke to the question regarding his close/good finish without his Crew Chief-SHANE WILSON, who has been suspended for four races. “I’ve never been without a crew chief before, and Steve filled in well. That speaks volumes about Shane’s preparation back at the shop.

“I passed Jimmie and that felt good. Other than that, I’m ready to go home after two weeks on the road.”

Bowyer said it was a good question when asked about it “seeming like every week his cars get taken back to Concord (NASCAR R&D Center), a debris flag being thrown while he’s leading and is there a point being made there?” Johnson joked “Have fun with that one.” Bower was succinct and slow to answer “No.”

Later NASCAR announced Bowyer’s Chevrolet engine as well as four others were going to Concord, plus two cars. Winner Stewart’s Chevrolet car and engine were on the list, as well as that of PAUL MENARD’s No.16 Ford. The other engines on the NASCAR list belong to LANDON CASSILL/No.64 Toyota, who DNF for a P40; and JASON LEFFLER/No.66 Toyota, who retired for a last place finish.

Stewart’s victory clinched the thirty-fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Manufacturer’s Championship for Chevrolet. Seven Chevys won 16 Cup races this year. Half the 12 Chase drivers race the red bowtie.

Several Chase drivers had hopes dashed at Fontana, added to the already dashed Bowyer, who recently lost 150 Driver points for a technical difference of opinion between NASCAR, his team and the R&D Center.

Three Sunday drivers didn’t have good luck. GREG BIFFLE/No.16 has his Roush Yates engine fail and he retired, dropping two Chase positions. Then CARL EDWARDS/No.60 had issues with his and lost 14 laps getting resolution – losing three Chase positions. In the last few laps DAVID RAGAN/No.6 Ford and KURT BUSCH/No.2 Dodge came together putting out another caution, and Ragan was listed as DNF; but Busch recovered to finish twenty-first. Busch said Ragan “washed up the track and pushed us into the wall.”

Busch’s brother, KYLE BUSCH/No.18 Toyota had a long pit stop mid-race and then retired in the garage with an apparent engine failure. When asked could he put this disappointment in perspective, blunt as ever Rowdy simply said “No. Not really. On to another year.” Regarding championship chances, he said “Over.” He dropped two positions, to ninth.

Fourteen drivers swapped the lead 23 times. Winner Stewart led three times for 29 laps.

Next year Auto Club Speedway will only run one Sprint Cup race – 29 March 2011. It won’t run a Chase race in the fall, and at least one driver, Johnson, said he was sorry. “I hate that it’s leaving and I wish I could have ended on a victory. There’s a lot of factors involved and it’s not just one thing.”

When asked if Sunday’s exciting finish would help attendance problems at the track, Johnson said “I really don’t know how to comment.” He did say “Ideally you want to take your ten best tracks to The Chase; and if you look at the numbers, this is one of our good numbers.”

The weather was in the mid nineties with a stiff breeze to take off the edge and keep the air quality clean and clear, so the San Gabriel Mountains were still very visible.

The crowd count was reported at 70,000.

Points Standings
1 – JIMMIE JOHNSON/Chevrolet 5673
2 – DENNY HAMLIN/Toyota 5637
3 – KEVIN HARVICK/Chevrolet 5619
4 – JEFF GORDON/Chevrolet 5588
5 – TONY STEWART/Chevrolet 5566
6 – KURT BUSCH/Dodge 5533
7 – CARL EDWARDS/Ford 5511
8 – JEFF BURTON/Chevrolet 5496
9 – KYLE BUSCH/Toyota 5486
10 – GREG BIFFLE/Ford 5458
11 – MATT KENSETH/Ford 5432
12 – CLINT BOWYER/Chevrolet 5426

ANOTHER PERFECT DAY IN PARADISE • AFFABLE AJ

Intersection

Intersection. Photo by Anne Profitt.

Another day in Paradise. The weather is already hot, clear and breezy at Auto Club Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 race. That’s 400 laps, not miles, on the two-mile speedway. The race starts at noon local time, 3pm EDT. This year NASCAR is starting races more consistently at the same hours.

And yes, the San Gabriel Mountains are still highly visible.

The Garage is thronged with fans who have the right passes, waiting outside haulers and the Driver’s Meeting waiting for a sight of their favorite drive, a photo op and/or autograph. Even more pit tours are being led, and the fan clubs and hospitality groups are moving around en masse. It’s all very colorful and when the engines aren’t running, it’s reasonably quiet.

Ryan Newman's car

Ryan Newman's car. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Kyle Busch's car

Kyle Busch's car. Photo by Lynne Huntting

All the Cup cars are making ready and going through the various Tech lines. The cars are housed individual garages across from their haulers. One exception is KYLE BUSCH/No.18 Toyota. He’s parked his car under an awning next to his hauler, which is at the end of the line in the first alley. The crew said they had more room this way.

A.J. ALLMENDINGER/No.43 Ford is more relaxed and comfortable in NASCAR than he was when he started three years ago. He’s nineteenth in the points, with 20 of them in bonus points for leading the race – which he’s done four times for 176 laps. His best finish was third at last year’s Daytona 500, and his first pole position was Phoenix this Spring.

AJ ALLMENDINGER

Affable AJ Allmendinger. Photo by Lynne Huntting

What he lacks in height he makes up in confidence. Allmendinger, who hails from Los Gatos CA, said experience with the team, and starting to figure out what it is I want has gone a long way to boosting his confidence level from the stress he experienced when he first switched from open wheel IndyCar to NASCAR three years ago. “Knowing we can be more competitive is another booster.”

“Every car is better, lighter, and better engineered. AJ admits his team has had less time to work together and build trust and chemistry. MIKE SHIPLETT is the Crew Chief. We’ve moved the crew around to get it optimized. Many other teams have been together for many years. Their chef has a better recipe.

“We’re not quite there yet to win on any given weekend, but our goal is top ten each week. I have to put myself in position to win. Ford is really behind our program and our engines come from Roush Yates Motors. We’re running the FR9 now. This Ford motor is still new. While all three current RPM drivers started running the FR9 at the June Michigan race, AJ got his FR9 at Talladega in April and he finished 19th. The team got to run the new engine at Daytona in January for Qualifying and the Duel races. AJ’s teammate, KASEY KAHNE/No.9 won his Duel Race.

A.J. ALLMENDINGER

A.J.'s Car. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Next season Richard Petty Motorsports may run just two cars, with AJ and MARCOS AMBROSE of Australia, who is moving back to a Ford team at the factor’s request. Allmendinger and Ambrose have already started the bonding process. Allmendinger enjoys Ambrose’s long time experience in racing, stemming back to multiple championships in the highly competitive Australian V8 Supercar Series. AJ feels Ambrose is grounded with a family and children, and has a different background and driving style. Both of the drivers are hungry.

“I’m really hard on myself. We’ve got to limit our mistakes. Sometimes it’s down to luck, such as the ten cent washer on the tire which failed and cost us at Dover.”

Allmendinger has raced in the Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car race with Michael Shank Racing and had hoped their schedules would have allowed other such races, but it didn’t fit this year. On his bucket list AJ has the 24 Hours of LeMans, and would love to run a V8 race; although it would be interesting to learn how to shift with his left hand. Realistically speaking, however, Allmendinger realizes his current schedule with 36+ races a year, there’s only two chances of those races happening for him – little and none.

NASCAR has announced that annual January test for the Sprint Cup Season – Pre-season Thunder at Daytona – will be Thursday 20 January-Saturday 22 January 2011, with Sunday as the rain date.

Daytona is undergoing a massive track repaving project and the test will allow the teams to acclimate to the new pavement and test for the Daytona 500 being held on Sunday 20 February 2011, This will be the 53rd Daytona 500. There won’t be any Nationwide Series cars or Camping World Trucks at Pre-season Thunder, but are expected to have extra practice time during Speedweeks.

Hot Pass

Hot Pass. Photo by Lynne Huntting

BUSCH WINS AND HARVICK IS ANYTHING BUT HAPPY

Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Pole sitter KYLE BUSCH/No.18 Toyota won the NASCAR Nationwide Series CampingWorld.com 300 race Saturday afternoon at Auto Club Speedway, after surviving starting from the back of the field due to an engine change and a speeding ticket with 60-laps to go. He led 36 of the 150-lap race. The Margin of Victory was 1.034 seconds ahead of runner-up, BRAD KESELOWSKI/No.22 Dodge.

Each time there was a restart in the last 25 laps, the field would bunch up and Busch would then just take off, pull away and stretch the gap.

Busch said “It was the pit stops that got us this win.” He credited Crew Chief JASON RATCLIFF for the victory.

Busch celebrated by executing a flying, rousing doughnut to an appreciative crowd. It took a long time for the smoke to clear. Ratliff said Busch has so far not been hurt by one of his doughnuts.

Third through fifth were: “Heartbroken not Happy” KEVIN HARVICK/No.33 Chevrolet, CARL EDWARDS/No.60 Ford, and JOEY LOGANO/No.20 Toyota.

Edwards spent the least amount of time on Pit Road – 2:47.955 minutes. Harvick had 2:55.357 minutes, making his crew seventh fastest of all.

It was the twelfth victory for Busch this season, the record for most NNS wins in a single season. This was his 12th victory in 25 NNS races this year. Busch is now second only to MARK MARTIN, for overall NNS wins – 48 to 42. Third is KEVIN HARVICK with 37 victories.

For team owner, JOE GIBBS, it is the sixth consecutive win at Auto Club Speedway, and Gibbs leads the NNS Owner Points with 2419, 149 points ahead of JODI GESCHICKTER, owner of Keselowski’s car.

This is the third time this season Busch won a NNS race after getting a speeding ticket.

Keselowski said “We out-executed our pit stop to beat Harvick.” Keselowski leads the NNS Driver Points with 4764, 384 ahead of Edwards. Busch is third, 485 down.

Busch admitted post-race that Harvick probably had the best car in the race, “but our Camry was just good enough where it needed to be on the front side of those runs where we had enough cautions there at the end that we held him off.”

Harvick, who led the most laps – 86 – was succinct in talking in the post-race media conference. “We had a great car, had a bad pit stop, and finished third.” It was one of the shortest ever podium interviews I’ve heard – no questions from the media in the Interview Room, Media Center, Sky Box Press Box, or Terrace Press Box.

Afterwards, Harvick said “I think you just look at the positive and you look at how fast my Jimmy John Chevrolet was and it was two weeks in a row where we’ve come with something different. Probably took the best car, and gave it away on pit road. We’re going to make some changes on pit road this week and come back with something different. Our cars are just tremendously better than what they have been, and obviously we’ve got to take the next step on pit road because they’re just doing a terrible job, so we got to fix that. That’s not what our operation is all about. If they can’t stand the pressure, they’re going to have to go find something else to do.”

The top Rookie was COLIN BRAUN/No.16 Ford, who started thirty-fifth and finished lucky 13.

Ricky Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne

Roush Rookie Ricky - Stenhouse and Roush Newbie Trevor Bayne. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Rookie points leader going into the race, RICKY STENHOUSE Jr/No.6 Ford, DNF after being involved in a late-race crash involving RICKY CARMICHAEL/No.10 Toyota and DANICA PATRICK/No.7 Chevrolet. Stenhouse got back on track to finish twenty-ninth, three laps down. The current Rookie standings won’t be known until the official results are posted Monday, as there is a complex formula for calculating the points based on best 16 finishes.

Patrick, running thirteenth at the time of the crash, was headed for her goal of a top 15 finish when the accident occurred. She was spun around wildly and was able to get back to the garage and retire, finishing thirtieth. Carmichael finished thirty-first, and both were nine laps down.

There will be differing opinions on Patrick’s crash which involved Rookie JAMES BUESCHER/No.11 Toyota. They’re playing the blame game. Patrick said she got into him in that spot on the preceding lap, and thinks the contact was payback. Buescher said she squeezed him. Buescher continued on track to finish seventeenth on the lead lap. Stenhouse and Carmichael had contact as aftermath of the crash.

There were ten lead changes among five drivers, Harvick-86 laps, Busch-36, Keselowski-22, Edwards-five, and MARTIN TRUEX Jr/No.99 Toyota-one. Truex started fourth but finished twenty-fifth, one lap down.

Twenty-two drivers finished on the lead lap, and the average race speed was 123.669 mph. Six cautions took 33 laps, with the first yellow flag not coming until lap 47. Four drivers DNF due to accidents: Patrick, Carmichael, BRENDAN GAUGHAN/No.62 Toyota and STEVE WALLACE/No.66Toyota. No driver was hurt.

The NNS attendance was reported as 25,000. The grandstand at the large campus in Ontario CA has 90,000 seats, more than many other tracks. There are 12 International Speedway Corporation tracks, and only four of them (Daytona, Michigan, Richmond and Talladega) have sold more tickets than Auto Club Speedway. Those other seven ISC tracks are Chicago, Darlington, Homestead, Kansas, Martinsville, Phoenix, and Watkins Glen.

Harvick is from nearby Bakersfield CA and Bakersfield residents could purchase a race ticket and parking pass for $29 – Harvick’s number.

ARE YOU READY TO GO RACING?

The weather was 91 degrees F for the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series CampingWorld.com 300 race Saturday afternoon at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California.

Phil Koehgan

Phil Koehgan. Photo by Lynne Huntting

The Grand Marshal for the NNS race was PHIL KOEGHAN, host of Amazing Race. The engaging, outgoing Kiwi was pumped about being the Grand Marshal. His sole motor sport racing experience was driving in the Celebrity race at the 2005 Clipsal 500 V8 Supercars race in Adelaide, Australia. His driver coach, DAVID BRABAM, told him if he didn’t bring back the car full of dents, Koeghan didn’t race hard enough. Koeghan did, and then some.

This weekend’s race is Koeghan’s first live NASCAR race. Previous experience was limited to TV. His “Drivers, Start Your Engines” was preceded “Are You Ready To Go Racing?”

Pre-Race Stretch

Pre-Race Stretch. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Pit lane speed is 65 mph, and the NNS field was split for the start, with two Pace Cars. The purpose is to allow all 43 cars to experience the speed limit prior to the race.

RICKY STENHOUSE, Jr./No.17 Ford leads the NNS Rookie standings, and at seventeenth was the highest qualifying Rookie.

Consistency is what DANICA PATRICK/No.7 Chevrolet NNS seeks. That word peppered her Friday press conference. “The IndyCars are very consistent, while the Cup car keeps changing during a race. I need to be consistent. I’m still figuring out how to be consistent and am looking forward to being consistent.”

Danica Patrick

Danica

Patrick, who continues to be trailed by masses of photogs, qualified fourteenth for the NNS race.

Patrick was pleased to hear from the media at her conference that ARIC ALMIROLA would be her NNS teammate next season. She said she had not heard. “It would be great to have someone else drive my car and then get out and then tell me about it when I get in.”

Regarding MARK MARTIN/No.5 Chevrolet Cup driver offering to be a driver coach, Patrick said “I would take anything Mark has to offer. Whoever it is, I’ll take any help.”

Almirola qualified eighth.

Patrick showed her puckish side in the conference by jibing herself and a journo, for her being so boring he was falling asleep. She also joked about how little she knew about NASCAR – “I’m so close to not knowing anything about NASCAR.” She likes the two-mile Auto Club speedway – “The longer track gives me more time to get calm.”

THE HILLS ARE ALIVE

The hills are alive with the sound of NASCAR, and the nearby San Gabriel Mountains (which are often called hills in California) can be seen even more clearly on Saturday than Friday. DAVE TALLEY, Director of Communications for Auto Club Speedway has been with the Ontario CA track (Inland Empire) for the past two years and this is the first race weekend he’s seen the mountains. There is near-perfect weather for the weekend – warm and sunny with blue skies. He anticipates with the temperature in the eighties and low nineties, the race will draw a nice walk-up crowd. So far ticket sales for the weekend are about the same as last year, and the ticket prices have remained the same. Considering that the unemployment rate is reportedly now higher in the Inland Empire than in Detroit, Talley is comfortable with the figures.

KYLE BUSCH/No.18 Toyota has the NASCAR Nationwide Series pole for Saturday afternoon’s CampingWorld.com 300 race. His lap was 39.552/182.039 mph. Second through seventh were Sprint Cup drivers: KEVIN HARVICK/No.33 Chevrolet; BRAD KESELOWSKI/No.22 Dodge; MARTIN TRUEX Jr/No.99 Toyota; JOEY LOGANO/No.20 Toyota; CARL EDWARDS/No.60 Ford; and PAUL MENARD/No.98 Ford. Eighth and ninth were ARIC ALMIROLA/No.No.88 Chevrolet and STEVE WALLACE/No.66 Toyota. Tenth was Cup driver RYAN NEWMAN/No.1 Chevrolet.

JOHNNY CHAPMAN/No.89 Chevrolet was thirty-seventh fastest, but didn’t make the field. Neither did ERIC McCLURE/No.24 Ford, who was thirty-eighth fastest.

NNS Crew Chief Pit Stall Choice

NNS Crew Chief Pit Stall Choice. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Immediately after qualifying, the NNS Crew Chiefs gather in the NASCAR Tech area to draw for their race pit stalls. The qualifying order determines the order for the Crew Chief Choice. The most preferred stall is right at Pit Exit, and then any stall close to a pit lane break in the wall, to make it easier to get to the garage.

As the NNS cars are impounded after qualifying until the race, the majority of the Nationwide garage doors were shut and few crew members were to be found. NASCAR impounds all the NNS cars before each race, but only at selected Sprint Cup races. For Nationwide, it allows the schedule to run for more compact two days instead of three, which is a cost containment factor for the teams. The NNS Series Director, JOE BALASH, has discretion to allow a team to work on the car if there are extenuating factors.

Saturday morning, the NASCAR Garage in general was filled with all kinds of guided Pit Tours.

DAVID HASSELHOFF is singing the National Anthem for the Nationwide Series race. He holds the Guinness Book of Records for being the most watched TV star in the world. His racing experience includes six years as a CART team owner with ARIE LUYENDYK as driver, and then six years with Newman Haas. In meeting with the media Saturday morning, he showed a wide knowledge of racing of several varieties. Hasselhoff thinks NASCAR is a better fit for him than any other series, and he wants to start his own team, Team Hoff.

David Hasselhoff

The Hoff. Photo by Anne Profitt

HASSELHOFF was one of the celebrity partners this fall on Dancing With The Stars, and was asked how he got on with his partner, KYM JOHNSON of Australia. She refused to date him while they were still on the show. Hoff was voted off the first round and now they’re dating. “I didn’t get the win, but I got the girl.”

McMURRAY LANDS A BIG FISH

Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray. Photo by Lynne Huntting

JAMIE McMURRAY/No.1 Chevrolet has the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pepsi Max 400 race at Auto Club Speedway, with a time of 38.86/285.068 mph, the only driver in the 185 mph/38 seconds area. This is his fourth pole position this year, second at this track, and seventh career top start.

It was smiles all around for McMurray after Qualifying. He was even more upbeat and cheerful than usual. “I worked really hard for my lap. The track has a lot of speed in it but it’s really slick. This is a really good race track. It’s a great place to be able to race on because it’s so wide.”

The top Chase driver was third-placed MATT KENSETH/No.17 Ford, behind ELLIOT SADLER/No.19 Ford..

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Fourth and fifth were JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/No.42 Chevrolet and KASEY KAHNE/No.9 Ford.

Fifth through tenth were MARTIN TRUEX, Jr/No.56 Toyota, GREG BIFFLE/No.16 Ford, points leader JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Chevrolet, DALE EARNHARDT Jr/No.88 Chevrolet, and JOEY LOGANO/No.20 Toyota

Only three of the top ten drivers are in The Chase.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick. Photo by Lynne Huntting

DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 Toyota will start thirty-fourth. Other Chase drivers: CLINT BOWYER/No.33 Chevrolet-P13, JEFF BURTON/No.31 Chevrolet-P15; KYLE BUSCH/No.18 Toyota-P16; JEFF GORDON/No.24 Chevrolet-P17; CARL EDWARDS/No.99 Ford-P20; KEVIN HARVICK/No.29 Chevrolet-P21; TONY STEWART/No.14 Chevrolet-P22 and KURT BUSCH/No.2 Dodge-P38.

Both Sadler and Kahne are leaving Petty Motorsports at the end of this season. Sadler said he didn’t yet know his plans for 2011. “Hopefully, this (front row start) will help.We’re definitely working on some stuff, but nothing yet to announce or finalize. I’m definitely gonna do some stuff with KHI next year in the Truck Series.”

Patrick Carpentier

Patrick Carpentier. Photo by Lynne Huntting

The top/only Rookie, KEVIN CONWAY/No.7 Toyota was forty-first and made the field on Owner Points

The two drivers who failed to make the field were MIKE BLISS/No.55 Toyota and PATRICK CARPENTIER/No.26 Ford – both Go or Go Home drivers

Overall, all sixteen Chevrolets made the field, as did all three Dodges. Eleven of the 12 Fords will start the race, and thirteen of the 14 Toyotas will take the Green Flag.

The temperature was reported as 83 degrees F, but the breeze kept it from feeling anywhere close to that.

ON A CLEAR DAY…

On a clear day you can see….the mountains from Auto Club Speedway. This isn’t always so from the two-mile speedway, scene of this weekend’s Pepsi Max 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. But the not so gentle breezes Thursday after a Wednesday rain storm have cleared the air. Friday the weather was sunny and clear with the breeze picking up steam as the day progressed.

Forty-five Sprint Cup drivers are entered for Sundays 400-lap race, shortened from the usual 500 laps. The Nationwide Series Camping World 300 race is … 300 miles, and also has 45 drivers for the 43 slots.

JAMIE McMURRAY/No.1 Chevrolet was the fastest Cup driver in the first Friday practice at 39.166/183.833 mph. Second was A.J. ALLMENDINGER/No.43 Ford – one of the nine California natives in the field. Third through fifth were GREG BIFFLE/No.16 Ford, KYLE BUSCH/No.17 Toyota, and MARK MARTIN/No.5 Chevrolet.

Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick. Photo by Anne Proffit

Martin has offered his expertise and assistance as a driver coach to fledgling NASCAR driver, DANICA PATRICK, who is racing No.7 Chevrolet in the NNS. She will be running the last six races, now that the IndyCar season has ended. Patrick ended the open-wheel season’s finale race at Homestead Miami Speedway with a second-place finish, and she was tenth overall in the 2010 standings.

Something clicked for Patrick after that noon press conference, as she was fourth overall in the second Nationwide practice Friday afternoon.

Friday, Patrick announced that she will have Tissot watches as primary sponsor for the Fontana NNS race, and associate for the rest of the 2010 season. Patrick, who has been an personal ambassador for Tissot since 2005, will have Tissot on her car for all the 2011 races. At Chicagoland, a track to which IndyCar is not returning next year, Tissot will be the primary sponsor, and associate at all the other races – number not announced.

MARTIN TRUEX, Jr/No.99 Toyota was the top NNS driver in the first Friday practice at 40.141/179.368 mph. Second through fifth were CARL EDWARDS/No.60 Ford, JOEY LOGANO/No.20 Toyota, Rookie RICKY STENHOUSE Jr/No.6 Ford and JUSTIN ALLGAIER/No.12 Dodge.

Logano was fastest in the second NNS practice Friday, at 40.824/176.367 mph. Second through fifth were Truex, Jr, RICKY CARMICHAEL/No.10 Toyota, Patrick, and Busch.

Auto Club Speedway is jumping into the turbulent California political scene feet first. MEG WHITMAN, Republican gubernatorial candidate, will be the Grand Marshal for the Cup race, while the Republican candidate for Senator, CARLY FIORINA, will be the honorary starter for the Nationwide race.

Cup Qualifying is Friday afternoon, the NNS race is 1:30pm local time/4:30pm EDT, and the Cup race is Sunday noon local time/3pm EDT.