RED RACE RECAP

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Photo courtesy of GM News Photos

Kevin Harvick No.4 Budweiser Chevrolet dominated Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 27th Annual Quicken Loans Race for Heroes, leading 264 of the 312 laps. This was his sixth victory at Phoenix International Raceway, and 27th Cup win in 501 starts. Harvick’s Margin of Victory over runner-up, Jeff Gordon No.24 Axalta Chevrolet, was 1.636 seconds.

Third through fifth were Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Toyota; Brad Keselowski No.2 Miller Lite Ford; and pole sitter Denny Hamlin No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota – who fought back hard after a long early pit stop for flat tires and body damage.

Sixth through tenth were Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford; Kurt Busch No.41 Haas Automation Chevrolet; Dale Earnhardt Jr No.88 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet; Greg Biffle No.16 Sherwin Williams Ford, who gained the most positions coming from twenty-sixth to finish ninth; and Aussie Marcos Ambrose No.9 Stanley Ford, who is running his next to last Cup race before returning to his homeland to rejoin the V8 Supercars.

The only Chase contender not to finish in the top ten was Ryan Newman No.31 CAT Mining Chevrolet. His last lap move into eleventh position garnered him a Chase slot for next weekend’s shootout. Newman bumped Rookie Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chevrolet to gain the position and the valued point.

Larson ran as high as second at one point, before finishing thirteenth – the top Rookie.

The race was notable for more than Harvick’s victory. A three-minute Red Flag was displayed, to clean up debris after three cars came together – two who retired – Clint Bowyer No.15 5-Hour Energy Toyota and Rookie Cole Whit No.26 16T fuelxx/TapoutMuscle Recovery Toyota; and Kyle Busch No.18 Benfield Pet Hospital Toyota, who continued but finished four laps down.

Five of the record-high 12 cautions were for debris, not including the Red Flag. A total of 58 laps were run under the Yellow Flag.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick

Harvick took the lead for the first time on Lap 44. Before that pole sitter Hamlin led for 24 laps, followed by Logano for seven, David Ragan No.34 Taco Bell Ford for two laps during pit stops and Logano again for eight laps. Harvick led three times. Earnhardt led four laps and Rookie Michael Annett No.7 Accell Construction Chevrolet led a lap during pit stops. Annett finished twenty-sixth after starting thirtieth.

The four drivers remaining in The Chase are: Hamlin-4112 points and one win; Logano-4111 points and five wins; Newman with 4103 points and no wins; and Harvick with 4102 points and four wins. Newman has a one in four chances to become the first Champion with no victories.

Despite several accidents, no drivers were injured – just their pride and their cars.

Kenseth turned the race’s fastest race lap.

Twenty-five drivers finished on the lead lap, and thirty-eight drivers finished the race in some form or another.

All cars cleared Tech, and the two cars sent to the NASCAR R&D Center in North Carolina belonged to Harvick and Gordon.

One indication of the importance of Social Media, and of those who pay attention: NASCAR’s Brett Jewkes tweeted post-race that “Social media volume up exactly 100 percent for today’s race over last year. Does not include post-race.”

The Chase will crown a victor next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

HARVICK SMOKES IT

Kevin Harvick Painting

Red was the color of the day at Phoenix International Raceway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500. Red is the car color of the top two race finishers – Harvick record-high PIR race winner Kevin Harvick No.4 Budweiser Chevrolet – his sixth PIR Cup victory and second this year; and the color of the flag displayed for debris cleanup after the crash of Clint Bower No.15 5-Hour Energy Toyota, Kyle Busch No.18 Banfield Pet Hospital and Cole Whitt No.26 16T fuelxx/Tapout Muscle Recovery Toyota.

PIR has been described as Harvick’s ‘Personal Playground.’ This victory marked the sixth time motorsports artist, Bill Patterson, has painted Harvick’s car in Gatorade Victory Lane. Harvick’s first win in 2006 was the first time PIR had Patterson do the iconic paintings, which are hung at PIR offices.

Bill Patterson Painting in Progress

Bill Patterson Painting in Progress

Bill Patterson Painting Completed

After winning, Harvick did a championship-caliber burnout, nearly eclipsing his red Chevrolet. And he had reason to celebrate. Harvick’s victory kept him in the Chase, barely, with 4102 points, and last of the top four to make The Chase. For Homestead, he and the other three contenders will reset their points at 5000.

Harvick said “Wow. I guess that is what it feels like to hit a walk off in extra innings here. This thing both races here has just been bad to the bone. This place has just been phenomenal for me personally and for this team this year. To do that in front of all your almost hometown fans and all these people who have been rooting for me since the mid-90’s is pretty unbelievable. This win has to stack up there in the top five for sure. Mostly for the fact that our backs were against the wall and there was really only one way in and that was to win the race.”

Ryan Newman No.31 CAT Mining Chevrolet edged up on the last lap to make The Chase with his eleventh place finish, which gave him 4103 points.

Denny Hamlin No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota leads The Chase with 4112 points, followed by Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford at 4111.

Those not making The Chase: Jeff Gordon No.24 Axalta Chevrolet, who finished second with 4102 points; Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Toyota, finishing third with 4100 points; Brad Keselowski No.2 Miller Lite Ford in fourth place/4095 points; and Carl Edwards No.99 Fastenal Ford, finishing fifteenth/4088 points.

The last Chase Race is Sunday 16 November 2014 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Victory Celebration

PRE-RACE FUN IN THE SUN

Rattlesnake Hill

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Pre-Race Activities

Pre-Race activities are always colorful at a NASCAR Sprint Cup race and Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway was no different. It was sensory overload with all the colors, sounds (F-16’s from Luke’s Air Force Base, fireworks, air gun, etc,) motion, and activities. Up on Rattlesnake Hill, the folks have a grande view of the entire scene, with all the comforts of home that can be trekked up the rocky hillside.

Five of the eight Chase drivers start 1-5: Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth. Jeff Gordon starts seventh, Carl Edwards at thirteenth, and Ryan Newman in twentieth place. Four will move onto the final round next week at Homestead.

All drivers will start in their qualifying position – no cars to the rear this weekend.

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Pre-Race Activities

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To my untrained and mostly deaf ears during Driver Intros, it seemed that Dale Earnhardt Jr received the loudest acclaim, although Jeff Gordon and Danica Patrick also were well-received. To no one’s surprise Brad Keselowski received the loudest negative reaction, although Kyle Busch ran a close second. The fans do love to hate their drivers.

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Kyle Busch & Kevin Harvick

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PENULTIMATE PHOENIX

Chase Decals

Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix International Raceway will be the second-to-last in the Race for the Chase. Sundays race of 312 laps/miles will drop another four drivers from the Chase, leaving just four Cup drivers going for the Championship at Homestead next weekend. Involved drivers have decals over their driver doors indicating victories and in some case, status.

Johnson's Chase Decals

Harvick's Chase Decals

Earnhardt's Chase Decals

The drivers at battle Sunday are, in points order: Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford; Sunday’s pole sitter, Denny Hamlin No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota; Ryan Newman No.31 CAT Mining Chevrolet; Jeff Gordon No.24 Axalta Chevrolet; Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Toyota; Carl Edwards No.99 Fastenal Ford; Brad Keselowski No.2 Miller Lite Ford; and Kevin Harvick No.4 Budweiser Chevrolet.

Meanwhile, out in the Cup Garage, activity has increased ten fold. Engines are running at top decibel, fans are thronging everywhere in their own chase for autographs, photos, selfies and the like. Pit Tours are being led. Various members of the military and first responders are guests of the track, sponsors or teams as a Thank you. Tuesday is the American’s Veteran’s Day and in England/Canada, Sunday is Remembrance Day.

More than a few teams have Military and First Responders graphics on their race cars.

Support Military Ribbon

McMurray's Fallen Fire Fighters

AJ Allmendinger's Car

Speaking of graphics on cars, the Carlos Cardoso above the passenger door of Jamie McMurray’s No.1 Liftmaster Chevrolet is honoring the retirement of the CEO of associate sponsor, Kennametal. And on the rear bumper of AJ Allmendinger’s No.47 GLAD Trash Bags Chevrolet is another retirement honorific.

Ken Clapp Chairman of the Board for The West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame announced the Class of 2015 at a special Press Conference at PIR.

In alpha order, they are:

Jerry Baxter, Crew Chief now for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He got his starts in Southern California building and overseeing race car construction, buying Baldwin Engineering. He directed Michael David’s winning K&N Pro Series West championship and then moved to North Carolina to work on Cup teams.

Ken Clapp

Ken Clapp

John Cardinale, the late Vice President of Communications, at what is now known as Sonoma Raceway. During his 20-year track tenure he was an active BOD member of the WCSCHOF, and “made more friends among the automotive media in California than virtually anyone else in the business.” He died way too young from stomach cancer.

Jason Leffler of Long Beach CA had a very successful midget car career, winning three consecutive USAC Championships 1997-1999. He was also successful in USAC Midgets, Silver Crown before moving to NASCAR three top tier series.He returned to open wheel racing and sprint cars, and was killed in a racing crash last year at Bridgeport Speedway.

Warren Razore of Seattle was a successful businessman who became a K&N Pro Series West stock car team owner with victorious drivers such as Roy Smith and Derrike Cope. He died young from complications of Hodgkin’s Disease.

Doug Richert

Doug Richert

Doug Richart has been involved in stock cars since his teens, becoming the youngest championship wining crew chief in Sprint Cup racing when he ran Dale Earnhardt’s first championship in 1980. Since then he has been crew chief for a variety of owners and teams, including Ron Hornaday’s 1996 title in the NASCAR Truck Series. In 509 career Cup starts spanning 25 years, he was chief for 13 victories, 67top fives, 119 top tens and five poles.

Jim Williams used his successful beef supply company to sponsor cars owned by Roger Penske, and for Al Unser’s fourth Indy 500 win. He also was a major force behind the creation of Irwindale Speedway and the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.

Dr. Paul Kozak

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IMG_4260Among those seen in the Cup Garage Sunday morning, showing around other doctors, was PIR track doctor, Dr. Paul Kozak of the Mayo Clinic. Nice to see that he’s not busy in the Medical Center.

And now, for two more photos from Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series DAV 200 Race.

PIR NNS Winner, Joey Logano

PIR NNS Winner, Joey Logano

2014 NNS Champion, Chase Elliott

2014 NNS Champion, Chase Elliott

MORNING COMES EARLY AT PIR

Cup Garage Sunrise

By the time the sun is rising over Phoenix International Raceway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage is bustling. All the teams are following their choreographed moves for pre-race set-up. The Goodyear Guys have already stacked the team tires for pickup, and there’s a certain symmetry in seeing the setup before it’s systematically disassembled by 43 tire carriers.

The crews are moving quickly, moving gear to Pit Lane for the race, fine tuning the cars, and generally perpetual motion.

Goodyear Tire Setup

Crews bustling

Tire Carriers parade

In the Pit Lane, eager passengers are lined up for their VIP rides at speed around the four-turn one-mile oval track.

The Trylon still shows the results from Saturday afternoon’s Nationwide race, won by Brad Keselowski, who made an amazing pass on leader Kyle Bush to take the lead in sight of the checkered flag and win. Busch had led most of the race and probably wasn’t too happy, but none of the victory or disappointment was seen on TV. The world belonged to young Chase Elliott, and TV focused on him. who runs his father’s famous No.9 on his NAPA Chevrolet. Elliott finished fifth and won the NNS Championship, one race before the end of the season. The 18-year old son of Awesome Bill from Dawsonville is the youngest-ever winner of a top tier NASCAR championship. He just graduated from high school in May. Proud owners, Dale Earnhardt Junior, Rick Hendrick, and Kelly Earnhardt Miller, have already determined Elliot will run the NNS again next season, before moving up to Cup.

Far across from the Cup Garage are hundreds of RV’s – a city so large it now has not one, but two Safeway Supermarkets in its midst to serve the crowd.

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Trylon

RV City

Outside the track, law enforcement is slow to do its pre-race setup. Rows and rows of cones and traffic signs are still on multiple flat bed trucks, queued up for distribution. This slows down incoming traffic a bit as some of the grandstand sold-out crowd and hearty souls headed for Rattlesnake Hill have already shown up.

HAPPY HARVICK!

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick

Happy Harvick! Kevin Harvick ran 2-1 Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway for the last two practice sessions ahead of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 Race. Harvick put his No.4 Budweiser Chevrolet atop the charts in Saturday morning’s second practice and second to Jamie McMurray No.1 Liftmaster Chevrolet in ‘Happy Hour’ practice.

Harvick's Chevrolet

Harvick’s Chevrolet

Harvick has the most Cup wins at PIR – five, including the Spring race this year. The Bakersfield native ran his first PIR race in February 2001.

McMurray led the most ‘Happy Hour’ laps, cruising around in first place at 137.106 mph/26.257seconds, 0.008 seconds ahead of Harvick. Third through fifth were Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Toyota, Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Toyota, and Dale Earnhardt Jr No.88 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet.

Jamie McMurray's Car

Jamie McMurray’s Car

McMurray has an interesting livery on his car this weekend. On the hood are the names of the nineteen fallen firemen – the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who lost their lives last year fighting a devastating fire in Flagstaff Arizona. On the passenger side is the name of the president of one of McMurray’s key sponsors, Kennametal. Carlos Cardoso is a self-proclaimed car nut.

In morning practice, Brad Keselowski No.2 Miller Lite Ford was runnerup, only 0.003 seconds behind Harvick. Third through fifth were Kurt Busch No.41 Haas Automation Chevrolet – apparently not letting his domestic situation overshadow his driving focus; Earnhardt Jr, and Tony Stewart No.14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet.

Dale Earnhardt's car

Dale Earnhardt’s car

Kyle Larson's Car

Kyle Larson’s Car

Pole sitter Denny Hamlin No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota tied for the most ‘Happy Hour’ laps – 50. Hamlin was tenth fastest. The other two busy ‘Happy Hour’ drivers were Rookie Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chevrolet in P13 and Brian Vickers No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota in P18.

To paraphrase a saying – The Couple that Stay Together Play Together. And so it is for Sprint Cup’s only female driver and her young boyfriend. Both race – Danica Patrick in No.10 Go Daddy Chevrolet driving for Stewart-Haas Racing; and Ricky Stenhouse Jr driving No.17 Cargill/Fry’s Ford with Roush-Fenway Racing.

The couple is parked together in the garage, and they went out for Happy Hour in tandem.

Danica Patrick & Ricky Stenhour Jr's cars

HAMLIN POLES IT

Denny Hamlin & daughter Taylor, and Kevin Harvick

Denny Hamlin No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota has the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 race at Phoenix International Raceway. His Coors Light Pole Qualifying lap was 142.113 mph/35.332 seconds. It is his third pole this season, and 20th pole in 325 starts, tying Neil Bonnett and Benny Parsons for thirty-fifth on the all-time series pole list.

Second was Brad Keselowski No.2 Miller Lite Ford, only 0.006 seconds/0.034 mph behind. They were the only two drivers going more than 142 mph.

Third through fifth were Kevin Harvick No.4 Budweiser Chevrolet; Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Toyota, who led much of Round One; and Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Toyota.

Sixth through twelfth were: Jeff Gordon No.24 Axtalta Chevrolet; Rookie Kyle Larson No.41 Target Chevrolet; Brian Vickers No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine; Kurt Busch No.41 Haas Automation Chevrolet; Paul Menard No.27 Richmond/Menards Chevrolet and Casey Mears No.13 GEICO Chevrolet.

Qualifying was run in two Rounds. The first round was for all 44 drivers, with the Second Round being for the top twelve qualifiers.

The official Grid will be released Sunday morning.

The slowest driver overall was Mike Wallace No.66 Toyota; but he will race, as Clay Rogers No.75 DNQ despite Rogers running faster than three other drivers.

In Round Two, Kenseth, Keselowski and Harvick all had a turn, albeit briefly, at being the fastest after Long-Lasting Logano led for much of the session.

Logano led qualifying nearly the entire first round, with a speed of 142.141 mph/25.327 seconds. He broke the track qualifying record, eclipsing the record of 139.384 mph set in February by Keselowski.

Second through fifth in Round One were Hamlin, Keselowski, Larson and Harvick.

Sixth through twelfth in Round One were Gordon; Vickers; Kyle Busch No.18 Banfield Pet Hospital Toyota; Kenseth; Kurt Busch; Menard; and Mears.

Six of the Round One are still in The Chase – Logano, Hamlin, Keselowski, Harvick, Gordon, and Kenseth.

After all was said and done, there was a power failure on Pit Lane and in the Media Center. The Power of the Press Prevailed, but the start of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race was delayed.

GOOD MORNING NASCAR!

Sprint Cup Garage

Friday morning was sunny and warmish for the opening of the NASCAR Garages for the four-race weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. The usual bustle was on-going in the Sprint Cup Garage – prepping cars, going through Tech and getting out to Pit Road for the first Friday Sprint Cup practices at 11am local time/1pm ET. Qualifying is at 4:45pm/6:45pm for Sunday’s 1pm/3pm race.

Cup Tech Shed

Goodyear Tire Yard

Cup Scales

Joey Logano's Car

Mike Bliss' car

Brian Vickers' Car

The NASCAR groups running at PIR are: K&N Pro Series West, who ran all day Thursday, ending with its race; Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series, and Sprint Cup.

Forty-four Sprint Cup drivers are entered for the 43-car field. Nationwide has 41 entries, and Camping World Trucks have 34 entries.

Perhaps even more interesting than Friday morning Cup practice will be the Friday morning Media Opportunities for selected drivers – chosen by NASCAR for their relativity to story lines – with a major topic being the Texas Brawl post-Cup race last Sunday. Friday’s Media lineup includes, in chronological order: Kyle Larson/No.41 Target Chevrolet; Aric Almirola No.43 Farmland Ford; Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford; Ryan Newman No.31 Caterpillar Chevrolet; Jimmie Johnson No.48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet; Kevin Harvick No.4 Budweiser Chevrolet; Carl Edwards No.99 Fastenal Ford; Jeff Gordon No.24 Axalta Chevrolet and then post-qualifying will be Brad Keselowski No.2 Miller Lite Ford.

Kurt Busch

More Boys Behaving Badly – allegedly: Kurt Busch No.41 Haas Automation Chevrolet is being investigated by the Dover Police for alleged domestic abuse against Patricia Driscoll, President of the Armed Forces Foundations, which had associated with Busch. That association is now suspended.

Stewart-Haas released a statement, saying “This is an allegation Stewart-Haas Racing takes very seriously, but we’re still gathering all of the facts and are not in a position to comment in greater detail.”

Brett Jewkes, NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, sent a email during Sprint Cup Practice regarding the Dover Police Department Release. “NASCAR is aware of the investigation involving driver Kurt Busch. We recognize the seriousness of this matter and are actively gathering information from all parties, including law enforcement authorities and Stewart-Haas Racing. It would be inappropriate for NASCAR to comment further on this matter until we have more information.”

In the 90-minute Cup practice, Kurt Busch was fastest for awhile, followed by his brother, Kyle Busch No.18 Banfield Pet Hospital Toyota. But by session’s end, Harvick was fastest at 25.438/1:41.521 mph, followed by Larson-who pipped Keselowski at the very last second; Kurt Busch in P4 and Dale Earnhardt Jr No.88 Kelly Blue Book Chevrolet.

Next up for Cup will be qualifying nearly five hours after practice.

EDWARDS + EXCITMENT = SONOMA

Carl Edwards with Steve Page in Victory Circle

Carl Edwards & Sonoma Raceway President/CEO Steve Page in Victory Circle.
Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Carl Edwards No.99 Aflac Roush Racing Ford took the lead on Lap 85 and ran away with it, out racing Jeff Gordon No.24 Panasonic Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to the finish Sunday at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Sonoma Raceway. The two-pit stop strategy of his crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, paid off.

Edwards led just the once, for the last 26 laps. It was the first road course victory of his Sprint Cup Career. His Margin of Victory ahead of Gordon was 0.591 seconds. This victory, the first for Edwards at Sonoma Raceway, was the twenty-third in his Cup career, and the 135th for team owner, Jack Roush.

Edwards was the tenth consecutive different winner at the 1.199-mile road course in the heart of Northern California’s celebrated Wine Country.

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Edwards said “That’s a moment I’ll never forget, to be standing in Victory Lane and to have held off Jeff Gordon with all of the successes he’s had here and in our sport. I grew up watching Jeff Gordon here at Sonoma, so it was an honor to beat him. It was really tricky the last few laps; but it definitely meant a lot to have Jeff Gordon in my mirror. That was the best I had, and it almost wasn’t good enough. I’m gonna go get a Subway sandwich.”

Edwards played coy when asked about his future plans and whether the uncertainty affected him during the weekend. All weekend rumors swirled regarding his re-signing with Roush, going to JGR, and/or getting the M&M’s sponsorship currently enjoyed by Kyle Busch. “I think you guys worry about that more than we do. We come out here and race every week and the mission is to win championships. So for me it’s really simple I just have to give the best I can every week and that’s it.”

Third through fifth were Dale Earnhardt No.88 Kelley Blue Book Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; pole sitter Jamie McMurray No.1 Cessna Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Chevrolet; and Paul Menard No.27 Richmond/Menards Chevrolet.

Dale Earnhardt Jr

Jamie McMurray

Paul Menard

Left to Right: Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jamie McMurray, and Paul Menard. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.

The Top Rookie was Austin Dillon No.3 Dow Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, who started twenty-sixth and finished seventeenth on the lead lap.

Early favorites didn’t fare as well as expected. Second fastest qualifier, A.J.Allmendinger No.47 JTG Daughterey Chevrolet led twice for 35 laps – the most of any leader, but ended up thirty-seventh after being spun and hit by Earnhardt. “We led a lot of laps today and we were good enough to win the thing, no doubt. I’s just disappointing the way our day ended and to leave Sonoma with a car that’s tore up. It’s just tough.”

Third fastest qualifier and Top Rookie, Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Chevrolet was shuffled back to sixth place early on, and then ran afoul of someone by Lap 28 and despite continuing on, he fell backwards and ended up on the lead lap in P28.

Marcos Ambrose No.9 DeWalt Petty Motorsports Ford always seems to be one to watch due to his road racing skill in stock cars and V8’s. He’s nearly won at least once at Sonoma. This weekend, however, the Aussie had a bad qualifying run and started twenty-third. He charged through the pack time and again; and Ambrose led once for five laps before falling back to eighth, despite several passing/racing attempts near the end.

Austin Dillon

Marcos Ambrose

Jeff Gordon

Left to Right: Austin Dillon, Marcos Ambrose, and Jeff Gordon. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.

Gordon said “I just wanted to make him overdrive the corner. I really tried to put the pressure on him. I was just trying to keep the wheel spin to a minimum. I overdrove Four. That made a difference. I was better in the faster sections. He was faster in the slower sections. I wish I had five laps to do over again. I think I coulda had a shot.” It was Gordon’s third runner-up position in the last five Sonoma races.

Earnhardt said “Carl had the best strategy. The Chevy was really good all week. I made a couple of mistakes during the race.” He owned up to one of his mistakes on his radio after he hit Matt Kenseth No.20 Dollar General Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, causing Kenseth to take a really hard crash into the Turn Seven tire wall. It was the first DNF for Kenseth in fifteen Sonoma races. Junior said “My bad. I don’t know what the (expletive) I was doing. I jumped that curb and ran into him. I am sick at my stomach getting into Matt there. I just hopped that curb, and it threw me right into him. I shouldn’t have been running him hard I guess, I just got up on that curb and it just launched me over into the side of his car. I really hope he isn’t hurt too bad. We had a fast car all weekend. The guys did a good job on the strategy, and gave me great tires at the end so I could be on the offense. Proud of Steve (Letarte); the whole job the team did. The car was fast all weekend. It was a lot of fun.”

Earnhardt also “tangled with Allmendinger and spun him out in Turn 11. I thought I left him enough room. I don’t know how bad it was for him.”

The hits just kept coming.

Licking their wounds included Clint Bowyer No.15 5-Hour Energy Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota; Kevin Harvick No.4 Outback/Budweiser Folds of Honor Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet; Jimmie Johnson No.48 Lowe’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; Kyle Larson; Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Penske Racing Ford; Danica Patrick No.10 Go Daddy Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. EcoPower Roush Racing Ford; and Brian Vickers No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota;

Cautions breed cautions. There were six cautions for 19 laps in the 110-lap race. Three were for accidents involving seven cars, one stall, and two for track surface conditions.

There were nine leaders and eleven lead changes keeping the racing exciting. Allmendinger led twice for the most laps – 25. Other leaders were Harvick-twice for 23 laps; pole sitter McMurray twice for nine laps; and one time for Bowyer-five laps; Ambrose-five laps; Logano-three laps; Jeff Gordon-three laps; and Johnson-one lap.

Gordon continues to lead the Driver Standings, with 580 points. Second through twelfth are: Johnson-560; Earnhardt Jr.-555; Kenseth-515; Keselowski-512; Edwards-509; Logano-483; Ryan Newman-473; Harvick-472; Larson-470 and Top Rookie; Kyle Busch-465; and Menard-459. Fifty-three drivers have earned points, with another ten who have run but are ineligible to get points in the Cup Series.

Matt Kenseth

Joey Logano

Kyle Larson

Left to Right: Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, and Kyle Larson. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.

Everyone cleared Tech with no problems. The top two cars, No.99 Ford and No.24 Chevrolet will be taken back to the NASCAR R&D Center in North Carolina, with additional routine track inspection completed on No.23-Rookie Alex Bowman Toyota, No.38-David Gilliland Ford, No.7 Michael Annett Chevrolet, and No.32-Boris Said Ford.

The next Sprint Cup race is 28 June 2014 at Kentucky Speedway.

P.S.
For those sharp-eyed road racers who saw and wondered about seeing a corner worker waving both the yellow caution and blue flag simultaneously, here’s the NASCAR explanation, as explained to the drivers in their Sunday morning meeting: NASCAR uses the standard corner worker flags in a different way. The all-blue waved flag means the track trouble is right ahead. For NASCAR the passing flag is the blue flag which has a yellow stripe. There evidently is no surface flag (yellow and red stripes used for oil, debris, etc.)

Sonoma Raceway is one track which gets it. John Cardinale, the late VP of Communications started a post-race tradition which continues on – a veritable spread of snacks and edibles for the hard-working media.

John Cardinale Antipasti Bar

Cardinale Antipasti spread

A IS FOR AGGRESSION

Close Encounters of the NASCAR Kind.

Aggressive racing seemed to be the theme this weekend. Almost every driver interviewed by the media was specifically asked about the aggressive driving – of late, and especially at road races

AGGRESSION:
1.the action of a state in violating by force the rights of another state, particularly its territorial rights; an unprovoked offensive, attack, invasion, or the like: The army is prepared to stop any foreign aggression.
2. any offensive action, attack, or procedure; an inroad or encroachment: an aggression upon one’s rights.
3.the practice of making assaults or attacks; offensive action in general.

Some but not all of Random Sound Bites by Sprint Cup Drivers

AJ.J.Allmendinger's No.47 Chevrolet

A.J.ALLMENDINGER No.47 Chevrolet: “I think just the competition level has stepped up. It’s not like if you are fast, you kind of blister through the pack and you have a few guys you are racing. You look at how deep the field is now at the road course races, that’s why it is aggressive, because it is hard to pass. Everybody is so close. If you get kind of stuck in the back of the pack, it is hard to go anywhere. You look at Marcos (Ambrose) last year at Watkins Glen – he was leading the race, and pit strategy worked out where he restarted 20th, and it was hard for him to go anywhere, and he dominated that race. It just shows how deep the field is especially around this place. It is so tight. The double-file restarts are some of that. Before when it was single, everybody was kind of in line and then if you made a pass, you made a pass. You go through these first how-many corners side-by-side and that is when you can really make your most time. So it’s definitely gotten more aggressive and I think the competition level has just gotten higher, and that is what it relates to everybody being so aggressive. Also around this place, your fenders don’t matter as much as Watkins Glen, so people seem to use them up a little bit more.”

Clint Bowyer's No.15 Toyota

CLINT BOWYER No.15 Toyota: “All road racing contact is accidental until the end and an accident usually reoccurs and it’s something that’s drug on through the season and you get here and the guy gets loose underneath him. Early in the race, if people get into each other because they were pushing hard, dive-bombed them, got a wheel hop and wrecked a bunch of people, that’s an accident. The consequence for that accident at the end of the race is usually not an accident — it’s very much so on purpose. You usually see the smoke rolling out of the race car before the actual impact at the end of the race, which is kind of fun to watch as long as you’re not one of them — either or.”

Jeff Gordon's No.24 Chevrolet

JEFF GORDON No.24 Chevrolet: “Definitely road course races we’ve always seen aggressiveness, and sometimes mistakes by people trying to be overly aggressive and making mistakes. That has always been the nature of this track and road course racing because there are two opportunities to really pass, and you try and take advantage of those opportunities. Then when they did the double-file restarts – that is what really changes things. It changed things on the ovals too, but it really changed things on the road courses because it gives you that extra opportunity to be aggressive, to get the position and take some extra chances to try to get that position. Or maintain a position and causes a lot of incidents. We see a lot of people running into one another. But it has also made the road course some of the most exciting races that we have now on the circuit.”

Kyle Larson's No.42 Chevrolet

KYLE LARSON No.42 Chevrolet: “There is a lot of chaos that goes on at road course races. So just have to stay out of trouble and get a good finish.”

Hopefully that will go better than the recent Michigan race when Larson and Tony Stewart disagreed to disagree. “On the restart he lined up behind me and I was mirror driving and saw him go to the right so I went to right, felt him hit me and thought, ‘Tony’s going to be pissed,’ so I pulled up top, let him by and drove around him a couple corners later. When the (next) caution came out, I knew what was going to happen and I knew he was going to pull next to me and show me he wasn’t happy

“In sprint car racing, blocking is a little more normal so I don’t know if he gets as angry in that as he does with blocking in stock cars. Anyway, a guy like Tony Stewart probably respects you more if you don’t back down. Coming to a place like Sonoma, I’m sure we’ll be around each other and we’ll see what happens. But I don’t feel like I’ve done anything dirty so I’m not going to do anything to make the situation worse and I hope he doesn’t.” Stewart showed his displeasure in one of his customary fashions – middle finger.

Joey Logano's No.22 Ford

JOEY LOGANO No.22 Ford: “The first contact one is always an accident and then after that I don’t know how much is an accident. I think it depends on what’s going on. Usually, we all try to start the race calm, cool and collected. Everyone is kind of just running their deal and then one person gets hit and gets knocked out of the way and then he’s mad, and then he hits someone else and now the next guy is mad, so that just triggers it off and there you go. I think everyone starts with the right attitude and then at the end all manners are out the window and it’s all about just getting those positions. Like I said, there are four or five people that are pretty calm that might not have a mark on their race car because everyone else is gonna get beat around and when you get beat around you get ticked off. It happens. Usually there are about four or five guys that are smiling after the race and everyone else is really mad at each other. I can’t wait.”

Regarding aggression from drivers yet to win at Sonoma: “Look at the guys that are good at these road course and you look at the guys that haven’t won yet this season. They’re starting to get desperate, I’m sure. They’re starting to get to that panic mode at this point in the season and if this is one of those race tracks where you feel you can capitalize on, and you’re close to it, they’re gonna be desperate and they’re gonna do some crazy things out there. So that’s why it’s so important to be on the aggressive side. Like I was saying earlier, I want to be the guy pushing. I don’t want to be the guy getting pushed around. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got a car you can do that with because it’s easier said than done. If you’re the guy running up front, and you look at the top three, four, five cars, they will be ones that won’t have many marks on it, so you’ve got to be consistently up there. You’ve got to be patient. You can’t get too fired up, but you’ve got to be the aggressive one and I think those guys that haven’t had the win are gonna get desperate and it’s gonna be either checkers or wreckers for them. Hopefully, I’m far enough ahead that it’s not a problem.”

Tony Stewart's No.14 Chevrolet

TONY STEWART No.14 Chevrolet: “This is one of those places where most of the time you shake your head when you’re leaving here going thank goodness it’s over. The first half of the race is a blast because everybody is being patient and they’re driving like they have sense. The closer to the end of the race, the more that goes away and the more guys just try to take advantage of every situation and every hole that’s available.”

Brian Vickers' No.55 Toyota

BRIAN VICKERS No.55 Toyota:”Sonoma Raceway is the short track of road racing.”