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.

IMG_4247

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.”

IT’S GO TIME

Sunday morning at Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup race, and the hills are alive with the sound of 820 hp stock car engines. The garage is filled with cars revving engines, lucky fans with Hot Garage Passes, and bustling crew members everywhere. Those who want to see and be seen are filling in and the place is getting crowded. There is a crowd around the Pole sitting No.1 Cessna Chevrolet driven by Jamie McMurray, who races for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. He also had the pole for last year’s race, which was won by Martin Truex Jr of Michael Waltrip Racing.

All 43 of the Cup cars have to go through Tech again before the race, but as of 8:30am PT, still no takers in the various Scrutineering check points.

Empty NASCAR Templet Check Points

Pole Sitter Jamie McMurray's Garage

Empty NASCAR Tech Check Points

Sunday’s schedule has just the one 110-lap race, running 218.9 mile race, starting at noon PT/3pm ET. It will air live on TNT TV, as well as PRN and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

Part of the festivities include a six Patriot Jet aerial formation flyover, Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, Wine Country Silent Auction, and the usual hoopla for the Driver Introductions and driver parade around the track.

One happy camper Sunday morning was The King aka Richard Petty.

Richard Petty

Richard Petty

Former Major League Baseball player, Vida Blue, is the Grand Marshal. He played baseball for both the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants. He won the American League Cy Young Award, Most Valuable Player Award in 1971, is a six-time All-Star, and is the first of only four pitchers in major league history to start the All-Star Game for both the American League (1971) and the National League (1978).

KRISTEN POINDEXTER of Indianapolis is the 2014 Shell Science Teacher of the Year. Part of her award include a trip to the Sonoma race and her name on the Shell Pennzoil Ford racecar driven by Joey Logano. In the past 23 years, Shell has honored one outstanding classroom science teacher (K-12) who has had a positive impact on his or her students, school, and community through exemplary classroom science teaching.

Shell Teacher of Year Logo

LARSON LEARNED TO SHIFT

Kyle Larson in Victory Circle

Kyle Larson in Victory Circle. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Pole Sitter Kyle Larson No.42 Clorox Chevrolet won the Carneros 200 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway Saturday afternoon. He led almost every foot of the race, only temporarily losing the lead for one corner on Lap 51 of the 66-lap race after one of the several restarts. His margin of victory over runner-up Greg Pursley GPM/Star Nursery/Real Water Ford was 3.191 seconds. Larson turned the fastest race lap of 90.136 mph/.1:19.470.

So much for a driver who supposedly had trouble learning to shift in stock cars.

This was Larson’s first weekend ever driving the 1.199-mile elevated road course.

Larson stayed out in front and out of trouble, while there were mighty battles behind him, leaving some hapless victims beside the road. The tow truck driver did a yeoman’s job of pushing, pulling and lifting cars out of harms way.

Kyle Larson

Greg Pursley

Kyle Larson

Left to right: Kyle Larson, Greg Pursley, and Larsen leading Ricky Stenhouse Jr & Pursley. Photos by Mike & Jeff Burghardt.

Third through fifth were Dylan Lupton No.9 Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil/Eibach Ford; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. No.99 Roush Performance Parts Ford; and Brandon McReynolds No.16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota.

Larson said “A little bit of confidence (from today’s race) helps going into tomorrow’s race. Pursley is really good here so it’s good to beat a driver like that. I gained experience in saving the equipment, and I gained some experience in parts of the track. Tomorrow will be more difficult. On those restarts, it seemed like it was hard until I could get up to Turn Seven when I could pull away.

“It was really good day today, being on pole and winning K&N, and awesome to qualify third in Cup. I didn’t think I was that good in Cup, and now I’m still not sure; but the cars are really good. You can make mistakes and still do well.”

Up until the break, the top three cars didn’t change position from where they started – Larson, Stenhouse and Pursley. Then, the action began and the yellows flew. Stenhouse was caught out, spun, shuffled backwards to tenth, and recovered. He charged back to finish fourth.

Justin Allgaier

Justin Allgaier. Photo by Mike & Jeff Burghardt

Cup driver, Justin Algaier No.83 Grigg Brothers/Brandt Chevrolet started thirteenth, and ran as high as sixth before mixing it up with others while racing hard in a pack. He fell back and ended up fourteenth.

Cup driver David Mayhew No.17 Steak and Grape/MMI Services Chevrolet didn’t have his best day. He started ninth but finished twenty-first. This won’t help his K&N points – he was second in the standings going into the race. Mayhew qualified Cup driver J.J.Yeley’s No.44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevrolet in thirty-ninth position for Sunday’s race, but Yeley will start at the back due to driver change. Yeley finished fifth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America, after starting twenty-second. Even as we speak he’s winging his way back to the wine country of Northern California.

Cup Rookie Austin Dillon No.21 Golden Gate Meat/RCR Chevrolet started eighth, but ran afoul of electrical gremlins during the race and retired on Lap 49 for a P22 finish.

Jack Sellars

Jack Sellars. Photo by Mike & Jeff Burghardt

Larson wasn’t the only K&N driver running his first-ever race at Sonoma. Neither had Rookie James Bickford, the sixteen-year old cousin of Cup driver, Jeff Gordon No.24 Panasonic Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Bickford started tenth but ended up twenty-fourth. One thing different in the West version of the K&N Pro Series, versus the East coast version, is there are more smaller and independent teams out West, with a higher ratio of older, more veteran racers. Jack Sellars No.15 MediActive Oral Care Chevrolet has the most K&N starts – 279. Back East, the series has more better funded younger drivers and bigger teams. The West Series has been around 61 years and has long been a support race with the Cup Series.

Michael Annett No.31 TMC/Pilot Chevrolet ran the hardest. He started twenty-ninth and finished sixth.

Sellars took a big hit into the tire and concrete wall exiting Turn Seven, but was able to limp into the pits. This was the second incident which required wall care during the race.

Twenty of the twenty-nine starters finished the race, with sixteen on the lead lap. Three retired from crashes, and six for mechanical problems.

The race ran for 2 hrs 12 mins 28 secs. The average race speed was 59.490 mph.

There were five cautions for sixteen laps, all in the second half of the race. Cautions breed cautions. The K&N Series cars are Gen 4 Cup cars, same chassis but with different Goodyear tires. It is a developmental series with the aim of maximizing participation while keeping down the costs.

The series has a customary break half-way through its races. This allows the teams to do some work on their cars, but avoids having pit stops, which is a cost-cutting measure. The idea is to save the teams the expense of an over-the-wall crew and all its requisite equipment. During the break the teams cannot open the hood or rear deck and can’t change tires, unless a damaged or flat tire is verified by a NASCAR official. Otherwise, normal adjustments are allowed, such as spring settings and fueling.

After the brief break, the cars run two laps single file behind the pace car leading up to a double file restart.

Clorox Corporation, from nearby Oakland CA, cleaned up Saturday at Sonoma. It sponsor’s Larson’s K&N car and the Sprint Cup No.47 JTG Daughtery Racing Chevrolet of driver A.J. Allmendinger, who almost had the Cup pole until the last thirty seconds when he was bumped by Larson’s veteran teammate, Jamie McMurray No.1 Cessna Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Racing Chevrolet.

The next stop for the K&N Pro Series West is 12 July 2014 at State Line Speedway in Idaho.

McMURRAY & LARSON ON NASCAR POLES

Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Jamie McMurray No.1 Cessna Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Racing Chevrolet has the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Sonoma Raceway with a blistering lap of 96.350 mph/74.354 seconds. He and 21 other drivers broke the existing qualifying track record of 95.262 mph/1:15.203 seconds set June 2012 by Marcos Ambrose. This is McMurray’s third pole at Sonoma Raceway and tenth overall in his twelve year Cup career with 418 Cup races.

Starting on the front row besides Jamie Mac will be local driver, A.J.Allmendinger No.47 Kingsford/Clorox JTG Daughterey Racing Chevrolet. AJ was leading both qualifying sessions for most of their duration until being pipped at the last minute. Allmendinger is the only driver in the top eleven who doesn’t drive for a big/multi-car team.

The other local driver, Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet, will start third and is the top Cup Rookie.

AJ Almendinger

Carl Edwards

Kurt Busch

Left to right: A.J.Allmendinger, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch. Photos by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images.

Fourth and fifth were Carl Edwards No.99 Aflac Roush Racing Ford and Kurt Busch No.41 Haas Automation Chevrolet.

Sixth through twelfth were Kevin Harvick No.4 Outback/Budweiser Folds of Honor Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet; Ryan Newman No.31 Caterpillar Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet; Brian Vickers No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, Paul Menard No.27 Richmond Menards Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet; Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Penske Racing Ford; Danica Patrick No.10 GoDaddy Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet; and Casey Mears No.13 GEICO Germain Racing Chevrolet.

Kevin Harvick

Ryan Newman

Brian Vickers

Left to right: Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers. Photos by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images.

McMurray said “Jamie McMurray This knockout qualifying is just an emotional roller coaster, from not making it in the top twelve and having to go back out and bump your way in to then being on the pole – there’s a lotta highs and lows that go with it and it’s really cool for us to go from kinda being bumped out and coming back and sitting on the pole. So it’s is pretty cool. It will be an interesting race, as I think drivers will be really aggressive on the last two or three restarts. It will be interesting if we have a green-white-checkered flag finish.”

Allmendinger said “I wish we would have stuck to the old way (of qualifying.) Everybody made one run, and we were pretty good after that. I’m proud of everybody on this No. 47 race team. Going into qualifying I honestly thought we didn’t have a great car for qualifying. I was really happy with it in race trim. I was cautiously optimistic about it. But, I felt like I put in two good laps out there. Kingsford Chevy is good. To have Clorax its home race, and start up front. It will be a long battle tomorrow, but we have a good starting spot. So we will have a clean view, and go have some fun tomorrow.”

Larson, who may be the only Cup driver who has never before raced at Sonoma Raceway and has been said to have trouble learning to shift, said – despite having spotters who are really high so they can see the track better – that he relies a lot on his teammate, pole sitter McMurray. The veteran has spent a lot of time going over the track dynamics with Larson, corner by corner, strategy by strategy. “I definitely think having a teammate like that really helps. He’s obviously really fast and willing to work with me and teach me a lot, which is great.” Larson also admitted he and others were running the NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race to gain more experience. Something clicked, as Larson has the K&N Pole for Saturday afternoon’s race.

The temperature was in the mid-seventies, with strong breezes, rather than Friday’s wind gusts.

In the first Cup qualifying session, Allmendinger led for 24 of the 30-minute session, before being knocked down by Joey Logano No.22 Shell Pennzoil Penske Racing Ford.

There were surprises in the new Cup qualifying format. The top five Chase contenders didn’t make the cut to the Top Twelve, nor were there any Hendrick Racing cars making it to Q2. Another big surprise was how poorly Marcos Ambrose No.9 DeWalt Petty Motorsports Ford qualified. He who had held the qualifying track record for two years ended up twenty-third for Sunday’s race.

Kyle Larson's Helmet

Kyle Larson’s Helmet. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

In K&N Pro Series West Series qualifying, Cup Rookie Kyle Larson No.42 Clorox Chevrolet has the pole position with a lap of 92.794 mph. Although Sonoma Raceway is the closest NASCAR and/or road course closest to his hometown of Elk Grove in Northern California, this weekend is the first time Larson has driven the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course. As a child, he visited the track twice with his parents. Not that he’s that old now. He’s 22 years old now and will be a father in December, although he doesn’t look old enough to vote.

Cup driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr No.99 Roush Performance Racing Ford was second fastest, followed by K&N veteran and current points leader, Greg Pursley No.26 GPM / Star Nursery / Real Water Ford. Another K&N veteran, Cole Custer No.00 NAPA Filters Toyota was fourth and going for his second win this season. Dylan Lupton Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil/Eibach Ford, last year’s K&N Rookie of the Year, was fifth.

Cup Rookie Austin Dillon No.21 Golden Gate Meat/RCR Chevrolet went two seconds faster in qualifying than he did Friday, and will grid eighth. Starting ninth will be David Mayhew No.17 Steak & Grape/MMI Services; he also will be qualifying Saturday for the absent J.J.Yeley, who is gridded twenty-second in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America. Yeley will start at the back of the Toyota/SaveMart 350 Sprint Cup Race Sunday noon. Justin Algaier No.83 Griggs Brothers/Brandt Chevrolet qualified thirteenth of 28 drivers who ran the session.

The first K&N session was stopped for the spectacular blown engine of Zack Huffman No.38 RMC General Contractors Toyota. He laid down a crop duster layer of smoke through Turn Ten and then neatly executed a 180 spin at Pit Lane entrance, completely enveloped in his smoke. As that was his flyer lap, he showed at the bottom of the list with zero time. Michael Annett No.31 TMC/Pilot Chevrolet was not on track. Those two will be on the last row.

Pre-Q Cup Pit Lane

SATURDAY COMES EARLY

Sonoma Raceway Pit Lane & Front Straight

It’s Saturday morning at Sonoma Raceway for the NASCAR Toyota/SaveMart 350 weekend, and the activities are off to an early start.

In the NASCAR Sprint Cup garage, tech and scrutineering are in full swing, so much so that the cars are coming out of one of the checkpoints faster than the follow-up scrutineers can check additional items. This resulted in a minor clog on the driveway out to the track, right in front of the Media Center.

Cars of JJ Yeley & Boris Said finalizing Scrutineering

It's Go Time

Out in Pit Lane, all 32 of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Series cars lined up for their qualifying session. Those mini Cup cars go out in four groups of eight for eight minutes, and the grid is set on their aggregate times. The clock stops if the session is stopped for any reason.

Sprint Cup has road course format qualifying at 10:40am PT.

With five Sprint Cup drivers running in both events, the Rookie Meetings – which are separate from the regular Drivers Meetings – were carefully scheduled to accommodate their schedules. In the case of the K&N Drivers Meeting, those five Cup drivers running Cup Qualifying were given a special Drivers Meeting ahead of time.

Max Papis

Max Papis

Richard Childress

Richard Childress. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

One of the Cup Rookies, Austin Dillon No.3 Dow Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, has a driver coach mentoring him. Veteran racer from all venues, Max Papis, works with RCR as a consultant which includes working with the grandson of team owner, Richard Childress.

The weather forecast is for 82 degrees F as a high, with 70 degrees slated for Cup Qualifying. The wind is only slight … so far.