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.

FASTER FRIDAY

Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer

The tempo picked up for the second practice of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Friday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway. Although the top driver order didn’t change much during the ninety-minute session, Clint Bowyer No.15 was faster at 95.988 mph/74.634 seconds than he was in the earlier session, when he was second fastest. For this later session, seven drivers were unofficially faster than the track record of 95.262 mph set by Marcos Ambrose in 2012.

The speeds were hot, as were the temperatures. The stiff breeze barely tempered the ninety degrees reached by the second practice session.

Second was Paul Menard No.27 Richmond Menards Chevrolet SS, followed by Carl Edwards No.99 Aflac Roush Racing Ford, Jamie McMurray No.1 Cessna Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet SS, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. No.88 Kelley Blue Book Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS.

Paul Menard

Carl Edwards

Dale Earnhardt Jr

Left to right: Paul Menard, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Again the top Rookie was Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet SS, who finished sixth overall. Seventh was the 2013 Sonoma winner, Martin Truex Jr No.78 Furniture Row Chevrolet SS – all so fast that they should confirm the prediction made Thursday by Brad Keselowski No.2 Alliance Truck Parts Penske Racing Ford Fusion – that a new qualifying track record would be set this weekend.

Jeff Gordon

Current Sprint Cup Points Leader, Jeff Gordon No.24 Panasonic Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was ninth overall. He’s had five pole positions and five victories at Sonoma, more than any other driver. Gordon suffered back spasms at the Charlotte race last month and has been treating it with cortisone shots and ice, as well as electrical stimulation. This is in addition to his regular stretches and exercises. He’s had to forgo his bicycle riding in the interim. Gordon said the plane flight out to Sonoma was the worst part of this weekend so far.

Speaking of ice, during the second Cup practice, bags of ice were seen cooling four upright tires in the garage of Greg Biffle No.16 3M Roush Racing Ford. Yes, it was that hot.

Tomy Drissi No.66 MightyHercules.com Toyota Camry missed the first session, but was able to make it out for nine laps in the second, coming in last.

Reed Sorenson No.36 Theme Park Connection Chevrolet SS missed the afternoon session. Turning the fewest laps was Rookie Michael Annett No.7 Pilot/Flying J Chevrolet SS.

Ambrose, in No.9 DeWalt Petty Motorsports Ford, was nowhere near his earlier top speed, finishing twenty-third in the session.

In the second K&N Pro Series West practice, it was again Cup drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr No.99 Roush Performance Parts Ford on top, followed by Kyle Larson No.42 Clorox Chevrolet. Third this time was another Cup driver, Justin Algaier No.83Griggs Brothers/Brandt Chevrolet. Fourth and fifth were Brandon McReynolds No.16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota and David Mayhew No.17 Steak & Grape/MMI Services. Cup Rookie Austin Dillon No.21 Golden Gate Meat/RCR Chevrolet was fifteenth overall.Twenty eight of the 32 drivers were on track.

Larson put on a nice show for the fans in that session, doing a complete 360 spin and continuing on his merry way in a cloud of dust.

Saturday’s schedule calls for qualifying for both the K&N Series, prior to its Saturday afternoon Carneros 200 race, and the Cup Series.

This year there will be a new qualifying format for the Cup Series. NASCAR revised qualifying overall for all three top tier series, to “enhance the fan experience.” For the Sonoma road course, this means two qualifying sessions. Q1 will have all 43 cars for half an hour. After a ten-minute break, the top 12 will go to Q2, with their times reset. This ten-minute session will set the top 12 positions on the grid, with the remainder of the field lining up in order of their Q1 times. This format is followed for both road course Cup races as well as for those tracks less than 1.25 miles long.

All photos courtesy of Bob Tarvin of Tarvin Images.

Covered Cup Cars   Zzzzz

FAST AND FURIOUS FRIDAY

Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Fast Friday was just that for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma Raceway for the first practice of the day. After half of the session with no changes at all in the top ten positions, then one by one drivers jumped to the top of the charts, with Kurt Busch No.41 Haas Automation Cheverolet SS King of the Hill. His top time was 95.470 mph/75.039 seconds.

Only three drivers made the 95+ mph class, – Busch, and two drivers from the Toyota Camry stable of Michael Waltrip Racing: 2012 Sonoma winner, Clint Bowyer No.15 5-Hour Energy in P2 and Brian Vickers No.55 Aaron’s Dream Machine.

Marcos Ambrose

Marcos Ambrose. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Busch and Bowyer unofficially went faster than the existing qualifying track record of 95.262 mph set by Marcos Ambrose in 2012. Official records can only be set in a qualifying or race session.

For the first hour Aussie Ambrose, in No.9 DeWalt Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion, led the pack, followed by Kurt Busch and local driver, A.J.Allmendinger No.47 Kingsford/Clorox JT Daughtery Racing Chevrolet SS.

Then after an hour of cruising, Dale Earnhardt Jr No.88 Kelley Blue Book Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS jumped up, followed by a succession of faster drivers, including: last year’s Sonoma winner, Martin Truex Jr No.78 Furniture Row Chevrolet SS; Tony Stewart No.14 Mobil 1 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet SS, who came from way back in the pack; and Kurt Busch.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson

The top Rookie was another local driver, Kyle Larson No.42 Target Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet SS, who finished fifth, behind Martin Truex Jr. This is the first time ever for young Larson at the Sonoma road course. Although he hails from nearby Elk Grove, his Northern California background was sprint cars, midgets and Silver Crown cars on short track oval,s and he won everything in sight. He moved up to stock cars including K&N Pro Series East, not West, so he never made it to the Sonoma track. After moving up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he was 2013 Rookie of the Year. Wednesday Larson was feted in his home town including being given the Key to the City – first time it’s ever happened in the town.

In the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West first practice, Larson finished second, behind another Sprint Cup Driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Third was Greg Pursley No.26 GPM Ford, followed by Austin Cameron No.10 Big Red Chevrolet. Cameron has since withdrawn after a disastrous car fire. He is OK – his car is not. Fifth overall was Brandon McReynolds No.16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota.

The other Sprint Cup drivers running the K&N Series were Justin Algaier in eighth, and Rookie Austin Dillon in thirteenth place. David Mayhew was ninth. He is a regular in the K&N series and is also filling in Friday and Saturday as driver for J.J.Yeley in the No.44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevrolet SS, while Yeley runs the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday at Road America. Yeley will be back Sunday for the Sprint Cup race.

Another interesting name shows up in the K&N Series – James Bickford in No.6 Sunrise Ford. The Rookie is the cousin of five-time Cup winner at Sonoma, Jeff Gordon No.24 Panasonic Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS. Gordon spent a lot of time talking with young Bickford when Gordon was out at Sonoma for the Goodyear tire test, but hasn’t had time to chat with him so far this weekend. One or the other is always on the track. Bickford was sixteenth fastest of the 32 K&N drivers in the first practice.

The Cup session was safe.

Tomy Drissi's No.66 Toyota

Tomy Drissi’s No.66 Toyota. Photo by Bob Tarvin/Tarvin Images

Forty-two of the 43 drivers were on course. Missing was Tomy Drissi No.66 MightyHercules.com Jay Robinson Racing Toyota Camry. There also was a driver substitution – David Mayhew for J.J.Yeley in No.44 Phoenix Warehouse Chevrolet SS. Yeley is back at Road America for the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, so Mayhew will practice and qualify the car. Yeley will fly back to run the race, starting from the back of the pack due to the driver substitution.

SUNNY SIDE UP

NASCAR Garage

The weather for Fast Friday is warm and beautiful at Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota-SaveMart 350 NASCAR weekend. This is the first of two road course races this season for the Sprint Cup Series. Also on the weekend’s schedule is the Carneros 200 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Series race, as well as the US Legends cars. All three Series practice Friday.

The Cup road courses bring out what are euphemistically called ‘road racing ringers’ and this weekend one such driver is Tomy Drissi No.66 MightyHercules.com Toyota. Another non-regular in the field is Boris Said No. 32 Seven-11/Amerigas Ford, who has run many NASCAR races in all three top tier series as well as the touring car series. Said has not a full season in a while. This makes for a 44-car field, with one car going home after Saturday qualifying.

The Cup Series has its first practice at noon. The Cup garage was its usual busy self Friday morning with the teams readying their cars for scrutineering. There are a variety of checkpoints through which the cars must pass, literally and figuratively. The car’s gears and transmissions are checked in the garage and sealed once approved. There is a queue in one of the NASCAR Tech areas for the teams bringing their backup transmissions to be checked and sealed.

Timmy Hill #33 in Tech

Spare Transmission Tech queue

Boris Said's No.32 Ford

The K&N Series has 32 entries, with four of them coming from the Cup ranks – Rookies: Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson, as well as Justin Algier and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. It’s first casualty came in the form of the flame-out of Austin Cameron No. 10 Big Red Chevrolet. Cameron is OK and he was able to quickly scramble out of the car, which he parked off course at the exit of Turn Ten, which the car continued to burn. The cause has not yet been determined. Cameron withdrew, as he had no back-up car. This was his first K&N race this season. Cameron is a veteran in the series, having run it since 1999. While he was never champion, he has 15 victories, finished second in the standings twice, and in the top ten in points three times.

A crash by Travis Milburn No.36 Cooks Collision Toyota ended the K&N practice session. He also was alright.

The Cup Series has two practices Friday afternoon, at noon PT for one hour 50 minutes, and then again at 3:30pm for another 90 minutes.

Sonoma Raceway mascot cow

FREAKY FAST!

Kevin Harvick

Photo by Steve Fecht

Happy Harvick! KEVIN HARVICK/No.4 Chevrolet is certainly in the right place now – handily winning the 10th Annual The Profit on CNBC 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. Like the side of his car says … “Freaky Fast.” He turned the race’s fastest lap, and is now fourth in the standings.

Harvick was quoted earlier that now he’s with a new team, he’s in the right place. Harvick drives for Stewart Haas Racing, after being with Richard Childress Racing for years. Harvick’s Crew Chief is RODNEY CHILDERS. Team co-owner TONY STEWART/No.14 said “It’s pretty cool.” GENE HAAS is the other team co-owner.

Harvick did doughnuts down by his team pit box in Turn One, and then came back to S-F for the waiting photogs.

Harvick took the lead on Lap 74, from JOEY LOGANO/No.22 Ford, who had grabbed the lead at the start to pass his Penske teammate, pole sitter BRAD KESELOWSKI/No.2 Ford. Harvick led three times for the most laps – 224.

This is Harvick’s twenty-fourth Cup victory, and fifth at PIR – the most track wins of any driver. He started in thirteenth position, just missing the new Top Twelve. But he had been stout in the practice sessions, with Happy Hour being ‘perfect’ for him – leading the most laps, fastest lap, and most laps in top five and in top ten. This is the fourth time Harvick has led more than 200 laps, and he won two of those three races.

Kevin Harvick

Rodney Childers

Left to Right: Kevin Harvick, Rodney Childers, and Gene Haas.

Points Leader DALE EARNHARDT JR/No.88 Chevrolet drove a stout race, keeping right up with Harvick and narrowed the gap several times, with the final Margin of Victory being 0.489 seconds. “The last run was the best I was all day. I didn’t have enough for Kevin earlier.” It felt good to be able to keep up with Harvick when he clearly was so fast all weekend. Our team has high morale.

Although third-place finisher, Keselowski, said he was very aware of the crowd standing and screaming when it looked like Junior would grab the lead, Earnhardt said he was fully focused on his race and didn’t know.

Keselowski was clearly disappointed in not winning, but conceded that Harvick had the better car all weekend. Keselowski is six points behind Earnhardt now, for second in the standings. “That was everything we could do to get up there and get third. Nobody had anything for Kevin. I am not sure there was anywhere he didn’t have an advantage. We did the best we could and that was really all we had.”

Fourth and fifth finishers were JOEY LOGANO/No.22 Ford and JEFF GORDON/No.24 Chevrolet. Sixth through tenth were JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Chevrolet, RYAN NEWMAN/No.31 Chevrolet, CARL EDWARDS/No.99 Ford, KYLE BUSCH/No.18 Toyota, and JAMIE McMURRAY/No.1 Chevrolet.

Kyle Larson

KYLE LARSON/No.42 Chevrolet was the top Rookie, of eight in the field. Larson, 21, finished twentieth. He’s raced USAC midgets, Silver Crown Cars, and sprint cars – winning a race in each of them in one night, only the second driver to do so. He’s also driven dirt tracks. He moved into stock cars, running ARCA, K&N Pro Series, NASCAR Camping World Trucks, NASCAR Nationwide Series where he was 2013 Rookie of the Year, and is now running full time with Chip Ganassi Racing in Sprint Cup.

There were 14 Lead Changes among eight drivers: Harvick, Logano three times for 71 laps, Keselowski three times for three laps, RYAN NEWMAN/No.31 Chevrolet once for six laps, JEFF GORDON/No.24 Chevrolet once for four laps, DAVID GILLILAND/No.38 Ford once for two laps, and CARL EDWARDS/No.99 Ford and CLINT BOWYER/No.15 Toyota, each once for one lap.

All cars cleared Tech with no issues. The top two cars will be going to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Charlotte, but no additional engines will be making that trip. Good thing Harvick already has his dedicated Las Vegas car loaded on the trailer for Nevada.

The race ran 2 Hrs, 51 mins, 23 secs. The average speed was 109.229 mph

The race had eight cautions for 38 laps. The first was a scheduled Competition Caution on Lap 35, then the longest stretch of green flag racing in the past three years before the second caution for debris on the front stretch. In all, there were three debris cautions, one for fluid from the blown engine of KURT BUSCH/No.41 Chevrolet, two for spins and one for a three-car accident. No one was hurt and all cars continued.

Bill Patterson painting Kevin Harvick's winning car

To the victor goes the spoils. One of the perks of winning at PIR is getting a specially-painted car portrait done by famous motorsports painter, BILL PATTERSON. The painting is done in Patterson’s signature stylistically fashion in Victory Circle during the festivities, to be presented as part of the ceremonies.

The track was green after the torrential downpour Saturday night.

This weekend’s race was the first of the season to utilize the new qualifying format. So far the word is that it’s basically better, with some tweaks to be considered.

Qualifying, and new ride height rules were also added this year. Also, no spotters are allowed to have cell phones on the Spotters’ Stand.

Points Standings: Earnhardt-90; Keselowski-84; Gordon-80, Harvick-79; Johnson-78; Logano-75; MATT KENSETH/No.20 Toyota-70;DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 Toyota-68; Edwards-65; and GREG BIFFLE/No.16 Ford.

Danica Patrick

Only one car was moved to the back of the field for going to his backup car – Rookie JUSTIN ALGAIER/No.51 Chevrolet, who was already gridded last. Despite a run in with DANICA PATRICK/No.10 Chevrolet and TRAVIS KVAPIL/No.32 Ford, Algaier finished thirtieth. Before his accident, he had charged up to P29 by Lap 45.

All results and stats are unofficial until made official by NASCAR on Monday. This includes Harvick’s winnings of $260,048.

The Grand Marshal was MARCUS LEMONIS, star of the CNBC television program, The Profit. He is also the Chairman & CEO of Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises. As Grand Marshal, he was the one who gave the command for starting engines. Lemonis made a gaffe with “the most famous words in racing” in that he said “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines.” I guess that means Patrick is now just one of the guys.

The next Sprint Cup race is Sunday 9 March 2014 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

OLIO NASCAR-STYLE

Clydesdales

It’s a great day at Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race. It’s mostly sunny with a slight breeze and mid-sixties weather.

Olio means a collage or mixture of things, so this is my olio.

The Budweiser Clydesdales were a popular inclusion to the opening ceremonies as they did a ceremonial lap. It took four huge red trailers to transport them.

Dale Earnhardt's car

AJ Allmendinger's car

Jimmie Johnson's car

With the new rules regarding ride height on the 2014 Cup cars, after the cars left Tech they were pushed out the Pit Lane access road, where they all were checked by NASCAR officials for their ride height.

Kyle Busch

Saturday night KYLE BUSCH won the NASCAR Nationwide race, which gave him 22nd NNS Perfect Race Ratings, and 27 overall NASCAR such ratings. NASCAR has a complicated set of algorithms and loop data to gather, collate and produce statistics which can determine when a NASCAR driver in any of the top tier series runs a perfect race. NASCAR has a dedicated computer for this data acquisition and utilizes an automated system. A perfect score is 150.0.

NASCAR has acquired data going back to February 2005 when MARK MARTIN became the first driver to attain the goal at Auto Club Speedway.

The types of data collected include: average start, average mid race, average finish, average position, pass diff, green passes, quality passes, percentage of quality passes, number of fastest laps, laps in top 15, percentage of laps in top 15, laps led, and percentage of laps led,

Currently JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Chevrolet has the highest ranking for the last nine years at PIR with a score of 116.7 with 18 races. Kyle Busch is in eighth position with 97.4 with 18 races.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In Driver Introductions, my tin ear detected that DALE EARNHARDT Jr/No.88 Chevrolet received the largest and loudest cheers. Several others got better than average reactions, such as DANICA PATRICK/No.10 Go Daddy Chevrolet. Kyle Busch got a loud reaction, but it was as much jeers and boos as cheers – which bothers not a whit.

SUNNY SUNDAY!

Phoenix International Raceway 50th Anniversary Logo

Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway certainly is a Race Day. The weather is great – mostly blue skies with the sun darting in and out of the few fluffy clouds. The chilly breeze keep it cool, but definitely break out the sun block and shades. No doubt that Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race will come off as planned. Saturday was black and white. Sunday is definitely Technicolor – big, bright beautiful – sensory overload, NASCAR style.

The Cup garage opened at 7am and the hustle and bustle began. If one wears ear protection, really good ear protection just once during the weekend, it’s Sunday morning in the garage where the teams run their engines for extended periods of time, quite loudly.

Those fans who have paid for the privilege are wandering in the garage, which starts out ‘Cold’ before becoming ‘Hot’ which limits access. Pit tours are leading groups around explaining what they are seeing and experiencing.

Out in Pit Lane there was a long queue of people patiently awaiting their chance for a Pace Car Ride. Meanwhile, over in Victory Circle, there’s another queue of people waiting to have a chance for a Photo Op with the Race Trophy.

The Grandstands are slowly filling, but there are lots of people on the track by the movable stage, awaiting their chance for a photo, autograph, hand slap or some form of acknowledgement from a driver or two. There’s probably many more fans out in the merchandise areas, based on the branded and logo apparel seen everywhere. Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve – and everywhere else possible.

In the Pit Lane the crews have mostly completed their Pit Box complex installations, and quite grand they are. They’re like large metal marvels – Control Rooms/Work Shops, full of electronics of all kinds including satellite dishes. Everything is lined up perfectly. Branding is noticeable everywhere. Anything with a surface has a team or sponsor logo.

GoDaddy Logo

Austin Dillon's Pit Box

Five-Hour Energy Logo

AUSTIN DILLON/No.3 Chevrolet has his Pit Box decorated like a log cabin, complete with fireplace video.

Swarms of crew hover and prep away on the cars, and others are tending to their specific/assigned tasks in Pit Lane. There’s even one crew member who paints bright colors on all the lug nuts – five per wheel.

Garage work area

Painting lug nuts

#M Crew in Bivouac

Bobby Allison

Bobby Allison

AJ Foyt

AJ Foyt

Any number of things could be happening Sunday to celebrate the track’s Fiftieth Anniversary. One has already happened, with the bringing to the Media Center two well-known drivers with a Phoenix history – BOBBY ALLISON and AJ FOYT.

Allison won the 1982 Coors 250 K&N West Series race at PIR. During that race, the Bobby Allison Grand Stand hadn’t yet been built, so the drivers were driving right into the sun. It was so bad the race was stopped for half an hour until the sun set. Allison had lots more tales.

AJ Foyt also had tales to tell, mostly funny. He won his first race at PIR, and his first USAC Championship at PIR. He also went on to win four IndyCar races and one stock car race at PIR. He’s glad that TONY STEWART is running his number – 14. He doesn’t like to see numbers retire. And he wants to see IndyCars back at PIR. “I think it would be a good race.”