Sunday , February 1 2015
Home / Sprint Cup (page 66)

Sprint Cup

Brendan Gaughan Driver Diary: A Racing Deal, Shark Diving, and the Nerd Machine

It really kind of stinks for the team the way the schedule is set us, because you don't get in a rhythm. You go one race, and you know, for the guy that wins at Daytona, it's great. He gets a month and half of being the only winner and the points leader. But for the rest of us, we want to get racing. With the RCR bunch, I was supposed to go to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was really smart on Richard's part; we took my whole truck team. Because the Truck Series was off, we took my truck team, and they were working on the car, and Danny Stockman and the No. 3 team in the Nationwide shop set the car up and then we took it and let our boys do the nuts and bolts. We took our truck, our trailer, and we sat in Las Vegas and watched it rain. That was a big bummer for all the boys. But that's part of the deal; no biggie. Now, we're having a busy stretch of testing. I'm sitting right now at Motor Mile in Radford, Virginia, testing all day. We leave Sunday for Texas Motor Speedway, so we're busy right now. It's not like we're just sitting on our butts saying, 'hmm, what do we do?' We're keeping busy and learning a bunch, but it does stink, because as a racer, you want to race. You want to get in a rhythm, you want to keep going, and you just kind of sit here going, 'Okay, well, I've got time off. My car chief took a vacation. One of our guys just had a baby, so it's nice for him…' but all of us are sitting here thinking that we want to get to the track and race. The Truck Series needs to have a couple more races. The real reason for that being the sponsors; we've got to give them value for their dollar, and 22 races is not enough to give the sponsor value. It didn't save us money; it didn't save the teams a whole bunch of money having three fewer races. NASCAR knows this, and they tried to add a couple races to the schedule. They're still trying. They didn't get it worked out. They added a road course, they added the dirt track, so they've taken some bold steps. We've heard they're going to add a new short track to the schedule next year. They'll probably gain a track somewhere, so we'll probably get back to the right number of races. That's all you can really do, just add races. We need about three or four more races for the trucks. There's a big gap here where you could add one or two. There's another gap where you could maybe add one. I don't think it's anything that's vital; it just isn't good from the sponsor end because we needs those races for sponsor value. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/14494.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"181\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Find out how Brendan Gaughan has spent the long early season truck series break. It's probably not what you expect!</p></div> Our Chevy was fast at Daytona. It was way fast. It was a bummer. Everybody looks at it and some people say, \"what the hell, you're an idiot,\" and some people say they saw what happened. It depends on your point of view. I made a mistake on pit road that put us back further than we should have been. Then you only have one more stop to make the difference, and the guy that is pitting in the stall right in front of me happens to be two spots ahead of me on the race track. So, you want to get in front of him because that's the guy who gives you a good opening on pit road. I wanted to get by him, I set the deal up for about five laps. I kept watching Newberry, and the kid's never been to Daytona, so he's just trying to bide his time and be patient, but I kept making him look outside, and I made him open a hole. I was intentionally doing something to get him to open a hole. He opened the hole and I went through the hole. Once you're in the hole, I'm now basically at the mercy of somebody else to sit there and do the right thing. As soon as he felt me, he should have just moved back up, but he did not. And look, he'll never do that again. There's a difference as a driver. If I'm at your rear bumper, just barely in there, yeah, I need to get out of there. If I'm pushing at your bumper, I'm not there. But if I'm at your rear tire, there's no more 'pretty much;' I'm there. So it's a deal where, he's a good kid, he made a mistake. You can say I got impatient, I got this or that. I had a reason to get there, and it wasn't impatience. I spent laps setting it up. It was just a racing thing. I got put in a bad spot—I put myself in a bad spot. He got in a spot where he could have got himself out of it, because once I committed, there's no getting out of there. There's no hitting brakes or anything like that. It's not a big deal. It was just a racing gig, that's all. It stinks for points, but we're going to go to Martinsville, my favorite place in the world, and we're going to go there and win a race. We spent a lot of time during the offseason at our family's house in Colorado. We went up to Colorado and I had my 25-month-old skiing with me, and we went from the top of the mountain to the bottom. He's 25 months old and we went from the top of Vail Mountain to our house at the bottom. As a father, I don't know if there's any cooler of a feeling than watching your son accomplish something like that and being a part of that. It was so neat. I've been skiing since I was two and a half. It was just so invigorating to have my son and do that. It was neat. And then the new baby, there's a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of bottles and poopy diapers, but it's all worth it. It's all great. Now it's race time, and they travel to a lot of races with me. I got a new sponsor, Alliance Coach. For the last couple of years, they gave me a coach for Daytona, because we're there for two weeks. Well, I finally talked them into giving me a deal for the year. The main reason for that is I can't expect Tatum and the babies to come and stay in a hotel if they're going to come watch a race. I've got to have a motor coach, a place for them to be. Alliance stepped up and gave me a sponsorship, and I go pick up my motor coach in a couple of days, and I'm excited about that. Now I get to have the babies at a bunch of races with me, and that makes me happy! I'm a Dive Master for Lake Norman SCUBA. I do a whole lot of diving. As a matter of fact, I have a trip planned during one of our breaks, where I'm going out to this middle-of-nowhere island. I'm really excited about it. I'm taking the owners of Lake Norman SCUBA and a bunch of friends from Colorado and my wife, and the grandparents are going to watch the babies, and we're going to go do a big dive trip. I'll dive anything. This place we're going to, there's no shipwrecks; it's all big animals. We're going in a season that has schooling hammerheads, whale sharks, giant Pacific rays—it's a big animal place. I tech dive; I'm a dive master, and I'm working on getting my instructor rating. I do a lot of diving and enjoy the hell out of it. My favorite place to dive is this island called Soccoro Island. It's a protected area off of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. It's like the Galapagos of Mexico. It's phenomenal. The giant Pacific manta rays are the most gorgeous animals you'll ever see. Shark diving is fun. Stephen Spielburg created a phenomenon that lives to this day. I love diving with sharks. There are a ton of sharks out there. We're hoping this year to see schooling hammerheads and whale sharks. I could go to heaven then, it would be amazing. It's unbelievable how the rays are. They're like dolphins almost; they're very social animals. They come and play with you forever, it's just really impressive. That's my favorite place to go right now. I'm a tech diver, and what tech diving means is that I can go past what's called the decompression limit of recreational diving. I can go deeper than that; 225 feet is my max depth right now. To do that, you carry four tanks, two on your back and two on your chest. I've been to the USS Oriskany that's off the coast of Florida. The cool thing about the Oriskany is that that's the boat that John McCain took off from when he got shot down in the Vietman War and became a POW. I've been inside it, we penetrated the wreck, and I've gone to the bottom of it at 220 feet down. I love tech diving. It's a phenomenal time. I love my diving. If I can be underwater or on a mountain skiing, that's where you'll find me. There's a new Star Wars movie coming out in 2015. Lucas is a genius. He took some heat over the first three movies, so he got mad and sold the rights to Disney. They're probably the only company that has the money to do that correctly. I love the director; I do know the storylines and what they're supposed to be like. I can't wait to see what it's going to look like on film. I'm pumped. I can't wait until they come out. To watch them filmed would be another one of those heaven-type moments. It's cool. I'm waiting for them I think it's going to be done well, and they have the right people doing it. In this world, it doesn't matter if you're a race car driver or a movie producer, you need the right people. Those deals are so cool. I'm just a geek like that. Have you seen my race helmet? It's called the Nerd Machine helmet. If you watched the TV show _Chuck_, it was a TV show about a computer geek that became a spy and a computer got put in his head. He worked for the Nerd Herd, which was like the Geek Squad, but he was just this everyday computer geek that became a CIA agent. I've had a chance to meet him, the guy that owns this, and they have a Website called the Nerd Machine. I'm a big dork. I'm a _Chuck_ nerd, I'm a Comic-Con kind of guy, and I've got the Nerd Machine logo on my helmet. *Connect with Brendan Gaughan!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/Brendan62\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://www.brendangaughan.com\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/11799.jpg\"><br> \"Contact Amy Henderson\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14352/ Read More »

Four Burning Questions In Bristol: Rim-Riding And Flaring Tempers

Ah Bristol, you never cease to amaze us. Whether it was Texas Terry Labonte getting punted by Dale Earnhardt on a warm August night in 1999, or Tony Stewart delivering a perfectly timed helmet toss at the car of an unsuspecting Matt Kenseth just last summer, there’s always something to remember after a race at Bristol, and that is exactly where the stars of NASCAR are headed this weekend. There are of course a litany of questions that need to be answered heading into the race, most notable among them being whether or not the track will still have some of the “old Bristol magic†that made a bit of an appearance the last time the series made a trip to the famed half mile oval. What about the drivers? Who looks primed to take the first short track race of 2013? Well folks, I’m here to offer some clarity as fans across NASCAR Nation mull over this week’s line up of Four Burning Questions. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/13955.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"181\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Last August brought a return to the old Bristol so will we see the beating and banging we are used to on the short track again this week?</p></div> *1. Will the Bristol of old return this weekend like it did last August?* The fans wanted it. The fans got it. Well, sort of at least. After six years of listening to fans complain about how stale the racing had become at the race track he reconfigured (well, he ordered it to be reconfigured, but you get the point) in 2007, Bruton Smith finally bit the bullet and made an attempt at “fixing†Bristol Motor Speedway. After the aforementioned 2007 reconfiguring, it turned what used to be a one-groove-around-the-bottom track to a bona-fide mini cookie cutter track with progressive banking and multiple grooves to race in from top to bottom. ‘Ol Bruton’s attempt at reconciling this mess was made last summer, as track operators ground the top groove of the track in order to turn the facility back into a one-groove race track. It worked, but instead of the one-groove being around the bottom of the track like the Bristol of old, the groove ironically went to the top of the track. Whether or not you agreed with Smith’s decision to “fix†Bristol, what’s done is done, and Bristol is back to being a one-groove race track, which, quite frankly, it should be. Last year’s summer race (which took place under the “fixed†configuration), saw much of the beating, banging, and wrecking that made Bristol a can’t miss destination in the first place, and there is little reason to believe we won’t see such racing again this weekend. The Gen-6 cars more than likely won’t change the racing much, as short-track racing is only minimally affected by aero changes (which is really the only thing separating the Gen-5 from the Gen-6 cars). Most drivers this week seem to be in agreement that the groove will once again be around the top, and thus there will only be two ways to complete a pass. The very best cars will be the ones who are able to complete a pass on the bottom and slide back into line up top, and this will be the only way to make a pass cleanly assuming the racing hasn’t changed much since August. The other method of passing, of course, will be to use the chrome horn. With passing likely to be at a premium, drivers who are struggling to make the bottom work will be forced to bully their way to the front using the “bump and slide†maneuver that we saw a lot last August (see Denny Hamlin’s race winning pass in that race to see what this looks like). Any time the chrome horn is in play, the caution flag follows suit, so expect many laps to be run under yellow and expect there to be more than a few frayed tempers as drivers get frustrated with the lack of racing room on restarts. *2. Just how much will pit strategy affect the outcome of the race?* Part of the reason why last August’s Bristol race was so unpredictable was because of the constant barrage of differing pit strategies which jumbled the event’s running order. With Bristol being a one-groove track (not to mention the lack of fall off in Goodyear’s tires), a two-tire or no-tire call can gain a team some serious track position, and track position will be incredibly important this week. The right pit call at the right time could very well win you the race. Of course, much of this pit strategy business will be dictated by the flow and frequency of caution-flag occurences in the race. The August race was an absolute caution-bonanza, thus opening the door for teams to go wild with varying strategy calls that created all sorts of mayhem in the running order. If Sunday’s race turns out to feature a lot of wrecks and a lot of cautions, you can fully expect that crew chiefs up and down pit road will be employing all sorts of pit strategies in a desperate attempt to stay up front on restarts. Knowing all of this, expect teams with savvy crew chiefs (think Paul Wolfe, Chad Knaus, or perhaps even Jason Ratcliff) to be the ones dueling for the win on Sunday. *3. Could this be Aric Almirola’s coming out party?* Go take a look at the current top 10 in the standings right now. Notice anything unusual? If you’re answer to that question was “Yes, I noticed Aric Almirola is sitting 10th in points,†you would have answered correctly. The 28-year old Cuban American is quietly off to the finest start of his young NASCAR career, and I actually believe that this could very well be the weekend that he delivers his first career Sprint Cup win. Many of you who just read that last sentence are probably sending pointed e-mails to my editor demanding I be fired after what would seem to be such a shocking statement. This is of course the same Almirola that I personally called out to be fired for lack of performance on this very website last year, no? But if you look at Almirola’s last 10 Sprint Cup races (dating back to last year’s Chase), suddenly he starts to look like a real contender. Over these last 10 races (3 in 2013 and 7 in 2012), Almirola has delivered a top 5, 2 top 10s, battled for the lead multiple times, and has scored the 9th most points of any driver in that time span, all while driving subpar Richard Petty Motorsports equipment. Mr. Almirola is for real, and his quiet but effective start to 2013 is a testament to that. But why, the lingering doubters would ask, could Bristol be the sight of Almirola’s first win? Well, Almirola has traditionally performed best on short tracks. One of Almirola’s aforementioned top 5s came at Martinsville, another short track. Going a bit further back, Almirola scored his first ever top 10 in Sprint Cup back in 2008 at, you guessed it, Bristol. Thus, if Almirola is going to score his first win this year, it’s going to happen at a track shorter than 1 mile, and with how much unpredictability beckons at Bristol, this weekend could be the one in which Almirola finally breaks through. *4. Will we see Gordon v. Bowyer Round III at Bristol?* Remember that little tussle that happened in last year’s Chase race at Phoenix? Remember how Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon have yet to say that either party has “made up†with the other? Keep that in mind on Sunday when you see the 15 and the 24 car near one another, because if there were ever a place for the two drivers to go at it once more, Bristol would be it right? Many followers of the sport set aside the Gordon-Bowyer rivalry two weeks ago after there were no fireworks between the two in Phoenix, the very track where their rivalry came to a boil. But let’s be honest, Phoenix doesn’t necessarily foster the close beating and banging that leads to rekindling of an old conflict. I really can not stress enough the fact that these two drivers still do not like each other. This point was rendered rather clear during the Daytona Media Blitz when both drivers continually dodged and weaseled around questions pertaining to the rivalry. If Gordon and Bowyer happen to be fighting for position late in the race, or God forbid the win, expect to see some contact. And if there is contact…there may not be enough of a police presence in the Smokey Mountains capable of containing the ensuing brawl. *Connect with Matt!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/MStall41\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Matt Stallknecht\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/38642/ Read More »

NASCAR Mailbox: Bristol, Trucks, And Weather Gone Nuts

I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to social media. Even when I’m not posting and updating my various blogs, pages, and, of course, tweeting, I’m usually perusing through the latest updates from friends, family, and just about anyone who will let me view their page. I love knowing what’s going on in the world and, probably more so, hate feeling left out. So when I’m quietly browsing Twitter and suddenly I see non-NASCAR or sports related accounts tweeting about Jeff Gordon, I have to take a closer look. This week, a video with the four-time champion was sweeping the Internet, and everyone seemed to be getting quite a kick out of it. The video featured Jeff Gordon going to a used car lot while undercover, and taking a test drive in a Chevy Camaro. He then proceeds to give this supposed used car salesman the ride of his life by making all kinds of crazy maneuvers. It’s hilarious to watch the salesman’s reaction and, let’s be honest, the moves are awesome! But, perhaps _too_ awesome. After all, Gordon may be a four time NASCAR champion, but that’s not the same thing as being a skilled stunt driver. Also, the way they immediately jumped in the Camaro even when Gordon said he didn’t want it was odd. As funny as it was, it just seemed too, well staged. Turns out it was. The driving was done mostly by a stunt driver and around 75 people were involved in the project. It was staged. However, it was still freaking hilarious and Pepsi did a great job by generating some buzz. If you still haven’t seen it, you can watch it \"here.\":https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=video&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CEIQtwIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Dq02BXGDSDkE&ei=EihBUaHuHeTh2QXy_oGACA&usg=AFQjCNGDgwxrb6ykUddXHjz8DpcObwP4WA&sig2=wYjcdXK2N9h3XoUboU8_2Q&bvm=bv.43828540,d.b2I Now, onto your questions: _“What is the best thing and worst thing you like about racing at Bristol?â€_ _Brian_ That’s hard to answer. Personally, I enjoy the fact that the cars are so close together. Bristol is about as close as you can get to a flushing toilet bowl. They can’t get “spread out†or have large gaps between cars. Even if the first place car is much faster than the second place car, he’ll still have lapped traffic to deal with. It makes the race fun to watch, and you never know what is going to happen. However, the downside of that little racing room is that it’s extremely difficult to pass. It’s difficult to pass in the generation of cars that they had previously been racing as it was - though with this car, it remains to be seen. Add in a half-mile racetrack and very little racing room from the apron to the wall and suddenly you have a recipe for single-file racing. Though some reconfigurations to both the track and the car at times changed that, it’s still harder to pass at Bristol than, say, Texas, Kansas, or Atlanta. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/10474.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"174\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Will a new car coupled with the reconfiguration from 2012 have an effect at the track that prides itself on \"Racin' the Way it Oughta Be\"?</p></div> In fact, for the longest time, the only way to pass was with a technique known as the “bump and runâ€â€”which I hate. If the only way for you to pass is to knock the other guy out of the way, maybe you shouldn’t be passing. I’d rather see the drivers race based on skill than playing bumper cars. It just feels like we’re being cheated when that’s all that is happening. Still, I prefer Bristol to mile-and-a-half racetracks and I’m really looking forward to this weekend. What about you? _“Is NASCAR trying to fix the break between truck races? 6 weeks is far too long of a gap.â€_ _Brian_ Yes, for those wondering, we did have two Brian’s with questions this week. I agree that it’s too long, but right now even adding Eldora and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park was a complete shock. NASCAR really isn’t focused on giving the development series a full schedule when the other two series are racing all but two months of the year. I’m not saying they wouldn’t _like_ to, but it’s certainly not at the top of their to-do list. Based on their recent changes, it appears that adding diversity to the series and test driving ideas like dirt track racing and going across the border is more along their lines of interest. Part of the gaps that we see in the schedule are NASCAR’s attempt to line up the beginning and the end of the season. Because there are so few races in the Truck Series as opposed to the others, there are bound to be gaps. However, I think it would be much more productive to maybe have an on again, off again schedule rather than “race, _gap, gap, gap, gap, gap_, race, _gap, gap_….†kind of schedule that we have now. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15437.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">After intense superspeedway racing, the Truck Series puts it in park for almost two months. Time to tighten up the schedule!</p></div> Hopefully this season goes well for the series and it eventually becomes a priority to add more races. “Is it going to snow in Bristol on Thursday and over the weekend?†_Jeff_ ... Read More »

Fantasy Insider: Fighting Through The Perils Of Bristol's Thunder Valley

NASCAR heads to one of its marquee tracks this Sunday, the half-mile oval at Bristol Motor Speedway for race number four of 36. Much like Daytona’s restrictor plate circus, just what happens in the bullring can be unpredictable. While that’s great for pure, entertainment purposes it’s a downright panic attack when you’re trying to project your fantasy lineup. How many times has a driver seemed destined for a top 10, or even a top 5 result, in Thunder Valley only to get bumped into the wall during the final few laps and relegated to a 20 or 30-something finish? One fact that is different: at places like Bristol compared to the plate tracks, qualifying really does matter. If you start at the back of the pack there, you’re already about a half lap behind. And since the jury is definitely still out on how well the new Gen 6 cars can pass in traffic, climbing out of a deep hole early could be difficult for even the sport’s short track aces. So drivers that qualify well, in 2013 and those that tend to miss the wrecks will leave you off to a solid start. But even then, know that nothing is fool-proof; last March, an early crash erased good days for Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and several other top stars. Still, here we go, trying to predict the unpredictable… *LOOKING FOR SOME ACES* Of the best drivers out there this week, the first place to look is towards the ones who finished atop the standings last year. *Brad Keselowski* has been steady in these first three races, landing second in points behind *Jimmie Johnson.* But despite scoring top-5 finishes in each, the only driver to have done so Keselowski has expressed his frustration at not scoring a victory. The good news is Bristol’s coming at the right time; he has won two of the last four races there. Roger Penske’s No. 2 car, in particular has dominated this track, transitioning seamlessly from Rusty Wallace, to Kurt Busch, to Keselowski in Victory Lane. Finally, the reigning champ’s average starting spot is 9.5, during the last four races at Thunder Valley and that’s why he’s my pick this week: those who start up front should stay there. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15238.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"183\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Even Brad Keselowski is telling the world who to pick this weekend at Bristol; the Blue Deuce will be as hard to handle as ever this Sunday in Thunder Valley.</p></div> Another guy on the “A†list to look at is *Denny Hamlin.* Sure, he’s not happy with the Gen-6 car yet, but he’s also got a recent win at Bristol. And with last week’s criticism, putting him in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons wouldn’t Victory Lane make everything better at the No. 11 car? <div style=\"float:right; width:240px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15541.jpg\" width=\"240\" height=\"300\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Will Denny Hamlin be forced to swallow his pride and pay the fine - or will he prove a point with a win this weekend at Bristol?</p></div> One other top driver you can’t forget about at Bristol is *Tony Stewart.* Sure, he has only one win there, but he’s led 1,355 laps at the track and needs to improve after stumbling out of the blocks in 2013. Speaking of veterans, facing slumping starts there may be no better place for *Jeff Gordon* to break out than Bristol. Gordon has five career wins there and has led 2,637 laps, easily the most among active drivers. Finally, if you’re into streaks, there’s always last week’s winner in *Matt Kenseth.* He’s led 922 laps at Bristol with two wins and an average finish of 12.08 in 26 races. *MIDDLE OF THE ROADERS* This second group is filled with a Busch-ell of possibilities. Easily at the top of this list is *Kyle Busch* especially if you are in a race limit league. He has five wins in 16 career races at Bristol and has 1,374 laps led. What’s most impressive about those statistics is he has done so with an average start of 19.3. Armed with the right balance of patience and aggressiveness, he’s young enough where endurance is not an issue and may be one of the few that can work through traffic after starting mid-pack or worse. Then, there’s Kyle’s brother *Kurt Busch,* no slouch at the bullrings himself. Owning five wins at Bristol, while he’s not in a top-tier ride anymore, driving the No. 78 for Furniture Row he’s had enough success to be considered. He’s led 840 laps in his 24 races there. If you’re looking for a sleeper from this group, plus someone who’s not available to select every week, then you have to look at *Brian Vickers.* He seemed to find his niche there last year and will be in the No. 55 on Sunday. Mark Martin drove this car in the first three events and the No. 55 is a strong sixth in owner points. One last look from the middle-tier candidates also presents us with *Martin Truex, Jr.* In the last four races at Bristol, he’s had two top-5 results and has an average finish of 8.75. Truex has also led 112 laps in those events. *DARK HORSES* As usual, this group is full of intriguing, seemingly low-priority options that can shine. When it comes to these short track races, one of the priorities is to try and find a driver who can stay on the lead lap for a big chunk of the event, dodging bullets while earning a good finish through attrition. The full-season choices here, leading this category at the moment are *Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.* and *Danica Patrick.* They are each competing for Rookie of the Year honors as well as Bristol bragging rights. ... Read More »

Mirror Driving: The Gambles Drivers Take… On And Off The Track

Welcome to \"Mirror Driving.\" Every Wednesday, your favorite columnists sit down and give their opinion about the latest NASCAR news, rumors, and controversy. Love us or hate us, make a comment below and tell us how you feel about what we've said! *This Week's Participants*: <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy Henderson</span> \"(Mondays / The Big Six & Fridays / Holding A Pretty Wheel & Frontstretch Co-Managing Editor)\":http://www.frontstretch.com/staffinfo/351/ <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff Wolfe</span> (Frontstretch Fantasy Insider) <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil Allaway</span> \"(Tuesdays / Talking NASCAR TV & Frontstretch Newsletter Editor)\":http://www.frontstretch.com/staffinfo/18439/ <span style=\"color:gray; font-weight:bold\">Mike Neff</span> \"(Mondays / Thinkin' Out Loud & Tuesdays / Tech Talk & Frontstretch Short track Coordinator)\":http://www.frontstretch.com/staffinfo/1744/ <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer Bedgood</span> \"(Frontstretch NASCAR Senior Writer)\":http://www.frontstretch.com/staffinfo/32577/ *Matt Kenseth’s win in Las Vegas was an emotional one, considering that it was only his third start with the organization plus the fact that it was his … er … “29th†birthday. Is this victory going to be a testament to the rest of his season or is it too soon to tell?* <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span> I think it will be a testament to the rest of his _career._ This pairing will be a great matchup, and he'll make the organization as a whole that much better. <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> Well, I had always figured that Kenseth was going to win at some point this season. Didn't think it was going to happen before St. Patrick's Day, though. Kenseth and his team out-foxed everyone on Sunday. He was up in the order most of the day, but very quiet. <span style=\"color:gray; font-weight:bold\">Mike N.:</span> Considering the majority of the schedule is on intermediate tracks, I think it is saying a lot about the ability the No. 20 team will have to win races all year. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span> I believe Kenseth thinks he has something to prove. After being with Roush his whole career, when you go to someplace new, you want to show them that you were a good choice. Kenseth is not Mr. Emotional, so him being that into it afterward really showed what it meant. <span style=\"color:gray; font-weight:bold\">Mike N.:</span> Kenseth may also have felt a little guilty about putting the team behind the eight ball by blowing an engine in testing and wrecking in practice at Daytona. <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Phil:</span> 41 isn't old in Sprint Cup, by the way. People have won titles at an older age than that. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span> Only six drivers have won titles in seasons they have turned 40 or more. Just so you know. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span> I agree with you, Jeff. It's not like we see that all the time from him. I felt like Kenseth thought he was taking a risk by jumping ship; he’s relieved and excited that it paid off. I can't help but think of this in terms of the whole organization, though, that Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin will have similar success on similar tracks. Something tells me Joe Gibbs Racing will be the team to beat this year. <span style=\"color:dodgerblue; font-weight:bold\">Amy:</span> I think Kenseth will win a bunch of races, but a title is a stretch. Not so much because of his age but because the Chase doesn't suit his style. <span style=\"color:magenta; font-weight:bold\">Summer:</span> I don't think he'll win the title, either, but I think he'll finish somewhere in the top seven in the standings by the end of the year. <span style=\"color:gray; font-weight:bold\">Mike N.:</span> He could very easily win the title. Kenseth is usually there once the money is on the line. No need to “be there before.†Although the way Johnson and Keselowski are running right now, I think everyone else is running for third. <span style=\"color:indigo; font-weight:bold\">Jeff:</span> If the Toyotas can get their durability issues straightened out, and they might have already done that, Gibbs could be a force. ... Read More »

Tech Talk: Jason Ratcliff Tries For Two In A Row

_Jason Ratcliff spent his first full season in the Cup series in 2012. Many people might think he was an overnight success, but he's been crew chiefing at the national touring series level since 2000 when he started with Casey Atwood in the Nationwide Series. He's been on top of a pit box for nearly 400 races between the Nationwide and Cup series and his drivers have gone to victory lane 38 times, most recently last weekend. Frontstretch spent a little time with Ratcliff this week to talk briefly about his win with Matt Kenseth at Las Vegas, pit speed enforcement and options that teams have for Bristol._ Mike Neff: First of all, congratulations on winning your first race of the season and the first for Toyota in the new car. It has to feel pretty good getting there so quickly with a new driver. Jason Ratcliff: Yes it does. I feel like we have a strong race team and obviously we have a strong driver. I knew we'd have some success in 2013 with Matt coming onboard with Dollar General and Husky partnering with us. It would be crazy for me to say I didn't think it would come this soon but honestly, I'm surprised it came this soon. I thought it would take us a little bit longer to gel and get the chemistry where it needs to be. It just goes to show you that the things we did in the off-season have really paid off when it comes to communication when it comes to chemistry between the driver and the race team. MN: Matt's not a very outwardly emotional guy but seemed very emotional about the win. Do you think he put more pressure on himself because of the way the season started? With him blowing the motor in testing and the trouble you guys had right out of the gate at Daytona? JR: Now that I know Matt, he's a guy that puts a lot of pressure on himself all of the time. He's very competitive, obviously. He pushes himself and puts more pressure on himself than anyone. He has some high expectations for himself and the race team. So far we've been to three races and he has pushed himself as hard as anyone I have ever seen to try and be competitive and put himself in a position to win. Y'know you're leading the Daytona 500 and fell out and started the season off in a hole that way, it kind of puts you a little bit behind. At Phoenix and Vegas, was he pushing a little harder. Yeah, he was trying to get back up there and put himself back in the top 10 where he feels like he and his race team belong. I don't think he pushed himself any harder than he normally does. He's a pretty hard charger no matter what the situation is. MN: With the way the new car is reacting and the advantage that clean air has. Is track position still the biggest factor? With the tires they had at Vegas that just didn't wear out, did that play into your strategy? Knowing how important track position is. JR: It is a little early to evaluate this car. There was a discussion about Phoenix and the fact that it was hard to pass. Most of the time, if we go to a track that has a new surface, and Phoenix is one of them, most of the time if it is a track that has a new surface, we see that. They have a lot of grip and everybody can run the bottom and until the track wears out a little bit and widens out, like Vegas did, you have a hard passing. It is just the race track. At Vegas, I thought there was a lot of passing. We started 18th and passed a lot of cars throughout the day. Matt, and a lot of other guys, were able to pass the slower cars easily, along with a lot of the other guys. At the end, Goodyear brought a good tire that was durable and the fall off wan't that much. The track conditions were a little bit cool but that isn't what I meant. Once you get into the top five, the cars are so competitve that someone has to make a mistake for us to take advantage of it. The competition is so close that someone has to make a mistake. I knew, as we got close to the front, our car would get better. They always do. Was it going to be enough to hold off the No. 5? It seemed like it did. MN: Two of the JGR cars got busted for speading on pit lane. Would you like to see them make the speeds for everyone on pit lane visible to everyone and would you like for them to go to a GPS system where it is actual speed, not the average speed? JR: I think, right now, they give you enough information that you can control it. They tell you where the timing lines are, you know how many feet are between them, they tell you what the speed is, they give you a five mile per hour cushion. They give you all of the information you need to play the game, so I think it is a race within a race and I like that. The guys who want to push it, push it, You get caught, you knew what the rules were. The thing I don't like on the GPS, I don't feel like we'd get to see that information. It would be hard for us to calculate off of it. Right now, if we make a mistake, we usually get to do an evaluation that says this is where we went wrong and what to do to make it better. I like it the way it is. Guys getting busted are just pushing it. MN: The fans spoke out about Bristol. The ground the top of the track. By the time guys were done, the guys were making time off of the bottom by running around the top. Are you setting up your car to run the top, bottom or inbetween? JR: To me, you always set it up to run the bottom. If you have a car that can run the bottom, it can run the top. If you go to a track and the driver tells you that they can't run the top, that is a driver preference thing more than a racecar thing. A lot of times you'll get cars that can run the top or the bottom. We'll work on the bottom until the race gets going. We'll see if there is some grip at the top but we won't live up there. If everyone is running the top, I'll work it for a good option but the fast way around is the bottom. We're going to work on the bottom and use the top as a bonus optoin. We'll try to make sure we can partner with Rocky in the car. Hopefully there will be some differences with this car . Until the top takes some rubber, we most likely will learn nore. MN: Is the new rear end camber change going to be exploited at Bristol? Will teams be maxing out the rear end camber or just trying. JR: I don't think we'll know until the weekend. This is the first time we've been to a track of this style. You'll need to be prepared. A lot depends on how the car reacts. It is always a compromise with every corner of the car. If you put more camber in, you'll have more lateral grip but you'll give up longitudinal grip and some forward bite. Until you get there, I don't think you'll know. I really think it will be setup specific. I feel like a lot of guys will unload with a fair amount of camber. Will they be maxed out? Probably not, but they'll be closer to that than any other way. Throughout practice they'll take some away slowly to see if they can find some speed. MN: When they repaved the track, there was progressive banking. Now that they ground it at the top, did that result in the middle of the track having a hump or is the banking still progressive? JR: It is hard to tell with the naked eye. Best I recall in the fall, it seemed like there definitely some change there. I don't know if it is as much banking as it is the texture of the surface. They definitely decreased the angle, but to get it to cover the top to bottom with the same banking, I don't think there is enough concrete there. I think you'd have to dig so far that you'd hit the rebar. It is still progressive but there is definitely some change to it. MN: You don't have to move people any more but do you still add extra bracing to the nose and back bumper in anticipation of the contact? JR: The bars in the nose are there every week. NASCAR mandates what goes in. The car is pretty stout out front. In the rear end, they give you a couple options. You can add or take away a couple tubes but the basic structure is in the rule book. And that is what you have. The days of going in and bracing the bumpers up, are gone. To me, they're pretty stiff everywhere we go. ... Read More »

Beyond The Cockpit: A NASCAR Underdog Celebrates A Career-Best Start

_It’s hard to believe it’s been five years now since a smiling, happy-go-lucky kid from Arizona came out of virtually nowhere to earn a spot with Michael Waltrip Racing. That rookie season was full of hard knocks for Michael McDowell, known more for a \"savage crash at Texas,\":http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVgQjoW7i To one of the most devastating wrecks I have personally witnessed, than on-track performance. Let go from MWR following the season, it’s been a battle for the now 28-year-old to drive competitive equipment on the Cup Series level ever since._ _But one of the sport’s well-regarded “nice guys†has never stopped fighting. After years of start and parking, hoping to keep his name out there. this year’s Daytona 500 provided an opportunity he made the most of. Earning a career-best ninth place, his first top 10 in 116 starts on the Cup level McDowell hopes that performance will propel sponsorship to look towards the No. 98, underfunded Ford he drives for Phil Parsons Racing. How much money have they raised for 2013? Will NASCAR’s Gen-6 chassis provide future opportunities for the “little guy†to stay competitive? And whose friendship does this driver value, inside the garage area that will always transcend the racetrack? The outspoken driver discussed those topics, and then some with Tom Bowles in this week’s _Beyond The Cockpit._ <span style=\"color:red; font-weight:bold\">Tom Bowles, Frontstretch.com:</span> *I know it’s been a couple of weeks now. But how does it feel to have gotten your first top-10 finish in the Cup Series, not just in Daytona but the sport’s biggest race?* <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">Michael McDowell:</span> Oh, it was awesome. It was a total team effort. Obviously, Daytona has a lot of variables that are different than the other racetracks. But we definitely had a great race, and a great result. It was a good opportunity. That’s what the Daytona 500 is… it’s an opportunity race. You just know that when you go to Daytona, you can have a shot at winning or you can have a shot at being in a big pileup on Lap 10. You just never know what you’re going to get when you get there. So to come away with a good finish is awesome. <span style=\"color:red; font-weight:bold\">Bowles:</span> *Chad Knaus, after winning the Daytona 500 with Jimmie Johnson was bragging about how many hours straight he worked on the car. Explain for fans how much you guys put into preparing for the 500, along with the size of your team in preparing the car by comparison.* <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">McDowell:</span> I can promise you our guys put in more hours than Chad Knaus. There were six guys building the car, it was so difficult. The new car, and the jigs, and the fixtures and everything it takes actually to build one of those cars in house is just an incredible task. So our guys, Gene Nead [crew chief], Jimmy Evans, and all those guys worked I can’t even tell you how long. I think the Labor Board would come find us if I told you how many hours they worked. <span style=\"color:red; font-weight:bold\">Bowles:</span> *When did you feel like you had a shot at really running well?* <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15537.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"369\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Michael McDowell has toiled with a start-and-park team in hopes a sponsor will take notice and pay for a full season. Photo courtesy of Chris Graythen, Getty Images.</p></div> <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">McDowell:</span> Well, at Daytona you always do, really. With Ford and the Roush Yates engines, you just know you have a good shot when you get down there. Just getting in the pack, and having a good motor and a good body… all the other moving elements are not as important as, say Texas or Bristol or Las Vegas. So we definitely knew we’d have a shot, or an opportunity. But to go against the powerhouse teams, and do it all day long… It wasn’t just a fluke. It wasn’t like there was a 15-car pileup. We were in the top 15 all day long, and at the end made up four or five spots to get a top 10. It’s definitely a huge deal for our team. <span style=\"color:red; font-weight:bold\">Bowles:</span> *Now, you guys made $100,000 more than if you blew an engine on the first lap and finished last. How much does that help you guys in terms of running entire races? Can that make a difference in starting a full race itself and running the distance?* <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">McDowell:</span> It does and it doesn’t. For one race, yes but beyond that it’s not like a huge pick-me-up. Obviously, it helps, but for every race we run unsponsored, it costs us $150,000. You have to have sponsorship to be able to run, even with that additional $100,000 you made at Daytona. That’s really just to help make sure when you get down, in the middle of the summer, and you miss one of those races, you stay in business. So this game is very difficult, and it’s so expensive to run these races so that the purse and whatnot doesn’t swing the pendulum enough. <span style=\"color:red; font-weight:bold\">Bowles:</span> *Do you feel it’s gotten worse in the last couple of years, in terms of the cost making it more difficult to run on the purse?* <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">McDowell:</span> Well, I think the biggest difference now – you’ve always needed sponsorship to go racing. Especially to compete at a high level. But I think it’s harder for the small teams now. Just because of the fact that to make these races, you have to be very competitive, you have to have the latest and greatest equipment. These cars, to build them now, with how tight the templates are from the Car of Tomorrow to the Gen-6 it’s just getting harder and harder. It just makes it more expensive for the teams. The reason they’re doing it is great. I don’t disagree with it. We’re just having to adapt to that, and it’s a process. <span style=\"color:red; font-weight:bold\">Bowles:</span> *You have firsthand knowledge of the Gen-6 equipment shortage, missing Phoenix. When did you know that was going to happen and how tough was that?* <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">McDowell:</span> Very tough. It’s my hometown race, I’ve got a lot of friends and family there, do a lot of prerace media for the track. I actually flew out from Daytona to Phoenix, was already there… so it was definitely tough. But we didn’t really have a choice. There was no option. We got back to the shop, and we weren’t even close. The hauler needed to leave in 12 hours, and it wasn’t even a possibility. It took everything they had just to get to Vegas, and that’s not anyone’s fault but our own. We just were too late on starting to get our cars ready, and NASCAR was very late on finalizing the rules, and templates, and fixtures and things like that. It was hard for everybody, but let’s get through the next couple of races here, get back on our feet and hopefully get some sponsorship so we can race. <span style=\"color:red; font-weight:bold\">Bowles:</span> *One of the things we’ve seen early in the season is smaller teams tear up cars. With that equipment shortage, do you think preserving it (I.E. – racing conservatively) will remain an issue?* <span style=\"color:blue; font-weight:bold\">McDowell:</span> For sure. Our Vegas car is our Bristol car, and our Bristol car will be our California car until we can get on our feet. So you have one bad episode, one bad wreck and you’re going to miss the next race. For us, right now we’ve just got to get through these races and get going. ... Read More »

Side By Side: Was Last Fall's Bristol Repave The Right Move?

_Welcome back to Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we're going to bring them both, right here, every week. Two of our staff writers will face off on an important racing question … feel free to tell us what you think in the weekly poll and also in the comments section below!_ *This Week's Question: Last Fall, Bruton Smith ground down Bristol Motor Speedway, what he said was a fan-motivated move to create better racing. Is the \"new new\" Bristol a better choice? Or was it a waste of cash?* <span style=\"color:gray; font-weight:bold\">Mike Neff, Senior Writer: The Repave Was a Waste of Cash.</span> In the Summer of 2007, Bruton Smith spent a ton of money to put truck loads of new surface onto the race track at Bristol Motor Speedway. Not only was a new surface put in place but also variable banking that allowed drivers to, say it with me, _run side-by-side_ competitively, on a half-mile race track. Unheard of in the modern era of NASCAR, fans were allowed to see people on the outside at Bristol actually make passes and advance their position. Better yet, they were able to pass people without having to, at the least, shove them out of the way or at worst, wreck them to get by. Races were filled with two- and three-wide racing throughout the pack for laps on end without detriment to one lane or the other. Somehow, that irritated or bored fans to a point that more than a third of them stopped showing up to see the races there. As a result, Smith ground down the banking at the top of the track and attempted to return the single groove bump, dump, and wreck racing back to the facility. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/10421.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"181\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Mike Neff says the side-by-side racing we saw from 2007 through the spring of 2012 was the best Bristol has seen in years…</p></div> Thanks to Smith at least trying to bring the old parade back to town, the track was nearly sold out last August for the night race at Bristol. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, the drivers figured out that they could make the top groove work and the race ended up being a two groove event still. While the race was fantastic from start to finish and the ending was edge of the seat theater, the number of cautions was limited and almost no cars were wrecked. As a result, the jury is still out on whether the fans will like the new surface more than the altered surface before the grinding. From where I sit, which was near the top of the grandstands in turn two last summer, there is nothing more enjoyable that watching cars racing side-by-side with first one and then the other gaining slight advantages each lap. The great thing about Richmond is that a driver can get to the inside of another competitor but has to struggle to complete the pass because they can't use the whole race track. That never-ending battle to gain the inches necessary to eventually complete the pass is why Richmond is still one of the best race tracks anywhere. When Bruton Smith added the progressive banking to Bristol, he put the track on the same plane as Richmond and the racing became fantastic from the front to the back and everywhere in between. With the ground-down top of the track, the surface at Bristol is offering enough grip up top to give drivers an advantage running up there, but going to the bottom won't give the drivers enough of an advantage to make a pass, so the race is going to lend itself to a single groove; it will just be around the top now instead of the bottom. Close racing and passing are the two things that make for great races. With the varying degrees of banking the “old†new Bristol had allowed drivers to run on all three lanes around the track and make passes in any of them. The drivers could pass someone on the top at one point in a run then on the bottom another part and finally in the middle at yet another point. However the drivers were running and wherever they were running, they put on a fantastic race and did it all without tearing up a bunch of race cars. And that is the rub right there. Based on the statement made by fans with their wallets and their keyboards, they don't want to see racing at Bristol, they want to see wrecking. If what you want to see is cars destroyed for no reason, then the “new†new Bristol is more for you than the old one. I'll stick with cars running in three lanes on a half-mile race track with any of them having a chance to win. <span style=\"color:orange; font-weight:bold\">S.D. Grady, Senior Editor: The \"New, New\" Bristol Is Just Perfect!</span> \"It's the new, NEW Bristol!\" Okay, so we may have said that a few times too many in 2012. Much hype surrounded the re-engineering of the track in 2007, introducing variable banking to the reported 36-degree mixing bowl. During the following races, though, it became clear that somehow Bruton Smith had managed to create a mini-cookie cutter atop the mountain. The CoT did what it did so well, got in line and we were entertained (uh huh) by a 40-car train on one of NASCAR's most storied venues. Gone were the days where a third of the field had to wreck out in order to make enough room for the front runners to go at it, door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper. Previously unobtainable tickets became an easily snared stub. Where fans used to cling to their seats peering down over the carnage, many chose to depart early seeking a faster way home. Clearly something had to be done. And Smith did it. <div style=\"float:left; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/13955.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"181\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">…but S.D. Grady says that kind of racing lacked the emotion of the old-style chrome-horn racing, and that's just not cool.</p></div> Last fall the latest incarnation of the track was introduced. Sitting in the stands at the exit of Turn 4, I thrilled as I watched team after team discover that not only was there a second groove, the upper reaches of the towering banks were actually where the racing was best. My husband and I nudged each other, pointed at the burgeoning \"Darlington Stripes\" appearing on just about everybody's right side panels and grinned. Yeah, this is what we wanted out of Bristol. A little slick, real tight, and not nearly enough room for 43 cars to take each other on. The track once again became part of the race, something that Thunder Valley has always been known for–at least up to 2007. The Sprint Cup circuit is littered with a bunch of mile-and-a-half tracks where the pavement is miles wide, the banking climbs just enough into the sky and the drivers can find all the clean air they want. They've earned the moniker \"cookie cutter\" because not only do the configurations appear similar, the competition suffers from similarity, as well. The legendary tracks of the old-school NASCAR have never suffered from the look-alike ennui. There's the Martinsville paperclip, wild rides of Fast-lanta, sandy banks of Darlington, the concrete monster in Dover … need I go on? Bristol has always served up a furious day of racing. The tempers, fenders and very stands scream with frustration when the field takes the flag. It pulses with life. But Bristol very nearly lost that when Smith introduced the graduated banking. Gone were the afternoons of car munching fury. We ended the race day wondering if we had missed something. The drivers smiled–smiled!–at the cameras and headed off to their lives. Nobody seemed particularly upset. Even the cars were more than able to roll into the garage area. ... Read More »

NASCAR Writer Power Rankings: Top 15 After Las Vegas

<div style=\"margin: 20px; width: 275px; float: left; border: 0px solid black; padding: 3px\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/1952.gif\" border=\"0\" alt=\"Frontstretch Power Rankings\" width=\"206\" height=\"202\" /></div><div><div><div><div>Matt Kenseth rolled the dice on the last pit stop, took fuel only, then held off Kasey Kahne to win his first race of the 2013 season and his first for new team Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth was strong all day, running inside the top 10, but proved that clean air trumps fresh tires on 1.5-mile tracks with the new Gen-6 car.&nbsp;</div><div><br /></div><div>While much of the news revolved around Denny Hamlin&rsquo;s negative comments about the Gen-6 chassis, costing him $25,000 Las Vegas showed the positive side of the new design. Kasey Kahne began the dig out of his early-season hole, leading a race-high 114 laps and finishing second. Brad Keselowski, winding up in third place now stands alone as the only driver with top-5 results in every race so far this season. A little further back, Carl Edwards followed up his win last week with a second consecutive top-5 finish, showing he&#39;ll be a 2013 contender. And then, of course there was Jimmie Johnson, on cruise control to sixth place and the edge atop the Sprint Cup point standings. </div><div>&nbsp;</div><div> Who are you <em>not </em>going to see move up the poll this week? Stewart-Haas Racing, who continued to struggle, with Tony Stewart bringing home a team-high 11th. Ryan Newman lost an engine and Danica Patrick struggled to find speed all day; those drivers finished 38th and 33rd, respectively.&nbsp;</div><div><br /></div><div>As the series travels back to the East Coast this week, drivers will tackle their first short track in Thunder Valley. How much momentum do your favorite experts feel they have going in? Find out in the latest edition of our Power Rankings… </div></div><div>&nbsp;</div></div><div><strong>How The Rankings Are Calculated</strong>: Frontstretch does our power rankings similar to how the Associated Press does them for basketball or football – our expert stable of NASCAR writers, both on staff and from other major publications will vote for the Top 20 on a 20-19-18-17-16-15… 3-2-1 basis, giving 20 points to their first place driver, 19 for their second, and so on. In the end, Michael Mehedin calculates the points, adds some funny one-liners, and … here you go!</div></div><table border=\"0\"><tbody></tbody></table><table border=\"0\" cellspacing=\"4\" cellpadding=\"0\" bgcolor=\"#a0a0a0\"><tbody><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td colspan=\"4\" align=\"center\"><strong>FRONTSTRETCH TOP 15 POWER RANKINGS: March 13th</strong></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td><strong>Rank</strong></td><td><strong>Driver (First Place Votes)</strong></td><td><strong>Votes</strong> </td><td align=\"right\"><strong>Last Week</strong></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>1</strong></td><td><strong>Jimmie Johnson (7)</strong></td><td align=\"right\">244</td><td align=\"right\">1</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Jimmie is running this well and it isn&rsquo;t even the Chase yet!? It&rsquo;s going to be a long year for the other 42 drivers. <em>Michael Mehedin, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>2</strong></td><td><strong>Brad Keselowski (3)</strong></td><td align=\"right\">243</td><td align=\"right\">2</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Three top-5 finishes lead all drivers, but he hasn&rsquo;t won yet and he&#39;s not happy about it. That&#39;s certainly a good sign of things to come for him. <em>Jeff Wolfe, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>3</strong></td><td><strong>Matt Kenseth (2)</strong></td><td align=\"right\">224</td><td align=\"right\">6</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">The best thing to happen to this team since Sliced Bread. <em>Summer Bedgood, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>4</strong></td><td><strong>Dale Earnhardt, Jr.</strong></td><td align=\"right\">214</td><td align=\"right\">3</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Consistency is the key to success in qualifying for the Chase, but he will need to learn how to win races to be a champ. <em>Dennis Michelsen, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>5</strong></td><td><strong>Kasey Kahne (1)</strong></td><td align=\"right\">199</td><td align=\"right\">12</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Learned from last year that beginning to recover from a disastrous start, a little earlier in the season will make for a much less strenuous summer. <em>Tony Lumbis, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>6</strong></td><td><strong>Carl Edwards</strong></td><td align=\"right\">194</td><td align=\"right\">7</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Jimmy Fennig now officially licensed to raise the dead. <em>Dave Moody, SiriusXM Radio</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>7</strong></td><td><strong>Denny Hamlin</strong></td><td align=\"right\">164</td><td align=\"right\">4</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Dropped in the Power Rankings due to Section 12-1. <em>Dennis Michelsen, RaceTalkRadio.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>8</strong></td><td><strong>Kyle Busch</strong></td><td align=\"right\">143</td><td align=\"right\">14</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Running far better than the final results would indicate. But at some point, &ldquo;potential&rdquo; needs to turn into &ldquo;performance&rdquo; when it counts again. <em>Tom Bowles, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>9</strong></td><td><strong>Greg Biffle</strong></td><td align=\"right\">136</td><td align=\"right\">10</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">That ugly paint scheme was the only reason he received any screen time in Vegas. <em>Summer Bedgood, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>10</strong></td><td><strong>Tony Stewart</strong></td><td align=\"right\">124</td><td align=\"right\">8</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Finished 11th Sunday. With Danica 33rd and Newman 38th, Smoke is not enjoying team ownership quite as much as he did in 2011. <em>Dave Moody, SiriusXM Radio</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>11</strong></td><td><strong>Kevin Harvick</strong></td><td align=\"right\">123</td><td align=\"right\">11</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Mr. Where Did He Come From has become Mr. Where Did He Go? <em>Summer Bedgood, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>12</strong></td><td><strong>Clint Bowyer</strong></td><td align=\"right\">109</td><td align=\"right\">5</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">That runner-up slump might be kicking in. <em>Summer Bedgood, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>13</strong></td><td><strong>Aric Almirola</strong></td><td align=\"right\">96</td><td align=\"right\">15</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Almirola&rsquo;s good, no doubt, but this ride is showcasing why who&rsquo;s on top of the pit box still matters. Remember Todd Parrott? I seem to remember him winning a championship and two Daytona 500s with Dale Jarrett. <em>Tom Bowles, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>14</strong></td><td><strong>Mark Martin</strong></td><td align=\"right\">78</td><td align=\"right\">13</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">Would really like to see what Mark would do if he ran the series full-time at age 54. <em>Michael Mehedin, Frontstretch.com</em></td></tr><tr bgcolor=\"#ffffff\"><td align=\"center\"><strong>15</strong></td><td><strong>Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.</strong></td><td align=\"right\">77</td><td align=\"right\">NR</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\">He beat Danica! <em>Dave Moody, SiriusXM Radio</em></td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\"><strong>Dropped Out</strong>: Jeff Gordon (9).</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\"><strong>Others Receiving Votes</strong>:&nbsp;Paul Menard (75), Jeff Gordon (71), Martin Truex, Jr. (68), Joey Logano (57), Jamie McMurray (32), Marcos Ambrose (23), Kurt Busch (10), Jeff Burton (8), Ryan Newman (8), Juan Pablo Montoya (6), Trevor Bayne (2), Austin Dillon (1), Dave Blaney (1).</td></tr><tr><td colspan=\"4\"><strong>Who Voted</strong>: <a href=\"http://twitter.com/Critic84\">Phil Allaway, Frontstretch.com</a>; <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/summerbedgood\">Summer Bedgood, Frontstretch.com</a>; <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/NASCARBowles\">Tom Bowles, Frontstretch.com</a>; <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/ddarnell1\">Denny Darnell, Darnell Communications</a>; <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/Racetake\">Dwight Drum, RaceTake.com</a>; <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/dustinlong\">Dustin Long, Athlon Sports</a>; <a href=\"http://twitter.com/tonylumbis\">Tony Lumbis, Frontstretch.com</a>; <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/MikeyMehedin\">Michael Mehedin, Frontstretch.com</a>; <a href=\"http://www.facebook.com/RaceTalkRadio\">Dennis Michelsen, RaceTalkRadio.com</a>; <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/DGodfatherMoody\">Dave Moody, SiriusXM Radio</a>; Brad Morgan, Frontstretch.com; <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/Riceman61\">Doug Rice, Performance Racing Netwrok</a>; <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/jeffwolfe206\">Jeff Wolfe, Frontstretch.com</a>.</td></tr></tbody></table> Read More »

Top Ten Alternative Punishments for Drivers Who Say Things NASCAR Doesn't Like

<div style=\"float:right; width:250px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15498.jpg\" width=\"250\" height=\"408\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Six weeks of carrying Jimmie Johnson's beard Flowbee.</p></div> *10.* Six weeks of driving Jennifer Jo Cobb’s car. *9.* Drafting with a rookie driver at all restrictor plate tracks until further notice. *8.* Write 1,000 times on the bulletin board, \"I love Gen-6.\" Make that 2,000 times if you forget the hyphen. *7.* Six weeks, two hours a day, of listening to Chad Knaus telling you how smart he is. *6.* Six weeks as Brian France’s designated driver. *5.* Must wear giant, scarlet pair of lips on front of race uniform. *4.* Must attend four-week \"How To Plug Your Sponsors In a Positive Manner\" course taught by Michael Waltrip. *3.* Chartered flights piloted by Jack Roush for two months … in a Hendrick plane. *2.* Be hypnotized to say \"I love NASCAR\" every time you hear Brian France's name. *1.* Remember the pink fire suit with the kittens, puppies, and little baby seals? \"Contact the Frontstretch Staff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14345/ Read More »