Race Weekend Central

2013 Staff Preview, Part III: Does A Champ Need To Change?

Today’s Season Preview Topic: Jimmie Johnson has now gone two years without a championship after winning five in a row. Does the team need to change anything for 2013 or is it simply a case of bad luck catching up with them?

Tom Bowles, Editor-In-Chief: I’m sure many NASCAR-ites are reading this question and groaning. There’s no question Johnson, outside of his rabid fan base has become Public Enemy No. 1 for the old school crowd’s complaints about everything from the sport becoming too politically correct to a potential double standard amongst crew chiefs. But for Johnson, 2013 is a crucial year if he’s looking to inch closer to that iconic mark of seven titles. If you look at the careers of the men he’s chasing, Petty and Earnhardt once they hit their prime there were never huge gaps in between first place…

25 NASCAR Questions For 2013: Almirola, Burton, Ambrose, Logano, Menard

*Aric Almirola*
*2013 Ride:* No. 43 Smithfield Foods Ford (Richard Petty Motorsports)
*Season With Team:* 2nd
*Crew Chief:* Todd Parrott

*Burning Question:* Can Almirola get it done in Sprint Cup?

Richard Petty Motorsports’ selection of Almirola before the start of 2012 was a bit of a head-scratcher. Almirola had just come off of a mediocre season in the Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports, in which he failed to win a race (or really even come close). Drivers such as Brian Vickers, Trevor Bayne and maybe even Ricky Stenhouse were available as quality alternatives.

Did You Notice? … Start-And-Park War Brewing?, Aerodynamic Engineering & NASCAR Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* The battle over start-and-parking is revving up for 2013? The first salvo was fired at the end of January, where Bruton Smith went so far on the Media Tour as to ask reporters in attendance to stop the practice, where cars come to the track, park and collect the prize money for profit.

“Start-and-park should not be a part of what we do,” said the Speedway Motorsports, Inc. owner, whose tracks, he claimed, “donated” tens of millions of dollars to “this cause” in 2012. “Either NASCAR should shorten the race or something in order to stop this, but I think it’s got to be stopped.”

“I hope we look back in a year and (start-and-park) is history. Because it should be history.”

2013 Staff NASCAR Preview, Part I: Is The Gen-6 A Great Solution?

Today’s Season Preview Topic: All we’ve heard about this offseason is the Gen-6, Gen-6, Gen-6 and how it’s ready to fix NASCAR’s problems. Based on what you’ve seen in testing, heard from teams or through your sources will the car be as competitive as we’re being told? Also, will we see some of the underdogs break through, creating parity versus the upper-class teams or will the Hendricks, Roushs, etc. have the edge?

Mike Neff, Short Track Editor: The Gen-6 car is definitely an upgrade from the CoT. It appears as though there is more downforce on the front of the car along with greater mechanical grip. Crew chiefs are telling us that the increased downforce will make it easier to get close to a car and actually pull out and pass. That would seem counterintuitive, though because increased downforce would seem to require more air on the nose. The one thing that does seem to be true is that the car is harder to drive. That means it will put a greater emphasis on driver ability and a good driver will be able to do things with the car to make it respond.

Did You Notice? … Awesome Bill’s NASCAR Family Dream, Family Fraud And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?* … How difficult it is for some drivers to hang it up for good? Bill Elliott is the latest example of that, a certain Hall of Famer hanging on nearly a decade after full-time retirement. Back then, it was nearly a Cinderella story for Awesome Bill, the 1988 Cup Series champion who’s best known for capturing the 1985 Winston Million: a reward for capturing three of NASCAR’s “crown jewel” events (Daytona, Talladega, Darlington) in the same season. 48 years old when the “R” word first beckoned, he’d won every major event in the sport and came within a lap of winning the 2003 season finale at Homestead before blowing a tire on the final lap. Walking away in his prime, the dream most superstar athletes rarely achieve was firmly within reach.

What To Know Heading Into 2013: NASCAR’s Media Tour Hits And Misses

The Sprint Media Tour is a four-day trek through the racing landscape around the greater Charlotte area. It allows media members the opportunity to eat better than they will for the next month, drink more than they do the rest of the year and are told the “inside information” inside each team for the coming year — depending on how many insightful questions they come up with. But in the end, media and fans learn far too little, hear a lot of the same answers, realize every team thinks they’re going to win the championship and end up wondering what would Brian France do without a teleprompter.

With all that being said, there are still a few small observations you pick up along the way. Here’s some of mine that didn’t fit within the confines of a “normal” column…

Pace Laps: Media Tour Takeaways And NASCAR Sponsors, Good And Bad

*Sprint Cup: Sponsorship Headlines 2013 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour* Last week’s NASCAR Sprint Media Tour Hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway featured several teams and drivers from NASCAR’s top division, and one common thread in discussions was sponsorship. While several teams added new backers, some high-profile ones still have open races just a month before the season begins with the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona. Tops on the list is perennial Most Popular Driver award winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who still has up to 13 unsponsored races.

Pace Laps: NASCAR Can Build On This, Open-Wheel Offseason Antics And As The Busch Turns

_Did you see all of the race action this weekend? Or, like a lot of busy fans, did you miss a late-night adventure, a Friday controversy, or a juicy piece of news? If you did, you’ve come to the right place! Each week, The Frontstretch will break down the racing, series by series, to bring you the biggest stories that you need to watch moving forward. Let our experts help you get up to speed for the coming week no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!_

*Sprint Cup: We Can Build On This! NASCAR Unlikely To Make Major Rules Changes After Test* After the three-day Preseason Thunder test session at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR and the teams who participated found the 2013 cars successful enough that few, if any changes will be made to the superspeedway package before Speedweeks next month.

Evaluating Cup’s Smaller Teams, 2012 Edition

These days, the brunt of both fan and media attention is focused on the larger, more well-funded teams of NASCAR — and rightfully so. They’re, after all, the organizations that challenge for top-10 finishes each week, let alone wins and championships. However, those teams only take up about two-thirds of a full 43-car field. The …

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The Critic’s Annex 106- Kurt Busch: The Outlaw

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to The Critic’s Annex, where I take an additional opportunity to take a look at some motorsports-related programming. Today’s special Wednesday edition will not be the last Annex of the year. A later edition will cover the recently released sophomore NASCAR effort from Activision and Eutechnyx, NASCAR the Game: Inside …

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Professor Of Speed: When Art Imitates Life

Boy howdy! Last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway was one that fans won’t likely forget very soon. Both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races kicked it old school as the 2012 season wound down to its final events. Nothing like some blown tires and bent sheet metal to grab headlines. Fussing and fighting and whining and fining always put NASCAR squarely back on America’s sports pages.

That is, unless you’re the parent of a child in elementary school. If you’re dealing with backpacks and lunch sacks every weekday, your radar screen has likely been preoccupied with the motion picture Wreck-It Ralph, the latest release from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Did You Notice? … A Quality Champion, Resistance To Change And Quick Hits

*Did You Notice?…* Brad Keselowski’s Chase is one of the more impressive in the history of the playoff format? Lost in the shuffle of Jimmie Johnson’s wreck, the Gordon-Bowyer brawl and “cell phone gate” is just how well the No. 2 team has performed, putting them in position to cakewalk to the title Sunday at Homestead. Barring a major mishap, like some sort of engine failure or blown tire Keselowski should ease to a top-15 finish, all he needs to secure the hardware for the first time in his Sprint Cup career.

So how has Keselowski done it? A three-pronged combination of consistency, wins, and heart. Let’s tackle them one at a time. Here’s how the driver’s Chase average finish to date compares with other champions since 2004:

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