Keeping Pace

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News And Notes - Dover

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)

Tommy Baldwin Racing has announced a driver change in its No. 36 Toyota beginning with this week’s Dover race. Scott Riggs, who qualified the car for eight of the season’s first 12 races, is being replaced by a trio of drivers – Mike Skinner, Patrick Carpentier and Brian Simo.

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

There’s Still Time As Dover Signals Halfway To The Chase

This week’s race at Dover International Speedway marks the 13th stop – halfway – in qualifying for one of the 12 positions in the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Statistics covering the five previous years in which the championship has been contested under The Chase format suggest at least 10 drivers among the current top 12 will be in the mix when the Chase begins in September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

In the past three seasons, only one driver  outside the top 12 after the spring Dover race was able to race his way into the Chase. Two drivers in 2004 and 2005 managed to become Chase eligible over the season’s second half.

That, however, was then and this is now.

The 2009 season is one of parity – eight different winners through the first 12 races – with at least nine teams currently having a realistic chance of making the Chase.

No surprise; Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing are current holders of top-12 positions.

But Stewart-Haas Racing, a first-year team, and a resurgent Penske Racing also are represented.

Among the teams within 80 points of the top 12 are Michael Waltrip Racing, for which David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota) won its first race May 25 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway; Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Richard Petty Motorsports and Team Red Bull.

There could be a number of new faces in this year’s Chase. Three among the current top 12 and eight of the first 16 were not among last year’s qualifiers.

All four manufacturers stand an excellent chance of taking home the championship trophy. Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota were represented a year ago while Dodge didn’t see a team qualify for the 2008 Chase. But Penske’s Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), the 2004 champion and first to win the title under the Chase format, ranks a solid third on the basis of a win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes.

Last spring’s Dover race proved a microcosm of last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The topfive finishers – and six of the first seven – all became Chase-eligible. Eventual champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet) finished seventh.

Active winners of the spring race are holders of 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup titles. Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) is the only driver with a Dover spring victory in his championship season. Gordon won both in 2001.

The Monster Mile: Twelve Different Spring Winners And Counting

Dover International Speedway’s spring race is a fan favorite for a variety of reasons but one in particular stands out:

There’s a very good chance someone’s favorite driver may be headed for Victory Lane.

The past 12 editions of the Autism Speaks 400 presented by Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips and Cheese have produced 12 different winners. There hasn’t been a repeat winner in the 21st Century. Jeff Gordon is the only double winner since 1996. Gordon’s most recent Dover spring victory came in 2001.

In other words, just about everyone is in the mix when the green flag drops at The Monster Mile.

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) is the defending spring winner at Dover. That makes sense; a year ago, Busch seemed to take the checkered flag just about everywhere he suited up, be it Dover’s concrete, a 1.5-mile track or a road course.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions are well represented among the dozen repeat winners: Gordon; Johnson; Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet); Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford); Bobby Labonte (No. 96 Ask.com Ford); and Dale Jarrett.

Manufacturer winners? Doesn’t matter. All four count victories during the 12-race run with General Motors and Ford tied with five wins apiece.

Pit Road, Frontstretch Wall Improvements Make Debut At The Monster Mile

Pit road at Dover International Speedway historically has been one of the most difficult, not to mention tightest, on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule.

No longer.

During the winter, the track made major improvements to pit road. They include installation of a SAFER barrier supported by a new 1,592-foot concrete wall that wraps from Turn 4 down the frontstretch to near Turn 1.

The new pit wall is 432 feet longer than the previous steel boilerplate wall.

Also eliminated was the grass strip on the frontstretch. That allowed the wall to be placed closer to the track creating four additional feet of room to the width of passing on pit road.

By lengthening the pit wall, the track was able to reconfigure the 43 pit stalls and make them longer in size. The pit boxes are 32 feet long compared with the previous 28-foot measurements.

Thanks to the elimination of some grass in the infield of Turn 4, new apron space was created between Turns 3 and 4 to allow more room for cars to slow down as they approach the pit road entrance.

This also created a new entrance for track emergency service vehicles to enter the speedway from the infield near the NASCAR Nationwide Series garage.

“Turn 4 has always been an action-packed area to sit and now spectators in this area will also get a great view of teams working on pit road,” said Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover International Speedway.

Kurt Busch, a former series champion, expressed his pleasure with the project.

“When I saw the photos of what the guys at Dover have done, I said, ‘Yeah, way to go guys,’” Busch said. “Great thinking and hard work went into the project.

“I’ve been very fortunate over the years to not be a victim of Dover’s tight pit road. We’ve had our share of run-ins with other cars and the wall that separated pit lane from the track, that’s for sure.”

Busch said he can’t wait to see the new layout in person.

“After all the years of racing there in such tight quarters on pit road it’s hard to visualize what it will be like,” he said. “It will make for safer conditions for sure (and) I think it will also make for better competition, too.”

His crew chief, Pat Tryson, echoes Busch’s thoughts.

“It’s always been a situation of stress and worry anytime you hit pit road there,” Tryson said. “If it was a green-flag pit stop, you worried about your driver getting on pit road without an incident.

“If it was a pit stop under the yellow, you always worried about getting boxed in or crashing with the other cars trying to get out of the pits.”

The new dimensions really caught Tryson’s eye.

“The four feet factor – wider pit lane and longer pit boxes – may not sound like much but you go and ask my guys over the wall there on Sunday,” he said. “They’ll tell you just how much that additional four feet means, I’ll guarantee that.”

MWR, Reutimann Victory At Lowe’s Motor Speedway Continues Season of ‘Firsts’

Two races; six new winners.

That’s the scorecard in two of the past four points-paying NASCAR Sprint Cup events as a pair of drivers, owners and crew chiefs have gone to Victory Lane for the first time

Brad Keselowski, longtime owner James Finch and crew chief Marc Reno scored an improbable but impressive victory April 26 at Talladega Superspeedway.

This week it was David Reutimann, Michael Waltrip and Rodney Childers hoisting the winner’s trophy at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

Reutimann became the latest driver to win a race in all three national series. His previous victories came at Memphis Motorsports Park (NASCAR Nationwide) and Nashville Superspeedway (NASCAR Camping World Trucks).

Michael Waltrip Racing was among the charter Toyota teams when the manufacturer joined the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2007. MWR, as currently configured, had one top-five finish in its first two seasons – Waltrip’s second-place finish a year ago at New Hampshire.

Reutimann’s previous best, a fourth, came at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March.

Childers, a NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chief since 2005, had won Coors Light poles with Scott Riggs but no previous victories. His call, to keep his driver on-track, proved the winning move when inclement weather ended the Coca-Cola 600 at Lap 227.

“David and I have been in position to win races before (and) had fate take them away from us,” Waltrip said. “So I think of this as a payback.”

Said Reutimann, “It wasn’t the prettiest win but someone has to win these things.”

MWR’s victory was Toyota’s first by a series team other than Joe Gibbs Racing.

Loop Data Says Dover Offers Roush Fenway Racing Opportunity To Regain Momentum

Despite placing three drivers in the top 12, Roush Fenway Racing’s season has not been as prolific as predicted.

Carl Edwards (No. 99 AFLAC Ford), winner of a season-high nine races in 2008, has yet to visit Victory Lane in 2009. The closest he has come was a third-place finish at Atlanta earlier this season.

Matt Kenseth roared out of the gate, winning the first two races of the season. Since then he has an average finish of 19.3.

Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M/NEXCARE Ford) has yet to win a race after a strong performance in last season’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup that including two victories.

David Ragan (No. 6 UPS Ford) had a breakthrough year last season, but now sits 32nd in the standings.

Finally, Jamie McMurray (No. 26 Crown Royal Ford) has just three top-10 finishes after ending last season with three consecutive third-place runs.

But all ills – perceived or otherwise – could be cured this weekend at Dover, a track at which Roush excels.

Roush has eight wins at Dover, including two of the last three. Its stable of drivers pepper the top five in nearly every key Loop Data statistic.

The most statistically stellar is Biffle, who won last year’s Dover Chase race. He has a series-best Driver Rating of 116.6, a series-best Average Running Position of 6.4, a series-high 332 Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 94.4%.

Next-best is Kenseth, who won at Dover in June of 2006. He has a Driver Rating of 114.5 (second-best), an Average Running Position of 6.5 (second), 294 Fastest Laps Run (second), a series-fastest average Green Flag Speed of 141.776 mph and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 92.9% (second).

Edwards, always strong on concrete tracks like Dover, has finished in the top three in each of the last five Dover races.

He has a Driver Rating of 105.7 (third), an Average Running Position of 9.7 (fourth), 274 Fastest Laps Run (third) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 73.0% (sixth).

Charting Progress: Stewart-Haas Racing’s Roll Continues; Logano Hitting Stride

Tony Stewart didn’t get the finish he’d hoped for but a solid performance by teammate Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet) on Monday gave Stewart-Haas Racing yet another reason to be uplifted in its maiden season.

Stewart, bitten by a visit to pit road just before rain ended the race, finished 19th in the Coca-Cola 600.

Newman, however, won the Coors Light Pole for the Lowe’s Motor Speedway event, led five laps and thanks to a no-pit call by crew chief Tony Gibson, finished second.

The performance marked Newman’s fourth consecutive top-five finish.

“For me, this is huge,” he said. “(It’s been a) long time since I had four top fives in a row. The guys are doing a great job with Tony Gibson leading the group.”

Newman predicted that a victory – for himself or teammate and team co-owner Stewart – isn’t far away.

“Same thing as I’ve always said: Put yourself in the right position at the right time and you’ll win,” he said.

The education of Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) continues and with the 19-year-old logging his third top-10 finish in the past four races, it appears he’s ready to take the next step a year after joining NASCAR’s national series ranks.

A miserable introduction to Logano’s fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup career all but forgotten, the Connecticut native is not only running well but running at the front of the field.

Logano raced solidly among the top five in Monday’s race before finishing ninth – yet another victim of an ill-timed pit stop.

“This was probably the best run we’ve had since Darlington even,” said Logano, who led his first series laps in the Southern 500. “Overall we learned a lot and we can keep building the momentum here at the No. 20 team.

“Hopefully we can go to Dover and do the same thing again.”

A year ago, Dover marked Logano’s NASCAR Nationwide Series debut. The then-18-year-old finished sixth.

Many Drivers In Dover International Speedway Field Have Concrete Success

To 17 drivers on this week’s Dover entry list, racing on concrete is no big thing.

Thirteen have gone to Victory Lane at Dover International Speedway. Another four have conquered Bristol Motor Speedway. Five have victories at both tracks.

In sum, they have won 49 times on concrete, 24 of those victories coming at The Monster Mile.

Kyle Busch, this week’s defending race winner, won his second race at Bristol in March. He’ll again do the “triple” – competing in Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck AAA Insurance 200, Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Heluva Good! 200 as well as Sunday’s NASCAR Spring Cup Series race.

Busch isn’t the only driver set to do triple duty. Mike Bliss (No. 09 Miccosukee Indian Gaming and Resort Dodge), winner of last week’s NASCAR Nationwide race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, likewise will compete in all three national series.

Ryan Newman, in 2003, was the last driver to win both spring and fall races at Dover International Speedway.

Other active drivers with Dover season sweeps are Jimmie Johnson (2002), Tony Stewart (2000) and Jeff Gordon (1996).

Gordon was the last driver to win three consecutive races (fall 1995-1996).

Harry Gant (1991) is the only driver to win NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide  Series races at Dover on the same weekend.

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shop/Tracker Boats Chevrolet), is the only active competitor to post his first victory at The Monster Mile.

Truex won the spring Dover race in 2007 and is a two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series winner at the track. He’ll also be racing close to home, hailing from Mayetta, N.J.

NSCS, Etc.

Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin (No. 5 Kellogg’s/Carquest Chevrolet) count the most Dover victories among active drivers with four wins apiece.

Martin is the only driver to win in all three national series at Dover International Speedway. Kyle Busch has won in NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Camping World Trucks, but never in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

The battle for the 35th spot in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Owner Championship points – and a guaranteed starting position – continues with the Earnhardt Ganassi No. 34 currently in the position by 41 points over Dietrich Mateschitz’s No. 82. The latter team’s driver, Scott Speed (No. 82 Red Bull Toyota), won last year’s NASCAR Camping world Truck Series AAA Insurance 200.

This week’s Dover race marks the concluding telecast of the 2009 season by FOX Sports. TNT takes over for a six-race run beginning with the Pocono 500 on June 7.

Tommy Baldwin Racing has announced a driver change in its No. 36 Toyota beginning with this week’s Dover race. Scott Riggs, who qualified the car for eight of the season’s first 12 races, is being replaced by a trio of drivers – Mike Skinner, Patrick Carpentier and Brian Simo. Skinner will drive in events that do not conflict with his NASCAR Camping World Truck duties with Randy Moss Motorsports. Carpentier is slated for five starts with Simo driving both road courses on the schedule.

“If we can get Tommy along until he finds that permanent driver to get his team to the next level, then it is an honor for me to get a chance to participate and try to help him out,” Skinner said.

Racing Near Home

Maryland

Roy McCauley (Davidsonville), No. 12 crew chief.
Johnny Klausmeier (Perry Hall), No. 39 engineer
Ray Wright (Charlotte Hall), No. 31 pit crew coach
Daniel Blizzard (Mt. Airy), No. 31 front tire changer

New Jersey

Phil Gould (Kendall Park), No. 07 car chief
Wally Rogers (Port Monmouth), No. 19 car chief
Derek Stamets (Millford), No. 26 engineer
Bob Hannigan (High Bridge), No. 18 transportation driver (backup) 
Bob Dowens (Holmdel), No. 19 rear tire carrier
Milan Rudanovic (Wantage), No. 83 pit support
Ryan Flores (Manasquan), No. 26 pit support

Up Next: Pocono Raceway

Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) enjoyed an amazing four-week stretch in 2008 that culminated in his victory in last June’s Pocono 500.

Kahne swept the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway before notching his first win at the triangular-shaped Pennsylvania track. The race marked the 13th time a Pocono event has been won from the pole.

The June 7 race is the first of two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits to the Poconos. The series returns on Aug. 2 for the Pennsylvania 500.

Fast Facts

The Race: Autism Speaks 400 presented by Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips & Cheese

The Date: Sunday, May 31

The Track: Dover International Speedway (1-mile concrete oval)

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

The Distance: 400 laps/400 miles

TV: FOX. 1:30 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN and Sirius Satellite (Local WDSD-FM 94.7)

2008 Polesitter: Greg Biffle

2008 Winner: Kyle Busch

Schedule: Friday – Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Qualifying – 3:10 p.m. Saturday – 11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. and 12:50-1:50 p.m.

2009 Top 12

  Driver                   Points
 1 Jeff Gordon            1,722
 2 Tony Stewart         1,678
 3 Kurt Busch            1,607
 4 Jimmie Johnson     1,594
 5 Denny Hamlin        1,575
 6 Kyle Busch           1,540
 7 Ryan Newman       1,538
 8 Jeff Burton             1,472
 9 Matt Kenseth         1,460
10 Greg Biffle             1,448
11 Carl Edwards         1,431
12 Mark Martin           1,428




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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.








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