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Keeping Pace

NASCAR News and Notes heading into The Monster Mile

Jimmie Johnson celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 for the second time.
Jimmie Johnson celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 for the second time.

Jimmie Johnson chasing more NASCAR history as the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Seris and Camping World Truck Series will all be in action this weekend.

Fast Facts
Next Race: FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks
The Place: Dover International Speedway
The Date: Sunday, June 2
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 12:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 400 miles (400 laps)
Next Race: 5-Hour Energy 200
The Place: Dover International Speedway
The Date: Saturday, June 1
The Time: 2:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: ESPN, 2 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 200 miles (200 laps)
Next Race: Lucas Oil 200
The Place: Dover International Speedway
The Date: Friday, May 31
The Time: 5 p.m. (ET)
TV: SPEED, 4:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 200 miles (200 laps)
Childress Believes Title Drought May End
Nearly two decades have passed since Richard Childress Racing won its last championship with Dale Earnhardt in 1994.
Over 19 years, drivers from five different teams – Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Penske Racing – have claimed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles.
Yet RCR remains relevant, winning 47 races from 1995 through Sunday when Kevin Harvick captured his second Coca-Cola 600. Harvick’s victory was RCR’s 103rd in NASCAR’s premier series.
Still, it’s been a long drought championship-wise for Childress, who shared six titles with NASCAR Hall of Famer Earnhardt and is himself a nominee for the Hall of Fame enshrinement.
The team’s championship “bests” since then have been thirds by Harvick in 2010-11 and Jeff Burton in 2006.
Harvick, a two-time winner in 2013, ranks seventh in NASCAR Sprint Cup standings entering Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks (FOX, MRN Radio, SIRIUSXM Radio, 1 p.m. EDT). Teammate Paul Menard, unheralded prior to the campaign’s beginning, is a surprising eighth.
“I honestly think RCR is ready to contend for the championship this year,” said Childress. “We have Kevin and Paul up there. We’re getting better. (Director of Competition) Eric Warren has come along and put together a great group of people. Our engine shop keeps getting better and better.”
Harvick is in his final year with RCR – having been promoted to the No. 29 Chevrolet following Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500 – but neither owner nor driver believe his “lame duck” status is a negative.
“In a business world, things happen; changes happen,” Childress said. “I wish him the best of luck at the end of the year but right now we have got a job in front of us.”
Harvick said he will give the organization 100% as long as he’s an RCR employee.
“It’s too important to the people that put in hours and hours and hours; the people that put in millions and millions of dollars (to do otherwise),” he said.
Harvick has yet to win at Dover. His best finish, second, came last spring. Menard, 17th a year ago, has a single top-10 finish (seventh) with Richard Petty Motorsports. Burton posted the most recent of RCR’s four Dover wins in 2006. Earnhardt won three Dover races.
Keselowski, Penske Pursue Dover Turnaround
All good things must come to an end. Brad Keselowski had finished 46 consecutive races – a streak that began at Phoenix in March of last year – until his No. 2 Penske Racing Ford was collected in late-race accident in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.
Effectively, it amounted to another other shoe dropping. The reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion didn’t miss a beat despite the changing of the calendar and a switch to Ford and Roush-Yates-built engines. Through the season’s first eight races, Keselowski posted an average finish of 7.3 and led 103 laps.
But performance soured beginning with a 33rd-place finish at Richmond. Keselowski has led just four laps in the most recent four races – two without crew chief Paul Wolfe – with an average finish of 29.0. Keselowski made just one lap in the Sprint All-Star Race before his car’s driveshaft broke.
Charlotte’s DNF dropped Keselowski to 10th in the standings, three points ahead of two-time winner Kyle Busch. A year ago, Keselowski was 11th – but with a victory.
This week’s race can be a turnaround on several fronts. Keselowski won last fall’s Dover event. The victory was crucial in his drive to the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Keselowski’s Dover resume had been thin – just five races and no top 10s. Dover was one of 16 tracks at which Keselowski matched or bettered his career-best finish last year.
Perhaps most significantly, the FedEx 400 marks the return of key Penske personnel – including Wolfe – from suspensions that followed parts infractions during the Texas Motor Speedway event in April.
“It’s still very early, six months in,” Keselowski said prior to the Coca-Cola 600. “I would certainly like to be in a better position than where I’m at right now. Unfortunately, we haven’t produced those results and that’s on us to get right.
“There are a number of reasons for that. I know the speed is there and speed is the building block one of winning the race and then you obviously have to have execution and luck and we haven’t put two and three together to really build the house that it takes to win.”
Johnson Chase Dover History, NASCAR Legends
Another record is in Jimmie Johnson’s sights.
Last spring’s Dover victory was Johnson’s seventh at the track, matching NASCAR Hall of Fame members Bobby Allison and Richard Petty atop the track’s all-time win list. The current NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader has won the track’s spring race three times and swept both Dover races in 2009.
How good is Johnson at “The Monster Mile?”
Consider this: 50% of his starts (11 for 22) in the top five; and 72.7% (16 for 22) in the top10. Since collection of Loop Data statistics in 2005, Johnson has led 1,923 laps – 30% of all laps run, nearly three times greater than the next best leader, Kyle Busch. He’s led laps in 11 consecutive Dover starts, eight times in double figures.
Johnson’s Dover Driver Rating is a gaudy 120.6. His average finish is 8.6.
Statistics, however, don’t guarantee either victory or high finish. Johnson is similarly dominant at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where an accident left the five-time champion 22nd in last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600. Danger lurks around each of Dover’s 24-degree-banked turns – and on its nine-degree-banked straightaways as well.
Johnson continues to lead 2007 Dover winner Carl Edwards in standings but lost more than quarter of his cushion – 44 points to 32 – at Charlotte. Two-time Dover winner Matt Kenseth is third.
Hendrick Motorsports is Dover’s all-time winning organization with 14 victories.
Hamlin, Stewart Heating Up With Summer
Two marquee drivers are heating up at the exact right time, and not a moment too soon.
Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart, both well outside the top 10, are chipping away at the deficit that stands between them and a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Last weekend at Charlotte, Stewart accomplished task No. 1: A top 20 spot. Wild Card Chase spots go to those drivers in standings positions 11-20 with the most wins. Stewart, with a season-best seventh-place finish at Charlotte, moved up one spot in the standings from 21st to 20th.
Possibly a far more daunting challenge for Stewart awaits: Dover. Aside from two wins – both of which came during a season sweep in 2000 – Dover has been mostly unkind to Stewart. His Driver Rating of 67.6 makes Dover his worst track in terms of the Loop Data statistic. He’s finished 20th or worse in each of the last five Dover races.
On the bright side, June’s here. And that means it’s time for Stewart to win in bunches – 41 of his 47 career victories have come after May 31.
Denny Hamlin, with his second consecutive top-five finish, moved to 24th in points and closed to within 53 points of the top 20.
Hamlin fares slightly better at Dover than Stewart, but not much. His average finish of 19.6 at Dover makes the Monster Mile his third worst track. He has two top fives there, most recently a fourth in May of 2010.
Beating The Busches: Not So Easy
Kurt and Kyle Busch enter this weekend’s race at Dover on slightly different paths, but with the same ultimate goal – a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Kurt Busch has tallied three top-five finishes for Furniture Row Racing this season, the same amount that Furniture Row had in its previous 199 starts. His latest, a third at Charlotte, kept him firmly in the top 20, a spot necessary to earn a Wild Card spot in the Chase.
The elder Busch won in 2011 in Dove, but struggled last year with finishes of 24th and 23rd. Busch was still racing under the Phoenix Racing banner for both those events.
While Kurt is rolling, Kyle is slipping. Bad luck has chewed away at Kyle’s comfortable top-10 spot and he is now on the outside looking in. Though 11th, his two victories nearly cement him for a Wild Card spot, at worst.
Despite leading a combined 370 laps in the last five races, his average finish is only 28.6 during that span.
Dover may cure those ills. Last September, Busch led 302 laps in a seventh place finish. It was the fifth top-10 finish in the last six Dover races.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
This is the seventh year Autism Speaks has been part of the race weekend at Dover. … With her start in last year’s Dover race, Danica Patrick became the second female to start a race at the Monster Mile. Janet Guthrie was the first, with a best finish of 11th in 1977. Patrick finished 28th last September. … With a third of the season in the books, the Gen-6 car has produced some of the tightest finishes in years. The average margin of victory through 12 races is .903 seconds, the third-closest average MOV through 12 races since the inception of electronic timing and scoring in 1993.
Busch Takes Aim At Another Record
When Kyle Busch crossed the finish line first in Saturday’s History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it was his seventh NASCAR Nationwide Series victory at the track and broke a tie with Mark Martin for most series wins by a driver at the track. This weekend the 28-year-old will attempt to pull off the same trick by breaking a three-way tie between him, Todd Bodine and Carl Edwards for most wins (three) at Dover International Speedway.
If Busch is victorious Saturday night in the 5-Hour Energy 200 it would give Joe Gibbs Racing five wins in the last seven races and eight wins in the last 12 races at the one-mile track. His NSCS teammate Denny Hamlin won back-to-back events in fall 2007 and spring 2008. Busch won the fall 2008 race and swept both events in 2010. Joey Logano swept both events last year for JGR.
A victory for Busch would be his seventh of the season (10th in the three national series), a feat that has happened in only 11 seasons since 1982. The seven-win mark has been reached eight times in the past eight seasons: Kevin Harvick (nine wins in 2006), Carl Edwards (seven in 2008, eight in 2011), Busch (10 in 2008, nine in 2009, 13 in 2010, eight in 2011), and Logano (nine in 2012). Last year is the only season over the past five in which Busch didn’t reach the seven-win plateau. In fact, he didn’t win in the series in 2012.
Busch’s start to 2013 has been off the charts in comparison to all other campaigns. If he finds Victory Lane at Dover, his seventh win will come in only the 11th race of the season. The earliest a driver has captured his seventh victory of a season was in the 16th race of 1984 when Sam Ard won at South Boston Speedway. In 2011, Busch won for the seventh time in the 25th race. His seventh win in 2010 came in race 18, race 31 in 2009 and race 27 in 2008.
Smith Still In Points Lead, But Competition Still Tight
After posting his eighth consecutive top-10 finish last Saturday in Charlotte, Regan Smith leads the series into Dover for the 5-Hour Energy 200 with a 29-point advantage over Sam Hornish Jr.
Smith might have a difficult time keeping his healthy lead intact this weekend as Dover could be a speed bump. He has an average finishing position of 23.2 in six starts. His best finish is 16th and he’s only finished on the lead lap once.
Although eight of the 10 races this season have been won by NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars, Smith and his fellow NASCAR Nationwide Series competitors continue to perform strong and keep the championship hunt close. Eleven drivers are within 100 points of the lead, compared to last year at this time when only seven drivers were within 100 points.
In nine of the 10 races, NASCAR Nationwide regulars have occupied five or more of the top-10 positions: Daytona (eight), Phoenix (six), Las Vegas (nine), Bristol (eight), Auto Club (nine), Richmond (seven), Talladega (seven), Darlington (six) and Charlotte (five). Series regulars finished in four of the top-five positions in two races (Las Vegas and Auto Club).
A Driver And Several Crew Members Ready For Hometown Crowd
Most race teams consider last Saturday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway their home track; however, that isn’t necessarily the case for individuals on the race teams.
When the NASCAR Nationwide Series rolls into Dover for Saturday’s 5-Hour Energy 200, several drivers and crew members will be performing before what they might consider hometown crowds.
Among those that will be experiencing a homecoming of sorts will be Travis Pastrana, who is competing in his first full-time season in the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Pastrana grew up about 1.5 hours away from the speedway in Annapolis, Md.
Phil Gould, the first-year crew chief of the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet driven by Brian Scott, is from nearby South Brunswick, N.J. Together, Gould and Scott started the season with five consecutive top-10 performances.
Additionally, four crew members at Richard Petty Motorsports are all from the area: truck driver Rob White (Baltimore, Md.), team engineer Derek Staments (Milford, N.J.), road mechanic/interior Lou Tomarchio (Holmdel, N.J.) and gasman Joe “Hoss” Karasinski (Spotswood, N.J.).
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
Jack Ingram will be one of five members inducted next January as part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2014. In 10 seasons in the NNS, he won 31 races and two championships, including the inaugural season of 1982 and 1985. …The entitlement for the NSCS FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover has special meaning to Trent Owens, the crew chief for Kyle Larson in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Owens’ five-year-old son, Gray Owens, suffers from Autism. … Ron Fellows of Mississauga, Ont., will be among five Canadians inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame on Sept. 28, 2013. In 13 seasons in the NNS, he had four wins in only 24 starts. He also had two victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Fellows operates Canadian Tire Motorsports Park near Toronto, a 2.549-mile road course hosting its first NCWTS event on Sept. 1.
Expect The Unexpected At ‘The Monster Mile’
The unexpected is the norm at Dover International Speedway.
Unpredictability will be the name of the game when the green flag drops on Friday’s Lucas Oil 200. Previous race winners have come from here, there and everywhere.
Kurt Busch, a rookie, won the inaugural race in 2000 after twice starting at the rear of the field.
Jason Leffler, Chad Chaffin, Scott Speed, Brian Scott and Aric Almirola scored their first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories at “The Monster Mile.” Speed was only a season removed from Formula One competition, winning in his eighth NCWTS appearance.
There have been 12 different winners in the event’s 13 seasons. Kyle Busch, the series’ second-leading career winner (31), is the only driver to visit Victory Lane twice. Full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have won three times – Busch in 2005 and 2011 and Mark Martin in 2006.
One competitor, Ron Hornaday Jr., has been able to win at Dover in a championship season (2007) although fellow series champions Ted Musgrave and Todd Bodine have won there – Bodine a year ago.
Taken in sum, Friday’s race figures to be a wide-open affair with Kyle Busch, Bodine and Hornaday the only previous winners entered in Friday’s Lucas Oil 200.
So who’s next?
Points leader Matt Crafton continues to search for his first Dover victory (best finish third, 2011) but he’s finished top five in five consecutive races. Also winless is ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter, the season’s only two-time winner. Sauter’s best is fifth in 2009. He was 24th a year ago.
The list of possible first-time winners in lengthy and includes Sunoco Rookie Darrell Wallace Jr., winner of a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at the track in 2011. Three-time pole winner Jeb Burton – ranked No. 2 in points – is another driver to watch.
Buescher Dodged Bullet; Hopes To Gain At Dover
James Buescher never will remember the May 17 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway as a high point of his NASCAR Camping World Truck career. But a sixth-place finish in a banged-up No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet may have preserved his championship chances.
Things could have been worse; a lot worse. He gained 10 positions over the race’s final 14 laps to maintain contact with standings leader Matt Crafton. Buescher, bidding to become the first repeat series champion, ranks fifth 31 points off the lead.
This week’s stop at Dover International Speedway offers an opportunity to gain ground. Buescher, who’ll be making his 100th series start, has logged top-10 finishes in his last three trips to “The Monster Mile” including a second in 2010. Statistically, however, Crafton has a slight edge in Driver Rating (89.8 vs. 83.9) and average finish (9.9 vs. 10.3).
“It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I made my first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start and now to have 100 starts under my belt is really cool,” said Buescher. “The truck series has taught me a lot and to be able to represent them as champion is a dream come true.”
“I’m excited to get to Dover. It’s a great track with some awesome fans and I hope we can get Rheem their first truck win of 2013.”
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Crafton will make his 300th consecutive start this week and become the sixth series competitor to reach the 300-appearance plateau. … Kyle Busch has the most series wins on concrete surfaced tracks – seven. Ron Hornaday Jr. is next with four. … Red Horse Racing crew chief Mike Beam, who directs the No. 7 Toyota of John Wes Townley, has won races in all three NASCAR national series at Dover.
West Coming Off Road Course, East Heads To Historic Short Track
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West is coming off its first road course event of the season, while the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East heads to an historic short track.
Michael Self is now two-for-two at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway after winning Saturday’s NAPA Know How 125. Self-nursed his car to the checkered flag with a flat left rear tire, finishing .952 seconds ahead of runner-up Derek Thorn and more than 20 seconds ahead of third-place Greg Pursley.
Self was able to avoid the issues that plagued his top challengers long enough to pick up his fourth career win. All of his victories have come in the last 13 races, beginning in last year's inaugural visit to the 2.5-mile road course north of Minneapolis.
As the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East heads to Bowman Gray Stadium for the NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 on Saturday, Brett Moffitt will have a score to settle with the legendary track.
Moffitt, who leads the championship standings, has found success nearly everywhere the series has gone during his career. Moffitt’s nine wins have come at eight different tracks. But in the two previous events at “The Stadium” in Winston-Salem, N.C., it’s been nothing but heartache.
Two-thirds of the way through the inaugural Bowman Gray event in 2011, Moffitt was running third before a mechanical issue on a restart resulted in a wreck. His misfortune there continued last year when he was running second at the white flag with a chance to challenge Corey LaJoie for the win, but was spun out by Darrell Wallace Jr. coming off Turn 2 and wound up relegated to a ninth-place finish.

Keeping Pace

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