Kurt Busch Takes Done to a New Level at Martinsville Speedway

Kurt Busch started the STP 500 from a disappointing 22nd starting point at Martinsville Speedway. He battled all day to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 83 races. He now has one win and is eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Battled is an understatement. He started deep in the field and at one point hit Brad Keselowski on Pit Road when several cars checked up entering their pit. Brad Keselowski came back on the track to execute payback or at the very least antagonize Kurt. Kurt Busch or should we say the new Kurt Busch wanted nothing to do with it. As well he should.

Yeah, I can’t believe he overreacted and he’s as upset as he is.  The 5 car was trying to pull into his box, Brad ran into the back of him, I steered right to go around Brad and then he clobbers our left‑side door, and it’s like, okay, accidents happen on pit road.” Busch added, “It’s congested.  It’s not a place to race, because of all the pit crew guys down there and I didn’t think much of it, and then once we were back out running, he targeted us, he was aiming for us.  He tried to flatten all four of my tires.  That’s a no‑fly zone.  That’s a punk‑ass move and he will get what he gets back when I decide to give it back.

After his contact with Brad Keselowski on pit road his car was damaged and Busch told his team the car was done. He would not be able to win the race for them. But, Busch made it into the top ten by lap 175. It was only a matter of staying there.

Busch was nothing but appreciated of the whole Stewart Haas organization and his team. He couldn’t say enough about the opportunity they and Hendrick Motorsports have given him.

Busch said, “To deliver for Gene Haas this early, it shows the potential of this team.  I know Kevin Harvick won earlier this year at Phoenix, and I think our strength this year with the Haas Automation Chevy and most of Stewart‑Haas Racing has been at the short tracks. A win like today is a great step forward.  I don’t want it to camouflage any of the work, though, that we still have to do to make our car stronger and to be more competitive week in and week out, but don’t think that I’m not going to enjoy this for one moment.

Kurt Busch has now won a race and might be locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But he knows that he might not be. It might take more than one win and it certainly will take keeping up with the competition in order to actually win the Chase.

It’s going to fill up quick, and we have to do our job on this 41 team to develop as a team and to be a bona fide chase contender when the Chase starts.” Busch added, “So we’re not going to rest on this win.  We have a long way to go, though, to get up into that top 16 in points, and once we get there, let’s keep digging.  Consistency now is what we’ll focus on.  A win is a win.  If we get a second win, that’s when I would call ourselves locked in.  But we have this consistency battle that we have in front of us, and I’m up for this challenge, especially when you have all this weight lifted on your shoulders with a win so early.

It’s great seeing Kurt Busch have early success. It will be even better to see that success translate to more success. Just like cautions breed cautions, success breeds success. This is just the beginning for Kurt Busch and Stewart Haas Racing.

Kurt Busch gets to be the sixth new winner in the 2014 season to put the winner sticker on his car. Who will be next?

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 296903 Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images

Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. Use His Momentum to Win at Martinsville?

Martinsville Speedway is one of the best tracks for Dale Earnhardt Jr. The only thing he hasn’t been able to do is win there. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will try again this weekend when NASCAR returns to the Martinsville Speedway for the STP 500.

The Martinsville Speedway is a true oval shaped track. When looked at from above it resembles a paper clip. It is .526 miles in length and it is relatively flat with only 12 degrees of banking in the corners and none on the straight away. Since it is a short track, the race is 500 laps, or 263 miles.

The driver ratings for the Martinsville Speedway are like a lot of tracks. Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers with a dominating rating of 124. Jeff Gordon, Johnson’s teammate is close behind with an equally dominating rating of 121. Denny Hamlin has a rating of 111.4 which would be impressive if not for Johnson and Gordon’s. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a good but not great driver rating of 98.9.

The collective strength of the Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne at Martinsville will prove formidable to the competition. They all do very well there.

Racing at Martinsville is as exciting as it gets. The track is not very wide leading to very close racing. This includes the tempers that go with it. Sometimes there can be the short track version of the Big One because a multiple car spin can block the whole track. The short track racing at Martinsville is always exciting.

Every seat at Martinsville is the best seat in the house. I think it’s a great place to watch a race.” Earnhardt added, “I used to go up there and watch when I was a kid. It was only an hour and a half up the road so we never missed that race. I’ve been going there forever, and I love racing there.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the best position he has ever been in at this point in the season. He loves racing at Martinsville and can have fun and win the race.

If you cannot get to Martinsville Speedway for the STP 500 it will be broadcast live on FOX, Sunday, March 30th starting at 12:30 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 284577 Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Martinsville
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 124.0
Jeff Gordon………………………… 121.1
Denny Hamlin………………………. 111.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 98.9
Tony Stewart…………………………. 98.5
Kyle Busch…………………………… 97.0
Clint Bowyer…………………………. 93.8
Kevin Harvick………………………… 92.9
Brad Keselowski……………………. 89.2
Ryan Newman……………………….. 87.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at Martinsville Speedway.

Win Locked in? Maybe Not

When the new NASCAR Chase format was announced just about everyone thought wow, win and you’re in. Looking at the history of NASCAR, rarely have there been more than 15 different race winners in a season so it only made sense that if you win a race you’re in the Chase.

Now we are five races into the season and we have five different winners. Some teams who have won have already started talking about using the rest of the races as test sessions for the actual playoffs. If this occurs we might surely have even more winners.

This is the best scenario for NASCAR fans. Who can argue about more winners? The other thing is if teams are using races as test sessions then those teams may not actually be racing. When we get near 15 different race winners then points and race wins will become important for those teams that already have won a race.

We might just see the last five races of the season become a second season as those teams who have already won a race realize they might not make it in the Chase even though they won a race. They need another win or at the very least need to be higher in points. Suddenly it becomes go time for those who are simply testing.

Regardless of what happens it is apparent that the changes that NASCAR made to qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup have made a bigger difference to the regular season then they did to the Chase itself. This is more evident in the fact that we are talking about winning, not points. It was just as boring writing about points as it is reading about points.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: HHP/Rusty Jarrett for Chevrolet


NASCAR Drivers Have a “Days of Thunder” Moment at Auto Club Speedway

In the movie Days of Thunder NASCAR rookie stock car driver Cole Trickle gets a valuable lesson from his legendary crew chief Harry Hogge. Cole was a typical hardnosed race car driver and would literally drive the rubber off his tires, hit the wall and wreck. Harry taught him that he could hold a little back in the initial run and that the competitors tires would fall off leaving him to catch up since his did not. This is exactly what we had going on at Auto Club Speedway during the Auto Club 400.

To an outside observer there was a caution due to a tire failure every 20 laps or so. One might think that there was a tire problem. There was not. It was an aggressive set up problem. NASCAR loosened up the rules such that teams could have more camber in the tires (Angle of Tire to pavement), reduced air pressure in the tires. More importantly the ride height rules have also allowed teams to have almost no spring or shocks in the front tires.

Like the movie, these adjustments can make a NASCAR Sprint Cup car faster, and also like the movie there are consequences. It takes a delicate balance to produce speed while making the tire last.

Robin Pemberton, Vice President of Competition for NASCAR explained it this way. “Last year we opened up the rules on camber for the rear end.  I would say that a year ago at this time we were early in the process, and teams were probably not as aggressive as they wound up being as the season unfolded, as they got the mechanics better in their cars and the opportunity to be able to make parts and pieces live longer now, I think they’re probably a little bit better prepared for that. So if they had too much camber — they’ve got a lot of choices, so if they had too much and it abused the tire, that’s what happens.

NASCAR fans, we need this. We need to have the drama of teams pushing the limits and getting punished for the same. We need some teams to get it just right and punish the competition. If you watched the races at AutoClub Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway, they were exciting. Something was going to happen at any minute.

The rest of the season is going to be great.  Sometimes—like this weekend—fresh tires will make a difference, sometimes they will not. Some teams will be able to make fresh tires work; others, because of their setups, will be able to make old tires work. There is a reason to watch each and every lap; not just the last 20 or so.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 296601 Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images

Matt Kenseth will Benefit from his Teammates at Auto Club Speedway

Last week NASCAR was at the Bristol Motor Speedway Coliseum for some high speed short track racing. This week NASCAR and Matt Kenseth visit the other side of the racing spectrum. This week they return to the Auto Club Speedway for the Auto Club 400.

The Auto Club Speedway is in sunny Fontana California. It is a two mile speedway with wide sweeping corners. There is 14 degrees of banking in all four turns, 11 degrees on the Frontstretch and 3 degrees on the back stretch. This track is very much like Michigan International Speedway except due to the weather, the track surface is different.

Last year at Auto Club Speedway the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth had the race covered. All three teams started the race in the top 5. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin stayed there most of the race. Matt Kenseth and his team had an up and down day but managed to finish seventh. Denny Hamlin was leading the last lap when Joey Logano wrecked him leaving Kyle Busch to go on to win the race.

Looking at the Driver Ratings it would appear that Jimmie Johnson has the field covered with his monster 119.6 rating but then comes the power of two teammates who do well sharing information. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth’s ratings of 109.2 and 105.5, the second and third best are pretty good as well.

Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth also have the second and third best average running position of 9.1 and 9.4 to Jimmie Johnson’s series best of 6.1.

Matt Kenseth has always done well at Auto Club Speedway and was disappointed that he couldn’t match his teammates performance last year. This is a drivers track and Kenseth knows what to do.

There’s a lot going on — the seams are a big deal there.  The track is really worn out so there’s a lot of fall off on the tires.” Kenseth added, “It’s definitely one that you can change your line, change your approach, find grip, lose grip, find speed and all that kind of stuff.  It’s like every track where you have to have the car right, but certainly there’s a lot of options when you go there of where you can run.

The Auto Club Speedway is Toyota Racing Development‘s home track. Matt Kenseth and the whole Dollar General Toyota team would love to win.

This race is also the first race at a large speedway where the new NASCAR Knock Out Qualifying will be used. Some of the same strategies used at the other tracks might come into play but at this track drafting down the straight away might have an advantage. Will some of the teams have teammates draft in order to get them into the next segment or perhaps the pole?

Qualifying will be shown on Fox Sports 1, Friday, March 21st starting at 7:30 PM ET. It will be shown with a delay.

If you cannot get to Auto Club Speedway for the Auto Club 400 it will be broadcast live on Sunday, March 23 on FOX starting at 2:30 PM ET. The race is 400 miles or 200 laps.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 284211 Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

Top 10 Driver Rating at Auto Club
Jimmie Johnson ……………………. 119.6
Kyle Busch …………………………… 109.2
Matt Kenseth ………………………… 105.5
Tony Stewart ………………………… 102.0
Carl Edwards ………………………….. 98.5
Jeff Gordon …………………………….. 96.2
Greg Biffle ……………………………… 95.8
Kevin Harvick …………………………. 95.5
Kasey Kahne ………………………….. 92.9
Clint Bowyer …………………………… 91.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (15 total) among active drivers at Auto Club Speedway