Fast Five: Best throwback paint schemes at Darlington

The Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington is NASCAR’s oldest crown jewel, dating back to 1950 when Johnny Mantz won with a whopping average speed of 75.25 miles per hour.

This weekend, as the speeds will approach 200, the competitors will honor the past for the third straight year during NASCAR’s throwback weekend.

Darlington Raceway began the throwback theme for their race weekends in 2015, and the event instantly became a favorite in the sport, getting bigger and better every year.

In addition to some throwback apparel and haircuts making their way through the garage area each year, the majority of the cars are sporting throwback paint schemes to the drivers of yesteryear.

Here are the best among the paint schemes for this year’s throwback weekend:

Honorable Mention:  XFinity Series Drivers Honor Legends

The cars in Saturday’s XFinity Series race, the Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200, will not race in the Southern 500, but are still honoring some of the sports’ greatest legends.

Dylan Lupton is throwing back to six-time Southern 500 winner and four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, and his classic rainbow paint scheme from the 1990s.  In the rainbow DuPont car, Gordon won four straight Southern 500s from 1995-98, including the 1997 win to clinch the Winston Million bonus.

Erik Jones pays tribute to the late Davey Allison, who drove a #28 Texaco-Havoline paint scheme in the late 1980s, including his 1987 Rookie of the Year season and a runner-up finish to his father Bobby in the 1988 Daytona 500 in a car that is also being thrown back to this weekend (see below).

Ryan Reed is honoring the late Alan Kulwicki on the 25th anniversary of his remarkable 1992 Cup Series title.  This paint scheme is from 1989, when Kulwicki drove his #7 Zerex Ford to his first career Cup win at Phoenix.

Cole Custer’s car honors two-time XFinity Series champion Sam Ard (1983-84), who died earlier this year.  Ard, who is Pamplico, S.C., near Darlington, won 22 XFinity races in just three seasons before retiring after the 1984 season due to injuries.

Jeremy Clements, who drove a family-owned car to win last week’s XFinity Series race at Road America in a huge upset, is honoring A.J. Foyt, who drove this paint scheme to victory in the 1964 Firecracker 400 at Daytona.  This car has personal meaning for Clements; his grandfather Crawford was the crew chief on Foyt’s car.

Dakoda Armstrong honors legend and local native Cale Yarborough, from Timmonsville, S.C., who won five Southern 500s and three consecutive NASCAR Cup Series titles (1976-78).  Yarborough drove this paint scheme, sponsored by Hardee’s, from 1983-87, mostly in number 28, the number of Armstrong’s car this weekend.


5.  Denny Hamlin

While all the throwbacks honor racing’s legends, Hamlin’s is unique as it honors modified racing legend Ray Hendrick.  Hendrick, from Hamlin’s home state of Virginia, is nicknamed Mr. Modified, won over 700 races, and is the all-time winner at Martinsville Speedway with 20.

4.  Aric Almirola

Richard Petty Motorsports’ #43 will honor The King with a car replicating the paint scheme he drove to his 200th and final victory on July 4, 1984 in the Firecracker 400.  Almirola has honored Petty with his throwback the last two years, but you can’t go wrong honoring the undisputed greatest living driver in the sport’s history.  This car even has the original sponsor, STP, on the throwback scheme.

3.  Three Classics from 1985-1989

The official theme for this year’s throwback weekend is the 1985-89 era, and these cars are running paint schemes from that era:

Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman are both throwing back to Dale Earnhardt’s Wrangler Chevrolet from the late 1980s, but Dillon’s is the more notable throwback as he does so in car number 3.  This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the first of three Southern 500 wins by The Intimidator, who won seven NASCAR Cup titles.

Kasey Kahne will recreate the Levi Garrett #5 Chevrolet, driven by Geoff Bodine from 1985-89 in the early years of Hendrick Motorsports, including his 1986 Daytona 500 win.  The number has since been driven by drivers including Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte, Kyle Busch and Mark Martin, all at Hendrick, but will not return in 2018 as Hendrick re-aligns its car numbers to allow Chase Elliott to drive #9, his Hall of Fame father’s old number.

Matt DiBenedetto’s #32 Ford depicts the #12 Miller High Life Buick that Bobby Allison drove to victory in the aforementioned 1988 Daytona 500.  Allison’s career also ended in this paint scheme when he was seriously injured in a 1988 crash at Pocono.

2.  Drivers Throwing Back to Themselves

Two drivers are throwing back to cars they drove in the 1990s.  (You know you’re old when…)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be making his final Southern 500 start in his #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, in the paint scheme he drove in the XFinity Series as a #3 AC Delco Chevrolet in 1998-99.  Earnhardt Jr. won two XFinity Series titles in the car, and finished 2nd in the 1998 XFinity Series race at Darlington.  He has never won the Southern 500 but finished second in 2014 and eighth in 2015 (he did not start last year due to injury).

Talk about throwbacks, how about a throwback driver!  1990 Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope, who made his Cup debut in 1982, will make his 11th Cup start of the season in a paint scheme he drove in 1994 for owner Bobby Allison, as Mane ‘n’ Tail returns as sponsor.  This is not the first time Cope has thrown back to himself, as he drove the paint scheme from his Daytona win in the 2015 Darlington XFinity Series race.  Cope has not finished higher than 31st in a race this season.

1.  Brad Keselowski 

Brad Keselowski will drive a Miller Genuine Draft Ford identical to the car Rusty Wallace drove from 1991-95, a period when he won 23 races.  Miller has sponsored the Penske Racing #2 car ever since, so the sponsor is even the same on this throwback.  Even as simple as it is, this is one of the great paint schemes in the sport’s history, and I naturally like black and gold things, so this is easily the top paint scheme of this year’s throwback weekend.

Top 10 Underrated Daytona 500s

The Daytona 500 is today, marking the sport’s biggest event as a new season gets underway from the World Center of Racing.  NASCAR is unique in that it starts its season with its Super Bowl, meaning that the driver holding the Harley J. Earl trophy Sunday night will be a winner all season long, no matter how well they run the rest of the 2015 Sprint Cup campaign.

Many people can recognize video of the great finishes at the 500, such as when Richard Petty and David Pearson crashed on the final lap and Pearson limped across the line in 1976, or when Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison’s crash led to a post-race fist fight, and Petty came from half a lap behind to win in 1979, or when Kevin Harvick beat Mark Martin by a fender while the “Big One” happened behind them in 2007, or the photo finish between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp in the very first 500 in 1959.

Other images are filed in the most memorable category, from veteran drivers finally winning the 500 after years of trying, like Darrell Waltrip in 1989 and Dale Earnhardt in 1998, to Ned Jarrett doing impromptu play-by-play while simultaneously cheering son Dale Jarrett across the line in 1993 and 1996, and Darrell Waltrip doing the same with brother Michael Waltrip in 2001, although the final lap of that 500 became more remembered for a legend lost in the final corner when Earnhardt was killed.

The 500 has also produced some major upsets, like Trevor Bayne winning his second Cup Series start in 2013, or Derrike Cope slipping past Earnhardt after The Intimidator cut a tire in the final turn in 1990, or little-known Pete Hamilton won his first race at the Speedway in 1970.

Others aren’t necessarily memorable for their winners, but other circumstances, like the jet dryer explosion in 2012 in the only Monday 500 due to rain, or Danica Patrick becoming the first female pole sitter in any NASCAR race in 2013, or the aforementioned 1979 race, also known as the first live flag-to-flag broadcast of a race.

But some 500s aren’t remembered as much as they might should be.  Whether it’s because the principles involved didn’t have names like Petty and Earnhardt, or because they have simply been slowly forgotten over time, some 500s had outstanding storylines or finishes, but are never mentioned among the greatest moments in the history of the Great American Race.

Here are the top 10 underrated Daytona 500s:

Honorable Mention:  1967: Mario Andretti
While there wasn’t anything particularly special about the racing in this 500, the mere fact that one of the Indianapolis 500’s greatest champions came to Daytona and won, albeit early in his storied career, may very well have added to the prestige of what was still at that time a very young event.  This was comparable to A.J. Foyt’s win five years later, but Mario’s came first.

10. 1986: Geoff Bodine
The race was dominated by the tandem of Dale Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine, and turned into a fuel mileage race late.  Earnhardt had to pit with three to go for a splash-and-go, but there should have still been some drama to see if Bodine could make it on fuel.  Instead, Earnhardt overshot his pit stall, then blew his engine leaving pit road.  With Earnhardt out of the picture, Bodine was able to cruise to an 11-second victory, which was owner Rick Hendrick’s first in the 500.  It was also the first of many near misses for Earnhardt before he finally won in his 20th try in 1998.  The clip of Earnhardt overshooting his pit is sometimes shown, particularly when talking about Daytona heartbreakers, by Earnhardt or overall, and is accompanied by pit reporter Chris Economaki’s line of “it looks like Mr. Bodine is gonna be the beneficiary.”


9. 2010: Jamie McMurray
The 2010 finish didn’t necessarily include too many big names, although Dale Earnhardt Jr. came from nowhere to take second on the final lap, but the late race battle between McMurray, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick saw three lead changes in the last ten laps, a period which included two cautions.  McMurray’s win was in his first appearance for what was then known as Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (now Chip Ganassi Racing), and was a popular win in the garage as McMurray is well liked by everyone.  Earnhardt Jr. came from in the teens with a few laps to go to second on the final lap with a massive run up the middle, and caught McMurray, but couldn’t pass him, part of a stretch of three runner-up finishes in four years from 2010-13 before Junior won his second 500 last year.  This race is more remembered by some for the pothole which developed in turn one which red flagged the race twice than it is for the winner.


8. 2008: Ryan Newman
The 50th Daytona 500 had a special pre-race ceremony honoring all 31 former winners of the 500, but Ryan Newman joined that group later that evening by passing Tony Stewart on the final lap to win the race.  Newman had a push from teammate Kurt Busch, and Stewart blocked them at first, before jumping to the bottom with teammate Kyle Busch.  At the time the win was Newman’s first since 2005, although he has since had a career renaissance, including a second place points finish in 2014.  This race is the biggest near miss for Stewart in the 500, which he still has not won, going into his 17th career try on Sunday.  Kurt Busch has also not won the 500 in 14 tries, although he will not be in Sunday’s race due to his recent indefinite suspension for domestic violence.


7. 1980: Buddy Baker
Before Darrell Waltrip won his first 500 in his 17th try, and before Earnhardt won his first 500 in his 20th try, there was Buddy Baker.  He went into the 1980 race attempting to win it for the 18th time, after often having one of the fastest cars during Speedweeks, driving for Petty Enterprises, Ray Fox, Bud Moore, and Cotton Owens, among others.  He came to Speedweeks in 1979 with Ranier-Lundy, and had the fastest car, which won the pole, but blew its engine in the early going of (in my opinion) the greatest Sprint Cup race in history.  A year later he had an equally fast car, winning the pole again, but this time leading 143 of the 200 laps on his way to the victory.  The race was, and still is, the fastest 500 in history, averaging 177.602 mph.  Baker held the record for most attempts before winning the race until Earnhardt won his only 500 in 1998.


6. 1960: Junior Johnson
This race isn’t necessarily known as the most exciting race ever run, but it has much more historical significance than most other 500s that have been run.  This was just the second running of the race, and the Daytona track, as well as the concept of running on a 2.5-mile superspeedway, was still in its infancy.  Johnson ran the race in a car owned by John Masoni, and although he wasn’t one of the fastest cars, he discovered that if he got directly behind another car he would run faster in their air, an idea which became the concept of drafting, a staple of Daytona racing ever since.  Johnson used his new strategy to win the race, taking the lead with nine to go when Bobby Johns spun, while Masoni went on to win six races as an owner the next two years before leaving the sport.  Johnson, of course, would go on to become an icon, being inducted into the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame after winning 50 races, and is the winningest driver to have never won a championship, only because he never ran all of the races in an attempt to.  One other note about this race is the third place finisher was a very young Richard Petty, for the first of his 11 top fives in the 500, which he won seven times.


5. 1995: Sterling Marlin
In this 500, Sterling Marlin joined Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to win back-to-back 500s, after winning it in 1994.  That win had been his first Cup Series win, as he became the first driver to win the first both of the first two races of his career in the 500.  But that’s not entirely why this race is on this list.  After Marlin passed Earnhardt for the lead with 20 to go and a caution five laps later, Earnhardt, who probably had the best car, pitted for tires, taking the gamble of fresh tires over track position.  Following the pit stop, Earnhardt was outside the top 10 with 11 to go, but stormed back to the front, looking for his first 500 win.  He reached second position with four laps to go, and tried as hard as he could to pass Marlin, but the Tennessean took the checkered flag, once again denying Earnhardt a 500 win.


4. 1963: Tiny Lund
This 500 is on the list because of its storyline.  Tiny Lund went to Daytona in 1963 to see if he could find a ride for the 500.  Marvin Panch went to Daytona to drive the Wood Brothers #21 Ford in the 500, but first ran a sports car race (what would eventually become today’s Rolex 24).  In that race, Panch was involved in a crash, and Lund, who was a friend of Panch and was watching as a spectator, ran to Panch’s burning car and pulled him out, saving his life.  Panch was injured though, and Panch asked the Woods if Lund could drive his car in the 500.  Lund did, and when Ned Jarrett ran out of gas with three laps to go, Lund took the lead, and went on to win the 500.  Lund would go on to win five career Cup Series races, before he was killed in a 1975 crash at Talladega.  The Wood Brothers would become one of NASCAR’s most legendary teams, but this was just the sixth win of their then-brief history.  They have gone on to win 98 races, including five wins in the 500, including David Pearson’s legendary win in 1976, and Trevor Bayne’s upset in 2011.


3. 2005: Jeff Gordon
Ten years ago a future Hall of Famer, Jeff Gordon, became just the fifth driver to win three or more Daytona 500s, by winning this thriller.  The drivers at the front included Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, defending race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., and defending series champion Kurt Busch.  Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, and Gordon changed the lead four times in the final nine laps.  This was at the height of the excellent period of restrictor plate racing in the mid-2000s, and many of the best at it were in the running for the win in this race.  One underdog at the front was Scott Riggs, who is winless in his Sprint Cup career, but finished fourth in this race.  This was the fifth of Hendrick Motorsports’ eight 500 wins, and is the most recent win for Gordon, who will today try to match Earnhardt Jr. for the longest time in between 500 wins with a win ten years later.


2. 1984: Cale Yarborough
This 500 should be considered one of the all-time best.  Yarborough had become the first pole sitter for the 500 to break the 200 mph barrier, and he also won his qualifying race, so when he won the 500 he joined Fireball Roberts in 1962 as the second driver to win all three in one speedweeks (the only to do all three since is Bill Elliott in 1985).  There were 34 lead changes in this 500, with the best coming on the final lap.  Yarborough passed Darrell Waltrip, who was at the time still looking for his first 500 win, on the backstretch with his “slingshot” maneuver after Waltrip had led the previous 38 laps.  The move had won him multiple races at Daytona, including the previous year’s 500 with a pass of Buddy Baker.  Hall of Famers took the top three in this race, as Dale Earnhardt got around Waltrip for the second spot, and Waltrip finished third.  Yarborough became the second back-to-back winner of the 500, and gave Ranier-Lundy (which later became Robert Yates Racing and won two more 500s) their third win in five years at Daytona.


1. 2002: Ward Burton
Although this race isn’t talked about very much today, the entire final hour of this 500 was extremely dramatic, and had multiple key moments, making this the most underrated 500 ever.  After pre-race favorites Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had early problems, “the big one” on lap 149 took out 18 more cars.  Jeff Gordon took the lead from Kurt Busch with 24 to go, and led until a restart with six to go.  A chain reaction of cars not getting up to speed quickly caused a crash in the middle of the pack, and when the caution came out, Sterling Marlin went underneath Gordon to try to take the lead while racing back to the caution flag (they did this back then).  Gordon tried to block, and was spun across the front of Marlin’s car.  Marlin and Ward Burton raced back around, with Marlin beating Burton by a nose.  While driving around, Marlin clearly had a fender rub from the contact with Gordon, and after the race was red-flagged to ensure a green-flag finish.  Marlin got out of his car and pulled the fender off the tire, illegally working on his car under the red flag, later joking in his Tennessee drawl, “I saw Earnhardt do that one time, so I thought it was alright.” (The instance he is referring to happened under the yellow, not the red flag.)  What then played out on the broadcast during the red flag was a long discussion over the penalty for working on the car under the red flag, as well as the potential of a yellow line violation when Marlin went below Gordon (drivers can’t advance their position below the yellow line that separates the track and the apron).  Marlin was sent to the rear for the red flag violation, giving Burton the lead for the first time all day.  He led the final five laps, his only five laps led, to win the 500, one of five career Cup Series wins for Burton, whose son Jeb fell just short of qualifying for this year’s 500 this week.  It was also one of five race victories for owner Bill Davis, and the first 500 win for Dodge since 1974 (although they were out of the sport for many years).  Marlin finished eighth, and Gordon finished ninth, after both had lost an excellent shot to win the 500.  This race had it all, and Michael Waltrip, who was involved in the crash with six to go, said afterward “I’ll just tell people I spun out at Daytona with five to go, and ran fifth, and that’s all the description it needs,” and broadcaster Allen Bestwick said “We have seen our share of twists and turns over the years in the Daytona 500 but this one may top them all.”  While, other than Gordon, the drivers involved didn’t necessarily have the most success, and weren’t the most popular, the drama which unfolded in this 500 was, in some ways, unmatched, and the winner was a well liked driver like Burton, so I don’t know why this isn’t remembered among the greatest of all Daytona 500s.



Daytona 500 Champions
1959 Lee Petty
1960 Junior Johnson
1961 Marvin Panch
1962 Fireball Roberts
1963 Tiny Lund
1964 Richard Petty
1965 Fred Lorenzen
1966 Richard Petty (2)
1967 Mario Andretti
1968 Cale Yarborough
1969 Lee Roy Yarbrough
1970 Pete Hamilton
1971 Richard Petty (3)
1972 A.J. Foyt
1973 Richard Petty (4)
1974 Richard Petty (5)
1975 Benny Parsons
1976 David Pearson
1977 Cale Yarborough (2)
1978 Bobby Allison
1979 Richard Petty (6)
1980 Buddy Baker
1981 Richard Petty (7)
1982 Bobby Allison (2)
1983 Cale Yarborough (3)
1984 Cale Yarborough (4)
1985 Bill Elliott
1986 Geoffrey Bodine
1987 Bill Elliott (2)
1988 Bobby Allison (3)
1989 Darrell Waltrip
1990 Derrike Cope
1991 Ernie Irvan
1992 Davey Allison
1993 Dale Jarrett
1994 Sterling Marlin
1995 Sterling Marlin (2)
1996 Dale Jarrett (2)
1997 Jeff Gordon
1998 Dale Earnhardt
1999 Jeff Gordon (2)
2000 Dale Jarrett (3)
2001 Michael Waltrip
2002 Ward Burton
2003 Michael Waltrip (2)
2004 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2005 Jeff Gordon (3)
2006 Jimmie Johnson
2007 Kevin Harvick
2008 Ryan Newman
2009 Matt Kenseth
2010 Jamie McMurray
2011 Trevor Bayne
2012 Matt Kenseth (2)
2013 Jimmie Johnson (2)
2014 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2)

2015 Daytona 500 Starting Lineup
Row 1:  Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson
Row 2:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Crafton*
Row 3:  Joey Logano, Carl Edwards
Row 4:  Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle
Row 5:  Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr.
Row 6:  Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney
Row 7:  Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson
Row 8:  Jamie McMurray, Mike Wallace
Row 9:  Landon Cassill, Justin Allgaier
Row 10:  Cole Whitt, Danica Patrick
Row 11:  Paul Menard, Ryan Newman
Row 12:  Michael McDowell, Regan Smith^
Row 13:  J.J. Yeley, David Gilliland
Row 14:  Michael Annett, David Ragan
Row 15:  Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon
Row 16:  Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Row 17:  Aric Almirola, Michael Waltrip
Row 18:  Matt Kenseth, Johnny Sauter
Row 19:  Trevor Bayne, Sam Hornish Jr.
Row 20:  Brad Keselowski, A.J. Allmendinger
Row 21:  Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin
Row 22:  Bobby Labonte
Failed to qualify:  Alex Bowman, Brian Scott, Jeb Burton, Justin Marks, Josh Wise, Ron Hornaday Jr., Joe Nemechek
*substituting for Kyle Busch

^substituting for Kurt Busch

Chase for the Sprint Cup Power Rankings

My overall rankings for the 10-race Chase.

1. Matt Kenseth.  He has 5 wins this year, with 4 coming on 1.5-mile tracks.  Half the chase races are at 1.5-mile tracks, with additional races at Talladega and Dover, good tracks for Matt.  He starts the Chase as the points leader based on those wins.  Much of the media has him as the favorite, and so do I, with Johnson’s recent struggles.

2, Carl Edwards.  Winner at Richmond, “Cousin Carl” has some momentum.  Like Kenseth, he is good at 1.5-mile tracks, Talladega, and Dover, as well as Pheonix.  If he is decent at Martinsville, expect the 99 to be in contention to win it all at Homestead.  Unlike Kenseth, and many others in this Chase, he has experienced racing at Homestead with the prospect of winning the title, finishing 2nd  twice.  That experience could put him over the top.

3. Jimmie Johnson.  A month ago it was unthinkable the 5-time champion would be this low in these rankings.  Since then, he has posted finishes of 40th, 36th, 28th, and 40th.  It should be difficult for anyone to suddenly flip a switch and be championship material again, but if anyone can do it, it’s Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.  They are very good in the Chase format, winning 5 of the 9 Chases run, with finishes of 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th in the other 4.

4. Kyle Busch.  Here’s the elephant in the room.  There are questions surrounding Kyle, as usual.  Can he be consistent enough to contend for a championship?  Is he mature enough?  Can he keep his composure in big-pressure spots if he’s in contention late in the Chase?  I have a feeling we’ll get some answers in the next 10 weeks.  Like Edwards, Busch is riding some momentum, and he’s good at Chicago, New Hampshire, and Dover, the first three tracks the Chase will visit.  After those races, we’ll know if he’s in it or not.

5. Kasey Kahne.  I was hesitant to put him this high, because he was 14th in points, reaching the Chase on a wild card berth.  Kahne, though, is another driver very good on those key 1.5-mile tracks, particularly Charlotte and Texas.  He’s also had moderate success at Phoenix, Dover, and New Hampshire.  Like Edwards, Martinsville is Kahne’s weakness among the Chase tracks.  Kahne may be the wild card in another way, as he will likely be consistent enough to contend for a title, like early in the season, or he will lack consistency and struggle down the stretch.

6. Ryan Newman.  The 39 team left Richmond thinking a late caution and a bad pit stop had cost them a wild card spot in the Chase.  Sunday, of course, they found out with the rest of us that there was more to it.  Newman could use his surprise Chase berth as a springboard to a title shot.  However, the “Achilles heel” of Stewart-Haas Racing this year has been 1.5-mile tracks, which make up half of the Chase races.  The full resources of SHR will be needed to give Newman a shot, and he will have them due to Tony Stewart’s season-ending leg injury.  Another negative, though, is that this is a “lame duck” season, as Newman announced Monday he will drive for Richard Childress Racing in 2014.

7. Joey Logano.  Like Newman, Logano just barely got in.  In fact, there is now speculation that Penske Racing may have asked David Gilliland to intentionally let Logano around to help his points situation at Richmond.  (Great, this week’s been crazy enough.)  He has some momentum, if you ignore his finish at Richmond, he had a win, 3 top fives, and 5 top sevens in the previous 5 races.  Penske Racing won the Chase last year with Brad Keselowski.  The 2 car isn’t in the Chase, so all the resources of Penske will be with Logano, not a bad thing to have.

8. Kurt Busch.  The 2004 Champion may be a dark horse in this Chase.  No one gives the single car team out of Denver a chance.  They are the first single car team and the first team based outside of NC to qualify for the Chase.  This team, however, has some help.  They have a competitive alliance with Richard Childress Racing, and after winning at Darlington in 2011 with Regan Smith, they have been poised to win all year with Kurt Busch, with a 2nd at Richmond, three 3rds, and four additional top fives.  He is a “lame duck,” but his team has probably assumed that all year.  Expect him to win a race or races in the Chase; we shall see if the underdog team can contend at Homestead.

9. Kevin Harvick.  Some writers have him among their top 3, and a couple even have him winning the title.  I’ll be different, and coin a new term, as he may be the “lamest duck.”  Harvick has been at Richard Childress Racing since 2001 (2000 if you count Nationwide), and is leaving for Stewart-Haas Racing at season’s end.  In six previous Chase apperances, he has finishes of 3rd (twice), 4th (twice), 8th, and 10th.  He has shown some consistency, but he only has 6 top fives on the year.  I don’t see that as strong enough to contend for the title.

10. Clint Bowyer.  I just can’t see someone with as crazy a week as Bowyer has had going to Chicago and doing well.  There also must be some negative momentum, not just from the Richmond incident but also from a couple of poor finishes.  Also, after Jeff Gordon got the short end of the stick in the MWR penalties (he’s still not in the Chase), and considering the two have a history, there could be some fireworks (who knows).  On the bright side, Bowyer is good at the first three tracks In the Chase:  Chicago, New Hampshire, and Dover.

11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Junior has had a pretty good year, other than the fact he hasn’t found the winner’s circle.  He was, of course, leading big at Michigan when he blew an engine.  Consistency has been an issue this year, not just for Junior, but for all of Hendrick (never thought I’d say that).  In five previous Chase apperances, his best finish is 5th, but not since 2004 and 2006.  His best Chase finish in three appearances while at Hendrick is 7th.  I don’t see anything here to suggest he will be a contender for the title.

12. Greg Biffle.  Biffle struggled for much of the regular season, as did all of the Fords, but put together enough good finishes to make the Chase.  “The Biff” did finish 2nd in 2005 and 3rd in 2008, but has never really been close enough to taste the champagne.   He won at Michigan in June, but his best finish since the win was 8th, and at a road course.  Out of the 8 races at tracks that are featured in the Chase, he had only one top ten finish, and that was a Martinsville, a track he traditionally struggles at.  The signs don’t look promising for the veteran to contend late into the Chase.

Chase Schedule: 9/15 Chicago, 9/22 New Hampshire, 9/29 Dover, 10/6 Kansas, 10/12 Charlotte, 10/20 Talladega, 10/27 Martinsville, 11/3 Texas, 11/10 Phoenix, 11/17 Homestead

Clint Bowyer Addresses Richmond Incident on ESPN

Clint Bowyer appeared on ESPN’s SportsCenter this morning to address the situation which occurred with him and his Michael Waltrip Racing team last Saturday at Richmond.  Here is the interview:

Just a few thoughts in reaction to this:

The interview begins with conversation about Bowyer’s phone call to Ryan Newman to apologize.  The phone call was a nice gesture by Bowyer, and he’s right that most situations in NASCAR are addressed with a phone call (at least as far as I can tell; I’ve never been a racecar driver).

He adds, of course, that the only time he didn’t make a phone call was last year (the Jeff Gordon incident).  Thanks for bringing that up, Clint.  In fact, if he called to apologize to Newman, Jeff Gordon should have also been called, regardless of their history, and been apologized to, because the caution hurt him almost as much as it did Newman.

After ESPN plays an audio clip of a Ryan Newman interview, Bowyer is asked if he is admitting to spinning on purpose, to which he replied, “No, no, let’s not dig too much into this.” What?  If you called him to apologize but won’t admit your guilt, then what are you apologizing for?  If it had been an accident, an apology wouldn’t be necessary.  If he had committed a crime, he couldn’t just say to the police, “Let’s not dig too much into this.”  That wouldn’t work.

He also acts as if he’s tired of hearing about it and dealing with it.  That’s the price you pay; the perpetrator of an incident doesn’t get to decide how long and how intensely it is talked about.

He is asked again, after apologizing on air to the fans, what he is apologizing for, and he completely avoids answering the question:  “Anytime…well…you think…I went from leading the race to in the middle of a…a disaster.  [I’m] extremely disappointed in the way the race was, and how it…I could’ve just as easily been in victory lane.  You know it’s…a…it’s a bad deal, and…bad deal all the way around for MWR;  again, we’ve been penalized for this, we stand by our actions, we own up to them, and we’re gonna get through this together and move on.”


He then says when asked about those who perceive he spun out intentionally that he’ll “earn their fan base back”, as he started his career with nothing, and is “not scared to do it again.”  Of course, he never had some people like me in his fan base to start with, and the respect that I once had for him, I lost during the Jeff Gordon rivalry and brawl last year.  He had gained it back somewhat, but now it’s completely gone.  I’m not talking about being part of his fan base; I’m talking about respect.  I respect just about every driver out there, but no longer Clint Bowyer, both because of the incident, and his reaction.

Ricky Craven comes in, and says he felt NASCAR did a great job.  I disagree.  Anyone doubting my stance on that should read “NASCAR Penalties for MWR Debacle” on this blog.  But then Craven goes on to question Bowyer directly, and the next 5 minutes or so of video were worth watching.

Craven suggests one option for closure would be for Bowyer to apologize in the driver’s meeting Sunday at Chicago.  That would be a great step, since it’s about as close to an admission as we’ll get from Bowyer, and it would bring closure, at least as far as the drivers go (the fans may never have closure, just because that’s how these things go, in all sports).

Craven tells Bowyer “I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt,” which is one part of the interview I could do without, but then he goes on to question Bowyer on his credibility.  Bowyer admits that “of course” he will have to regain his credibility, which in my eyes means that he at least acknowledges, albeit indirectly, that some people see what he did as wrong.

In closing, Craven mentions fans who may have spent large amounts of money to fly to Richmond and buy race tickets, only to feel like “they got robbed” when Bowyer spun out (and also with the Vickers pit situation that isn’t mentioned in the video, likely only because Bowyer, not Brian Vickers or Ty Norris, is being interviewed).  Craven suggests this story is bigger than himself or Clint Bowyer or any one individual, but instead about the overall integrity of the sport.  Well said.

NASCAR Penalties For MWR Debacle

Just a few opinion points on the issue surrounding the intentional spin by one car from Michael Waltrip Racing and the unnecessary pit stops by another all in an effort to get Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Keep in mind as you read my opinion that I am trying to stay relatively objective but I am also a lifelong Jeff Gordon fan.

For anyone unaware of the penalties I’m about to comment on, each MWR car (15, 55, 56) was penalized 50 driver points and 50 owner points in the standings after the Richmond race (not the reset Chase standings).  This penalty pushed Martin Truex Jr. from 12th in points (in position for the second wild card) to 17th, moving Ryan Newman, who was leading the race at the time of Bowyer’s spin, and in position “as they ran” to claim the wild card spot, into the chase.  The organization was also fined $300,000 and Executive VP/GM Ty Norris was suspended indefinitely (the pit stops issue was directed by him on the 55 radio).

1.  Clint Bowyer started this whole thing with the intentional spin.  Mike Helton said there was not conclusive evidence that the spin was intentional, but if you watch the in-car feed, listen to the audio, and watch the interviews with both Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who was directly behind the 15 car at the time of the spin), there’s plenty of evidence.  I won’t call it conclusive, but I’m pretty convinced something suspicious happened to that racecar.

Yet, Clint Bowyer is the driver among the MWR camp least penalized by these sanctions.  His spot in the chase was not in doubt all summer, and he had finished the regular season in 3rd.  The 50 points hurt his regular season standing, but that placement has absolutely no effect on the points reset that starts the Chase.  The seeding is determined by bonus points accumulated from wins, not from points position.  How is this fair to the field, to the sport, and its fans that the catalyst for one of the biggest scandals the sport has ever seen is still in a pretty good spot to potentially win the championship.

A few minutes ago, ESPN accidentally showed a graphic which had the 50-point penalty included in the Chase seeding, which put him 65 points behind Matt Kenseth.  Although the graphic was incorrect, I didn’t see it as such a bad idea.

2.  Martin Truex Jr. was totally innocent.  Did he benefit from the actions of his teammates?  Absolutely.  Was he involved in the manipulation by MWR? No.  After the race, he told multiple reporters he had no clue whether or not Bowyer’s spin was intentional.  And, at that time, no one had yet connected the dots on the Vickers pit stops during the final 3 laps.  He was simply the beneficiary of the actions of MWR.  I certainly understand handing down organizational punishment, but it’s not fair to penalize Truex (and NAPA) for the actions of others.  He should’ve been left in the Chase, and Newman should’ve been added in addition to Truex.  That would’ve made the most since to me.

Then again, Doug Rice said at one point during PRN’s coverage of the announcement that (I’m paraphrasing) there was no possible way for NASCAR to make everybody happy here.  True.

Jeff Gordon, who should be the most disappointed with the announcement (keep reading) tweeted “Feel bad for Truex.  He got in under controversy now out due to it.”  He goes on to say “But the guy who started all of this not effected at all??? Don’t agree!”  Well said, Jeff, referencing both Bowyer’s lack of penalty and Truex’s over-penalization.

3.  That being said, Jeff Gordon is still not in the Chase.  That one point he lost at, well, any of the 26 races cost him what would’ve been his ninth Chase berth in the ten years of the Chase era.  Actually, he really lost by two because in the event of a tie, Joey Logano would still be in because of his win at Michigan, whereas Gordon is winless this year.

When asked tonight about why Newman got in the Chase, but Gordon did not, Mike Helton said that (again, paraphrasing) NASCAR could react to what occurred, not to the ripple affect of what occurred.

Here’s what occurred: Brian Vickers pitted as the field took the green on the final restart with 3 laps to go, after being directed to do so by the aforementioned Ty Norris.  Vickers was surprised he was being called in to pit, even saying “Are you talking to me?” and “I don’t understand, pit right now?”  Norris responded, saying “You’ve got to pit this time, we need that one point.”  After the stop, Norris told Vickers “Brian, I owe you a kiss.”  Helton said that Vickers’ confusion (and Norris’ response) was the smoking gun.  (Not his words, credit to Jenna Fryer of the AP on Twitter).  Bowyer was also reported to have stopped after the final restart.

The direct result, not the ripple effect, was Joey Logano passing Vickers and Bowyer as they pitted, and gaining 2 positions on the racetrack and 2 corresponding points in the standings.  Two paragraphs ago, I referenced how Gordon needed 2 points at any point in the season.  There they are; those 2 points Logano gained got him in.

That was the direct result to what occurred, as Helton put it.  I don’t know what on earth the “ripple effect” was.  Jeff Gordon isn’t sure either, as he tweeted “Someone explain the “ripple effect” to me?”  Gordon’s wife, Ingrid, seemed more upset Ripple effect is when first guy causes something and gets no penalty.  Every driver effected by that first move gets screwed!”

I am in no way, form, or fashion upset with Joey Logano.  It wouldn’t be fair to penalize him for the actions of another team.  I’m frustrated, as a Jeff Gordon fan, and as a fan of the sport in general, that one of its greatest champions was cheated out of a chance at his 5th championship.

38% of readers of a Bleacher Report article I will reference momentarily said the best option was to have a 14-driver Chase, given the special circumstances, adding Gordon and Newman, as the best compromise.  Just a thought.  Another thought: did Mike Helton think that it would severely damage the integrity of the Chase to have 13 or 14 drivers?  I don’t know, but it certainly damages the integrity of the Chase to have this situation resolved like this.

NASCAR surely doesn’t want a black eye over its sport going into its championship run.  Unfortunately, due to the actions of an organization, I don’t think that’s possible.  As I mentioned earlier, nothing could have made everybody happy.

For complete details of the all-out manipulation of the Richmond race, here is an article published by Bleacher Report before the penalties came out that called my attention to how severe this manipulation was by MWR:

As a fan, not as a blogger, I earlier tweeted the following:  “If NASCAR forgets about my driver (Gordon), maybe I’ll forget about them 4 a while.  Sorry ESPN 4 my NFL viewership this Sunday.”  I don’t know yet if I’ll take my displeasure with NASCAR to that extent yet; I’ll decide that on Sunday.  There’s some NFL games that my catch my attention, or perhaps the Braves will be in a position to clinch (the magic number is 8).

One final thought:  when I learned NASCAR was calling a news conference for 8:15 tonight, I knew it was something big.  NASCAR usually waits until Tuesdays to announce penalties but they were making their announcement right in the middle of a pretty big football game, 12 hours early.  In the end, however, I’m not sure it was big enough.

Stay tuned later in the week for my Chase prediction rankings, drivers 1-12.