March 29, 2013

Friday Feature: Remember me?

Logano, Stewart, Hamlin steal spotlight from Kyle Busch


While Joey Logano's issues with Tony Stewart and
Denny Hamlin stole the headlines, it was Kyle Busch (above)
who took the checkers and a bow after his win at Auto
Club Speedway on Sunday. (Getty)
He led 125 laps. He had the best car all day. He was the leader on the last restart and used a huge run on the outside on the final turn of the final lap to end a 31-race winless drought.

So, what was the first question posed to Kyle Busch in the post-race presser?

What happened in front of you between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin?

The truth be told, Busch likely would have passed both Logano and Hamlin on the final lap even if they hadn't done their best Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns impersonations. Busch had the high line - the fastest speeds were high all day - and zoomed by the 22 and 11 cars as they banged doors, quarter panels and bumpers. The result was a devastating injury to Hamlin, a fortunate third-place finish for Logano and a checkered-flag bow for Rowdy Busch.

"Those guys went to racing each other really hard, which is what this sport is all about and what's great about NASCAR," said Busch, whose last victory came on April 28 of last year at Richmond. "I did win the race today, by the way, so that might be a story. But I'm sure it's not."

BROADCAST (2013, Ep. 6): Fontana Fireworks


With the Easter Break approaching, Gavin and Jonathan take a look back at the fireworks that erupted in the final laps of the Auto Club 400.

March 26, 2013

PODCAST (2013, Ep. 6): Fontana Fireworks Recap

Click here to listen to this week's episode.

Jonathan and Gavin breakdown the metaphorical fireworks of Auto Club Speedway and debate a difference in status quo between NASCAR and F1.

Sliced Bread Prepares His Sandwich

Joey Logano's switch to Penske Racing paired him with a
champion, Brad Keselowski, who knows how to win. (Getty)
Joey Logano was born in 1990.

Take a minute to let that sink in, as it makes most of us, myself included, feel older than we thought we were.

He broke into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the age of 18, and his prodigious status earned him the nickname "Sliced Bread," as he was considered the best thing since it's invention.  However, his performance in the first four years of his career with Joe Gibbs Racing was anything but.

He more resembled a freezer-burned piece of bread that was tossed in the microwave to thaw and had that weird soggy/chewy combo that no one enjoys.  Logano managed just two wins in those four seasons and finished no better than 16th in the points standings.

But, he was still very young, probably too young.  By comparison, this year's top rookie of the year contender and a two-time Nationwide Series champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 25.  Logano is still just 22, and he spent a good portion of last season beating Stenhouse in Nationwide races, amassing a jaw-dropping nine wins in 22 starts (Stenhouse had six in 33).

March 25, 2013

Magic Mile Power Rankings


Week 5 - Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway

Well, has the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series gotten your attention? If not, then clearly you don't like high speeds, intense action and bitter rivalries. Sunday's race certainly had a little bit of everything, right down to a final-turn pass and a post-race scuffle.

Kyle Busch took the checkers, but it was Joey Logano that created the most fireworks, first blocking Tony Stewart on a late restart and then colliding with Denny Hamlin during a fight to the finish. It'll certainly be an interesting two weeks as the Cup Series enjoys a brief "bye week" during Easter weekend.

Here's a look at the Magic Mile Power Rankings* heading into Week 6 at Martinsville Speedway on April 7:

March 22, 2013

BROADCAST (2013, Ep. 5): Auto Club


Jonathan and Gavin discuss Kasey Kahne's status as a contender and make their predictions for the Auto Club 400.

Friday Feature: Five to Watch

Five drivers not named Jimmie with a chance to win in Fontana


Jimmie Johnson has been good, real good, at Auto Club
Speedway, but if Five Time can't find Victory Lane on Sunday,
there's five other drivers who might be just as safe a bet. (AP)
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Jimmie Johnson would be the safest bet to put your money on this weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

With five wins and 10 straight top-10s (eight of those top-fives) and a 5.4 average lifetime finish in 18-career starts, Five-Time is the most logical choice to find his way into Victory Lane in Sunday's Auto Club 400.

But, just for funsies, let's pretend that Johnson isn't an option. That you can't put this month's mortgage on the 48 Chevrolet. Instead, here's a list of five drivers that might not have the credentials of Mr. Lowe's, but just might have what it takes to lead the pack back to the checkers on the final lap:

March 21, 2013

PODCAST (2013, Ep. 5): Bristol Highlights, Auto Club Preview

Click here to listen to this week's podcast.
After listening to PRN's Highlights from Bristol, Gavin and Jonathan discuss Kasey Kahne as an elite driver, the feud between former teammates and the upcoming race in California.

FANTASY: Getting Into the Auto Club

Auto Club 400 Fantasy Preview


Jimmie Johnson has good reason to feel at
home at Auto Club Speedway. (Getty, 2010)
After a short-track at Bristol Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back west for a race on the two-mile D-oval of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.  The race marks the fifth time in five races that the series will race on a different size oval, and it will be the only race of the season in Southern California.

After this event, the Generation-6 car will have raced on a 0.5-mile oval, 1-mile oval, 1.5-mile oval, 2-mile oval and 2.5-mile oval (although not at all in that order).  Yes, indeed, if some drivers and teams were having trouble adapting to this new car, the start to the season certainly hasn't helped get in any sort of rhythm.  With the Easter break coming up next weekend, it will give teams the chance to take what they've learned at all the different track sizes and use the extra time to try and build a winner.

Here's a look this week's Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing preview for the more than 450 people playing in our "Fans of NHMS" league:

The Track

It's a long two miles around the Auto Club Speedway.  The track banks up to 14 degrees, which falls short of most standard 1.5-mile cookie cutters.  This means that despite the distance, the cars do need to keep their speed in check somewhat going into the corners, as the banking won't necessarily hold them.  Still, the length of the track gives a lot of area for the fastest cars to beat the best drivers, meaning the car is of more importance in this race.

March 19, 2013

Five Things To Like About No. 5

After two early hiccups, Kasey Kahne looks like the
title contender this writer expected him to be. (Getty)
At the beginning of the year, I made a somewhat outside-the-box prediction that Kasey Kahne would win this year's Sprint Cup Championship.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming that my prediction was for some car run by the boys at the local auto body shop, I didn't turn a lot of heads with the pick.  However, Kahne certainly wasn't considered as a clear front runner.

After two races with a 36th and a 19th-place finish, I was the one turning my head ... downward into my hands.  Two races later, I've become every bit as confident in my pick as I was when I made it.  Kahne finished second at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after having the strongest car on the day and positioned himself to take a similarly quick car to Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway this past weekend.

His past two races have got him back in contention, as he sits in seventh-place with 124 points, just four points back from fourth-place Clint Bowyer.  There are many reasons to expect that he'll continue to ascend the standings as the season goes on.

1. Hendrick Motorsports is the best team in NASCAR.

March 18, 2013

Magic Mile Power Rankings


Week 4 - Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

Cars were mangled, tempers flared and in the end there was a first-time track winner sitting in Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon.

Kasey Kahne finished what he started the week before at Las Vegas, following up a runner-up finish - in a race that he clearly had the best car - with a convincing win at the World's Fastest Half-Mile. Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski were also strong, while Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray made some noise, too. But will it be enough for them to crack the top 10, and if so, who will fall off the list?

Here's a look at the Magic Mile Power Rankings* heading into Week 5 at Auto Club Speedway (California) on Sunday:

March 15, 2013

Friday Feature: A isn't for Aberration

Almirola's strong start is no fluke


It shouldn't be a complete surprise to see the No. 43 driven
by Aric Almirola currently positioned in the top 12 in the
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series right now. (Getty)
Let's see. He's with one of the winningest crew chiefs in NASCAR today. And he's in one of the winningest car numbers of all-time.

So, no, it isn't a huge surprise that three races into the Sprint Cup Series season Aric Almirola is positioned inside the contenders for this year's Chase for the championship.

A pleasant surprise, but not a shocking one.

"We feel extremely fortunate to have had a number of very talented drivers interested in joining our organization, but ultimately we felt Aric would be the best fit for the team and for our current and potential partners," said Richard Petty after signing Almirola last year to drive his legendary No. 43. "We are really confident in his potential as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. We think Aric has all the makings to be the next bright star in our sport."

BROADCAST (2013, Ep. 4): Bristol


Gavin and Jonathan talk about the tire wear, or lack thereof, at Las Vegas and make a few questionable picks for the Food City 500 at Bristol.

March 14, 2013

PODCAST (Ep. 4): LVMS Highlights, Bristol Preview

Click here to listen to this week's podcast.
After listening to PRN's highlights from LVMS, Jonathan and Gavin talk about Matt Kenseth's tires, debate Jimmie vs. Brad, and preview the short track at Bristol.

Ready for Some Dirty, Adult Fun

Adults getting dirty and having fun.  There's nothing
wrong with that at the Renegade Playground Challenge.
In considering this post's title, I think that it might be in my best interest to remind you, reader, that this is a racing blog - not a racy blog.

If the phrases "dirty entertainment," "adult jungle gym" and "hot and sweaty foolishness" make you question the topic of this article, you've probably come to the wrong place.

Seriously, you need to stop letting your mind wander down a road which I'm not driving and return to my literal reality.

Frankly, I don't know what you might have been thinking I was referring to, and more importantly, I don't want to know.  I'm talking about the Renegade Playground Challenge, which will return to the property of New Hampshire Motor Speedway for its third year on October 12, 2013.  This 6K mud run through the parking lots and woods of the NHMS facility is exactly how I described it.

March 13, 2013

FANTASY: The Thunder Rolls

Food City 500 Fantasy Preview


Brad Keselowski won this race last spring.  At the time,
it was his second consecutive win in Thunder Valley. (Getty)
First of all, "The Thunder Rolls" by Garth Brooks ... great song.

How exactly does it relate to this weekend's race?  Well, where do I begin?

- The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rolls into Thunder Valley this weekend.
- Garth Brooks was one of the most legendary country music artists of all time.  This Tennessean track holds the same prestige and is as much of a tribute to the roots of racing, as the Nashville star is to his genre of music.
- Similar to the heartbreaking song, this paint-trader of a track has been known to dash many dreams in a moment of poor judgment.

The wreckfest that Bristol Motor Speedway is notorious for hosting might not be easy to predict an outcome, but let's take a look at the Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing gameplan and see if we can roll through the storm.

March 12, 2013

A Champion: You Have to be One to Beat One

Defending a championship is never easy, but Brad
Keselowski has looked unfazed so far in 2013. (Getty)
We've only had three races in this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, however, the debate that's raging right now is which driver has been the best to start the season: Jimmie Johnson or Brad Keselowski.

Fellow GraniteStripe.com blogger Gavin Faretra and I debated his Magic Mile Power Rankings from yesterday that put Keselowski over Johnson in the rankings.  I disagreed.

Personally, I think that Johnson with his first, second and sixth-place finishes has had the car to beat over Keselowski (fourth, fourth and third).  In each of the first two races of the season, he pulled away from Keselowski on late restarts and holds a five-point advantage in the standings.  He's also led more than twice as many laps.

Regardless of your selection, the general consensus is that they're two peas in a pod or two cars under a blanket, as a NASCAR commentator might say.  (Side note: That's gotta be one, big blanket!)  Yahoo's Power Rankings also put Keselowski over Johnson, but that writer, Nick Bromberg, along with Gavin, both seem to admit that while they've taken the Penske Racing driver first, Johnson could be considered a 1A to him.

March 11, 2013

Magic Mile Power Rankings

Week 3 - Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Three weeks in and we've already had three different drivers steer three difference Gen-6 manufacturers to Victory Lane. Matt Kenseth, who turned 41 on Sunday, celebrated in style by becoming just the third driver to take the checkers on his birthday.

It was an impressive win for Kenseth, who had a strong car the first two weeks of the season, but wasn't able to finish it off. This time, Kenseth outraced Kasey Kahne (arguably the best car on the track all day) to the finish line for his third-career LVMS victory - his first in Sin City since 2004.

Here's a look at the Magic Mile Power Rankings* heading into Week 4 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday:

March 8, 2013

Friday Feature: Five to Watch

Who's the next driver to break their winless streak?


Carl Edwards ended a 70-race winless streak last Sunday
at Phoenix International Raceway, but that wasn't the longest
active winless streak in the Sprint Cup Series. (Getty)
You could see the relief on Carl Edwards's face as he fielded questions from the media following his victory in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday.

After 70 races, Edwards found himself in position to do something he hadn't done in nearly two years: execute his trademark backflip in front of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series fans.

Now that Edwards has flipped the monkey off his back (wow, really reached for that one), there's a number of other drivers that are looking to end droughts of their own. Here are five of the longest active winless streaks in the Cup Series:

BROADCAST (2013, Ep. 3): Las Vegas


Jonathan and Gavin congratulate Carl Edwards on breaking his winless streak, preview the Las Vegas race and share news on a possible casino in N.H.

March 7, 2013

PODCAST (Ep. 3): Phoenix Recap, LVMS Preview

Click here to listen to this week's episode.
Gavin and Jonathan applaud Carl Edwards's slump-busting win with a Phoenix recap. Then, they look forward at the Gen-6 car on the cookie-cutter of Las Vegas.

March 6, 2013

FANTASY: The Vegas Business Trip

Kobalt Tools 400 Fantasy Preview


Cookie-cutter winners usually aren't big surprises. (Getty)
When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hosts the annual awards banquet in Las Vegas in late November, it's all about fun and smiles.  But, not when it visits for its annual race each March.  This early in the season, it's all about business.

The "cookie-cutter" of Las Vegas Motor Speedway will set the stage for the most abundant racetrack style on the circuit.  The teams will be hoping that a strong performance here can help parlay them into a contender to sit at the champion's table when the series returns in almost nine months.

As we do each week, let's preview the race by setting our Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing lineups for the Kobalt Tools 400.

The Track

As mentioned in the preview, the 1.5-mile tri-oval is the standard "cookie-cutter" for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  The series only races here once a season, and while statistics aren't as prominent as tracks with two races a year, the layout makes it easier to predict which drivers will succeed.  Data from other intermediate tracks can be used to help the predictions this week.

Flipping Over the World in Two Years

A lot has happened both on and off the track in the two years
since Carl Edwards last won a race. (Photo: Getty Images)
Two years.  Seventy races.  It had been a long time since Carl Edwards last won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race before this weekend's Subway Fresh Fit 500.

Perhaps it didn't seem all that long at first glance, but when I thought of how long I'd been here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and realized that I didn't have this job when Edwards last won, it began to set in.  It got me to thinking of what else has happened in our world in the 729 days since Edwards visited victory lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In the sports world, we've crowned new champions.  Politically, we've gone through the full process of a Presidential election.  And, nationally, we've dealt with the tragedy of a rash of mass shootings, the results of which have created a friction point of discussion in the U.S. Government.

I could go on, but a picture says 1,000 words, right?  If so, the below photo sequence should provide approximately 1,027 words per event, if you factor in my obligatory caption.

March 5, 2013

Magic Mile Power Rankings

Week 2 - Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway


Well, we're two weeks into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and it's been quite a ride so far. Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards have already found victory lane at Daytona and Phoenix, respectively; Tony Stewart was the lone bright spot in a rough day for Stewart-Haas Racing; and Ricky Stenhouse and Aric Almirola are pleasant surprises in a season that's been anything but ordinary, so far.

Here's a look at the Magic Mile Power Rankings* heading into Week 3 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday:

March 4, 2013

Granite Stripe Podcast Live on iTunes

The Granite Stripe Podcast went live on the iTunes Store today.  The podcast, which is posted to the Audio Gallery on the homepage of NHMS.com, may be found on iTunes by clicking here.  It can also be found in an iTunes Store search for "Granite Stripe Podcast."

It is free to subscribe to the podcast, and a subscription means that the latest podcast will be automatically downloaded upon opening iTunes.  The free software, which is compatible with both Mac and Windows, is the easiest way to stay current with the latest episodes of the Granite Stripe.

The podcast is hosted by Jonathan Stallsmith and Gavin Faretra of New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  Stallsmith is the Digital Media Specialist at NHMS and oversees the production and publication of the show.  Faretra, the Communications Manager at NHMS, selects topics for discussion and creates the rundown.

The weekly show will feature a recap on the past weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race before taking a look at the upcoming race with a preview of Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing rosters.  It will also touch on other auto racing and NHMS news.  The show will run about 30 minutes long and air each week during the NASCAR season, even if the Sprint Cup Series has a week off.

March 1, 2013

Friday Feature: Pressure to Rebound

Eight Drivers Still in the Hunt

After a terrific Speedweeks that saw Kevin Harvick (above) win
the Sprint Unlimited and the first Budweiser Duel, Happy's
quest at the trifecta ended early in the Daytona 500. (Getty)
One race does not a season make. But a slow start can put the pressure on early, and that's what faces some of the biggest names in NASCAR following their early exits in Sunday's Daytona 500.

Of the 14 drivers currently sitting 30 or more points behind the leader, Jimmie Johnson, it could be argued that eight of those pilots are Chase contenders.

So, as the Sprint Cup Series roars into Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday's Subway Fresh Fit 500, here's a look at the drivers that need to turn their season's around before the hill becomes too steep to climb:

BROADCAST (2013, Ep. 2): Phoenix


In this episode, Gavin and Jonathan discuss the most unexpected performances at the Daytona 500 and preview the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix.