Sunday, February 28, 2016

Johnson ties Earnhardt on career win list

On the first official race of 2016 under NASCAR’s new low-downforce package, there weren’t a lot of drivers leading the field at the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
But when those who did were engaged in the battle, it proved worthy of the race fan’s attention.
Try to ride comfortably? You risk getting blown away by the rest of the field. Mash the gas, risk losing your tires a lot sooner in a race run.
In the end, Jimmie Johnson made history in a wild finish, coming away with his 76th career victory to tie Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all-time career list. And in the most appropriate moment of the season so far, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the runner-up.
Johnson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports tweeted: “Congrats to my friend and teammate @JimmieJohnson on tying my father today in Cup wins. Proud to have ran 2nd on this momentous occasion.”
Not only was Johnson’s win momentous, but the racing was pretty darn awesome, too.
Although only eight drivers led laps at Atlanta, there were 28 lead changes among them. Passing was plentiful and caution flags were few, requiring pit crews to be on their quickest with the stops and crew chiefs to pay close attention to tire wear.
No yellow flags came out until lap 211. The second caution wasn’t until lap 324 for a Ryan Newman spinout, one lap short of the official distance.
Enter NASCAR’s new overtime rule. Once Johnson got past the official overtime line off the final restart, the race was over.
And the field didn’t get to the checkered flag before Johnson could take the white flag due to a four-car accident back in the pack. It left some fans up in arms, but the rule had to be put in place mainly because of the controversy surrounding restart issues on the green-white-checkered attempts of last season.
With Johnson’s win putting him in more elite company than ever before, it begs for truly legitimate questions. Will he get a seventh championship? Will he reach 100 wins?
Under the new Chase format, winning titles is the most difficult it’s been in NASCAR history. It’s not about riding around for maximum points anymore. Winning is rewarded handsomely, as Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick can certainly attest with their Sprint Cup crowns of the last two seasons.
There’s also good news and bad news about Johnson’s quest for 100 wins. The good: He got to No. 76 in his 509th career start, and that averages out to a win every 6.6 times Johnson gets in a race car.
The bad: Johnson is 40 years old and will hit 41 in September.
While the native of El Cajon, Calif., hasn’t gone winless in any of his 15 seasons as a Sprint Cup driver, time and normal wear and tear have a way of catching up to everyone.
Look no further than now-retired Jeff Gordon. Gordon may have 93 career wins, but he was shut out of the win column three times in his 23 seasons (1993, 2008, 2010) and was 44 when he stepped out of the car for the final time in 2015.
There haven’t been any rumblings about Johnson’s future yet or any signs he’s slowed his competitive pace. He led the fewest laps (558) of his career since 2005, but still won five races last season.
But none of us know what will really happen. As long as Johnson keeps winning, what’s to stop him from reaching for the highest heights possible?
Only Johnson himself – not fans, not social media, not media who cover the sport – will determine his place in the history of the sport.
Right now, Johnson’s place is heading toward the stratosphere. Let’s sit back, watch and enjoy it.
Tom Zulewski will be at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the 12th consecutive year starting Friday for the Boyd Gaming 300 and Kobalt 400. Follow him on Twitter @Tomzsports.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile D-shaped oval).
-SPRINT CUP: Kobalt 400, Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, Fox (check local listings). Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local PRN affiliate.
Race distance: 400.5 miles, 267 laps.
2015 champion: Kevin Harvick
-XFINITY SERIES: Boyd Gaming 300, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT, Fox Sports 1 (check local listings). Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local PRN affiliate.
Race distance: 300 miles, 200 laps.
2015 champion: Austin Dillon
-CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: Off until April 2 at Martinsville Speedway.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Race lineup for Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500

Not much to be said with this entry except: Below and here is the link to the running order for Sunday's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway...
One interesting note: Kyle Busch was the original pole winner, but his qualifying time was disallowed. He'll be starting from the rear of the field, which has only 39 cars.
Going to be fun watching Kyle zip through the field. He won a race at Las Vegas (where the series heads next week...yay!) after starting from the back, so we know it can happen.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hamlin makes hearts skip a beat with Daytona win

Now that’s a way to start a NASCAR season.
Whether you watched Jeff Gordon make his debut with Darrell Waltrip and Mike Joy in the Fox TV booth or listened to the call via MRN on Sunday, what we saw in the Daytona 500 was special.
Denny Hamlin looked like he didn’t have enough left in the No. 11 FedEx Toyota to get his first victory in the Great American Race. Matt Kenseth, for all his struggle to get to the front after switching to a backup car, had his third career 500 win (2009, 2012) well within reach.
But when Hamlin got the push he needed from Kevin Harvick on the final lap and made the move that left Kenseth to fade back, the race to the finish was on.
And what a finish it was.
Hamlin, who was fourth as the field headed to Turn 3, somehow won the drag race to the line with Martin Truex Jr. and won his first Daytona 500. It was the first for Toyota and the final margin was a microscopic one-hundredth of a second.
Actual distance: 12 inches. And that may be too high of an estimate to the naked eye.
Not only did Hamlin win, he basically grabbed it from Truex Jr. over the final 100 feet, if even that much. Beating and banging without wrecking.
This was easily one of the best Daytona 500s in a long, long time. The finish was even closer than Harvick’s win by just .02 over Mark Martin in the 2007 race.
Hamlin admitted in his post-race news conference that he had no idea how he pulled the win off. Once he was able to get past Kenseth – one of his teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing – with a move to the inside that had serious potential to cause a huge wreck, it was gas-mashing time.
And Truex Jr. was the latest to be on the receiving end of heartbreak from another exhilarating Daytona 500 finish.
As the now-retired Jeff Gordon said in his debut broadcast with Fox on the finish, “I’ve got chills up my spine. That was amazing.”
It was the perfect capper to a Speedweeks that was chock full of storylines.
Rookie Chase Elliott, who replaced Gordon in the No. 24, won the pole last week, but couldn’t avoid the infield grass early. He ended up 37th, 40 laps down.
The consensus in the garage was that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the car to beat, but he got into an infield wall with 30 to go and finished 36th.
Despite qualifying on the outside pole and leading 40 laps, Kenseth ended up 14th when his block on Hamlin backfired.
Add in the challenges with the new charter system, fields limited to 40 cars, and a competitive Sprint Cup rookie class, and we’re just getting warmed up for the season to come.
The new low-downforce package is in play when the series gets to Atlanta next weekend. It will be intriguing to see how it performs on a mile-and-a-half track.
And after that, it’s Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the Kobalt 400 on March 6. It will be my 12th straight year covering the racing there, and I can not wait.
There are fun times and a fun season ahead. If you choose to call the racing boring, that’s your business, but it’s about time to push the focus on the positive.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter, @Tomzsports.
Atlanta Motor Speedway (1.54-mile quad-oval), Hampton, Georgia
-SPRINT CUP: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, Fox (check local listings). Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local PRN affiliate.
Race distance: 500.5 miles, 325 laps.
2015 champion: Jimmie Johnson
-XFINITY SERIES: Heads Up Georgia 250, Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET/10:30 a.m. PT, Fox Sports 1. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local PRN affiliate.
Race distance: 250.25 miles, 162 laps.
2015 champion: Kevin Harvick
-CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: GreatClips 200, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. PT, Fox Sports 1. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local PRN affiliate.
Race distance: 200 miles, 130 laps.
2015 champion: Matt Crafton.