Monday, October 31, 2016

Cruz Pedregon's wild ride

As the first round of Funny Car eliminations unfolded in the NHRA Toyota Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Cruz Pedregon wasn’t really going anywhere. No chance at the championship, just going out and giving his best to win rounds.
Pedregon would have no idea what he was up against when he faced Robert Hight.
While Hight had issues of his own as he smoked the tires at the starting line, Pedregon’s Snap-on Tools car inexplicably decided to become airborne.
At about 300 feet, the car turned into a motorcycle and popped its entire front end into a “wheelie” position. Somehow, the back tires held on to the ground until after Pedregon crossed the finish line to earn the round win.
Pedregon was OK afterwards, but there were moments where his life certainly flashed before his eyes as the front end of his car lifted toward the Las Vegas sky.
“I was thinking two thoughts,” Pedregon said. “Maybe this is what it’s like to go to the other side … it’s quiet, it’s blue, it’s pretty, silent, peaceful, then I thought I might be doing a wheel stand right now.
“Then I was thinking I hope I don’t land pointed in the wrong direction.”
Fortunately, he didn’t. Pedregon landed straight and safely, but the wheelie bar broke on the car and he couldn’t continue in spite of winning the round.
NHRA rules don’t allow drivers to use backup cars if the primary one wrecks.
“I’m just happy I didn’t get into Robert’s lane and I’m sitting here talking about it,” Pedregon said. “As much as I love these cars and I love racing, they go fast and things can happen in a hurry.”
The total run in a Funny Car is four seconds and less. That’s lightning-quick time to react when things happen.
Afterwards, Pedregon walked along the return road to salute the fans and let him know he came out of the moment in one piece and still standing. They responded with a standing ovation.
“These cars are built right, but I wanted the fans to know I was OK,” Pedregon said. “The car stood longer than the Wright brothers first flew in the air. I had to think about what might happen for 600, 700 feet. Even though it was a few seconds, I was thinking ‘please, land right.’”
For those of us who witnessed it at the track, the moment was a thrill we’ll never forget.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @TommyZee81 or @Tomzsports. Email him at

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Round of 8 set...where did the competition go?

The Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday was a typical Chase race -- Halloween theme not withstanding. We knew there would be four more drivers eliminated, and some of them ended up being serious surprises.
Brad Keselowski looked like he drove for all he was worth. The No. 2 led 90 of the 188 laps, but didn't count on the engine collapsing under the weight of the Chase and the expectations that come with it.
The car didn't perform, so BK's dreams of a second Sprint Cup went away with it. He finished 38th.
Martin Truex Jr. -- he of the on-fire mode with two wins in the first round (Chicago, Dover) -- never had a chance to advance when his engine quit at lap 41.
Any thought of contention vanished after that as Truex would finish 40th.
Such is life in the Chase. Some go all out, others just stay out and survive. All four Joe Gibbs Racing cars did what they had to do and moved one step closer to turning Homestead-Miami Speedway into their own backyard brawl.
Denny Hamlin was the best finisher at Talladega, and his third-place run was just barely good enough to grab the final transfer spot to the round of 8. He ended up tied with Austin Dillon (who finished ninth) and won out on the basis of his Talladega finish. Dillon's best of the second round was a sixth at Kansas, so his dreams are done,
Matt Kenseth had more than enough cushion to advance and did so in spite of finishing 28th on Sunday. He was 10 points ahead of Dillon and Hamlin.
Kyle Busch was even worse in 30th, but he was good enough to get by as well. His final margin came in at plus-6.
And Carl Edwards -- still without Twitter -- was sandwiched between his teammates in 29th. He was four points clear in the end and will continue his quest for the crown.
As things shook out, NASCAR did not penalize any of the JGR cars for the "100 percent effort" rule. Apparently, they did enough and earned their participation pass to the Round of 8.
-What in the world is Kevin Harvick thinking? Post-race pictures from Talladega appeared to show him going after teammate Kurt Busch following their runs Sunday. Harvick already had his win at Kansas to get him through to the next round, and Busch ended up fourth, good enough to finish second in the standings, one point behind Jimmie Johnson.
But apparently Harvick had an issue with a post-race bump Busch gave him on track. It carried over to pit road, and let's just say things will be interesting going forward.
Harvick and Busch are the only other multiple drivers for one team in the Round of 8. Joey Logano -- Sunday's race winner -- and Jimmie Johnson are on their own as they go after the title.
Onward and upward.
-As for the other race of the weekend at Talladega, the Camping World Truck Series had its first elimination of two drivers after the Fred's 250. There were no surprises.
Non-Chaser Grant Enfinger won the race, and Timothy Peters was the highest-finishing Chaser in third. Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek were in must-win mode, but didn't come close.
Hemric finished 11th whilie Nemechek lost an engine after just 13 laps and ended up dead last in 32nd.
William Byron was the only Chaser to win a race in the Round of 8 (New Hampshire), and he'll be joined by teammate Christopher Bell (Kyle Busch Motorsports), Peters, Ben Kennedy, Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton.
Crafton already has two championships on his resume in the truck series, but he knows full well getting No. 3 in the bag will be a wholly different experience.
Will he need to win to advance to Homestead? It will be nice, but pushing too much onto the plate too soon can backfire.
Just ask Keselowski and Truex on the Cup side what that's like. It's certainly not pretty, but that's why this system works.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @TommyZee81 or @Tomzsports. Email He'll be heading to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the NHRA Toyota Nationals final eliminations this Sunday.
Martinsville Speedway (.526-mile oval), Martinsville, Virginia.
-SPRINT CUP: Goody's Fast Relief 500, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, NBC Sports Network. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 500 laps, 263 miles.
2015 champion: Jeff Gordon
-CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: Alpha Energy Solutions 200, Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET/10:30 a.m. PT, Fox Sports 1. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 200 laps, 105.2 miles
2015 champion: Matt Crafton
-XFINITY SERIES: Off until Nov. 5 for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway.

Monday, October 17, 2016

While we were away...

Yeah, it's been two weeks since something's been posted on this blog. Between my high-school class reunion and real-life, gotta-get-paid-somehow responsibility (such a concept...I know), I've been a total slacker around here for you, the race fan. That sucks.
Time to get the car out of the garage from its repairs and get back in the game. Here's what I missed.
On the Sprint Cup side of the ledger, the Round of 12 opened with Jimmie Johnson -- you remember him, right? Mr. Six-time Champ? -- winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Bank of America 500, which became a daytime race due to the Hurricane Matthew rainout.
Johnson won for the 78th time in his career and earned his spot in the Round of 8 for the first time. In his quest to join Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with title No. 7, the "new" Chase has been his undoing in the last two years.
In 2014, Johnson was 40th at Kansas, 17th at Charlotte, and 24th at Talladega and was gone in Round 2.
Last year, Johnson was gone after the opening round thanks to a 41st-place finish at Dover.
There are no worries now. So far, with the Chase halfway done, Johnson has been 12th, eighth, seventh, first at Charlotte (for the first time since the 2014 Coca-Cola 600) and fourth at Kansas.
Everything will start from zero at Martinsville next weekend, but there seems to be a sense that Johnson has finally gotten his Chase groove back. Be watchful of him the rest of the way.
Kevin Harvick is the second driver to join Johnson in the "semifinal" round of the Chase after he held on to win at Kansas.
In the weirdest of coincidence, both Johnson and Harvick qualified 11th and came away with victories. If it happens again Sunday at Talladega, we can say Halloween came a full week early because NASCAR's biggest track carries enough weirdness in it already.
Among those on the bubble, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon are in a flat-footed tie for the final transfer spot. Denny Hamlin is only six points behind and Brad Keselowski sits seven off the pace.
Will any of them break through and advance? I can honestly say I have no idea.
Logano, Hamlin and Keselowski all have wins at Talladega. If Dillon breaks through, the ghost of Dale Sr. will certainly rejoice.
And as for Chase Elliott, it's Victory Lane or bust. He's 25 points behind.
For the XFINITY Series, they're on a three-week break with the Chase field already down to the Round of 8.
The first two races had actual series regulars earn victories -- Elliott Sadler at Kentucky and Daniel Suarez at Dover -- but Cup regulars have won the last two since. Logano ruled Charlotte and Kyle Busch (yawn) dominated again at Kansas.
For the season, the owner of 85 wins in the No. 2 series has nine this season in 16 starts. Here are some more stats that have fans up in arms and thumbing their noses at Saturday races.
Busch has started from the pole in seven of the nine races he's won in 2016. He's led a mind-blowing 67 percent of the laps he's run -- 1,862 out of a possible 2,795.
In total, Sprint Cup regulars have won 19 of the 30 XFINITY races on the season.
While it's nice that no Cup regulars will be allowed to compete in the season finale at Homestead, NASCAR is taking a much harder look at how it can limit the number of XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series races they can compete in starting in 2017.
As NASCAR vice president Steve O'Donnell said on SiriusXM radio Monday, "We’ve heard the fans … They like seeing those drivers come up through the ranks and it’s our job to make sure that Xfinity is the name where names are made."
It's about time it's being addressed. O'Donnell added an announcement on any potential changes is still to come.
Kansas was the first race of the Round of 8 in the XFINITY Chase, and Sadler and Suarez are tied for the top spot. We'll talk about the rest of the field in greater depth after they run at Texas.
The Camping World Truck Series has been idle since Tyler Reddick denied BK Racing teammate Daniel Hemric and won at Las Vegas. Heading to Talladega, Hemric is in absolute must-win mode as he sits 15 points behind Johnny Sauter for the last transfer spot to the Round of 6.
John Hunter Nemechek is tied with Hemric, but the task isn't quite as daunting as it may seem. The distance to fourth-place Ben Kennedy is only 18 points, and it's 25 to second-place Christopher Bell.
The right moves will make all the difference. The wrong ones will lead to the end of a championship dream.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @TommyZee81 or @Tomzsports. Email
Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile D-shaped oval), Talladega, Alabama
-SPRINT CUP: Alabama 500, Sunday, 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, NBC Sports Network. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 500 miles, 188 laps.
2015 champion: Joey Logano
-CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: Fred's 250 powered by Coca-Cola, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, Fox. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 250 miles, 94 laps.
2015 champion: Timothy Peters.
-XFINITY SERIES: Off until Nov. 5 for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Reddick rules roost, wins Trucks race at Vegas

It had been 16 months since 20-year-old Tyler Reddick found his way to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. As the calendar turned to October at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it took holding off a teammate with championship dreams to make sure the winning feeling could finally return.
Reddick led 70 laps and kept Brad Keselowski Racing teammate Daniel Hemric at bay to win the DC Solar 350 on the 1.5-mile oval, his first since Dover last May. Hemric, who was looking for a victory to push himself into the next round of the inaugural Chase, finished second, 1.4 seconds behind.
“We really didn’t qualify like I thought we were going to,” said Reddick, who started 16th and got to the front for the first time at Lap 33. “The wind was moving around quite a bit and gusting the wrong way for us. … It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
Reddick lost the lead briefly to Cole Custer – another non-Chase driver – after the race’s third and final restart at Lap 99, but quickly regained it and stayed on the point for the final 44 laps. Crew chief Doug Randolph said the 1-2 showing for Reddick and Hemric was invaluable.
“It was a big boost for our organization,” Randolph said. “We haven’t gotten the finishes we’ve wanted all year, but both trucks have run very well and led laps. The wins and top-5s haven’t quite been there, but Tyler and his whole team just don’t give up.”
Reddick failed to qualify for the Chase, but it never showed as the No. 29 truck got a clutch effort from the pit crew that was fastest in the field throughout the night.
“The pit crew really shined tonight and got us good pit stops for track position,” Reddick said. “Even when they struggled, they bounced back. They knew they were going to do really good, had the confidence, and performed well.”
Between Reddick and Hemric, the pair combined to lead 108 of the 146 laps. With one race left before the first elimination happens at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 22, Hemric is tied with John Hunter Nemechek, 15 points behind Johnny Sauter, who holds the final transfer spot into the next Chase round.
Custer, Ben Kennedy and points leader William Byron – who won the opening race of the Chase at New Hampshire last week and has six victories on the season – completed the top five.
NOTES: Of the race’s three cautions, two were used as a result of the 20-minute caution clock expiring. The winner’s average speed was 143.163 mph. … Reddick came from the second-deepest starting position to win a Camping World Truck Series race at Las Vegas. Shane Hmiel started from 21st when he won in 2004. … Timothy Peters won the pole and Matt Crafton started outside on the front row after qualifying held earlier in the day as temperatures hit the low 90s. Crafton ended up eighth and Peters finished ninth. … Among the drivers in the Chase, Nemechek was the worst finisher in 16th.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @TommyZee81 or @Tomzsports. Email him at

Truex wins again, first four eliminated

After all the rain fell at Dover International Speedway over the course of the weekend, the first elimination race of the 2016 Chase had the look and feel of ... mystery.
With a green track, it didn't give off a clear advantage to one particular team, especially with limited practice time.
When the Sprint Cup race -- the Citizen Soldier 400 -- rolled around, Martin Truex Jr. sounded off loud and clear his championship aspirations.
Truex won for the second time in his career at his "home" track -- he calls Mayetta, N.J. home -- and won for the second time in the first round of the Chase.
The results speak volumes how the one-car team with the Joe Gibbs Racing technical alliance is planning on being a major factor.
In picking up his fourth win of the year (matching Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch at the top of the charts), Truex led 187 laps, including 106 of the final 114.
Chase time is definitely winning time, and Truex is getting pretty good at giving himself a chance as a title contender. Last year, he won at Pocono and stayed consistent to reach the Championship Four. As we head to Round 2 this week, who knows how many more races the 78 will win?
We're heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Truex absolutely demoralized the rest of the field, leading 392 of the 400 laps to win the Coca-Cola 600. It's 100 miles less this time around, but there's no reason to think a repeat performance -- or something very close -- isn't in the cards again.
And with the third Chase race in the books, the first four who had title hopes saw them come to an end. We nearly had a stunning development along the way.
Kevin Harvick, who won the first elimination-style Chase in its debut two years ago, was nearly eliminated after Dover. He had early issues in the No. 4, went to the garage for repairs, and ended up 37th, 46 laps down. It was his second-worst finish of the season and third in the 30s since July (39th at Daytona 2 and 32nd at Watkins Glen, but both of those were with crashes).
When the brake dust finally settled, Harvick ended up as the 12th and last driver to advance to the second round. The final margin: One measly point in front of Tony Stewart, who was 13th at Dover. Crew chief Rodney Childers and the No. 4 team know it does matter how much you get in by, as long as you get in.
The feeling ended up even worse for Kyle Larson and the No. 42 Target Chevrolet team. He had the final transfer spot by five points heading to Sunday, but ended up two points outside after finishing 25th.
Jamie McMurray was done early at Dover as he lost an engine and finished 40th, while Chris Buescher went as expected, finishing 23rd as the fourth driver eliminated.
Among the surprise advancers was Austin Dillon, who started the day tied with McMurray but turned in an eighth-place finish at the Monster Mile to end up 11th for the round, 10 points in front of Harvick.
Now everything resets once more and the next cutoff at Talladega awaits.
-After being delayed to Sunday due to heavy rains, Daniel Suarez cruised to the victory at the XFINITY Drive Sober 200 at Dover, joining Elliott Sadler in the second round of the Chase.
Four drivers will be eliminated from the first Chase in NASCAR's No. 2 series, and it's anyone's guess who will hang on. From fourth-place Brendan Gaughan to 10th-place Erik Jones, the separation between seven drivers is exactly 15 points.
Heck, even Ryan Sieg has a realistic shot from 11th. He's only 10 points behind Brennan Poole, who has the last transfer spot at the moment.
Some will be desperate for a win, others will be in search of ways to survive and advance. That's why the Chase has been, and will always be, worth watching.
Tom Zulewski will post a separate entry on the Camping World Truck Series race from Las Vegas later today. Follow him on Twitter @Tomzsports or @TommyZee81 and email
Charlotte Motor Speedway (1.5-mile D-shaped oval), Concord, North Carolina.
-SPRINT CUP: Bank of America 500, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, NBC. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local PRN affiliate.
Race distance: 501 miles, 334 laps.
2015 champion: Joey Logano
-XFINITY SERIES: Drive for the Cure 300, Friday, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, NBC Sports Network. 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 Oct. 22 for the Fred's 250 powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega Superspeedway.