NASCAR FAST FACTS..This Weekend
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
The Race: Auto Club 400
The Place: Auto Club Speedway
The Date: Sunday, March 25
The Time: 3 p.m. (ET)
TV: FOX, 2:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 400 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
The Race: Royal Purple 300
The Place: Auto Club Speedway
The Date: Saturday, March 24
The Time: 5:30 p.m. (ET)
TV: ESPN, 5 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 300 miles (150 laps)
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
Next Race: Kroger 250
The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Saturday, March 31
The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)
TV: SPEED, 1 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 131.5 miles (250 laps)
Gordon Leads 8-Pack Of California Natives Into ACS
With three victories at Auto Club Speedway, Jeff Gordon has reason to enjoy visits to his home state. Gordon, who spent his early childhood in Vallejo, east of San Francisco, also has won five times at Infineon Raceway. He’s tied with Bobby Allison for most wins in the state of California with eight.
But there’s another reason why Gordon has fond memories of Southern California trips: Hollywood.
He’s attended several Oscar parties, meeting Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, among other actors.
“I remember several years ago meeting Tom Cruise for the first time at an Oscar party. And there was a big long line of people that were there to meet him,” Gordon said. “Rick Hendrick, because he’s friends with Tom, said if you get a chance, go up and say hi to him, and tell him I said hi.
“I was just like, I’m not going to bother him. I think somebody at his table told him I was standing there and I started to walk away, and he stood up and yelled ‘Jeff, Jeff’, and waved me back over. I was like, who me? I thought that was pretty cool.”
Gordon, Johnson and Harvick aren’t the only Californians making the trip home this week. Harvick and Casey Mears are from Bakersfield; Johnson is from El Cajon in the San Diego area; David Gilliland and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Josh Wise hail from Riverside, not far from Auto Club Speedway, Robby Gordon is from Orange, also in Southern California, and AJ Allmendinger is from Los Gatos.
Gordon is a finalist for this year’s Justice Brothers-Shav Glick Award presented to those who have made significant contributions to California motorsports. Named for the late Los Angeles Times motorsports writer, the award will be made prior to Sunday’s race. The other finalists are drag racer “TV Tommy” Ivo, Indianapolis roadster builder A.J. Watson and sports car competitor Tony Adamowicz. Dan Gurney, a five-time NSCS winner at the old Riverside International Raceway, is among past winners of the award.
Heavyweight Bout: 5-Time Vs. The Closer
If you like closing-laps drama, there’s no better place to find it than Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. The past two spring races at the two-mile speedway have seen plenty – between the same two drivers, Californians Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.
Johnson’s “luck” in winning the 2010 Auto Club 400 – he pitted just before the final caution and took the lead when his rivals came down pit road under yellow – caused a frustrated Harvick to famously speculate about the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion’s “golden horseshoe.”
One year later, Harvick turned the tables. He ran down Johnson’s Chevrolet on the final lap, made the pass and won by 0.144 seconds, the closest finish in Auto Club Speedway history.
Will they battle for the win again this weekend?
Johnson has the edge at what he considers his home track, having won there five times to lead all drivers since Auto Club ran its first NSCS race in 1997. Johnson hasn’t missed a beat since finishing 42nd in the Daytona 500 with two top-five and three top-10 finishes moving him into 11th in the points standings.
Added incentive: A sixth Auto Club victory would be milestone win No. 200 for Hendrick Motorsports.
Harvick, meanwhile, stands second in points, nine markers behind leader Greg Biffle. There have been four different winners from four different teams in four different brands of car over 2012’s first four races. Harvick and Richard Childress Racing wouldn’t mind being No. 5.
While Johnson and Harvick have traded spring race victories, it’s important to remember that Tony Stewart fashioned a win in between their trips to Victory Lane. The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, a winner at Phoenix earlier this month, captured Auto Club Speedway’s final 500-mile fall race in 2010.
Eleven competitors expected to compete in Sunday’s race have victories at Auto Club Speedway.
Truex, Bowyer Riding High As Michael Waltrip Racing’s Fortunes Surge
Don’t be surprised if Michael Waltrip Racing lays claim to Toyota’s first NSCS victory at Auto Club Speedway.
MWR is running that well – and across the board.
Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer – along with first-time MWR competitor Brian Vickers – gave the organization an unprecedented three spots among the top five in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Truex, third in Bristol, has posted two top-five and six top-10 finishes in his last nine starts dating to last fall’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. The No. 56 Toyota outfit has come alive since Chad Johnston was appointed crew chief prior to last June’s event at Pocono Raceway. Truex is a heady fourth in the points standings, a top-10 ranking he shares with MWR newcomer Bowyer (eighth).
All three of MWR’s Camrys hold top-10 positions in the series’ owner standings, including the No. 55 being shared by Vickers, Waltrip and Mark Martin, who returns to the seat in Fontana. The organization is chasing history as the first car with multiple drivers to qualify on owner points for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.
Martin has a victory at Auto Club Speedway in 1998. Bowyer’s pair of top fives includes a second place in 2010. Truex has two top-five starts at the Southern California track with consecutive sixth-place finishes his best.
Race Within A Race: Guaranteed Spots Up For Grabs In Battle Around The Bubble
Things could get hairy this weekend for the likes of Kasey Kahne, David Reutimann and Danica Patrick. After five races with the relative comfort of a guaranteed starting spot in each race, that luxury might vanish for those three big guns.
After this Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, the 2012 owner points will be used to determine which cars land a guaranteed spot in each upcoming race. For the first five races, 2011 points were used. The top 35 in owner points are guaranteed a spot in each race.
Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet, owned by Linda Hendrick sits a surprising 34th in points, only seven points inside the top 35. Kahne, a preseason favorite to land a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ after joining powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, has stumbled to open the season. He has yet to crack the top 15 in any of the first four races. His best finish was 19th at Las Vegas.
Just as juicy is the battle by the No. 10 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet to climb back into the top 35. It inched closer to the bubble after a decent 21st-place finish by Reutimann at Bristol last weekend. The team now stands 36th in points, just four points behind the No. 83 of BK Racing in 35th. Patrick plans to next race at Darlington Raceway on May 12. Reutimann, who will start in the No. 10 at Auto Club this weekend, has two top 10s at the two-mile SoCal track.
Early Season Finds Junior Turning Aggression Meter Up A Notch
Auto Club Speedway would seem an unlikely place for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to rediscover Victory Lane.
Junior has yet to crack the top 10 at Fontana in a Hendrick Motorsports car, finishing 32nd or worse in three of his seven appearances with the team.
And yet, the Earnhardt of 2012 isn’t the driver of the past few seasons. If anything, Junior’s on-track demeanor is reminiscent of, well, another Earnhardt. Junior is racing more aggressively, having rubbed teammate Jeff Gordon the wrong way at Bristol after trading bumpers in Las Vegas with Mark Martin.
Earnhardt is solidly among the top 10 in points (sixth) and the highest ranked of HMS’ four drivers. It would probably be a mistake to write him off as a contender on Sunday as he works on ending a streak of 133 races since his 18th series victory in 2008.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
Dodge’s win at Bristol Motor Speedway made it four different manufacturer winners in four races, matching a feat last achieved in 1986, when the season’s first four races were won by four different nameplates (Chevrolet, Ford, Oldsmobile, Buick). … On Wednesday, March 21, Keselowski will participate in the unveiling of a model of Kansas Speedway at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Miniland in Kansas City, Mo. Keselowski will also build a replica of his race car in LEGOs. … Jimmie Johnson will be appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Thursday, March 22, at midnight ET on ABC. … On March 21, Joey Logano will participate in “Speedway Day L.A.” at L.A. Union Station. Logano will hop in the Auto Club Speedway show car and arrive at the Speedway Day L.A. press conference in front of L.A. Union Station at 3 p.m. … In an event with Texas Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards will train with a SWAT team in Dallas, Texas, on March 21, participating in a variety of exercises such as: riding in the multi-million dollar Bearcat tactics vehicle, rappelling down an eight-story building, live range shooting and joining the SWAT for a tactical situation. … Milestone Marker: Ryan Newman continues his hunt to become the ninth driver to win 50 Coors Light poles. … Kurt Busch will attempt to post his 25th NSCS win, which would tie him with Jim Paschal and Joe Weatherly for 24th on the all-time list. Busch has one win at ACS (2003).
I Wish They All Could Be California … Drivers And Crew?
Sunny California is the next destination for the NASCAR Nationwide Series and it happens to be the home state of several drivers and crew members, including Cole Whitt, Jason Bowles, Brad Sweet and Danny Stockman, crew chief for Austin Dillon. With a line-up like that, NNS fans just might be cheering for a California native in Victory Lane this weekend.
JR Motorsports driver and Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Whitt, from Alpine, east of San Diego, leads the Cali contingent. He’s currently fifth in the standings, 41 points behind series standings leader Elliott Sadler. Whitt has posted one top five and two top 10s, with a season-to-date Driver Rating of 86.2 and an Average Running Position of 14th. He is second to Dillon in the rookie standings, just five points from the lead. This weekend will be Whitt’s NASCAR national series track debut at Auto Club Speedway.
The 2009 K&N Pro Series East Series champion and Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, Bowles, from Ontario, just minutes from the speedway, is in his first full series season with MacDonald Motorsports. Bowles is currently 19th in the series standings, 28 points behind 10th-place Mike Bliss. Bowles is also third in the rookie standings, 29 points behind Dillon. This weekend, Bowles will attempt to make his NASCAR national series track debut at Auto Club.
Hailing from Grass Valley near Sacramento, Sweet will be making his series season debut for Turner Motorsports. Sweet is sharing the No. 38 Chevrolet with Kasey Kahne and also is in the running for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
Atop the pit box calling the shots for Dillon will be Fontana’s own Stockman. Stockman lived in Fontana until the age of five, then his family moved to nearby Yucaipa. Stockman and Dillon are ranked fourth in the points while also leading the rookie standings.
Elliott Sadler Leads NASCAR Nationwide Series Eligible Winning Ways
“Blood is in the water!” exclaimed NNS standings leader Elliott Sadler in Victory Lane last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway after winning his second race of the season. Listen to more Elliott Sadler audio here.
It has been 17 years – the 1995 season – since the year’s first four winners were not full-time NSCS drivers. James Buescher, points eligible in the NCWTS, won the season opener at Daytona. Sadler won at Phoenix, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Las Vegas and Sadler again at Bristol.
Back in ’95, the first four series races were won by Chad Little (two), Kenny Wallace and Johnny Benson, the latter going on to win the championship. David Green and Larry Pearson, full-time NNS drivers, also won the following two races.
Will the trend continue? It won’t be easy. Not since 2002, when Scott Riggs won, has an NNS-only regular won at Auto Club Speedway.
Richard Childress Racing’s Sadler might just be the one to answer the call. Sadler’s two wins are complemented with two third-place finishes in the first four starts this season, culminating in an average finish of second. His season-to-date Driver Rating (107.0) leads the series. Sadler has made seven starts at Auto Club Speedway, posting two top-five finishes. He also won the track’s NASCAR Sprint Cup fall race in 2004.
Bliss, Malsam Have TriStar Motorsports In Contention
Large comebacks in the NNS point standings are difficult but Mike Bliss is bucking that trend this season, having gone from 27th to 10th in the three races since Daytona. Bliss, who drives for TriStar Motorsports, an independent organization in the series, is one of the most versatile drivers in NASCAR. He won the 2002 NCWTS title and is the only driver to count 200 starts in both NNS and Truck. Since 1995, he’s competed full-time in at least one of NASCAR’s national series.
The season opener at Daytona was unkind to Bliss, he finished 39th after being caught up in an accident, but he followed it up with a 16th-place finish at Phoenix and back-to-back 15th-place finishes at Las Vegas and Bristol.
Bliss’ rebound isn’t the only highlight for TriStar thus far in 2012. Tayler Malsam, who also has climbed the NASCAR ladder through the NCWTS, is a quiet surprise, holding down the seventh spot in the driver standings. Malsam, 23, finished sixth at Daytona and has ranked in the top 10 through the first four weeks of the season. This is his first full-time season in the NNS.
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
Kyle Busch has won five of the last six series races at Auto Club, including sweeping both races in 2010. This will be Busch’s first start at Auto Club as an owner/driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Busch also will attempt to post his 150th NNS top-10 finish. Busch currently is tied with Greg Biffle for 12th on the series all-time top-10 finishes list. … Danica Patrick has improved to 12th in the standings, up three spots from last week, in her first full-time season in the series. She finished 30th in this race last year. … Milestone Watch: Morgan Shepherd will attempt to make his 325th NNS start at ACS. Shepherd has made nine starts at ACS with an average starting position of 35th. Jeremy Clements will attempt to make his 75th series start this weekend. He has made two starts at ACS with an average starting position of 26th. Erik Darnell will attempt to make his 25th NNS start this weekend. This will be Darnell’s ACS debut in the NNS.
Jason White Pursues Elusive First Win As Driver/Owner
Jason White is determined to get it right. Based on his new team’s success in February’s season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway, that long-sought-after first victory finally may be just around the corner.
The 32-year-old Virginian can’t predict where or when he’ll finally reach Victory Lane. His next start, at Martinsville Speedway, would be the perfect place to end a 130-race drought.
White, a series regular since 2008, finished fifth in Daytona after leading 16 laps, accomplishing half of the past season’s top-five finishes in the first start of 2012. A decision to go back to the future, so to speak, appears to have put the onetime go-kart champion on the right path.
“We ran our own team a few years ago and we had kept the shop and some of the equipment so that gave us a good start on getting things put back together,” said White, who grew up in the Richmond area. “After driving for some other teams the last few years, it just seemed to make sense to go back to running our own team.”
White brought in crew chief Doug George, a winner with Kyle Busch, to oversee the organization’s Ford F150 trucks. He’ll definitely head for Martinsville wearing a big smile, along with co-owner and longtime sponsor Steve Urvan.
“We have a good start to the season and we have used these last few weeks since Daytona to make our team and trucks even stronger, so I am really excited about getting to Martinsville,” White said.
Latest Generation Of Burtons Ready For Martinsville Debut
Jeb Burton has big shoes to fill. The 19-year-old, who will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut March 31 at Martinsville Speedway, is the son of 2002 Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton. His uncle, Jeff Burton, is a 21-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner.
He’ll drive for a new team, Hillman Racing, which started the season with father Ward’s eighth-place finish at Daytona. The younger Burton, with limited experience at the touring level, will have to prove to NASCAR on a race-by-race basis that he’s qualified to move from track to track just as any other rookie.
The team’s owner, Mike Hillman, was a key figure at Germain Racing during both of Todd Bodine’s NCWTS championship seasons. Crew chief Trip Bruce also has a solid background with the series, winning 12 times with Johnny Benson and Kasey Kahne. Bruce was Benson’s championship crew chief at Bill Davis Racing – Ward Burton’s onetime NSCS owner – in 2008.
“To get here has been a lot of hard work, my late model guys have really helped me over the past four years to really develop me as a driver and my dad told me that if I really didn't have the talent I wouldn't be able to do it,” said the younger Burton. “So my dad paid close attention to what he calls natural talent and said I had what it would take to be a racer as long as I dedicated myself to it. I am excited to start my first NASCAR race in the NCWTS and follow in my dad's footsteps. It has been a long time coming.”
Win Is Frosting On The Cake For Moonlighting Piquet
According to Nelson Piquet Jr., a bit of moonlighting can go a long way to filling some gaps in his competitive resume.
Piquet, competing in his sophomore season for Turner Motorsports, took advantage of an open week to compete in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 17. He won both the pole and the race.
“To achieve my first victory in the USA and my first victory in a stock car is a very special emotion for me,” said Piquet, who formerly competed in the Formula One World Championship. “To carry the Brazilian flag to Victory Lane was part of the dream for me and now I’ve conquered that, it is such a motivation for the rest of the year.”
The bigger picture for Piquet, however, is to step up his performance on NASCAR Camping World Truck Series short tracks – especially Martinsville, which hosts the March 31 Kroger 250. Piquet finished 13th and 30th at the Virginia track last year.
“Seat time, especially on short tracks where you are running close to the other cars, has been something I needed experience in,” Piquet said.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Martinsville is home to the historic half-mile oval, which has hosted a NCWTS event since the inception of the series in 1995. It is also home to the Smithsonian-affiliated Virginia Museum of Natural History. Championship contenders John King, Timothy Peters and Johnny Sauter on Tuesday previewed the newly created Rocks to Racing display at the museum, which will open to the public on March 24. … Kingsport, Tenn., officials at Bristol presented King the “Key to the City” in honor of his Daytona victory in February.