Statistically Analyzing the Pocono 400
After hitting the high-banked Dover International Speedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has arrived to an unorthodox track. The Pocono Raceway, home of the “Tricky Triangle,” is hosting the 33rd annual Pocono 400, and the 73rd race in the track’s history.
In this weekend’s version of statistically analyzing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field, we will give you a look at a bit of history of the results which drivers have recorded.
-Jamie McMurray: After controversially having damage due to the concrete breaking apart at Dover, McMurray is looking to have a cleaner race this weekend at Pocono. Though McMurray has never finished better than ninth at Pocono, he has been consistently inside the top-20 at the two-mile triangle.
-Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is coming off of a runner-up finish at Dover, and is now eighth in the points standings. However, he is utilizing a chassis that has yet to run on the track. After winning at Pocono in 2011, it has been all or nothing for the Michigan native. He has two top-six finishes since then, but also has two finishes outside of the top-15.
-Austin Dillon: Dillon is the most experienced of rookie drivers at Pocono. He has a pair of top-10 finishes at Pocono in two Camping World Truck Series events, but did not lead a single lap in either of those races. After running inside of the top-10 at the season-opener in Daytona, he has yet to crack the top-10 since. However, he has nine top-20s since the Daytona 500 and is solidly 15th in points.
-Kevin Harvick: Harvick has never won at Pocono in 26 starts and has led just five laps after completing over 4,500 laps over the course of his career at Pocono. He was arguably the only driver that could contend with Jimmie Johnson for the win at Dover, but ended up having to make an unscheduled pit stop and was on a pit cycle which was different from the leaders. Harvick has nine top-10s at Pocono, but it is safe to say that he will be a contender this weekend.
-Kasey Kahne: Kahne has been underperforming this year compared to his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports. After winning at Pocono in August of last season, Kahne should feel fairly confident this weekend. The No. 5 team is utilizing the chassis which they used to finish third with at Kansas. Although he has been successful at Pocono in the past, Kahne has an average finish of 17th as he has been involved in multiple wrecks at the track.
-Michael Annett: Annett, like most of the rookie drivers, has never run a race at Pocono. Coming off of what would have been a solid run at Dover had he not experienced trouble to put him over20 laps down, Annett could have a decent race at Pocono.
-Marcos Ambrose: Ambrose compares Pocono to a road course since drivers have to attack each corner differently from one another. In a year where he has just two top-fives, each at short tracks, Ambrose needs a solid run at a larger track. He has six top-20 finishes at Pocono in 10 races, but also has two top-10s.
-Danica Patrick: This could be opportunity weekend for Patrick. However, she is using a car that has been nothing better than mediocre this weekend, and she struggled mightily at Pocono in 2013. If she could have a clean race, Patrick should be able to run inside of the top-25 this weekend.
-Denny Hamlin: Hamlin won his first pair of races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Pocono back in 2006. He has two more wins at Pocono, but has yet to win at Pocono since the track was resurfaced. Hamlin has led 11 of the 16 races he has started at Pocono, but did not lead a single lap in either event at Pocono in 2013. Besides winning at Talladega, he has been inconsistent this year, especially on the larger tracks.
-Casey Mears: Mears has had a solid year after Germain Racing created an alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Pocono has been one of his better tracks in the past, and finished inside of the top-25 in both races last year. Currently, he sits 24th in points with six top-15s after 13 races into the 2014 season.
-Tony Stewart: Stewart is coming off of his best race of the year at Dover. He ran inside the top-10 through all 400 miles, and was going to be a contender for the win had the caution not come out late in the race and he was able to save enough fuel. He won his first race as an owner-driver at Pocono in 2009, and has run very well since the repave. In 30 starts at Pocono, Stewart has 22 top-10s with an average finish of 11th.
-Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has been solid at Pocono in each of the last four races at the track. He has seven top-10s in 16 starts at Dover, but has not contended for a win at the track since 2010. Bowyer enters Pocono 17th in points, but is coming off of one of his better races this year at Dover.
-Greg Biffle: With speculation growing that he might stay at Roush-Fenway Racing, Biffle has finished outside of the top-15 in three straight races. With RFR’s inconsistency this year, Biffle needs a solid run. He finished runner-up during this race last year, but has been inconsistent at the larger tracks this season. With a win at Pocono in 2010, Biffle is looking to regain his momentum as he is now 16th in points.
-Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse Jr. struggled in both Pocono races in his rookie year – finishing 26th and 24th, respectively. He has dropped to 26th in points after eight finishes of 22nd or worse this season.
-Kyle Busch: Along with Hamlin, Busch has just been missing a little something on the larger tracks which has prevented him from going to victory lane. He has never won at Pocono, and it is one of his worst tracks with an average finish of 17.8 in 18 starts. Currently, Busch sits seventh in points, even after getting wrecked by Bowyer last weekend at Dover. He has seven top-10s at Pocono, and is looking for his third straight finish of eighth or better at the Tricky Triangle.
-Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has started off races slow this year, but begins to contend for the win after the halfway mark, just like his days at Roush-Fenway Racing. Coming off of back-to-back third-place finishes, Kenseth has momentum on his side. Pocono was one of the few tracks which Kenseth struggled at in 2013, and has done so for the majority of his career. In 28 races at Pocono, Kenseth has just 10 top-10s with a best finish of third in 2003 – his championship season.
-Joey Logano: With two wins this year, Logano can test out different setups as he is all but secure in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He has led laps in all but three races this season, but has had three finishes of 32nd or worse. Logano edged out Mark Martin for the win at Pocono in 2012. Since then, he has raced solidly inside of the top-13 in each of the last three Pocono races. Currently, the Team Penske driver sits sixth in points and is looking to have the best season of his young career.
-Alex Bowman:Bowman has a pair of third place finishes at Pocono in two ARCA Series starts back in 2012. He struggled mightily at Dover – getting into the wall three times, and is looking to have a solid day.
-Jeff Gordon: Gordon lost the points lead to Kenseth after Dover, but has a win which should make him feel more secure entering the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The No. 24 car has been fast at each race this year, and he might just be able to capture another victory this weekend at Pocono. He is using the same chassis that he used to win at Kansas, and has had his fair share of success at the two-mile track. Gordon has six wins and 29 top-10s in 42 starts at Pocono, and if he leads 28 or more laps on Sunday, he will surpass the one thousand laps led mark at Pocono.
-Cole Whitt: After making the switch to BK Racing from Swan Racing, Whitt has run inside of the top-30 for the past four races. Though he has not run great, he has outrun his teammates and has shown improvement from the events he ran with Swan.
-Paul Menard: Menard has seven top-10 finishes already this year. He is using the chassis which he used at Darlington, and is looking to capture his second top-five of the season. Menard has two top-10 finishes at Pocono in 14 starts at the track, but finished 30th or worse in both Pocono races last year.
-Ryan Newman: Since making the move over to Richard Childress Racing, Newman has been running inside of the top-20 for the most part. However, he has not been contending for wins. That may change at Pocono as he participated in the test on May 27, and he is racing the car which he ran at Las Vegas and Texas. Newman has an average finish of 11.7 at Pocono in 24 starts, and is looking for his fourth straight top-six finish.
-Alex Kennedy: Kennedy is making his season debut for Circle Sport Racing in the No. 33 Chevrolet. He will also race the two road course events over the summer months. He made three starts for Humphrey-Smith Motorsports last year (including Pocono).
-David Ragan: Ragan and the entire Front Row Motorsports team have struggled getting adjusted to the new aero package this year. However, Ragan finished 21st in one of the two Pocono races last year, and is expected to run inside the top-30 if he does not experience any mechanical issues.
-Reed Sorenson: Soreneson’s best career finish at Pocono was 20th in 2009 with Richard Petty Motorsports. Coming off of one of his best races this year at Dover, Sorenson will welcome a new sponsor to the No. 36 Chevrolet this weekend with Theme Park Connection coming aboard for Tommy Baldwin Racing.
-David Gilliland: Gilliland has experienced trouble over the past four races, and is looking just to finish a race. His best Pocono finish with Front Row Motorsports was a 21st-place finish in 2012.
-Kurt Busch: Busch will be using a brand new chassis this weekend. After finishing 18th at Dover, Busch is 28th in points, but is rather secure in the top-30. However, he has just two top-10s this year, and has been extremely inconsistent. Busch has a pair of wins at Pocono in 25 starts, and also has 14 top-10s at the track including a third-place finish at Pocono in August last year.
-Kyle Larson: Larson has never raced at Pocono, so he will be doing the “double” by racing the ARCA Series event on Saturday. He has run well at the high speed tracks this year, and has finished inside of the top-20 all but two times this season.
-Aric Almirola: Almirola has consistently run around the top-20 at Pocono over the last three races. His No. 43 car has run inside of the top-13 over the past four races, and has momentum on his side.
-A.J. Allmendinger: The alliance with RCR has begun to pay dividends for JTG Daugherty Racing. He has three top-10s this year, but has struggled at Pocono as of late. Allmendinger’s average finish at Pocono in 12 starts is worse than 24th, and had a pair of 33rd-place finishes in both Pocono races last year.
-Jimmie Johnson: Coming off of back-to-back wins, Johnson is looking for his third win of 2014. After running very well at both races at Pocono last season, including a win in this event, Johnson is poised to return to victory lane once again. He has three career wins at Pocono with an average finish better than ninth in 24 starts.
-Justin Allgaier: Allgaier won at Pocono in the ARCA Series back in 2008, and has four top-10s in six prior Pocono starts. He is starting to pick up momentum with Steve Addington as he has five top-25 finishes this year.
-Brian Vickers: Vickers has been running well in his return to full-time racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He has five top-10s this year, and currently sits 13th in points. This will be the first time Vickers will race at Pocono since 2011, but he completed the test in late May which should help him get readjusted to Pocono. In 14 prior starts at Pocono, Vickers’ best finish was second in 2008 with Red Bull Racing, and in 2005 with Hendrick Motorsports as it has been one of his better tracks. However, he has not raced on the new surface.
-Timmy Hill: Hill will be running the No. 66 Toyota at Pocono as Joe Nemechek will be racing at Texas in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
-Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has five top-10s at Pocono in 16 starts, and nearly won at Pocono in 2012. This year, however, Truex has struggled with Furniture Row Racing. He had his best run of the year at Dover with a sixth-place finish, and is looking to take that momentum to Pocono.
-Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Earnhardt Jr. has six top-10s this year, and has run well at the larger tracks. His average finish this year is approximately 12th after 13 events, but is still looking for a win on a non-restrictor plate track. Earnhardt Jr. finished in the top-five in both Pocono races last year, and is utilizing the same chassis he raced with at the Auto Club Speedway earlier this year.
-Carl Edwards: Edwards has been inconsistent this year, but when he runs well – he races inside of the top-five. When he runs poorly – Edwards struggles to stay inside of the top-20. He’ll be racing with a new chassis this weekend, and is looking for his third win at Pocono in what will be his 19th start at the track. Edwards has eight top-10s at Pocono, and is looking to capture his first win since 2008 at Pocono.
43 cars are entered in the race, so no drivers will miss the event.
One-on-One with NASCAR on Fox's Larry McReynolds
You might know him as an analyst for NASCAR on Fox. You might not. Instead, you might know him as the man that led Dale Earnhardt Sr. to his lone Daytona 500 victory in 1998. If not, you might even recognize this man as the man who sat atop the pit box on the famous No. 28 Ford for Robert Yates Racing throughout the early-mid 1990s with Davey Allison and Ernie Irvan.
This man's Twitter handle has the No. 28 in it, and there is beyond a good reason as to why.
Larry McReynolds has done his fair share in the NASCAR world since he became a crew chief in 1985. McReynolds just finished up his stint with Fox, but will now play a different role at TNT. However, Fox is where he got his start as a household name in the NASCAR world, and a lot has changed in his life since then.
McReynolds spoke with Speedway Digest last Friday afternoon for an exclusive 45-minute interview. As we went to sit down, McReynolds put down his smart phone, and had told some of the most compelling parts as to what it is like to be inside of that broadcast booth. With a NASCAR on Fox watch adorning his wrist, the 55-year-old retired crew chief discussed his life as a broadcaster, and shared some stories from his days in racing while working with some of the top drivers in the sport in what ended up being an emotional interview.
Joseph Wolkin: What has been the best part about working with the FOX crew?
Larry McReynolds: I don’t think I can say it is one thing, but to me – the neatest thing is how close our group is. The first 15/16 weeks of each season, we spend more time with each other than our families. I truly believe that is one thing that has made our whole deal click and work for 14 years. We are not just broadcast partners, we are friends and I think that is critical.
I relate it to all my years on race teams. I don’t think that it is coincidental that the race teams and then the drivers that I worked with – the ones that I had the best friendship and relationship with happens to be the ones I had the most success with. I told this story many times. We all have a huge ego. We wouldn’t be doing what we are doing if we didn’t. That’s facts of life. You talk about Darrell Waltrip, myself, Mike Joy, throw in Chris Myers and Jeff Hammond, Michael Waltrip – that is enough ego to fill this media center out of the cracks. But I think that what has made it work is the biggest part of our ego is – let’s just have a good broadcast.
Let’s take this race to the fans. Let’s have fun doing it and they’ll enjoy it. I would have to say though, just the camaraderie between our whole group, even the production truck, Barry Landis and our producer, Artie Kempner, and the list just goes on and on and on, just how close knit we truly are. Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip are two of my best friends. I feel like if I have a personal problem of any kind, I could pick up a phone and call either one of them probably quicker than I can call anybody just because of the friendship that has been acquired over 14 years.
JW: How have you guys been able to develop chemistry since you guys started working together? Were you friends before that?
LM: Really and truly not. We were friendly with each other. Someone refreshed my memory that back in the day in the late 1990s, working for TNN, the three of us did a Truck Series race together. But outside of that – I worked with Mike a couple of times. I never really worked with Darrell on racecars, but I almost believe that chemistry within a team – whether it is a race team or whether it is a broadcast team or whatever kind of a team, I believe you can grow it and make it better, but I believe it has to be there pretty solid from the get-go.
I keep going back to my days as a crew chief. Probably the driver that I had the most success with and the closest relationship with was Davey Allison. I remember the very first time going to the race track with him. We went to a test at Darlington, and we didn’t have cell phones or anything back then. I remember I could not wait until lunch time when I could find a pay phone to call my wife and tell her how great this was going to be.
It was not because of how fast we were, but because the first time he went out and ran and he came in and I let that window net down – I knew it was there. I go back to the first time the three of us went to the booth at Daytona for a practice session in 2001. I knew that before practice was over – this deal was going to click. We feed off of each other a lot. We have grown stronger and better in 14 years, but I just believe that the chemistry was truly there when we first started, and maybe that is what David Hill’s gut feeling was when he put the three of us together.
JW: How do you make the transition to TNT after working with the Fox group?
LM: Other than just changing logos, that is the only difference. Certainly, every broadcast group has different philosophies. I play a different role over there, which I like, but still trying to do the same things. When we first started the Fox deal – we had a lot of meetings, a lot of seminars and a lot of just talking - mainly our bosses giving us what we needed to be doing. The list of stuff that they threw at us was as long as my body.
But the three things that I picked up on that I could tell meant a lot to them and they wanted us to focus on a lot were – you have to tell the story, no matter what it is about. If Jeff Gordon dumps Jimmie Johnson getting into the corner, don’t try to tell the fan that Jimmie Johnson’s foot must have slipped off the throttle. Tell the fan what they just saw. Another important one is to explain why. Why did that crew chief just change two tires? Why did he change four tires? What are the consequences? Never let the viewer turn the broadcast off and have a why question that didn’t get answered. The third one is easy for us. Have fun. People accuse us of a lot of things, but I never, in 14 years, heard anyone say that Fox bunch doesn’t have fun. If we aren’t having fun, how can we expect the viewer to have fun? Even though I play a different role, even though I change logos for six weeks, I take those same philosophies to the TNT broadcast.
JW: How does the Fox crew try to increase the ratings week-to-week?
LM: Even after 14 years, I’m not convinced, and I say this cautiously, there is a damn thing that we or I can do up in that booth that will all of a sudden turn a TV on. It would be nice to know if we could. My gosh if there were, we would be doing it. As a broadcaster, I hear ratings, I hear ratings decline, I hear this, and sure you are concerned about it because you care, but I try to focus on things that I can control. I’m not sure ratings are one of them.
The feedback that I do get – which is I think is what Fox hangs its hat on, is everything is down. Let’s lay football down. That is a novelty. But I hear basketball is down, baseball ratings are down and the one thing that I have been hearing is that we are winning the weekend (in terms of ratings). I think that is important. It is no different, Joseph, than attendance. This place (Dover) could be a little bit of a different story unfortunately and I don’t know why, but I always use Brooklyn, Michigan (Michigan International Speedway) as an example. We go there in two weeks, and no question – there will be 20 thousand empty seats. Won’t challenge that. Won’t deny it. But my G-D, there are still 100 thousand people there.
There are still 100 thousand people there. That’s more people that will be watching college football up in Ann Arbor attending a Michigan football game. It kind of upsets me and hurts my feelings and makes me mad. Most of these people in here (the media center) won’t write about the 100 thousand people. They will only write about the 20 thousand empty seats. That’s so unfair. I wish I could wave a wand and figure out why the crowd is down here (Dover) for both races. It is the only place that we go to twice where we just don’t have a good draw for either race. Bristol has become a bit of a challenge in the spring, but when we go back there in August, it is packed. The biggest thing that we are trying to do as a broadcast is – to come up with things and do things and create things that attracts the younger demographics.
That is the group we’ve lost. I just think there are so many options for the younger demographic. There is one of them right there (points to his smart phone). If I am traveling during the ESPN part of the season and I can’t watch the broadcast, I can go right there and it is almost like watching the race. You almost have more information. For so many reasons, it is going to be tough (to reach out to the younger demographic). We set the bar high in 2004 and 2005. Are we ever going to get back there? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s going to be anything the broadcasters can say that will make that rating number move.
JW: How hard was it for you to leave Richard Childress Racing and join FOX?
LM: Toughest decision I have ever made in my life. Even though in the late 1990s, working some off weekends for TBS and TNN, even doing some Nationwide Series races for CBS at Homestead, I really enjoyed it. Never saw myself doing it as a career. I absolutely felt like when they put me six feet under and threw dirt on my face, I would always be a crew chief. When I got the call from David Hill at the end of 1999 as they were starting to prepare for 2001, a lot of things started going through my mind.
Again – this was the toughest decision I ever had to make, and I really involved my family a lot on it with my wife, Linda, and my two oldest kids, Brooke and Brandon, for this decision. There were probably two or three reasons that tipped me to accepting it. I didn’t want to ever live with the ‘what if?’ What if I had taken that? What I do – it is not like being a crew chief. It is a very small box of people that do what I do. I felt like if I turned it down, I would almost second guess why and that the opportunity would never come back again. The other reason was – they were offering me a two year deal and my thought was, I’ll go do it and if they don’t like me, maybe I don’t like them, I can go back as we have seen a lot of people do, mainly coaches.
I felt like I was going to stay close enough to the sport that I could always go back. It was a decision we made, my family and I, and I have never looked back over my shoulders. I never second guessed it for one minute. We went in that broadcast booth for practice at Daytona in 2001, and the track opened for practice and the cars started filling out of the garage area and I went ‘oh my G-D what I have I done. This doesn’t feel right.’
Darrell and I are different. You can work on these things (the cars) until you are 100. You can’t drive until you are 100. Even though we were the same, we were different. Mentally, you can still do the crew chief deal for a long time. Physically, you can’t do it on the racing side. I think we both went through withdrawals, and people ask me all the time – what is the toughest part about being a broadcaster? You might think my reaction would be when the camera comes on, say for instance for the Daytona 500 with over 20 million people watching us, and if you say just one thing wrong – you can’t take it back.
There are a good several hundred thousand just waiting for you to say something wrong where they can Tweet or e-mail about it. But that doesn’t bother me. I look at that camera when it comes on with the red light on top and I treat it just like the conversation you and I are having right now. The toughest part, and I think Darrell would probably tell you the same thing – is after being competitors for all of those years, we never ever needed anybody to say you are doing a good job. We knew. We had practice sheets, race results, a stop watch, points results, so no matter how many times I screwed up during a race – if we pulled into victory lane, I didn’t need anybody coming along saying good job. I know – we won the race. Or if we finished 15th, I didn’t need anybody to come tell me I did a bad job. I knew it – we finished 15th. We don’t have that measuring stick in broadcasting. We have ratings, we have Twitter.
There have been a few broadcasts where I looked at Darrell, and Darrell looked at me and we would go ‘I guess it was okay. What do you think? I don’t know but I’m sure if it wasn’t they’ll be calling from Los Angeles in the morning.’ That is still today the toughest part – there is no measuring stick. It’s not about competition, it’s just a matter of was it good or was it bad?
JW: Looking back at all the years you have been working with FOX, what has been the highlight moment for you?
LM: Probably some of the very close finishes that I was a part of calling. The Kevin Harvick win at Atlanta in 2001 in his third start in that car and him coming up to the line, beating Jeff Gordon by several thousandths (of a second). The Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch finish at Darlington (in 2003). All three of us got caught up in the moment of that one. Probably the finish at Talladega where Jimmie Johnson won by four one-thousandths of a second. They still replay that a lot today with my voice going ‘four one-thousandths of a second.’
Personally, Harvick beating Jamie McMurray at Talladega in 2010, and I started setting it up what looked like to me was going to happen, and lo, and behold, they got to the tri-oval exactly how I predicted it. That is always a good feeling as an analyst when you predict something and it makes you look like a genius. That is one thing that I have never been afraid to do – it is almost like rolling the dice from the pit box. I have never been afraid to say something is going to happen and then it won’t happen. That is a part of being an analyst.
One thing I have always worked hard on, and maybe this comes from being a crew chief for 18 years, I try to never say that was a bad call, that the crew chief made a bad call. I will point out the consequences because that call was made. Here can be the benefit and here can be the consequences. In 14 years, there was no question. Last week (at Charlotte) was a prime example. When your driver calls in on the radio and says ‘I have a bad vibration,’ you don’t come to pit road and change just two tires like Clint Bowyer. You change all four. Lo, and behold, Murphy’s law – if you change just one side, it will be the other side. It is just Murphy’s law. There have been a couple of times, but I try not to do that because that garage area is my life line. I spend a lot of time in there talking to drivers, crew chiefs and engineers. That’s what keeps me knee deep in this sport and on top of what things are going on. I don’t want to cut that life line off. I’m not afraid to call somebody out, but I don’t want to call somebody out when they maybe don’t really need to be called out.
JW: What has been the biggest regret of your career?
LM: I don’t know that I have any regrets. There were some along the way moments where maybe I second guessed something that I did and kind of – I don’t know if I ever regretted. Probably the one that I second guessed the most, and I don’t regret it by no means, but I second guessed myself at the end of 1996 if I made the right decision to leave Robert Yates Racing and go to Richard Childress. For what I was able to accomplish at Richard Childress Racing and help Dale get that win in 1998, but I don’t know if I ever regretted anything.
I have never really made a lot of major changes throughout my career. In the early part of my career, I was working for owners all over the place. I think it was called ‘growing in the sport.’ I felt like for a while there, the pattern was – I would go work for a race team and six months later, they would run out of money and close their doors. Once I finally got hooked up with Kenny Bernstein and the No. 26 car and he made me crew chief for that Quaker State car, he and Robert Yates and Richard Childress were the only owners I worked for essentially from 1985 to 2000. I really only worked for one broadcast group since 2001 (with the exception of TNT as of late). I have not really made too many changes throughout my career. I guess when you sit and you have to think about it – that means you don’t regret anything you have done, and I don’t regret anything I have done or any decision I made. You question things or second guess things maybe, but I don’t think I regret any.
JW: Looking back at Ernie Irvan’s accident at Michigan in 1994 – could you guys have won the championship for Robert Yates Racing had he not been involved in such a horrific event?
LM: I am always hesitant to forecast things that you aren’t able to forecast. I get asked a lot of different things with Davey Allison and Ernie Irvan like ‘how many wins would they have? How many championships would Davey Allison have?’ We don’t know and we won’t ever know. But I do feel like that 1994 season, in all my years as a crew chief on a race team that was as poised as any team that I have been affiliated with that was on track to win a championship.
We had a lot of strengths. Qualifying – I think that particular weekend, we qualified 14th and at that point, that was one of our worst qualifying efforts of the year. The laps we were leading. Ernie Irvan missed the last 10 races and still won the award for most laps led that year. We could win at Martinsville, we could win at a road course, we could win at a mile-and-a-half, we could win at a superspeedway and we just had a lot of strengths. We had a lot of consistency and a lot of versatility. Ernie was as healthy as healthy could be. He was sharp on his game. Our race team had overcome so much with what we went through in 1992 and 1993, and I think honestly – the bunch we were racing for the championship with knew we were the group to beat.
JW: As a crew chief, how do you react when your driver is involved in a near-death experience?
LM: I think because of everything I had been through, I was about ready to give it up. Not that I am a person that gives up, but I felt like our team and me personally, had been through so much. But the one thing that kept me going because I knew I was the captain of that ship and the crew was going to react how the captain reacted. If the captain reacted and jumped overboard, the damn crew was going to panic and jump overboard with him. I knew I had to be the leader there.
The one thing that I still live with today comes from today comes from my biggest role model, and my biggest role model even today was Davey Allison. Davey Allison had a little saying that ‘there’s nothing that can come my way today that G-D and I can’t handle together.’ If anybody could relate to that, Davey Allison certainly could. From his dad having a career-ending injury at Pocono in 1988 and losing his brother (Clifford) in a practice crash at Michigan, so if anybody could talk the talk and walk the walk, I think Davey Allison was.
As close as I had become to Ernie, I won’t say I quite had the friendship that I had maybe with Davey, but Davey and Liz Allison are Brandon’s G-D parents and my wife and I are Robbie’s G-D parents. But I did develop a really close friendship with Ernie, and it wasn’t long after that accident that I wasn’t worried about him driving a racecar ever again. I was worried about him still being able to be a dad and be a husband and be a friend. Once we got through that hurtle, then okay, when can we get this guy back in a racecar? When that happened at Michigan, my selfish feelings about him driving a racecar were far from my mind.
JW: How did you guys cope with switching drivers while worrying about Ernie Irvan’s recovery and after Davey Allison’s death?
LM: Kenny (Wallace) sat in nearly every race in 1994, but in 1993 we went through different scenarios. Robby Gordon filled in at Talladega two weeks after the crash. Lake Speed filled in most of the month of August for us and then Ernie started at the Southern 500 (at Darlington). Kenny was perfect for us because Kenny is happy go lucky, upbeat, you never see him down, had some Cup Series experience and he was one guy that was available that we could put in there and keep him in there for the rest of the year until we figured out what we were going to do for 1995.
JW: When are we going to see you back on the Weather Channel?
LM: I don’t know. I enjoyed doing that though. I love the weather. People ask me what is it with the weather, and I guess it just comes from following it for so long as a crew chief to see when it rains. I have apps on my phone, on my iPad, on my Mac at home. I was devastated when DirecTV took the Weather Channel off for a few months there, but I don’t know. I call it a little bit of a hobby. I did enjoy doing those two-three times I went to the Weather Channel in Atlanta. Heather Tesch was blown away by some of the terminology I used. I did (my research) that morning. I knew about the high pressure and the low pressure and the look on her face was priceless because I think she thought I was going to go up there and talk about how we might get some rain and here I am talking about the high pressure and low pressure. She was like whoah.
Jamie McMurray was probably the unluckiest driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on Sunday afternoon. On Lap 159, McMurray drove directly into a piece of cement which flew off of the front-end of his No. 1 Chevrolet.
When McMurray hit the cement, a piece of it went flying up in the air – hitting a part of the walkway which sits approximately 30 feet above the race track. After a delay of 22 minutes and 22 seconds, the caution flag flew back out. However, as the race continued, concerns grew about whether or not the patched-up area could withstand over 200 more laps.
Multiple drivers reported that they say a problem with that area heading into Sunday’s race, but NASCAR completed a track walk in the morning, and they could not find anything wrong with the previous patch which stood at that spot.
“There’s a staff at every racetrack that goes and walks and checks for things like that. When they did their check, either post-race or this morning, they did not see a problem with that,” Pemberton said.
“We have equipment and we have products at every facility. It is an epoxy type filler that we use, and it’s basically the same filler that’s used any time we make a repair at the track, whether it be asphalt or concrete.”
But after this situation, questions have risen about possibly repaving Dover. The speedway has not been repaved since 1994 where it changed over from asphalt to concrete. While walking across the track, there are visible creases on the pavement.
There is always the argument that older tracks provide better racing. However, it is comparable to Pocono which repaved a patch in Turn 3 for a year, and eventually opted to repave the entire track. Since the repave, the racing has gotten better, and more fans have been going to Pocono since.
“You always have to be ready for the emergencies. Everybody wants to have the same perfect race day as they can.”
A race that featured a pothole ended with NASCAR’s most dominant driver going back to victory lane for his second straight victory. Jimmie Johnson earned his second win a row as he led 272 of the 400 laps run in Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover.
Johnson has now won nine times at the Monster Mile, extending his record for having the most wins at the track. The win marks Johnson’s 68th career victory on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. On a restart with less than five laps to go, the No. 48 Chevrolet was able to hold off a hard charging Brad Keselowski for the win after passing Matt Kenseth who spun his tires on the restart.
“Our whole day, we were in a range and we were balanced pretty well, just couldn’t run that fast," Kenseth said in a post-race press conference. “If we tried running fast, we just couldn’t run that quickly. We just started off too tight and if we started out decently, we would be too loose at the end of a run. We were just trying to keep up with track position.”
"The first run or two, I didn't think we were in a dominant position, but towards the end of the first run, things started coming around and I felt like we were in great shape," Johnson said. "It was an awesome racecar. The first run wasn't sure we were really going to have the normal Dover magic here.
However, the win did not come easy as the entire field was thrown a curve ball before the half-way point of the race.
Suddenly, a piece of debris went flying into the air. There was thought that it was a can at first, but conclusions came that one of the strangest incidents occurred.
Jamie McMurray was running 16th when his No. 1 car suddenly hit a piece of the track. As he was coming out of Turn 2, McMurray hit a piece of concrete which sent his Chevrolet into the wall on the backstretch. The race was red flagged as track officials worked on repairing the hole in Turn 2 which was approximately six inches according to team radios.
“We will do the best job that we can and see what we can get,” McMurray’s crew chief, Keith Rodden said after NASCAR wouldn’t enable them to work on the car during the red flag.
NASCAR Vice President of Competition, Robin Pemberton said after the race that it was against the rules, but there has been exception to that specific rule in the past. Pemberton referenced the cable issue at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2013 as an example of when NASCAR would enable teams to work on cars under red flag conditions. Pemberton also stated that an epoxy-type solution was used to patch up the hole.
Besides having damage to the pavement, the cross-over bridge above the turn was also bruised in the incident. A piece of glass on the bridge’s outer part shattered as the concrete flew up into the air. The bridge is approximately 30 feet above the track surface according to a track spokes
Kevin Harvick stated that some guys were looking at that area on Saturday after the NASCAR Nationwide Series event. He noticed the track was coming up, but it was not worked on.
“I saw it this morning on the way to the driver's meeting," Johnson said over the radio to his crew during the red flag. "It was already coming up. I was wondering if they'd seen it."
The red flag lasted just over 22 minutes as a speedy-dry type of concrete was used to fill the hole.
As pit stops were about to start, Alex Bowman blew out a tire to throw out the first caution of the day, but A.J. Allmendinger attempted to short pit and was caught a lap down with just 25 cars on the lead lap after 65 laps.
Clint Bowyer was attempting to pass Kyle Busch in Turn 4 when he got into Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, sending him into the wall. He successfully got around Busch, but then he went right into the fence. After the wreck, Busch stalked Bowyer’s car during the caution, attempted to give him a tap, and then went into the garage with his beat up car. Busch rushed over to his motor home where he could not be reached for comment.
Allmendinger got into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who then hit his teammate, Greg Biffle. The rear end of the No. 16 Ford was destroyed, and the entire right side of Stenhouse’s car had to be cut off in the garage after he hit the inside wall on the backstretch.
“I didn’t see it coming," Biffle said in the garage area. "They were about two and a half groove up on the top and it looked like A.J. tried to squeeze Ricky there. When he came up off the bottom, he turned right into me. It really sucks. We were racing hard there, and that’s what happens when you are back there.”
As he was leading the race, Harvick blew a right-side tire following the restart after the red flag. Bowman got into the will two more times following his initial wreck, and went to the garage after blowing a tire on Lap 221.
Ryan Newman was working his way inside of the top-10 after running approximately 20th for the first half of the race, but had a transmission failure which forced his No. 31 crew to go to the garage. Newman was mandated to a 31st-place finish.
Entering Dover, four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon was leading the points standings. Gordon was contending for a top-five spot the majority of the day. Evidently, the handling gave out on the No. 24 Chevrolet, ending the day in 15th.
After the 400-mile race, Gordon relinquished the points lead to Kenseth, who has yet to win a race this year. Kenseth leads the standings by two markers over Gordon with Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson with Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top-five.
After 13 races, 10 drivers are all but locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with Kenseth, Larson, Newman, Vickers, Menard and Dillon being the remaining six drivers who are high enough in points to race in the Chase as of now.
Here are some notables from the FedEx 400:
- Clint Bowyer earned his first top-five finish of the year at a non-restrictor plate track by crossing the stripe in the fourth position.
-Martin Truex Jr. recorded his best finish of the young season on Sunday afternoon by finishing in sixth.
-Tony Stewart made a hard charge for the lead late in the race, but after the late-race caution, Stewart fell back to the seventh position.
-Finishing 11th, Kyle Larson was the Rookie of the Race. Larson started at the rear of the field for an engine change, but sporadically made his way up through the field.
-Making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut – Brett Moffitt finished 22nd in the No. 66 Toyota Camry for Identity Ventures Racing.
-Danica Patrick finished 23rd on Sunday – her best career finish in four starts at Dover.
-After experiencing fuel pickup issues throughout the day, David Gilliland ended the day in 29th.
-Blake Koch recorded a career-best finish of 30th in the No. 32 Ford. Making his fourth Sprint Cup Series start, Koch outran his previous best finish of 35th during this year’s Coca-Cola 600 where he finished 35th.
-J.J. Yeley had his third engine failure for the third consecutive time this year.
-Paul Menard earned his seventh top-10 of the season with a 10th-place finish at Dover. Menard's career-best years in 2012 and 2013 consisted of nine top-10s each.
What to Watch for in the FedEx 400 at Dover
The Sun is shining down on the Dover International Speedway. With fans taking selfies by Miles the Monster, everyone is gearing up for the FedEx 400.
Entering Sunday’s event at Dover, there have been 34 different drivers to cross the finish line ahead of the rest of the field in the 88 Sprint Cup Series races that have been run at the one-mile speedway. In Sunday’s race, 12 of those drivers will be fighting for the checkered flag once again.
Jimmie Johnson enters Dover as the all-time wins leader at the Monster Mile, and he scored his first victory of the season during the Coca-Cola 600. If Johnson were to win on Sunday, it would be his ninth victory at the track in what will be his 25th start. Johnson will be starting fourth for the FedEx 400, but was arguably the best car during Happy Hour as teams were discussing how to beat the No. 48 team.
Kyle Busch has won both races at Dover to start the weekend, but can he keep up his dominance? Well, albeit he did not post a stunning lap time during either of Saturday’s practice sessions, Busch was moderately quick during his run of 10 consecutive laps during the morning session. A win on Sunday would mark Busch’s 30th career win in NASCAR’s top-tier division.
Brad Keselowski will start on the pole for the FedEx 400 as Team Penske continues their dominance with the new qualifying format. Keselowski is roughly around where he was at this point last year, but has a win which is evidently the difference maker for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. He won at Dover back in 2012, and was inside of the top-two throughout the Saturday practice sessions.
Entering Dover, there have been 10 different winners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in just 12 races this year. With only six spots remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, drivers such as Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle are still winless as they attempt to get adjusted to the new aero package which NASCAR has thrown at the teams.
Joey Logano lost his first Nationwide Series race at Dover on Saturday as he attempted to win his fifth straight race at the speedway. However, Logano just could not hold off Busch who was extremely quick throughout the entire 200-mile race.
A.J. Allmendinger will start 11th in the No. 47 Toyota for JTG Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger led a large portion of the 2010 version of the fall race at Dover, but has just one top-10 since then. Allmendinger has three top-10s this season as the team has taken advantage of their alliance with Richard Childress Racing.
Speaking of RCR, they have yet to score a victory this season. After scoring a top-10 at Daytona to start the year off, Austin Dillon has yet to crack the top-10 at any race since, and his teammate have been running well, but once again – the numbers show they are not contending for wins. Ryan Newman has led just 10 laps this year, but has four top-10s as he has been consistent enough to hold a spot inside of the top-10 in points. However, Paul Menard has arguably been the strongest car in the RCR camp. Menard was close to a victory at Las Vegas, which happens to be the only top-five RCR has recorded this season.