Speedway Digest Staff
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The NASCAR Nationwide Series will be in the spotlight this weekend at Kentucky Speedway in more ways than one. Not only will the field take the checkered flag under the lights on Saturday night, but they will be the main attraction as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Loudon.
Michael Annett and the No. 43 Flying J Travel Plaza team are looking to rally on a mile-and-a-half track this weekend after two recent finishes outside of the top-10 at Atlanta and Chicago. Annett's stats at Kentucky show that it's the perfect track for the team to do just that.
Annett has six starts at the mile-and-a-half track with one top-five and four top-10 finishes. His average start is 13 and average finish is 12.8. He earned his best finish of fourth in the June race of last year.
Comments from the No. 43 Flying J Travel Plaza Ford Mustang driver Michael Annett:
"I'm looking forward to Kentucky. It's a track that I've historically done well at, and I think it's the perfect track for us to turn our mile-and-a-half program around. Since we're not running for points, we've been trying a lot of new things and seeing where they take us. Some places they worked and some places they didn't. We haven't been so successful with the new stuff at the mile-and-a-half tracks, so I think this weekend we're going to take a step back and pick up where we left off last year. We finished fourth here in June last year, so we'll be trying to match that, if not better it."
Comments from Crew Chief Philippe Lopez on Kentucky:
"Michael has run very well at Kentucky in the past, and as a team we ran well here last year. Since Michael got hurt in the beginning of the season and we're not able to run for points, it's been no secret that we've been trying some different things, and we've been hitting some dead ends lately. For this weekend, we are going to go back to what ran well there last year, unload where we did last year and work on it from there. With our normal set-up, we should get into the top-10.
"We're always trying to get better, and that's part of the new, out-of-the-box thinking that we've been trying new things for next year. It hasn't really worked well for us at Atlanta and Chicago. Even though it was disheartening, we've learned some things that might apply later."
David Gilliland doesn't mince words when you ask how he feels about New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It's always been among his least favorite tracks on the circuit. But he credits crew chief Frank Kerr with changing his attitude about the 1.058-mile oval this season.
The driver-crew chief pair worked its way to an 18th-place finish at the July New Hampshire event -- Gilliland's career-best finish at the Loudon, N.H., oval and significantly better than his career average finish of 32nd at the venue.
The No. 38 Long John Silver's team will take the knowledge from that event and apply it in its return to the flat track for Sunday's Sylvania 300. The start will be Gilliland's 250th start in his eight-year Sprint Cup Series career.
Comments from Long John Silver's team driver David Gilliland heading to Loudon:
"New Hampshire has probably been my least favorite racetrack since I've gotten into the Cup series. But, on the flip side of that coin, we ran really well there earlier this year. Frank Kerr, my crew chief, he's changing my attitude on a lot of these tracks, thankfully. We've got a good package to run there and we were just there not too long ago. We're actually building a brand new car, too, for Loudon. So we're going to take what we learned and put it into this new car, which is a little lighter and sleeker, and put it to work and have a great race.
"It's very narrow, very flat and it's very hard to pass on. At a lot of tracks we go to, you're on the edge all day and that'll wear you out. But at Loudon, you're over the edge all day. It's just a difficult racetrack. It's probably one of the most line-sensitive racetracks we go to and one of the most challenging tracks for sure.
"The track doesn't really seem to change too much. You've got seams that make the place where you've got to run very narrow. It's about a car width and a quarter between the seams. And if you get your tires outside of that, you're done. So you're aiming for this lane that's not much wider than the car and that makes it challenging."
If history repeats itself, the No. 34 Taco Bell team should be looking at another quality finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend. David Ragan and crew earned a 19th-place finish in the Sprint Cup Series' first trip to the 1.058-mile oval this season, and they'll aim for a few spots better in the return trip.
Despite the challenging nature of the flat track, the Front Row Motorsports team made significant strides throughout the race weekend in July, improving on the car each day and also throughout the race. Ragan has 13 starts at the flat oval, with one top-10 and three top-15 finishes. His best result was seventh in 2011.
Comments from Taco Bell team driver David Ragan heading to Loudon:
"We ran pretty good with our Front Row Motorsports team at New Hampshire a couple months ago. And to go back there this time, the temperature is a little cooler usually, but it's still the same kind of race. You've really got to work on your racecar to roll through the center of those corners. You don't have a lot of banking to help you out. So you've got to rely on mechanical grip, making sure your tires are all working together and try to qualify well.
"We had a good run there the first trip out. And it felt good because that's a track that I've struggled at a bit throughout my career. But it's fun to go there to be challenged and try to work hard to get your car to handle good. And, for us, a top-15 finish would be a good day at New Hampshire.
"There's less room for error. There's no banking to aid your car with any handling issues that you may have. If you're at a Bristol, for instance, or a track like Phoenix, you can move around. You can run the very bottom, you can run the middle, you can clip the apron to help your car turn. But at New Hampshire, you're just so restricted to one groove. And usually a guy or girl can get their car figured out and just really put a show on and dominate the race. But if you're off just a little bit, it's tough to overcome when you don't have many options to fix whatever issues you have."
The low-banked New Hampshire Motor Speedway doesn't fall flat for Josh Wise. He actually likes racing at the 1.058-mile flat oval, despite an unlucky result in the team's first visit there in July. The No. 35 Ford was running well and improving when a shock mount broke, sending Wise to the garage for repairs.
The team will look for a better break in the second trip to Loudon, N.H., for Sunday's Sylvania 300. Wise's teammates David Ragan and David Gilliland both earned top-20 finishes in the July event, and the organization looks to benefit from those results as it prepares for the three-car team's return this week.
Sunday's race will be Wise's fourth start at New Hampshire.
Comments from MDS Transport team driver Josh Wise heading to Loudon:
"I've always liked New Hampshire and I'm excited to go back there. We had a really good car there in the spring race and just had a part malfunction and put us laps down. So it's a place that I'm really looking forward to going back to because our car was so good there the first race.
"There's always a lot going on at that track throughout the race weekend, like with modifieds or late models sharing the track with us some weekends. And you can play guessing games trying to keep up with the track and just guess yourself right into a hole.
"I've just found that the best thing is to get your car driving as best as it possibly can for the conditions available, and maybe make a little adjustment in case you think there's going to be a change in balance or in the track. But for the most part, you head down that path and build some adjustability into it for during the race based on what is presented to you."
Casey Mears beat the rest of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series field to Chicago when he arrived early Wednesday to begin making appearances on behalf of his primary sponsor, GEICO, who also held the naming rights for this weekend’s event, the GEICO 400. After sitting in downtown Chicago signing autographs for passersby on Michigan Avenue, he later turned country music judge and lent perspective on up and coming singer-songwriters. He then appeared multiple times over the course of the weekend at GEICO’s display areas around Chicagoland Speedway.
While the weather on Friday provided a perfect backdrop for practice, Mears and his Germain Racing team struggled. After ending up 32nd in practice, the challenge continued when Mears would be forced to go out sixth in qualifying. A poor qualifying draw resulted in the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion being relegated to the 31st position on the starting grid.
Chicagoland Speedway was to kick off the 2013 Chase, but it would first need to contend with Mother Nature. After rain forced the delayed start of the GEICO 400, Mears and his Sprint Cup Series counterparts rushed to their cars as NASCAR officials sent teams scrambling into a hurry up offense in an attempt to stay ahead of the impending weather. Rolling off 31st, Mears and his #13 GEICO Ford would have their work cut out for them. As early as lap 12, the Bakersfield, CA, native notified crew chief Bootie Barker that the car would not turn. Fortunately, lap 30 presented teams with a competition caution, allowing the Germain Racing team to make much needed adjustments to the GEICO Fusion. During his trip down pit road, Mears informed Barker: “The car is free in, won’t turn center off. The backend slides around and the frontend is not turning well.” The GEICO crew quickly provided him with four fresh tires, a tank of fuel and air pressure adjustments.
The adjustments were of great help and Mears had worked his way into the top ten before a scheduled green flag pit stop on lap 84 sent him to the attention of his Germain Racing pit crew. The car was tight, leading the team to refresh him with four tires, fuel and additional air pressure adjustments. Unfortunately, lap 108 saw the rain come and the red flag wave, halting racing action at the 1.5-mile tri-oval just 26 laps short of the halfway point, leaving the race scored as unofficial.
A five-hour rain delay ensued and teams would return to the track at around 10 PM (EDT) where skies were now dark and temperatures cold. Track conditions varied wildly from the daytime conditions they departed when the red flag was displayed. Frustration was on-deck and it was not long before it manifested itself. Blown engines were abound for some teams, while handling issues continued to plague Mears and his GEICO team. While the earlier changes made to the #13 Ford were of significant help, the night sky and winter temps sent the Germain crew back to the drawing board. After making up considerable ground before the rain delay, they were now forced to start over. Aside from a brief appearance in the top 15 that lasted a hand full of laps, starting on lap 220, Mears found himself nose-to-nose with his racecar for the bulk of the evening. When the checkered flag waved deep in the night, Mears and his GEICO team recorded a 30th place finish.
“The guys on this GEICO team did a good job making changes to the car during pit stops, but that rain delay really hurt us,” Mears said. “I felt like we were making up ground, but the rain delay really set us back, as it also did to a lot of the other teams out here. There are not many people in a good mood in this garage right now. The silver lining is that we were getting the GEICO Ford figured out and we were making progress until the rain came. I am happy for GEICO that NASCAR was able to get the race in because this is a huge deal for them and I was happy to be able to be a part of their activities this week. I’m proud to have a sponsor in GEICO that so strongly supports and activates our sport.”
Next on the schedule for the Germain Racing team is a trip to Loudon, NH.
Casey Mears and the #13 GEICO Ford Fusion will hit the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the weekend’s opening practice session on Friday, September 20th, at 12:00 PM (EDT). Qualifying will follow at 3:40 PM (EDT).
The last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series raced at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS), Jeff Gordon picked off 15 positions in the final 40 laps to finish 10th in July. But Gordon has been back to the 1.058-mile track since.
And raced here twice since.
In August, Hendrick Motorsports elected to use one of their four tests at NHMS. During that test, the organization's four teams held two shortened mock races to better understand possible race setups - a practice that carried over the following week during their second test scheduled at another track.
"I believe we learned a lot during those testing races," said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. "And it's a whole lot more fun than just turning lap after lap by yourself.
"We would work on our setups for a couple hours, then 'race' to see how those setups compared to those of our teammates. It provided our team valuable information that we can use heading into this weekend's race."
In 37 starts at "The Magic Mile," Gordon has three wins and four poles while his 16 top-fives and 22 top-10's tops all drivers. He has 16 consecutive top-15 finishes here as well.
"This is always a track that I look forward to coming to, and it's one we've had success at over the years," said Gordon. "I love this track - it's just one where I have a really good feel of what I need to get the car through the corners fast and be able to make good passes and have good speed.
"There's a few tracks on the circuit - probably a handful of them - that I have that kind of confidence at and this is one of them."
Gordon enters the Sylvania 300 on the heels of four consecutive top-10 finishes including Sunday's sixth-place finish in the rain-interrupted race at Chicago. In that event, the No. 24 battled back from a lap down late due to a flat tire to contend for a top-five.
"This team has a lot of fight in them and we never give up," said Gordon, who is seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and 24 markers out of the lead. "We've started to run better - I think Chicago was one of our best races so far this year - and we have started to finish better. We just need to keep building on that. When you have cars that drive like the one I had at Chicago, it's so much fun.
"I can't wait for this weekend's race."
In Friday morning's first practice, Sauter was 12th and Crafton, 14th. But in Happy Hour at mid-day, they both picked-up considerably, with Crafton fourth and Sauter, fifth and easily within striking distance of the leaders.
The pair was separated a bit in qualifying, where Crafton was eighth-best and Sauter, 14th. When the race got under way, however, both ThorSport Tundras were loose and they ultimately fell into the depths of the top 20 as a result -- with Sauter dropping as low as 22nd at one point.
With about 50 laps remaining Sauter had raced up to ninth with Crafton right behind him, when a yellow flag flew, bringing all the lead trucks to pit road. The difference in the ThorSport crews glared as Crafton picked up two spots on pit road, which put him in position to race forward to a fourth-place finish.
With ThorSport's only other complete in-house pit crew in Salem, Ind., for a race with ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards leader Frank Kimmel; Connor said on Sauter's second stop one of their hired over-the-wall crewmen screwed up even worse than on the first stop -- and a 17th-place restart position was Sauter's penalty.
"We'll keep working on it and I know our guys will continue to improve and we'll get it right," Sauter said. "No one on this team is even thinking of giving up, and we'll go to (Las) Vegas and prove that in a couple weeks."
Over the next 33 laps after the final restart, Sauter proved how committed he was, and his truck's potential as he raced back to the top 10 with 10 laps remaining. But that was as far forward as he was able to get.
"We made progress with our Carolina Nut / Curb Records Tundra and that's all you can ask for," Sauter said. "We had to run hard to get back to where we finished and we'll just keep working to make sure we're not in that position again."
With his gallant chase back to the top 10, Sauter improved to within 28 points of the top five, which remains his team's primary goal before setting sights on Crafton, who's now 110 points ahead of Sauter.
The Truck Series' next race is the Smith's 350 on Sept. 28 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
After collecting the wall in NASCAR Nationwide Series practice, as a result of a really loose Toyota, Mike Bliss started the Dollar General 300 powered by Coke from the 35th position.
Gaining seven positions within the first 10 laps, Bliss began fighting loose conditions with the No. 19 TriStar Motorsports Toyota Camry.
When the opportunity to pit came at lap 23 for the events first caution, Crew Chief Paul Clapprood called Bliss to pit road for four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment.
Racing in the 25th position as the field settled in for a long green flag run, Bliss stated his Toyota was still "loose, loose, loose". Seeing little change from the adjustments made during his previous pit stop, he brought the No. 19 Camry
down pit road for a green flag stop on lap 81.
Continuing to make strides to tighten up his loose handling car, Bliss opted to take the wave around during the events second caution on lap 102.
On lap 127 Bliss brought the Toyota Camry to pit road for another green flag pit stop. Making no adjustments the crew put on four scuff tires and topped off on fuel.
Bliss took the wave around for the second time as the third caution fell on lap 161. He said, "the car felt the best it's been all day".
Experiencing difficulties getting into the corners with five laps to go, Bliss was not able to advance within the closing laps and went on to finish the event in 23rd position.
Mike Bliss' post race remarks:
"Our car was loose the whole race. We tried making adjustments that would subdue the loose condition for a handful of laps, but as the tires wore down it would come back. I really appreciate the effort of my crew, they worked really hard to try and find a balance in the car." - Mike Bliss
Team Penske announced today that Juan Pablo Montoya will join the team in 2014. Montoya will drive the No. 2 Team Penske IndyCar for the full season as he will join Will Power and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the team’s IZOD IndyCar Series lineup beginning next season.
Montoya, 37, is a native of Colombia and he is one of the most accomplished drivers in the world. His career highlights include race wins in Formula One, NASCAR and the CART Indy Car Series. He is the only driver to produce victories in the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Monaco Grand Prix. Montoya earned 11 IndyCar wins over two seasons as he captured the CART Series title in his rookie season of 1999 followed by a victory in the Indy 500 in 2000.
“I am really excited to join this legendary team beginning next year,” said Montoya. “I have had the opportunity to drive for some of the best racing teams in the world and I have always admired Roger Penske and his organization. I consider it an honor to be offered the opportunity to drive for Team Penske.”
“Juan is a proven winner at all levels of motorsport,” said Roger Penske. “He has won a lot of races and championships and he has an extremely passionate fan base. We look forward to building on his successes together and we believe he will be a great addition to Team Penske.”
Penske Racing PR
Chad Hackenbracht made his fifth career start at Chicagoland Speedway during Saturday's Dollar General 300 powered by Coke. Hackenbracht made his first career NASCAR Nationwide Series start in "The Windy City" in July while driving for TriStar Motorsports. He has three previous starts in the ARCA Racing Series while driving for his family-owned team.
Qualifying in the 27th position, Hackenbracht was hopeful about his second Nationwide Series start at the D-shaped, 1.5-mile oval.
After qualifying, Hackenbracht's crew discovered a hole in the radiator of the No. 44 Ingersoll Rand Toyota. Replacing the radiator is considered an unapproved adjustment during post-qualifying impound, therefore the No. 44 was forced to drop to the rear of the field upon the start of the 200 lap race.
Hackenbracht made his charge toward the front from the drop of the green flag, breaking into the top-30 only five laps into the event, despite fighting a loose condition.
Early in the event, long green flag runs set the tempo making it difficult for the team to find time to make the necessary adjustments to correct the loose handling condition on the Ingersoll Rand Toyota.
Throughout the event's six cautions and two green flag pit stops, the Ingersoll Rand crew kept making strides to help Hackenbracht's loose handling Toyota. Doing so put Hackenbracht in position to match his best finish to date in the Nationwide Series.
With 13 laps to go Hackenbracht broke into the top-20, but fell one spot in the closing laps to finish 21st.
Chad Hackenbracht's Post Race Comments:
"I'm pleased with our finish this weekend. We were racing with the top 15 cars at the end of the race, but got caught laps down. We had a discouraging start to the race, but my team worked hard and we had a respectable outcome. I am continuing to grasp these [Nationwide Series] cars and I think I'm making positive strides. I greatly appreciate Ingersoll Rand for being on board this weekend and for their continued partnership with my racing career." - Chad Hackenbracht