Earnhardt experiences glory, while others feel anger at Martinsville

After a race full of various emotions, the sense of being overwhelmed fell over Martinsville Speedway as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won his fourth race of 2014.

The championship is out of the question for the driver of the No. 88; he failed to advance to the Eliminator round after the brawl at Talladega Superspeedway. That fact doesn’t erase his will to win. In actuality, it’s strengthened.

That strength was apparent Sunday afternoon, when Earnhardt, Jr. clawed his way to the top of the heap. Various obstacles made the victory even sweeter. With short track temperaments and cautions galore around every corner, it was a risky venture, but the No. 88 braved it all and ended up in victory lane.

Emotions are always high at short tracks, yet things were elevated this weekend at Hendrick Motorsports. Ten years prior, a plane carrying Rick Hendrick’s family and close friends crashed. Everyone on the aircraft passed away, including Hendrick’s son, Ricky. Each team pays tribute after every win; as they do the hat dance and put on HMS hats, they turn them backwards for a photo op. Ricky Hendrick was known for wearing his hat backwards, and he is not forgotten.

Earnhardt, Jr. was friends with Ricky, and the emotion was obvious in his post-win interview. He also mentioned his father, racing legend Dale Earnhardt, Sr., saying, “My daddy had these grandfather clocks in the house. I’ve wanted one since I was a kid. I went out and got one.”

He and Hendrick shared a hug on TV, and the win was put into perspective. A dad who lost his son and a son who lost his dad found success and solace in each other. That is a true example of NASCAR and what relationships it creates.

Martinsville brought not only emotion but also retaliation; many instances spiced up the 500-mile event. The most notable scuffle occurred between Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne. What started as an attempt to make room for the No. 5 resulted in the No. 55 spinning. A displeased Vickers came back and turned Kahne, and the vice versa happened a few laps later. Though Kahne is typically a quiet driver, he fought back. That was the most surprising part of it all, making it a key element to the afternoon’s festivities.

Because Earnhardt, Jr. is no longer a Chase contender, this puts pressure on those who are still in the hunt. Jeff Gordon came home second, securing the top of the Chase grid. It was Kevin Harvick who had a difficult day, dealing with a deep starting position and tussling with Matt Kenseth. Brad Keselowski also struggled with mechanical issues. These top pick for the Final Four fell into the Fatal Four –the ones who may be cut after Phoenix International Raceway.

Short tracks always conjure tons of emotions, and Sunday afternoon was no exception. From anger to tears, it was all there at Martinsville Speedway. Let’s hope it continues on for the remainder of the Chase.

Chase Grid after Martinsville Speedway

1. Jeff Gordon (–)
2. Ryan Newman (-3)
3. Joey Logano (-4)
4. Matt Kenseth (-5)
5. Denny Hamlin (-7)
6. Carl Edwards (-20)
7. Brad Keselowski (-31)
8. Kevin Harvick (-33)

 

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The Cost of Having at It: Keselowski and Stewart face fines, probation

After numerous incidents following Saturday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR handed down penalties. Tuesday afternoon, which is known as Penalty Day in the NASCAR world, brought the monetary punishments.

Brad Keselowski’s fine adds up to $50,000 for his behavior in post-race incidents. Keselowski, who finished 16th at Charlotte, was caught on-video side-swiping fellow driver Matt Kenseth on pit road. Sources also claim he “performed a burnout” in the garage area to intimidate Denny Hamlin, another driver with who he bumped heads.

Another fine goes out to Tony Stewart. His $25,000 fine comes from his actions on pit road as well; when Keselowski hit Kenseth, the No. 2 hit Stewart’s No. 14 in the rear bumper. In turn, Stewart threw the car into reverse and back up into Keselowski.

Both drivers are also in a four-race probation period. NASCAR’s senior vice president, Robin Pemberton, made a statement on the penalties.

“These penalties are about maintaining a safe environment follow the race. We knew that the new Chase format was likely going to raise the intensity level, and we want our drivers to continue to be themselves. However, the safety of our drivers, crew members, officials, and workers is paramount, and we will react when that safety could be compromised.”

Fans are reacting with outrage and surprised. Many are confused that Kenseth wasn’t punished after attacking Keselowski and tackling him to the ground. Others are perplexed with Stewart’s fine and what the mainstream media will run; nearly two months after the fatal incident involving Kevin Ward, Jr., Good Morning America covered the Charlotte chaos with incrimination comments about Stewart and his role in the action.

One thing is for certain: it costs a lot of money for boys to have at it.

Some video covering Saturday night’s altercations can be watched here.

Elimination format impresses at Dover, yet Wonder Boy shines

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

As fans of Chase Nations sat on the edges of their seats, Dover International Speedway made the Elimination race one to remember.

The thrill came from The Bubble Battle and a few twists. It was apparent that there would be many green flag runs, yet that didn’t deter drivers. Strapping in, everyone had a goal and an animalistic focus of survival.

Kevin Harvick started from the pole and dominated much of the race. A brave Brad Keselowski hunted the No. 4 without prevail. When reports of an issue arose from the Stewart-Haas Racing camp, many weren’t surprised; the story of Harvick’s season includes domination and downfall. The team spiraled even more out of control when his left front tire blew. The inner valve stem was broken. Though he finished in the top-15, it wasn’t what he wanted.

Keselowski stepped up to bat. Team Penske’s muscle was too strong to ignore. The organization is nearly perfect and are serious championship contenders. However, as great as the No. 2’s performance was, he was overpowered by the No. 24.

Yes, Jeff Gordon ran him down and stole the lead. Anyone who’s made old man jokes about this guy needs to apologize. The Drive for Five is still alive, especially after he claimed his fourth win of 2014 Sunday afternoon. He visited the Monster Mile’s victory lane for the first time since 2001, a sure sign that the Rainbow Warrior is stirring in his soul (Can we make ‘#WonderBoyLivesOn’ a hashtag this season?).

Alas, the race had to be solemn for some. This was a cut-off race, one where four drivers were removed from championship contention. Folks were eager to see how the new addition to The Chase format would unfold. Honestly, it changed the complexion of Dover; it made it a can’t-miss event, a complete one-eighty from its usual stance. The Bubble Battle kept eyes and calculators busy the entire afternoon.

Flip-flopping highlighted the newest improvement. First Kasey Kahne was in, then it was Kurt Busch, and that tug-of-war match lasted until the checkered flag flew. Kahne ended up advancing, despite finishing 21st. Those eliminated are Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, and Aric Almirola. One thing’s for sure: if Kahne wants to be a serious Contender, he has to stop getting by with the bare minimum. That entire team –especially the pit crew—needs to get their heads in the game. If not, they don’t have a fighting chance.

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series dives into the Contender round, these next two races –which take place at Kansas Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway—are critical. Why? Because the next cut-off race is at Talladega Superspeedway.

No pressure, guys.

 

Chase Grid following Dover

  1. Brad Keselowski
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Kevin Harvick
  4. Jimmie Johnson
  5. Jeff Gordon
  6. Kyle Busch
  7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
  8. Matt Kenseth
  9. Ryan Newman
  10. Carl Edwards
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Kasey Kahne

No charges filed against Stewart in Ward death

Tony Stewart is an innocent man.

On Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that a grand jury concluded that no charges would be filed against Stewart in regard to the August 9th incident that took the life of Kevin Ward, Jr.

Two charges were submitted to the grand jury: 2nd-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Around two dozen witnesses testified, and two videos were examined as evidence. The jury deliberated in less than an hour. Toxicology reports also revealed that Ward was under the influence of marijuana, “enough to impair his judgment.”

The Ward family may file a civil suit against Stewart, yet that’s to be determined. Though the biggest adversity is over, it’s important to keep Tony Stewart and the Ward family in our thought.

Competition package for 2015 announced; changes to rules, testing

Huge changes are rocking NASCAR yet again in the 2015 season. The latest competition package includes edits to rules, testing, and qualifying, and fans have mixed reactions so far. The most significant changes have been listed below, the information being obtained from the NASCAR Integrated Market.

TESTING

  • All team-initiated, private testing sessions are banned.
  • Teams will be invited to participate in NASCAR and Goodyear tests.
  • Pre-season testing at Daytona International Speedway (also known as Pre-season Thunder) has been cancelled.

RULES FOR THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES IN 2015

  • Horsepower will be reduced to 725 via a tapered spacer.
  • Roller valve lifters will replace flat valve lifter.
  • Rear differential gear ratios will be lowered, now targeting 9,000 RPM.
  • The rear spoiler will stand 6 inches tall, a reduction from the 8-inch spoiler seen in 2014.
  • Radiator pan will be 38 inches wide.
  • Optional driver adjustable track bar will be available.
  • Minimum vehicle weight goes from 3,300lbs to 3,250lbs due to a 50lbs ballast reduction.
  • Qualifying formats for all tracks will be updated.
  • Rain tires on road courses, as well as mandatory wipers, defogger, and rear-flashing rain lights installed for that particular event.

Some rules may be expanded upon once more information is available.

CHIME IN: What is your overall impression of the changes NASCAR is making for the 2015 season?

Drunk on a Fence: Race fan’s climb lightens tiring Richmond race

"Drunk on a Fence" (Via @AliciaPRNradio's Twitter)

“Drunk on a Fence”
(Via @AliciaPRNradio’s Twitter)

The only thing that made the race at Richmond International Raceway thrilling was a shirtless dude on the catch fence.

Yes, you read that correctly; a (reportedly drunk) race fan climbed on top of the protective catch fence during the race. He made it to the top and relaxed for a while before finally being caught by track officials. The fact it took that long for someone to realize his presence is shameful. Also, this feeds the “redneck” stereotype pretty well.

However, it was pretty funny.

Aside from that, the race didn’t live up to the expectation bestowed onto it. The last race before The Chase is supposed to be exciting, right? It was so predictable that Jimmie Johnson guessed the top drivers –winner Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, and Kevin Harvick—on Friday after practice. Though Keselowski’s dominance was impressive, it was exhausting to watch. The Drunk Fence Man was a needed break, but it just goes to show how alcohol can make people do some crazy things.

Speaking of Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 experienced severe dehydration after the race. He was carted to the care center after exiting the car and laying on the ground, unable to keep himself up. It was a scary moment, and let’s hope he’s going to be okay.

The Chase field is officially set, and Keselowski is seeded at the top. It’s going to be ten weeks of eliminations, talented driving, and nail-biting. Here’s to hoping it’s better than the race at Richmond.

The Chase Field

Brad Keselowski (–)
2. Jeff Gordon (-3)
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-3)
4. Jimmie Johnson (-3)
5. Joey Logano (-3)
6. Kevin Harvick (-6)
7. Carl Edwards (-6)
8. Kyle Busch (-9)
9.Denny Hamlin (-9)
10. Kurt Busch (-9)
11. Kasey Kahne (-9)
12. Aric Almirola (-9)
13. AJ Allmendinger (-9)
14. Matt Kenseth (-12)
15. Greg Biffle (-12)
16. Ryan Newman (-12)

Atlanta’s final Labor Day race results in Chase berth for Kahne

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The final Labor Day event at Atlanta Motor Speedway seemed to last forever. Maybe it never wanted to end. As the bizarre race played out, Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne was thankful the action ceased –especially when it worked in his favor.

Five-hundred miles is an exhausting amount, one that’s difficult to completely fill with excitement. Lulls ensued, yet they served as needed breaks from the crazy developments.

It all started with a cat. Or a squirrel. When leader Kevin Harvick radioed in early into the race, he quickly dodged a furry object. It was first regarded as a feline, but a clear photo showed that it was a tree-dwelling critter that took a wrong turn.

A caution soon came out –thankfully, it wasn’t for the squirrel. Instead, it was for some unwanted decoration on Jimmie Johnson’s machine. AJ Allmendinger’s tire shredded apart, and a shred flew up and hooked onto the No. 48’s hood pins. BOOM, streamers.

Oh, but the insanity didn’t stop there; on one of the many restarts, turn three was a crapshoot due to a large quantity of smoke drifting into the area. It seemed to be from an infield fire. Either way, it looked creepy.

The race mellowed out, and it was shaping to be a tight battle between second-place Harvick and a leading Kahne. The former has collected three wins this season, while the HMS driver hadn’t contributed to the team count. Kahne’s lead kept growing and growing and growing as he came closer to the white flag’s appearance…

…and then Kyle Busch drove through Martin Truex, Jr. He claimed it was a misjudgment, yet he rammed into him again once the No. 78 went into the wall. Truex and his team were understandably upset, searching for some consistency. The incident sent the field up for pit stops, and Matt Kenseth rose to the occasion. He took two tires, while Kahne and Harvick went with four. They fell back, chances seemingly diminished.

On the restart, Paul Menard got a horrible restart on his two tires and back up into Harvick. Joey Logano darted out of line and set them three wide. Eating and banging followed, and Harvick smacked the wall, chances killed. When the caution flew, Kahne was third, next to a surprisingly strong Danica Patrick.

Kenseth attempted to hang onto the final restart, but Kahne wasn’t having any of it. With an accidental wiggle from the No. 20, Kahne extended his lead and took the checkered flag. His first victory of 2014 gives him seventeen wins in his career.

Some other notable headlines: Winless Kenseth also secures a spot in The Chase, and Patrick claimed her career-best finish with sixth place.

With one race remaining until The Chase begins, things are getting tight. It’s no doubt that the Richmond International Raceway event will be exciting, but can it top Atlanta’s showing? That’s to be determined.