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
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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.

New era for JGR includes Edwards, Suarez, and new sponsors

As a new era begins, an old tradition ceases.

The worst-kept secret in NASCAR was confirmed Tuesday morning at a press conference held by Joe Gibbs Racing. Carl Edwards is set to join the organization in 2015, driving the No. 19. Arris Group Inc., a communications manufacturer that’s new to the sport, will serve as primary sponsor for 17 races.

This ends the long partnership between Edwards and Roush-Fenway Racing. Though the news has been known for months, the truth is that RFR is lacking. With two of their top drivers moving to JGR (Matt Kenseth jumped aboard in 2013), the race team is light-years away from its glory days. The team has been a NASCAR staple and isn’t up to par with the changing times.

Arris will also be on a JGR car full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series; the announcement included Daniel Suarez, who will run the entire NNS schedule and some of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races. The company will also be on the hood of a NASCAR Mexico Series machine. This is the first time a sponsor has extended into four series.

Suarez will also have support from Escuderia TELMEX, a Mexican telecommunications company that takes interest in Suarez and his Hispanic background.

Though bittersweet, the announcement brings exciting news that two new sponsors are diving into the sport. NASCAR was lacking in that area, so this is a great sight for not only JGR but for the entire NASCAR community.

One year after cancer diagnosis, Byrnes looks back on life

rpm_r_steve-byrnes_mb_576x324

(Credit: Fox Sports)

Cancer.

It’s a word that holds a variety of meanings to people across the world. Some associate it with fear, others think of flooding medical bills. When asked what the word ‘cancer’ meant to him, Steve Byrnes’ answer was simple: “Fight.”

Last fall, the host of Race Hub was diagnosed with head and neck cancer that spread to his throat and lymph nodes. It was a day that changed his life –and how he looked at that life—forever.

 

How Byrnes ended up covering NASCAR was a self-described “accident.” After playing football at James Madison University, he transferred to the University of Maryland, majoring in broadcasting. Charleston, South Carolina became his home when he landed a job as a sport anchor. That’s when racing entered the picture.

“One of my friends moved to Charlotte, and he called me, saying they were looking for someone to host a NASCAR program…I got the job and started working at Sunbelt Video in 1995.”

Sunbelt Video, a small company with “not even 10 people there,” went through multiple transitions before settling into its current form as the NASCAR Media Group. Byrnes and that handful of people became the frontrunners for reporting on the series and its personalities.

“Only half the races were televised,” he pointed out. “We were sometimes the only cameras there if TV wasn’t covering the event. It made for connections with drivers. You know, this was the time before motor homes, so a lot of the times, we’d share hotels with the drivers…some of my best conversations came from sitting around the hotel pool with Neil Bonnett and his crew.”

That simpler era led to a unique friendship with one of the sport’s largest personalities, Dale Earnhardt.

Byrnes said, “My relationship with Dale Earnhardt was pretty unusual…it was a much more personal relationship. One time, Dale asked me what kind of VCR to buy…I understood his personality and his friendships. With him, he could wrap his arm around you one day, and the next he wouldn’t even look at you. I accepted him and his personality, and I think that’s what made us close.”

“The thing with Earnhardt was…his big thing with him was respect. In his mind, respect on the racetrack was earned. In life, it was the same way. [Earnhardt] had this big regret about not finishing high school. So, the way he looked at people had nothing to do with education or profession. He treated everyone the same.”

It is advice that Byrnes thinks about every day while doing his job. Being the face of Race Hub isn’t easy work. Juggling that with his new role as a NASCAR Camping World Truck commentator? It’s a trip.

“When Rick [Allen, FS1’s lead NCWTS commentator] left, it was difficult because he was so immersed in the Truck series. He’s a great guy, a good friend of mine, but it just got complicated [for him to balance responsibilities].”

Allen was doing juggling of his own; along with his Fox obligations, he began hosting NASCAR America on NBCSN. Signed on to join their NASCAR on NBC coverage in 2015, it soon turned into a hassle. Byrnes stepped in, splitting the race load with fellow FS1 broadcaster Adam Alexander.

His transition was more about the content than the dynamic. “It was a huge transition in not covering [the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series]. In 1995, I was at the first Truck race at Phoenix. I remember I really enjoyed it, and I was a Truck reporter before I moved to Fox in the late ‘90s. But [being in the booth] requires a different skill set. When you’re doing play-by-play, you see the entire track, the race as a whole. The other thing is that, on Race Hub, the time for each segment is very restrictive. During the race, things are pretty organic.”

It is a role he is thrilled to take on, even after a difficult year.

 

“One day, I was on Race Hub, and one day, I wasn’t.”

Cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes requires immediate attention, and that’s what happened; Byrnes took chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously. It resulted in his wife, Karen, becoming his caretaker.

Despite the rigorous treatments, his faith never wavered.

“I wasn’t going to let cancer take away my happiness. I went to every one of [his son] Bryson’s football games. It didn’t matter how sick I was, I wanted to be there. There were times me and my wife would just sit on the couch and watch funny movies all day. [Cancer] puts perspective on what is and isn’t important.”

Everything in his career –pit reporting, hosting, things that took over his thoughts constantly—paled in comparison to his family. Out of the bad came something good, and he wants to share that good with other survivors. “I want people to know your biggest resource is people who have fought the same battle. It’s not a death sentence.”

“You have to be grateful for every single day. I felt that way during treatment, and I still feel that way now. It’s about having a grateful heart.”

Steve Byrnes fought hard and came out victorious, returning to TV and taking on an extra broadcasting position. Though it may be overwhelming at times, there’s no doubt that he’s thankful he has the opportunity to take that on.

Cancer. It changed him for the better.