Johnson survives rain, late-race caution to win at Kansas

A lot of people dislike Jimmie Johnson, and that should make the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion smile.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver soared to victory lane at Kansas Speedway after making a risky pit call. With less than 10 laps to go, crew chief Chad Knaus determined they would stay out while others went to refuel and get tires. Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. followed his lead, putting HMS on the front row with six laps remaining.

Heavy hitter Kevin Harvick attempted to climb back into the battle but only made it to second. The Stewart-Haas Racing machine was stout all evening, staying in contention throughout the entire evening.

“Entire” means before and after the rain delay.

Mother Nature rained on the NASCAR parade once again, unleashing a monsoon right before halfway. The hiatus lasted more than two hours, allowing fans and drivers to refocus and relax. This time was vital to the No. 48 team, who struggled in the first half of the Spongebob Squarepants 400. The weather was the enemy, yet NASCAR won out.

Once the race started up again, the action was abundant. Periods of three and four-wide didn’t go unnoticed, and neither did the impressive work by Martin Truex Jr. The Furniture Row Racing team has been close every weekend, and Saturday night seemed like his night. Unfortunately, the team decided to come down pit road and put two tires on. He couldn’t gather enough steam to make a run at Johnson.

The driver of the No. 48 secured his third win of the season and the 73rd of his career. This puts him seventh on the all-time winners list, only three victories behind Dale Earnhardt Sr. He also celebrated his 200th top-five and 300th top-10.

People don’t like seeing the same person in victory lane over and over again. Kyle Busch can attest to that fact. However, the haters are a good sign. It means Johnson is doing something right. There’s no doubt he will win a seventh championship. It’s the “when” that’s up in the air, yet it might not be that way for long if he keeps up his winning ways.


Earnhardt’s emotional victory overshadows final laps at Talladega

Everyone has that complex. You know, where you see the trashcan overflowing and say to yourself, “Oh, someone else will take care of that, so I won’t.” In psychology, it’s referred to as the Bystander Effect (although it’s technically about aiding victims of crimes).

And if you doubted that racing was psychological, Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway proved otherwise.

The 2.666-mile track is one of two restrictor plate layouts, and a specific standard is in place when NASCAR heads to these venues. Fans expect to see pack racing, where the cars are three-wide and the tension is tangible. That’s what makes Talladega and Daytona International Speedway special.

Unfortunately, Sunday’s event was only special for one reason. I’ll get to that later on.

The fact that weather didn’t threaten the action got the day off to a good start. Hendrick Motorsports claimed the front row, with Jeff Gordon on the pole and Kasey Kahne in second. Intensity mounted as the race began, cars going three wide to make up for bad qualifying efforts. Various drivers were in the mix, including Tony Stewart and rookie Ryan Blaney.

Around 15 drivers fell victim to “The Big One” and ended their afternoon early. Trevor Bayne got loose, and that’s all she wrote. A red flag allowed crews to clean up the damage. Drivers regrouped and refocused.

The rest of the race shifted between pack racing and single-file, and the latter prevailed in the last 15 laps. Twitter was alive, fans ranting about how drivers needed to make their moves. Everyone—fans, commentators, and drivers alike—began feeling antsy and waited for the big breakaway.

Laps dwindled down. Ten, nine, eight…nothing. The cars raced next to the outside wall, a long train just chugging along. Nobody went for it, they didn’t want to be first. Drivers figured someone would stick their neck out, and everyone would follow.

The white flag flew, and Denny Hamlin was that someone. The field immediately fanned out. Chaos swallowed up the back half, wrecking on the backstretch. As the race kept green, the fan favorite led like he did the majority of the event. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag and claimed his first victory of 2015.

Now, there are a few things that made this race disappointing. The lack of breakaway and caution for wreckage are the big two. However, that all washed away as Earnhardt emerged from his car in victory lane.

Overcome with emotion, the HMS driver could barely speak. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, would’ve celebrated his 64th birthday a few days ago, yet that wasn’t the only reason he was nearly crying.

“I’m in such a good place right now, with my personal life…I’m so blessed, I really am.”

When NASCAR’s “Most Popular Driver” is overwhelmed and humbled, it’s a great day.

Genuine emotion is hard to come by today, and it’s refreshing to see one of the most famous and richest athletes let his guard down. On a day that lacked the “true racing” that’s expected at restrictor plate tracks, his interview and humility were needed.

There’s no real explanation as to why drivers kept to themselves the final 15 laps. Maybe it’s the Bystander Effect. Maybe everyone simply wanted to play it safe. Either way, it was everything Talladega is not.

Steve Byrnes, a grateful heart

Steve Byrnes found the ‘can’ in cancer.

When he underwent his first bout with the disease, the Fox Sports reporter knew he couldn’t back down. He mustered the strength to watch his son Bryson’s football games. He watched funny movies with his wife Karen. He smiled throughout his entire battle, even after it returned.

He refused to let cancer ruin his life.

That’s why losing him hurts so bad.

Early on, Steve gave me advice for my career. He told me to not give up and to swear less. We kept in touch, and I looked at him as the standard. I had the honor of interviewing him last fall on the one-year anniversary of his cancer diagnosis. As we spoke, he talked about his work, health, and family. One major thing became apparent.

He was selfless. All he cared about was how the treatments affected his family. He never complained, and he appreciated every single day.

“It’s about having a grateful heart.”

Those words echo now as I type. Steve was the epitome of a grateful heart, and that was obvious during the past weekend. He reiterated how thankful he was to be in the race name, for the signs, hashtag and opportunity to honor him, Karen, and Bryson.

This humility made him great at his job. Over decades, he acquired credibility and forged relationships with some of the sport’s best racers. It was a different era back then, where reporters and drivers stayed at the same hotel. Friendships were created, and the one he had with Dale Earnhardt Sr. was overwhelmingly genuine. The seven-time champion taught him about life and how to treat people.

“[Earnhardt] treated everyone the same.”

So did Steve.

He was one of the last connections to that era, where he interviewed drivers we now consider legends. That—along with his selflessness and strength—makes him a legend.

The world has lost a remarkable man. I’m grateful we got to know him.

Godspeed, Steve.

Tamper, Tamper: No. 31 team Penalized for Tire Modifications

After rumors of tire tampering, NASCAR handed down penalties to Ryan Newman and his team Tuesday evening.

Tires were evaluated after the race at Auto Club Speedway on March 22, and the No. 31 team’s tires failed the inspection. As a result, NASCAR called it a P5 penalty, the second-highest offense on their transparent scale.

The penalties include the loss of 75 points in both the driver and owner standings, a $125,000 fine for crew chief Luke Lambert, and a six-race suspension for Lambert, team tire technician James Bender, and team engineer Phillip Surgen.

Richard Childress Racing president Torrey Galida made this statement following the announcement: “We understand the seriousness of the penalty. In fact, RCR has been one of the most outspoken opponents against ‘tire bleeding’ since the rumors began to surface last season. Once NASCAR provides us with the specific details of the infraction, we will conduct a further internal investigation and evaluate our options for an appeal.”

The rumors ramped up after NASCAR champion, Jeff Gordon, mentioned the issue after the start of the season. Other tires taken after the race at Auto Club Speedway, including those of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, were found to be untampered. No problems arose from post-race inspection after this past weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway as well.

With these consequences in place, Newman falls from sixth to 27th in the standings.

Hectic finish at Auto Club crowns Keselowski as victor

(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
(Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

During the closing laps of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, all hell broke loose.

The final ten laps were a roller coaster of emotions as polesitter Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick tangoed. The show they put on made everyone sit on the edge of their seats; Harvick would cast a line, reel Busch in, yet faltered when the No 41 broke away. Laps whittled away until two lone cycles remained.

That’s when the caution came out for debris.

Up to this point, the race had its good and bad moments, staying particularly exciting at points. However, it was about to get insane.

Everyone came down pit road to change tires and fuel up. Matt Kenseth, who was consistent all afternoon, broke an axel leaving his pit stall. An uncontrolled tire earned Denny Hamlin a penalty. It boiled down to cars staying out and others taking tow tires.

The first attempt at a green-white-checkered began with the No. 41 shooting to the front, the No. 4 following suit.

Another caution flew before the white flag had a chance. Kyle Larson’s bumper cover flew off. Pit stops happened again, and the order didn’t change much.

Kurt Busch brought the field to the green once again, determined to redeem himself. After being suspended for the first three races of the season, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver swore he would earn his keep.

It was not his day.

Brad Keselowski crept into the frame, soundlessly gaining of his former Team Penske teammate. The white flag came out. Their cars raced side-by-side as chaos erupted in the back of the pack.

Greg Biffle spun and hit the wall on the frontstretch. No caution followed.

Keselowski went to the lead and never looked back, winning his first race of 2015. He led one lap during the event.

While trying to catch up, Busch hit the wall. The misstep allowed Harvick to advance to second, marring his teammate back in third.

Seeing the race fall apart right in front of Kurt Busch is both heartbreaking and confusing. He had the best car all weekend, yet it still didn’t go his way. Judging by the expletive-filled responses from fans, many aren’t happy with how things turned out.

NASCAR might have some explaining to do with how the cautions fell—or how they didn’t fall at all. Many view the last lap crash similar to the one during this season’s Daytona 500. What was the difference?

No matter how one feels about the ending or NASCAR’s officiating, there’s something we can all agree on.

Auto Club is unpredictable, and the ending was quite fitting.

Harvick wins at Las Vegas, while Truex and Allmendinger show strength

(Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
(Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick is unstoppable.

After winning the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver refuses to back down at all costs. He asserted this fact with a win Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Harvick started 18th but quickly worked his way into contention. Once he grabbed the lead, nobody could pry it from his grip. Even if they did, it wasn’t going to be for long. The only issue came in the final laps; the driver radioed in that he felt a bad vibration. It wasn’t enough to throw the No. 4 team off their game.

He led 142 out of 267 laps on the way to his victory, a win that secures him a spot in the 2015 edition of the Chase. He is now the third different winner this season, joining Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson. It’s easy to see that Harvick is passionately seeking his next NSCS championship.

Unfortunately for Martin Truex Jr., that vibration didn’t develop into more. The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet finished eighth and sixth at Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta, respectively. That team keeps getting better and better. After ending 2014 on a high note, everyone can feel the win coming for Truex. It’s only a matter of when.

A.J Allmendinger is on a similar streak. Although he ended up 20th in the Daytona 500, the JTG Daugherty Racing car claimed seventh at Atlanta and then sixth at Las Vegas. With two single-car operations making their presence known, it’s time for NASCAR and its fans to definitely take notice.

The majority of the Las Vegas race was mundane, yet there are always stories –like the valiant Harvick and the inspiring runs by Truex and Allmendinger—that give the event the life that it needs.

Dillon and Blaney both impress in Xfinity race at Las Vegas

(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

With Kyle Busch out indefinitely, another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver had the chance to dominate the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Austin Dillon glided to victory, facing some slight interference from Ryan Blaney in the final laps. The 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion started on the pole in the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. ‘Domination’ is the only word to describe it.

What stuck out in the end was Blaney’s perseverance and maturity. The Team Penske driver, who now runs a partial Cup schedule with Wood Brothers Racing, scuffled with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones with around 30 laps to go. Blaney hit Jones’ left rear tire and caused the No. 20 to get loose and hit the wall. Jones was up front all day until that incident.

In the closing laps, Dillon and Blaney raced with intensity and intelligence. It was a constant battle of roping the No. 33 in, setting up the pass, and then gathering it up all over again when it didn’t work out. The Penske car overdrove the final turn and fell back as Dillon took the checkered flag. The maturity didn’t end there; when interviewed for his runner-up finish, Blaney apologized first and foremost for the accident with Jones.

If there was anything to take away from the NXS event at Las Vegas, it was the dominating performance by Dillon and the smart racing by Blaney. With these two on the rise in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the future can’t look anything but bright.


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