Citizens Bank 400 News and Notes
Re: Citizens Bank 400 News and Notes
Citizens Bank 400: Junior Eat World
by Brian Gabrielle
Has your world stopped shaking yet?
The news that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join the Evil Empire, a.k.a. Hendrick Motorsports, will surely reverberate around Michigan International Speedway this weekend, and will continue to do so at every Junior-merchandise-soaked track for the rest of the year. Remember those Budweiser ads over the past couple years, where Little-E jokes about changing his number from '8' to something different? Well, it might be coming, and if it does, you can expect a fair proportion of the southern U.S. to hold some apparel-burning bonfires.
Junior's daddy, it goes without saying, would never have joined Hendrick (whom he considered one of his fiercest rivals). Knowing this, you can imagine what the most dyed-in-the-wool Earnhardt fans are thinking. Here's a hint: it rhymes with "Schmenedict Arnold."
Whether or not Earnhardt Jr. winds up winning a championship because of this move, or if Kyle Busch goes on to lead a successful resurgence at DEI (or Ginn Racing), or if Martin Truex Jr. goes on to prove you can win tons of races in DEI equipment, the die has been cast. Junior's no better than Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson, Johnny Damon, Alex Rodriguez and the cast of thousands that have paraded through the Bronx in the 2000s. He's a mercenary.
Last Week: The rain continues to have fun with our wagers. Denny Hamlin had the day's best car, and Tony Stewart was probably second-best, but Jeff Gordon played it smart by short-pitting and then barely keeping the lead when the raindrops came out for good. However, our selection of Stewart over Kurt Busch was a good one, so we logged our third consecutive winning week, and fifth in the last six. For the week, we wound up ahead a net 0.41 units on 1.5 units wagered (a return of 27.3%); for the season, then, we're at a positive 3.06 units on 21 units wagered (a return of 14.6%). (Note that if you'd eschewed the conservative betting scheme we outline below, and simply bet one unit per wager on everything we recommend, you'd have lost 2.09 units last weekend, but you'd still be up a net positive 8.76 units on 56 units wagered for the year, a return of 15.6%.)
Take Carl Edwards (+1000), 1/6th unit. I just like King Carl on this track style. His career on the two-mile, high-banked tracks is sweet; at Michigan, he's finished 10th, fifth, fourth, second and (most recently) 22nd, and at Fontana he's finished sixth, fifth, fourth, third, fourth and (most recently ) 29th. I grant you, neither of the most recent finishes at these two venues was good, but he qualified 12th for Sunday's race and then put up the fastest times in each of Saturday's practices. He had the best car here for the Father's Day last race but got rained out before he could take the win, and he's due.
Take Tony Stewart (+800), 1/6th unit. The smarter play here might be Matt Kenseth (+500), because he's the defending champ at this track, and won at Fontana earlier this year. However, I remember that race back in February, and Stewart had the best car on the track that day, but suffered a blown engine late to hand the race to Kenesth. I give them equal chances of being near the front when the race ends, but considering the price on Stewart isn't nearly as steep as it is on the #17, I'll look his way.
Take Greg Biffle (+1800), 1/6th unit. This is another shot at a home run (I took one with Brian Vickers (+7500) last week), but it's not without a great deal of logic. Biffle runs terrific at Michigan (as do most Roush drivers): he won back-to-back events here in the summer of '04 and the spring of '05, and has backed up those wins with finishes of sixth, fourth and seventh in the three races since. He qualified just 14th for Sunday's race, but was in the top five in both Saturday practices. I know Biffle's contract situation is up in the air, and I know he wasn't happy to have his crew chief changed (plus he currently sits an ugly 19th in points). But this is the best value bet on the board.
Re: Citizens Bank 400 News and Notes
Edwards snaps 52-race winless streak
June 17, 2007
BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) -Carl Edwards won four races in his first full season, finishing an impressive third in the Nextel Cup standings.
That quick success made Edwards believe wins would be easy to come by. Instead, it took him 19 months to race his way back into Victory Lane.
He finally did it Sunday, overcoming an early speeding penalty and holding off Martin Truex Jr. to win at Michigan International Speedway and snap his 52-race Nextel Cup winless streak.
``It was very difficult to stay composed, especially when Martin was closing in,'' Edwards said. ``To me, second place would have felt the same as chopping off my arm. I wanted to win. That's it.''
But Truex, who has not finished lower than third the past three races, brushed the wall in the closing laps and lost his momentum. It cost him a chance to run down Edwards, who handily beat Truex to the line to grab his first win since Nov. 11, 2005, at Texas.
``Is it really over?'' Edwards excitedly asked his crew as he closed in on the finish line.
Edwards celebrated his fifth career Nextel Cup win with his trademark backflip off the window ledge of his car. He then shared an emotional hug with crew chief Bob Osborne, who was with him in 2005 but was moved off the crew for most of 2006. The two were reunited at the end of last season.
``It's been a long time, for both of us,'' Osborne said. ``I know he's been dying to get back in the winner's circle. He's extremely competitive, awesome race car driver. So, you know, Carl Edwards, I would go to battle for him any day.''
Edwards then gleefully took a pair of scissors to team member Tom Giacchi's shaggy beard, clipping off a chunk of hair that had been growing since the two vowed in late 2005 that Giacchi wouldn't shave until Edwards' next win.
``When they made that silly wager, I had no idea it would be this long,'' car owner Jack Roush said. ``Carl and Bob won four races the first year. I was even surprised it took this long to get it going this year.''
The victory gave Roush his second win of the season - first since Matt Kenseth won Feb. 25 at California - and temporarily sidetracked Hendrick Motorsports' season-long domination. Hendrick cars have won 10 of the 15 races this season.
Roush, who has company headquarters in nearby Livonia, makes winning at Michigan a priority for all his drivers and he celebrated twice this weekend - Travis Kvapil also won the Truck Series race Saturday.
Edwards' victory was only the second of the year for Ford, and it snapped a 13-race winning streak for Chevrolet. No other manufacturer has won a race this season.
``Ford has given us every technical support, all the money that we've asked for to help us put in equipment and be competitive with the other manufacturers, with the other teams,'' Roush said. ``They deserve more, and I'm just embarrassed that it took us this long to really celebrate it with Carl and the guys.''
Truex, who had his first victory two weeks ago at Dover, finished second after overcoming a spin on the backstretch 100 laps into the race. Truex, who led 54 laps before the early spin and has climbed to 10th in the series standings, heaped praise on his Dale Earnhardt Inc. team.
``It was a great day for us,'' he said. ``The team did another awesome job. I think it was the best pit stops we've ever had on pit road. Awesome race car, and probably the best engine I've ever had. Guys are doing great, man, and I'm loving life right now.''
Two-time series champion Tony Stewart, winless this season, was third. Stewart had a strong car in practice Saturday, but an accident with David Gilliland caused heavy damage and he wasn't sure how good his car would be during the race.
He was supposed to start 41st, but deliberately hung back at the green flag to fall into 43rd place at the start.
``With what happened (in practice) and where we qualified, it was two strikes against us,'' Stewart said. ``I made sure I went across the start-finish line in 43rd, so wherever we ended up I could say we went from dead last. From 43rd to third is a pretty good day.''
Casey Mears, on a roll since his first career win on May 27, was fourth and the highest finishing Hendrick driver.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth to give DEI two cars in the top five, and the showing moved him into Chase for the championship contention. He's 12th in the standings - where he was before a 100-point penalty last month knocked him down to 14th - and is trying to end his time at DEI on top.
Earnhardt, who agreed to a five-year deal this week to drive for Hendrick Motorsports starting next season, congratulated Truex, his teammate.
``Martin did good, he did such a good job today. That team has found something - I might sneak over there and find out what it is,'' Earnhardt said. ``We had a good car. We were as good as anybody at the end of the race, just ran out of laps.''
Kyle Busch, who is losing his ride at Hendrick to make room for Earnhardt, was sixth and was followed by Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and series points leader Jeff Gordon, who was ninth and the last driver on the lead lap.
Michael Waltrip, racing for just the third time this season, was a surprising 10th and even led one lap. He was with the leaders most of the race, and was lapped with one lap to go.
``It's just a great, great feeling to run that well,'' said Waltrip, who has failed to qualify 12 times this season.
``Overall, I'm very pleased. My guys are rusty, but you'd never know it. It was a hot day and I hadn't got to race this much, but I felt just as good at the end as I did in the beginning.
``When the checkered fell then I felt hot, tired and glad it was over.''
Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson had been running in third, but ran out of gas seven laps from the finish and wound up 19th.
Re: Citizens Bank 400 News and Notes
Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud : Michigan Edition
The Key Moment – Martin Truex, Jr. was closing fast on Carl Edwards in the waning stages of the race but slapped the wall in his charge towards the front. Edwards drove on to an uncontested victory.
In a Nutshell – What it lacked in drama, the race made up for in brevity.
Dramatic Moment – When Jeff Green and Ryan Newman had their little run in while laps down shortly after a restart, it ruined the day for some fast cars and almost ruined the day for others.
As is typical at Michigan, there was some good racing for a few laps after the restarts, but the racing soon petered out all together to a parade with cars separated by several second intervals.
What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week
What’s everyone going to be talking about? The Earnhardt / Hendrick deal, of course: the whys, the ifs, the whens, the whats, and everything else right down to the most minute detail. Make no bones about it, this is Dale Junior’s world…the rest of us just live here.
Things we can all do without immediately: any more grave analysis on the potential economic impact of souvenir sales of Dale Junior changing his car number, in-car interviews with drivers on pace laps, and that weird new Wendy’s commercial with folks kicking trees in the woods being cajoled by a schizophrenic in a red wig.
Well, things have heated up another notch in the great war between AT&T and NASCAR. NASCAR is now suing the phone folks for one hundred million (100,000,000!) dollars claiming that AT&T’s defiance of their wishes has undermined their control of stock car racing. Looks like NASCAR is trying to build a war chest to pay off the folks in Kentucky when they lose that suit next year or buy the track if they win. You know what? The exorbitant amount of the lawsuit may be bigger news on Wall Street Monday than last Wednesday’s announcement that Junior is going to drive for Rick Hendrick.
What was Chad Knaus thinking? There was no way Jimmie Johnson and the 48 car was going to make 51 laps on a tank of gas. All I can think is that Knaus was gambling there’d be a quick caution period after that final stop and everyone would pit again.
Did it seem every time there was an on-track pass for the lead TNT was away in commercial?
A race run on a Sunday afternoon without rain and ending around five? What a concept! Of course, you’ve heard the jokes about dear old dad receiving yet another lame tie for Father’s Day rather than a quad, power tools, or a Beermeister. Michigan offered race fans a tie on Sunday afternoon.
OK, Newman, you’re running up front again. It’s time to start acting like you belong there.
When Stephen Leicht won at Kentucky Saturday night, it was the first Busch series victory for a regular in that season since either Paul Menard at Milwaukee last year or David Gilliland at Kentucky last year. (Menard ran just seven Cup races in 2006.) That doesn’t speak well to the future health of the series, which has become….well…Cup Leicht.
You’ve got to imagine Bud execs were dismayed to hear Dale Junior say “he could care less” who his sponsor is next year on the pre-race program. That’s the thing about having to talk constantly. Eventually, you’ll say something that you wish you could take back.
Are there any current NASCAR team owners whose operations aren’t up for sale to outside partners right now? Both Robert Yates and Ray Evernham are said to be close to sales agreements.
Hopefully, young drivers coming up through the ranks are keeping a close eye on the trials and tribulations of 22-year-old Kyle Busch. It should be instructive to them that even if they possess unquestionable talent and win a few races, if they make a pain in the ass of themselves long enough they’re going to get sent packing.
F1 rookie phenom Lewis Hamilton scored his second straight victory at Indianapolis on Sunday, which turns up the heat on NASCAR as far as diversity goes, says none less an expert than Humpy Wheeler. Look for rumors that Hamilton will replace Casey Mears in the No. 25 car or at least try to qualify a Dodge at the Brickyard to surface soon. Meanwhile, I think the diversity challenge will truly be met when fans and media alike comment only on a talented young driver’s incredible success without taking note of the hue of his skin. Right now, there’s some snidely note going around that anyone could win a McLaren-Mercedes. I’m sure F1 fans would point out the same appears to be the case for drivers in Hendrick Chevys. The downhill spiral of stock car racing towards F1 levels of excitement (or lack thereof) continues at an alarming pace. Oddly enough, the FIA is ready to implement dramatic and controversial changes to their cars to spice up the action next year too. Do they call it the Car of Mañana?
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
Once again the (newly remanned) No. 11 team pit crew threw away a potential victory for their driver Denny Hamlin. Of course, Hamlin’s ill-tempered battle with an equally enraged Clint Bowyer on track didn’t help his day any, either.
J.J. Yeley clearly had high hopes after winning the pole on Friday. But on the first lap of the race he fell from first to sixth, and it was all downhill from there. Yeley finished 28th.
Ryan Newman was running third when he cut down a tire. The tire’s carcass wrapped itself around the rear end housing and Newman lost three laps in the pits to get it fixed.
Greg Biffle’s car was just flat awful all weekend.
Matt Kenseth got caught up in a wreck not of his own making well before he started his regular late race surge to the Top 10.
Brian Vickers has trouble qualifying for races, but once he makes the show, he does pretty well. He seemed poised to score another Top 10 finish when he got caught up in the ugliness that that precipitated the day’s third caution flag.
The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune
Carl Edwards‘ chances at a win seemed torpedoed below the water line when he got caught speeding exiting pit road and sent to the end of the longest line. Somehow, Edwards fought his way back to the lead and a long overdue win.
Martin Truex’s team decided to go with two tires on the first stop and it was clearly a mistake. Thus, he was mired in the pack after the next stop and got caught up in the Newman / Green incident, a wreck that could easily have ended his day. But in a bravado performance, the No. 1 team came all the way back, and he still escaped Michigan with a second place finish.
Tony Stewart had to overcome a lot of adversity this weekend. He qualified poorly. He wrecked in the final moments of practice and tweaked up his Chevy. He made little forward progress early in the race. Yet, he leaves Michigan with a third place finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. may be the Charlie Brown of equalized tires this season, but Sunday, a cut down tire may have saved his race. Earnhardt was dropping rapidly through the field and running at a greatly reduced pace with a flat right rear when the big wreck erupted ahead of him.
The way his season has gone, a Top 10 finish had to feel like a victory for Michael Waltrip. How far has Waltrip fallen from grace? The perennial most interviewed driver in the sport didn’t even get a post-race interview despite a notable achievement.
While it wasn’t commented upon, either, Bill Elliott drove the Wood Brothers’ Ford to a solid eleventh place finish. Of course, both Elliott and the Woods have won a ton of races at Michigan, but a strong run was still a shot to the arm for this struggling team.
Carl Edwards coach driver Tom Giacchi finally gets to shave off the beard he swore he would wear until Edwards won a Cup race again. Some folks look good in beards; take Jerry Garcia and Bruce Springsteen, for example. Tom wasn’t one of them. Some sites report that Giacchi has even had problems with parasites in his beard. More information than I needed, thanks.
Ford scored their second victory in fifteen races. Chevy’s drivers have won the other thirteen victories, while Dodge and Toyota are still trying to put points on the board.
Two Roush Fenway Fords managed Top 10 finishes, joined by seven Chevys and a lone Toyota. The top finishing Dodge was Reed Sorenson in 23rd.
As widely reported, the win was Carl Edward’s first in 52 races. But it was his third Top 5 in the last six races, which accounts for his entire output in 2007.
Martin Truex has finished first, second, and third in the last three races. You have to imagine the folks at DEI are giving out huge sighs of relief.
Tony Stewart enjoyed his best finish since Phoenix.
Casey Mears scored his third Top 5 finish in the last four races. Winning a race does tremendous things for a young driver’s confidence and a team’s morale…as does not getting replaced by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Kyle Busch had his best finish since Richmond, back when he had a job for next year lined up.
Kevin Harvick scored his first Top 10 since Richmond, while Jamie McMurray scored his first Top 10 since Talladega.
Michael Waltrip managed his first Top 10 finish since Michigan in June of 2005. Bill Elliott had his best finish since Michigan in August of 2005. Paul Menard had his best finish since Atlanta early last year.
Denny Hamlin failed to finish on the lead lap for the first time since Atlanta.
David Reutimann had easily the best finish of his young Cup career with a 15th place run. Oddly enough, his second best finish came in his very first Cup start.
Paul Menard in twelfth was the top finishing rookie, although Reutimann (mentioned above) wasn’t far behind.
Matt Kenseth failed to finish a Cup race for the first time since Martinsville last spring, ending a streak that saw him complete every lap of every race this season entering Sunday’s race.
What’s the Points?
Jeff Gordon maintains the points lead and is now 264 points ahead of second place Denny Hamlin. Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson each advance a spot to second and third, while Matt Kenseth falls two spots to fourth. Jeff Burton maintains fifth.
Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart swap back sixth and seventh with Edwards having the advantage this week. Harvick and Bowyer swap eighth and ninth with Harvick now ahead of Bowyer. Martin Truex moves up a spot to gain a coveted seat in the Top 10 while Kyle Busch drops a spot to eleventh. Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has already overcome his 100 point penalty to regain the twelfth place position that currently has him in the Chase. Mark Martin falls to thirteenth, which is still pretty good considering he sat out three races.
Other notable drivers making strides forward include Casey Mears (up four spots to nineteenth), Michael Waltrip (up five spots to a still miserable 51st), and Robby Gordon, up a pair of spots to 29th and heading to his best track on the circuit after a credible run at Michigan.
Drivers losing sight of the head of the pack include Ryan Newman (down two spots to fifteenth), Juan Pablo Montoya (down another two spots to 23rd), and Tony Raines (down two spots to 27th.)
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) We’ll give this one two cans of lukewarm generic stuff with an extra half can thrown in for the fact Mother Nature finally didn’t rain on our parade and our Pops.
Next Up – Prepare yourself for the unseemly site of stock cars slithering around a road course, many with hired guns at the wheel. After that, it’s on to New Hampshire, the restrictor plate madness at Daytona, then Chicagoland….I mean, wow. I sure hope TNT didn’t pay too much for one of the most tedious stretches of the season.
Re: Citizens Bank 400 News and Notes
Rating the Nextel Cup Rookies: Michigan Edition
Rookies in the Starting Lineup: Juan Pablo Montoya (33rd), David Ragan (34th), Paul Menard (38th), David Reutimann (40th), A.J. Allmendinger (43rd).
Unofficial Finishing Positions: Paul Menard (12th), David Reutimann (15th), David Ragan (21st), A.J. Allmendinger (31st), Juan Pablo Montoya (43rd).
Rookie of the Race: Paul Menard. The No. 15 Johns Manville / Menards Chevy spent the majority of the day both on the lead lap and in front of the rookie contingent, as Menard brought home a season-best 12th place finish in the Citizens Bank 400. Interim crew chief Dave Charpentier helped guide the young driver quietly through the field from his 38th starting position, as Menard provided the exclamation point for a day in which DEI landed all three teams within the Top 12 in the final rundown.
Tony’s Take: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been the focus of the civilized world while Martin Truex, Jr. picks up Top 5 finishes like clockwork (three in a row after Sunday). Paul Menard has quickly fallen further into “other guy” status over at DEI. With that being said, its safe to assume that there will be life after Earnhardt at the team founded by his father should the “other guy” begin to establish similar consistency. It’s still early, but Dave Charpentier may shed his label of “interim” crew chief if the No. 15 team continues to perform this well under his leadership. Since Charpentier took the helm following the Dover race, Menard has had his second best career start (19th at Pocono) and finish (12th on Sunday, second only to his 7th place finish in the 2006 Spring Atlanta race), leaving this team only 152 points out of the coveted 35th points position and a “locked in” qualifying spot.
As a side note, it was really difficult not to choose David Reutimann for this category, as he enjoyed what was by far a career best 15th place finish, giving Michael Waltrip Racing its first weekend of two cars with Top 15 performances. Menard, however, ran well throughout the entire race while Reutimann struggled early on, falling a lap behind and needing a timely caution to get himself back in contention; in the end, that gave Menard the slight edge for this award.
Rocky Rookie Performance/Rookie Wreck of the Day: Juan Pablo Montoya.
It was a bad start to the afternoon for Montoya, as he found himself among the large group of cars to lose a lap during the 51-lap green flag segment that began the race. However, the Texaco Havoline Dodge was running well enough to be in the right position to earn the “Lucky Dog” when the first caution of the day was waved for debris. It would be a short-lived Good Luck Charm, though, as the No. 42 of Montoya was sent hard into the turn two wall shortly thereafter, blowing a tire to cause the wreck. This marks the seventh time in the past eight races where Montoya has finished outside of the Top 20 (last week’s 20th place run at Pocono being the lone exception). If expectations mean anything, that streak should end when the series makes its first visit to a road course at Sonoma next weekend; frankly, that race couldn’t come at a better time for a team in need of a boost.
Who Wasn’t Here?: Nobody. For the second time in 2007, all Nextel Cup rookie competitors qualified for two consecutive races (Richmond and Darlington were the first pair). Unfortunately, it will be hard to go for the hat trick next week, as the rookies will face challenges that they have not dealt with yet this season on the road course out West.
Rookie Quote of the Week:
David Reutimann shared his feelings on his career best 15th place finish, all while sharing a new NASCAR term that many fans may be unfamiliar with: “twitchiness.”
“It was good, a lot of fun. The guys did a good job for us, (especially) as horrible as we did in practice. So, I thought it was a very good recovery.”
What was the biggest change you made during the race?
“We started the race, and the thing was so loose. We just did a bunch of stuff to try to take downforce off the front, and that took away some of the twitchiness and some of the freeness in the center. But it also hurt our exit, which is where we were suffering at the end. Good effort for all the guys (though); we got out of here with a decent finish and gained a couple of points.”
UNOFFICIAL Raybestos Rookie standings:
Brandon Whitt 2
Next Up: It’s time for some road course racing, as NASCAR travels to Infineon Raceway for the Toyota / Save Mart 350, held on the 1.99-mile serpentine track in Sonoma, CA. Next week’s adventure in the Wild West presents some interesting scenarios among this year’s rookie class. While only Paul Menard has previous Cup experience under his belt on a road course (Watkins Glen in 2000, ’03 and ’05), two of his counterparts, A.J. Allmendinger and Juan Pablo Montoya, have mastered the twists and turns in the CART and Formula One series, respectively. Furthermore, this event always features road course ringers, and Nextel Cup rookies Marcos Ambrose, Ron Fellows, Klaus Graf, and Marc Goossens are among those rumored to be making an attempt to qualify at Sears Point.
Also of note, it was announced this weekend that P.J. Jones will both qualify and race the No. 00 Toyota Camry, as David Reutimann will be off competing at the Milwaukee Mile for the entire weekend.
Tony’s Top Finishing Rookie Pick: Many say that momentum is a powerful concept in sports. The same can be said for predictions, too. After accurately selecting the top rookie in four consecutive races, I’ve now missed the mark for the past two events. Paul Menard surprised me this week, as both he and David Reutimann outdueled my pick of David Ragan, who came home with a disappointing 21st place finish.
You Make The Pick: Unfortunately, I have brought you down with me. David Ragan was also your choice, as 33% of you believed the AAA Ford Fusion would best the rookie class. Yes, that’s right, 33% was enough to win the vote, as you had various opinions on who would finish on top this week. Don’t forget to vote again this week, it will only take five seconds of your time.
Tony’s Pick for Next Week’s Top Finishing Rookie:
This is actually one of the more difficult picks of the year when one considers the road course ringers. However, I will still stick with one of our five regulars to be the best of the rookies out west. Juan Pablo Montoya has not meet expectations for the past several races, and, as some would argue, the entire year. However, he is once again expected to perform well at a road course, having won a Busch Series race in Mexico earlier this season; this time, I think he will come through on the Cup level with a strong run in Sonoma.