Kyle Busch celebrates winning the O’Reilly 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway Wednesday. This was Busch’s third win in the series this season. (Photo Credit: Ronda Greer/NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Now this is flat amazing – it’s almost September and two of NASCAR’s biggest stars, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, are still winless.
And so are Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth.
Hopefully their sponsors aren’t starting to ask any pointed questions about how much return-on-investment they’re getting for their $25 million to $30 million investments.
If anyone wants to take momentum into the championship playoffs, which start in a few weeks at Loudon, N.H., he’d better start right here right now. And that’s with Friday afternoon’s qualifying runs for Saturday night’s 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Will Tony Stewart ever win a race for Toyota? (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
However the winner here will probably have to knock Kyle Busch out of the way en route.
Busch won again Wednesday night, showing he hasn’t let the controversy swirling around the Joe Gibbs camp bother him any. That’s 17 major NASCAR national victories this season, in Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck. And Busch is going for his 18th in Friday night’s Nationwide race.
Of course the Gibbs, Joe and J.D., are fuming that their two Nationwide teams got caught fudging with NASCAR’s engine-chassis dyno post-race at Michigan, and the tour’s hottest crew chief, Dave Rogers, has been sidelined indefinitely by NASCAR. (Doug Hewitt and Wally Brown will take over running those two teams.)
J.D. Gibbs now has seven men on NASCAR suspension (Photo:Toyota Motorsports)
But Busch is untouched by that and apparently unfazed too.
Busch finished a tight second to winner Carl Edwards at Michigan Sunday, and the two should be among the favorites in Saturday night’s 500. No one else has been able to do much with those two lately.
The men to keep an eye on here: teammates Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, Richard Childress’ three-some, who earlier this season appeared to have the strongest Chevys. But lately they’ve all faltered.
And what to make of Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Has he been stroking, to make the playoffs? He’s been remarkably consistent this season, his first with car owner Rick Hendrick, but he’s not been that home run hitter of years past. In fact it’s hard to recall any race this season where Earnhardt and crew chief Tony Eury Jr. clearly had the car to beat.
Still, Earnhardt and Eury are solidly in the playoffs.
Carl Edwards is hot again, and Saturday night’s Bristol 500 could be Edwards vs Kyle Busch….again (Photo:
The men on the bubble: Bowyer and David Ragan are just 26 points behind Denny Hamlin, who sits 12th, at the cutoff. And Kasey Kahne, Harvick, Matt Kenseth and even Gordon are all sweating.
Matt Kenseth may not make the championship chase (Photo:Autostock)
If Jeff Gordon were to fail to make the title chase, after nearly winning the championship last season……
Want a wild card here? Pick Ford’s David Ragan. Or Toyota’s Brian Vickers.
Want a wild card next week at California? Pick David Ragan. Or Brian Vickers.
Brian Vickers (here with Toyota racing boss Lee White) is coming on strong as the summer closes, and he could get his first win for Toyota in the next few weeks (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)
Ragan, a second year racer on the tour, has made a believer out of car owner Jack Roush, and Ragan may well fight his way into the championship playoffs in these final two weeks of the regular season.
While Edwards and Ragan are hot, the rest of the guys in the Ford camp aren’t.
Bill Elliott has the Woods’ Ford at Bristol (Photo: Autostock)
And where do the Wood brothers fit into this picture? Well, the Woods have been hot when Marcos Ambrose has been at the wheel on road courses….
Bristol is where the Woods last won a Cup tour event, and that was back in 2003, with Elliott Sadler.
This weekend old warhorse Bill Elliott will be at the wheel.
The Woods have been Ford people for decades…but unless Ford Motor Company officials wake up, Ford may lose the Woods (Photo: Autostock)
It is certainly crunch time for the Woods, for Gordon, for a lot of these men, for a lot of reasons.
Take the veteran team that baseball kingpins Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkel bought into last year, or rather bought from Roger Staubach, who suffered through a couple of mediocre seasons (as an absentee car owner, it should be noted) before selling out. Moorad and Garfinkel have been absentee car owners too, and they’ve discovered NASCAR isn’t a game to be trifled with. The two have dumped crew members and swapped drivers all year, without any great effect. And their team sits a dismal 40th in the standings….which clearly means they need to be looking in the mirror before making the next round of changes, since what they’ve done so far hasn’t panned out.
Still winless? Jeff Gordon hit another low point at Michigan when he crashed out. Will he make the Sprint Cup playoffs? (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images for NASCAR)
This weekend they’ve put journeyman Ken Schrader in their Toyota. Schrader will be the fourth driver this summer: “It’s challenging, and it puts you behind the eight-ball a little bit,” Schrader says. “Sprint Cup racing is challenging enough as it is, let alone doing a one-off with a team. But it can be fun, and I think we’ll have a good weekend.”
Schrader, indefatigable, despite being one of the oldest men on the tour, comes here after running a Tuesday night dirt Late Model race in Macon, Ill., (which he won), the Wednesday Truck race, and a Thursday night race at Paducah, Ky. “Just another normal week of racing,” the well-liked Schrader says.
Ken Schrader: been there, done that…and willing to do it again…and again and again, this week with Toyota (Photo:Autostock)
And what in the world is going on now over at the George Gillett/Ray Evernham Dodge operation?
With rumors swirling around Dodge and its big-picture problems selling cars, now Mark McArdle, who runs the Gillett/Evernham company, is mixing-and-matching his Cup crew chiefs the rest of the season in Nationwide races…a sure sign that something is about to happen.
It’s not really what the game plan is. But McArdle says he wants his four crew chiefs – Kenny Francis, Mike Shiplett, Rodney Childers and Kevin Kidd – to all get shots at running Nationwide races: “This allows our Sprint Cup crew chiefs and drivers to gather more data in the Nationwide series races, which we think will aid our Sprint Cup programs.”
Does new team owner George Gillett really know what he’s doing, or is he just pushing pawns? (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images for NASCAR)
And how hard is the sluggish U.S. economy hitting NASCAR racing?
Well, it may be hard to tell the effects here this weekend, because Bristol Motor Speedway’s 160,000 seats are always filled, and the waiting list for tickets is painfully long. This is not only the toughest ticket in NASCAR, it’s also the best ticket in NASCAR, with fans right on top of the action like nowhere else.
This Sharpie 500 marks the 53rd consecutive sellout here, the longest stretch of sellouts in NASCAR. And Friday night’s Nationwide race will be the 19th straight event in that series with a crowd of 100,000-plus at the Bristol track. That means more than 560,000 tickets have been sold for this year’s four NASCAR events. No other venue in the sport comes close, track president Jeff Byrd says: “It’s simply amazing. That’s pretty phenomenal. And I don’t believe any other track gets the number of fans in the stands for the Nationwide races like we do. Our Nationwide crowds are in excess of 100,000 every time out. There are some Cup crowds that aren’t nearly that large.”
Jeff Byrd’s place really packs them in—160,000 fans for Saturday night’s 500 (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
But down in Daytona worried about next summer’s July 400 are already surfacing, with news that the Frances aren’t selling any tickets to the 57,000 seat backstretch right now. They’ll probably only open up those seats after selling out the 110,000 seats on the frontstretch. The Daytona 500 always sells out, but the July 4th event is typically problematic.
Ken Ragan’s son David is making a name for himself this summer, and he’s earning a nice reputation too (Photo:Autostock)
Agree? Disagree? Don’t just brood. Express yourself here, and make your voice heard clearly in NASCAR headquarters in Daytona and Charlotte and in NASCAR race shops throughout North Carolina and the rest of the country.
We want your reaction, so please comment on this story and offer your own opinions and insight, on this topic, on our NASCAR videos, and anything about NASCAR. Any questions, just ask Mike at [email protected]. And bookmark this page for continually updated NASCAR reports: https://independenttribune.net/index.php/sports/mulhern/
So what is this all about? Jimmie Johnson (outside) versus Kyle Busch in Wednesday night’s Truck tour 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Maybe Johnson picked up a few tips on how to beat Busch in Saturday night’s 500 (Photo Credit: Ronda Greer/NASCAR)