In a NASCAR race that featured a little of everything, here are the three key takeaways from Fontana.
Logano escalates feud with Hamlin, Stewart takes umbrage with Logano
A thrilling finish filled with controversy and a late comeback, no it wasn’t the NCAA tournament it was NASCAR’s own version of March Madness.
One week after locking horns at Bristol, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin did so again at Auto Club Speedway and this time there is no doubt that a feud has been accelerated between the former teammates.
But unlike last week, it was Logano who initiated things as he admittedly wrecked Hamlin on the final lap while at the same time drawing the ire of Tony Stewart, who took exception with Logano blocking him on a late-race restart.
For Logano this is somewhat uncharted territory for the 22-year-old, who with the exception of a brief skirmish with Kevin Harvick a couple of years ago, has mostly kept his nose clean in his four-plus years competing in Cup.
And it’s a pair of battles that Logano doesn’t need at this point in his career.
With a new team in Penske Racing, Logano has the opportunity to forge his own identity away from Joe Gibbs Racing. That identity shouldn’t be one of a driver who isn’t respected by his peers and intentionally wrecks another while racing for the lead.
It’s a lesson Logano’s current teammate Brad Keselowski knows all too well.
When Keselowski started making a name for himself in the Nationwide Series the defending Cup champion engaged in high-profile feuds with Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. Those on-track tangles came to define Keselowski, who gained a reputation as an aggressive driver which in turn made life difficult every time he turned a wheel in a Cup or Nationwide event.
But with time Keselowski learned to pick his spots and matured into a driver who is now respected within the garage.
It’s a lesson Logano would be wise to replicate.
It is one thing to stand up for yourself; it’s another when you’re the instigator. Sunday, Logano was the aggressor.
Although no one will begrudge him for racing Hamlin hard and not wanting to cut him any slack after what transpired at Bristol, Logano’s actions will be seen as crossing the line — especially in lieu of Hamlin suffering an injury that required him to be hospitalized overnight.
As for the incident with Stewart, Logano isn’t the first nor will he be the last driver to enrage the temperamental owner/driver. Regardless, it is a fight Logano would be wise not to pick, not with what he has to lose.
Stewart almost seems to relish playing the role of judge, jury and executioner just as he did two years ago at Sonoma when he intentionally wrecked Brian Vickers after Vickers had blocked him repeatedly.
It was then Stewart famously declared that from that moment forth he would mete out his own form of frontier justice to anyone who dared cut in front of his Chevrolet.
“If they block, they are going to get dumped,” he said. “It is real simple.”
Disregard the fact that Stewart himself set off a 25-car pileup at Talladega in October when he cut across the nose of Michael Waltrip’s car as Waltrip was about to surge into the lead on the final lap.
Stewart isn’t one to let the facts get in the way of how he’s going to police things.
Retribution for Logano will likely come in two weeks at Martinsville where he will have not one but a pair of bull’s-eyes on his back. And instead of being focused solely on his performance, Logano will now have to be concerned whether a justice-seeking Stewart and a bent on revenge Hamlin are lurking in his rearview mirror.
Kyle Busch: The quiet winner
When Kyle Busch wins a Cup race he usually finds himself in the center of the spotlight for one reason or another.
However, in race that featured a little of everything it was fitting that NASCAR’s resident bad boy was quietly celebrating his first victory in nearly a year.
The irony wasn’t lost on Busch.
“I did win the race today, by the way, so that might be a story,” Busch said laughing during the winner’s press conference. “But I’m sure it’s not.”
While it may not gather the same amount of attention as some of his other victories, it was a win that resonated with Busch on a couple of fronts.
First, it squarely puts what had been a frustrating start to 2013 behind him.
An engine failure in the Daytona 500 was a bitter pill for Busch to swallow following a season where motor problems haunted him and led to him missing the Chase. A week later at Phoenix this was compounded when again the No. 18 team experienced an issue with its Toyota power plant necessitating a pre-race engine change just hours before the green flag was to wave.
Then there were back-to-back speeding penalties at Las Vegas and Bristol, where in both races Busch had one of the fastest cars on track but could never recoup the lost track position.
But a win on the one track where his team had never been victorious accompanied with three consecutive top five finishes has Busch feeling like his luck has changed for the better.
“We finally had a little bit of luck on our side that we didn’t have all last year and it seemed like we weren’t quite having this year,” Busch said. But we’ve had some good runs and some strong runs, it’s just you’ve got to keep working, you’ve got to keep digging in.”
Fontana finally comes through
Throughout its 15 year history Fontana has often been decried as a track devoid of character and viewed by many as the epitome of the kind of racing that has beset NASCAR as of late.
Yet at the same time the two-mile oval located in the outskirts of Los Angeles has always been a favorite among drivers, who liked the multiple grooves and wideness that the track provided.
But for the first time since opening its doors in 1997, Fontana produced a race that both fans and drivers considered a good show.
Obviously, having an ending where the leaders wreck one another in the final corner along with a fight on pit road will slant perception, there is more to it than that.
Busch, Hamlin and Logano frequently diced for the lead in the early stages, while Brad Keselowski showed on two different occasions that a driver with a fast car underneath him can race his way to front. The same can be said for Hamlin, who charged to the lead in the closing stages after restarting in the middle of the pack.
These haven’t always been common occurrences at Fontana, where single-file racing is typically the norm and not the exception.
Another positive was the increased attendance.
Saturday, speedway officials predicted that 10,000 more tickets would be sold compared to the year before. Although the exact attendance numbers weren’t released, the grandstands did appear far fuller than they had in years past.
Whether this was a mirage or a trend is still to be determined. What we do know, is that after 15 years Fontana finally shed its reputation as being just another cookie-cutter track.
More from SB Nation:
We all know Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon will one day make the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But what about Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and other notable drivers?
Tonight the NASCAR Hall of Fame will induct its fourth class, as Rusty Wallace, Herb Thomas, Leonard Wood, Buck Baker and Cotton Owens all take their place alongside the sport’s elite.
But what current Sprint Cup Series drivers, owners and crew chiefs deserve enshrinement in the NASCAR Hall of Fame?
By my count there are 14 obvious selections whose credentials don’t even need to be discussed, with almost all likely making it on the first ballot. They are: Bill Elliott, Ray Evernham, Jimmy Fennig, Joe Gibbs, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Chad Knaus, Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Roger Penske, Jack Roush, and Tony Stewart.
But after these 14 selections this is where things get interesting, as there are quite a few notable drivers whose credentials are still up for consideration.
Each of the drivers below has an impressive r sum , but all still have question marks and none should be considered locks to receive NASCAR’s highest honor.
Do note that high credence to drivers who have won championships along with one of NASCAR’s preeminent races – the Daytona 500, Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and the Brickyard 400. Also taken into consideration are drivers with multiple win seasons and those who have led over a thousand laps in a given year.
Here are the eight current drivers most on the proverbial Hall of Fame bubble:
Case For: 2000 Truck Series champion … 02 Nationwide Series champion … 18 wins in Cup, 20 in Nationwide and 16 in Trucks … 05 Sprint Cup runner-up and finished third in points in ’08 … Back-to-back winner of the Southern 500 in 2005-06 … Made the Chase five times – the same amount as his more heralded teammate, Carl Edwards.
Case Against: Without a Cup title, 18 victories may not be enough for inclusion … Dominant at times, but the year-to-year consistency hasn’t always been there … Though no fault of his own, Biffle’s accomplishments tend to get overlooked.
Final Verdict: While he has a well-rounded r sum , for Biffle to get a nod he simply needs to win more. If he can add another 10 wins or so, he deserves to be in. Otherwise, without a Cup title, his career will likely be viewed as very good but not great and one that isn’t Hall of Fame worthy.
Case For: 2004 Sprint Cup champion … 24 Cup victories in Cup … Won at least one Cup race in 10 consecutive years … Finished in the top-four in points three times.
Case Against: Busch is still winless in NASCAR’s four majors … Multiple off the track issues including a NASCAR-imposed suspension last season.
Final Verdict: Like him or not, it’s hard to believe voters won’t elect a former Cup champion. So even if Busch were to never win another Cup race, his championship alone makes him a future inductee.
Case For: 24 wins in eight full seasons of Cup … More victories in Nationwide than any other driver in history with 51 … 30 wins in the Truck Series … Went to Victory Lane in the ’08 edition of the Southern 500 … Has led no less than 1,100 laps in each of the last five years.
Case Against: Despite the gaudy numbers, sustained success in Cup is lacking … Never finished better than fifth in the standings … Has missed the Chase two of the last four years … Behavior on and off the track has been questionable at best and was suspended a race in 2011 for intentionally wrecking a competitor under caution.
Final Verdict: With over a 100 victories in NASCAR’s three major series, Kyle Busch is a Hall of Famer. Whether he gets in on the first ballot or not comes down to whether he ever wins a Cup championship.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Case For: 19 Cup victories including the 2004 Daytona 500 … Five Chase appearances … Two-time Nationwide champion with 23 wins overall … NASCAR’s most popular driver for over a decade, who has brought unprecedented attention to the sport.
Case Against: Has never won a championship at the Cup level and has never finished better than third in points … Went winless in three consecutive seasons during the prime of his career … Scored just four victories in an eight-year period.
Final Verdict: While it may have something to do with his famous last name, Earnhardt Jr. will one day have a plaque in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. His numbers combined in Cup and Nationwide will be too hard to ignore.
Case For: The winner of 19 Cup races and 38 Nationwide events … Twice has finished runner-up in the standings … 2007 Nationwide champ.
Case Against: Never contended for a championship in consecutive seasons … Went winless each year following a season where he finished second in points … His 19 Cup wins have come at just seven tracks with none at Daytona, Charlotte, Darlington or Indy.
Final Verdict: Yes, but it’s debatable. What Edwards needs more of is wins, and they need to come in marquee events. Also, he needs to stop mixing in the occasional year where he disappears on the track — i.e. last year where failed to both win a race and qualify for the Chase.
Case For: 22 Cup victories with at least one win every season … Qualified for the Chase seven times and has made the playoffs every year in which he’s ran the full season … Won the 2010 Southern 500 and later narrowly lost the championship in the final race of the year … His third-place points finish in ’06 was the highest by a rookie in NASCAR history … Has topped over a thousand laps led three times.
Case Against: Has yet to win a points race at Daytona, Charlotte or Indy … Still looking for his first championship at the national touring series level.
Final Verdict: Like most of the drivers above, we’re assuming Hamlin is going to continue winning races at his current pace for the foreseeable future. If he can do that, Hamlin would be a near-lock – even if he never wins a title.
Case For: 2007 Daytona 500 winner … ’03 Brickyard 400 champion … Winner of the 11 Coca-Cola 600 … 19 career Cup wins… Two-time Nationwide Series champion (’01 and ’06) … 39 Nationwide wins (third all-time) … Six Chase appearances in the last eight years … Also has won two Truck Series championships as an owner.
Case Against: In 12 years in Cup he has won multiple races in a season just four times … Went three seasons without a win … Has never led more than 900 laps in a single season … Only seriously contended for the Cup title once.
Final Verdict: Maybe Harvick doesn’t jump out at you as a surefire Hall of Famer. But when you look closely at his numbers and what he has done and where he has won, he deserves to hear his name called — just not on the first ballot.
Case For: The defending Cup champion, who also won the Nationwide title in 11 … Become just the third driver in the modern-era to win a title in less than three full seasons.
Case Against: Longevity is still a question having been in the big leagues for only three full seasons … Doesn’t have double-digit wins in Cup … Yet to have scored a victory in one of the big four races.
Final Verdict: It’s hard to imagine the voting committee omitting a driver who has won a championship. Not to mention, Keselowski is entering his prime years and will almost certainly be able to pad his stats before he hangs up his helmet. He gets in.
We take a look at what turned out to be a solid year for running back Anthony Dixon. One of many 49ers who deserves a moment in the sun.
Back in July, two weeks before the 49ers1 began we ran a post on the 49ers running backs that included a poll about Anthony Dixon’s future2. 77% of voters felt that Dixon would not be on the 49ers 53-man roster when the 2012 regular season got started. I remained convinced for much of camp that Rock Cartwright was going to grab the RB/ST spot3 given his veteran status.
How wrong a lot of us were.
Anthony Dixon has always been a big personality on the 49ers, but for fans, he always seemed stuck on the roster bubble, just as likely to be bounced off the team as to stick around. He was an exuberant presence on special teams, but he never quite seemed to be the guy to break through as a running back.
Turns out it really wasn’t necessary. Dixon became proactive this past training camp and asked for work as a fullback4. He may or may not have benefited from Brandon Jacobs injury in the preseason5, but either way he was on the roster.
Boobie Dixon has not been a huge contributor in the running game, but when given modest opportunities, he has done some solid work. This led to one of my favorite plays this past Sunday against the Falcons6. The 49ers faced 3rd and 1 on the Falcons 29, with ten minutes remaining and the 49ers trailing 24-21. One yard is not a big deal, but to give Dixon a shot in there said plenty about the coaching staff’s belief in Dixon. Dixon busted through the hole for four yards, and the 49ers would go on to score a touchdown on the drive.
Beyond these occasional short yardage plays, Dixon has been a strong part of a special teams coverage unit that has bounced back after a poor start. After a 2011 season that saw historic dominance in punt coverage, the unit struggled out of the gate in 2012. However, a strong second half helped Andy Lee7 earn another All-Pro honor.
Special teams will be a big key against the Ravens, as Jacoby Jones put together a strong 2012 campaign. His best work is as a kick returner, where he led the NFL at 30.7 yards a pop, but his punt return work is very solid as well. Anthony Dixon will continue doing the dirty work, but he has a chance to be a pertinent part of further 49ers success.
Want to join the Niners Nation discussion? Register for free9 (no spam!). Make sure and follow us on Twitter @ninersnation10 and Like us on Facebook11 to get the full experience in what hopefully leads to Lombardi No. 6 in New Orleans!8
- ^ 49ers (www.sbnation.com)
- ^ included a poll about Anthony Dixon’s future (www.ninersnation.com)
- ^ Rock Cartwright was going to grab the RB/ST spot (www.ninersnation.com)
- ^ asked for work as a fullback (www.ninersnation.com)
- ^ may or may not have benefited from Brandon Jacobs injury in the preseason (www.ninersnation.com)
- ^ Falcons (www.sbnation.com)
- ^ Andy Lee (www.sbnation.com)
- ^ Niners Nation (www.ninersnation.com)
- ^ Register for free (www.sbnation.com)
- ^ @ninersnation (www.twitter.com)
- ^ Like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com)
The Daytona 500 will revert to a more traditional qualifying format now that the much-maligned top-35 rule has been dissolved in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
That means the fastest 36 cars from qualifying will make the race with the remaining seven spots being filled on owner points and a past champion provisional. This is a reversion to the qualifying format used before the 2005 season where NASCAR first started locking-in the top-35 teams into the field each week.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby confirmed the procedure during last week s Daytona preseason test.
“The procedure will change from last year, with the elimination of the top-35 rule, which will put some jazz and smack back into the (qualifying) races,” Darby said. “That s because a majority of the competitors will be racing their way in.”
The qualifying procedure for the Daytona 500 is as follows:
- The front row, positions 1-2, will go to the two fastest drivers during qualifying on Feb. 17.
- Positions 3-32 will be set by the finishing order in Budweiser Duel qualifying races on Feb. 21. Drivers who finish in the top 15 in their respective races earn spots in the Daytona 500 and the 16th-place driver gets in as long as one of the top-15 drivers already occupies one of the two front row spots.
- Positions 33-36 will go to the drivers who didn t make it through the qualifying races but posted the fastest four speeds during qualifying.
- Positions 37-42 will be awarded as provisionals based off of 2012 owner points
- Position 43 will be a past champion s provisional, going to the most recent past champion not already in the field. If there is no past champion, then the spot will be filled by the next driver eligible based on 2012 owner points.
For each of the events following the Daytona 500, the fastest 36 drivers in qualifying will make the race with the next six spots going to the top teams in the owner standings not already locked-in. The final spot will go to a past champion not already qualified. If no such champion is entered, the final spot will go to the next eligible driver in the owner standings.
The provisional format for the regular season will be based off the 2012 owner s points for just the first three events Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas and will revert to the 2013 standings entering the fourth week of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway.
NASCAR officials expect no change to draft package before Speedweeks
NASCAR officials also announced that they are happy with what they learned during the test session, even with the multicar accident that occurred on Friday afternoon1.
Single car speeds maxed out near 194 mph and draft speeds topped out at just under 200 mph, leading NASCAR to announce that no changes would be made to the restrictor plate size before the sport returns in February for Speedweeks.
The restrictor plate limits the amount of air that flows through the engine and limits horsepower and had four holes of 29/32nds of an inch for the test.
“We know the teams will come back and bring a little bit better this and better that,” NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton said. “We feel comfortable with that. The racetrack is coming to us a little bit, and speeds will fluctuate a lot they ll be better on new tires and it will drop off as it goes.
“We re right in the ballpark. We don t foresee any changes.”
- ^ multicar accident that occurred on Friday afternoon (www.sbnation.com)
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