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Old 03-26-2016, 02:35 PM
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Arrow >NASCAR Talk< 3/26/2016

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By Jerry BonkowskiMar 26, 2016, 2:08 PM EDT

While NASCAR enjoys its first off-weekend of the season, we here at NASCAR Talk thought it would be a good time to analyze how the top 30 drivers have fared in the first five races.
Friday, we gave you the top 10 drivers.
Today, we’ll feature drivers ranked from 11th through 20th: Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Newman
We’ll wrap things up with drivers ranked 21st through 30th on Sunday.
Here’s how those ranked 11th through 20th have fared thus far in 2016:

Martin Truex Jr.
Points position: 11th (-68 points behind series leader Kevin Harvick)
Best finish: 2nd (Daytona)
Worst finish: 32nd (Auto Club)
Laps led: 57
Nate Ryan’s analysis: The transition to Toyota has been bumpy but not in ways that would have been expected. Roof flap violations at Atlanta and Daytona were distractions, as was crew chief Cole Pearn’s Twitter. Time to settle it down, kids.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Has four finishes in the top 15 and was running in the top five before incident with Joey Logano at Fontana is an impressive start considering the work in the offseason to switch from Chevrolet to Toyota. Also has done it without his crew chief for one race. Expect even better results as the season progresses.

Jamie McMurray
Points position: 12th (-70 points)
Best finish: 10th (Auto Club)
Worst finish: 21st (Atlanta)
Laps led: 0
Nate Ryan’s analysis: Candid to a fault, McMurray plaintively has noted the team’s lack of speed this season. Fontana (starting and finishing 10th) might be a step in the right direction toward regaining the Chase for the Sprint Cup form of 2015.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Chip Ganassi Racing has been among the most disappointing teams so far this season. Lack of speed on the big tracks is evident but there’s time turn it around.

Aric Almirola
Points position: 13th (-75 points)
Best finish: 12th (Daytona)
Worst finish: 24th (Las Vegas)
Laps led: 0
Nate Ryan’s analysis: Seems to be maximizing what he has with no finish worse than 24th or better than 12th so far in five starts. That’s good enough for now, but Richard Petty Motorsports needs to give Almirola better cars for a realistic shot at winning.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Key for this team is to maximize its performance. Pit road penalties have not helped. Fix those issues and this team can get back into the Chase.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Points position: 14th (-76 points)
Best finish: 5th (Auto Club)
Worst finish: 37th (Phoenix)
Laps led: 0
Nate Ryan’s analysis: That he has nearly as many top 10s (two) in five races as in all of 2015 (three) reveals how much better the No. 17 Ford is and how far Roush Fenway Racing has to go. At least the two-time Xfinity champion still has his edge.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Fontana was a step in the right direction and this team has shown progress this season.

Matt Kenseth
Points position: 15th (-82 points)
Best finish: 7th (Phoenix)
Worst finish: 37th (Las Vegas)
Laps led: 99
Nate Ryan’s analysis: The most underperforming car in Sprint Cup, a confluence of mistakes by driver and team have negated several strong showings by Kenseth, who has only one top 10. A win would help, but the team just needs consistency first.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Should have at least one, if not two win but results have not matched performance because of various miscues. Entire team needs to just have solid races and results will come.

Chase Elliott
Points position: 16th (-85 points)
Best finish: 6th (Auto Club)
Worst finish: 38th (Las Vegas)
Laps led: 4
Nate Ryan’s analysis: If not for mistakes at Daytona and Las Vegas, this would be one of the most impressive rookie debuts in recent memory. Replacing a four-time champion is a virtually untenable situation, but Elliott has shown no signs of strain.
Dustin Long’s analysis: For all that he’s accomplished along the way, he continues to impress. Yes, there will be peaks and valleys but who would have predicted three top-10 finishes in the first five races this season?

Ryan Blaney
Points position: 17th (-85 points)
Best finish: 6th (Las Vegas)
Worst finish: 35th (Auto Club)
Laps led: 0
Nate Ryan’s analysis: He is justifying Wood Brother Racing’s return to full-time competition. A late tire problem at Fontana prevented Blaney from notching three consecutive top 10s. the playoffs are a realistic possibility for the 22-year-old.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Been fun to watch on the track this season but even more so on social media. He’s helping take the Wood Brothers back to a level of prominence they haven’t been at in years.

Kasey Kahne
Points position: 18th (-86 points)
Best finish: 10th (Las Vegas
Worst finish: 28th (Auto Club)
Laps led: 0
Nate Ryan’s analysis: This is a make-or-break year for Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports, and there already has been too much of the latter. The Fontana error that enraged Danica Patrick was inexplicably amateurish for a driver as accomplished as Kahne.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Pressure mounting on this team and driver to perform when his teammates are doing so at Hendrick Motorsports. If things don’t improve, how soon before changes take place?

A.J. Allmendinger
Points position: 19th (-108 points)
Best finish: 8th (Auto Club)
Worst finish: 27th (Atlanta)
Laps led: 0
Nate Ryan’s analysis: As he can with a good car, Allmendinger has punched above his weight so far. It’s all about holding serve for this team until Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but pace of current results could earn a playoff berth by points.
Dustin Long’s analysis: He was the top car in the Richard Childress Racing alliance at Fontana and second best among the group at Phoenix. Still has work to do, though.

Ryan Newman
Points position: 20th (-100 points)
Best finish: 11th (Daytona)
Worst finish: 39th (Phoenix)
Laps led: 1
Nate Ryan’s analysis: There’ll be no points pathway into the playoffs for the third consecutive season if Newman continues to perform at this rate. He might need a win to contend for a championship – and to keep a firm hold on his ride at RCR.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Has one top-10 finish in his last 13 starts, dating back to last fall at Dover. No longer the fastest car at RCR.

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Old 03-26-2016, 02:39 PM
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Analyzing Sprint Cup’s top 10 after the first five races of 2016 season

By Jerry BonkowskiMar 25, 2016, 2:00 PM EDT

While NASCAR enjoys its first off-weekend of the season, we here at NASCAR Talk thought it would be a good time to analyze how the top 30 drivers have fared in the first five races.
Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillon make up the top 10 drivers we’ll feature today.
We’ll feature drivers ranked 11th through 20th on Saturday and wrap things up on Sunday with drivers ranked 21st through 30th.
Here’s how the top 10 have fared thus far in 2016:

Kevin Harvick
Points position: 1
Best finish: 1st (Phoenix)
Worst finish: 7th (Las Vegas)
Laps led: 413
Nate Ryan’s analysis: Just as good as he has been since joining Stewart-Haas Racing, but the inability to close dominant performances is becoming a headache. That will loom larger the longer Harvick’s contract future remains cloudy.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Can he beat Jimmie Johnson head-to-head? In the last nine times they’ve finished first and second, Johnson won. Good news is this team has plenty of time to work toward rectifying that.

Jimmie Johnson
Points position: 2nd (-11 points behind Harvick)
Best finish: 1st (Atlanta, Auto Club)
Worst finish: 16th (Daytona)
Laps led: 171
Nate Ryan’s analysis: This is the best the No. 48 Chevrolet has performed since its sixth championship. The downforce reduction suits Johnson, and crew chief Chad Knaus seems more comfortable with strategy than in years.
Dustin Long’s analysis: That Chad Knaus said last weekend he doesn’t feel the team is running as strong as what they need and already has two wins could be a scary proposition for foes. This is the fourth time Johnson has had two wins in the first five races. He won the title the other three times.

Carl Edwards
Points position: 3rd (-24 points)
Best finish: 2nd (Phoenix)
Worst finish: 18th (Las Vegas)
Laps led: 75
Nate Ryan’s analysis: He has improved with new crew chief Dave Rogers, but the sting from the runner-up finish at Phoenix will linger. Edwards still seems to be trying too hard in his second season with Joe Gibbs Racing, causing unforced errors.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Just missed making the final round last year in Miami, but is showing signs that the belongs there this year and doing it with a new crew chief.

Denny Hamlin
Points position: 4th (-25 points)
Best finish: 1st (Daytona 500)
Worst finish: 19th (Las Vegas)
Laps led: 107
Nate Ryan’s analysis: He seems back on his game after a two-race blip following his Daytona 500 breakthrough victory. New crew chief Mike Wheeler, whom Hamlin immensely reveres, has a six-month jump on the playoffs.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Scored back-to-back third-place finishes heading into next weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway, one of his best tracks. Could be the start of something big.

Kyle Busch
Points position: 5th (-25 points)
Best finish: 3rd (Daytona, Atlanta)
Worst finish: 25th (Auto Club)
Laps led: 134
Nate Ryan’s analysis: Aside from finding victory lane, the defending series champion hasn’t lost a beat from last season. He actually seems faster, and he will enter Martinsville Speedway overdue for a win on a short track where he excels.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Which Kyle is this, I forget? New Kyle? Old Kyle? New old Kyle? Old old Kyle? However you define him, he’s fast. Just like last year.

Joey Logano
Points position: 6th (-30 points)
Best finish: 2nd (Las Vegas)
Worst finish: 18th (Phoenix)
Laps led: 77
Nate Ryan’s analysis: All he needs is a win to start looking ahead to the playoffs with crew chief Todd Gordon. The speed of the No. 22 Ford is there, and Logano remains at the top of his game, even if he is angering his rivals.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Teammate Brad Keselowski showed one doesn’t have to have many friends to win a championship. Maybe this is the year for Logano to follow that.

Kurt Busch
Points position: 7th (-47 points)
Best finish: 4th (Atlanta)
Worst finish: 30th (Auto Club)
Laps led: 93
Nate Ryan’s analysis: The 30th at Fontana was unusually disappointing (just ask Dustin, who boldly predicted the No. 41 to win). Is it a portentous sign … or just a slight stumble after opening 2016 with two poles and four consecutive top 10s?
Dustin Long’s analysis: Yes, was shocked at his Fontana flameout. Have liked the speed of this car – at least until Fontana.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Points position: 8th (-50 points)
Best finish: 2nd (Atlanta)
Worst finish: 36th (Daytona)
Laps led: 49
Nate Ryan’s analysis: Remove the Daytona 500 crash, and this is one of the strongest starts yet for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver. He still needs another gear to reach teammate Jimmie Johnson’s level, but so do most drivers on the circuit.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Run through the field from the back at Phoenix was impressive and shows how well the car is handling. Qualifying performance is confounding. He’s failed failed to advance beyond the first round the past two events.

Brad Keselowski
Points position: 9th (-53 points)
Best finish: 1st (Las Vegas)
Worst finish: 29th (Phoenix)
Laps led: 25
Nate Ryan’s analysis: The fire is back for the 2012 champion, who is aggressive on the track and outspoken away from it. That’s good for buttoned-up Team Penske, which needs Keselowski to embrace his wild child despite the contrast.
Dustin Long’s analysis: One area this team needs to improve is qualifying. Has started 14th or better just once in the first five races.

Austin Dillon
Points position: 10th (-56 points)
Best finish: 5th (Las Vegas)
Worst finish: 24th (Auto Club)
Laps led: 3
Nate Ryan’s analysis: The pole position at Fontana validated the progress for this third-year team, which opened the season with four finishes of 11th or better. With this consistency, Dillon could qualify for championship eligibility on points.
Dustin Long’s analysis: Showing speed. Now he and team have to keep up with the car’s performance and avoid mistakes to get the results they deserve each week.

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Old 03-27-2016, 06:38 AM
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Thumbs up Martinsville Speedway

Martinsville Speedway

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Brian Vickers looks to continue No. 14 success at his favorite track, Martinsville Speedway

By Jerry BonkowskiMar 26, 2016, 10:00 AM EDT

It’s a long way from Miami to Martinsville Speedway, but not for Brian Vickers.
The 32-year-old Vickers, who now lives in Miami, is eagerly anticipating next weekend’s return to his home track for the STP 500 at the half-mile bullring in southern Virginia.
Vickers grew up an hour away from Martinsville in Thomasville, North Carolina. It was at Martinsville that Vickers initially became exposed to NASCAR racing up-close and in-person and ultimately led to his becoming a race car driver.
“I actually remember going to Martinsville as a kid and watching races,” Vickers said in a media release. “We stood in the corners before pit road changed and watched the cars go by.
“As a kid, I always thought it was pretty cool the train went by the racetrack. Martinsville has always been a special place for me whether it was as a fan, running my first stock car race there, running Late Models or, now, running in the Cup Series.”

Vickers, who is splitting duties with Ty Dillon in the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet while Tony Stewart continues to recuperate from an off-season accident, is coming off the top finish for the No. 14 thus far this season, a 13th place showing in last week’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana, California.
“Early in the race I brushed the wall, then cut a tire real bad,” Vickers said. “We were last and down two laps. It would have been easy to hang our heads and just say it wasn’t our day.
“But (crew chief) Mike Bugarewicz and the guys on the No. 14 kept at it. Our car was fast, we had good pit stops and strategy, and climbed right back to the lead lap. It’s pretty cool to be down two laps and last, then be mad you only finished 13th. I thought we were going to get a top-10 for sure. That’s a heck of a compliment to the No. 14 team.”
Making his fourth start of the season in the No. 14, Vickers hopes to keep the momentum from California going at Martinsville – and has some added incentive.
“I’d love to get a clock,” he said of Martinsville’s tradition of giving a race winner a stately grandfather’s clock. “I don’t have one of those yet.
“We’ve come close. We’ve led laps but we need to get a clock. I think it’s a beautiful piece. It’s one of the most unique and special trophies, I think, on the circuit. I know a few guys who have one – it’s one of their prized trophies.”

Vickers has three top-10 finishes and has led 27 laps in 18 career Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville, with an average start and finish of 19th.
Just as he did at Fontana last week (photo right), Vickers will be driving a car at Martinsville carrying sponsorship from Janssen Pharmaceuticals that is promoting Arnold Palmer’s Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation. He knows what Stewart is going through being sidelined, as Vickers has also been forced to sit on the sidelines several times due to chronic blood clot issues.
“I’ve had a lot of fans come up to me and tell me their stories and ask me questions,” Vickers said. “I think my story really resonates with a lot of people because I’m young and I’m an athlete.
“I mean, it’s proof that this can happen to anyone. It has been a powerful moment. I’ve had a lot of people call me up in some of the weirdest places, like friends who will call me up and say, ‘Hey, I’m on an airplane,’ or they text me or call me when they land, ‘My calf hurts and it’s swollen and it’s red.’
“I’m like, ‘Well, you should go see a doctor. Did you not listen to the campaign?’ But there have unquestionably been moments where it’s made a difference. I’ve seen those moments and it’s a very special feeling. It really is.”
As for Stewart, he has begun a rehabilitation program that could hasten his return back behind the wheel in his final season as a Sprint Cup racer. But until then, Vickers is ready to fill in where he’s needed.
“Nothing has really changed,” Vickers said. “I think everyone is really just kind of waiting to see how Tony shakes out.
“I can genuinely and honestly say this – I want to race this car as long as I can because it’s a great team and a great car and a great opportunity.
“But I really want to see Tony back in it. I have been in his shoes. I know exactly what it’s like. It’s his last season. He deserves to be in this car as much as he can be.
“I’m honored to race it as long as I need to and as long as I can, but I’m happy to turn the keys back over as soon as he’s ready.”
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Old 03-27-2016, 04:26 PM
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STP 500
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Old 03-28-2016, 01:37 PM
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Thumbs up March 28, 2016

Return to Martinsville joins past, future for Wood Brothers

By Reid Spencer | NASCAR Wire Service |
March 28, 2016 at 09.00 AM

Photo credit: Eddie Wood/Wood Brothers. Glen Wood stands next to his first NASCAR Grand National car, a 1953 Lincoln, at Martinsville Speedway on May 17, 1953 – his first NASCAR start.

It's a home game for the Wood Brothers.

But the April 3
STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is a home game the Wood Brothers haven't experienced as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team with a single driver since Ken Schrader filled the seat of the vaunted No. 21 Ford in 2006.

We're talking about Martinsville, of course, the shortest track on the
Sprint Cup circuit at 0.526 miles, the closest to the Wood Brothers' family home in Stuart, Virginia, and the next race on the Sprint Cup schedule.

"It's a huge thing," says NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Leonard Wood, who co-founded NASCAR's most venerable organization with brother, driver and fellow Hall of Famer Glen Wood.

"We look forward to going to Martinsville. We used to run over there and have a lot of fun."

The Wood Brothers last competed at Martinsville in 2011, when
Trevor Bayne's unexpected victory in the season-opening Daytona 500 gave the family-owned team the wherewithal to run more races than originally planned.

The Woods' last trip to the paper-clip-shaped track before Bayne's 35th-place run was with veteran driver
Bill Elliott in 2008.

This year, they return to the track with Sunoco Rookie of the Year hopeful
Ryan Blaney, a 22-year-old who has never driven a Sprint Cup car at Martinsville, though he does have five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races under his belt there.

Blaney appreciates the significance Martinsville holds within his organization.

"It's really a home race for those guys, and almost for me, too," Blaney said. "I grew up in High Point, North Carolina, an hour away from Martinsville, and I vividly remember every Martinsville race I went to, watched my dad (
Dave Blaney) run it.

"And it's really neat to go back and bring the Wood Brothers back there and have them in their hometown and home state. Hopefully, we'll see a bunch of Wood Brothers fans out there. I think we will."

Obviously, Leonard Wood’s memory is a bit longer than Blaney's, dating to the days in the early 1950s when Martinsville was still a dirt half-mile. In 1953, Glen Wood raced there for the first time at NASCAR's highest level in a '53 Lincoln.

"It had power steering on it, and the power steering was so easy that we had to mark the steering wheel, because, when the track was wet, it was so smooth you couldn't feel it," Leonard Wood says.

In 1959, Glen Wood won the pole at Martinsville with a lap at 69.471 mph, a track record at the time. All told, Glen won four poles there, though he never won a race in NASCAR's premier division. In fact, the only two Martinsville victories recorded by the Wood Brothers in 109 starts came with NASCAR Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough (1968) and David Pearson (1973) behind the wheel.

When Blaney completes his 22nd lap at the .526-mile track on April 3, it will mark 45,000 laps in Cup competition at Martinsville for the Wood Brothers.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to the beneficence of track founder Clay Earles, the Woods spent countless hours testing there.

Leonard recalls one instance where Glen was testing the team's "back-seat car," a 1937 Ford with both the engine and driver's seat moved radically toward the rear of the car. Glen though the car needed a bigger spindle on the right front. From observing the car on the track, Leonard wasn't so sure.

"So I climbed in and rode with him around the track at Martinsville" Leonard says. "He is just flying through the corners, and it felt like there's about 10 tons of pressure on the right front. It was getting so much grip that I was just holding on, like it was trying to throw me right out the window.

"I'm trying to get him to slow down. He can't hear me. Finally we came to a stop. And I said, 'Glen, you need a bigger spindle on that right front.'"

Blaney's experience clearly is a lot more limited, and he's not sure racing the trucks at Martinsville will be all that helpful, even though he posted fifth-place finishes in his last three starts.

"I think there are some things you can take away from running the Truck races," Blaney said, "but I think there's a reason why the Cup guys don't normally run both of them. For one thing, it's really hard on your body. And, two, I hear it kind of messes them up when they run both, trying to be consistent between the two cars.

"There are probably some things we can take away, and I'm looking forward to learning and everything like that, but there's not a lot that you can take away."

Though Blaney readily admits Martinsville hasn't been one of his best tracks, he credits crew chief Jeremy Bullins with helping to retool his attitude.

"Last year, when we announced the full-time deal, I said 'Martinsville's the one place I’m not looking forward to,' and he persuaded me (otherwise)," Blaney said. "And now I'm looking forward to going to Martinsville, and I want to go real bad.

"So it's nice to have someone that can motivate you."

Doubtless, on April 3, there will be a large contingent of fans in the grandstands trying to amplify that support.

After all, it's a home game for the Wood Brothers—and by extension and proximity, for Blaney, too.
Old 03-28-2016, 01:42 PM
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