February 10, 2016

Kyle Busch takes NASCAR title; Teammate Carl Edwards fifth

(NASCAR)—Kyle Busch, who missed the first eleven races of the season because of injuries suffered in a crash at the Daytona Speedway in February, has won NASCAR’s top championship by outrunning  defending champion Kevin Harvick. Longtime observers already are calling Busch’s championship “the ultimate NASCAR comeback,” and a “comeback for the ages.”


Busch grabbed the lead on a re-start with seven laps to go and beat Harvick to the checkered flat by 1.552 seconds.  Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex, Jr., the other two drivers eligible to race for the championship, finished sixth and twelfth respectively.  The race was the last for Gordon, a four-time champion.  He’ll be in the broadcast booth next year.

The finish was the thirteenth time this year Harvick has finished second, a NASCAR record, breaking Bobby Allison’s record set in 1972.  He also had three wins and led more laps this year than any other driver.

Columbia’s Carl Edwards, one of Busch’s teammates, ran in the top ten most of the night but faded at the end to eleventh place.  Edwards, who forecast two weeks ago that one of the four drivers in the Joe Gibbs Racing stable would win the championship, finished fifth in the points.  One of his other teammates, Matt Kenseth, was seventh in the race and fifteenth in the final points standings.  The fourth driver, Denny Hamlin, started from the pole at Homestead, dropped laps back with early mechanical problems, but came back to finish tenth in the race, ninth in season points.

Joplin driver Jamie McMurray was 13th in the race and finished in the same position in the last race of the year.  Sometime-Missourian Clint Bowyer was caught up in a multi-car crash on the 45th lap and finished last in his final race with Michael Waltrip Racing, which is going out of business.

Busch won five of the 25 races in which he ran after coming back from his injuries. He was in the top ten sixteen times, in the top five a dozen times.

Edwards, in his first season with Gibbs, started slowly and did not finish in the top ten until the seventh race of the year.  He did get another top-ten until he won at Charlotte during the Memorial Day weekend, the twelfth race of the year.


carlhomestead (nascar)He wasn’t in the top ten again until he finished fourth at Kentucky, the 19th race. But he ran in the top ten in twelve of the last seventeen races of the year, including a second win at Darlington.

Several drivers from other racing series were at Homestead to honor Gordon including reigning Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton, past Indianapolis 500 champions Mario Andretti and Helio Castroneves.  But one IndyCar driver had an additional motive for being there. James Hinchcliffe wants to give NASCAR a whirl.  He was shopping for a ride at Watkins Glen in the Xfinity Series next year.  The series is the equivalent of baseball’s Triple-A.

(photo credits: NASCAR)

(IndyCar)—First tests by some IndyCar drivers at Phoenix International Raceway, the site of IndyCar’s second race of  2016, have some drivers talking of possible new lap records.  The season opens March 13 on the street course in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The series will return to PIR for the first time since 2005.  Driver Marco Andretti noted after the tests that the NASCAR lap record at the Phoenix mile is 25.1 seconds but the IndyCar lap record set by Arie Luyendyk in  1996 is 19.068 seconds, an average of 183.599 mph. “We’re going to be sub-twenty seconds around here,” he forecast.   The teams will test again February 26-27.

Former Missouri Tiger football player Jay Frye, the new IndyCar President of Competition and Operations says he wants to build on “lots of momentum” the series has seen in the last couple of years. FOXSports.com says he was “largely responsible” for healing a major rift between IndyCar and Phoenix International Raceway president Bryan Sperber stemming from negotiations that went badly in 2012.  “We as a series have to be smart about what we are doing,” Frye told Foxsports.com. “We have a great racing product. The racing is spectacular but we have to be smart to maintain costs and look at the program of the future, do certain things and help add value to the teams in other ways. I’m certain we can do it in a smart way going forward.”

(Formula 1)—Formula 1 runs its last race of the year on the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. The race could be the last time, for now at least, that cars with the historic Lotus badge will take the track in Formula 1. Lotus teams have been in financial jeopardy for most of the season and a deal for a takeover by Renault is expected to be finalized after the Abu Dhabi race. Renault had owned the team that competed under the Renault nameplate until getting out of Formula 1 as a constructor and selling the rights to a Luxembourg venture capital company that named the team after one of its partners, Group Lotus. Renault had announced in September it had signed a letter of intent to resume controlling interest in the team, which is under orders of a High Court in London to make the deal final before December 7th.


Rain washes away Edwards’ title hopes

(NASCAR)—An unusual series of showers in Arizona has ended the hopes of Columbia NASCAR driver Carl Edwards to run for the championship in his first year with his new team.  Four other drivers will chase the championship next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway instead.

The start of the race had been delayed more than six hours because of earlier rain.  Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was in front when the red flag came out as cars sat in the pits.  Defending NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick was running second after leading 143 laps.

Earnhardt had failed to advance in earlier elimination rounds of the run-off but Harvick joins Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Truex for the final shootout next Sunday.  The driver who has the best finish among those four will be crowned the champion. Edwards, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano are the four drivers that did not advance to the championship race. Kyle Busch is one of Edwards’ teammates with Joe Gibbs Racing.

The Phoenix track has hosted 38 top-tier NASCAR races. The only other time the race was shortened by rain was in 1998 with St. Louis driver Rusty Wallace in front.

Edwards had run among the leaders throughout the race and at one point had closed to within three points of Martin Truex, Jr., who was the last of the four drivers to advance.  He was running twelfth, two positions ahead of Truex, after the last round of pit stops when the race was called after 219 of the scheduled 312 laps when light rain became too heavy for the race to continue.

The field ran several laps under caution when rain began to fall lightly on the track.  “We can’t let it end like this,” Edwards told his crew on the radio.  But it did.  A few laps later the cars were pulled into pit lane and stopped while NASCAR sent track dryers onto the track.

“I hope so badly we can race,” Edwards told an interviewer in the pits. “I want to go racing.  We’ve got a great opportunity with traffic. We’ve got a great car.”   But heavier rain moved in and NASCAR announced as he was being interviewed that the race was ending.  Edwards dropped his umbrella and walked away in frustration to stand in the pits before picking up the umbrella again and walking away.

carl umbrella

Edwards appears to be a lock for a fifth-place finish in the points this year, his seventh finish in the top ten in eleven fulltime seasons in NASCAR’s top series.  He has finished second in the points twice.

Joplin’s Jamie McMurray was running fifteenth when the red flag fell.  Clint Bowyer was 23rd.

Unlike other sports that reduce teams eligible for their season championships through a series of playoffs and leave only the surviving teams to compete, all races still begin with 43 drivers who are eligible to win races, not just those that have reached the next bracket.

(photo credit: NASCAR)

(Formula 1)—Niko Rosberg has edged teammate Lewis Hamilton in the Brazilian Grand Prix, his second win in a row after Hamilton clinched his third grand prix championship.

Rosberg started from the pole and led throughout the race.  Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel finished behind the two Mercedes drivers.

(IndyCar)— Former Missouri Tiger football player Jay Frye has become the president of Competition and Operations for IndyCar.  Frye had been Chief Revenue Officer for Hulman Motorsports.  Before joining Hulman Motorsports, Frye had been with Red Bull Racing and MB2 Motorsports in NASCAR. His record shows his teams won four NASCAR Cup races.  Frye lettered as a defensive lineman for Woody Widenhofer’s 1986 Tiger team that went 3-8.

November 14th (Saturday) was a milestone day for the Hulman family, owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  It marked the seventieth anniversary of the day Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr., bought the track from Eddie Rickenbacker, best remembered as a World War I ace.  The track had fallen into disrepair while being shut down for World War II.  Hulman cleaned up the old track and made repairs in time to host the first post-war Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day, 1946.  The 100th Indianapolis 500 will be run at the track next May.  The track is undergoing a huge overhaul of grandstands and other spectator areas.

Speedway historian Donald Davidson has written about the way three-time 500 winner Wilbur Shaw convinced Hulman, a Terre Haute businessman, to rescue the track:


IndyCar’s race through the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida will continue through 2020.  The city council has extended the license of the race organizers license until then.  Next year’s season opening race is scheduled for the weekend of March 11-13.  City economic development officials think the race has an economic impact of almost $50 million.





Phoenix is make or break for Edwards

(NASCAR)—Columbia driver Carl Edwards isn’t exactly in the win-or-else position as NASCAR heads to Phoenix for the 35th of this year’s 36 races, but he is fifth in the Chase point standings and only four drivers will move on to the Homestead-Miami Race on November 22 with a shot at the championship.


Edwards, who is looking up at Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex, Jr., finished fifth in the Texas 500 and is seven points behind Truex for the final spot in championship run at Homestead.  Although that seems to be a small margin, it actually is pretty big, given that there’s only one race left to overcome it in NASCAR’s scoring system.

Gordon is guaranteed a spot in the championship race because of his win at Martisville a week ago.  Edwards’ Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch is eleven points ahead of Edwards. Harvick leads him by ten. Harvick is the defending champion.

Edwards has a twelve-point advantage on former NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski, who led 312 of the 334 laps at Texas only to be passed by Jimmie Johnson with nine to go.   The win is the 75th of Johnson’s career, eighth on the all-time win list, one behind Dale Earnhardt, Sr.  Johnson is not eligible for a title shot at Homestead because he fell out of contention in the first round of the NASCAR playoff (or race-off) system.

Joplin’s Jamie McMurray ran in the top ten for much of the race and finished tenth.  Clint Bowyer was fifteenth.

NASCAR awards at least 47 points to the winner of a race (43 for finishing first, three bonus points for winning, and one point for leading the last lap).  Drivers get one point for leading at least one lap and another point for leading the most laps regardless of where they finish.  Points decrease by one for each position behind first, with second place getting 42 points, third getting 41, etc., (plus lap bonuses).

If Edwards wins at Phoenix, he automatically will run for the championship at Homestead.  If Truex, Busch,  Harvick, or any of the drivers ranked 5-8 in the current run-off round win at Phoenix, they automatically qualify, leaving two spots in the final four to be determined by points, likely Edwards and two other non-winners in this round.

Statistically, how do they stack up?

Edwards has raced at Phoenix 22 times including the race last March when he finished 7th.  He won at Phoenix in 2010 and in 2013.  He has eleven top tens and seven to top-five finishes.  His average finish is 12.3.

Truex has an average finish of 17.1 in nineteen races. He has been in the top ten seven times and has one top-five.  No wins.

Harvick likes Phoenix. He has won four straight races there, five of the last six, and eight times overall.  He’s been in the top ten fourteen times and in the top five ten times in his 25 races.

Kyle Busch, who did not race at Phoenix last March because of his Daytona injuries, has averaged a 14.2 finish in twenty races, with a dozen top tens and three top fives. He has won there once.

Keselowski has not won any of the twelve races he has started at Phoenix but he has been in the top five four times and the top ten six times.

Keselowski, Kurt Busch, and Joey Logano need to win to advance.  If Edwards does not win, he needs to finish at least eight positions ahead of Truex, and must lead at least as many laps as Truex does.  If he and Truex tie in the points after Phoenix, Edwards advances because has won two races this year and Truex has won only once.

Edwards tied Tony Stewart for the points championship in 2011 but became the runner-up because Stewart had won more races.

(photo credit: Rick Gevers)

McMurray chases Gordon in historic win

(NASCAR)—Joplin driver Jamie McMurray charged toward the lead late in the race on the Martinsville half-mile track but couldn’t get close enough to make a move to take the win away from Jeff Gordon in the final laps.  Gordon won for the 93rd time in his career, ending a 39-race winless streak and qualifying to be one of four drivers to run for the NASCAR championship.  The win was an emotional one for Gordon, who will retire after four more races. He is bidding for his fifth championship.


McMurray (on the left) was not able to pull ahead of Gordon on the last restart.  His runnerup finish equaled his best finish of the year. He also was second at Phoenix on March 15.  His last win was at Talladega in the fall of 2013.

Columbia’s Carl Edwards struggled all day and finished where he started—14th.  Edwards lost a lap early in the race when he was caught up in teammate Kyle Busch’s crash. He ran into the back of  A. J. Allmendinger’s car as Allmendinger slowed.  The shunt left Edwards with hood damage that forced a pit stop and put him a lap behind.  He got back onto the lead lap but could not threaten the contenders.  He was helped in the final finishing order when teammate Matt Kenseth, who was running 33rd, appeared to intentionally wreck race leader Joey Logano, taking Kurt Busch out of contention in the process.

Edwards’ mediocre finish leaves him fifth after the first race in the championship semi-finals.  Gordon and three other drivers  will transfer after upcoming races at Texas and Phoenix into the final race for the championship at Homestead-Miami.   He is nine points out of fourth, but seventeen up on Brad Keselowski, nineteen ahead of Busch and twenty-one ahead of Logano.

Edwards has nine top-ten finishes at the Texas Speedway, the next stop on the tour. He won a race there in 2013 and has finished second twice.

Clint Bowyer finished last, knocked out in a multi-car crash on the 185th of 500 laps.

(Photo Credit: NBCSN)

(Formula 1)—Nico Rosberg finally was able to finish ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, who locked up the F1 championship last week.  Rosberg won the Mexican Grand Prix by almost two seconds.

(IndyCar)—IndyCar’s 2016 schedule will be longer, answering critics who have contended IndyCar leaves too much of the racing season to NASCAR.   The 16-race schedule features five races on oval tracks including the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29th.  The season begins on March 15th on the street course in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The final race of the year will be September 18 on the road course at Sonoma, California.  Pocono is not on next year’s schedule.  A race through the streets of Boston has been added. The series returns to Road America, Wisconsin, where it last ran in 2007.

Officials say they hope the new schedule capitalizes on the 38 percent increase in television viewership during the last two years.

Two IndyCar drivers have set personal bests in the Ironman 70.3 Miami Triathalon.    Scott Dixon, this year’s series champion reached his goal of finishing the event in less than five hours by crossing the finish line in 4:50.25.  Dixon, who is 35, was competing in the 35-39 age bracket and was 154th out of more than 3,200 entrants.   Tony Kanaan, who is one of Dixon’s teammates for Chip Ganassi Racing, finished in five hours, eleven minutes.  Kanaan, who is 40, was in the 40-44 category.  The event included a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bicycle ride, and a 13.1 mile run.

Carl Edwards makes the NASCAR title semifinals

by Bob Priddy, Contributing Editor

(NASCAR)–Columbia’s Carl Edwards has finished ahead of a multi-car crash on the last lap of the 500-mile race at Talladega and has moved on in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship. Edwards crossed the finish line fifth in the race but second in the points in the three-race series that determined which eight drivers would remain in contention for the championship.

Joey Logano won the race, sweeping the three-race quarter-final segment that eliminated four drivers from championship contention: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, and Denny Hamlin.  Still in the hunt behind Logano and Edwards are Jeff Gordon, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr, and Kevin Harvick, the 2014 champion.

Joplin’s Jamie McMurray ran in the top ten for a good part of the race before losing an engine on the 182nd lap. He finished 39th.  Clint Bowyer wound up eighth after starting 29th.

Missouri had another prominent role in the race.  A B-2 Bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base did a flyover of the track during the National Anthem.

B2 talledega

NASCAR’s version of a playoff system begins after 26 races when sixteen drivers who have won at least one race and a necessary number of drivers who have accumulated enough points become eligible for the Challenger Round of three races. The field is narrowed to the twelve for the Contender Round of drivers who either win one or more of the next three races or accumulate enough points to continue into the Eliminator Round, which features eight drivers based on wins and points. Joey Logano won all three races of the Eliminator Round.

Races in the next three weeks at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix will determine which four drivers reach the Championship Race, the season finale at Homestead-Miami.  The highest-finishing of those four drivers will be crowned the champion.

Edwards and Kyle Busch are the only members of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable still in the running.  Logano and Brad Keselowski will carry the Penskey Racing colors into the next round.  Jeff Gordon is the only one of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers to make it this far.  Kurt Busch and Harvick represent Stewart-Hass Racing.  Martin Truex Jr., is the only driver from a single-car team to make the semifinal round of eight. He drives for Furniture Row, the only team not based in the east.  Furniture Row has its shops in Denver.

(photo credit: Charlotte Observer)

(FORMULA 1)—Lewis Hamilton has locked up the Formula 1 World Championship by winning the United States Grand Prix on the Circuit of the Americas in Texas.  Hamilton again finishing ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg, who was frustrated at the end of the race because he slid off-course with eight laps to go, giving Hamilton the chance to pull ahead.  Rosberg held off Sebastian Vettel for the runner-up spot.

The win is Hamilton’s tenth this year.  He’s the first F1 driver to win ten or more races in back-to-back seasons. He now has won the championship three times, 2008, 2014, and this year.  He is now tied with Sir Jackie Stewart for most F1 championships by a British driver.  Only four drivers have won more.

(FORMULA 1)—The condition of Michael Schumacher, who won more F1 titles than any other driver—seven—remains one of mystery as he continues an apparently slow recovery from a skiing accident more than a year and a half ago.  Schumacher suffered severe brain injuries when his head hit a rock on December 29, 2013.  He was kept in a medically-induced coma for two months.

Gregory Wakeman, writing for the Inquisitr, reports Schumacher’s former boss at Mercedes holds out “hope” that Schumacher will recover—someday.  But he says the progress is very slow.  Schumacher’s family has not commented.  Wakeman reports Schumacher is at home where his care is costing more than $100,000 a week.

(IndyCar)—IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe has gotten back behind the wheel of a racing car for the first time since his near-fatal crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May that left him pinned in his car “like a shish kabob.”   Hinchcliffe writes for The Players Tribune that the crashed forced a metal suspension rod through lower right thigh and out through his upper left thigh, clipping an artery in the process and causing bleeding that almost killed him.

“I still don’t remember anything, and the whole thing still felt like it happened to somebody else,” he wrote. It took 133 days of surgeries, healing and rehabilitation before he was able to get back in racing car and run test laps at Road America, Wisconsin.  He admits his only fear before those laps was whether the crash had cause him to change.  “Like maybe I didn’t have it anymore, “he wrote. “There are a lot of good drivers, but it’s so difficult to find that last little bit that puts you on the same level as the top drivers in the world. That margin that separates the good from the great is so small, and I wondered if an experience as traumatic as what I went through would have any effect once I got back behind the wheel.”

Hinchcliffe admits it felt “kind of weird” to be back on the track but he started feeling comfortable after about five laps. A few laps later, he writes, he knew he could push the limits of the car.  That, he says, was when he realized “this thing is not trying to kill  you.”

You can read his comments at http://www.theplayerstribune.com/james-hinchcliffe-indycar-crash-return/