Monday, April 4, 2011

Martinsville Links

Here are a few of the stories from about this weekend's action at the Martinsville Speedway.

Luck Has Not Been On Stewart's Side In Pits

Former F1 Champ Raikkonen Coming to NASCAR

Dyno Fire Not Cause Of JGR Engine Woes

Harvick Crushes The Hopes Of Junior Nation

Hamlin-Johnson Dominance Ends In Pits

Also, some News & Notes from this weekend's newsletters:

Saturday 4/2/2011:

Drivers Offer Thoughts On Raikkonen
News broke earlier this week that former Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen was approved by NASCAR to run the Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a newly formed team funded, in part, by Foster Gillett.

After learning of the news, some in the NASCAR garage offered their thoughts on the former F1 driver making the jump to NASCAR.

“The only thing that I heard is that he was being approved for Charlotte,” former F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya said. “I don’t know if he’s even confirmed he’s doing it. I think it would be cool if he comes here. He’s a cool guy and I think he would fit right in. [But] my first choice wouldn’t be Charlotte to start my first race.”

“I think it’s cool,” Kyle Busch added. “I think that some of these guys from the Formula 1, or from the open-wheel background I should say, trying to take a step in NASCAR and see how it is is pretty neat. It kind of gives a world presence to NASCAR. Everybody thinks that Formula 1 is the World Series -- I don’t mean that in baseball terms, I just mean that in the racing world globe. I think that NASCAR, as big as it is a lot of drivers want to see how they can do over here and how they can have a feel for the race car over here. I think it’s neat and I hope that he gets the things worked out that he wants worked out and that he can come over here and run some Trucks or run whatever he is going to run.”

Rumors have been circulating that Raikkonen will test a truck for Kyle Busch Motorsports on Monday at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia, a claim is confirming through KBM officials - although they've also offered denials to several others, including In a tweet late Friday, Tom Jensen of SPEEDTV reported the driver will not team up with Gillett but did not offer any additional information.

Gibbs Starting To Pinpoint Engine Issues
After numerous motor problems in the opening weeks of the season, Kyle Busch explained the team is starting to figure out some of the issues that have plagued all three of the Gibbs cars to start off 2011. To date, the team has three engine failures over fifteen starts in Cup, an alarming DNF rate of 20% across the board.

“I’ve heard a little bit about the problems that we’ve had [in Fontana],” Busch said Friday. “I know there were some valve issues and things like that. I don’t want to elaborate too much on it. It’s something that at least we know what happened and where the source of the problem is. Anytime that you can figure all that out, you’re moving forward. For us, it was like my bottom end issue that we had at Las Vegas -- that was catastrophic failure. We don’t know what happened so we haven’t been able to diagnose that, but we haven’t had any of those in so long that we don’t know if it was just a part malfunction or something that we missed or what. We already found the source of last week’s issues with both Denny (Hamlin) and Joey (Logano) so we feel pretty confident that we’re heading in the right direction with that stuff.”

An explosion on the dynamometer prior to the season in January damaged two of the team’s dynos and has left them behind the curve. With that testing area still out of commission, the team is receiving a good amount of help from Toyota Racing Development in the interim.

“I don’t know when that is going to be up and running again, but I would presume that it’s still down,” Busch continued. “I have not been back there lately and I hate that I haven’t been. We do have a lot of support still through the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) guys out in Costa Mesa. They’re doing a lot of stuff. They’re doing a lot of testing. We work hand in hand together. They do a lot of stuff for us and we do some stuff for them and vice versa all of the time. I don’t think that it’s necessarily a huge issue. It would definitely be better [to have it back] so we could have all of our resources back up and running to an optimum and trying to move along with where we are at.”

Logano Wrecks In Final Practice
After being one of the fastest cars in the day’s opening practice session, Joey Logano spun his No. 20 Home Depot Toyota into Turn 3, backing it into the wall in Friday’s final session. Even before Logano was able to pull away, crew chief Greg Zipadelli came on the radio saying, “Get the backup car out, that’s what we’ll do. Let’s see what we’re made of here.”

As the team scrambled working on the backup and the wrecked car, Logano simply walked into the hauler with a look of disgust. A team representative said Logano had no idea what caused him to spin, saying he hit the brakes and jumped around.

This crash is simply a continuation of the poor luck that has hit Logano in his third year in the Sprint Cup Series. The driver started off the year going to a backup car in Daytona, suffered an engine failure in Phoenix the next week, was down about 100 horsepower 50 laps into the race at Bristol and went to the back at the start of last week’s race in Fontana due to an engine change.

Kyle Petty Charity Ride Going North To South
Kyle Petty announced Friday he will be holding his annual charity motorcycle ride for the 17th year, this time going from Lake Placid, N.Y. to Amelia Island, Florida. The ride will be held from May 7th-14th.

Benefiting the Victory Junction Gang Camp, the annual event will have approximately 175 participants featuring current and former NASCAR drivers and other celebrities. Starting in Lake Placid, the ride will also hit Corning, New York, Farmington, Pa., Irvington, Va., Wilmington, N.C., and Mt. Pleasant, S.C. before finishing in Amelia Island, Florida.

Since 1995, 9.8 million cumulative miles have been logged by 6,850 riders in this charity event.

Sunday 4/3/2011:

Tires Causing Concerns, Again
For the second time in three weeks, tire concerns are dominating the weekend conversation leading into Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500. Much like two weeks ago in Bristol, Goodyear brought a new tire compound, but it has failed to rubber in the track. Instead, the rubber is coming off the tire like a powder and not opening up a second groove.

“After 12 laps, everybody was kind of falling off pretty fast,” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr. “There was no rubber built up and there was a lot of marbles. You couldn’t get out of the bottom groove. You had to run right next to the curb. If you got in the marbles, it would ruin you. Once you got in the marbles, you ruined that set. I mean, there is no way to get them off. We don’t go fast enough here to really grind them off. It was messy. It was just real messy all day.”

For Earnhardt, it's no surprise this issue marks the second in three weeks for Goodyear.

“No, it is not coincidence,” he said. “I think there’s a good explanation for it. I talked to some people at NASCAR and got a good explanation and you guys can probably go get the response that I got and it made a little bit of sense. We’ve had some good events here and hopefully we’ll get lucky and the track will rubber up. But it’s not looking so good right now.”

Outside pole-sitter Ryan Newman said there is really no telling what the tire will do under race conditions and that has presented a unique to drivers and crew chiefs alike.

“From what I was told, [Goodyear] made a minor tweak to the tire and came here and I guess didn’t know the answer of what it was going to do. They speculated,” he pointed out. “It could change all over again tomorrow. That is the biggest question we all have in our head. What is the track going to do when we have 43 cars out there with the exhausts being down on the race track? Is it going to lay rubber or not? If it does, it is going to change a lot of things.

“I think it will take two different setups to be able to be successful in either of those situations,” Newman added. “Whether it rubbers up or whether it doesn’t and it continues to eat tires up throughout a run. The way it looks on paper, there is no way we could do even close to a fuel run tomorrow. But I think the track will change, I just don’t know how much and when that will happen - if that will happen on the first run or the last run of the race. We have seen places like Indy (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) not change until later in the race and I don’t think that is the same type of situation that we have but you never know if that is going to happen, if it does.”

Jeff Gordon said the issues were different than those seen two weeks ago in Bristol, but that still left him worried about why and how those issues came about.

“The only concerning thing that I have is that we’re making tire changes without testing,” Gordon said. “And they keep coming back and saying they’re minor tire changes. So I don’t know. There are so many things that come along with tire changes; it’s not just a compound change or a construction change these days, there’s all kinds of different chemicals in the tires that we don’t know about. But I’m definitely a fan of if you’re going to make a tire change from the last time we were there; I’m a fan of a tire test. So that’s kind of the only thing I have to add to it.”

Looking ahead to the Camping World Truck Series race that afternoon, many drivers and crew chiefs expected the 35-truck field to lay rubber down over the course of 250 laps. That did not happen, however, as the tires continued to shed rubber in balls instead of laying into the track. The inside line was the best way around, as a number of trucks that got high ran over the marbles and struggled for the next few laps.

“I’ve never raced for third or fifth in my life, just so I didn’t have to start on the outside,” third-place finisher Ron Hornaday, Jr. said. “If you were fourth or sixth or started on the outside, it was tough because the rubber would get on the tires and you would just fall back.

“Have you ever seen me let anybody pass me?” Hornaday asked. “I’m going down the straightway counting and then I’d stop and let somebody pass me to get behind them. That was the stupidest racing I’ve ever done here at Martinsville.”

Runner-up and Cup Series driver Kyle Busch was disappointed with the lack of rubber laid down on the track and said to expect wrecked race cars on Sunday.

“There’s no rubber on the race track. It’s all marbles and balls – that’s it,” he explained. “To be honest with you, I wish it would [rubber up] because it would make for better racing. We could actually probably get two grooves going, but right now there’s one groove. If you run on the inside down the straightaway, you’re running through marbles. If you run on the outside in the corners, you’re running through marbles. There’s only one particular lane that you’re not running through balls of rubber then you just slide in the next corner. As soon as you get into the next corner, you might as well just park it because you’re just going to go through the corner. I don’t see it getting any better tomorrow. Anything could surprise us, but I doubt it.”

Not expecting a competition caution from NASCAR, Busch said a lack of cautions would not be a problem.

“We’ll just wreck each other so we’ll make our own cautions,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll have to throw cautions because we’re blowing tires or anything like that. We’ll wreck ourselves.”

Official: Raikkonen To NASCAR With KBM
Kyle Busch Motorsports made it official Saturday morning that former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen would run the May 20th NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Previously rumored to be coming to NASCAR with help from Foster Gillett, KBM’s announcement on Saturday put those to rest.

“I am really excited to have the opportunity to start my venture into NASCAR with Kyle Busch Motorsports,” Raikkonen said in a team release. “Kyle is one of the best in NASCAR, and being able to draw on his knowledge will be a valuable asset as I make my transition to a new form of racing. He has put together an experienced team that builds fast race trucks. I look forward to being a part of a team that has proven to be a winner on and off the race track.”

The current deal in place is only for the May 20 race in Charlotte, but Busch explained Raikkonen is interested in running three to five races in 2011.

“Apparently there’s an interest in him that he wants to run in NASCAR,” Busch said. “He’s shopped it around to quite a few teams and apparently we won the war. It’s exciting for us at Kyle Busch Motorsports. Kimi, from what I understand, was real adamant about trying to work with me and our teams and being able to put a deal together to go out there and try to get him success in NASCAR. With our trucks, the way we’ve been running this year, he felt like that was a good place for him to come.”

Raikkonen’s transition to NASCAR will begin on Monday, when he will test a KBM truck at Gresham Motorsports Park. The test will be closed to the public and media while Busch will not be in attendance.

McMurray Scores Pole In Martinsville
Chevrolet claimed the top two spots for Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville with Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman sitting on the front row. Running a lap of 19.621 seconds at 96.509 mph, McMurray earned his first pole at the .526-mile paperclip.

“We have a really good car,” McMurray said. “This is one of my favorite tracks. I’ve always loved coming to Martinsville. It’s a unique race track and I think the guys that enjoy coming here typically run well. We had a really good car in race trim yesterday. We struggled in qualifying trim. "Bono" (Kevin Manion, crew chief) and the guys made a couple of small adjustments.

“I didn’t think I drove quite hard enough, but in practice it was so easy to slide the tires and I felt like I was better off to just take what I could get and not try to get too much. It was a good run for our Widia Chevrolet, the first race with this sponsor. It is a really bright car, be cool to have it up front. Excited with our run.”

Sitting second in points, Newman continued his early season success with a second-place run – his third top-10 start of 2011.

“I could tell that my first timed lap was a good one because I had hit the chip," he said. "I knew I ran a .77 yesterday and .62 was quick at the time when I hit the chip going into turn three."

"I knew the first timed lap was really good. Just got a little bit free on my second timed lap which should have been a little bit faster... I think it was four thousandths slower or a tenth slower. But either way, a good effort. I am proud of the guys to be sixth yesterday and step it up to second today. We’d have been fine if it wasn’t for McMurray.”

Kasey Kahne put his Red Bull Toyota third on the starting grid, while Joey Logano posted the fourth-fastest time in a backup car. Four-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin was fifth, while A.J. Allmendinger, Bobby Labonte, David Reutimann, Kevin Harvick and Regan Smith rounded out the top 10.

When the No. 92 of Dennis Setzer withdrew after wrecking his only car in Friday practice, no cars were forced to race their way into the show. The qualifying time of Joe Nemechek was disallowed, however, after post-qualifying inspection found the car was too low. He'll start Sunday's race from the rear of the field.

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