NASCAR National Series News And Notes

Fast Facts


The Race: STP Gas Booster 500

The Place: Martinsville Speedway

The Date: Sunday, April 7

The Time: 1 p.m. (ET)

TV: FOX, 12:30 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 263 miles (500 laps)



The Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300

The Place: Texas Motor Speedway

The Date: Friday, April 12

The Time: 8:30 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN2, 8 p.m. (ET)

Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)



The Race: Kroger 250

The Place: Martinsville Speedway

The Date: Saturday, April 6

The Time: 1:30 p.m. (ET) 

TV: SPEED, 1 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 131.5 miles (250 laps)


Earnhardt’s Points Lead Breaks New Ground

Being No. 1 is nothing new for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But becoming the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader, which he accomplished with a second-place finish on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, broke new ground for Junior.

It’s the first time the 10-time Most Popular Driver has headed the standings in consecutive seasons. Earnhardt last held the points lead after last August’s race at Pocono Raceway. He also sat atop the points in 2004.

Retaining the ranking, qualifying for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ and winning an elusive championship definitely are in Earnhardt’s sights.

Sunday’s finish kept a magical season rolling. He’s now finished second twice, at Auto Club and behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson in the Daytona 500. Earnhardt is the only competitor to have finished among the top 10 in each of this season’s five races.

That Earnhardt overcame several problems – notably a 22-second pit stop – and still contended for the victory is further proof that his Steve Letarte-led No. 88 Chevrolet team is solid over the long haul.

“Yeah, we had a little problem on pit road on one of our stops and lost a lot of positions,” said Earnhardt in his post-race interviews. “But we’ve always, we just stick together and everybody was just kind of, patted each other on the back and we were going to get another chance to redeem ourselves on pit road.”

A late caution flag and the chance to mount fresh tires gave Earnhardt the chance to close strong – something he’s not always been able to do.

“[That was] something I never really was good at for years, and now we’re doing it as good as anybody,” he said.  “[We’re] just riding the wave; just real happy with how things are going for our team.”

Earnhardt’s best championship finish, third, came in 2003. He has two more top fives and a top-10 championship finish – seventh in 2011 – his best since joining Hendrick Motorsports.

Last season might have been “the one” until a concussion forced Earnhardt to sit out Chase races at Charlotte and Kansas. Since his return at Martinsville, Earnhardt has finished seven of nine races among the top 10 and completed all but two laps.

Next week’s STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville will mark Earnhardt’s 475th NASCAR Sprint Cup start. Although he’s never won at the 0.525-mile track, Earnhardt has finished in the top five on 10 occasions, including third in last year’s spring race. He has finished second on two occasions, both times in Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets.


Keselowski Contends Again But Ending Different

All good things come to an end, as Brad Keselowski learned on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

Starting from the rear of the Auto Club 400 field because of an engine change, Keselowski quickly charged to the top 15, slapped a barrier while sliding in another competitor’s fluid and later served a pit road penalty, but still stood fifth on the race’s final restart.

The Yo-yo-esque afternoon, however, ended with his No. 2 Penske Racing Ford limping to a 23rd-place finish, the victim of overheating. Gone was Keselowski’s four-race, top-five streak in which he led every race and held the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings lead.

Crew chief Paul Wolfe was philosophical.

Asked if his team was capable of starting another streak – perhaps on April 7 at Martinsville Speedway – Wolfe smiled and said, “Absolutely.”

Keselowski’s last two trips to Martinsville produced track-best finishes: ninth in the spring and sixth last October.

Keselowski knows there will be weeks when things don’t go your way. The competitiveness of the series – from potential winner to out of the top 20 in just 10 laps – means you get up, dust yourself off and regroup.

“It was a great streak,” the reigning series champion said. “We had a shot at winning the race if the 32 car (of Timmy Hill) doesn’t blow up in front of us. But eventually they’re going to throw circumstances at you that you just can’t control. That happens to everybody.”


Busch Brothers Say Don’t Forget About Us

Double trouble – again. Brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch head into Easter week as legitimate championship contenders following seasons each would rather forget.

Kyle Busch broke a 31-race winless drought at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. After missing the Chase a year ago, he ranks a solid sixth in points.

“We worked so hard last year, and we missed the Chase by three points. And then it sort of defines your season as missing the Chase,” said Busch, who recently extended his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing. “And then we go off and rattle off great finishes throughout the Chase but we never win.”

The current season appeared to be more of the same as the No. 18 Toyota team boasted strong cars at Daytona and Phoenix, where circumstances led to finishes outside the top 20. Busch then rebounded to fourth in Las Vegas and second in Bristol before Sunday’s win.

Elder sibling Kurt Busch fashioned back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time since September 2011 as the fortunes of single-car Furniture Row Racing continue on an upswing. The consecutive top fives are unprecedented for the Denver, Colo.-based team owned by Barney Visser.

The 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has climbed to 13th in the standings, eight points out of the top 10.

Busch, who overcame a pit road infraction to go door-to-door for the lead with his younger brother, credits the tight-knit management of Furniture Row Racing for rebooting his career. It begins, he said, with general manager Joe Garone and extends to former NASCAR touring series champion Rick Carelli, the spotter that guided him through Sunday’s final-laps mayhem.

“It’s an amazing feeling to have somebody you respect, somebody that you looked up to as a legend helping you, telling you, ‘Hey, you’re a legend.,’” said Busch of Carelli. “I’m like, ‘No, I’m just Kurt driving around in circles.’ The chemistry between us is awesome.”


Intrigue At The Break: Points Tell Fascinating Tale

Storylines galore pepper the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings. You have the usual suspects, the return engagements, the surprise dark horses. Heading into the first open week of the young season, a number of nuggets stand out at the top of the charts …

  • Usual Suspects: As discussed on page 1, Dale Earnhardt Jr. tops the charts in consecutive seasons for the first time in his career. He’s followed by defending series champion Brad Keselowski and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Also in the top 10 from last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup: Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin.
  • Return Engagements: Some major comebacks are brewing early on, in the name of Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch – both of whom have won this season. Edwards, a winner at Phoenix, has scored top-five finishes in three of the last four races, which has launched him to fourth in the standings after missing the Chase last year. Busch, who broke a 31-race drought with his victory at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday, has shirked the “worst season ever” label that plagued him in 2012. Aside from winning three of the five races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Busch has piled up three top fives in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition to climb to sixth in the points after barely missing the Chase last season.
  • Surprise Dark Horses: Two drivers currently in the top 10 – Paul Menard and Joey Logano – have yet to make a Chase appearance. A third, Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr., is 12th and currently in position to earn a Chase berth. Few predicted this kind of early season success for the three young guns. Menard, currently eighth in points, has been in this position before. After five races in 2011, he was seventh in points; he finished the year 17th in points. Joey Logano, ninth in points, is enjoying the best start to his career. He’s never been this high in points after five races. Stenhouse has been a picture of consistency befitting his predecessor in the No. 17, Matt Kenseth. Though he has yet to score a top-10 finish, he also has dodged trouble. All five finishes have been in the top 20, and he’s one of five drivers who have finished on the lead lap of every race.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

On Deck: After the first open week in the 2013 schedule, the NSCS heads to Martinsville Speedway, the series’ shortest track. The trio of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin set up a monopoly on Victory Lane at Martinsville, winning 12 of 13 races there from 2004-2010. Then, for a short time, they were shut out. Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman won in 2011 and the spring of 2012, before Johnson righted the ship in last year’s Chase Martinsville race. … Johnson once had a streak of 17 straight top-10 finishes at Martinsville (2002-2010), one short of the all-time record. … Not to be outmatched, Gordon had a 15-race Martinsville top-10 streak of his own, from 2003-2010. That included a span of 11 consecutive top fives. … There have been five different winners over the first five races in 2013, only the second time that’s happened in the past eight seasons. It last happened in 2011, when there were 18 different winners over the course of the entire season, one short of the all-time record.


Five Things You May Not Know About Points Leader Sam Hornish Jr.

As the NASCAR Nationwide Series heads into a two-week break (the series will resume action on April 12 at Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300), we take this time to get you caught up on five things you might not have known about the current points leader Sam Hornish Jr., who holds a 28-point advantage over runner-up Regan Smith:

  • Prior to joining the NASCAR ranks, Hornish competed in the IndyCar Series, where he enjoyed great success. He is the only three-time champion in the IndyCar Series, having won titles in 2001 and 2002 with Panther Racing, and in 2006 with Team Penske. In 2006, he won the Indianapolis 500. If he holds onto the points lead in the NNS, he will be the first Indy 500 champion to win a title in any of NASCAR’s three national series. In eight seasons, Hornish won 19 races, and had 47 podiums and 10 poles in 116 starts.
  • At the Indianapolis 500 in 2006, Hornish won the “Scott Brayton Award” for best exemplifying the tenacity and friendliness of the late IndyCar driver Scott Brayton.
  • Hornish often gives back to his sport and his hometown of Defiance, Ohio. For five years, he participated in a charity bowling tournament during the fall Texas race weekend, held in conjunction with Speedway Children’s Charities, which raised more than $500,000. He was involved in the creation of a senior center in his hometown and the addition of a cardiac care center at Defiance Medical Center.
  • Aside from racing cars at high speeds on race tracks across the country, Hornish enjoys customizing cars and has quite an impressive collection. His collection includes a 1930 Model A Ford, 1951 Mercury, 1955 Chevrolet Del Ray, 1965 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, 1967 Chevrolet pick-up, 1977 Kenworth w900-A semi-truck and a 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z-06 that he received for winning the 2006 Indy 500.
  • Hornish has been around racing and race tracks for most of his life. He began racing karts at 11 and four years later won 19 of 55 races and the World Karting Association U.S. Grand National Championship (two consecutive seasons), as well as the Canadian Grand Championship.


Smith, Team Constantly Working on Car, Solid Season

Regan Smith drove his JR Motorsports No. 5 Chevrolet to a third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway last Saturday in the Royal Purple 300 to jump two positions in the points standings to second, 28 points behind leader Sam Hornish Jr.

Don’t think for a second that Smith and his crew, led by crew chief Greg Ives, are taking their early season success for granted. Instead, they’re constantly working to find the right set-up for each race and race track. Their efforts have been rewarded with three top-10 finishes, and no finish lower than 14th, which came in the Daytona season opener.

“We’ve been working on stuff trying to find that package that works for us and almost essentially testing at the same time that we’re racing and trying to gain points,” Smith said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in this race team and a lot of confidence in the guys on the pit box calling the shots, and once we get a few things scienced out then hopefully we’re the car up there battling with the 54 (Kyle Busch) and the 12 (Hornish) and really making it interesting.”

This season, Smith provides JR Motorsports something it hasn’t had since Brad Keselowski finished third in the standings in back-to-back seasons (2008 and 2009): a serious title contender.


Busch’s Resurgence Is A Return To Normalcy

The 2012 season was an anomaly for Kyle Busch. For the first time since 2003, the Las Vegas native went winless in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Five races into the 2013 season, Busch already has returned to his old self, adding to his series-leading 51 wins. After engine problems in the season opener at Daytona relegated the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide champion to a 32nd-place finish, he’s been almost unstoppable. He has three wins (Phoenix, Bristol, Auto Club) and a runner-up finish to points leader Sam Hornish Jr. at Las Vegas.

Through five races this season, Busch has led no less than 13 laps in any event. He’s led 425 of the 970 laps run so far (44 percent). The next two drivers with the most laps led are Hornish (142 laps) and Brad Keselowski (64 laps), 15 and seven percent, respectively.

When the series returns to action in two weeks at Texas Motor Speedway, don’t look for any loss in momentum from Busch. In 14 visits to the 1.5-mile track, he has five consecutive wins and 12 top 10s.


NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.

The youth movement evident in 2012 is still going strong in 2013 with three rookies in the top 15 in points. NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate Kyle Larson, seventh in series points, leads Alex Bowman (10th) and Nelson Piquet Jr. (14th) in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. … Travis Pastrana continues to impress in his first full-time season in the NNS. Through five races, he has two 10th-place finishes and has completed 958 of 970 laps (99 percent).


First Visit To Martinsville Quiroga’s Next Challenge

German Quiroga is no stranger to success. The Mexico City native has built an impressive resume in stock cars highlighted by winning three NASCAR Toyota Series championships in his home country.

Now Quiroga is ready for his next challenge – the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. After making a total of six starts over the past two seasons, the 32-year-old champion has made the move to compete full-time this year driving the No. 77 Red Horse Racing Tundra.

Quiroga has collected one top-10 finish in a truck last year at Talladega and he had a good run going at Daytona before he got collected in an accident. To have a good season and a good showing at Martinsville, he knows it will take a good truck and a little luck, something he feels he has with his new team.

“My goals are to start and finish races first and then challenge for wins,” Quiroga said. “We want to win races like every other driver, but you have to finish races first. I am learning a lot with my new team and Timothy [Peters] has helped me tremendously.”

Having raced on short tracks in Mexico, Quiroga feels comfortable heading into Martinsville.

“We raced on short tracks and I have had some success on them in the past and I am comfortable racing on them,” he added. “[But it’s a] totally different type of setup for the trucks versus the cars I used to race…

“We just want to be successful and have a good season. I also want to keep working hard to become the first Mexican to win a NASCAR Touring Series race and I feel I have the team and equipment to make that happen.”


Fast Kroger 250 Qualifying Lap Would Please Gaughan

Many NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers have a love/hate relationship with at least one track on the schedule. For veteran driver Brendan Gaughan, Martinsville Speedway could fall into that category.

The Las Vegas native never has felt completely comfortable there.

The tight, 0.525-mile layout hasn’t been a complete washout. Gaughan has scored four top-10 finishes in 12 starts, highlighted by a pair of 9th-place finishes in 2011, the last time he competed there in a truck. Gaughan has only finished off the lead lap once.

Gaughan’s frustrations at Martinsville can best be summed by one word: qualifying. His average start is 25.3, more than 10 positions worse than his average finish (14.3).

“We’ve always raced well there, but qualifying just kills us and I have to get better at it,” Gaughan said. “I love Martinsville, and the staff and the people in the community are great, but I have tried every way possible to get a good lap in at that track and haven’t figured it out yet.”

Gaughan has captured eight wins in the series, highlighted by six victories coming in 2003, when he finished fourth in the final standings. But he’s never won on a short track.

“I have decided that I am going to be one with Martinsville and make it part of my DNA next week,” he said. “I am determined to get better at the track and part of it is making up my mind that we are going to do well there.”


NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.

Devin Jones, a 17-year-old California native, is among the drivers hoping to make their NASCAR Camping World Truck debut at Martinsville. Jones has competed in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway. … Ryan Blaney and his No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford team will test this week at Rockingham Speedway in preparation for the track’s April 14 event.


Euro-Racecar Series Kicks Off

The chase after Ander Vilarino begins this weekend.

The 33-year-old from San Sebastian, Spain, opens his title defense of the Euro-Racecar Series as the second season under the NASCAR banner for the Europe-based stock-car series kicks off. As with the inaugural season, the schedule begins with the Nogaro 200 at Circuit Paul Armagnac, Nogaro, France.

The series will feature seven race weekends, culminating at LeMans in France on Oct. 12-13. Other stops include some of Europe’s top venues: Monza in Italy, Motorland Aragon in Spain, Brands Hatch in England, Dijon in France, and the temporary oval track in Tours, France.

Euro-Racecar Series race weekends also feature an Open Division as its top support class.

Last year, Vilarino swept the Nogaro weekend. He won both the Sprint and Endurance races of the Elite Division, the Euro-Racecar Series’ top class.

In Year 2, though, the race weekend format has shifted slightly. Last year, an event consisted of Sprint and Endurance races – the latter which feature the Elite drivers splitting seat time with an Open driver in a pro-am type format. This season, elite drivers will compete in two races per weekend of identical distance. This is more akin to twin features that short-tracks in the United States run, with points being awarded for both races.

Top challengers for Vilarino’s title include Spain’s Javier Villa and France’s Romain Iannetta.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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