Pre-Weekend Quick Takes

Spencer Neff

Twitter:@NeffOnSports11

Hope everyone had a great week. Here are the top stories for the weekend in motorsports.

1. NASCAR’s throwback weekend at Darlington is here. Several teams are running throwback schemes. NBC will also join in on the fun. Ken Squier, Dale and Ned Jarrett will call portions of the race broadcast, which will have a 70s-theme. It is very cool to see so many in the sport participate in paying tribute to its past. Hopefully this will be the start of a Labor Day tradition for a long time to come.

2. As the sport pays homage to its past, it will also go forward in a way. Kurt Busch is among the drivers opting to use a digital dashboard, which allows drivers to view car components, such as tire pressure. The technology, which will become mandatory in 2016, is another important aspect to keep an eye on.

3. NHRA wraps up the regular season with the US Nationals in Indianapolis. Almost half of the 40 spots in the countdown are available, so the racing will be even more intense. Drivers across all four professional categories will be looking to make their way into the playoffs and win at one of the sport’s biggest events.

Have a great holiday weekend and see you soon.

Top 10 Tuesday: Tracks of NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Yesteryear

Spencer Neff

Twitter:@NeffOnSports11

Sunday night, the Southern 500 will be contested on Labor Day weekend for the first time since 2003. The weekend has become a tribute to NASCAR’s heritage, with several teams paying homage to the past with throwback paint schemes. Even NBC is planning a 70s theme during their broadcast. As the sport turns back the clock this weekend, here is a look at the top 10 defunct tracks in Sprint Cup history.

10. Texas World Speedway: One of just seven oval tracks in America built at 2 miles or longer , the 2-mile track in College Station hosted stock car and open-wheel events.

Richard Petty won three races at Texas World before NASCAR and USAC decided the track was not conducive to racing. It has been used as a testing facility but while be closed next year to make way for land development.

9. Hickory Speedway: Home of Cup Series champions Dale and Ned Jarrett, the venue (which opened in 1951), also saw drivers like Ralph Earnhardt and Junior Johnson (series-record seven wins) compete there. In the early years of what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series, hickory was a substantial piece of the schedule. By 1998, though, Hickory was off the schedule. Currently, the track runs club races for NASCAR and has several other divisions run there.

8. North Carolina Motor Speedway: One of the early speedways in North Carolina, the track later known as “The Rock” became one of the more popular tracks for spectators, with great racing and quality views.

In 1994, Dale Earnhardt clinched his seventh and finale championship at the track. As attendance dipped, the track lost its Cup Series races and after Truck Series races in 2012 and 2013, the track has become used as a testing facility.

7. Fairgrounds Speedway: Built on the Tennessee Sate Fairgrounds in Nashville, Fairgrounds Speedway is one of a handful of tracks that lasted from the early years to the Modern Era (1972 on). Richard Petty boasts nine wins at the track. Since its last Cup race in 1984, Fairgrounds Speedway has hosted Xfinity (formerly Busch) and Truck Series events, as well as several NASCAR support series races.

6. Greenville-Pickens Speedway: One of several short tracks in both north and South Carolina where the sport originated, Greenville-Pickens was a half-mile track where David Pearson and Ned Jarrett won a combined nine times. Although it has not hosted a Cup Series event since 1971, the track has run several races for support series and does so currently.

5. North Wilkesboro Speedway: A track that hosted the season finale in 1949, North Wilkesboro became an important link to the sport’s roots as it grew into a national phenomenon. In 1994, Geoff Bodine became the last driver to win by at least a lap, doing so ahead of second-place Terry Labonte.

Two years later, the track was bought by New Hampshire Motor Speedway owner Bob Bahre and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. CEO Bruton Smith. Even as the track was closed in October 2011, fans still yearn for racing there.

4. Ontario Motor Speedway: A Southern California track with appeal to open-wheel stars, Ontario was built identically to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a 2.5-mile rectangular-shaped track with nine degrees of banking.

A.J. Foyt, Bobby Allison and Benny Parsons combined to win six of the ten events. The track was closed in 1980, but helped usher in an era of superspeedways built across the nation.

3. Bowman-Gray Stadium: The former home for Wake Forest football, Bowman-Gray Stadium became famous in NASCAR for its 1/4-mile asphalt track.

The venue was one of many stomping grounds for some of the sport’s biggest teams, as Petty Enterprises, Rex White and the Wood Brothers combined for 17 wins. 44 years after its last cup race, Bowman-Gray still hosts Modified and East Series races for NASCAR.

2. Riverside International Raceway: Another Southern California track with appeal to open-wheel stars 2.62-mile road course in Southern California. Riverside helped bring several open-wheel stars to the sport, as AJ Foyt, Dan Gurney and Parnelli Jones were among those to drive stock cars at the track.

Ricky Rudd also gave Richard Childress his first win as an owner in 1983. Five years later, the track held its last NASCAR event and a year later, Riverside was closed.

1. Daytona Beach Road Course: Home of the series’ second race, the road course at Daytona Beach in Florida varied from 3.1 to 4.2 miles in length.

From 1948 to 1958, drivers like Tim and Fonty Flock, Cotton Owens and Marshall Teague dominated events at the venue. By 1959, racing in the area was moved to the new Daytona International Speedway, but the importance of the beach course is lost on no one in the sport.

See You Soon.

Sunday Night Quick Takes

Spencer Neff
Twitter:@NeffOnSports11

Hope everyone had a great weekend. Here are some of the top stories from the weekend in racing.

1. Scott Dixon won at Sonoma and clinched the IndyCar title on a tiebreaker with Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya, finished sixth, but had just two wins to Dixon’s three. Although many, Including Montoya, have lamented the fact that there are double points for the finale (in addition to the Indianapolis 500). Although it may not be the best system, I am glad that the IndyCar finale has once again been exciting as far as the championship battle.

2. Paul Menard (Xfinity at Road America) and Erik Jones (Trucks at Mosport) were the weekend’s winners in NASCAR action. Defending Champion Chase Elliott overtook Ty Dillon for second in points erased eight points of Chris Buescher’s lead to put it at 16. With his win, Jones took over the points lead from Tyler Reddick. If Elliott and Jones can build upon their recent success, they both may see themselves winning the title at the end of the year.

3. NBC Sports and IndyCar put together several wonderful tributes to Justin Wilson, who died on Monday after being struck by debris at Pocono. Several of the IndyCar drivers, owners and television analysts remembered Wilson as a hard-driving racer, and as a fantastic human being. It is always great to see that, even in times of tragedy, the racing world is one big family and that everyone is working hard to honor his memory and help Justin’s family.

Have a great week and see you soon.

Pre-Weekend Quick Takes

Spencer Neff
Twitter: @NeffOnSports11

Hope everyone had a great week. Here are some of this weekend’s headlines.

1. IndyCar heads into their season finale at Sonoma after a tough week following the death of Justin Wilson. While many will be discussing Wilson (whose No. 25 will be driven by Oriol Servia). The other big topic will be the championship. Six drivers are elligible for the championship with double points available, but the main adversaries are Juan Pablo Montoya and Graham Rahal.

Montoya has led the points all year, but Rahal has kept it close despite a race-ending crash at Pocono last week. With a 34-point cushion, the championship odds are well in Montoya’s favor.

2. The Cup Series is off, but the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series will be at their last road course races of the season in Road America and Mosport respectively. Both tracks are known for wild finishes so this weekend could see a shakeup in the standings.

Chris Buescher is just 19 points ahead of Ty Dillon in the Xfinity Series and Tyler Reddick is just 6 points up on Matt Crafton and seven up on Erik Jones. If the recent theme of wild road course races holds true this weekend, expect those numbers to change drastically.

Have a great weekend and see you soon.

Top 10 Tuesday: A Tribute to Justin Wilson

Spencer Neff
Twitter:@NeffOnSports11

Last night, the motorsports world lost a tremendous competitor and an even greater person. IndyCar’s Justin Wilson passed away at age 37 due to injuries sustained in an accident on Sunday at Pocono.

Being a long time and avid racing fan I’ve witnessed other fatalities. Unfortunately, the known risk and danger of the sport do not make it any less easier for the sport to handle when they do occur.

My thoughts and prayers are with Justin’s family and friends. I hope they find comfort in knowing how much he was beloved by his fans and his colleagues.

In tribute to Justin, here is a look back at the top moments of his career:

10. 2008-ChampCar Finale pole: After the announcement that 2008 would mark the reunification of IRL and ChampCar, it was decided that the April race in Long Beach would be the last utilizing the Champ Car vehicles.

Wilson took pole for the race with Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing. Wilson fell out of the race just twelve laps in due to a blown engine. It would be two years before he earned what proved to be his second and final IndyCar pole, as he took the top spot in qualifying at Toronto, site of his first win.

9. 2005-First ChampCar Pole: Four races into his sophomore season, Wilson earned his first career pole position at Portland. Wilson did not have the finish to match his start, as he wound up 17th. He would win five more poles in ChampCar and two more in the reunified IndyCar Series to go along with his seven career wins.

8. 2004-24 Hours of Le Mans: In 2004, Justin Wilson teamed up with Tom Coronel and Ralph Firman in his first 24 Hours of Le Mans. Despite setting the fifth fastest lap, the Dome Judd-S101 car failed to finish the race. Wilson would not make it back to Le Mans but did eventually make his way back into sports cars.

7. 2003- Formula 1 Points Finish: After performing favorably against teammate Jos Verstappen in the first 11 races of the season with Minardi, Wilson replaced Antonio Pizzonia at Jaguar for the last five races.

In the penultimate race of the season, the United States Grand Prix, Wilson finished eighth. Although Wilson would move on to Champ Car the next year, Wilson would return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway five years later, in an IndyCar.

6. 2009-Win at Watkins Glen with Dale Coyne: For nearly 25 years, Dale Coyne racing failed to score a victory. That all changed on July 4th weekend. As Justin Wilson held off Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, Coyne made his first trip to victory lane, the first of two he and Wilson would enjoy together.

5. 2008- Win at Detroit: After the IRL-ChampCar reunification, Wilson was competitive but had no wins. Late in the race at Belle Isle, Helio Castroneves was penalized for blocking and Wilson inherited the lead and went on to win the race. It was his first and only win with Newman/Haas/Lanigan, as he moved over to Dale Coyne Racing in 2009.

4. 2012- First Oval Victory: The last of Wilson’s seven career victories was also his first and only on an oval. When Graham Rahal hit the wall with three laps to go, Wilson quickly made a move to pass him for the win.

Wilson, who had returned to Dale Coyne Racing that year after two years at Dreyer and Reinbold, snapped a 43-race winless streak in the process.

3. 2006-2007: Runner-Up in the championship. As Sebastian Bourdais dominated toward the end of the Champ Car era, Wilson was closing in. A win at Edmonton in 2006 and a win at Assen in 2007 helped propel Wilson to second in the title both years.

As Bourdais moved on to Formula 1, Wilson took over his seat at Newman-Haas/Lanigan and continued as one of the toughest competitors on the circuit.

2. 2005: First ChampCar Win: After starting his career in Formula 1, Wilson moved over to ChampCar in 2004. Driving for RuSPORT, his first career victory came on the streets in Toronto. Wilson would go on to earn another victory and finish third in the season standings.

1. 2012: Rolex 24 Triumph- In 2012, Wilson, teamed with Michael Shank Racing triumphed in one of the biggest races. Co-driving with AJ Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri and John Pew, the four drivers finished first in the famed endurance race. The next year, the four were joined by Marcos Ambrose to finish third in the event.

Have a great week and see you soon.

Sunday Night Quick Takes

Spencer Neff
Twitter:@NeffOnSports11

Hope everyone had a great weekend. Here are some of the weekend’s top headlines.

1. Joey Logano held off Kevin Harvick to win his second straight night race at Bristol. Much of the night was domianted by Joe Gibbs Racing and Logano’s Team Penske. For those who follow the series closely, Gibbs and Penske are also the two teams that dominated the Xfinity Series. With this year’s rules package, Sprint Cup cars have more closely resembled Xfinity cars.

I have mentioned this before, but I do think it would be of huge benefit for some drivers who are struggling with this package (Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, etc.) to run more companion races. Drivers like Gordon, who are on the bubble of Chase contention, could benefit from having the extra seat time and feel for the lower horsepower.

2. Erica Enders-Stevens took over the NHRA Pro Stock points lead. The defending champion was joined by Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Eddie Kraweic (Pro Stock Motorcycle) on a weekend where Top Fuel and Funny Car saw the quickest runs in class history posted by Shawn Langdon and Matt Hagan.

With only the US Nationals left before the countdown, a total of 19 spots are left across all classes from a possible 40 for the Countdown. The pressure on the drivers looking to occupy the remaining spots will make the sport’s premier event in Indianapolis on labor Day all the more interesting.

3. The biggest headline from this weekend is unfortunately the IndyCar crash involving Sage Karam and Justin Wilson. Karam got loose and hit the outside wall in turn 1 while leading, suffering a foot injury. A piece of Karam’s car struck Wilson in the head. Wilson was airlifted to a nearby hospital, and was last reported to be in a coma and in critical condition.

Although there are safety issues that need to and will be addressed in the wake of this accident, it is of secondary concern. Right now the entire racing community’s thoughts and prayers are with Wilson and his family. Thankfully, many in the racing family have stepped up in support. NASCAR star Tony Stewart reportedly lent his private plane to help fly Wilson’s wife to Pennsylvania to be with him.

As such a big, yet tight-knit community, we are all concerned for those who share our love for racing, whether it be fans, drivers, crew members, broadcasters, or anyone else involved in racing. Though this accident is saddening to see,it is always encouraging when people come together in an outpouring of support like everyone has today. We are all hoping for the best for one of IndyCar’s best and most likable drivers.

Have a great week and see you soon.

Pre-Weekend Quick Takes

Spencer Neff

Twitter:@NeffOnSports11

Hope everyone had a great week. Here are some of this weekend’s racing storylines.

1. NASCAR returns to Bristol for the annual night race. There are just three races left until the Chase. For this weekend, expect Joe Gibbs Racing to continue their recent hot streak, especially Kyle Busch (Busch missed the April race but does have an astounding track record. Also look for the Stewart-Haas Racing teammates of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch to continue the success they had in April as they each look for their third win in 2015.

2. Michael Waltrip Racing announced it will no longer field a full-time Cup team after this year. Co-Owner Rob Kaufman announced that he has bought a stake in Chip Ganassi Racing. It is always troubling when a team ceases full-time operation, especially one as high-profile as MWR. The interesting part will be seeing where this leaves Clint Bowyer and David Ragan. Ragan came over after a stint subbing for Kyle Busch early this year and could go back to Front Row Motorsports.

3. IndyCar runs its last oval of the season at Pocono on Sunday. As the double-point finale at Sonoma looms next week, the 500-mile race will be pivotal in deciding the championship. Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya leads Graham Rahal by just nine points. Rahal has said that the race could be like Indy,where he finished fifth to Montoya. If so, Montoya, the defending Pocono winner, could be in for a big day and perhaps his third win of the season.

4. NHRA returns with a stop in Brainerd. Two weeks separate the drivers from the US Nationals and the last race prior to the countdown. Pro Stock Motorcycle remains the only class where drivers outside of the top 10 are within two rounds of the countdown. Drivers in the other classes will need to have a strong run the last two rounds to cement their spot in the sport’s playoffs.

Have a great weekend and see you soon.

Top 10 Tuesday: Night Races

Spencer Neff
Twitter:@NeffOnSports11

This Saturday night, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to Bristol for the annual summer night race. The August event is one of the msot celebrated in the entire sport. In keeping with that fact, here is a look at the top night events in racing.

10. Firestone 600 (Texas Motor Speedway): Though the length of the race has changed several times in its 19-year run, IndyCar’s annual stop in Texas has been a favorite for many in the series for years and has seen some of the closest finishes in the sport’s history.

9. Sprint Unlimited (Daytona International Speedway): In 2003, NASCAR’s season opener was moved to night time. Although it pays no points, the exhibition race does provide a chance to start the season off on a high note for drivers elligible to be in the event and gives fans a warm-up before the Daytona 500 eight days later.

8. Federated Auto Parts 400 (Richmond International Raceway): Ever since the advent of the Chase in 2004, the summer Richmond event has been one of the biggest on the schedule, as the 26th and final race before the ten-race Chase playoff. Several times, a drive has raced there way in by the narrowest of margins and even needed to win to get in.

7. Iowa Indy 300 (Iowa Speedway): In 2011, Iowa Speedway, still relatively new, hosted its IndyCar race at night. For the three out of the following four years it has been run under the lights, the race has been lauded as one of the most exciting in IndyCar.

6. MudSummer Classic (Eldora Speedway): In 2013, NASCAR made its return to dirt when the Truck Series ran at Eldora Speedway in Ohio. The race, staged on a Wednesday night in July, has quickly become one of the most anticipated on the schedule.

5. Sprint All-Star Race (Charlotte): In 1992, Track President Humpy Wheeler announced the annual exhibition race would take place under the lights. Since then, the race has produced several memorable moments and become a must-see event.

4. Southern 500 (Darlington Raceway): Since 2004, one of the race’s early marquee events has taken place at night. The night has served as a fascinating backdrop for a grueling 500 mile race at NASCAR’s earliest speedways.

3. Irwin Tools Night Race (Bristol Motor Speedway): In 1978, the summer event at Bristol has held under the lights for the first time. Over the years, the race has become a must-see for fans. Boasting some memorable crashes and finishes, the race is a throwback for many to early stages of racing that permeate short tracks across America.

2. Coke Zero 400 (Daytona International Speedway): The summer event at the world center of racing has only been run at night since 1998, but does have some legendary moments. Like the Coke 600, the Coke Zero 400 features a holiday weekend date (Independence Day) and a legendary venue.

1. Coca-Cola 600 (Charlotte Motor Speedway): Since 1993, stock car racing’s marathon event has been contested as a nighttime affair. The venue, Memorial Day weekend and challenge of the extra 100 miles make it a fascinating night race.

Sunday Night Quick Takes

Spencer Neff
Twitter: @NeffOnSports11

1. Matt Kenseth dominated at Michigan for his third Cup Series win of 2015. The race was the second and final scheduled race that featured a high-drag aerodynamic package. As with Indianapolis, the race yielded less than desirable results as far as excitement.

Although the rules package used at Kentucky last month was highly lauded by many in the sport, it will not be used until Darlington, Before the end of the season, NASCAR should certainly look into adding back the horsepower it took away in this year’s cars and maybe even adding more. Doing so could reduce corner speeds and allow for more side-by-side racing.

2. NASCAR also announced that neither of the rules packages introduced this summer will be utilized in the Chase. Because of the high reviews of the racing at Kentucky with the low downforce package, this may not be a popular decision and its results will be watched closely.

The sanctioning body also announced they are looking for improvements to safety at the October Talladega race following a very scary crash where Austin Dillon barrel rolled into the catch fence.This is another track where eliminating downforce would greatly help the racing and possibly reduce the possibility of an incident like at Daytona.

3. IndyCar announced that Fontana will not be returning to the schedule in 2016. Despite a series-record 80 lead changes and several rave reviews, a schedule could not be agreed upon. Many proponents, including myself, of superspeedway racing are disappointed by the developments, and some even fell the lack of date equity has led to the track’s elimination from the schedule.

However, the silver lining in this is a rumored return for Phoenix International Raceway, which has not hosted an IndyCar event since 2005. With the announcement of Road America rejoining the schedule, the news that Phoenix is close to an event will be very exciting for those who have been longtime fans of the sport.

Have a great week and see you soon.

Pre-Weekend Quick Takes

Spencer Neff
Twitter:@NeffOnSports11

Hope everyone had a great week. Here are the weekend’s top racing headlines.

1. The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Truck Series return to Michigan this weekend. One element of Sunday’s Cup Series race worth noting is the aero package. Like Indianapolis, Michigan will feature a high-drag package. At Indianapolis, several drivers voiced frustration with their inability to pass. Although Michigan does feature a different layout, the concern over a lack of passing throughout Sunday’s race does remain. Whether those concerns will be validated, we will not find out until this weekend.

2. The NASCAR Xfinity Series will be in Mid-Ohio. This is the second of three races in four weeks on road courses. The race presents an opportunity for last year’s Mid-Ohio winner Chris Buescher to extend his points lead, particularly without any Cup drivers to compete against. Buescher will however have to contend with road course aces like Boris Said and Alex Tagliani, and Xfinity Series regulars like Ty Dillon and Brian Scott.

3. The NASCAR world lost a legend earlier this week. Buddy Baker passed away after a battle with lung cancer. Baker won 19 races, including the 1980 Daytona 500. He was also the first person to go over 200 MPH on a closed course. Younger fans like me will remember Baker as a broadcaster with CBS and TNN. Baker’s legacy will be that of a great driver and an even greater person off the track.

Have a great weekend and see you soon.

%d bloggers like this: