Blue Wall Banter: Shaking Things Up for '08

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Blue Wall Banter is the Official Blog of Phoenix International Raceway. In the first installment of 2008, the Blue Wall Banter crew takes a look at some of the changes - big and small - for NASCAR's new season. Read on...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

2008 season brings notable changes

NASCAR's newest season – the 61st campaign in the organization's history – is upon us, with the historic 50th Daytona 500 only 26 days away. 

Preseason Thunder testing has concluded in coastal Florida. Teams from each of NASCAR's top three divisions will now go to work preparing for the season's opening events, using the information gleaned from these testing sessions to create their own on-track advantages. 

It seems like business as usual, but as with the turning over of any new leaf, there are differences. Change is aplenty in America's leading motorsports body, and it comes in all shapes and sizes in 2008.

Of course, we all know that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has moved on to Hendrick Motorsports, where he'll drive the No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard Chevrolet. If you were tuned in to a NASCAR broadcast of any sort during the 2007 season, you already know about this.

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series has become the Sprint Cup Series and the NASCAR Busch Series has become the Nationwide Series. Again, if you've been watching and listening, you're already up to speed.

But if you think it ends there, you're mistaken.

Here's a look at the ripple effect that Earnhardt Jr.-to-Hendrick move caused: Kyle Busch was forced out of Hendrick’s No. 5 seat, which was taken over by Casey Mears. Hendrick changed Mears’ No. 25 to No. 88 for Earnhardt Jr., and Busch left the team and took over for Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 18 seat. That forced former No. 18 driver J.J. Yeley out of the JGR stable – which, by the way, is now running the Toyota Camry – and into the No. 96 – also a new Toyota – for Hall of Fame Racing.

(By the way, M&M’s will assume primary sponsorship of the No. 18 for most races, taking the place of Interstate Batteries, which will remain on the car for six events in 2008. Kyle Busch goes from pumping cereal to candy, a fitting transition for one of NASCAR’s youngest drivers.)

So what happened to the car that Earnhardt Jr. left behind at DEI? It’ll be taken over by Mark Martin and Aric Almirola, with Martin driving roughly two-thirds of the season in the newly branded No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet. Martin will drive the No. 8 at PIR in April, and Almirola will strap in here in November.

This leaves open a spot in Martin’s former No. 01 for Regan Smith.

What else went on during NASCAR’s "Silly Season"?

- First of all, Budweiser moved its sponsorship from Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 8 to the No. 9 Dodge of Kasey Kahne, and Best Buy took on sponsorship of Elliott Sadler’s No. 19 Dodge.

- Sticking with Kahne and Sadler’s Gillett Evernham Motorsports team, former open-wheeler Patrick Carpentier is in the seat of the No. 10 Dodge. The open-wheel invasion doesn’t end there…

- Penske Racing has a new car – the No. 77 Dodge – and it’ll be driven by three-time IndyCar Series champ Sam Hornish Jr. in his first full Sprint Cup Series season. David Stremme is gone from Chip Ganassi Racing, and his No. 40 Dodge will be taken over by last season’s Indy 500 winner, Dario Franchitti. Jacques

Villeneuve, at once a Formula 1 World Champion, will drive the No. 27 Toyota for Bill Davis Racing.

- Travis Kvapil moves back to the Sprint Cup Series, taking over the No. 28 Yates Racing Ford. This car was formerly the No. 88 Robert Yates Racing Ford, driven by now-retired driver Ricky Rudd. Robert Yates has retired from the sport, and this has caused the team’s name change.

- Haas Racing gets an overhaul, with the displaced Riggs jumping into the No. 66 Chevrolet and Jeremy Mayfield taking over the No. 70 Chevrolet.

Things will change again in March when Dale Jarrett steps out of the No. 44 and off into retirement. David Reutimann will move from the No. 00 to Jarrett’s former car, and Phoenix native Michael McDowell will take Reutimann’s spot in the Michael Waltrip-owned Toyota.

Basically, if you're trying to keep track of your favorite drivers in 2008 on a piece of paper, it might be wise to opt for a pencil – and make it one with a nice eraser.

That's just the rundown on the driver side of things. Many more changes are in store for NASCAR as the new season approaches:

- Previously known as the Bud Pole Award, the award for the fastest qualifier each week in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be named the Coors Light Pole Award.

- Money collected from driver and team fines will now go toward the benefit of charities involved with The NASCAR Foundation. Previously, fine money was allocated to the championship point fund.

- Drivers not in the top 35 of the Sprint Cup Series owner point standings will now qualify in their own portion of the Coors Light Pole Award qualifying session. This will allow for a more level playing field for the "Go or Go Home" cars.

Don't fret, race fans. NASCAR and PIR will continue to provide the best motorsports action anywhere, but a tweak here and there is usually helpful. It keeps things fresh. It keeps things competitive. 

Stay tuned to Blue Wall Banter throughout the season as more and more changes happen in the world of NASCAR. As always, we're happy to fill you in.

Tickets are now available for the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 500™ at PIR! Call 1-866-408-RACE (7223) or visit www.racetickets.com, because you definitely don't want to miss NASCAR's first trip to the Valley of the Sun in 2008!


Blue Wall Banter is the Official Blog of Phoenix International Raceway Director of Communications Paul Corliss. In the eighth installment, Paul looks forward to this weekend's Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil. Read on...

Monday, November 5, 2007

Johnson's win could have Texas-sized importance

Cowboy up.

In the state that made a football coach with the same name famous, Jimmie Johnson did just that on Sunday at Texas - outdueling Matt Kenseth for the win in a rough-and-tumble finish that showed the defending NEXTEL Cup champ is in it to win it. With the victory, Johnson moved in front and grabbed hold of the lead in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup and now maintains a 30-point lead heading into the event we've all be waiting for here in the desert: The Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil at Phoenix International Raceway.

What can we expect in Phoenix? Based on Johnson’s performance in the final laps of Sunday’s race in Texas, more no-holds-barred racing in a Chase for the NEXTEL Cup that has essentially come down to two cars on the same Hendrick Motorsports team – Johnson’s No. 48 and Jeff Gordon’s No. 24. With bumps, and side-by-side

action down the stretch, Johnson raced for the win this past Sunday against Kenseth to move past Gordon in the standing and he said that won’t change in Phoenix.

Sunday’s trip to Victory Lane was Johnson’s third consecutive and series-high ninth of the season, so certainly the No. 48 is coming to Phoenix with a full head of steam. But Gordon, steady and strong all year, is as worthy as any adversary on the NEXTEL Cup circuit and with just 30 points separating these dueling teammates...Sunday’s action at PIR should be more intense than Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader trading light saber jabs on a mile-high spacewalk.

But the race weekend at Phoenix International Raceway certainly doesn’t begin on Sunday - there are five races in four days beginning on Thursday, November 8. A full fan schedule for PIR’s Checker Auto Parts 500 weekend follows and we’ll see you at the races:

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NCTS Rookie Practice

Phoenix International Raceway
Fan Schedule
Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil Event Weekend

November 8 - 11, 2007

 

 

Thursday, November 8

(Copper World Classic presented by FASTSIGNS Southwest Goodyear, Arizona)

9:45 a.m.

USAC Midget Practice

10:00 a.m.

Spectator Gates open

10:45 a.m.

USAC Silver Crown Practice

11:45 a.m.

USAC Midget Final Practice

12:45 p.m.

USAC Silver Crown Final Practice

2:45 p.m.

USAC Midget Qualifying (two laps, all positions)

3:45 p.m.

USAC Silver Crown Qualifying (two laps, all positions)

4:45 p.m.

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) Practice

5:45 p.m.

6:30 p.m.

NCTS Final Practice

7:45 p.m.

USAC Midget Race (25 laps, 25 miles)

8:30 p.m.

USAC Silver Crown Race

 

(100 laps, 100 miles)

9:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Harry Luge Jr. entertains at Oasis Stage

 

 

Friday, November 9

 

10:00 a.m. (tentative)

Spectator Gates open

10:00 a.m.

NASCAR Busch Series (NBS) Practice

11:30 a.m.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (NNCS) Practice

1:05 p.m.

NBS Rookie Practice

1:35 p.m.

NBS Final Practice

2:45 p.m.

NCTS Qualifying (two laps, all positions) Impound

3:40 p.m.

NNCS Qualifying (two laps, all positions)

5:00 p.m.

* Pre-race pit pass access ends *

6:00 p.m.

Casino Arizona 150 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Race

 

(150 laps, 150 miles)

Checkered Flag

Freebird (Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute Band) performs at PIR Midway Stage

9:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Harry Luge Jr. entertains at Oasis Stage

Saturday, November 10

 

 

 

8:00 a.m. (tentative)

Spectator Gates open

9:00 a.m.

NNCS Practice

10:05 a.m.

NBS Qualifying (two laps, all positions) Impound

12:50 p.m.

NNCS Final Practice

1:30 p.m.

* Pre-race pit pass access ends *

2:30 p.m.

ARIZONA.TRAVEL 200 NASCAR Busch Series Race

 

(200 laps, 200 miles)

Checkered Flag

T.N.T. (AC/DC Tribute Band) performs at PIR Midway Stage

9:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Harry Luge Jr. entertains at Oasis Stage

Sunday, November 11

 

8:00 a.m. (tentative)

Spectator Gates open

10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

The Atomic Punks (Tribute to

Early Van Halen) performs at PIR Midway Stage

12:30 p.m.

* Pre-race pit pass access ends *

1:30 p.m.

Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil

 

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Race

 

(312 laps, 312 miles (500 kilometers))

This schedule is tentative and subject to change. All times are listed in Mountain Standard Time.


Blue Wall Banter is the Official Blog of Phoenix International Raceway Director of Communications Paul Corliss. In the seventh installment, Paul reviews the wild ending at Atlanta. Read on...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Johnson pulls closer to teammate with wacky win

Sunday's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race in Atlanta had a wild and wooly finish that felt more like an old Georgia Championship Wrestling steel cage match than a NEXTEL Cup race - all that was missing were ring announcements from Gordon Solie, a few thrown chairs, and the Fabulous Freebirds jumping off the top rope.

Under caution after Johnny Sauter blew a tire, Kyle Busch held the lead with 7 laps remaining and elected to take four fresh tires on a final pit under caution. But Busch’s jackman wasn’t cool under fire and the No. 5 car lost ground - he would eventually finish 17th after much drama. Meanwhile, Busch’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson - under the direction of crew chief Chad Knaus - opted for only two tires during the pit stop, moving the No. 48 to second place.

Preparing to restart on lap 323 of 325, Johnson sat behind Denny Hamlin. Hamlin and his No. 11 team had elected to remain on the track during the caution, not taking tires or fuel - a decision that would cause mayhem once the restart ensued.

As everyone gunned it forward for a big finish, Hamlin’s car sputtered. His fuel tank had been encroached upon and contaminated by water, creating mass hysteria on the race track. While Hamlin’s car failed to accelerate across the start-finish line, the bumping and dodging behind him created a messy banana split of speed machines. Eventually, Martin Truex Jr. - who had enjoyed his best day of this Chase for the NEXTEL Cup with a very strong car - rear-ended Hamlin with nowhere to go, and we found ourselves back under caution.

After teammate J.J.Yeley pushed Hamlin off the track and a frustrated Truex stomped out of his ride, we had one more chance for a big finish - this time on a restart for a two-lap overtime period. Johnson was the lead dog for this restart, having smoothly slid right past Hamlin on the upper edge of the track, followed by Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Expecting a big finish, fans in Atlanta were on their feet and those of us at home were glued to our TVs. As the green flag dropped, Johnson looked as if he got shot out of a cannon, while the wheels came off for Earnhardt - literally. As Johnson firmly grasped the lead, Earnhardt spun out of

control into the wall while his left rear wheel somehow came detached and his tire bounced on down the asphalt. This race was over and Johnson was the winner for the eighth time in 2007.

Now with just one race left before the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil in Phoenix, Johnson sits a mere nine points behind leader Jeff Gordon in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup standings.

Check out the updated Chase standings here.

Get your NASCAR tickets for the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil at PIR today! Call 1-866-408-RACE (7223) or visit www.racetickets.com!


Blue Wall Banter is the Official Blog of Phoenix International Raceway Director of Communications Paul Corliss. In the sixth installment, Paul takes a look at the championship battle between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Just how do these off-track friends describe their competition on the track? Read on...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Friendly duo keeps it respectful atop standings

It's official. The Chase for the NEXTEL Cup has morphed into a boxing match - a full-fledged slugfest - between Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, the sport's two heaviest hitters. And this prize fight has all the drama and non-stop action to go toe-to-toe with any great rivalry from the squared-circle: Ali-Frazier, Hearns-Hagler, dare I even say Tyson-Holyfield.

OK, so this is stock car racing, not boxing, and no one's chomping at the other guy's ears. But there's just no denying the talent and fortitude of Gordon and Johnson - two teammates brilliantly battling against one another for the NEXTEL Cup. With only two races remaining before the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil at PIR, Gordon leads Johnson by 53 points. The next closest competitor, Clint Bowyer, is 115 points off Gordon's pace. Johnson, the defending NEXTEL Cup champion, described the rivalry with Gordon as a friendly yet intense exercise in racing.

"I'm happy to see that through these last few weeks people have had more of an inside look at the respect and competitive nature that the 24 and 48 have for each other - not only the drivers, but teams, crew chiefs...everyone," Johnson said. "There's no one that we want to beat more than the 24 - we know what they have, we know how good they are and they make us step up week after week. I feel like we do the same thing for the 24.

"I race people with respect for what everybody does out there, and then when it gets to my teammates and to Jeff Gordon who's mentored me through all these years...there's even more respect. (At Martinsville) we raced hard, but in the end he came over to Victory Lane and congratulated me."

Gordon returned the kind words and with similar sentiments of respect for Johnson and the No. 48 team, but in the long run Gordon says it's all about the prize and he can't allow thoughts of rivalry to marinate in his mind...he just wants to keep pushing the No. 24 team to greater heights. So as we continue to advance through the Chase, Gordon's eyesight remains not focused on these past bouts with Johnson. Instead he is constantly driving ahead, where this week the road leads to Atlanta...two races prior to the Semi-Final Showdown in Phoenix.

"If we're in the lead by one point, it's better than not being in the lead at all," Gordon said. "We're always trying to gain. I'm excited about Atlanta - it's a good track for us - and we'll move on to the next one from there."

Check out the updated Chase standings here.

Get your NASCAR tickets for the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil at PIR today! Call 1-866-408-RACE (7223) or visit

href="http://www.racetickets.com/">www.racetickets.com!


Blue Wall Banter is the Official Blog of Phoenix International Raceway Director of Communications Paul Corliss. In the fifth installment, Paul looks back at Jeff Gordon's improbable win under the lights Saturday night at Charlotte. How did he do it? Obviously, Gordon's a great driver, but maybe a little help came from the gallery. What does that mean? Read on...

Monday, October 15, 2007

NEWMAN! Gordon's win comes with some unexpected help

Caddyshack - the 1980s golf comedy that gained cult status with the timeless country club personalities portrayed by actors Bill Murray and Chevy Chase - spawned the term "Noonan" for duffers on the golf course when a lesser character, Danny Noonan, was repeatedly heckled on the links to the tune of his last name (a la "NOONAN!").

Perhaps Saturday night's Bank of America 500 will give us a similar term for race car drivers after Ryan Newman inexplicably spun out in the race's waning moments at Charlotte, paving the way for Jeff Gordon to improbably cruise to his second consecutive win.

As Gordon fans collectively yelled "NEWMAN!" on Saturday evening, the No. 24 team extended its lead over Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer to 68 and 78 points, respectively, as we sit just three races from the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil here in Phoenix. Newman was really just a victim of misfortune and we're having a little fun with his last name. The driver of the No. 12 Dodge says he blew a left rear tire - a stroke of bad luck that negated an awesome restart that saw him shoot past Bowyer, Gordon and Kyle Busch to put him in position to win the race easily.

"We blew a left rear tire out," Newman said. "I couldn't tell if it felt a little spongy before, but obviously the car was plenty fast." As Newman's car spun cattywampus in Turn 2 of the 1.5-mile oval, one man’s misfortune turned into another man’s good luck. And as far as timely breaks on the race track go this season, Gordon continues to catch them all. Even Johnson, Gordon’s teammate and chief competition in the Chase, had an unlikely spinout during the race. While Johnson escaped relatively unscathed and finished the race 14th, it was just another domino that seemed to fall Gordon’s way in this race, this Chase and this season.

Perhaps the only other real story worth noting is how spunky upstart Clint Bowyer - who hadn’t even won one race in his career heading into the Chase - continues to hang with perennial heavyweights Gordon and Johnson. For the second time in three weeks, Bowyer took second place and now has a win, two second-places and one 11th-place finish in his Chase outings - not bad for the kid from Kansas.

As we head down the home stretch toward Phoenix, it sure looks like Gordon’s getting all the breaks, but Bowyer and Johnson are still alive.

Check out the updated Chase standings here.

Get your NASCAR tickets for the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil at PIR today! Call 1-866-408-RACE (7223) or visit www.racetickets.com!


Blue Wall Banter is the Official Blog of Phoenix International Raceway Director of Communications Paul Corliss. In the fourth installment, Paul looks back at Sunday's wild finish at Talladega, the perfect end to a race that saw 22 drivers - over half of the field - lead at least one lap. Just when you think Jeff Gordon's done it all, he goes out and wins yet another time in a restrictor-plate race. Read on...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Gordon a "Magic Man" at

Talladega

On the big screen in the very stereotypical NASCAR movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, John C. Reilly's character - driver Cal Naughton, Jr. - refers to himself as "Magic Man" (now you see him, now you don't). Jeff Gordon did his best "Magic Man" impression on Sunday at the real Talladega, seemingly coming out of nowhere on the last lap to pass teammate Jimmie Johnson in dramatic fashion to win the race and take over the lead in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.

The 500-mile race came down to a nerve-racking eight-lap shootout that had racing fans on the edge of their seats - or in my case, standing up in front of the television set jumping and yelling. As the white flag waved to signify the final lap, Gordon played his hand cooler than Doc Holliday in a Tombstone barroom poker game, coming up aces with the win.

And as we now sit roughly one month away from the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil here in Phoenix, the No. 24 once again looks like the car to beat. To the untrained eye, it seemed like Gordon came from nowhere, just luckily popping unscathed from a quagmire of speed machines to capture his fifth win of the 2007 season. Griffin Hickman, communications coordinator for PIR, recorded the race and watched the final laps several times. He offered the following assessment of Gordon’s big finish:

"Gordon was ready to pounce the whole time over the last five or six laps, but didn’t do it earlier because the person out in the lead at Talladega is just a sitting duck. Mind you, Jeff Gordon didn’t win the race by himself. Following Turn 2 on the final lap, Dave Blaney gave Gordon a nice nudge as he was running directly behind Johnson. Right after that, Gordon moved up into the next line of traffic. Talk about a nice break...or maybe just pure skill. Just as he went high, Kasey Kahne was pushing Tony Stewart on the outside line, and Gordon conveniently swooped in - right in front of Stewart. Stewart gave him a hard bump before Turn 3, so then you had Kahne pushing Stewart pushing Gordon on the outside, and next to that, Johnson’s got little help in comparison. Blaney’s still there, but two cars are better than one. Gordon struck at just the right time after that first bump from Blaney, because if he would have waited any longer to go high, Stewart and Kahne would have been gone and Stewart or someone else might have won the race. Instead, the 20 and the 9 got swept back in the draft and everyone else just simply ran out of time to catch up to the veteran Gordon. It’s another win - the 80th of his career - for Jeff Gordon. The man can flat out drive. And he’s a good guy too; after the race, he made sure to thank Blaney and Stewart for the nice "bumps" they provided him on the way to Victory Lane. Not a bad day at the office..."

"Magic Man" indeed. Now with just four races left until the Chase drives into Phoenix, Gordon and Johnson - separated by a mere nine points - are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Clint Bowyer remains the only driver within yelling distance of the two Hendrick teammates at this point, sitting 54 points behind Johnson and 63 behind Gordon's lead.

Check out the updated Chase standings here.

Get your NASCAR tickets for the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil at PIR today! Call 1-866-408-RACE (7223) or visit www.racetickets.com!


Blue Wall Banter is the Official Blog of Phoenix International Raceway Director of Communications Paul Corliss. In the third installment, Paul takes a look at the rain-shortened third event of the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup from Kansas Speedway. Twelve drivers started just weeks ago with

legitimate chances to win the series title, but how many true contenders really remain now? Read on...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Rain-soaked affair a great lead-in to Talladega hijinx

After taking a day or two to let Sunday's rain-shortened race at Kansas soak in (both literally and figuratively), all indications point to a three-horse race in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup as we continue to work our way up to the Semi-Final Showdown and the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil on Sunday, November 11 at PIR. Who are these horses out in front?

Two obvious thoroughbreds have emerged in defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and three-time champ Jeff Gordon, as well as one proverbial longshot in young Kansan Clint Bowyer...all separated by a mere 14 points from first to third. From there, the Chase standings get a little dicey as other drivers must hope for some real misfortune at the top and one heck of a run from their own camp to get back into this thing.

One-time frontrunner Tony Stewart sits a distant fourth in the standings, 117 points behind Johnson. Cursed by NASCAR's decision to restart after the rain, Stewart went from first to a 38th-place finish that left him storming off the Kansas track with gloves, helmet and safety gear flying angrily in a great cloud of "Smoke."

Kevin Harvick - who actually avoided trouble for the day - sits 126 points behind Johnson in fifth, and Kyle Busch is 10 more points behind Harvick in sixth place. The cock-sure Busch, never one to stray from speaking his mind, had a lot to say this weekend about being wrecked by NASCAR's most popular driver - Dale Earnhardt Jr. - who coincidentally is not among the Chase dozen. Adding intrigue to the incident is the fact that Junior, of course, will be replacing Busch on team owner Rick Hendrick's "dream team" next season. Busch, who will run for Joe Gibbs Racing, made sure to mention that irony when speaking of the wreck.

"It was a pretty stupid move on his part," Busch said on the way to a 41st-place finish. "I'm sure these guys (at Hendrick Motorsports) he's going to be working with next year don't really appreciate this because they've got a championship they can win this year...and he doesn't."

In his quotes, Earnhardt more or less said, "my bad." Earnhardt called the incident an accident. "I want to apologize to his fans and their team and to Kyle. That was a bad mistake on my part."

A mistake that helped muddle the field behind 1-2-3 as we head to Talladega this weekend. Talladega is the track that's famous for producing "The Big One" - and perhaps we’ll see a pile-up massive enough this weekend to bring the lead dogs back into the pack. But these two Hendrick guys - Johnson and Gordon - just seem to know how to keep their noses clean and might be hard to catch.

And Bowyer? This Chase thing just seems to be right in his wheelhouse. And certainly the native of Emporia, Kan. wasn't going to run into too much trouble at his home track - fate just wouldn’t allow that, now would it? The 28-year-old just seems to be hitting his stride as NASCAR's playoffs roll on and Bowyer will look to continue hanging in there with some pretty lofty company as racing’s brightest stars continue to roll down the road toward Phoenix.

Check out the updated Chase standings here.

Get your NASCAR tickets for the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil at PIR today! Call 1-866-408-RACE (7223) or visit www.racetickets.com!


Blue Wall Banter is the Official Blog of Phoenix International Raceway Director of Communications Paul Corliss. In the second installment, Paul takes a look at Sunday's

wreckathon at Dover - won by Carl Edwards - and the near-scrap between Chaser Denny Hamlin and Kyle Petty. How does Hamlin rebound from his poor finish and press on in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup? Read on...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Crashes shake up Chase

A record 13 cautions slowed some of the action, but high emotions spurred by several on-track incidents and one off-track melee made Sunday's second entry in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup must-see TV. And now with two races down, the leaderboard continues to show two very familiar names atop the charts - Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart - as the stars of NASCAR work their way toward Phoenix International Raceway for the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil on November 11.

For most of the day it seemed like Mr. Consistent - Matt Kenseth - was actually going to do more than his standard ho-hum top-10 finish and chalk up a huge win at Dover. But then his No. 17 Ford Fusion began to experience trouble and eventually blew the engine with 26 laps remaining in the race. Kenseth's woes, of course, opened the door for his Roush Fenway teammate Carl Edwards to take over the race and backflip his way into Victory Lane. True, NASCAR found a violation on Edwards' car in the inspection process, but for now we'll call him the winner and that’s good enough for third in the Chase.

The biggest "white knuckle" moment of these young NASCAR playoffs so far came when Kurt Busch lost control of his Dodge, the result of a tire gone flat on lap 387. As Busch swept across the track and into the outside wall, he impacted 12 other cars - including fellow Chasers Martin Truex Jr. and little brother Kyle Busch. As Kyle Busch and Truex Jr. drove on in patched-up vehicles, poor Kurt - out of the race and perhaps out of the Chase sitting 151 points off the lead in 11th place - did his best to put on a positive face for the media and fans. Busch spoke in positive terms, but you could tell this was a wounded soldier talking as he did his best to put on a smile and explain the situation - apologizing for how his misfortune impacted so many others and acknowledging that after just two weeks he may be buried too deep in the standings to have a chance at earning his second NEXTEL Cup championship.

More exciting than Busch’s late-race on-track mayhem was the off-track fracas involving Kyle Petty and Denny Hamlin that stemmed from an on-track incident. In case you missed it, here’s the scenario in a nutshell: On the 205th lap, Hamlin closed too quickly on Petty and knocked him into the frontstretch wall. An irate Petty abandoned all caution once the two drivers left the race track and went into Hamlin’s garage to have a few choice words with his younger rival. Petty boldly stepped up to Hamlin's car and unhooked the safety net as Hamlin - almost dumbfounded - sat in his car. Petty then preceded to lambaste Hamlin with a good ol’ fashioned tongue lashing and then slapped down the sun visor on the youngster’s helmet for emphasis.

Hamlin was not amused. Check out some of these quotes: "I didn't say one word to (Petty) in the garage. All I just said was 'Come here and let me talk to you about it.’ He chose to slap my helmet. You know, in hindsight, I should have grabbed his throat. "Don’t smack me on the helmet. You smack me on the helmet and I’m going to punch you in the face, bottom line."

Them’s fightin’ words!

Petty was less emotional in his quotes, but his words stung in an under-handed, "you need to grow up Denny" kind of way: "It’s a shame that a guy with that much talent has to drive like that. We’ve seen it a lot. We’ve seen it all year long. Even his teammate Tony Stewart talked about it. I think it pretty much speaks for itself."

Ouch. How does this all

impact Phoenix? Well, the short answer is that Hamlin has looked pretty darn good on PIR’s one-mile oval. If he can keep his head together and put himself back into contention for the Chase, Phoenix is certainly a spot where he can make some noise. But for now, most of the noise from Hamlin has come off the track, and he sits in 12th place among Chasers, seven points behind the aforementioned Kurt Busch.

Check out the updated standings here.

Get your NASCAR tickets for the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil at PIR today! Call 1-866-408-RACE (7223) or visit www.racetickets.com!


Blue Wall Banter is the Official Blog of Phoenix International Raceway Director of Communications Paul Corliss. In the first installment, Paul takes a look at Clint Bowyer's win at New Hampshire and how it impacts the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup leading up to the Semi-Final Showdown at PIR on November 11 - the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bowyer wins, proving that anything can happen in the Chase

After winning Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway, Clint Bowyer did so many celebratory burnouts that his No. 07 Jack Daniels Chevrolet had to be pushed into Victory Lane. Perhaps it was a minor faux paux - if this were football and Bowyer were Terrell Owens, one might ask him to act as if he'd crossed the goal line before. But this wasn't football and Bowyer - known around the garage as one of the sport's "good guys" - actually hadn't been to Victory Lane before for a NEXTEL Cup event. So forgive him if he was just a little excited in garnering his first career win on NASCAR's biggest stage - the playoffs - at New Hampshire in the opening race of the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.

If Sunday's race is any indication as to what the next eight weeks will be like leading up to the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil here in Phoenix, we certainly have some exciting and unpredictable times ahead of us. The 28-year old Bowyer had never finished better than 24th at New Hampshire prior to Sunday's race, and despite dominating throughout the day, the nervousness in his voice as it cracked like a pubescent Peter Brady over the radio was highly apparent as he called out phantom problems to his crew as he approached the checkered flag.

"I'm not going to kid you, I was about to throw up on those last 30 laps," Bowyer said after the race ended. "What was funny, I was starting to feel a vibration but I don't know what it was. It was just you hear every rattle, banging and everybody racing - I was watching up ahead hoping, praying that nobody crashed. So thankfully the cautions didn't come and we kept it out front."

At the Sharp AQUOS 500 in California a few weeks ago, I was sort of - not taken aback, but definitely affected - by how Jimmie Johnson showed a look of almost relief in Victory Lane rather than exuberation. Granted, this came after spending several hours on a 100-plus degree race track, so maybe he was just darn glad to get out of the car. But Johnson also has 29 career wins, is the defending NEXTEL Cup champ and has rightfully earned the right to wear a "been-there, done-that" expression.

Bowyer, on the other hand, wore a 10-foot smile in New Hampshire that might as well have spelled "first timer" across his chest - and that was fun to see. New faces in Victory Lane, particularly in the first week of the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup, keep our sport interesting and fresh.

Now as we move into week two of the Chase and one week closer to our November 11 Semi-Final Showdown at Phoenix International Raceway, the standings are certainly far

from predictable. Well, the top looks about what you would expect with Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart holding down the 1-2-3 spots in the Chase. But with youngsters Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. sitting at 4-5-6, it's rather unpredictable from there.

Here are the complete standings in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup after one of 10 races:

Point Standings (through 27 of 36 races)

Rank Driver Points
1 Jimmie Johnson 5210
2 Jeff Gordon 5210
3 Tony Stewart 5200
4 Clint Bowyer 5195
5 Kyle Busch 5175
6 Martin Truex Jr. 5170
7 Matt Kenseth 5156
8 Carl Edwards 5147
9 Denny Hamlin 5128
10 Kevin Harvick 5122
11 Jeff Burton 5119
12 Kurt Busch 5108

Who's going to be in contention when NASCAR's biggest stars roll into Phoenix in November? Stay tuned, because as Clint Bowyer proved this weekend in New Hampshire - anything can happen. Get your NASCAR tickets for the Checker Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil at PIR today! Call 1-866-408-RACE (7223) or visit www.racetickets.com!

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