After a contentious finish to the race in Richmond, one that left NASCAR scrambling for answers until late in the week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup is finally set. In preparation for stock car racing's playoffs, 12 of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors took part in the third-annual Chase Across America media tour on Tuesday and Wednesday, traveling throughout the country with one driver assigned to each Chase track market, as well as New York City and ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters.
No matter the stop, optimism mostly ruled the day, as slates have mostly been wiped clean and each driver can dream big heading into the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 15 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN, Motor Racing Network Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio).
Each competitor has their own way of making it to the championship, and all of them have unique personalities. Their visits to the tracks and media markets across the country showcased these differences, and demonstrated why NASCAR is still one of the most popular sports in the USA.
NASCAR’s Chase Across America kicked-off Tuesday with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in New York City and Clint Bowyer at ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn. Earnhardt participated in variety of national broadcast and print opportunities, such as “CBS This Morning” and FOX Sports 1’s “Crowd Goes Wild,” and served as a guest DJ on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
Meanwhile, Bowyer took part in an ESPN “Car Wash” that included interviews with numerous ESPN broadcast and online media properties. It seemed as though NASCAR was sending out Bowyer to try and explain the situation in Richmond that has thrown a shadow over this year's Chase, but Bowyer wasn't giving the interviewers much ammunition. He did apologize for the issue several times, but when pressed, wasn't entirely clear what he was apologizing for!
On Nov. 17, Richmond winner Carl Edwards’ hopes to climb the six-foot high championship stage in Homestead-Miami, and triumphantly lift a trophy that weighs 27 pounds. But before all that possibly takes place, Wednesday he climbed a two-story ladder and hoisted a life-saving device that weighs 52 pounds.
Edwards visited the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Training Headquarters, and went through rigorous exercises befitting an athlete of his stature. Among the gauntlet of training methods Edwards endured: operating the fire hose and extinguishing a car fire, breaking open a metal door with an ax, using the 52-pound jaws of life to open a vehicle that had crashed, climbing a ladder and practicing a second-floor rescue – all while wearing full fireman’s gear. At the day’s completion, Edwards gifted Fire Chief Dave Downey – a 30-year veteran of the fire department – his NASCAR fire suit, saying “After wearing your fire suit, I’ll never complain about how hot mine is ever again.”
As the top seed in this year’s Chase, Matt Kenseth is looking down at the other 11 drivers in the standings. That’s good enough for him, because Wednesday in Chicago, he wouldn’t look down at anything. After a visit to the Sky Deck at the Willis Tower and an interview held in a Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier, the running joke all day was that Kenseth was scared of heights. "I did not stand on the glass (ledge) because I'm a big chicken, but I got to see a lot and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," Kenseth said. "Honestly, the whole day was fun, even though I'm scared of heights, which you all know."
Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson visited Charlotte Motor Speedway on Wednesday in advance of its Oct. 12 Chase race, participating in a dual “burn out” with seven-time NHRA champion Tony Schumacher. Following the display of sound and smoke, fans and media tossed questions Johnson’s way – with his new baby girl Lydia among the hot topics. In reference to Johnson’s recent string of four consecutive finishes outside the top 25, one fan asked: “Jimmie, by the way you have been racing the past couple weeks it seems the new baby has been keeping you up all night. Is that true?” To which Johnson, who had his second child the Friday prior to Richmond, responded: “Whoa, it has only been one race post baby!”
Regarding his recent stumbles, Johnson said, “I have won championships with momentum and without momentum. There is a lot of racing in the Chase. Chicago will be a great gauge of where we are. We would love sit on the pole and win the race but if we come out with a top three or top five, I will feel really good about where the 48 is. The key is to not lose the Chase in Chicago.”
During a stop in Birmingham to discuss Talladega’s Chase race on Oct. 20, celebrate Birmingham’s Empowerment Day of Service and pay tribute to 9/11 First Responders, Greg Biffle met the newest class of recruits to the Birmingham Fire Department – shaking the hands of a group consisting of around 50 members. In addition, he helped shine the wheels of a week-old fire truck, tested the fire hose, road in a fire truck bucket with Birmingham Mayor William Bell and tried on fire safety gear.
Of Talladega, Biffle said, “All drivers have a love-hate relationship with Talladega. We love the track, but hate being in "The Big One."
Joey Logano’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, so, it’s only fitting that he opened his first Chase near the track that put him in the record books. Logano spent the day at Pease Air Force Base in Newington, N.H., meeting with members of the 157th Air Refueling Wing, participating in a pit-stop demonstration, taking a tour of the refueling airplane and answering questions from fans and media.
During his time on the base, Logano discussed growing up in nearby Middletown, Conn., a three-hour drive from New Hampshire Motor Speedway: “Yeah, I’ve got to round up a lot of tickets [for friends and family. I usually call the speedway and am like, ‘Hey…’ The speedway helped us out a lot. … We did a lot of stuff for some of the first responders from the Connecticut shooting [in Newtown]. Last race up in New Hampshire – between the speedway and the Joey Logano Foundation – we brought some tickets up and had a hospitality tent for them [Newtown first responders], and they all had a good time.”
Kevin Harvick knows first-hand how difficult a job it is to be a firefighter. His father was one for more than two decades.
“My dad was a firefighter for 25 years,” Harvick said. “I remember going to the fire house as a kid to visit him and always having to go back home if they received a call.”
Harvick met with first responders from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area in advance of Texas Motor Speedway’s Nov. 3 Chase race, taking questions from media and fans and participating in a ride-along program at the track.
Kyle Busch visited the Dover Air Force Base, participating in a 9/11 Memorial Unveil and Dedication Ceremony with Delaware Governor Jack Markell. During the day, he met with military members and airmen, as well as took questions from members of the media. On the anniversary of 9/11, Busch remembered where he was on the tragic day:
“I reflected back to where I was when I first heard about the World Trade Center,” Busch said. “I was on my way to high school and it made everyone take a step back and evaluate what's important in life.”
Upon arrival in Roanoke, Va., behind the wheel of a Gen-6 NASCAR Sprint Cup race car, Kasey Kahne was greeted by more than 1,000 cheering fans and the Patrick Henry High School cheerleaders and marching band. Roanoke Mayor David Bowers declared the day, “2013 NASCAR Day,” and Kahne answered some media and fan questions during a Miss Sprint Cup-moderated Q&A. One question in particular provided the sound bite of the event. One fan wondered what sort of thing fans have done to grab his attention.
Kasey answered, “I've signed someone's body and a year or two later you see your signature as a tattoo in the same place. That gets my attention.”
Kurt Busch, the first driver from a single-car team to make the Chase, participated in a tour and meet-and-greet with firefighters of Fire Station No. 6 in Kansas City, Kan., before heading to Kansas Speedway to get a lesson in something Kansas City natives know a thing or two about – barbecue. A barbecue contest winner showed Busch around the kitchen and the grill, and gave the 2004 series champion some of the finer points of rib-making.
“They always have said you can get fall-off-the-bone barbecue ribs in Kansas City, and we enjoyed some of those today,” stated the 2004, and some would hope future, champion.
Ryan Newman participated in an early morning media tour that included appearances on several television morning shows. “I look forward to a great opportunity and a chance for a championship. It’s been a lot of fun. … we’re in the Chase, and I look forward to the opportunity. We’ll do our best.”
Though the tour tried to belay fears of an organized cheating scandal, the controversy from Richmond continued even after the nationwide tour was complete, with pundits, fans, and the general public calling for an investigation into suspicious conduct between the Front Row Motorsports team of David Gilliland and Joey Logano's #22 from Penske Racing.
Following a comprehensive review of all available audio and video communications from last Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway, along with interviews with team personnel, NASCAR made yet another Earth-shattering decision in regards to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Both the Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing organizations have been placed on NASCAR probation until Dec. 31 for violating Section 12-1 (Actions detrimental to stock car racing).
“Based on all of our findings this week, we determined both Front Row Motorsports and Penske Racing organizations would be placed on probation for the remainder of this season,” said Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
Generally, that would be a big announcement in and of itself, but they went on from there. In a move that surprised some and emboldened others, Jeff Gordon's #24 from Hendrick Motorosports was added as a third wild card to the Chase field.
"Beginning with our decision Monday, which resulted in an unprecedented team penalty, and continuing with further examination of actions involving two other race teams, it is clear to us that attempts to manipulate the results impacted the Chase field," France continued.
With this decision, competitors are left wondering what the new rules are, or as former crew chief and team owner Andy Petree put it, where the line is so they can rub up against it. In order to help determine that line, NASCAR conducted a mandatory meeting with drivers, owners, crew chiefs and other team personnel on Saturday, Sept. 14 to address this issue moving forward, and made a ew rules revisions to try and avoid future issues.
“Today’s technical bulletin addresses the subject of team(s) artificially altering the outcome of a race and the level of reaction that this will receive from NASCAR,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition. “We reinforced this issue to the teams in our meeting earlier today and conveyed what is considered unacceptable in our officiating of the event.”
Initial officiating revisions that were announced and will take effect Sunday are that Spotters only on spotters’ stand (one per team), Spotterswill be limited to two analog radios, scanners, Fan Views, and a video camera will be installed on spotters’ stand to monitor for rules infractions.
“The integrity of our sport remains the cornerstone of NASCAR, and our actions this week speak to our commitment to ensure a level playing field for all competitors,” France concluded.
Of course, the reason that people watch NASCAR isn't for the controversy, it's for the racing. This weekend, fans will be able to witness one of the series rising stars compete in the sports premiere series for the first time.
NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Justin Allgaier will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) debut on Sunday, September 15 in the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. He will be driving the No. 51 BRANDT Professional Agriculture Chevrolet SS for Phoenix Racing, in what is also the team's debut race under the ownership of Harry Scott Jr.
"Making my first start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a dream come true," said Allgaier. "I've been working towards this goal for 22 years, and I am so excited that it's finally time to make it happen. It's made even more special since it's my home track and that I'm racing for Harry Scott Jr. with the support of BRANDT. The people at BRANDT have become family to me and I intend to make them very proud."
Allgaier is no stranger to his home track of Chicagoland. He has three starts there in the ARCA Racing Series (2006-2008) and seven starts in NNS, including one win that came in the No. 31 BRANDT Chevrolet in the summer of 2011. Allgaier will continue to drive the No. 31 BRANDT Professional Agriculture Chevrolet Camaro for TSM in the NNS. BRANDT Professional Agriculture, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, originated in Pleasant Plains, Ill., just a few miles from Allgaier's hometown of Riverton. Today, BRANDT is located in Springfield, Ill.
"We (BRANDT) are very excited to partner with Phoenix Racing and Justin Allgaier," said BRANDT CEO Rick Brandt. "It's great to be on the 51 car and making our Cup debut at our home track, Chicagoland Speedway. We will have about 500 of our BRANDT customers, employees and industry partners at the track on Sunday for the big day. It's also great to see Justin, a guy from our hometown, get the opportunity to race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series."
"Justin is a great driver and he has a lot of experience in the Nationwide Series," said Scott. "I've been able to watch his talent develop at Turner Scott Motorsports and I know that he is ready to compete against the best drivers in the world in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. We are especially excited at Phoenix Racing to have the support of BRANDT this season."
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