Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Matt Kenseth predicts 220 mph at Pocono; and Tony Stewart to lead the NASCAR pack to the White House to meet President Obama

  Jimmie Johnson gets a NASCAR championship award from President Obama last September. Wonder what piece of art the President will have for new Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart when they meet at the White House April 17th? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern



   FORT WORTH, Texas
   Tony Stewart gets to shake the President's hand next Tuesday at the White House, in an afternoon meet-and-greet for the newest NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and all 11 of his 2011 title challengers.
    And both NASCAR CEO Brian France and president Mike Helton will be in the Rose Garden too, in the internet-live event ( http://www.whitehouse.gov/live ).

    The full cast of 2011 title contenders – Stewart, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch – is also the likely lineup for this fall's championship chase again, plus or minus one or two.
   While U.S. Presidents have been so honoring NASCAR champions for years, this ceremony has to be set against the somewhat controversial situation last September when the 2010 NASCAR playoff contenders were similarly invited to the White House to shake hands, and several of the invited drivers turned down the invitation, some for rather nebulous reasons.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- A win would be great for the sport. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Picking favorites at this track is pretty straightforward:
   Start with the Jack Roush guys, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and particularly Matt Kenseth.
   Add Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Jimmy Johnson.
   And ignore the rest.
   This time, though, might have to add Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s name to the mix. He was very strong at Las Vegas, a similar 1-1/2-mile track, leading 70 laps (more than all 2011), and he's run third the last two tour races. Plus, he's sitting second in the Sprint Cup standings.
    Saturday's Texas 500 is an impound race, meaning that practice sessions should be pretty much on race setups, because after Friday afternoon qualifying (5:40 p.m. CT/6:40 p.m. ET) cars will be impounded until the race, with no further practice.
   This will be only the second spring race run at night here. And the Friday night package of events – 4 p.m. CT Nationwide qualifying, 5:40 p.m. CT Cup qualifying, and 7:30 p.m. CT start of the Nationwide 300 – is designed to attract a good crowd, of course.
   The Saturday night race format is apparently a pickup from the Phoenix race weekend, when that track had this calendar slot, before being moved to late February. Prior to that, Texas' spring events were run on Sunday afternoons in early April.


Danica Patrick: Speed? She should know. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Martin Truex Jr., Biffle, Brad Keselowski and Hamlin were among the fastest in Thursday afternoon practice.
   But Kevin Harvick, pointing out that pre-race practice here is in the afternoon while the race will be at night, says the practice schedule is all wrong, forcing engineers to guess about how the track will be at night under the lights.

   Kenseth got a leg up on most of his rivals with last week's Goodyear test at Michigan, hitting a sizzling 215 mph on the straights. Kenseth, winner here a year ago, predicts NASCAR drivers hitting 220 mph at the end of the frontstretch at Pocono, also repaved; testing at Pocono comes up in two weeks. Pocono's frontstretch is the longest straight on the NASCAR tour, and it leads into a 135-degree left-hander.
   Most drivers, playing macho, curtly dismiss any questions about speed, perhaps with the sting of Dale Earnhardt's rebuke still hanging somewhere in the air:
    "Don't grumble about going too fast. Get the hell out of the race car if you've got feathers on your legs. And put a kerosene rag around your ankles so ants won't climb up and eat that candy ass."

    When it comes to Texas, everybody loves to shoot guns. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   On the other hand, speeds over the past few years, on these newly repaved tracks, have soared far beyond what the late Earnhardt ever ran.
   Kenseth, on increased speeds:
   "Do I think we need to be running 215 to put on good racing? No.
   "A track like Michigan, where it is real wide, and if the whole track gets dusted off, there will be multiple grooves, the racing will be good. 
    "Pocono -- I have said it for years: if I were repaving the thing, I would have cut the frontstretch in half and made the track 1-1/4-mile. It would be a fun track because it is so unique.
    Do we need a straightaway that long (as at Pocono) in this day and age, with all the horsepower and engineering and aerodynamics and stuff we have? To run 220, or 210 (if NASCAR cuts speeds there), going into that corner -- when you think about the number of things that could go wrong, that is just silly fast.
     "We don't need to go that fast to put on a good race.
    "But I don't know what the alternative is, or how you slow it down."
    Of course with the new electronic fuel injection systems, there are several new ways of cutting speeds by curbing horsepower. And NASCAR can also limit engine rpm with gear rules.
   Too fast?
   Now 206 mph at Darlington, a 1-1/3-mile track with such tight corners, may be the classic case of 'too fast,' though drivers still make it work.
   So 215 at Michigan?
   "I don't think we were going too fast, as far as the cars being out of control, or not having a good race," Kenseth says.
    "I don't really know the magic number on the speed (before NASCAR intervenes); (but) I know there is a point where they worry about the cars flipping over when they turn sideways, and they need to keep them slower than that….or figure out something to keep the cars on the ground if they get out of shape.
    "I think that is the biggest concern -- if something happens toward the end of the straightaway, on corner entry, that none of the cars go flying up in the air.
    "Other than that, I don't think it is a big concern.
     "They are big numbers. But I don't know if you would realize you were going that fast if you didn't have all that telemetry on the car.
     "It was a ton of grip (on Michigan's new asphalt). And we have been getting faster at all the tracks in the last year or two."
    And Kenseth says he anticipates even faster speeds at Michigan when the full tour shows up.
    As it is, Kenseth says the speeds at Michigan were impressive: "When we are in race trim, we were almost four seconds faster (a lap) than we were racing last year. That is quite a bit."

Matt Kenseth: fired up here last spring. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    NASCAR officials and sports executives have announced their list of people to be considered for this year's induction in the Charlotte Hall of Fame.
    A panel of voters picked by NASCAR will pick five people from the official list.
    The Charlotte Hall, which opened in 2010, is one of the sport's many Halls of Fame, and the newest. The best known is the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame, at Darlington Raceway ( the list of NASCAR Hall of Famers there can be found at http://nmpaonline.com/hof.html ), which began inducting stock car racing stars in 1965 and now has more than 80 legends enshrined. And the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega will have a black tie induction ceremony in two weeks.
     The newest Hall, a lavish, state-of-the-art museum in the heart of Charlotte, has been inducting five people a year. Some have called for a more rapid  expansion of inductions, perhaps in various categories, since the sport was established well over 60 years ago and boasts at least 100 or so legitimate Hall of Famers.
     The next five will come from this list:
     Buck Baker, Red Byron, Richard Childress, Jerry Cook, H. Clay Earles, Tim Flock, Ray Fox, Anne France, Rick Hendrick, Jack Ingram, Bobby Isaac, Fred Lorenzen, Cotton Owens, Raymond Parks, Benny Parsons, Les Richter, Fireball Roberts, T. Wayne Robertson, Wendell Scott, Ralph Seagraves, Herb Thomas, Curtis Turner, Rusty Wallace, Joe Weatherly, and Leonard Wood.
   All of those, except for Anne France, the renown business manager wife of Big Bill France, have already been inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.
   Only a few of those 25 are still alive: Childress, Cook, Hendrick, Ingram, Lorenzen, Owens, Wallace and Wood.

     The nine still-living members of NASCAR's Charlotte Hall of Fame (flanking Lynn Evans, wife of the late Richie Evans). (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Speed of the cars with new pavement, etc.

"I don't know how you slow them down." Restrictor plate the cars. It works. And stop with the New Hampshire 2000 responses because it means NOTHING. Restrictor plates don't take anything away from racing that's worth keeping.

Shortening the track to 1.25 miles is STUPID because the speed issue is not just raw numbers, it's PROPORTION to the size and layout of the track - we long ago saw Richmond G-readings in wrecks that are FAR higher than anything Daytona and Talladega have - Daytona and Talladega are restricted and thus proportionate to that size of track "slow." Richmond at 130-plus is like Talladega at 220 or more.

It's the technology arms race that has to stop, not the tracks.

Watching Texas race

Part of the reason I don't watch the race at Texas is because of all of the silly playacting with hats and six guns. Similarly at Las Vegas. Children and nonsense. If the racing was sufficiently interesting to make it worthwhile I might put up with such nonsense, but it's not.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com