Archive for February 22, 2015

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February 22, 2015

Holly Cain, NASCAR.com

First victory in the Great American Race for Team Penske driver

RELATED: Get full race results | Series standings

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — No one seemed more surprised than Joey Logano as he stood atop his No. 22 Penske Racing Ford in Daytona International Speedway Victory Lane celebrating his first-ever Daytona 500 victory on Sunday.

Logano — who in 2009 at the age of 19 became the youngest winner in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series history — emerged from a tight pack of pre-race favorites on a green-white-checkered overtime restart and held off reigning Cup champion Kevin Harvick as the caution and checkered flag flew to win at Daytona.

“I can’t believe it,” said Logano, whose previous best finish in this race was ninth in 2012. “That is really amazing. The Daytona 500. Oh my God. Are you kidding me?

“I was so nervous pretty much the whole race. We worked so hard in the offseason and this is my weakest race track, the superspeedways, and we worked so hard at them. I couldn’t be more proud.

“Unbelievable.”

Defending Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third, frustrated after having what he thought was a race-winning car. Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.

Jeff Gordon, who started on the pole for the race and led six times for a race-best 87 laps, was collected in a last-lap wreck on the backstretch. But he drove his dinged-up No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet around the track to take his final Daytona 500 checkered flag in 33rd place.

“For some reason I’m still smiling and enjoyed every moment of it,” said the four-time Cup champ, who is stepping away from full-time NASCAR competition after this season. “I obviously enjoyed the first half (of the race) more than the second half. … This is an amazing week and an amazing day. I’m just in this different place that is so foreign yet so incredible, just soaking it all in.

“I’m more upset I didn’t have a chance at winning it. … I’m not going to miss those final laps. That was just crazy.”

The final restart came after a 6-minute red-flag period caused by a Justin Allgaier wreck on the frontstretch and created the kind of frantic finish fans are accustomed to in NASCAR’s biggest race.

But for the most part, Sunday’s show on a Chamber of Commerce day with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s was tame by restrictor-plate racing standards.

The final lap eight-car mid-pack melee was the sole “Big One” that most have come to expect on the superspeedways.

Mostly, the day was characterized by exciting three-wide racing with familiar faces leading the way.

Overshadowed amid other dramatic storylines that have dominated the 2015 Daytona Speedweeks, six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Johnson quietly and doggedly went about his business Sunday and looked to be in good position to hoist his third Daytona 500 trophy, and second in the past three years.

Rallying from a mid-race pit road penalty that dropped him to 40th place, Johnson strategically maneuvered his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet in the waning laps to be in position for the win, but lamented the fact his line of drafting cars just didn’t have the get-up-and-go when they needed to be gone.

“With 10 to go, I thought we were going to win the Daytona 500, but with plate racing you have no clue what’s going to happen really,” Johnson said.

Earnhardt echoed the disappointment.

“I made a real bad decision on that restart with 19 to go, made a poor choice and got shuffled back and lost a ton of spots,” Earnhardt said. “I’m real disappointed because the guys gave me the best car and we should have run the race.”

It was a touch-and-go day for several race favorites — their strategy complicated after receiving pit road penalties in the season debut of NASCAR’s new high-tech camera monitoring system on pit road.

Johnson was called for a pit road violation when his crew was ruled to have jumped over the pit wall too soon on a mid-race stop. Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. — who like Johnson were running among the top five much of the race — were called for speeding penalties.

And Sprint Cup Series sophomore Kyle Larson was caught speeding and then later for his team “throwing equipment over the wall” on consecutive stops forcing him into a day of catch-up. He was running top 15 in the final 10 laps but also got collected on the last-lap crash and finished 34th.

Fan favorite Tony Stewart continued his dismal Daytona 500 fortune. While running among the top 10 cars 41 laps into the race, his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy suffered from a tight condition and slid up into the outside wall, nicking rookie Ryan Blaney’s Ford. The Toyotas of Matt Kenseth and Michael Waltrip also suffered minor damage in the incident but continued.

“I’ll take the blame for that one, 100 percent my fault,” said Stewart, the three-time Cup champion who is now 0-for-17 in the Great American Race. His 42nd-place effort Sunday is his third finish of 40th or worse in the last four years here.

Former Daytona 500 winners Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman also struggled on Sunday — with McMurray’s No. 1 Cessna/McDonald’s Chevy sustaining body damage in an early race dust-up and Newman — the 2014 Sprint Cup championship runner-up — hitting the wall after getting caught in the aftermath of Blaney’s blown engine with less than 25 laps remaining.

Substitute drivers Regan Smith and Matt Crafton finished 16th and 19th, respectively. Smith drove the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy for Kurt Busch, who has been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR following off-track legal troubles.

Crafton filled in for Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch, who is recovering from broken right leg and broken left foot suffered in Saturday’s XFINITY Series season-opener at Daytona.

Logano’s triumph was the second Daytona 500 win for legendary team owner Roger Penske and made the 24-year-old Logano the second youngest driver to win the race.

“We knew what we had to do and had a really fast car and just need to make sure I didn’t get snookered on the restarts,” Logano explained. “I can’t explain how cool this is. … It feels just like the way you dream it. This is better than Disney World in here.”

Indy1

SpeedwaySightings Editor Note: 

Let’s remember the SAFER Barrier was a product of IndyCar Racing and NASCAR has been consistently late to the party.  Ed Hinton, one to finest journalists in sports, told the story back in 2002.

________________________________________________

Indy’s SAFER System Living Up To it’s Name

The speedway’s new soft-wall barrier system has drawn some great reviews. In fact, says driver P.J. Jones, `It saved me, big time.’

May 23, 2002
By Ed Hinton — Chicago Tribune auto racing reporter.

INDIANAPOLIS — For most of the 20th century Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the epicenter of death in auto racing, claiming 66 lives from 1909 to 1996. Now the track is a paragon of the sport’s safety revolution.

The new soft-wall system here is working, and it has become a sudden monument to what is vs. what was.

In Turn 2, where Scott Brayton was the last driver to die here, in ’96, Paul Tracy’s car hit horrifically May 11. Tracy walked away and will start 29th in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

In Turn 3, where Gordon Smiley never knew his car had become a cloud of shrapnel in ’82, Robby McGehee slammed into the new barrier May 5, on its first day in use. He came away with a sore neck and a hairline fracture in his leg, and he’ll miss the 500 only because he didn’t qualify for the fastest field in Indy history.

In Turn 1, where Jovy Marcello was killed in ’92, four drivers have had severe crashes this month. Two, Max Papis and Alex Barron, walked away, and another, Mark Dismore, received a concussion; each will be in the field Sunday. The fourth was P.J. Jones, and even though he’s wearing a neck brace, his grin is relentless. He’s disappointed he’ll miss the race but joyful to be walking around at all.

His fractured cervical vertebra was the worst injury sustained by any of the five drivers who have given the SAFER (an acronym for “steel and foam energy reduction”) barrier its first real-life tests.

But Jones, son of Indy legend Parnelli Jones, knows the history of this place. He knows how bad his crash in Turn 1 could have been–indeed, would have been, he believes–if not for the new barrier.

“It saved me, big time,” he says.

“The new SAFER wall absorbed the impact,” Barron said of his crash.

“I think I would have had a head injury, for sure, without it,” McGehee said.

Soft walls are the next giant step in recent safety innovation that has included head restraints such as the HANS, more elaborate safety harness systems, stronger seats and–in the case of Indy cars–energy-absorbing materials within the cars.

The SAFER system especially encourages experts, considering how fast the cars are this year. The field’s qualifying average for Sunday’s race is a record 228.648 m.p.h., up more than 5 m.p.h. from last year. And each of the top five qualifiers exceeded 230.

John Melvin, a Detroit-based biomechanical engineer who is considered racing’s leading expert on racing safety, is here as a consultant.

“The cars are going awfully fast,” Melvin says. “And they’re hitting the wall awfully hard. And yet the drivers are coming away pretty darn well. The wall is working. There’s no doubt about that.”

Crash-data recorders in the cars have shown that G-spikes in crashes against the new barriers have been “consistently lower than we’ve ever seen,” says Dr. Henry Bock, the medical director of the Indy Racing League who is in his 20th year as chief physician at the speedway.

“The barrier is very effective in terms of reduction of the forces that we see, and therefore the reduction of injuries we would expect from the severity of the crashes we’ve had.”

In addition, the G-forces are being spread out over a longer period of time. Even though that’s a matter of milliseconds, it’s life-saving.

The system is the result of a project speedway President Tony George initiated nearly five years ago, when most other track owners claimed such a system was next to impossible to develop.

“There’s no other organization out there that’s spending the money or putting in the effort like this,” Jones says. “There’s a lot of lip service, but nobody’s doing it except Tony.”

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race will be run without SAFER barriers, but “we’re watching what happens at Indy very closely,” Lowe’s Speedway President H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler says.

So is every other major track operator in the country. If all continues to go well and engineers give the system a final OK, “I think you’ll see a wholesale response from the [other] tracks,” NASCAR Vice President Jim Hunter says.

Bob Bahre, owner of New Hampshire International Speedway, where NASCAR drivers Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin died in 2000, already has committed to be the first track other than Indy to install the SAFER system, pending NASCAR approval.
NASCAR’s interest in the project accelerated with the deaths of Petty and Irwin. After Dale Earnhardt died against a concrete wall at Daytona in 2001, NASCAR joined more actively in George’s research and development, which was conducted at the University of Nebraska.

The SAFER system doesn’t shatter, and damage to the barrier requires “10 to 12 minutes” to repair, says the speedway’s chief engineer, Kevin Forbes. “Clean-up is a non-issue.”

That means that during Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, unless TV announcers point it out, you won’t notice any repairs to the barrier during an average caution period.