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Victory Lane at Phoenix International Raceway: Tears, Emotion, Celebration, First Win! April 14, 2010

Posted by claireblang in 2010 Season.
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Tony Gibson sat down on the stage for my LIVE interview at PIR after the Subway Fresh Fit 600 – emotionally spent after his first Sprint Cup Series win. Sitting next to him – Krissie Newman, the wife of winning driver Ryan Newman.

Drivers sometimes sit down during the interview, after a race-hardly ever crew chiefs. But it wasn’t from lack of being in shape, nor from being tired, it was sheerly from the emotion of the moment. What was especially exciting, other than seeing the smiles from Ryan who, more than he lets on externally was bothered by the lack of wins since Daytona, 2008, it was the excitement from members of the race team. Many of the guys on this team came from DEI and many of them had not had a Sprint Cup Series win until this moment. After Victory lane I went to the teardown to talk to the team members – many of whom said that this day was a culmination of a dream that started for them when they were 8 or 9 years old. Later, as I went into the garage, Ryan Newman was back at the teardown getting a pat on the back from Series Director John Darby, who, like those who enjoy seeing history made in the sport, noted that we were seeing a historical moment as the #39 car got its first win in the series.

Ryan Newman is not an emotional guy, he’s a great, great guy. He doesn’t drink, at all, never smoked, makes himself wide on the race track, speaks his mind, is funny as all get out and extremely loyal to team and friends. I saw some emotion in him in Victory Lane that I rarely see – and it was sweet to see him showing that emotion in the winner’s circle – visited by the likes of Jimmie Johnson who along with Jeff Gordon stopped to congratulate him. He doesn’t throw his helmet or pitch a fit when he doesn’t win – but like many drivers who have been groomed to win since childhood – not winning is hard on the psyche.

There’s a moment that I wish the fans could see – it’s when the series director in the garage or NASCAR President Mike Helton in Victory Lane – walk to the victor and say “great race” and shake the hand of the winner. John Darby did just that to Ryan long after the race was over as Ryan visited his team tearing down the car in the garage. For the driver, no matter how seasoned, or not, no matter how few or how many wins, or how vocal the wheel man is – it always means a great deal to the driver to get the mark of respect and achievement from these guys.

One other note – It’s not often said how many team members have young children at home watching the race. Their kids call before bed on Sunday evening and say “daddy, how did you do?,” or watch the race on TV and think their dad at the track is a super hero and ask when he will win. Time after time in the garage at the teardown team members will tell me after winning how much it means to them to tell their kids that daddy was a winner that night – and many of them tear up while telling me that. Standing there looking at these guys busting their hump to tear the car down, full of sweat and grease and far from home, I am moved by the look in the eyes of the team member as he tells me about calling his kid to tell them that they won! It’s a special moment in the dark of the garage after the TV cameras have been turned off – that I will always treasure.


Texas Take – Spoiler Talk!

Spoiler questions will dominate at Texas

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the new spoiler. There were jokes at Martinsville from drivers who were making up funny statements on the supposed impact of the spoiler over the wing there to the, “It won’t make a difference until we get to Texas,” comment we are all familiar with. The spoiler, well and Denny Hamlin’s knee, has been the major conversation topic the past few weeks.

Well, we’re headed to Texas this weekend. So, get ready to hear endless questions leading into the race weekend on the new spoiler. To save some time, here’s the take of a host of drivers as to just how much of a difference the spoiler will make this weekend at Texas:

WON’T MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE:

Jeff Gordon, who will drive a specially-painted No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Chevrolet at TMS: “The true test is going to be at the 1.5-mile tracks – Texas being the first one.But I don’t think it’s going to change who’s going to be fast and who’s going to run well.


David Gilliland – Drivr No. 37 Taco Bell Ford :
“I don’t think the spoiler will be a really big deal this weekend. Most people have an understanding how it has changed the cars. It’s not a huge difference. There are some small things that make the car handle differently, but we’re not reinventing the wheel with this change.

Matt Kennseth – Driver #17 Crown Royal Black Ford: “Texas to me is a track that’s more about real racing and making sure that you have a car that handles better than the rest of the guys, so that you can make sure you’re the fastest car around the track every lap. I’m a little unsure about how the spoiler change may effect the racing action this weekend heading into Texas. I don’t foresee any big changes, but we won’t know until we get all the cars on track for practice. Texas is a track that I really enjoy a lot and we’ve been very successful here, so I always look forward to racing at Texas Motor Speedway.”

ITS GOING TO BE INTERESTING:

Kurt Busch – Driver #2 Miller Lite Dodge – “I think teams will just really tip-toe up to speed there this weekend. It’s hard to know just how hard to push the car with it being the first time out. Then, we’ll make adustments from there. You may try to change some things and explore the aero situation. It’s not like we didn’t try some of the things when we did the tire and spoiler testing at Charlotte, but this will be the first real test..the first time that all the cars and teams will be there at the Texas track together.”

Martin Truex Junior – Driver of the #56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota: I think Texas will be the ultimate test for the new spoiler since it is one of the fastest tracks we go to. It will also come into play with all of the side-by-side racing we do. We’ll definitely see how this new change effects all of us and obviously, the teams that can figure it out should do well and I hope that is us.

Kevin Conway – Driver No. 37 ExtenZe Racing : “Texas is going to be a big test for everyone. We have to study what the car needs. It’ll definitely be the first test for us at a racetrack of that speed with the rear spoiler. Martinsville and Phoenix gave us some information, but nothing like Texas. It’s going to be interesting to see which teams can hit on something or not.”

NOT SURE – BUT NOT SO MUCH

Kasey Kahne – Driver #9 Budweiser Ford Fusion “Some of the cars have already tested there and didn’t say there was a huge difference. We (tested) at Charlotte and it didn’t seem like there was a huge difference. Once we get racing together and have a lot of cars on the track, whether it’s Sunday during the race or Saturday’s final practice, I think we’re going to all learn more than what we know right now. I’m kind of looking forward to that to really see what it changes, because it has to change something when you’re around 42 other cars.”

Jimmie Johnson – Driver #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet “From my standpoint, I feel that the cars drove very similar to the way that I have in the past. I didn’t even think about wing or spoiler on the back of the car throughout the (Phoenix) race. It seemed the same. The final test will be in Texas. And even to Talladega. There’s some things with this spoiler that should help the car stay on the ground and change the draft a bit at Talladega. So we have a nice progression in tracks to really evaluate what’s going on. But so far I think it’s going well and it’s driving a lot like it did before.”

Kyle Busch – Driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry: “Not a whole lot of difference, but definitely some change. Whether it’s change for the good or the bad yet, we won’t know until we get into a pack at a race. My initial thoughts after the Charlotte test would be that it adds a lot of grip to the car, makes the cars comfortable to drive but, to me, it might make it harder in traffic. I’m very curious to see how it changes the handling during a race, since this weekend will really be the first big test for the spoiler on an aero track.”

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We may have to wait , yes, even until race day to tell how much of an impact the spoiler will have.

Kudos to Denny Hamlin for driving his race car, not complaining on the radio despite the car not running up front. I’m sure between the spoiler and Denny Hamlin’s knee, oh and how everything is bigger in Texas we’ll have a lot to talk about this weekend.

Texas is always big, fast and exciting. Stay tuned.

Claire B

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Ty Pennington Joins Claire B. Lang on “Dialed In” Tonight! April 8, 2010

Posted by claireblang in 2010 Season.
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Jeff Gordon’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Visit

Extreme makeover Home Edition’s Ty Pennington will join me tonight (Thursday, April 8th – 7:15 EST [time edited] p.m. EST ) LIVE on “Dialed In”. I’m mostly a news junkie and don’t watch much television since I’m always on the road or at a race track. I have a weakness for this show- mostly because it takes seemingly impossible situations that average folks find themselves in and it rewards them with help that they so desperately need. Most of the time the people who are chosen for the program look at life with a glass that is half full instead of half empty and despite being faced with major adversity find a way to help others and see life through a positive light. The fact that Jeff Gordon will be featured on this weekends’ installment of the ABC program (Episode will air SUNDAY, APRIL 11 -8:00-9:00 p.m., ET) brings it even closer to home. I want to find out about Jeff Gordon on the set, and although I get to interview a lot of celebrities in my job I have asked to interview Ty Pennington for quite some time, ever since I heard Gordon was going to do a segment. I’m looking forward to the interview tonight. Wonder if Ty Pennington is a race fan?

The challenge: On January 11, 2010, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” traveled to Loris, South Carolina – with race car driver Jeff Gordon as the celebrity volunteer — to meet Amanda and Derrick Suggs, a young couple who had just started their own family when they adopted Amanda’s younger siblings to keep them from being separated in foster care. When Derrick and Amanda got married, they moved into the home Derrick inherited from his grandfather, who built it in 1953. The home came with a long list of needed repairs: a leaking roof, outdated and exposed electrical wiring, rotting foundation and cracked asbestos siding. Did Jeff Gordon grab a hammer? Stay tuned.

Phoenix International Raceway Challenges
Longer race, day to night, spoiler, green-white-checkered, have at it!

The challenges of this race track are many. It’s the first Saturday night Sprint Cup race of the year. This weekend’s Sprint Cup Race here will be an additional 63 laps and miles up from 312. The new distance will be 375 laps/miles.

Some Notes:
-Sam Hornish had a career best PIR finish (9th) in last year’s spring event.
-It’s Brad Keselowski’s second acareer start at Phoenix here and he improved six positions in NSCS driver standings in the last two races. Crew chief Jay Guy says “The new car we are bringing to Phoenix is one of the lightest cars that we’ve produced to date and we’re excited to see how it races.”
-Phoenix was Ryan Newman’s first ever NASCAR start.
-It’s not a self-cleaning track, expect a lot of excitement when an accident happens
-This weekend kicks off a long stretch in the season where we don’t see a break until July. Teams need to stay prepared because if you get behind in this stretch it’s hard to make up.
-You need to be up on the wheel and really drive this track.
-It’s Carl Edwards 200th Career Sprint Cup Series Start. They’ve had very fast cars in the past at Phoenix but Carl has yet to win a Cup race here.
-Qualifying is key – it can be hard to pass at PIR
-This track combines the speed of some of the bigger tracks and some characteristics of short tracks. Some have said it’s a small superspeedway with long straightaways and really aggressive restarts.
-As soon as the sun goes behind the suites in turns one and two, the temperature really drops and the track gains quite a bit of grip. The sun and the track temperature will be an issue. Jeff Gordon says the sun entering turn one during qualifying will be an issue. “We only get two looks at it while trying to set a very quick time,” he says of qualifying here.
-Three of the 27 Sprint Cup races here at PIR have been won from the pole.
-In 15 Sprint Cup Series starts at Phoenix, Dale Earnhardt Junior has scored two wins, four top-five finishes and seven top 10’s. He has led 460 laps. The 88 team will unload Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No 88-586. This is a brand new chassis that has never been tested or raced.
-Engineering Challenges: Howard Comstock, Dodge Motorsports Engineering says, “With the new longer distance and a new earlier starting time, teams will face two new engineering challenges at this year’s Subway Fresh Fit 600. The change from 500 K to 600K will mean new fuel strategies and concerns of brake attrition. The earlier the start time for this race creates a daytime to evening race environment that is always unique when you come to the desert and race.”

Everybody but Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson!
I’ve got the field…except Kurt, Kyle and Jimmie, oh my!

Jimmie Johnson’s average finish at Phoenix is 5.1, Mark Martin’s average finish here is 8.8, Jeff Gordon’s average finish here is 10.8, Kurt Busch’s is 12.0, Kyle Busch’s is 14.5.

I had Tom Busch on the air last night, the father of Kurt and Kyle. He talked about bringing young 13-year-old Kurt Busch to Phoenix on November 3 of 1991 to watch his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at this race track. “We got to go down into the pits before the race and I thought that was so cool,” said Kurt. “When they fired up the engines for the race it was something like I had never heard or seen before.” Hard to believe that just over 18 years later Kurt is one of the favorites to take him on here at Phoenix International Raceway. Busch is second to Jimmie Johnson in NASCAR’s “loop data” statistics for the four most recent seasons. For example, Johnson’s leading average running position here of 5.066 to Busch’s second place 8.063 and Johnson’s leading driver rating of 123.0 to Busch’s runner up 104.6 rating. Even with one fewer race (Kurt did not compete in the Nov 2005 race) Busch is still second in laps led leading 411 (14.6 percent) of the laps.

Somehow I convinced Tom Busch, just for fun of course, to take Kyle and Kurt to win here at Phoenix this weekend in the Sprint Cup Series race. I mean I wasn’t going to pry the man’s boys from his arms for a mere sporting bet. We threw out Jimmie Johnson (neither of us could pick him) but I have the rest of the field. How did I pull that one off? I had FOX analyst Jeff Hammond on the air as a guest last night and his choice to win, he said, would be someone unexpected – like a Marcos Ambrose or a David Reutimann. It should be an interesting weekend.

Is Running the Nationwide race a greater advantage here?
Paul Menard thinks so! ” I think that running the Nationwide race will be an even bigger advantage than usual this weekend,” Menard says. “The schedule for Friday is pretty tight and the Cup Series doesn’t get any practice during the part of the day we race. So, I’m sure (crew chief) Slugger Labbe will stick around for the Nationwide so both of us are able to get a good feel at to show the track will change during the course of the evening.” “The good thing for us is that Paul is running the Nationwide race, so he’ll be able to tell us how the track changed and we can be ready for it Saturday night,” says Labbe.

I’ll be on the air tonight (Thursday) 7-10 EST LIVE from Phoenix International Raceway on SIRIUS NASCAR Radio. Catch you then.

Claire B