NASCAR’s 2013 Sprint Cup Homestead goodbyes

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Several drivers will be changing teams or facing an uncertain future in the sport after Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400, the season finale for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Here’s a brief look at what they’ve accomplished in their runs with their current squads:

Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress Racing (2001-2013)

Harvick leaves the only Cup team he’s ever known. He’ll start his 466th and last race with RCR on Sunday third in the points, and seeking back-to-back wins to close out his 13-year run. He has 23 career wins and one on Sunday would tie the most he’s achieved with the team in a single season (5 in 2006). Harvick has twice finished third in the points (2010, 2011) with RCR.

Kurt Busch, Furniture Row Racing (2012-2013)

No Cinderella story in the Chase, but the fact Busch has taken the Denver-based operation to another level and raised its stature in the garage is no small accomplishment. A best finish of second in 41 starts and in 2013, his only full season with the team, has 11 top-fives and 16 top-10 finishes. He has recovered from his career wilderness.

Ryan Newman, Stewart-Haas Racing (2009-2013)

Newman will start his 180th race for SHR before both Harvick and Busch join the team in 2014. The Indiana native has three Chase berths and four wins in his tenure; he carried the team this year with Tony Stewart’s injuries costing him his season and with Danica Patrick learning the ropes in her first full-time season.

Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip Racing (2010-2013)

It’s been four methodical seasons for Truex and MWR; never great, but progressive improvements over the last two years in particular. His 144th and last start with MWR comes after one prior win (Sonoma this year) and a myriad of bad circumstances that have seemed to conspire against him in 2013.

Jeff Burton, Richard Childress Racing (2004-2013)

One of NASCAR’s all-time class acts and great quotes, Burton signs off his 10-year run at RCR with his 338th start for the team this weekend to make way for Newman’s arrival. His four wins were achieved from 2006 through 2008, the latter year of which he was a bona fide title contender before fading to sixth at year’s end.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (2006-2013)

He’ll start his 253rd and final, for now, NASCAR Sprint Cup race with EGR and the word “unfulfilled” probably the best descriptor of his NASCAR career. The open-wheel ace has never truly starred in NASCAR except for a handful of races; two road course wins and one Chase appearance all he has to show in his seven full seasons.

Mark Martin, Stewart-Haas Racing (2013)

Martin’s possible final act in Sprint Cup – it’s hard to say for sure as Martin is NASCAR’s equivalent of Brett Favre – has been a good one. Martin served as a mentor and team developer at Michael Waltrip Racing before moving to SHR to fill in for the injured Tony Stewart. He’s run partial seasons since 2005, save for three Hendrick years from 2009 through 2011. Is this finally the end?

Bobby Labonte, too, has already signed off at Phoenix. There may be others from some of the smaller teams, but this is a big list of those leaving their current seats before 2014.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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