Cheez-It 355 - Practice

End of multiple eras tonight at Homestead-Miami

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As noted earlier this week by my colleague, Tony DiZinno, there were multiple drivers in today’s Ford Ecoboost 400 that are set to jump to new squads in 2014 or may have just put the final period on their Sprint Cup careers a few hours ago.

We’ve already talked tonight about Kevin Harvick (who is leaving Richard Childress Racing and going to Stewart-Haas Racing), so let’s take a look at how the rest of these particular competitors fared at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the 2013 season finale.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex (pictured) completed his run with Michael Waltrip Racing nicely, posting a solid fourth-place finish and bringing a tough autumn for himself to a nice conclusion. Furniture Row Racing and its No. 78 car now beckon for the New Jersey native, but he made sure to thank his MWR team for supporting him over the last four seasons.

“I just can’t thank all these guys enough – [team owners] Michael [Waltrip] and Rob [Kauffman] and [sponsor] NAPA and Toyota and everybody that has made it possible the last four years to have such a good time…,” he said. “All the things we did together were special. [I’m] going to miss these guys and hopefully see them around a lot next year.”

Ryan Newman

Chase contender Newman finished 17th in his final effort for Stewart-Haas Racing before he takes over the No. 31 at Richard Childress Racing next year. He led the three-car SHR contingent at Homestead this evening in an altogether quiet effort.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya, a Miami-area resident, finished off his seven-year stay in Sprint Cup with an 18th-place performance on his home track that wasn’t anything particularly special. But there won’t be much time to ponder the end of his stock car career (for now), as he’ll be preparing for his IndyCar homecoming with Team Penske.

His future boss, Penske Racing’s Tim Cindric, has given Montoya a helpful reminder this evening:

Mark Martin

Time will tell if Sunday was truly the end for Martin, who has not dropped the R-word – retirement – but is not planning to compete next season. The Arkansas native, who has won 40 Sprint Cup races since his Cup career began all the way back in 1981, finished 19th for Stewart-Haas at Homestead.

Beloved just about universally by fellow racers and fans alike, Martin – the greatest driver to never win a Cup championship – will be missed. On Twitter this evening, he saluted those that have followed him over the years:

Kurt Busch

Busch helped the single-car Furniture Row team become a key player in the sport after making the Chase this year. In return, the team gave Busch a chance to rehabilitate his career.

So while Busch finished a sub-par 21st in his final race with FRR before he goes to Stewart-Haas, “the Outlaw” said he would cherish his time with the Denver-based squad.

“They gave everything they had to give and you can’t ask for anything more,” he said. “I made a lot of friends with this Furniture Row team and will always look back at this season with a special fondness.”

Jeff Burton

Burton, who has yet to announce his 2014 plans, finished 23rd in his last run with the No. 31 RCR Chevy. Reading the tea leaves, you’d think Burton will be back next year in a part-time capacity. The question is: Where?

Ken Schrader

Short-track legend Schrader capped off his Cup career with a 34th-place finish tonight.The 58-year-old had been a part-timer for several seasons. Final stat line in Cup: 4 wins, 64 Top-5s, 184 Top-10s in 763 starts.

Dave Blaney

With Michael Annett set to replace him in the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing machine, Blaney has indicated that he may spend 2014 doing more sprint car racing while pulling for his son, Ryan, as he rises up the NASCAR ranks. Blaney finished 38th.

NHRA: Looking at where things stand at midpoint of Countdown

Top Fuel's Antron Brown has been the most dominant driver in the current NHRA Countdown to the Championship.
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The NHRA is now halfway through its six-race Countdown to the Championship and there have been a number of surprises – both good and bad – thus far.

When the series gets back to racing next weekend at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas, those drivers who have dominated their respective categories in the Countdown so far stand a good chance of pulling away.

Not to mention potentially see several drivers start falling by the wayside and be eliminated.

Let’s take a look at each of the four pro classes and analyze the haves and have not’s thus far:


Biggest surprise: Antron Brown. It’s not so much a surprise that Brown is leading the standings, but it’s more so the way he’s doing it. The 2012 Top Fuel champ has been on fire, having won all of the first three Countdown races and a personal-best seven races overall this season. Brown set a NHRA record of 12-0 in final elimination rounds this past Sunday at Reading, Pa. You can’t get much more perfect than that. Brown has been so dominating that only teammate and defending eight-time champ Tony Schumacher is within reach points-wise. The other eight drivers still in contention are between 194 and 274 points behind. At the rate he’s going, Brown could potentially clinch the championship in the second-to-last race at Las Vegas.

You Go Girl: Brittany Force, daughter of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, has been a surprising upstart in the Countdown. While she’s 194 points behind Brown, Force is ranked third heading to Texas. She’s shown significant confidence and moxie in the first three races and if she keeps it up, she could potentially overtake Schumacher at some point for second place.

Different Team, Same Drive: Shawn Langdon lost his ride at the worst possible time, just before the Countdown began, when team owner Alan Johnson suspended operations. But give credit to fellow team owner Don Schumacher, who “borrowed” Langdon from Johnson for the Chase to replace Spencer Massey, who was released just before the Chase. Langdon has done well, but time is running out if he hopes to make one last shot to win yet another championship.


Biggest surprise: Del Worsham won the first two races of the Countdown and appears headed towards becoming only the third driver in NHRA history to win both a Top Fuel and Funny Car championship in his career. Worsham has been absolutely solid this season.

That’s The Fact, Jack: Jack Beckman has enjoyed arguably the best season of his career, a complete turnaround from last year’s draining struggle. Having left John Force at the end of last season, co-crew chiefs Jimmy Prock and John Medlen have reinvigorated both Beckman and his car. Worsham has been strong, but Beckman is only a mere 16 points back in second place. And with his win this past Sunday at Reading, momentum could potentially turn in Beckman’s direction heading to Texas.

The Numbers Game: Kudos to third-ranked Matt Hagan (90 points behind Worsham) and fourth-ranked Tommy Johnson Jr. (-98) for their strong efforts in the Countdown. Ditto for Ron Capps (105 points behind Worsham) and John Force (-150), who are both still within striking distance. However, two drivers have uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the Countdown: Alexis De Joria (ranked ninth, 207 points back) and Robert Hight (10th, 221 points back). Unless they right their respective ships, they run the risk of being eliminated at Las Vegas.


Biggest Surprise: Chris McGaha (third, 104 points behind series leader Erica Enders) and rookie Drew Skillman (sixth, -173) have definitely opened eyes this season, with each earning wins thus far in the Countdown. Also enjoying a strong run in the Countdown and a welcome resurgence overall this season is veteran racer Larry Morgan (fourth, 145 points back). Enders could potentially have her hands full in the final three races to keep these three hungry drivers at bay.

You Go Girl: Defending champ Enders has looked cool, calm and collected – just like she did en route to becoming the first female Pro Stock champ last season. With a 72-point lead over former champ Greg Anderson, Enders has become one of the best drivers when it comes to reaction times at the starting line, having won close to a dozen or more rounds just because she got the jump on her opponent at the so-called “Christmas tree.”


Biggest surprise: It would be hard to find two riders who have not been more surprising than Hector Arana Jr. (ranked third, 101 points back) and Louisiana alligator farmer Jerry Savoie (fourth, 119 points back). Arana is one of the most promising young riders on the circuit, while Savoie – after a 30-year layoff from racing – is proving that 53 (years old) is the new 23.

Back in the saddle again: Andrew Hines is gunning for his fifth bike championship, and second straight, and has done what he’s needed to do thus far in the Countdown. While Arana and second-ranked Eddie Krawiec (-89) are proving to be formidable foes, Hines appears to be ready to start pulling further away for the title.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NHRA: New book a celebration of life, love and drag racing

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The overpowering smell from nitromethane that powers Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars in the National Hot Rod Association oftentimes brings fans to tears after getting a whiff of the stuff.

Now there’s a new inspirational book that will also bring tears to the eyes of die-hard drag racing fans.

Veteran crew chief Jim Oberhofer has released “Top Fuel For Life, Life Lessons From A Crew Chief,” a touching homage to both his late wife and persevering and overcoming adversity in the highly competitive world of NHRA drag racing.

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Oberhofer wears a number of hats as vice president of one of the sport’s most veteran and successful teams, Kalitta Motorsports, including serving as crew chief for Top Fuel driver Doug Kalitta’s dragster.

Oberhofer relates a number of stories about overcoming adversity in the book, but none more touching than how he watched his beloved wife “Tammy O” lose a long and painful battle to stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.

While Oberhofer has spent his life using wrenches and tools working on 10,000-horsepower engines, his new book shows that he is also a very gifted writer.

Known in the sport as “Jim O,” Oberhofer describes the fight his wife went through in gritty and descriptive prose, but with a foundation built upon what the love of his life meant to him – and continues to mean to him more than two years since she passed away.

“When you take a long hard look at your life, I guarantee you that being a winner has little to do with crossing the finish line,” Oberhofer said. “After many mistakes and a whole lot of heartache, I learned that happiness comes from a deeper, simpler place. That’s the big win.”

“Top Fuel For Life” is available on Amazon for $19.95.

Follow @JerryBonkowski