Quaker State 400 - Qualifying

Fresh start has turned stale quickly for Martin Truex Jr.

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What was supposed to be a fresh start for Martin Truex Jr. in 2014 has instead become a frustrating if not stale start, with seemingly one bad thing after another this season.

Forced out of Michael Waltrip Racing when NAPA Auto Parts pulled their sponsorship in light of the attempt to manipulate the field of last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Truex had high hopes moving on to his new team, Furniture Row Racing.

FRR was coming off its best season ever, becoming the first single-car team to ever qualify for the Chase, with Kurt Busch behind the wheel.

When Busch moved on to Stewart Haas Racing, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Truex. He moved into a ride that appeared, at least on the surface, maybe even better than what he had at MWR.

But what Truex hoped for and what has turned out in actuality in the first five races of the season are 180 degrees apart.

Things looked like they’d start out great when he qualified on the outside pole for the season-opening Daytona 500.

Unfortunately, he ultimately wound up finishing last when his engine blew up just 30 laps into the race.

He finished 22nd at Phoenix, 14th at Las Vegas, fell back to 36th at Bristol and left Fontana this past Sunday 23rd.

Add those five races together and Truex’s average finish thus far this season is 27.6.

At the same time, he’s back to 30th in the overall standings, 82 points — almost two full races of points — behind series leader Carl Edwards.

There’s an old saying in NASCAR that how you do in the first five races of the season is usually a reflection of how the rest of your season is going to be like.

If that’s the case, The Mayetta, N.J., native is in big trouble heading into Sunday’s race at Martinsville, because the .526-mile bullring is one of his worst-performing tracks.

“We need to start finding a rhythm with this Furniture Row Racing team,” Truex said earlier this week. “Things have not gone our way so far this season.

“Some of it is our fault and a large part has been some very tough luck.”

While Truex obviously hopes he’s ready to break out, his past record at Martinsville appears to indicate he’ll suffer more of the same fate he’s had both this year overall, as well as throughout his career thus far at the southern Virginia track.

“Going to Martinsville presents another challenge,” Truex said this week. “To be honest, Martinsville is a place I still haven’t figured out. I have had some good runs over the years there, but it has been very inconsistent. I’ve been hooked up at Martinsville sometimes and other times I couldn’t get out of my own way.”

Even before Saturday’s washed out day of both Sprint Cup practices as well as the Camping World Trucks Series race (postponed until after Sunday’s Sprint Cup event), Truex was expecting a different kind of track.

Now with the rain having washed away all collected rubber, a completely green track is not in Truex’s favor, either.

“The biggest challenge about Martinsville is the track changes so much throughout the weekend,” he said. “And the track is never on Sunday what it was like all weekend.

“As soon as they drop the green flag, the track is completely different than it was the day before when you feel you have your car dialed in for the race. Though brakes aren’t as big of an issue as they use to be at Martinsville, you still need to take care of them. If not, you can burn them up.”

Truex needs a big lift this weekend, especially after last weekend’s race at Fontana. Not only did he crash in practice, forcing him to go to a backup car for the race, he ultimately finished a lot worst – 23rd – than what he felt his secondary ride was capable of.

“Every time we felt the momentum swing our way, we seemed to take a punch in the gut,” Truex said. “Finishing 23rd is never acceptable for us because we feel that we are a Chase-caliber team. But considering the incidents that we were faced with, I can honestly say that we fought for every inch of that 23rd-place result.

“Not a good weekend, but I am proud of the way we kept on bouncing back from all of the adversity. We’re going to be ok. We’re just going through a rough streak right now.”

For his sake, hopefully that rough streak will end Sunday.

“We understand the challenges and the uncertainty of Martinsville,” Truex said. “But when this Furniture Row team goes to a race, we feel confident that we can put together a strong race and be a contender. This weekend is not any different.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

DiZinno: Engine drama dominates 2015 silly season thus far

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So it’s mid-October, and in both Formula 1 and IndyCar, the story of silly season 2015 is not about the drivers behind the wheel, but more about the lumps giving the drivers the power with which to do so.

The war in IndyCar has gone on more behind-the-scenes between Honda and Chevrolet as it relates to performance clauses and what can or can’t be updated for 2016.

However F1’s engine battle has been a very public spat, and been the dominant silly season storyline this fall.

F1’s driver silly season never really got going for next season. As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith has chronicled, the one potential domino that could have made things interesting – Kimi Raikkonen’s status at Ferrari – will go unchanged into 2016.

As such, it leaves with a grid where the lineups at Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Force India, Sauber and most recently McLaren are confirmed to stay the same for 2016.

The only driver switch at present is Romain Grosjean leaving the unsettled, fluid situation at Lotus to lead Haas F1 Team’s charge in its maiden season.

This brings us then, simply, to the Red Bull teams.

Red Bull may give you wings, and wings right now are all that’s confirmed to power the teams into 2016.

A season-long row, spat, disagreement or whatever word you want to call it has occurred between Red Bull and Renault to the point where Red Bull has threatened to pull out of Formula 1 – which would leave its quartet of talented youngsters, Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. – all sidelined. Let alone all its talented mechanics and crew.

Mercedes has already moved its fourth engine supply from Lotus to Manor, and Ferrari has proposed offering a 2015 power unit, neither of which were really feasible solutions for Red Bull and by default, Toro Rosso as well.

It’s then left the two parties in a proverbial stalemate, where Red Bull needs Renault more than Renault needs Red Bull.

And in social terms, it’s a case of Red Bull needing to go back to the girl they want to dump, because it’s their only option. Perhaps it’s no coincidence the term “F1 booty call” was occasionally used on social media over the weekend to describe the situation.

The Red Bull quit threat, unfortunately, continues to persist. Adrian Newey, the sport’s most successful designer, has reiterated the concerns in an interview with Reuters over the weekend.

“Unfortunately, our relationship with Renault is pretty terminal — there’s been too much of a marriage breakdown, so we have no engine,” Newey told Reuters while in Abu Dhabi to judge the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy.

“Red Bull should not be put in a position where they’re only there to make up the numbers,” he added, noting the desired need for improvement from Renault.

One could argue, of course, that Newey’s departure has had a psychological effect on the team, perhaps as much if not a greater impact than Renault’s engine woes. And easy as it is to forget, Ricciardo still won three Grands Prix a year ago and was in mathematical championship contention until the final few races of the season.

Think in Renault’s case as well, that as a sole constructor and owner of Lotus as it is shaping up to be next year, it would behoove them to have a second set of data at its disposal, rather than going solo without another team. See Honda and McLaren for how that’s gone this year…

The fact that Red Bull has opted to go for the nuclear threat in print of quitting when all it’s really had is a bad year – something it’s experienced plenty both early in its own team lifespan, and in its prior guises as Jaguar and Stewart dating to the Stewart team’s inception in 1997 – really smacks of poor professionalism, unbecoming of the brand.

Red Bull didn’t get the top of the mountain in the business world, and in F1, without a desire to be the best.

But in the interest of becoming a true fabric of the F1 community through both thick and thin – as teams like Ferrari, Williams and McLaren have done for decades – it needs to take a step back, chalk 2015 up as a year to forget and figure out a way to bury the hatchet so it doesn’t leave all the affected individuals high and dry.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Ryan Briscoe

Ryan Briscoe
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MotorSportsTalk continues its review of the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, with a look at Ryan Briscoe. Despite not having a ride to start the year, Briscoe ended strongly courtesy of a series of strong runs at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Ryan Briscoe, No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

  • 2014: 11th Place, Best Finish 4th, Best Start 4th, 1 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 12.8 Avg. Start, 10.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 18th Place (8 starts), Best Finish 5th, Best Start 2nd, 1 Top-5, 4 Top-10, 10 Laps Led, 17.8 Avg. Start, 12.0 Avg. Finish

For those who slag on Briscoe as being undeserving of top level equipment, his 2015 second half provided a friendly reminder of his overall ability level in what might be less than the best machinery.

Briscoe was thrust into the No. 5 car under trying circumstances to begin with, getting all of an hour’s worth practice replacing the injured James Hinchcliffe ahead of the Indianapolis 500. But subsequent drives on the ovals there, Texas, Fontana, Milwaukee and Iowa – even if the results were less than ideal – showcased a driver determined to show to the paddock he still had it, and then some. His defense against Juan Pablo Montoya in Sonoma was nothing short of brilliant, and courtesy of double points he actually finished ahead of full-season driver Stefano Coletti.

The Australian immediately gelled with the SPM team, engineer Allen McDonald and race strategist Robert Gue. He continues to prove he’s an asset, as he has enjoyed multiple opportunities to extend his career in various arenas of motorsport in both open-wheel and sports cars, the latter of which he won at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with Corvette Racing this year.