Recapping NASCAR’s frantic first half of the 2013 regular season

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series completed its halfway point in the 26-race regular season last weekend at Dover International Speedway. The TV coverage switches from FOX to TNT starting this weekend at Pocono, for its six-race “Summer Stretch” series. And, there’s been more than a few storylines this year:

  • Penalties, penalties, penalties. Three of NASCAR’s biggest names got hit hard and often for infractions, either via mouth or at the track. Denny Hamlin got it started at Phoenix when he claimed NASCAR’s new Generation 6 car “didn’t race as well” as its old one, and got docked $25,000. Then NASCAR dropped the hammer on Penske Racing after Texas, and Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing after Kansas, although in both Penske’s and Gibbs’ cases they were reduced. Penske got hit again just this week.
  • It feels like the 48 is back. Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team from Hendrick Motorsports aren’t doing their usual “win a couple races in the regular season, then dominate the Chase” routine. They’ve amped up even more after two consecutive years without a championship. Johnson leads the points with two wins, including his second and crew chief Chad Knaus’ first Daytona 500. And that’s even with a jumped start penalty last time out at Dover.
  • Toyota. Engine. Failures. There have been too many to count of late for the manufacturer, either via its flagship engine builder TRD (Toyota Racing Development) or the offshoot Triad and Arrington builders that supply other teams. Still, to their credit, Gibbs has five wins – three for Kenseth, and two for Kyle Busch.
  • Blue Oval blues. Ford has only two wins thus far, one of which coming in the crapshoot that is Talladega with the shock Front Row Motorsports 1-2 led by David Ragan. Carl Edwards has been the most consistent, with one win and currently second in points, but the rest of the Ford teams – including defending champions Penske and Brad Keselowski, after switching from Dodge – haven’t quite got the full handle on the Gen-6.
  • Danica? Meh. Once we got past the Daytona 500 pole hoopla, Danica Patrick’s first full year in Sprint Cup has gone about as expected – less than stellar. Qualifying hasn’t been great and outside of the eighth at Daytona and 12th place at Martinsville, she has only two other top-25 finishes. Her boyfriend and fellow rookie-of-the-year competitor, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., hasn’t cracked the top 10 yet, but a consistent string of 11 top-20 finishes in 13 races has him a respectable 15th in points. Patrick is 29th.
  • Some abnormal off-track moments. Away from the Sprint Cup ranks, storylines have included catch fence safety after an accident in the Nationwide Series opener, the Nelson Piquet/Brian Scott groin kick and crewmember fight at Richmond, the Mike Harmon/Jennifer Jo Cobb “He said, she said” transporter theft allegations, and a TV cable falling during the Coca-Cola 600. Additionally, NASCAR lost a legend and short track icon in Dick Trickle, at age 71.

The top 10 in points are below, with other points notables thereafter, and number of wins in parentheses:

  • Top 10: Jimmie Johnson 473 (three wins), Carl Edwards 443 (one), Clint Bowyer 423 (zero), Matt Kenseth 399 (three), Kevin Harvick 399 (two), Dale Earnhardt Jr. 398 (zero), Kasey Kahne 392 (one), Brad Keselowski 375  (zero), Kyle Busch 374 (two), Paul Menard 371 (zero).
  • Other notables: Jeff Gordon (11th, -10 points to 10th, zero wins), Greg Biffle (13th, -18, zero), Tony Stewart (16th, -33, one), Kurt Busch (17th, -34, zero), Ryan Newman (20th, -48, zero), Denny Hamlin (26th, -122, zero).

A Rolex 24 winner whose love of Daytona began as a NASCAR fan

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Like many foreign-born drivers in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Nick Tandy’s first trip to the United States was to Florida in wintertime.

The native of Bedford, England, though, didn’t come to race a sports car at Daytona International Speedway. He journeyed to watch stock cars at the World Center of Racing – as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500.

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“I’ve been watching racing at this place since I was 3 or 4 years old,” Tandy, 35, said a few weeks ago while back at Daytona during the Roar before the Rolex. “I’m still a huge NASCAR fan. When I was a kid, Monday mornings were for watching the stock-car racing in America. I haven’t missed a Cup race for probably 15 years.”

The Porsche driver, who will be driving the 911 RSR-19 in the GTLM class this weekend in kicking off a full 2019 season n IMSA, has carved out quite a niche in sports cars as a factory driver since 2013.

Porsche driver Nick Tandy (courtesy of IMSA).

Tandy was part of the team that won the overall title in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, has a GTLM class victory in the 2014 Rolex 24 and 13 class wins in IMSA (including the 12 Hours of Sebring the past two years and three Petit Le Mans victories).

But he remains a major NASCAR fan at heart. After the Oct. 12, 2019 IMSA season finale, Tandy took his Porsche directly to Talladega Superspeedway, where he turned a few demonstration laps and executed a burnout before the Cup race.

“It was organized through Mr. France; he invited us,” said Tandy, referring to NASCAR CEO Jim France, who also helped spearhead the rebirth of IMSA in recent years. “It didn’t feel as banked as Daytona because it’s a lane wider and is just enormous.

“I’ve driven the oval here (at Daytona) lots and lots (in a sports car). Sometimes we have a bit of fun in testing but never 100 percent flat out.”

It’s a throwback to the start of his career, which began on his home country’s many short tracks. A loose confederation of grass-roots series on asphalt and dirt offer several points championships in race cars that resemble the Modified series (BriSCA F1 is among the most well known sanctioning body).

“There’s a big quarter-mile short oval scene in the U.K.” Tandy said. “This is what I grew up racing. Me and my brother raced stock cars and knew all about the Winston Cup long before I knew what a Formula One car looked like or even what Le Mans was. That’s my background.

“Of course in Europe, there is no professional oval racing scene. If you want to be a professional racer, you go road course racing. So that’s what I did.”

But his passion for NASCAR didn’t wane. After racing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on July 25, 2014, Tandy stayed in Indy the next two days to watch the Xfinity race and Brickyard 400 as a fan.

“I got my kids some Kyle Busch clothes,” said Tandy, who also counts himself as a fan of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt. “Got myself a Kyle Busch hat and went and sat in the stands and watched the race.”

Now he’ll be racing this weekend against the driver has been cheering for years.

“I think it’s cool that he wants to come over here and has got the opportunity to race with us, especially after he’s just won his second championship,” Tandy said. “It gives the whole race and our side of the sport a little bit more coverage and turns out some other people who might not have noticed.

“If I see him, I’d like to shake his hand and say congratulations on a good job last season.”

The Porsche 911 that Nick Tandy will drive with Matt Campbell and Fred Makowiecki this weekend in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).