NASCAR Sprint Cup presence at Rolex 24 limited thus far

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In past years, NASCAR’s finest such as Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle have taken their shot at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. But at the moment, the presence of NASCAR stars racing in the endurance race kickoff to the 2014 North American racing season is minimal.

Thus far just Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s pair of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson are the only confirmed Sprint Cup drivers who will be participating in this year’s race, though JTG Daugherty’s AJ Allmendinger is expected to be confirmed soon with Michael Shank Racing, the team he has been with for years at the Rolex.

“It’s the most fun race I get to run all year long,” McMurray said on Friday at the Chip Ganassi Racing team announcement in Daytona. “There’s no points for us and it’s all about being able to win. What makes it such a good time, you’ll see guys all year long and they’ll be here, so you can eat lunch with them, hang out and things like that. It’s fun to be a part of it.”

McMurray has five career Rolex 24 starts with a best finish of second in 2011, while Larson will be making not just his sports car debut, but his 24-hour race debut. But the 21-year-old had a good one-liner yesterday when it came to the potential of driving overnight shifts.

“I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to do it this year,” Larson said. “As far as 3-4 a.m. shifts, I’m usually out that late anyway, so bring it on.”

Both have the tutelage of Scott Pruett to work with in the CGR stable. Pruett’s win last year was his fifth overall, tying the record set by Hurley Haywood.

As for as other full-time NASCAR Cup drivers go, last year Marcos Ambrose raced with Shank and Clint Bowyer with Michael Waltrip in an AF Corse-run GT class Ferrari 458. At the moment, neither is projected to a seat this year.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.