COLE CUSTER – 2017 Watkins Glen Race Advance

Event:               Zippo 200 at The Glen (Round 20 of 33)
Date:                 Aug. 5, 2017
Location:          Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International
Layout:             2.45-mile road course

 

Cole Custer Notes of Interest

 

  • The Zippo 200 at The Glen will mark Custer’s 25th career NASCAR XFINITY Series start and his first XFINITY Series start at Watkins Glen International. 
  • While the Zippo 200 at The Glen will be Custer’s first XFINITY Series start at Watkins Glen, it will be his fourth overall start at the 2.45-mile road course. In Custer’s three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts at The Glen, he earned a pole, two top-five finishes and led 17 laps.
  • Custer’s best finish in the 19 XFINITY Series races run this season is fourth, earned June 3 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. It was his 11th top-10 and fifth top-five and it equaled his career-best finish.
  • Custer’s best qualifying effort in the 19 XFINITY Series races run this season is third, earned twice – April 22 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and June 10 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Custer has 12 top-10 starts and four top-five starts this season.
  • Custer has earned four top-five finishes, nine top-10s and has led 29 laps so far in the 2017 XFINITY Series season.
  • Custer is second in the XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year standings, 58 points behind leader William Byron.
  • Custer has earned six Rookie of the Race awards this season. Rookie of the Race awards are given to the highest-finishing XFINITY Series rookie at each race.
  • Custer is sixth in the XFINITY Series driver standings, 233 points behind series leader Elliott Sadler.
  • This will be Stewart-Haas Racing’s first XFINITY Series road-course race.

 

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A

 

Do you enjoy road-course racing?  

“I never really grew up road racing or anything, but when I started doing it I thought it was one of the more fun things we do here throughout the season. I feel like it was something I started getting better at and there was a different level of competition in road-course racing. I’m really looking forward to all of the road courses coming up this season.”

 What will it take to run a successful race at Watkins Glen?

First, you have to be good as a driver. However, Watkins Glen is one of the tracks where the car comes into play more than most road courses. It’s definitely a fast track and one of the more fun places we go to. 

This is your first road-course run of the season. Do you feel rusty at all?  

I’ve been trying to get back into road-course racing a bit. We tested some sports cars at Mid-Ohio, so that helped me get used to the sharp corners and get back in the flow of road courses. Our Haas Automation team has never raced before at a road course, but we definitely have a lot of smart guys that know how to set up a car, so we should be pretty strong this weekend.

 

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 

This is the XFINITY team’s first ever road-course race. What are your expectations and how have you been preparing for this moment?  

I think we have a great shot this weekend as Cole has been successful in the past at road courses. Our team has done a great job this season adapting to new territory and I expect the same to happen this weekend. We’re heading into Watkins Glen with momentum and plan to have another solid top-five finish and hopefully a win.

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Watkins Glen Race Advance

Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) enter the weekend at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International on a bit of a hot streak after scoring consecutive top-15 finishes in the past four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.

Patrick’s finishes include: 15th at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, 13th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, 11th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and 15th at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The effort marks the first time in Patrick’s NASCAR Cup Series career that she’s finished inside the top-15 in four-consecutive events. And, in each instance, Patrick’s results have marked career-best NASCAR Cup Series finishes at each respective track.

As NASCAR Cup Series teams head to Watkins Glen for Sunday’s I love New York 355k at The Glen, Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team look to continue that streak of solid results.

In four previous starts at the 2.45-mile road course, Patrick’s best NASCAR Cup Series finish is a 17th-place effort she earned in August 2015. While Patrick has yet to finish inside the top-15 at the track, her average finish at the track isn’t too far off the mark at 19.8.

In addition to Patrick’s stock car experience at Watkins Glen, she’s made six IndyCar Series starts at the track. In that time, Patrick earned one top-10, four top-15s and six top-20 finishes. However, those events were run on the 3.4-mile long course at Watkins Glen and not the 2.45-mile NASCAR configuration.

As Patrick and the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford team return to Watkins Glen, they’ll be cheered on by a sizable contingent of sponsor guests this weekend.

Aspen Dental Management, Inc. (ADMI), which was founded in Syracuse, New York, is a dental support organization that provides non-clinical business support services to more than 600 independently owned and operated Aspen Dental practices in 36 states. Given ADMI’s close proximity to Watkins Glen International, more than 150 employees will be in attendance at Sunday’s race to cheer on Patrick, including founder and CEO Bob Fontana. Aspen Dental first partnered with Patrick in 2014 and this season the company is the lead sponsor of her No. 10 Ford Fusion for a double-digit slate of races.

On the heels of their recent success and bolstered by the support of the Aspen Dental guests, Patrick and the No. 10 team look to continue the hot streak they’ve been on this weekend at Watkins Glen and take home another top-15 run.

 

DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

You’re entering this weekend following a string of top-15 finishes. Where is your team at right now?  

“I feel like we’re all positive and I feel like we’re communicating well. I guess, honestly, I had a lot of really unfortunate luck earlier in the year and should have had more top-10s or top-15s throughout the year for sure. So, I really knew in my heart that luck was going to shift, it was going to change at some point, it had to because it couldn’t keep going like it was. And I finally feel like it’s doing some of that. (The results have) come from not letting those weekends get to us and staying positive.” 

There are only two road-course races on the NASCAR schedule, but they’re two of the most talked about and anticipated races of the year. Why is that?

“Road-course racing is something we don’t do a lot of and I think they are some fun races to watch because the cars don’t really handle very well. Our cars are like big buses trying to get around a racetrack and we’re sliding around, our brake zones are very long, tires go off and those are things that create passing opportunities.”

Is it a breath of fresh air to turn right and left, or do you have to psyche yourself up a bit to compete on a road course?

“Yeah, I feel like I have to psyche myself up a little bit in my approach about being aggressive and hitting the curbs and the ‘it doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be fast’ kind of attitude. But it’s fun. I mean, as long you can come out of the box with that and kind of start that rhythm, it’s easier to maintain all weekend, then.”

Talk about what makes Watkins Glen so difficult and how different it is from Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.  

“We only go to road courses twice during the season. I don’t think it’s terribly different from Sonoma in the sense that both are road courses and if you can get your car to handle, then things you learn can transfer between both tracks. Even before the repave, Watkins Glen had a lot more grip than Sonoma. You tend to slide around a good bit at Sonoma. As long as the car has good high-speed balance, then that leads to good things at The Glen.”

Talk through the keys to running well at Watkins Glen International.

“The first real tough turn where the car is definitely on edge at Watkins Glen is when you’re coming up the hill to the back straight. It’s critical because it leads onto the back straightaway, so you want to carry as much speed as you can through there. Having a car with a good high-speed balance is really important there. In general, it’s very important that the car turns. It’s kind of the same thing everywhere we go – the car has to turn, but it can’t turn so much that you can’t use it because you’re loose. Then you go through the bus stop and, if you have to wait on the front (of the car) a lot, then you can’t really get back to the throttle. That carries to a very long high-speed right-hand corner, so there’s a lot of exit that you can use if you’re sliding on whatever end that might be. But getting the car to turn through all of that is really what’s going to allow you to be able to attack the throttle.”

What is it about the road courses that you enjoy?

“I’m very used to racing on road courses. That’s how I grew up in go-karting. It’s what I did in Europe when I raced and it’s what IndyCar Racing really became before I left. There were three IndyCar road-course races when I started and, by the end, the majority of the races were on road courses – I think it was eight or nine races. So, I’m super familiar and super comfortable on road courses, but jumping into a stock car on a road course does feel a lot different than a lot of the other cars I’ve driven before on a road course. It still makes for great races because the braking zones are longer in stock cars, which allows more opportunities for passing.”

What is the hardest part about road racing?

“The hardest part of road racing is just putting a whole lap together. The hardest part of road racing is just nailing every corner and doing it consistently when it counts.”

If you are good at Sonoma, can you be good at Watkins Glen?

“Probably. I think these cars are such big, heavy cars, the difference between Sonoma and Watkins Glen is not that big of a deal. It still has corners and has to go left and right and then go quickly and turn quickly and get the power down quickly and do things it’s not used to doing on a normal, everyday weekend. There should be plenty of carryover from road course to road course. If you are struggling with rear-grip issues, you probably are going to not be penalized as much at Watkins Glen as you are Sonoma.”

 

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Watkins Glen Race Advance

Clint Bowyer knows the reason why NASCAR’s road-course racing has gained in popularity in recent years. It’s the same reason the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has added another road-course race to its schedule next year and could add even more in the future.

“Road-course racing is just an emotional roller coaster that you just flat don’t know the outcome of until that rag finally falls,” said Bowyer, who grew up racing on the dirt tracks of Kansas but has become one of the sport’s better road-course aces. “It’s just a hell of a show for the fans, the television audience and even the drivers. Man, they’re just so difficult. They’re so out of the ordinary. There are so many opportunities. That’s the thing about a road course, that there are not a lot of opportunities to pass, but there are a lot of opportunities. If somebody makes a mistake, like if you catch pit road as a caution’s coming out, there are just so many things to capitalize on one of those road courses.”

For years, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y) International have been the only two road courses on the Cup Series schedule. But in 2018, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway will run its September race on its “roval” – a new 13-turn, 2.4-mile road course incorporating part of the infield and all but 400 feet of Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval on which drivers will race 500 kilometers over 130 laps.

How serious is the sport taking to road-course racing? The Charlotte race marks the first NASCAR road-course race in the track’s 58-year history and will serve as the final race in Round 1 of the 2018 playoffs – the first time the 14-year-old playoff format includes a road course.

That’s good news for Bowyer, whose road-course statistics are impressive. He finished second at Sonoma in June behind Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) teammate Kevin Harvick. It marked the 23rd road-course start of his Cup Series career. That record includes a victory, eight top-five finishes and 13 top-10s.

He’ll get his chance to improve upon those stats this weekend when the Cup Series visits Watkins Glen for the final road-course race of the season. Historically, Bowyer hasn’t enjoyed the success at Watkins Glen that he has at Sonoma. He’s earned one top-five and four top-10s on the historic Upstate New York track near the southern tip of Seneca Lake that has hosted everything from the Formula One United States Grand Prix for 20 years to a 1973 rock concert that drew more than 600,000.

Bowyer said Sonoma success doesn’t equate to similar success at Watkins Glen because the tracks aren’t very similar beyond the fact both are road courses.

“You are way more at ease at Sonoma,” he said. “It’s a finesse, rear-grip, take-care-of-your-tires, type of track. I think it is a much more technical track. When you go to Watkins Glen, it’s a ton of fun but it’s a whole different beast. It’s wide-open. It’s balls-to-the-wall. You have to be extremely good on braking and have a fast racecar. Both of them are a ton of fun and so unique. That is the thing. We race and chase each other in circles non-stop. It is refreshing to have a break like this when we come to these road courses.”

Bowyer has plenty to accomplish this weekend when his Ford Fusion carries the Five Star Urgent Care paint scheme in practice Saturday and qualifying and racing Sunday. He arrives in New York 17th in the 16-driver playoffs, just 17 points behind Matt Kenseth, who holds the final playoff position. A victory automatically earns Bowyer a spot in the playoffs that begin in just five races. If he doesn’t win, he knows every point matters as the regular season draws to a close.

With all that on the line, the Watkins Glen race should be just like Bowyer likes his racing – an emotional roller coaster.

 

CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Five Star Urgent Care Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

What are some more of the differences between Watkins Glen and Sonoma road courses?

“The consequences just seem far greater at Watkins Glen than they are at Sonoma. If you hit at Sonoma, it’s like, ‘Man that hurt.’ You hit at Watkins Glen, you might be telling ’em about it a couple days later when it comes back to you.”

COLE CUSTER – 2017 Iowa II Race Advance

Event:               U.S. Cellular 250 presented by American Ethanol (Round 19 of 33)
Date:                 July 29, 2017
Location:          Iowa Speedway in Newton
Layout:             .875-mile oval

Cole Custer Notes of Interest 

  • The U.S. Cellular 250 presented by American Ethanol will mark Cole Custer’s 24th career NASCAR XFINITY Series start and his second XFINITY Series start at Iowa Speedway in Newton. 
  • In Custer’s first XFINITY Series start at Iowa five weeks ago, he was running seventh until a scheduled green-flag pit stop on lap 219. While Custer was on pit road, the caution came out, putting him one lap down in 24th with 20 laps to go. 
  • While the S. Cellular 250 will be Custer’s second XFINITY Series start at Iowa, it will be his ninth overall start at the .875-mile oval. Custer has three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and four NASCAR K&N Pro Series starts at Iowa.
  • Custer scored his first career Pro Series East victory Aug. 2, 2013 at Iowa from the pole. At 15 years, 6 months and 10 days, he became the youngest winner in Pro Series history. In addition to breaking Dylan Kwasniewski’s record for youngest race winner by nearly six months, Custer also became the first driver to lead every lap (150) in the combination East/West race.
  • Custer’s best Truck Series finish at Iowa is second, earned in 2016. Custer finished .431 of a second behind race-winner William Byron, who he’s now competing with for XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year honors.
  • Custer has a win, a pole, four top-fives, six top-10s and has led 237 laps in his eight career starts at Iowa.
  • Custer’s best finish in the 19 XFINITY Series races run this season is fourth, earned in the 11th race of the year June 3 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. It was his 10th top-10 and fourth top-five and it equaled his career-best finish in 23 career XFINITY Series starts.
  • Custer is second in the XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year standings, 65 points behind leader William Byron.
  • Custer is sixth in the NASCAR XFINITY Series driver standings, 230 points behind series leader Elliot Sadler.
  • Custer has earned five Rookie of the Race awards this season. Rookie of the Race awards are given to the highest-finishing XFINITY Series rookie at each race.
  • Custer has been the highest-finishing XFINITY Series regular driver in four races this season – Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Dover, Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
  • Custer’s best qualifying effort in the 19 XFINITY Series races run this season is third, earned in the seventh race of the year April 22 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Custer has 11 top-10 starts and three top-five starts this season.
  • In 23 XFINITY Series starts, 42 Camping World Truck Series starts and 29 K&N Pro Series starts since 2015, Custer has five wins, six poles, 14 top-five finishes, 23 top-10s and 919 laps led at tracks currently on the NASCAR circuit that are approximately a mile in length or shorter.
  • Custer has earned three top-five finishes, eight top-10s and has led 29 laps so far in the 2017 XFINITY Series season.

 

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A

 

Do you feel as if you’ve got something to prove in the XFINITY Series at Iowa after bad luck plagued your weekend in June?

 “Yeah. Iowa is a track that I’ve had great success at, so I want to mirror that in the XFINITY Series. Our Haas Automation Ford Mustang ran really well there in practice and I think we’ve learned a lot there since going to New Hampshire and Iowa. I mean, we’ve had fast cars there in the past and the team has been exceeding expectations this season.”

What will it take to pull off your second win at Iowa?

We were just too tight in our first try at Iowa. Just getting the car to turn better and drive off the turns is the biggest thing. Then, being there at the end is always the most important part. I feel like I have a lot more confidence at the short tracks and we aren’t competing against Cup guys, so hopefully we can execute well this time and pull off a win. 

Describe the feeling of getting your first win and pole at Iowa Speedway while leading all 150 laps to become the youngest winner in Pro Series history? 

“It was definitely a day I’ll remember. I can’t explain how amazing it felt. Iowa is a special place for our Haas Automation race team. I feel like that win gave me a lot of confidence because it was my first in the K&N Series and I always look forward to coming back. I just love the track. The fans are awesome and it was always one of my favorite tracks growing up. I can’t believe I got to go there and go to victory lane.”

 

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 

Despite bad luck at Iowa earlier in June, do you feel that the team had a solid game plan to bring the Haas Automation Mustang to victory lane? If not, what would you do differently?  

We had a really good car in practice the first Iowa race. We got a flat tire during our first qualifying run, which put us starting in the rear for the race. We started the race too tight and struggled to get ahead on our setup. Going back this weekend, we have a better understanding of how the track changes from practice to race. I don’t anticipate it to be as big of a swing this time because it is a day race, where the last race was run at night. Cole has a good track record in Iowa and I feel certain we are bringing back a better Haas Automation Ford Mustang than we had the previous race.

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Pocono II Race Advance

Kurt Busch seems to like Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. And since he’s won there three times, for three different owners, he’s hoping he can score victory number four while driving the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).

Busch first won at Pocono in July 2005 driving for Roush Fenway Racing, leading 131 of 203 laps after starting second. He then dominated in August 2007 driving for Roger Penske. He started second again but led 175 of 200 laps en route to victory at the 2.5-mile track known as the “Tricky Triangle.” Both those races were 500 miles in length.

In June 2016, driving for SHR, he started ninth and led 32 of 160 laps of the now 400-mile race to score his third Pocono victory.

Perhaps Busch’s success is tied to the track’s unique design. The triangular layout was designed by two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rodger Ward and remains unlike any other track in the world with three different corners each modeled after a different track.

Turn one, which is banked at 14 degrees, is modeled after the legendary Trenton (N.J.) Speedway. Turn two, banked at eight degrees, is a nod to the turns at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And turn three, banked at six degrees, is modeled after the corners at The Milwaukee Mile.

Busch’s first-ever NASCAR victory came on July 1, 2000 at Milwaukee when he started on the pole and led 156 of 200 laps to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. Former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Greg Biffle was third, while a young Jamie McMurray finished 31st. Joe Ruttman, who is the brother of Troy Ruttman, the 1952 Indianapolis 500 winner, finished 24th. Troy Ruttman competed against Ward 10 times in the Indianapolis 500 during the 1950s and 1960s.

The No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion will again be serviced by crew chief Tony Gibson, who won at Pocono in June 1992 with Alan Kulwicki and in July 1998 with Jeff Gordon. He served as car chief during both events. He was not on the pit box last June when Busch scored the victory at Pocono, but lead race engineer Johnny Klausmeier called the shots. Both he and Gibson will be back for this go-around with Gibson back as crew chief.

Both Busch and Gibson are hoping that they can score another victory in the Overton’s 400 Sunday to gain more points as just five races remain after Pocono until the NASCAR playoffs begin.

 

KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

You’ve won three times at Pocono, but the 2007 win was so dominant. Can you describe that race?

“The win in 2007 with Penske Racing – that was the fastest car that I’ve ever driven. That car would turn, stick, drive down the straightaway – that car did everything. It didn’t have a single flaw. I knew how good that car was on the first lap of the race. I remember telling myself, ‘Don’t screw this up.’ I ran the rest of the race more nervous than I had in years prior. I’ve never dominated a race like that. We led 175 of 200 laps. That was, by far, the best car I have ever driven. It was a great race to show the balance of that team and the strength of where we were at that point. I think the 25 laps that we didn’t lead were from a bad pit stop at one point. My first win at Pocono in 2005 was pretty great, too. It’s fun to win at a racetrack that is so unique because of how different that track is compared to all the other oval tracks. Pocono is a little bit like Darlington in that all the corners are different, so you have to manage them the best that you can and not be perfect in one corner versus another.”

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you go to Pocono?

“How unique the place is. You drive in through the Tunnel Turn and that corner to me is one of the most unique corners of all the tracks that we go to. When you go to Pocono, the first thing you really think of is compromise – you have to juggle all three corners being different. It’s called the Tricky Triangle for a reason.”

Of the three turns, which is the most important to you and why? 

“It’s weird, I’ve had winning cars there a few different times and turn two always feels the best when my car has a chance to go to victory lane. But, I think turn three, if you are able to pass cars and maneuver around them, you’ve got to get a good run off turn three to be ready to pass them in turn one. All of them are important. You can’t exclude one from another.”

KEVIN HARVICK – 2017 Pocono II Race Advance

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will make his 34th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in Sunday’s Overton’s 400. Harvick has won on short tracks, intermediate tracks, road courses and superspeedways, but it’s Pocono’s unique three-turn circuit that continues to leave him puzzled.

The “Tricky Triangle” is one of only three racetracks where Harvick has yet to record a NASCAR Cup Series win. Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta are the other two.

Harvick is hoping it is the fuel mileage, engine efficiency and reliability delivered under the hood by Mobil 1 that should prove to be the biggest advantage for his team at the demanding three-turn, 2.5-mile, triangular racetrack. Mobil 1 touches every major moving part in SHR’s cars and that translates to better lap times.

After all, the last time Harvick drove a Ford Fusion with Mobil 1 on the hood, he raced his way to victory at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway – scoring his first Cup Series victory in 19 starts at the 1.99-mile road course.

The Bakersfield, California, native has run well at Pocono, scoring nine top-five finishes and 14 top-10s in his 33 career Cup Series starts, but has yet to reach victory lane in NASCAR’s top series. He seems to be getting close, however, as he’s scored runner-up finishes in three of his last six Cup Series starts at Pocono.

In August 2014, Harvick started sixth, led five laps and finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. by .228 of a second. Last June, he started fifth, led 39 laps and was runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. by 1.346 seconds.

In his most recent attempt, Harvick started 12th and nearly pulled off the victory in the closing laps with a heavily damaged motor after missing a shift on a late-race restart. He finished just .139 of a second behind race-winner Ryan Blaney.

Harvick does have a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Pocono, scoring the win from the pole position while driving for his own team on Aug. 7, 2011. He led 44 of 53 laps to beat Kyle Busch to the finish line by 1.140 seconds.

Twenty races into 2017, Harvick sits third in the Cup Series standings and trails leader Martin Truex Jr. by 97 points. He is also tied for sixth in Cup Series playoff points with eight to his credit with six races to go before the start of the 2017 playoffs.

While Harvick and the No. 4 team are virtually a lock to make the 16-driver field for the playoffs, gaining bonus points for additional stage and race wins is now their top priority through the next six races, starting this weekend at Pocono.

KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Fusion:

 

Does having qualifying on the same day as the race change anything for you?

“It does change the approach just because it is an impound race. All of the qualifying stuff that we have in our notebook is going to be different because it’ll be hard to achieve the balance that you normally are looking for on a race weekend for a qualifying setup – to run as fast as you can with every tool in the toolbox – to make the car handle. That’ll be interesting. We’ve done that at Charlotte and it went OK for us. I think, as you look at this race, it’s definitely had everybody thinking how you were going to get the balance right, and what you need to do from a race standpoint, to just qualifying. It’s definitely going to be different, but I like the schedule. For me, I know, sitting around for some of these night races, you have to get ready to race. But having these qualifying sessions will give everyone something to do from a competitor’s standpoint and also from a fan standpoint, to give them cars to see on the racetrack. I think the schedule is very intriguing and I’m excited to see how it works out.”

What makes coming to Pocono fun?

“When you come to Pocono, everything is fun. They make their events fun. It’s fun from the time you go into the racetrack. For a number of years, it was like, ‘Man, I have to go to Pocono this week.’ Then I had Keelan (son) and there is a ton to do. DeLana (wife) likes to bring Keelan to the racetrack, the waterparks, and we like to play golf, so this has definitely become one of our go-to events for the family.”

What was it like to be so close to winning at Pocono in June?

“The June Pocono race was probably our best race weekend we’ve had all year from start to finish – I think the speed of the car and just the flow of everything that had happened this year. We’ve had so much change and so much going on. Luckily, we have the same group of people but, with the switch to Ford, we’ve just now been to all the racetracks for the first time. So, we are really just trying to learn the new rules package, the new aero package, the new manufacturer and everything that goes with that. Every time we’ve been to a racetrack, it hasn’t been exactly smooth just for the fact that we’ve had to change so much in order to get where you want to be. We usually get where we want to be by the end of the weekend, but it’s been a lot of work for everybody to get there. But, Pocono was one of those places that we came to and the weekend was smooth. I think the way the circumstances kind of worked out there toward the end of the race, we had to pass quite a few cars and just ran out of time there. Ryan (Blaney) didn’t make any mistakes at the end. It was a good race and I think I’ve finished second three times at Pocono since we came to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. It was a track that I was never really that competitive at while I was at Richard Childers Racing. So, having those chances to win is a lot of fun because it’s a racetrack that I hadn’t had a lot of success at early in my career. To come back and be that competitive and to feel that we could win at any moment because we’ve run well enough at all of them, it’d be nice to check this one off the remaining list of three.”

DANICA PATRICK – 2017 Pocono II Race Advance

As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams return to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway this week for Sunday’s Overton’s 400, Danica Patrick and the No. 10 Code 3 Associates/One Cure Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) look to build on the momentum of recent finishes and score another solid finish at the “Tricky Triangle.”

Patrick enters the weekend at Pocono on the heels of three-straight top-15 finishes. She earned a 15th-place result at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, a 13th-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and took home an 11th-place effort last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Each of those results marked Patrick’s career-best NASCAR Cup Series finish at the respective track.

Now Patrick heads to the “Tricky Triangle,” where her track record appears less than stellar with finishes of 30th or worse in five of her nine starts there, but that statistic is a bit deceiving.

In her second race at the track in August 2013, she was running a respectable 18th when she was involved in a multicar accident in the Tunnel Turn and ended up 35th. She was poised for a solid top-20 finish before the incident.

In June 2014, Patrick was running second on lap 138 of 160, but she cut a left-front tire and hit the turn-three wall to end any chance of a good finish. She was scheduled to make another pit stop before the end of the race for a splash of fuel and, even though a top-10 was probably out of the question, a top-15 was what the team was aiming for when the accident occurred. She ended up 37th in the race, two laps down, after repairs.

Then, in June 2015, Patrick ran as high as sixth and was scored 11th when the No. 10 car made contact with the outside wall on lap 136. The subsequent damage caused the sheet metal to cut down the right-rear tire. As a result, Patrick spun in turn one and the car’s right- rear corner hit the wall. After sustaining another flat tire, Patrick completed the remaining laps and finished 37th.

When NASCAR Cup Series teams visited Pocono in June 2016, Patrick was relegated to a 32nd-place finish after midrace contact sent the car into the wall on the Long Pond straightaway. At the time of the incident, Patrick had been scored 16th. The damage forced the team to go to the garage to make substantial repairs before Patrick was able to rejoin the field.

Despite all of that rough luck at Pocono, Patrick has earned two 16th-place finishes at the track. The first came in August 2015 and the second earlier this season when the NASCAR Cup Series visited the track in June.

Now, as the No. 10 Code 3 Associates/One Cure Ford team heads back to Pocono, Patrick will be ready to capitalize on the momentum the team has built the last few weeks and earn a career-best mark at the track.

 

DANICA PATRICK, Driver of the No. 10 Code 3 Associates/One Cure Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

Which of the three turns at Pocono is your favorite? Which is most challenging?

“My favorite corner at Pocono is, honestly – it’s probably – turn one. You can make up a lot of ground if you’re good through there. It comes into a pretty good compression and you can drive off, down into the corner. If the car turns pretty well, you can pick up the throttle really hard. And while I like turn one, the most important corner is probably turn three, leading onto the front straightaway.”

What are your overall thoughts on Pocono?

“It’s a neat place, definitely a unique track. It’s just an odd place to set the car up because the corners are so different. If you are really good in turn one, then maybe two and three are a little off. Or if you’re good in three, maybe one and two are different. I will say that the straightaway is enormous. There’s a lot of distance between turns three and one.” 

Talk about the Tunnel Turn at Pocono and what makes it so tough.

“Well, the tunnel turn at Pocono is pretty flat. I think that’s really one of the big things that makes it so challenging. You need to carry a lot of speed and there’s not a lot of lifting that goes on. It’s flat, so I feel like that makes it harder and it really emphasizes issues with the car. And then, when there’s not banking to push the car into the track, then it’s really up to the driver to make sure you set the car right with the throttle, brake, and how you turn into the corner. All of those things make the Tunnel Turn tricky.”

CLINT BOWYER – 2017 Pocono II Race Advance

Clint Bowyer’s been racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for 12 years and admittedly he was lost last Friday.

“I was freaking out all day,” Bowyer said with a laugh. “I literally kept looking at my phone. I looked at it in the morning and I looked at it at about lunch. I was over at the lake this week with my family at a family vacation and I looked at my phone at lunch and I’m like, ‘This doesn’t feel right.’ I looked at it again at about 3 o’clock and I’m like, ‘It’s Friday. We’re missing something.’ ”

Bowyer’s discomfort came as NASCAR experimented with a shortened race-weekend schedule at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, giving drivers and teams Friday off, then combining practice, qualifying and the race on Saturday and Sunday.

NASCAR will stage another two-day format this weekend when the Cup series visits Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Drivers will practice on the “Tricky Triangle” Saturday, then qualify at 11:30 a.m. ET and race at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Watkins Glen (N.Y) International will implement a similar schedule for its event the following weekend.

Count Bowyer as a strong supporter of the new format, citing the demands on race teams to run 38 races each season, plus several midweek test sessions throughout the year.

“It is welcomed,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, they all need to be this way. There’s no reason to string them out three, four days – sometimes a week. We have events that are a week long or even longer – two weeks long at a racetrack. In today’s day and age, I just don’t see a need for it, especially when you can do it in two days like we’re doing this weekend. But, what a neat deal. I think it’s been 12 years I’ve been doing this and I’ve never been home on a Friday. There were actually people out. People went to dinner. There were normal, living things going on while I was still at home.”

Whether it’s a two- or three-day format, Bowyer knows the next few race weekends will be key to his 2017 season. He and his No. 14 Nature’s Bakery/Feeding America Ford Fusion team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) led by crew chief Mike “Buga” Bugarewicz are battling for one of the final berths in NASCAR’s 16-team playoffs. Only six races remain in the regular season before the playoffs begin Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.

After an accident in the closing laps of Sunday’s Brickyard 400 left him with a 30th-place finish, Bowyer arrives at Pocono 17th in the 16-driver playoff standings, just 33 points behind the cutoff for the final playoff spot. A win would secure a berth, but Bowyer knows that without a regular-season win, accumulating every available point is mandatory. He’s done a good job of earning points in 2017. The No. 14 team has scored the 11th-most points of any team. It’s a significant accomplishment for Bowyer and Bugarewicz in their first season together at SHR and first season with Ford Performance. The Roush-Yates-powered team has posted three second-place finishes and eight top-10s this season.

Pocono could be the track where Bowyer, an eight-time winner, visits victory lane for the first time in 2017. He’s earned two top-five finishes and nine top-10s in 23 starts at the 2.5-mile track. In June, Bowyer finished 17th after wall contact on lap 58 forced a trip to the pits for repairs. It appeared Bowyer had a top-10 finish in his sights before incurring damage.

“I thought we had a pretty good car on long runs at Pocono last time, but we got into the wall and that ruined our race,” he said. “We got a lap down but battled back. Our guys didn’t give up and we got an OK finish. ”

Until last week’s race, Bowyer has enjoyed a recent streak of success that includes second-place finishes at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

“We think we have to win now if we want to make the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve always thought that, but what happened at Indy makes us even more certain. Winning this weekend in Pocono would make the rest of the summer a lot more fun.”

 

CLINT BOWYER, Driver of the No. 14 Nature’s Bakery/Feeding America Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

How Much of NASCAR today is a team sport?

“It’s a total team effort. There is no ‘I’ in any organization or any number on any one of these cars. It’s a total team effort and, if any one driver thinks that they’re leading the charge any more than the other, I urge them to never forget the team that’s standing behind them.”

KURT BUSCH – 2017 Indianapolis Race Advance

Dale Jarrett was the first to do it in 1996. Jimmie Johnson did it in 2006. Jamie McMurray was the most recent to do it in 2010.

It is winning the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in the same season. And Kurt Busch, winner of this year’s Daytona 500 and driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing, is poised to become the fourth driver to double up as the 24th running of the Brickyard 400 takes place Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Busch won the season-opening Daytona 500 by leading the only lap the mattered – the last one. His single lap at the front of the field in NASCAR’s biggest race delivered his 29th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win and his first Daytona 500 victory in 17 tries. It was also his first win in a restrictor-plate race after 63 previous point-paying starts at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

Those numbers prove that perseverance pays, and as Busch gets set for his 17th start in the Brickyard 400, perseverance will again be needed.

Despite completing 92.1 percent of the laps available to him, Busch has only one top-five finish and five top-10s in his 16 previous Brickyard 400 starts. And of Busch’s 8,867 total laps led during his 17-year and counting NASCAR Cup Series career, only three have come at Indianapolis.

That doesn’t mean Busch hasn’t enjoyed success at Indianapolis.

In 2014, Busch stepped out from his stock-car norms and into the world of INDYCAR, competing in the 98th Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport. The first-time Indycar driver looked like a veteran on the historic, 2.5-mile rectangle, starting 12th and finishing sixth to claim rookie-of-the-year honors. And to add another degree of difficulty to the day, Busch did what only three other drivers had done before – perform The Double by racing in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway that evening.

More than 10 years before doing The Double, Busch secured a championship at Indianapolis. It was 2003 and Busch was selected to compete in the 12-driver International Race of Champions (IROC) for the first time in his career. IROC ran for 30 years and pitted race-winning and championship-winning drivers from all different motorsport disciplines in the same racecars to determine a best-of-the-best victor in a four-race series that began in February at Daytona and culminated in August at Indianapolis. Busch finished second at Daytona and then won the series’ next race at Talladega. He went on to finish third in July at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, and arrived at Indianapolis locked in a title battle with eventual five-time IROC champion Mark Martin. Busch finished fourth in the IROC finale while Martin finished fifth, giving Busch an 11-point edge over Martin and the IROC championship.

Those accolades bolster Busch’s chances at Indianapolis, a flat and fast track built for high-downforce Indycars that in May hosted its 101st Indianapolis 500.

That doesn’t mean big, heavy stock cars can’t navigate this hallowed ground. Speeds in qualifying for last year’s Brickyard 400 easily topped 180 mph, showcasing a driver’s will and tenacity alongside his crew’s ingenuity and attention to detail.

Tony Gibson, crew chief for Busch and the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation team, knows what it’s like when the driver connects with his racecar. Gibson was the car chief for Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports from 1999 through 2001. The powerhouse team won 16 races in those three years and clinched the 2001 NASCAR Cup Series championship. Among those wins was a Brickyard 400 triumph in 2001, where the chassis adjustments and shock and spring combinations created by renowned crew chief Ray Evernham were executed by Gibson.

With Gibson in his corner and Roush-Yates horsepower underneath the hood of his Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion, Busch is ready to double up by doubling over to kiss the bricks Sunday at Indianapolis.

 

KURT BUSCH, Driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

 

You’ve had success at Indianapolis, but not in NASCAR. What makes the track so difficult? 

“Indianapolis has been tough on me over the years. I don’t know what it is about it. The diamond-cut surface, the way that the asphalt is very fresh when we first get there and then how it glazes over and gets slick at the end – I’ve struggled with that over the years. Just got to pace ourselves and find the right combination on our Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford that will give us the grip once the track gets rubbered in.”

What makes Indy such an iconic venue?  

“Indy is Indy. It’s the coolest racetrack that we get to race on, other than Daytona. The history, the prestige, the value of Indianapolis – it is defined by the number of decades they have produced races there and the atmosphere. It’s very electric at Indianapolis. For me to actually get to run the Indy 500 in the month of May is a little different than when we race there in July because of the fact it is their backyard, it is their stage. Those Indiana natives love their track. What makes Indy special is the people.” 

You competed in the Indianapolis 500 once. Any chance you’ll do it again?  

“Possibly. I really enjoyed my time there. It was a great challenge, personally, and just the overall experience of going 230 mph in an open cockpit car was fun. The fun meter was pegged. The achievement of finishing sixth overall was exciting. But then there’s that 1,100 miles. I didn’t quite finish the Coke 600 that night due to an engine failure. That’s what would draw me back in – to try to get all 1,100 miles in.” 

How hard is it to drive a stock car at Indianapolis?  

“You’re asking the wrong guy about driving a stock car at Indy. I’ve struggled. I finished fifth my first time there and I’ve never been able to back that up. Then I go there for the first time in an Indy car and I finish sixth. I’m not really sure. The stock cars are tough in traffic. They always end up on the tight side. And you have to find that right restart lineup lane. Usually, the cars that win there, they’re the dominant type. They lead laps. They’re up front all day. I haven’t quite found that right combination yet, but another Brickyard 400 means another opportunity.”

 

COLE CUSTER – 2017 Indianapolis Race Advance

Event:               Lilly Diabetes 250 (Round 18 of 33)
Date:                 July 22, 2017
Location:          Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Layout:             2.5-mile rectangle

Cole Custer Notes of Interest 

 

  • The Lilly Diabetes 250 will mark Cole Custer’s 23rd career NASCAR XFINITY Series start and his first of any kind at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 
  • Custer has competed in six restrictor-plate races – three this season in the XFINITY Series – twice at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and once at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. He also competed once at each track in the Camping World Truck Series and once at Daytona in ARCA. His best Truck Series finish in a restrictor-plate race was 24th at Daytona (February 2016) and his best ARCA finish in a restrictor-plate race was 10th at Daytona (February 2016) after starting from the pole. 
  • Custer’s best finish in the 17 XFINITY Series races run this season is fourth, earned in the 11th event June 3 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. It was his ninth top-10 and third top-five and it equaled his career-best finish in 22 career XFINITY Series starts.
  • Custer’s best qualifying effort in the 17 XFINITY Series races run this season is third, earned in the seventh race of the season April 22 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Custer has 10 top-10 starts and three top-five starts this season.
  • Custer is third in the XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year standings, 61 points behind leader William Byron and one point behind second-place Daniel Hemric.
  • Custer has earned five Rookie of the Race awards this season. Rookie of the Race awards are given to the highest-finishing XFINITY Series rookie.
  • Custer is sixth in the XFINITY Series driver standings, 224 points behind series leader Elliot Sadler.
  • Custer has earned two top-five finishes, seven top-10s and has led 29 laps in the 2017 XFINITY Series season.

 

Cole Custer, Driver Q&A

 

What are your thoughts on running a restrictor-plate race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway? 

It’s definitely going to be a different challenge for our Haas Automation team. We really don’t know at all what it will do to the racing, but it will be interesting. Restrictor-plate racing is all about staying out of trouble and getting a solid finish. A win would be great, but a solid finish and staying out of trouble would be great, too” 

What are your expectations at Indianapolis, a track where you’ve never run before? 

Indy is one of the most difficult tracks you’ll go to and it will take some time to get used to. With this different aero package, I think it will make it a little easier on me, but it will still be a new challenge.” 

How will you prepare for the Lilly Diabetes 250? 

Mentally, I try and just watch as many races as I can at the track coming up and try and get an idea of what I need to do come race time. For Indy, because it’s always so hot, hydration will be the biggest factor on staying in good physical condition.”

 

Jeff Meendering, Crew Chief Q&A

 

Share your thoughts on running restrictor plates this weekend at Indianapolis.

“Indy should be a good race for the fans and a nerve-wracking race for the drivers and teams. Going into the weekend, we really don’t know what to expect. With a totally different rules package than we’ve run and limited practice, we’ll have to be prepared to go in several different directions. I have confidence in Cole and our team that we can get it figured out as quickly as any of our competitors.”