WAITING OUT WET WEATHER IN ‘DEGA: Three Camry drivers recorded top-10 finishes in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) race at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway following a near four-hour rain delay. Matt Kenseth (eighth) led a race-high 142 laps (of 192) and Toyota team owner Michael Waltrip (fourth) was the first Camry driver to the finish line, while his Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR) teammate Martin Truex Jr. took seventh on Sunday. Waltrip’s result was his first top-five performance since the 2008 season when he finished runner-up at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Both Truex, who started second, and Bobby Labonte led five laps apiece on the 2.66-mile track. In Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) event, Camry drivers Parker Kligerman (sixth) and Jason White (eighth) recorded top-10 results following a more than three hour delay for precipitation.
BACK IN THE SADDLE: Toyota driver Denny Hamlin returned to the Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) No. 11 Camry at Talladega following an absence for a back injury suffered at California’s Auto Club Speedway in March. During the first caution of the race, Hamlin was replaced by Brian Vickers on lap 25 in a planned swap, which allowed Hamlin to collect points for the event and avoid the ‘big ones’ Talladega is known for. Vickers quickly surged to as high as seventh, but was collected in a 16-car accident on lap 42 and was relegated to a 34th-place finish after spending time in the garage for repairs.
DENNY AT DARLINGTON: Camry driver Hamlin is expected to run the full NSCS event at South Carolina’s Darlington Raceway, a facility where the JGR driver has experienced considerable success. In 14 starts at ‘The Lady in Black’ in both the NSCS and NNS, Hamlin has totaled four wins on the 1.366-mile track. After missing four races to allow his back to heal, the Darlington race will begin at 16-event stretch where the Camry driver will need to amass wins and move into the top-20 in points to earn a ‘wild card’ berth for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Hamlin, who has made the Chase each year his has competed in the Cup Series, currently sits 31st in the standings — 76 points behind 20th place.
LOOKING FOR HIS FIRST: In the midst of a string of impressive performances, Kenseth goes into Darlington looking for his first NSCS win at the intermediate track. The 2003 NSCS champion has claimed three Nationwide Series victories in South Carolina and has a best finish of third in the Cup Series at Darlington. In his first season with JGR, Kenseth has recorded impressive results and consistency. He has two wins and two poles in 2013 and has finished 14th or better in eight-of-10 races. The Wisconsin-native has also led laps in eight races — to total 769 circuits led, the most in the NSCS — and has led the most laps in each of the three most recent NSCS races. Overall, the three JGR entries have led more NSCS laps than the other two manufacturers combined (1,012 laps) with 1,395 circuits led.
MARK’S WINNING WAYS: Camry driver Mark Martin has a history of success at Darlington dating back to a weekend sweep at the track in 1993 when he claimed both NSCS and NNS victories. Martin went on to record seven additional NNS wins in Darlington and claimed his second NSCS victory in South Carolina 16 years later in 2009. In 46 NSCS starts in South Carolina, Martin has two wins, 17 top-five results and 26 top-10 finishes. He has led 801 laps on the 1.366-mile track. Martin’s eight NNS wins and eight NNS poles are track records at Darlington.
WOOD’S WAY HOME: As NASCAR returns to South Carolina, the race weekend serves as a homecoming for Scott Wood, the gas man for Hamlin and the No. 11 Camry team. Wood is a native of Liberty, S.C., and made his way to NASCAR after playing collegiate football at Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa State College) and professionally in Bergamo, Italy. In addition to serving as the gas man for Hamlin, the 51-year-old crew member will also gas up Vickers in the NNS and builds rear suspensions for all three JGR NSCS entries. Wood has been a part of numerous race wins, and also helped the No. 11 crew win back-to-back Sprint Pit Crew Challenge contests (2011-2011).
ROOKIE MAKING A RUN: After a 13th-place result in Talladega, Camry driver Alex Bowman is now the highest-ranked rookie in the NNS standings in ninth-place. In his first full season in the NNS, the 20-year-old driver has finished 14th or better in six-of-eight races in pursuit of Rookie of the Year honors, and he also claimed the pole position at Texas Motor Speedway in April. Prior to competing full-time in the Nationwide Series, Bowman claimed Rookie of the Year honors in the ARCA Racing Series (2012) and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (2011).
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS)
Through 10 races in 2013, Clint Bowyer (fourth), Kyle Busch (ninth) and Matt Kenseth (11th) currently rank in the top-12 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) point standings
Brett Griffin, the spotter for Clint Bowyer in the NSCS and Elliott Sadler in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, is a native of Pageland, S.C.
Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch (2008) and Denny Hamlin (2010) have recorded Camry victories at Darlington
Camry drivers have led 1,791 laps (of 3,182) in NSCS competition — more than 56 percent of the total laps this year.
CLINT BOWYER, No. 15 RK Motors Charlotte Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
Is Darlington a track you enjoy visiting? “Darlington — it’s awesome. You run the outside. I try to make my car work on the bottom and it just doesn’t — it’s amazing how that works. Cool race track — very, very unique. Very demanding, challenging race track — one that I’ve actually struggled at a little bit. But, the way we’ve been running, it’s exciting to get there and who knows — hopefully, we can get our first win there. Just a tough race track, man. I’m telling you the name speaks for itself.”
How much credit do you give your mom for what you have achieved? “Oh, Mom — everything. She’s been with me and is usually at every race track. Definitely be there this weekend. It’s always fun to have her here. I’m telling you, she’s a racer. She wants to win and she’s going to tell you, ‘You’re doing wrong — shape up,’ when you need it and she’s going to tell you, ‘Proud of you,’ and, ‘You did a good job,’ when she’s proud of you. Just a neat lady and we all enjoy her.”
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 SportClips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What do you need to do to make the Chase? “There is a formula. When this happened and we started figuring things out of missing races, if we just did what we did last year we would make it. But nothing is a given. As much as I like to say that I’m going to win two, three, four races before the Chase and we’ve done it numerous years, it’s no given. We have to just treat it like it’s the last chance. It’s game seven every single week realistically for us. We know realistically if we win two races, I’m going to find it very hard to believe that we won’t be part of the Chase. I don’t think anyone that has won two has not made it, so usually if you’ve won two you’re running pretty well and more than likely that will put us in the top-20.”
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
Are you excited to get back to Darlington? “Oh, I can’t wait. I love it — that’s my favorite race track. Last year, felt like we had a shot at winning. Fuel mileage got us and we ran fifth. Led a bunch of laps there and we’ve been so close to victory. I think this is the year we’re going to get it done. We tire tested there and the car felt phenomenal. I feel really, really good about it and I’m looking forward it.”
NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS)
After eight race in 2013, Parker Kligerman (fourth), Elliott Sadler (fifth), Brian Vickers (eighth) and Alex Bowman (ninth) rank in the top-10 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) point standings
Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has won three straight NNS races at Darlington with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch winning in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and former Camry driver Joey Logano winning in 2012
Matt Kenseth will make his fourth start of the season in the NNS for JGR in the Darlington race
Toyota drivers have led 721 laps (of 1,530) this year — more than 47 percent of this season’s NNS laps.
PARKER KLIGERMAN, No. 77 Toyota Camry, Kyle Busch Motorsports
Do you enjoy racing at Darlington? “I really love Darlington. I think it’s one of the coolest and most unique tracks that we go to. I like unique. I really enjoy it and I think it’s got a lot of history. It puts on a great race and as drivers and crews and race teams it puts a lot of emphasis on us to really come there with a great package and figure it out because it is the ‘Lady in Black’ and it will bite you if you are not right.”
ELLIOTT SADLER, No. 11 OneMain Financial Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Do drivers worry about going to Darlington? “I love that race track honestly. It’s so fast and it’s so much fun. It was actually the one track I was probably scared of the most before I ever went to it and it’s probably the track that I love the most now that I’ve been there. So, it’s funny to go from one side of it being scared to death of it before you get there to now loving it because it’s such a driver’s race track. You can move your car and do different things and it’s so fast running up against the wall. The speed sensation there is very, very high. Great place to race and a lot of history there and a place, man, we would love to win. I should’ve had the win there last year. Got wrecked on the last lap. Not that any track ever owes you anything, but it would be cool to get back there and be in the title hunt to try to win the thing.”
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS)
After four races this season, Matt Crafton leads the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) standings by 13 points over his teammate Johnny Sauter in second-place
Darrell Wallace Jr. (eighth) and Joey Coulter (ninth) also rank in the top-10
ThorSport Racing has tallied three wins in four races to start the season
Johnny Sauter won at Daytona International Speedway and Martinsville Speedway in February and April, respectively
Matt Crafton was victorious at Kansas Speedway in April
The NCWTS will enjoy one more week off before returning to action at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday, May 17.