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Sports Jeff Birchfield NASCAR/Racing

Johnson leads, but not much else is normal

May 1st, 2013 1:00 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Johnson leads, but not much else is normal

Already a quarter of the way over, very little has been predictable about the 2013 NASCAR season.
There is some familiarity with five-time champion Jimmie Johnson leading the point standings, but it’s unprecedented to have two top drivers penalized so harshly this early in the season.
Defending series champion Brad Keselowski is currently sixth in the points. However, he would rank second if not for the 25-point penalty given to his team following a rear-end infraction on his Ford at Texas.
It was only half the penalty handed out to Matt Kenseth following an engine rod being too light on his No. 20 Toyota at Kansas. Hit with a 50-point penalty, Kenseth is now 13th in the points, when he could rank as high as second.
Still, Kenseth leads such notables as Jeff Gordon (14th), Tony Stewart (21st) and Denny Hamlin (29th and still sidelined with a back injury) in the standings.
Stewart’s biggest highlights have been a couple of skirmishes. First, there was a dust-up with Joey Logano at California. Then he was engaged in a shouting match with Kurt Busch after Saturday’s race at Richmond.
On the track, there’s been little for the three-time champion to shout about. Stewart ended up 18th on Saturday, the eighth time in nine races he’s finished outside the top 10. For the season, he has a 21.1 average finish. At this same time last season, he already had two wins and was coming off a third-place finish at Richmond.
On the other end of the spectrum, Carl Edwards has bounced back from last season’s disappointment of missing the Chase to currently rank second in the points. His No. 99 has been the fastest of the Fords with one win and five top-10 finishes.
The two biggest surprises currently qualified for the Chase are Paul Menard (ninth) and Aric Almirola (11th). Menard, driving the No. 27 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, has four top-10 finishes and only one finish outside the top 20, and that was 21st at Daytona.
Almirola, in the famed No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, has three straight top-10 finishes. Like Menard, he has only one finish outside the top 20. That was a 37th-place finish at Bristol, the result of being caught up in an early accident.
Their performances have been impressive since the past two weeks have shown how deep the talent truly is in the Sprint Cup Series.
Juan Pablo Montoya likely would have won for the first time in four seasons if not for a late-race caution. With his struggles in NASCAR, it’s easy to forget what an accomplished driver Montoya is with victories in the Indianapolis 500, the Grand Prix of Monaco and the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Scott Speed, another Formula One turned NASCAR driver, showed off his versatility the week of the Kansas race. Speed won the Gold Medal in the Global Rallycross at X Games Brazil, beating such notables as Travis Pastrana, Tanner Foust and former Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice.
Speed, driving a Ford Fiesta, overtook Toomas Heikkinen of Finland on the final lap, calling it “easily the most fun I’ve ever had.”
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Rain played havoc with the X-DRL (Xtreme Drag Racing League) Thunder Valley Madness this past weekend at Bristol Dragway.
The competitors were able to get in qualifying on Friday, but elimination rounds were washed out Saturday before an official announcement of the race’s cancellation was made Sunday morning.
Frankie Taylor led Pro X-Treme qualifying with his Chevy Corvette blazing down the 1/8-mile in 3.646 seconds (209.07 mph).
Other top qualifiers were: Jim Laurita in Pro Nitrous 3.808 (194.07), Todd Moyer in Pro Turbo 3.913 (201.01) and Cary Goforth in Pro Stock 4.082 (176.67).
Street Fights return to Bristol Dragway on Thursday and the DER Bracket Series is scheduled to return May 10-11.
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Allen Johnson remains second in the NHRA Pro Stock point standings following last weekend’s Spring Nationals at Houston.
The Greeneville driver had the quickest pass of the event with a 6.566-second elapsed time (211.99 mph) in his first-round win over Roger Brogdon. However, a strong tire shake doomed his Dodge Avenger in a quarterfinal loss to Shane Gray.
“I didn’t back it down far enough and the track got hot and we didn’t adjust enough to it,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t get it back in gear after it shook or it would have been a good drag race because it looked like he did the same thing on the other side. But he just got his back in gear and I didn’t.”
Johnson and the team will try to get back on the winner’s stage this weekend at the Southern Nationals in Atlanta.
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Racing is scheduled to return to both Kingsport Speedway and Volunteer Speedway this weekend after a couple of weeks off.
Johnson City driver Zeke Shell is certainly ready to get back on track after wins in each of the previous two Kingsport races. Heading into Friday’s action, there are four drivers within eight points in the Late Model Stock standings. Chad Finchum of Knoxville leads with 158 points, followed by Shell and Daniel Pope II of Smyrna tied for second at 153 points. Virginia driver Kres VanDyke is fourth at 150 points.
A $3,000-to-win Super Late Model feature for the Southern Regional Racing Series headlines Saturday’s action at Volunteer Speedway. The program also includes features for the Pro Late Model, Modified Hobby and Mini Stock divisions.
It will be the first race on the 4/10-mile dirt track since April 6 when Tim Byrd of Jonesborough won the Walter Ball Memorial.

Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at jbirchfield@johnsoncitypress.com.

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