The Frontstretch Newsletter: SPECIAL EDITION, March 6th, 2010

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Mar 6, 2010, 2:39:55 AM3/6/10
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THE FRONTSTRETCH NEWSLETTER
Presented by Frontstretch.com
The Best Seat at the Track, The Best View on the Net!
March 6th, 2010
Volume IV, Edition XXXIX
 
DON'T FORGET THE FRONTSTRETCH LIVE BLOG THIS SUNDAY!

After the two-race West Coast swing, the Sprint Cup Series returns to the Southeast this weekend.  Atlanta Motor Speedway typically holds excellent races, filled with multiple grooves that allow drivers to steer their cars into whatever line suits them best.  The Kobalt Tools 500 is sure to be a very competitive event, full of lead changes and constant battles for position throughout the pack on the 1.5-mile oval.
 
Can't get to a television to watch the race?  Or are you just sick of what you're hearing? Well, why don't you watch the race a different way - by joining some of your favorite Frontstretch writers for commentary, opinions, polls, and all kinds of other inside information you just can't get anywhere else as you follow the race LIVE from your computer.  The action starts at 12:45 PM EST on Sunday, so feel free to drop on by.  And remember, viewer posts are always welcome, so don't be shy -- participate!

Top News
by Tom Bowles

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Takes Atlanta Pole

Last week, NASCAR's Most Popular Driver spent all day trying not to get lapped by the leader.

Sunday, he'll be coming to the green flag simply trying not to lose the lead.

Earnhardt won the pole for the first time in nearly two years at Atlanta, clocking in with a time of 28.761 seconds (192.761 miles an hour) for the Kobalt Tools 500. It'll be the first time since April 2008 he'll start a race up front, leaving the 35-year-old brimming with confidence after his run.

"I'm just hoping to see this type of difference over on the car on Sunday," he said. "I think we will. It's just a matter of time."

Junior led the way for another strong pole session for Hendrick, as teammates Mark Martin (4th) and Jeff Gordon (5th) qualified within the top 5. Hendrick satellite car Ryan Newman will also start a strong seventh.

Joining Earnhardt outside the front row will be Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch. Juan Pablo Montoya recovered from his Sunday wreck to post a third-fastest time, while Kasey Kahne (6th), Elliott Sadler, David Reutimann, and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 10.

Have news for Tom and the Frontstretch?  Don't hesitate to let us know; email us at ashl...@mail.com with a promising lead or tip.

Talk From The Track
by Doug Turnbull

Hamlin and Ambrose looking past poor starts

Denny Hamlin and Marcos Ambrose have not had much to grin about this season. Hamlin, considered a top candidate to unseat four-time defending Cup champ Jimmie Johnson after a strong 2009 campaign, has a best finish of 17th at Daytona, still without a top 15 finish all year. But although he sits 21st in points, he is stern, but not discouraged about what the rest of the season may hold.

“We just need to bring better cars to the racetrack,” he tells Frontstretch.com. “We’re going to steadily improve our cars as the year goes on. We tend to be slow starters, it seems like.”

Ambrose’s No. 47 team has more reason to worry, as they sit near the bottom of the top 35 in points, reeling from back-to-back engine failures in the season’s first two races.

Ambrose says the team’s strategy this weekend in Atlanta, while slightly more cautions, has not changed that much.

“It’s really no drama," he claimed. "If we do our job the right way, if we execute well, the points will take care of themselves.”

In Friday’s opening practice, Hamlin timed in 6th fastest and Ambrose clocked a time good for 12th. But while Ambrose matched his practice time, Hamlin slipped a bit, and will start Sunday's race in 20th position.

Steve Wallace not ruling out rumored Cup debut


While all young NASCAR drivers have their sights set on an eventual Sprint Cup emergence, a report earlier in the week about Steve Wallace and his dad’s Rusty Wallace Racing team making the big leap wound up false. But while the funding isn't yet in place, Wallace says Cup starts may soon be on his horizon after all.

“We’re sure thinking about it," he said. "We don’t have anything set and done yet. [Last week’s report] might have been a little bit misleading, but we’re definitely trying to put some stuff together and whether it happens or not, we don’t know, but we’re definitely thinking about it.”

Wallace has five straight top 10s in the Nationwide Series dating back to late last season and sits 6th in points, a sign the 5th-year NNS driver is finally gaining the consistency to make a run for a championship. For now, he's making his Truck Series debut, racing the No. 15 Red Top Auto Auction Toyota for Billy Ballew Motorsports this weekend.

Benson’s NASCAR future still uncertain

2008 Camping World Truck Series champ Johnny Benson strolled briskly behind pit road Friday afternoon, sporting regular clothes with no emblem, looking more like a media member than a racing ace. After his championship team at Bill Davis Racing dissolved and sponsorship never materialized for the veteran in 2009 at Red Horse Racing, Benson has been without a ride. After running well for the No. 95 Team Gill Racing team in Daytona, fellow veteran Geoff Bodine is behind the wheel at AMS.

“There’s been a lot of questions about the No. 95 and Danny Gill. Geoff was always scheduled to run here," he said. "I’m trying to help some other teams and we’re hoping to do some other stuff.”

Benson says he is not frustrated by the fact that he is a past champion of the series without a ride, because he understands that the sport is now for younger drivers – especially ones who have money. One such hot shoe is Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Tayler Malsam, whom Benson is assisting this weekend. Benson was tentatively tabbed to run for KBM and says he still could, but sponsorship has failed to materialize as of yet.

Said, Cook and Bliss just riding the wave for now

On the “other side” of the garage these first few races of 2010 are three drivers whose teams are in similar situations. All veterans, Boris Said, Terry Cook, and Mike Bliss find themselves in a difficult position where funding wholly determines which races they run the distance in and which ones they park early.

Bliss has had funding on the No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevy from Wave Energy drink and is running the distance in those races, but since only half the races are funded by either Wave or other companies, he is realistic that he may have to begin start and parking. He says that he has no idea what Baldwin will choose to do in those races and that he will simply do what he is told. His start to the season has seen his Chevy show some speed, but the finishes have not backed that up after crashing in two of the first three events.

Boris Said’s No. 26 Latitude 43 Motorsports Ford team, which bought the owner points from the now-defunct Roush Fenway No. 26 entry, is also locked into the first five races. While the team DNF’d at both California and Talladega, Said says Sunday’s race in Atlanta should be different.

“This weekend, we are planning on running the whole race. We’ve got a motor to run the whole race.”

Said also says that the team’s future races depend solely on sponsorship. Finally, Terry Cook, technically signed up to run for Rookie of the Year honors, has failed to qualify for three races in the No. 46 Whitney Motorsports Dodge. When asked if he would start and park his unsponsored entry if he made a race this year, he shrugged and said he would only do as he was directed.

In Case You Missed It - Breaking News Box
by Tom Bowles

Not checking out the main page every day? Well then you missed these Breaking News Blurbs Doug posted while at the track ...

Keyed Up and Key Motorsports split

If missing the first three races to date was not enough drama for the No. 90 Keyed Up Motorsports Chevy team and Casey Mears, organizational upheaval may tip the scales. A member with the team tells Frontstretch.com that Raymond Key’s Cup operation, originally formed with ties to Curtis Key’s teams in the Nationwide and Truck Series, has become its own entity. As of Monday, the team began a move into Tommy Baldwin Racing’s old shop while planning to continue trying to qualify on Cup races. However, if sponsorship for the team fails to pan out, Keyed-Up may vie for a partial schedule similar to that of the Wood Brothers and only run about 12 races the rest of the year.

Wood Brothers running FR9 for now, Roush says no big problems with new motor

Ford’s new FR9 motor has not made a speedy entrance to the Sprint Cup Series, mainly because the Ford teams need adequate supplies from the engine parts vendors and not because of performance problems, says team owner Jack Roush. Claiming the engine will perform well over the long-term, he still expects the new design to be “the Ford engine of the future” and fully in use by the end of 2010.

While his four Ford teams are not running the revamped engine, Roush revealed that the Wood Brothers Ford team will run the FR9 this weekend at Atlanta and in April at Texas. Beyond that, either Roush nor Ford officials have announced a set schedule for full or future implementation of the power plants.

Crawford says truck team is 'close' on sponsorship

While never a standout in the Camping World Truck Series, Rick Crawford has experienced moderate success over his long career in NASCAR’s third-tier. After losing sponsorship at the end of 2009, his Circle Bar Racing team finds itself on the ropes, wondering how many races the future may hold. The veteran Crawford, though, remains optimistic a deal is imminent.

“I would say we’re pretty close on signing a sponsor for the 2010 season and 2011 and beyond. [Not starting 2010 with a sponsor] was a matter of losing a sponsor late last year and [the prospective sponsor] getting its marketing efforts done. We’ve got the contracts ready; we’re waiting to get that signed.”

Crawford started 2010 with a DNF at Daytona, placing 28th.

Can't find the Breaking News Box? Simple: Go to www.frontstretch.com and look for it on the right-hand side of the page. It's the only way for you to find up-to-the-minute information while we're at the track ... or breaking a big story during the week! Just another reason why you've got to make frontstretch one of your daily website visits for all things NASCAR. Doug will be breaking stories all day Saturday ... so be sure to check it out!

It's Frontstretch Podcast Time!

Don't forget about Tom Bowles and Matt Taliaferro's Athlon / Frontstretch Podcast, sponsored this season by Wrigley's! Check out the archive by clicking here, and look for the newest edition to head your way sometime later this week! Of course, if all else fails, you can always listen to us on iTunes for FREE! Search for our weekly show under "Athlon."

Blue Smoke And Burnt Rubber - Now For Sale!

Did you miss S.D. Grady’s racing mystery Blue Smoke and Burnt Rubber last year?  Not to worry! The entire story is now available in print at Lulu.com

Lady Luck keeps haunting the teams of Van Lytton Racing.  However, it’s not the kind of luck that lands you in Victory Lane.  When somebody is caught tampering with the fuel during a race, it becomes clear, Lady Luck is having more than a little help. 
Chris Weaver, a lowly RV driver for Van Lytton Racing, takes us from track to track on the Grand Stock Car Association circuit while the FBI helps to unravel this deadly mystery.

Buy the book today!  Visit Lulu.com for details.

TODAY ON THE FRONTSTRETCH:

Keyed Up Motorsports And Mears Face Uphill Climb In Cup Ranks
by Doug Turnbull

FRONTSTRETCH TRIVIA:

Q. Who is the lone active NASCAR driver to have his last career Cup win come at Atlanta Motor Speedway? Here's a hint: he's now a full-time driver in the Nationwide Series.

Check back Monday for the answer, here in the Frontstretch Newsletter!
 
Frontstretch Trivia Guarantee: If we mess up, you get the shirt off our backs!  If we've provided an incorrect answer to the Frontstretch Trivia question, be the first to email the corrected trivia answer to tri...@frontstretch.com and we'll send you a Frontstretch T-Shirt ... FREE!
 
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Coming Monday in the Frontstretch Newsletter:
-- Kobalt Tools 500 Recap by TBA
-- Big Six:  Kobalt Tools 500 by TBA
-- Links to your favorite Frontstretch articles, Stat of the Week and more!
 
Monday on the Frontstretch:

The Cool Down Lap by Doug Turnbull
We'll have a commentary article on the weekend's biggest story ready to go bright and early Monday morning.
 
Matt McLaughlin's Thinkin' Out Loud:  Kobalt Tools 500 by Matt McLaughlin
Matt will be here with his overall thoughts about the action this weekend in Atlanta.
 
Holding a Pretty Wheel by Amy Henderson
Amy will be back with another commentary sure to make you sit up and take notice.
 
Running Their Mouth: Kobalt Tools 500 by Summer Dreyer
What's that you heard last weekend at Las Vegas?  Summer brings you the most interesting, unusual, and downright crazy quotes to come from the drivers after Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500.

Bubble Breakdown: Kobalt Tools 500 by Brock Beard
Want to know how some of the teams a little bit further down the order did in the Kobalt Tools 500?  Brock has all you need to know in the next edition of the Bubble Breakdown.

Tracking The Trucks: E-Z-GO 200 by Beth Lunkenheimer
Beth will have all the post-race analysis from Saturday's second race of the CWTS season.
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