This Week in NASCAR

March 22nd 2012

By Travis Barend (@TracksideTravis)

It's been a wild few days in the world of NASCAR and with the Bristol Motor Speedway race now in the books and a race at Auto Club Speedway coming up this weekend, there's an abundance to focus on.

With Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team making one last appeal, a possibility of Bristol Motor Speedway undergoing a re-configuration and other team-related news taking place, the week has been a busy one for the folks in NASCAR.

The following is a look back at the week that was and a preview of what's to come 'This Week in NASCAR'

Race Recaps: Bristol

After four races in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, four different manufacturers have won a race.

In Daytona it was a Ford, in Phoenix it was a Toyota, in Las Vegas it was a Chevrolet and this past weekend in Bristol it was Brad Keselowski in his Penske Racing Dodge.

Image Courtesy of NASCARmedia.com

Keselowski, who won last August's Bristol race, took the checkered flag in the Food City 500 after holding off Matt Kenseth through the final laps and a final restart.

After being involved in an early incident that claimed the cars of Marcos Ambrose, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Regan Smith, Keselowski recovered after receiving very little damage and worked his way to the front to lead the majority of the laps – 232 laps total.

Kenseth finished the 500 lap race at the half mile short track in second position. The three Michael Waltrip Racing cars took the remainder of the top five with Martin Truex Jr. finishing in third position, Clint Bowyer in fourth and Brian Vickers finishing fifth after making his return to the Sprint Cup Series.

There were 13 lead changes among seven different drivers and five cautions for 49 laps.

Images Courtesy of NASCARmedia.com

Moving to the Nationwide Series, one interesting stat has been noticeable this year. After four Nationwide Series races in the 2012 season, no Sprint Cup Series regulars have taken the victory in NASCAR's second tier series.

Image Courtesy of NASCARmedia.com

This weekend, it was Elliott Sadler who continued the streak, as he scored his second Nationwide Series win of the 2012 season. Sadler pulled away from Kasey Kahne and the remainder of the pack on a restart after staying out while many drivers pitted under the caution.

Kahne finished the day in the second position with Brad Keselowski finishing in third. Joey Logano finished in fourth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fifth.

There were five lead changes among five different drivers and four cautions for 30 laps in the Nationwide Series race at the World's Fastest Half Mile.

Images Courtesy of NASCARmedia.com

Jimmie Johnson's penalties have been reduced drastically

Perhaps the biggest news item this past week was the decision made by Chief Appellate Officer John Middlebrook concerning the appeal of Jimmie Johnson's #48 team.

It was announced on Tuesday afternoon that all suspensions for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec would be overturned, while all driver and owner's points penalties would be rescinded.

In addition, it was announced that both Malec and Knaus would remain on probation until May 9th. Knaus' $100,000 fine will remain as well.

"I'm glad this is over," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "I appreciate the fact that we had the opportunity to present all the facts. I'm happy with the outcome to see the points reinstated and Chad reinstated."

"I would have liked to have the fine gone too because I think there was no reason for any kind of penalty."

Knaus also indicated his displeasure with the fine.

"Obviously we're not happy with the fine – that's an awful lot of money for something that was obviously proved to be OK," Knaus said. "So that hurts a little bit. But it's not about vindication. It's over with. It's time to move on."

"We respect [Middlebrook's] decision," NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. "We believe in this process. … I don't think we made any mistakes. Our inspection process speaks for itself. It has worked very, very well in the garage for many years and it will work for many years to come."

Johnson is now scored as 11th place in the championship standings.

Bruton Smith might make changes to Bristol

Burton Smith, owner of Bristol Motor Speedway and Speedway Motorsports Incorporated, told the Associated Press on Monday that he is considering $1 million worth of changes to the track in order to return it back to its old configuration.

The consideration comes after the recent decline in attendance at the half mile track along with recent complaints by many fans stating that the racing isn't as good as it used to be.

"We are going to take a very hard look at it this week," Smith told The Associated Press on Monday. "We have everything in our computers that shows us what the track used to be and what it is now, and we started working on that last night. I'll have an answer for you next week on if we'll alter the track."

Smith states that it is all about what the fans would like to see in the future of the SMI track.

"I want to be sure that the fans like what they see," Smith said. "If the fans like three abreast through the turns, we do nothing. If they don't, then we'll alter the track. The fans vote is the most important thing."

 "If I am going to do anything, I am going to guarantee we are going to do it before August."

Mac Tools partners with Marcos Ambrose

This past weekend, Marcos Ambrose wheeled the #9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford around Bristol Motor Speedway with the support of Mac Tools as a sponsor.

The race at Thunder Valley marked the beginning of a four race deal that was announced between the company and team.

It was announced last week that Mac Tools will be branded on the #9 Ford Fusion in four Sprint Cup Series races this season. After the Bristol race that kicked off the partnership, the deal will continue into Kentucky in June, Richmond in September and Texas in November.

"Mac Tools has been an iconic brand in NASCAR for many years and I am honored to have them on my car in select races throughout the year," said Ambrose.

"Mac Tools is excited about this opportunity with Richard Petty Motorsports and Marcos Ambrose. We will use these four races as a platform to drive our brand, our new products and to engage with Mac Tools Distributors, technicians and fans. It also serves as a platform to increase awareness for the opportunity to own a Mac Tools Franchise," said Brett Shaw, president of Mac Tools. "All of our distributors' and employees take great pride in this opportunity and look forward to the number 9 Mac Tools Ford Fusion in victory lane."

Ambrose was involved in an early crash last weekend in Bristol and finished 36th.

Danica Patrick will compete in the Prelude to the Dream

Image Courtesy of preludetothedream.org

Danica Patrick will compete in Tony Stewart's Prelude to the Dream Late Model charity event – an event that has become quite popular over the years at Stewart's Eldora Speedway.

It was announced last week that Patrick will compete in the June 6th dirt race, which will mark as only her second time driving on dirt. When was the other time? It was when she was 14 years old in a go-kart.

The event over the years has included NASCAR drivers, NHRA drivers and many other drivers in other forms of motorsports.

Other drivers that have committed to the event so far include Ryan Newman, Kenny Wallace, Bobby Labonte, Ty Dillon and Aric Almirola.

Tommy Baldwin Racing gets an eight-race sponsorship deal

Tommy Baldwin Racing has announced a new sponsorship deal for their NASCAR Sprint Cup Series operation.

It was announced last week that TBR will team up with SealWrap in an eight-race partnership on the number 36 car with Dave Blaney behind the wheel.

SealWrap expressed their enthusiasm about the relationship with the organization.

 "We are excited about the opportunities TBR have given us to present our products on such a grand stage as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series," said Welch and Wilson Motorsports, the parent company of SealWrap.

The next race on the schedule for the partnership in the series is at Richmond in April, followed by Darlington in May, Kentucky in June, Indy in July, Bristol in August and Chicago and New Hampshire in September.

Blaney debuted the #36 SealWrap/Window Wax Chevrolet last weekend at Bristol.

This season, the company has teamed up with Ryan Blaney as well. They will sponsor Dave Blaney's son in six Nationwide Series races this season, beginning with the Richmond race in April.

The #49 team announces a nine-race sponsor

It was announced that the Robinson Blakeney Racing Team has partnered with JPO Absorbents for a nine-race sponsorship deal that commenced last weekend at Bristol.

JPO Absorbents, formerly known as Green Stuff Sales & Supply, will continue its theme of "Saving the Environment One Cleanup at a Time" throughout the 2012 NASCAR season.

The team, with driver JJ Yeley, scored a 30th place finish last weekend. The company was also featured on Kevin Lepage's car in the Nationwide Series race at Bristol. That team finished 31st.

Race Previews: Auto Club Speedway

It's back to the west coast for the teams of NASCAR's top two series.

While the Camping World Truck Series has yet another week off before returning to Martinsville next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will return to Auto Club Speedway for another visit to the two mile race track.

With four different races taking place this season for both of the series at four different types of racetracks, the streak of variety will continue this weekend – at least if you ask some of the competitors.

Some may say the California track is very similar to a Las Vegas style racetrack, but for many people, there are many variances.  With flat banking and long straightaways, the track can be a much different animal for the drivers. All of the teams will certainly be tested yet again as the variation in race tracks continues while the season gains momentum.

Last season, it was Kevin Harvick who scored the victory at the speedway in the Sprint Cup Series. Kyle Busch took home the trophy on Saturday in the Nationwide Series race last year.

This season, it's wide open.  With 46 Sprint Cup cars on the entry list for Sunday and 43 cars on the Nationwide Series entry list, many questions come to mind. Which manufacturer will capture their second Sprint Cup Series victory of the season? Will a Sprint Cup Series regular win in the Nationwide Series this weekend? And will fuel injection be a factor again?

The track time starts up this Friday with practice and qualifying, which will lead up to all the racing excitement. Saturday's Nationwide Series Royal Purple 300 will take place at 5 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN. FOX will carry all the action for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time.