Hamlin watching: The No. 11 team thinks it will help in the long run for Denny Hamlin to watch from the pit box. “He said he learned more in the one hour of watching practice than he typically learns in three or four months of practice himself,” crew chief Darian Grubb said last week in Martinsville.
Big drop: Kurt Busch’s 37th-place finish Sunday dropped him from 13th to 19th in the standings. But he might rebound this week. He has won at TMS. And his week will start on a high note. He’s receiving a humanitarian award tonight at the track.
Baby, baby: Jimmie Johnson announced on Twitter this week that he and his wife, Chandra, are expecting their second child. The couple has a 2-year-old daughter.
Hot Hornish: Sam Hornish Jr. has a good history at TMS — he won three times in the IndyCar Series and has two top-10s in Nationwide. And he comes in with momentum. He’s been no worse than seventh (with a win and two runner-ups) in five races this year.
Cup entries: The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 has 10 Cup drivers in the field. Among them: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne, who tested at TMS last week.
Camping World Trucks
Only the second: Johnny Sauter is the second driver to win the first two races of a season in the truck series. Mark Martin also did it in 2006.
Familiar face: Bruce Cook, the crew chief for Ron Hornaday Jr. in 2011, will be on the pit box for him this week in Rockingham. Hornaday has not won there.
Points leader: Helio Castroneves owns the points lead thanks to two podium finishes to start the season. The finishes also gave him 108 top-5s, which leaves him 10th all time in IndyCar. He had been tied with Tony Kanaan and Gordon Johncock.
Pocono test: Will Power, Marco Andretti, Dario Franchitti and Simon Pagenaud were among the drivers scheduled to test at Pocono Raceway on Wednesday.
Kimball high: Charlie Kimball led a lap for only the second time in his career last week, and he is the only Chip Ganassi driver to lead a lap in the first two races this year.
2 Winners from the pole in a Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. Kasey Kahne did it in April 2006, and Jimmie Johnson did it in November.
They said it
“That’s a tough thing to try to set for myself, because in my heart and in my head, I want to go out there and win races. … I don’t want to waste Roger’s time. I don’t want to waste IZOD’s time, I don’t want to waste anybody’s time at this organization, to go out there and just go run around laps and try to learn. I want to go out there and compete right away.”
— IndyCar Series driver AJ Allmendinger, on expectations in his “second chance” driving for Roger Penske
Have more to add? News tip? Tell us
By now, it’s tough to catch Danica Patrick off guard with any question.
But there was one last week.
Did it enter her mind to let her boss, Tony Stewart, get in front of her in a battle for position late in last week’s race?
Her face said, “Huh?”
“No, we were racing for position, so it didn’t cross my mind to let him in,” she said. “I went underneath him to go by him. No, all that crossed my mind is be fair, give room and run hard. And if I get the spot, great. If I don’t, you lost it to a guy like Tony Stewart.
“But I’m out there to race, and I don’t think Tony would want me to lift.”
Patrick got her spot in the brief side-by-side with Stewart, who was having a bad day and wound up 17th.
But for Patrick, it was just part of another good day at the tiny paper clip of a track, where turn-to-turn contact is a given, and where even the best drivers can need years to get it right.
Instead, Patrick, making her first visit to Martinsville Speedway, finished 12th — and it might have been 11th or 10th if not for a bump out of the final turn from Brian Vickers that made her lose position in a battle with Kevin Harvick.
No matter. Her finish was better than the first Martinsville races for drivers such as Stewart (20th in 1999), Jimmie Johnson (35th in 2002), Rusty Wallace (15th in 1984), Dale Jarrett (14th in 1984), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (26th in 2000), Kyle Busch (39th in 2005) and Fred Lorenzen (24th in 1956).
It was an impressive performance out of what Stewart himself said could be an embarrassing weekend for Patrick. Even her crew chief, veteran Tony Gibson, was afraid.
“I figured if we could finish top-25 and be a couple of laps down, it would be a miracle,” he said. “I never dreamed this. … I knew she was capable of doing it, as far as speed and driving. To be able to go through all that beating and banging and survive and finish 12th, she did a great job.”
Patrick carried the flag for Stewart-Haas Racing. She was the team’s highest-finishing driver, ahead of Stewart’s 17th and Ryan Newman’s 31st.
It was a day to feel good about. Maybe even a little weird.
“Ryan had an issue, and he was really nice out there,” Patrick said. “There was one time he let me in when I was stuck up high, so that was really helpful of him. And I felt a little funny kind of racing really hard for position there with Tony at the end, and then to get in front of him.
“That was a little victory for me because he’s so good.”
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @calexmendez
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