Inside Motorsports

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Petty cars show promise with strong runs

jutter@charlotteobserver.comApril 2, 2014 

  • Next Race

    Duck Commander 500

    Where: Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas

    When: 3 p.m. Sunday

    TV: Fox

    Radio: Performance Racing Network

    Last year’s winner: Kyle Busch

— Richard Petty Motorsports registered a significant milestone last weekend in the Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway when it had both of its drivers finish among the top 10 for the second time in three races.

It was just the fourth time Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola had accomplished that feat since June 2012.

For RPM, it has been hailed as a sign the organization is heading in the right direction and capable of competing with some of NASCAR top teams on a regular basis.

It is a very important benchmark for RPM, but it is just as important for NASCAR.

Certainly an organization whose namesake features one of the most recognizable and successful in the sport – Richard Petty – is going to draw attention when it’s successful, particularly if it has struggled during recent seasons.

But forget for the moment the name on the sign outside the team shop.

It is extremely important for the long-term viability of NASCAR’s premier series to have more organizations that can compete with Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing on a regular basis, not less.

Already this season we have seen Stewart-Haas Racing produce two of the first six race winners.

RPM, based upon its performance this season, doesn’t seem very far away from reaching Victory Lane, which – thanks to NASCAR’s new championship format – all but carries a chance to compete for the series championship as well.

That kind of competition – among a growing number of racing organizations – is just as important to the health of the sport as a myriad of different race winners.

It’s one thing for NASCAR to say it wants to see all teams have the chance to be competitive. It’s far more relevant to see the results in practical effect.

Teams often talk about the “box” NASCAR confines them to in regards to the areas on which they can work on the car.

One box that definitely needs no boundaries is the one holding the teams which can compete for wins. The larger that box grows, the more everyone wins.

Notes

There are six. Do I hear seven? Kurt Busch’s victory Sunday at Martinsville, Va., gave the Cup series six drivers win the season’s first six races.

Why stop there?

The list of who hasn’t won is just as impressive as the list of who has, but makes it all the possible the streak could continue this weekend at Texas.

Not among the season’s winners: Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle. Kenseth had a series-high seven wins last season.

The last time there were seven drivers win the first seven races was 2003. The record is 10 to start the season, set during 2000.

NASCAR penalizes Truck teams: Three Truck series teams were penalized this week by NASCAR for rules violations discovered during postrace inspection at Martinsville.

The No. 31 team driven by Ben Kennedy, the No. 54 driven by Darrell Wallace Jr. and the No. 98 driven by Johnny Sauter all were found to have offset front wheel hubs.

As a result, each team’s crew chief – Michael Shelton (No. 31), Jerry Baxter (No. 54) and Gene Wachtel (No. 98) – was fined $10,000 and placed on probation until Dec. 31.

Rockingham to host drags: Rockingham Dragway will host the opening event in the new Professional Drag Racers Association series Friday through Sunday.

A Pro qualifying session is scheduled at 6 p.m. Friday, followed by three more starting at 11 a.m. Saturday. Sportsman eliminations will begin at 10 a.m. Sunday, followed by the first round of racing in all pro categories.

The track will be open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday for testing in all categories, pro and sportsman. For more information, call 910-582-3400.

Testing at Michigan: Several Cup series teams will test Tuesday and Wednesday at Michigan International Speedway, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Trevor Bayne and Ryan Newman. The Turn 1 grandstand seats will be open for fans. Admission will be free.

Modifieds back in action: The 30th season of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will begin Sunday with the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway Motorsports Park. Thompson hosted the series’ inaugural race March 31, 1985.

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