CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Just two races into the season and NASCAR already has a little driver discord.
Jimmie Johnson didn’t like the way Carl Edwards restarted the race at Phoenix, intimating Edwards didn’t follow the rules to the letter while snapping his 70-race winless streak.
“I felt like Carl didn’t follow the restart protocol and was slower than the pace car on his last two restarts, and it gives the leader a huge advantage when that happens,” Johnson said after the race.
It’s no surprise that Edwards felt it was Johnson, who was lined up behind Edwards in third on one restart — and next to Edwards in second on another — who was playing the games.
“I thought, ‘Man, he’s playing some kind of trick, he’s speeding up,’” Edwards said about the final restart. “I thought, ‘What’s he doing?’ I thought he was speeding up, and I thought it was pretty genius what he was doing because he kind of got me off of my game. But then when I went, I think maybe he wasn’t looking at me or something because it seemed like he waited just a little bit too long to go.
“But truthfully that was not by design. I was not trying to do anything tricky. I thought he was.”
Now the two go to Las Vegas, where they could be racing each other at the end for the victory.
Both Johnson and Edwards are among the top active drivers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a combined six victories in the desert. Edwards’ last win prior to his Phoenix victory was at Vegas in 2011, and he’s completed every lap in his eight races on the 1.5-mile track.
Edwards’ driver rating is sixth best among active drivers according to NASCAR’s loop data.
“Since the test in Charlotte this offseason, the whole 99 team has been looking forward to the race in Vegas,” Edwards said. “We’re going to Las Vegas to make it two-in-a-row. We feel like we can use the momentum we’ve got and the confidence we built there in Phoenix to go have great pit stops, qualify well and race hard all day.”
Johnson is a four-time winner at Las Vegas, and was second there last season after leading 35 laps. He goes into Las Vegas as the Sprint Cup Series points leader, and is listed by the LVH Super Book in Las Vegas as the favorite to win Sunday’s race and the 5/1 favorite to win this year’s championship.
NO MORE SPEED, KIND OF: The launch of Fox Sports 1 in August means the end of the Speed channel as racing fans know it today.
The new channel will have some of Speed’s current programming, including Spring Cup practice and qualifying sessions, Camping World Truck Series races as well as practice and qualifying, the Sprint All-Star Race, Daytona 500 qualifying and the Budweiser Duels.
Speed shows such as “NASCAR RaceDay,” ”NASCAR Victory Lane” and “Race Hub” will be added to the Fox Sports 1 lineup. “Race Hub,” typically a 6 p.m. Eastern show on Speed, will move to midday.
The Sprint Unlimited will be on Fox Sports 1 in 2014 and 2017-2022.
But, the network has also said select Sprint Cup Series races will be shown on the new Fox Sports 1 channel starting in 2015. Fox Sports Media Group has the rights to the first 13 races of the season.
CALL A FRIEND: With Michael Annett out indefinitely because of a fractured sternum, he called on good friend Reed Sorenson to drive his Nationwide Series car.
Annett had a plate inserted into his chest last week to help heal the fracture suffered in the season-opening Nationwide race at Daytona. He could be sidelined as long as two months.
Sorenson will take over the Richard Petty Motorsports ride beginning this weekend at Las Vegas.
“It’s an unfortunate situation for the team and Michael,” he said. “I have been to the hospital to see him, and he will be fine, but it’s going to take some time to heal. As a friend for a long time, my initial reaction was concern. I’m glad that he’s recovering now.”
Sorenson has 173 career Nationwide and 183 career Cup starts. He’s won four Nationwide races, none since Road America in 2011.
“It was very unexpected to get the opportunity to step in,” Sorenson said. “The best part is that my friend, Michael, will be cheering for me.”
GIRL POWER: There’s been no talk of Danica Patrick in the NHRA, where women drivers are the norm.
In fact, it’s been business as usual as Courtney Force and Erica Enders-Stevens posted back-to-back victories to open 2013. It marked the first time in NHRA history two women opened a season with consecutive victories.
Force won in Funny Car at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., last month while Enders-Stevens won last weekend in Pro Stock by beating Mike Edwards in the final round at Phoenix.
Enders-Stevens used a reaction time advantage to beat event top qualifier Edwards in the 200 mph factory hot rod category.
“We’re not out here just to race against the boys,” Force has said. “We’re here to beat the boys.” Now that’s girl power.”
The Girl Power theme could continue at the Gatornationals next weekend, where Leah Pruett, Alexis DeJoria, Brittany Force and Katie Sullivan will all be looking for their first win of the season.
CHAVEZ’ SUPPORT: Hugo Chavez was a longtime supporter of motorsports, and his Tuesday passing could affect the careers of several drivers currently competing in series around the world.
Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado races with sponsorship support from the Venezuelan government and the PDVSA logo has been on his Williams F1 livery since his 2011 debut.
IndyCar driver E.J. Viso has long had Venezuelan backing, but his PDVSA signage switched to CITGO last season. He moved his sponsorship money to Andretti Autosport during the offseason. Viso also launched the “Team Viso Venezuela” initiative to support young drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.
Milka Duno, who currently races in the ARCA Series, also had high-profile sponsorship from CITGO when she raced in IndyCar. Her 2013 sponsor in ARCA is CANTV, the leading integrated telecommunications provider in Venezuela.