Toyota proving experience is no match for youth in Sprint Cup

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WATKINS GLEN, New York -- Now that Mark Martin is back in a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup ride for 2009 and Kyle Busch is back in Victory Lane after his thrilling win at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night, it draws a stark contrast to the different directions Chevrolet and Toyota are heading.

While Toyota has stockpiled an incredibly impressive group of young drivers such as 23-year-old Kyle Busch, 18-year-old Joey Logano, 24-year-old Brian Vickers, 27-year-old Denny Hamlin, 26-year-old A.J. Allmendinger and 25-year-old Scott Speed, Chevrolet only gets older.

The addition of Martin to Chevrolet's lineup at Hendrick Motorsports dramatically emphasizes this age-old debate.

Martin will turn 50 on Jan. 9 and while it's undeniable he still has the talent, desire and fire to win races and even a championship, he doesn't exactly qualify as a fresh new face.

When Toyota came into Sprint Cup full time last year, the fear factor in the garage area held that the Japanese automaker would outspend its American counterparts at Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge. And while that may one day be true as all three of the U.S. brands feeling the stranglehold of a poor economy, Toyota's approach for stock car domination also includes youth.

Sure, Ford has invested in such young drivers as Colin Braun and Chevrolet will counter with Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola but the face of the manufacturer continues to be that of an older driver.

Tony Stewart, who currently drives for Toyota, will likely be in a Chevrolet next year when he becomes a driver/owner at Haas-CNC Racing. At 37, Stewart is beginning to show his age, and while he is the last of the great American racers -- a throwback to the A.J. Foyt days when a good race driver could drive anything, he has been put to the test at Joe Gibbs Racing by his much younger teammates.

Jeff Gordon still has talent, but he turns 37 on Aug. 4 and is going through one of the longest winless streaks of his career. Jimmie Johnson turns 33 on Sept. 7. Even "Junior" is senior by today's standards, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. turns 34 on October 10.

NASCAR is increasingly becoming a young man's sport and the recent developments at Daytona continue to emphasize the dramatic differences between Toyota and Chevrolet.

Of course, experience often outweighs youth but today's young drivers have come to the sport with plenty of experience.

Ironically, their role model was Gordon, who began his racing career as a 5-year-old in California before his family moved to Pittsboro, Ind. so he could compete in USAC as a 13 year old.

Logano's path to future greatness has been patterned after Gordon, and while it may be too early to predict how successful he will be as a Cup driver, but he already has the look of greatness.

After Busch notched his sixth win of the season Saturday night at Daytona, compared to just two for Chevrolet's powerhouse team at Hendrick Motorsports, it appears that the youthful approach is carrying the day.

"It was pretty crazy, that's for sure," Busch said after winning Saturday night. "The first thing is it's me that has to stay a little bit calm and just try to get back into the rhythm of what was going on and try to figure out what was happening so it doesn't happen again. There were some moves I could have made later in race again that were pretty evasive but I just stayed in line because I knew if I would have tried something else again, I probably would have wrecked.

"I just made sure that I drove a smart race and finished it out and whatever came to us was going to come to us tonight. I figured I was probably going to finish second to the 24 (Jeff Gordon), but [then] stuff started happening behind us, [and] you've always got to be ready for that and always be ready for your next move."

Busch's success is but a microcosm of American life, as the older workforce is being replaced by younger employees, often in a way to cut costs.

But the irony in all of this is Martin will be taking over a car that used to belong to Busch when he raced at Hendrick Motorsports from '04-07.

Talk about a time warp.

Danica Patrick was involved in another pit road incident in Sunday's Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen, only this time she was "right on target."

During a pit stop under caution after EJ Viso drove Vitor Meira off the track on the 40th lap, Patrick came into the pits for what should have been her final stop. She lit up the tires on the way out of pit lane and lost control of the car.

It headed into Scott Dixon's pit area, sending his crew members over the wall heading for cover after they had just serviced Dixon's car. Patrick's car hit one of the tires that had been taken off his car and then, appropriately, the nose of her car hit the Target "bullseye" logo.

"Christ, I know Scott called her a menace at Iowa, but she didn't have to take it out by trying to take out all of his boys," quipped Ron Dixon, Scott Dixon's father who was in the pit area at the time.

None of the crew members were injured but several made some angry gestures at her as she drove off and one kicked the damaged front wing which had to be replaced from the contact with the wall.

Patrick had to make two additional stops to replace the front wing and nose on the car and would finish second. She radioed to her crew "I'm really sorry," and after the race, she climbed out of her car and marched down pit lane to Dixon's pit crew to apologize.

"I may have got the bullseye but I definitely wasn't aiming at it," Patrick said. "I just kept the tires lit. I was running some different gears, and as soon as the wheels stopped spinning the revs dropped pretty low. I was ahead of Hideki Mutoh pulling out and I didn't want to lose the position, so I kept it going. I hit the paint area and the car swapped ends. It was a dumb mistake.

"I was telling them with my hands that I was really sorry. It was stupid. Next time, I will know better."

When a race car's rear wheels hit a painted line on the race track or in pit lane, it causes them to lose traction and spin. Once that happens, a car can break loose, and that is what happened to Patrick.

But ever since she won at Twin Ring Motegi on April 20, Patrick's season has been heavily scrutinized -- and heavily criticized -- for some of her actions. She drove a smooth race at Richmond last week and appeared to be flying under the radar screen, but her incident at Watkins Glen has given her critics more fodder.

"I'm not worried," Patrick said. "I didn't forget how to drive. You catch breaks. Sometimes you do; sometimes you don't. Sometimes you have good weekends and sometimes you don't but drivers never forget how to drive."

Scott Dixon's spin under caution at Watkins Glen was reminiscent of the '03 Indianapolis 500, when he spun out while warming his tires with seven laps to go in the race, crashing into the frontstretch wall.

But on Sunday, the crash also involved Ryan Briscoe, who had nowhere to go and ran into the back of Dixon's car.

"Dixon spun in front of him and he got into him; that's all we could do and he got in the dirt and there was nothing we could do," team owner Roger Penske said after the crash. "I was feeling great until five minutes ago."

Dixon finished 11th and Briscoe 12th.

"It's unfortunate to finish that way," said Briscoe, who started on the pole. "It seems like [in] the last two rounds everybody has been erratic under caution. I guess something should be done about that. I saw him spin and I thought he was going to stop in the middle of the track, and he got off the brakes and rolled. That was it.

"It's kind of nice to see 'Mr. Perfect' can make mistakes as well. It was going to be a great battle to the finish between the two of us. Ryan Hunter-Reay was going to give us a fight on that restart. It's just a bummer for everyone.

"I'm sure he felt like a dimwit but I wish he could have felt like an idiot without taking me out as well."

Dixon, who apologized to Briscoe's crew in their pit after the incident, was more embarrassed than disappointed at his mistake.

"It was just stupidity to be honest," Dixon said. "Yellows breed yellows, and unfortunately that is what happened. Once we got back out there the cars pack up and you run into each other. From me being a lunatic out there spinning out myself under yellow, it was an easy day to gain some points but I stepped on my foot and messed up. I went wide in 10 and tried to cut down. It caught me by surprise. The car had a ton of grip.

"I had flashbacks, man, that's for sure," Dixon said of his '03 Indy 500. "I still can't believe I did it. I feel bad for Briscoe because he was having a tremendous day."

After becoming IZOD's "Poster Boy" for the IndyCar Series for the apparel company's new sponsorship in the sport, Ryan Hunter-Reay was set to debut a billboard in Times Square proclaiming "I am Next."

But after winning Sunday's Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen, the wording on the billboard has to be changed to "I am Now."

Hunter-Reay has displayed the look of a winner ever since he arrived in IndyCar nearly one year ago. In Sunday's road course race at the historic Watkins Glen International, the two-time Champ Car Series race winner added his first IndyCar Series victory for Rahal Letterman Racing.

With Dixon and Briscoe out of contention following their incident on Lap 49, Hunter-Reay took aim at race-leader Darren Manning as the green flag waved on the final restart on lap 52.

Hunter-Reay punched his car to the inside of Manning's heading into the first turn. Manning tried to retake the lead by going into the "Bus Stop" but could not make the pass.

"I just got a good run on Darren, stuffed it down in there and said I'll deal with it when it happens," Hunter-Reay explained. "Then I got to the top of the hill, Darren popped to the outside, so I stuck to the inside and we held onto it from there.

"It's a dream come true -- an American kid winning with ethanol on the side of the car for an American team," Hunter-Reay said of his victory on Independence Day Weekend. "Bobby Rahal gave me the job and now we're in Victory Lane. I can't tell you how happy I am. This is amazing."

It has to be the final melee in Saturday night's race at Daytona International Speedway when all hell broke loose on the final lap as Kyle Busch was side-by-side with Carl Edwards.

Although the crashing had already started with the two nearly even, by the time the yellow light was turned on, Busch was clearly ahead.

In addition for creating a mess for the cleanup crew, it also created quite a mess for NASCAR's timing and scoring, which had to use videotape to determine the final results throughout the field before an official box score was released after 1 a.m. EDT.

Tony Kanaan certainly wasn't going to let an injury to a wrist that already includes 14 screws keep him from fighting to the finish in Sunday's Camping World Grand Prix at the Glen.

Kanaan crashed his race car in Sunday morning's warm-up session to the race and suffered what he believed to be a hairline fracture to the same wrist he has broken twice. IndyCar Series medical officials said the X-rays were negative and Kanaan was cleared to drive.

With his left wrist heavily bandaged, Kanaan drove through the pain to a third-place finish behind Hunter-Reay and Manning.

"I think we had a suspension failure in the morning, which caught me by surprise, and hurt my wrist a little bit, which is a distraction," Kanaan admitted. "It's not a nice feeling. It's a wrist that has been broken twice, so it probably hates me right now.

"Let's not say broken wrist, otherwise (Dr. Terry) Trammell is going to try to operate on me tomorrow, and I don't want to do that. So it's fractured, maybe."

Kanaan admitted it was quite painful to race, especially on a demanding road course at Watkins Glen International.

"The pain, how can I describe [it]? It's a wrist that has already 14 screws on it," Kanaan said. "It's been operated twice. It's a really sharp pain on the outside bone. So, basically every time I turn to the right, which we don't have to do too many times on this course, it's [feels like] somebody's really putting a needle inside my wrist. So that was the pain that I had all race. And I was really happy for all those yellows, trust me. I was even warming my tires at one point, thinking I can't do it."

"Well, first of all, I don't know why it was such a badly kept secret unless people are snooping on our text messages because I'd say 50 percent of this deal was done by text between Rick Hendrick and me. I think that's pretty cool because I just learned how to text myself." -- Mark Martin on how his deal came together with Hendrick Motorsports.

"I was really surprised. I hadn't seen that since East Carolina Motor Speedway in '94. You rarely see guys wrecking each other under caution. Juan is a real firecracker man. He's a good guy, but you just don't push his buttons. You got to respect him on the racetrack. And he has to sort of have that sort of mentality coming from Formula One. He definitely doesn't want to get pushed around. He's not having the best season. You know, obviously not very happy with how his car's running up to this point. So he's got an even shorter fuse due to that." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Juan Montoya spinning out Kyle Busch under caution

The return to "normal racing" in NASCAR as the series heads to Chicagoland Speedway for a race under the lights on Saturday night. Although the 1 1/2-mile ovals are called "cookie cutters" because they lack any unique characteristics, after watching last Saturday night's race turn into a "Daytona Demolition Derby" for the sake of the sport, it's good to get away from restrictor-plate racing.

It appears to be virtually impossible to finish any of the restrictor-plate races under the green flag without some type of mayhem. That was evident in the crashfest at the end of the Coke Zero 400.

To have that many cars bunched together without throttle response because of the restrictor plate, it doesn't take Albert Einstein to figure out the reaction that will take place.

At least at Chicagoland, the driver and car will be able to determine the outcome more so than counting cars on the videotape.