Monday, March 08, 2010

How Carl Edwards Got Busted

We cheered as Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya mixed it up at Homestead last November, eventually "adjusting each other's cars (in their own words)" out of the race. We applauded NASCAR afterward for deeming the incident the kind of racing the fans want to see, and later announcing that they would give the drivers more leeway in deciding how they wanted to race each other.

So, in some parts of the NASCAR world, there may be some confusion as to why Carl Edwards incurred the wrath of NASCAR officials when, late in the race, he blatantly turned Brad Keselowski's car, causing it to go airborne. NASCAR had Edwards park his car for the remainder of the race, and is now in the position of deciding what other penalties, if any, will be handed down to the #99 team.

Why the seeming reversal of NASCAR policy? It isn't really a reversal; NASCAR's policy is to allow bump drafting where they wouldn't previously, and to allow the type of beating and banging that thrills the crowd when two or more drivers are racing for position. Edwards wasn't racing for position--he was, in fact, more than one hundred and thirty laps behind Keselowski when he made an obvious move to purposefully cause Keselowski's car to spin at 190 miles per hour.

The result of the obvious retaliatory action was that Keselowski's car flipped over into the air and against the fence separating the fans from the track. Seven spectators were hit by fly debris from the accident. The action clearly could have caused a major disaster. Luckily, there were no serious injuries, and Keselowski walked away from the fearsome wreck.

NASCAR has given the drivers the freedom to use their own judgment when racing. With that freedom comes the responsibility to use good judgment. Edwards clearly showed a lack of good judgment in his timing and the manner in which he sought revenge. The drivers, given their freedom, should show professionalism and think about the consequences of their actions.

Putting the Edwards penalty aside, we got a reminder of how dangerous the elevated "wing" on the rear of the racecars can be. When air passes below the wing while the car is turned around, it creates as much lifting force as it provides downforce when the car is in its normal position. This can be very dangerous for both driver and spectator, as we saw at the Firecracker 400 last year, when it was Edwards' car that went airborne, and at Atlanta on Sunday. The traditional spoiler, to which NASCAR will return in April, does not allow air to pass under it when the car is reversed.

There are other advantages to the traditional spoiler--the spoiler provides downforce at all four wheels, and it allows for better side drafting on the straightaways than the wing does--but the main concern should be safety, and we feel that the return of the traditional spoiler can't come soon enough.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Danica Manias: The Deranged, The Dedicated, and the Delusional

The trouble with writing anything about Danica these days is the possibility that--conscientiously or otherwise--we may be "milking" the Danica hype, or, in the very least, be accused of milking the hype. However, it is precisely because of that hype that we feel we must express our opinion, not only of Danica, but of her talent and of the over-the-top publicity that surrounds her.

There are three types of Danica fans: The Deranged--those who hate Danica so much for her television ads and Sports Illustrated photo shoots that they fail to see her talent; The Delusional are those who are enamored of Danica because of her Go Daddy ads and Sports Illustrated shoots that they, also, ignore or overlook her talent; The Dedicated are those fans to whom the photo shoots and television ads mean very little--it is her on track performance that is the most important.

It is true that nearly any racecar driver, male or female, has three groups of fans similar to those outlined here, but it is usually something besides bikini photos that polarizes the Deranged and the Delusional. There has been media frenzy around Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson, Richard Petty, Cal Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, and many others through racing history. The attention was well deserved, based upon their records on the track. There can even be a comparison made between the attention given to Turner and that given to Danica--Turner was as well known for his antics away from the track as he was for his racing ability. The point here, however, is that these are all men who succeeded exceptionally well in what is traditionally known as a men's sport.

Janet Guthrie gets the credit as the woman who broke barriers going into a "men's" sport. There were other women who raced in NASCAR before she did, but few of them ever finished a race on the lead lap, much less scored as high a finish as did Ms Guthrie. She is in the record books as finishing sixth at Bristol in 1970. That is, if we are not mistaken (feel free to correct us, it happens all the time) the best finish any woman has achieved in the Cup Series. Janet never raced a full season in NASCAR, but nobody, except for Richard Petty, was racing a full Cup season at the time. We can only surmise what Guthrie may have accomplished if she had gained more experience by participating in more than just a few races in each of the seven years she was active in NASCAR.

Lyn St James also met with some success as a woman in major league racing. Although her best finish in NASCAR was eleventh place, she proved that she was more than a back marker with a pretty face and could "mix it up with the boys" in any racing situation. She now operates a racing school for young women, where, in her words, the emphasis is more on "physical and emotional training and preparation for a racing career," rather than in actually driving in a race. Danica Patrick is an alumnus of St James' racing school.

Drag racing is very different from closed course racing, and a different set of skills are needed to react quickly within the the three seconds or so it takes to run a quarter mile. However, we would be remiss in not mentioning the success of Shirley Muldowny, a true pioneer in women's racing, and Ashley Force-Hood. We have no way of knowing if these very highly skilled racers could have the stamina to race on a closed course track, but with the instincts and reactions they have demonstrated in drag racing, they would probably also have some success in closed course racing if they chose to attempt it.

There are other women who have attempted to race in NASCAR and the IRL/CART/OWCCS, and there has been media hype around them as well, mainly because they are women participating in a field comprised mostly of men. Sarah Fisher, Erin Crocker-Evernham, Katherine Leggett, and Shawna Robinson have all made their marks as solo racecar drivers on closed courses.

Fisher has made a powerful statement for women in racing. She caught the attention of the racing world, when, in 2000, she finished third at Kentucky. From 2000 to 2002, she had three top five finishes and one pole in 31 races. In 2008, she attempted to enter NASCAR racing as a developmental driver for Richard Childress Racing, but lost backing before she even left what is now known as the NASCAR Whelen All American Series. She has returned, part time, to Indycar racing with her own team. Over ten years, she has competed in 76 IRL events, with 3 top fives, nine top ten finishes, one pole, and has led 39 laps.

Erin Crocker-Evernham was the first woman to win a WoO sprint car B-Main event, but her NASCAR career was somewhat lackluster and ended her embroiled in scandal. There was certainly a lot of hype around Crocker-Evernham, but it had nothing to do with her racing ability.

Katherine Leggett won two consecutive Atlantic (Open Wheel) Series championships, but faded after a mediocre season in the OWCCS, although there was some talk of her trying out for Formula 1. F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone remarked of Leggett, "We have nothing against women in racing as long as they wear white, to match the rest of the kitchen appliances."

When we hear such sexist garbage, we can understand the odds against women racers must stand, and we should understand why there is so much so-called "hype" surrounding them.

Shawna Robinson is a great example of being a victim of hype that backfired. She is a very talented driver who could not get the break she needed. After all, she is in the racing history books as the only woman to finish as high as second place in the ARCA series. She never backed down from a challenge on the track. We feel that she was not given enough time in the NASCAR Cup series to develop to her full potential.In 2003 after racing only 8 Cup series races, she went to race in the Truck Series. This is the unfortunate part of the story, concerning hype. Because of the sponsorship/ownership deal she had to agree to, in order to race, she was featured in an "all girl" race team. This venture in public relations ended up costing more money than it made, and made it very difficult for Robinson, a very capable driver in her own right, to find serious sponsorship or an owner who was willing to give her a well-deserved second chance. However, as much as some racing pundits would have us believe, it is not Danica's fault she is not racing, any more than it is Shawna's fault. If a sponsorship opportunity is given, a driver must take it if he or she wants to race. In Shawna's case, it was the unintended consequence of the All Girl Racing Team that resulted in her not being taken seriously enough by owners and sponsors to get the break she deserves.

Danica Patrick began racing go-carts at the age of five. At fourteen, she attended Lyn St James' Racing Acadamy. At eighteen, she was given the opportunity to race in Europe in the Formula 3 open wheel series. There, she showed the world that she could race with "the boys." Unfortunately, she met head on with the sexist European double standard when she drank with the boys after the race, and was fired from her job for being "too much of a party girl," and not "matching the rest of the kitchen appliances."

Returning to the United States, she was hired on a trial basis by Rahal-Letterman Racing Team, and passed the test. In 2005, she won the IRL Rookie Of The Year award. She qualified in fourth position for the Indianapolis 500 and finished in fourth place. That year, she had three poles, seven top ten and two top five finishes, and finished twelfth in the championship points. In 2006, she finished ninth in points, seventh in 2007, sixth in 2008--after she became the first (and only, so far)woman to post a solo victory in a major racing series, and fifth in 2009, ahead of her Andretti Racing team mates, including former Indy 500 winner and IRL Champion Tony Kanaan. It should also be noted that last year there was more competition in the points race due to the unification of the IRL and the OWCCS (Champcar Series). In 81 races over her five year career, she has started from pole position three times, led 110 laps, and has posted sixteen top five finishes. She finished third at the 2009 Indianapolis 500.

When we hear from Dave Despain and others who suffer from DDS (Danica Derangement Syndrome), we hear that Patrick is a mediocre driver who would have only driven in a few races if she wasn't an attractive woman. But, looking at her records, we can see that she earned her place in the IRL through her performance, not her looks. She had made her mark in racing long before she appeared in the 2008 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Despain's argument that Patrick is popular because of her appearance, rather than her ability, falls flat when we realize that there have only been fourteen race winners (out of more than forty drivers) in the IRL during the last five years, including Danica. She is a competitive driver among all racers, not just women.

And, we have to wonder, was Despain calling Lyn St James "ugly" on his show last Sunday, by implying that Danica's success was only because of she being an attractive woman? No wonder St James seemed uncomfortable on Wind Tunnel. No, Dave, you're not sexist, you are a misogynist.

Danica Patrick does not write the GoDaddy commercials, but appears in them as part of that all important sponsorship agreement. She also appears in commercials for her associate sponsors: Motorola, Boost Mobile, and Peak Performance. Yes, she does get a lot of exposure that way, and we are certain that the reason that she is a hot commodity in advertising is because she is attractive, but that is not what makes her competitive, and it is certainly is not why she is able to race every week. Danica performs on the track well enough to get the attention she receives as a racer.

Or perhaps there are those who think the reason the US Women's Olympic Ski Team won their medals is because they appeared in SI's 2010 Swimsuit issue? That is as ridiculous as claiming that Patrick is successful in racing she was in the 2008 and 2009 swimsuit issues. Sports Illustrated is a sports magazine, after all, and has long included sports stars in the swimsuit photo shoots. In previous swimsuit issues, there have been tennis stars, swimmers, gymnasts, skiers, and snowboarders featured in bikini photos. Danica Patrick is merely the first racecar driver to appear in such an issue. But that shouldn't take away from her racing ability.

Danica has shown that she is still learning, and improving every year in which she races. She may or may not win a race in NASCAR, but at the rate she is improving in the IRL, we feel that it is not a question of if, but when she will win the Indianapolis 500. What will the folks who suffer from DDS say then?

Topic for Discussion: Is Kasey Kahne only allowed to race because he is good looking?

Monday, February 15, 2010


We won't be doing the "Live on Type Delay" this year. Because of our location, our only internet option is dial-up, and, because we live in a multi-unit residence with shared outgoing telephone lines, the times at which we may go on line are limited. If the "Live on Type Delay" isn't posted as quickly as possible after the checker flag, it loses its appeal, and the limitations posed on us make it impossible to post before midnight or the next day. Besides, without MRN in Colorado Springs, there is no point in just repeating what we see on television. But enough about me.

There was no disappointment in the Bud Shootout, the Gatorade Duels, the ARCA race, nor in the Nationwide race and the Truck race. It was all action, and the NASCAR drivers in all three series' put on a great show. This is what we can see when NASCAR backs off on the officiating that keeps the drivers from doing what they can to try to win. This is the closest we can get to the old school racing we remember without bringing back the old school drivers in their prime.

There will be those who will complain about the delays in the Daytona 500 for track repair, but there was really no helping that. The heavy rains in Florida last week and the cooler than normal temperatures combined to cause problems in the track surface--problems that could have provided more action than was necessary. If the pot holes hadn't been fixed, and somebody got seriously injured or killed because of it, we would have once again heard more outcries about lack of safety, which would have undone the progress NASCAR has made toward appeasing the fans.

The only problem I had, personally, was the quality of the TV coverage. What happened to the coverage through the field? Listening to DW and Larry MacRenolds reminisce about the old days gets old when it starts sounding like an old drunk repeating the same story over and over again, as if he forgot he already told the story, or perhaps you didn't hear it right the first time. There was a race going on, and it would have been nice to find out what was happening behind the leaders instead of "where did he come from?"

As it was we had to watch the ticker to figure out where our driver was, with no information as to why he was falling back, or moving up through the field, and how that was happening. And, most of the time, the ticker was of little use, because before we got the information we wanted, it would turn off for a caution or commercial.

Two years ago, I would never have missed ESPN coverage over that on Fox, but last year's ESPN coverage was an improvement over previous years, and definitly better than what we had for the Daytona 500 coverage. Perhaps it's time for DW to retire from the broadcast booth. Maybe he could get a show on Speed or Fox Sports where he can reminisce about the days when he was driving. Okay, he already has a show like that, but it really takes away from the race coverage when he is supposed to be calling the race. To be honest, I would rather listen to the cynical, dejected, and bitter Kyle Petty than the same old stories from Darrell Waltrip over and over again.

A crazy thought: Wouldn't it be fun if, instead of Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip, and Larry Mac in the booth, we had Mike Joy, a Kyle Busch fan, and a Dale Jr. fan instead? That should make the color commentary quite colorful.

Speaking of commercials, there were some good ones. There wasn't as much sponsor participation in the sense of the Super Bowl type commercials we have seen in the past during the 500. Budweiser and Coke stepped up, and their commercials were real winners. The Kasey Kahne pit stop Budweiser commercial was excellent, as was the Coke commercial with Tony Stewart breaking into the old Barry Manilow Coke jingle, "I'd Like to Teach The World To Sing."

Now we know that Stewart can sing better than Carl Edwards, which really isn't saying much.

And I got a kick, the first time it was shown, out of the idea of Kyle Busch driving a pink car with kittens, bunnies, ponies, and baby seals painted on it, and with "I love you" written on the wing. Maybe if Kyle had "I love you" written on the spoiler of his truck Saturday night, he wouldn't have angered so many drivers while he was driving as if he could he could make up nineteen laps.

You have to admit, Kyle did put on quite a show Saturday, whether you like him or hate him. Timothy Peters won that race in a very exciting finish that showed his very real talent from a driver without that much experience in the series. Peters prevailed over some very aggressive driving on the part of Todd Bodine, who has come to believe he is the only driver who deserves to win the truck race at Daytona. Bodine crossed the finish line in second place, sliding sideways.

Say what you will about restrictor-plate races, the finishing laps of the Daytona 500 were very good. Taking advantage of all three green/white/checker attempts NASCAR now allows, the drivers gave it everything they had. When, on the third try, they finally made it to the white flag lap, Greg Biffle pushed Jamie McMurray into the lead on the backstretch. McMurray, who had been running well the entire race, then got another boost from Clint Bowyer going into turn three.. Suddenly, seemingly "from out of nowhere," Dale Earnhardt, Jr. passed eight cars as if they were standing still, and was right behind McMurray, the leader, as the field entered the final turn. The crowd, who had stayed through it all, was on its feet, cheering wildly.

Jamie McMurray drove with everything he had, and crossed the finish line first, a car length and a half ahead of Earnhardt, Jr. It was a very emotional victory celebration for McMurray, who, at the end of last season, didn't even know if he had a ride for 2010. McMurray is arguably the most well liked driver in the Cup Series, and he showed that he deserved the second chance he was given by Earnhardt-Ganassi/Felix Sabates Racing and Bass Pro Shops, his sponsor. There wasn't a dry eye in the house, by the time the victory lane interview was over. And it was heartwarming to see Da Biff enthusiastically congratulating McMurray after the race, as it was to see him happy to be partly responsible for Jamie's victory.

And it was good to see Earnhardt, Jr performing well, once again, at Daytona. It was also good to see him do a post race interview without a lot of stammering and looking at his feet. Jr. is showing all the confidence in himself and his team he didn't show last year, and that new attitude makes a promise of good things happening for the 88 team this year.

Still, the Daytona 500, being a restrictor-plate race as it is, doesn't really give us an indication of what the rest of the season will be like. We can be reasonably certain that Stewart-Haas will be working on their restrictor-plate program, since, even after their performance in the Duels, they obviously didn't have the cars to perform competetively in the long race. We can also safely assume that Jeff Gordon will continue to try to prove that bump drafting isn't a good idea. But other than that, there is no telling what the season may be like for these teams. Will Jimmie Johnson once again amaze the world by winning a fifth consecutive championship, or will some other team finally figure out a way to beat him? We probably won't have any idea of that until October, but we will be watching.

At any rate, it promises to be a good season, with the new "let the drivers be drivers" approach NASCAR is taking. And we are looking forward to the return of the spoiler blade we will see, hopefully, by April. Let the games begin!

Hey, we almost made it through this entire post without mentioning Danica Patrick.

Oh, well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The 48 Team And The Art Of Going In Circles

The time Rev' Jim has to be on line is still very rare, but we can't let this NASCAR season end without a word or two.

At the time of this writing, it looks like Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team once again have the Cup Championship sewn up. Unless, of course, the driver or the team make a serious mistake during Sunday's season closer at Homestead. That, as most racing fans know, is not likely to happen.

"How," one might ask, "Can one driver be so dominant over the others that he wins the championship four consecutive seasons?"

Now, to be fair, the one who might ask that question would be one who is not familiar with NASCAR racing. In fact, the one who asked us that question is of the opinion that NASCAR racing is all about mashing the pedal and turning left. That would be the same as saying football is all about men standing in a field and knocking each other down, baseball is about standing around and adjusting hats and belts, or hockey is about skating in circles.

We might explain that, first of all, Jimmie Johnson and his team are not dominant in their sport in the same sense as teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Miami Dolphins, the Celtics, the Lakers, the Yankees, or the Bruins have been dominant in their respective sports. For example, our favorite driver, Tony Stewart, led the points for most of the regular season, a feat of which we, and the 14 team, have a right to be very proud, considering that this was Stewart's first season with a team that was entirely new to him. If they had been able to maintain the level of competition they showed in April through August for the rest of the season, Chase or not, they could have had the Championship sewn up at this point, rather than Johnson.

We must note here, that it would be easy to blame it on NASCAR's Chase points format, but that is how the championship is determined. Every team in the Sprint Cup Series bases its strategy and agenda for the season on that format. It is the same for each team. Even if there wasn't a Chase Championship format, the teams would still calculate their chances for the championship according to the points system. So, in the Zen of it all, the points format doesn't really make a difference.

They weren't able to maintain that level of competition, and that's the way the proverbial cookie crumbles like a mashed right rear fender. The 48 team, on the other hand, has been able to stay at the same level throughout the entire season, and then even step up their performance in the final stretch, when performance matters most. And this is where we try to explain that NASCAR, like the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA, is a team sport.

Of course, at the association of "team" and "NASCAR," a question mark visibly appears over the head of the person who is grilling us. "What," he asks, "does a team have to do with it?"

So, we explain that many races are won in the pits, and the pit crew has to be fit, physically and mentally, in order to provide a pit stop that is a "game breaker." The crew chief has to be able to make decisions that affect the performance of the team, the driver, and the car. Most of the time, the decisions are of the split second variety. Making decisions as to air pressure, wedge, and track bar adjustments take a knowledge of what the driver likes in the handling of his car, along with the knowledge of the time such adjustments would take in relationship to track position among the other teams in the field.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty, Chad Knaus, Johnson's Crew Chief, is NASCAR's equivalent of the internet's UberGeek. We never hear anything about his personal life, so we have to assume that everything Knaus does in his life has to do with making cars go faster. He lives, breathes, and eats racing. His first thoughts in the morning, and his final thoughts in the evening have to do with making a car go fast. Tighty whities or boxers? He probably wears speedos. (Note, if the reader chooses to dwell on that image, the author of this blog can not be held responsible for loss of sight in the mind's eye).

Knaus probably doesn't have a stove, oven, or a crock pot. Everything he eats is probably pre-prepared, as in fast food, or microwaved. Our point is that Knaus probably doesn't do anything that doesn't have to do with going fast. It is not unlikely that he has even trained his pit crew on how far out to pull a dented fender to make the aerodynamics of the car better than it was before the fender was dented.

"But," asks the person who is grilling us, "what does that have to do with one driver being so dominant?"

We sigh, not wishing to rehash what we just explained and press onward.

The crew chief is very important, but so is the chemistry between the crew chief and the driver. Jimmie Johnson has had only Knaus as his crew chief his entire Cup career. Granted, while Knaus was under suspension for the first part of last year, Darian Grubb--now Tony Stewart's crew chief--took the reins, but it was still the House of Knaus, and the team carried on as if it was still Chad on the pit box, sort of like automatic pilot. They did what they were trained to do, and continued the success of Johnson's team.

Chemistry between the driver and the crew chief means that there has to be communication that makes what the driver wants and what the driver gets identical. The 48 team definitely has that chemistry.

This is not to take away from Johnson's skills as a driver. The driver has to be precise, being able to put his car where he wants it in his line before another car takes that line. Beating another driver around the track means beating that driver in the turns--perhaps by out braking or out maneuvering the other car--and being quicker in reflexes, which also ties in to avoiding wrecks and contact, or other things that could increase the lap time unfavorably. Johnson is very good at that--the car is magic in his hands.

We can't say that Johnson is the best driver of all time. We can't even say he is absolutely the best out there, although he is one of the best. There are several drivers--the twelve who made the championship chase cut and a handful of others who didn't--who can always be considered to be championship contenders in any given year. The difference goes back to the team's performance, but it also means that a driver has to be good at every track. Each track on which the Cup series races is different in characteristics and dynamics, no matter how much alike they might look. Johnson understands this, and is equally good at finding his groove at all of them. This is how he takes advantage of having one of the best teams in NASCAR, and is what makes the 48 team a perennial champion.

The real question that should be asked is, "why watch the race if the championship is already in the bag?"

The answer is simple if you are a race fan. It is a race. We might be hoping that something similar to what befell the 48 team at Texas happens, and that Mark Martin leads the most laps and wins the race. But the main reason is we want to see if our favorite driver, no matter who it is, wins the race. That is why we watch any race. A victory by our favorite driver is as good as any old championship, as far as we are concerned. Or we could be watching it as witnesses to history in the making.

"But what does this have to do with mashing the gas pedal and driving in in circles?"

At this point, we answer, "I have no idea. How about them Broncos?"

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Light 'em up!

I seriously doubt that Jeff Gordon reads this blog, but something sure lit a fire in him. At Richmond, last Sunday, he and Denny Hamlin gave us a great of red hot wheel to wheel racing. He wasn't boring at all. That's the Jeff Gordon we want to see.

At the beginning of the season, listening to Gordon gave us the perception that he was ready to grab the bull by the horns and start racing to win again. But that fire we saw quickly dwindled, and suffocated under a blanket of, for the 24 team, mediocrity.

For the majority of teams in the Sprint Cup Series, Gordon's performance would be great, but this is the 24 team we are talking about. This is the team of one of the best drivers in the history of NASCAR, and we expect that desire to win to burn brightly.

Jeff Gordon must know that he will have to win some races in the Chase for the Championship. He should have learned that in 2007 when he gave away the Cup by finishing consistently in the top five while Jimmie Johnson finished consistently in Victory Lane. Now it is not just Johnson who will snag top five finishes and win races during the Championship season. We can be sure that Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, and possibly even Juan Pablo Montoya will each win at least one of the last ten races as well as post several top five finishes. Jeff Gordon needs to find the old fire that would make him unhappy with a second place finish if he is to achieve that fifth championship that has eluded him for so long.

That being said, here are my uneducated guesses for how I think the Championship points race will turn out:

Champion: Tony Stewart. I know, this is my heart talking, but my mind almost agrees. Stewart took a team that was barely making the top thirty five in points and turned it into a winner. He has mellowed when talking to the press, a necessity for a team owner, but he still has the fire and determination to win. After winning the qualifying season, so to speak, he will be hard to stop. Certainly, there has been some poor performance on the part of him and his team since Watkins Glen, but this is a team and a leader who will overcome those errors. I know this is a change of view from the beginning of the seasons, but I will now admit that all of my expectations from that time were wrong.

2. Jimmie Johnson. The other teams have caught up to what the 48 team has had for the last three seasons, and the competition is better. Besides, Jimmie hasn't been hitting as many cars lately, so it will be harder for Knaus to put the magic aerodynamics improving dent in the right place on the fender. I am only partly joking--many of the races Johnson has won have been won after he has had contact with one or more other cars early in the race. Yes, it's a crackpot conspiracy theory, but it does make you think. But Johnson will still be hard to stop. I think the points race will be close throughout the Chase.

3. Jeff Gordon. The new bridesmaid.

4. Mark Martin. He loves to win, but maybe he just isn't aggressive enough to be competitive with Johnson and Stewart. Still, we would be very happy to see him finally get a championship.

5. Juan Montoya. As mentioned before, this guy knows how to win championships. This team will come together during the Chase, and he will show us he knows how to win races as well. He has to remember, though, that "Shake" comes before "Bake."

6. Denny Hamlin. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, and nobody expects Denny Hamlin. Yet the guy is a good racer, and Loudon, Dover, and Martinsville are all good tracks for him. He could keep the points among the top six very close.

7. Ryan Newman. A very competent racer, and he knows when to be aggressive and when not to be. He has been in the Chase before, and he knows how it works.

8. Carl Edwards. It's very difficult to understand why the Roush Magic isn't there this year, but still, they got two drivers in the Chase. Perhaps it's just that, as the teams get the hang of the Cup car, the competition becomes tighter, and things are evening out. Edwards has a strong will, proven by showing us that the only thing he can't do with a broken foot is a victory backflip. His determination will put him in the top ten at the end of the season.

9. Kasey Kahne. We would love to put him in the top five, but the way things are getting shaken up at RPM there may be some lack of concentration.

10 Brian Vickers. He has a lot of determination, and will likely finish in the top ten points position. He will make the Chase interesting, but it is not Red Bull's turn quite yet. They will learn a lot, and will be even stronger next year.

11. Yea, he made the Chase. I wish he would make the top ten, but he won't.

12 Kurt Busch. The same mechanical and emotional problems that have plagued him in the past will continue to plague him his year. Too bad.

So that is my take. As always, I am very interested in discussing this with other fans and maybe changing my mind. Remember, I don't intend to slam any driver or team. This is just for fun, so please don't bet on my picks. Thank you.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Revvin' and Rantin'

As you may have noticed, I have been unable to post anything lately, due to lack of internet access. T'herefore, we will try to take care of several different subjects, including some photos from the 2009 Good Times Auto Show in Old Colorado City, while we have the opportunity.

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase qualifying season winds down to its final race, there is still plenty of drama. Of Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Juan Montoya, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch, two will not make the cut at Richmond Saturday night, so we know these nine drivers will be giving it their all. Carl Edwards could also be included in this group, but, no matter what happens with the other drivers, he can clinch his berth with a mid-pack finish or better.

We know that Kyle Busch will truly make it an all or nothing run for his team at Richmond, so we will have to say the driver with the toughest task in trying to make the Chase is Brian Vickers. He hasn't had a top five finish at Richmond in a Cup car,. and he almost needs to have bad luck happen to one or more of the other drivers who are currently in the top twelve in points. We would like to see him in the Chase, because we think he could bring some additional excitement to the championship season. At the same time we would hate to see any ot the drivers who are currently in the top twelve not make the cut, so we are, as usual, emotionally conflicted.

Tony Stewart's team's performance seems to have fallen off some since his victory at Watkins Glen. They may already be feeling the pressure of the Chase. We should remember that most of the members of Stewart's pit crew have never experienced being on a winning team prior to this year. They are still working out some kinks and some glitches, and hopefully they will get all of their bad stuff out of their system before the final ten races. We should also remember that we expected this to be a team building year for Stewart-Haas racing, and they have gone beyond all expectations. Most of us doubted that Stewart would make the Chase in his first year as a team owner, but those doubts have been dashed, as not only is Stewart in first place for the qualifying season, but his team mate Ryan Newman has a very good chance of making the Chase as well.

Jeff Gordon is boring. There, I said it. Certainly, he and his team have done well to stay in the top three in points throughout the season, but that is expected of the 24 team. We predicted that his fire would be back this season, but it seems to be smoldering. We also predicted that he would win the championship this year, which he still could very well do, but not while he is content with finishing in the top ten every race. Not when he is competing against the likes of Stewart and Johnson. He could step it up during the final ten races, and we hope he does. I have to say, however, that if he was not already locked into the Chase, I would rather see a more exciting driver in the final twelve.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr won't make the Chase, but we have seen some improvement since Lance McGrew came on board as his crew chief. It was fun watching him race with everything going good for him at Atlanta. Nobody rides the rim so close to the outside fence as well and skillfully as Earnhardt does, and it was fun to watch him do so at Atlanta. If he and his team continue to improve, we could see him back as a contender next year.

Atlanta showed us that these new cars can race wheel to wheel on an intermediate track, and they can race for the lead on the track, under green flag conditions. That was probably the best race we have seen on an intermediate track this year, as the Sprint Cup car is coming into its own. I have a feeling the performance of the car will continue to improve, and soon we will forget all about the aero cars. The only problem is parity. As predicted, the parity built into the CoT, CORN, or Sprint Cup Car (whichever one choses to call it), has resulted in separating the good drivers from the mediocre. There are no tweaks a crew chief could make to give Reed Sorenson or Elliott Sadler a chance to compete with a Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, or Jimmie Johnson.

Speaking of Reed Sorenson or Elliott Sadler, Richard Petty Motorsports will be merging with Yates Racing next year. As the tentative drivers' roster implies, the drivers for Petty-Yates will be Sadler, Kahne, Allmendinger, and Menard in Yates powered Fords, and Sorenson will be looking for a ride. This means that Kahne, who was a Ford man before he was a Dodge man, will be back in Ford, Sadler has an excellent lawyer, Allmendinger will get another chance to rise in the ranks with yet another manufacturer, and Menard's daddy is a great sponsor. We will think positively about Sorenson, who would be an excellent replacement for Brad Keselowski at JRM in the Nationwide Series, and we think that this would be an excellent opportunity for him to get that Nationwide Series Championship that so narrowly eluded him a few years ago.

Kahne, we might remember, was the subject of a lawsuit by Ford regarding his contract as a Ford driver, when he first went to Evernham as a Dodge driver. The merger also means that he will have driven for four different Cup Series teams without making a move from one team to another.

Sadler, we may remember, drove for Yates before he drove for Evernham. The number 44, driven by AJ Allmendinger, was once a Yates car number, and will be again. Ironic how things turn full circle, isn't it?

We can't close without remarking on the excellent finish at Bristol a few weeks ago. We got to see two excellent drivers race each other for the win, in a clean but intense battle. Mark Martin is a class act, and races the way he gets raced. If you race him clean, he will race you clean. So shame on those fans who would have rather seen a wreck at the end of the race than the exciting wheel to wheel racing it was.

One more thing. I will be keeping the double file restart poll up until the end of the season, so we can see every instance of the restart at every type of track. I do believe I have the poll set up so you can vote as many times as you like. I will think of an additional poll to put up in the meantime, possibly about the NASCAR wives. The criteria for this poll will include more than being eye candy, as in how involved the wife is in the driver's career. However, there will be a slot marked "other" so you can write in your favorite eye candy wife. Eva and Nicole will be included because of their near cat fight in the pits a couple of seasons ago.

Until I get a chance to get on line again, enjoy the races!

Monday, August 17, 2009

On Type Delay: The Carfax 400 at MIS

This morning, I was awakened at 6:00 AM by the sound of engines and turbo chargers as classic cars, hot rods, street rods, and customized vehicles paraded down Colorado Avenue to enter the annual Good Times Auto Show. This open, just for fun, car show is an annual event that falls,intentionally, on the same weekend as the famous Woodward Dream Cruise in Michigan. Our little show in Old Colorado City gets more popular each year, and, as a result, gets more entries each year. There are no cash prizes, just ribbons and bragging rights. And the cars, as always, are beautiful.

I love car shows almost as much as I love racing, but this is supposed to be my weekly stream of conscious race review, so we shall get on with it.

We can almost be certain, at Michigan, to see the race turn into a fuel mileage race at some point. That is because the track has so many ways to get around it, cautions, and therefore double file restarts, are less likely to happen than at other tracks. But this does provide a different kind of excitement towards the end, as we, the fans can try to second guess what the teams will do.

The race begins well, though, and we have the excitement of the green flag and get to see several of the leaders vie for the honor of leading the first lap. Mark Martin wins that challenge, and takes the lead. Pole-sitter Brian Vickers, who is having a great weekend, falls back to fourth, but regains third place from Jimmie Johnson on lap four.

It wasn't supposed to rain in Michigan today, but there was a 10% chance of showers predicted. That ten percent becomes 100 percent over Michigan International Speedway, and the race is halted on lap nine. Good, I can go to the car show and take some morepictures.

I guess it's time to get new rechargeable batteries. The ones I have are getting old and I was only able to snap 11 photos before I got the low battery signal. Crap. So many neat cars and so short a battery life.

The race resumes under caution, after nineteen minutes, and the leaders stay out on the track. From Brad Keselowski, in twelfth place, on back, most of the teams pit. The green flag flies at the end of lap 11, with Mark Martin in the lead, followed by Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson, and Joey Logano. Martin gets a great restart. Vickers, on the other hand, doesn't and falls back several places. Martin gains some space in his lead, while behind him there is some great three wide racing going on. Jimmie Johnson passes Kurt Busch for second, and is gaining on the leader by lap 15. Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth are all moving rapidly up through the field. Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin have an exciting race for the lead on laps 21 and 22, and Johnson comes out on top. This is what we like to see, green flag racing for a lead change. At Michigan, no less.

Green flag pit stops begin on lap 40, as Ryan Newman pulls into the pits, while Vickers passes Martin for second place. It seems that Vickers' car is weak at the beginning of the run, but is picking up well towards the end of a run. The green flag pit stops cycle through until lap 51, and the running order for the top five is Johnson, Martin, Hamlin, Vickers, and Logano. Then we get a caution on lap 52, after Robby Gordon's car blows a tire. That's too bad, because the leaders were pretty close together after the pit stops cycled through, and we were getting ready for some great green flag action for the lead. Paul Menard stays out, while the rest of the cars pit.

At the restart on lap 58, it's Menard, Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, David Ragan, and David Reutimann. Kenseth, Gordon, and Menard are three wide after they cross the start line, and Kenseth takes the lead. It looks like Kenseth is having a good day, and maybe, at his "house" in Michigan, Jack (Roush) is back.

However, Johnson is moving up quickly, passing Ragan and Gordon, and challenging Kenseth for the lead. Johnson passes Kenseth on lap 64, but Kenseth doesn't give up the lead very easily. Johnson's car proves to be faster as he seals the deal. By lap 74, he has a two and a half second lead over the second place Kenseth.

As green flag pit stops approach, the performance of Mark Martin's car seems to be improving. On lap 90, Martin is approaching Johnson's bumper, and is about to challenge him for the lead. It is also on lap 90 that Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard begin the pit cycle. Martin takes the lead by passing Jimmie Johnson on lap 95, but on lap 96, both Martin and Johnson pit.

After the pit stops cycle through, the top five running order is Johnson, Martin, Kenseth, Bowyer, and Vickers. Jeff Gordon moves into the top five on lap 104. Johnson and Martin are racing each other the entire time, and are nine seconds ahead of the pack by lap 106.

Is it just me, or does the lady on the Progressive Auto Insurance commercials seem slutty? I am a fan of slutty women, but I don't know what the message on these commercials is supposed to be. Is this Madison Ave's representation of the common woman, or of insurance agents? The street wise attitude and the heavy make up seem to imply that insurance agents, like politicians, are prostitutes. Just thinking in print, which is probably not a good idea.

There is a caution on lap 116 for debris. All the lead lap cars, except for the 55, pit again, as the end of race fuel strategy begins. Tony Stewart takes two tires and the lead out of the pits. Waltrip pits, and Stewart will lead the field to the green flag.

The restart is on lap 120, and it's Stewart, Johnson, Vickers, Martin, and Kenseth. Johnson gets a good start, and barely avoids passing Stewart illegally before the start/finish line. He does get the lead as Stewart falls back. Almost immediately, David Ragan and Kurt Busch make contact, and Busch's car hits the wall, suffering heavy damage. the race once again goes under caution.

In the "I didn't know that category," Sam Hornish, Jr gets black flagged for pitting twice for fuel under the last caution. That's a rule we don't hear about very often.

The race restarts on lap 126, with Johnson in the lead, followed by Stewart, Vickers, Martin, and Bowyer. Stewart gets the great start this time, and takes the lead in turn 1, but then gets passed by Johnson in turn 4. Stewart's car doesn't seem to be very good for Michigan, and I think the 14 team may be using this race for testing. In other words, they are taking a Mulligan. To reinforce that feeling, Martin passes Stewart for second on lap 129, and Kenseth is threatening to take third. Stewart loses a four-wide battle and falls back to sixth.

On lap 133, Ragan spins after being bumped by Hornish, and the caution comes out. Stewart, in sixth, and half the cars behind him pit. Green flag at lap 140, with Johnson in the lead. Martin, Kenseth, Vickers, and Jeff Gordon fill out the top five. Kyle Busch moves into the top five right after the restart, and Gordon also advances. Gordon takes second from Kenseth on lap 144, and there is a caution for rain on lap 146. This will be the "money stop" for much of the field on lap 149, as many teams take the gamble that they might be able to make their fuel last for 51 laps. Stewart stops for fuel only. The cars that will be in the top five at the restart all stayed out.

So the restart on lap 152 has Reutimann in the lead, followed by Hamlin, Logano, Earnhardt, Jr., and Truex, Jr. The crowd goes wild as Earnhardt, Jr takes the lead and holds it. Logano takes second from Logano. Logano is racing Earnhardt for the lead on lap 155. The race for the lead continues until lap 157, when David Stremme becomes the meat in an RCR sandwich, between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton. Stremme spins and brings out the caution. The top fourteen cars stay out. The number fourteen team pits, trying to get the best they can out of a bad day.

The top five at the restart on lap 161 are Brian Vickers, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and Jamie McMurray. Johnson takes the lead in turn one of lap 166. the top five cars are in fuel conservation mode. Jeff Gordon moves into the top five, and takes third from Martin on lap 171. He is also in fuel conservation mode. Dale Jr, however, is not, and is steadily moving up through the field. He passes Mark Martin for fifth on lap 181. The Booth Bunnies are now calling this Jr's race to win. I bet my Jr fan friends are excited.

On lap 182, Gordon is given the go ahead, by his crew chief Steve Letarte, to go for the win, even though they may be short on fuel. Jr takes fourth place from Carl Edwards on lap 190. Ten laps to go, and the top three are very worried about fuel.

Brian Vickers is pressuring Johnson for the lead. He could run them both out of fuel, but he doesn't seem to be worried. Meanwhile, Matt Kenseth, who started out having a good day, is falling way back. His car isn't running well at all on old tires. With four laps to go, Johnson still leads, but Vickers is not letting up on the pressure. Neither is Jr as he is closing in on the top three. With two laps to go, Johnson runs out of fuel and gives the lead to Vickers. This must be frustrating for Jimmie. I wonder if he is going to get whipped with a dipstick by a Scotsman.

One lap to go. Will Vickers make it? Earnhardt isn't gaining anything on Gordon, as Gordon is going for broke. Halfway through the lap, and we know there has to be nail biting in the #83 pit. The big gamble could pay off, and it does.

This is Brian Vickers' first win in Cup since his Talladega win in 2006, making it his first win in 100 races. This is also Toyota's first victory at Michigan, and Red Bull's first win in NASCAR Cup. Jeff Gordon finished second, Dale Jr third, Carl Edwards fourth, and Sam Hornish Jr overcame early set backs to finish fifth.

There was some pretty good racing in today's race, to go along with the usual fuel strategy drama. Vickers played his cards right in order to take the victory, even though it was a gamble.

In the near future, I will try to post some more pictures from the Good Times Auto Show.