Friday, June 30, 2006

Firecracker, er, Pepsi 400 Preview, Rev Style

In the past, we have thought of restricter plate (RP) races, such as this weekend's Firecracker, er, Pepsi 400, as being mostly determined by team skill and luck. Most drivers will tell you that the outcome of the race is in the hands of the crew chief, but they are usually being modest. In the Cup race, these drivers will be going nearly 200 mph, with the cars mere inches apart for the entire distance.With the introduction of the skilled, but aggressive younger drivers, and the aerodynamic and gearing changes in the Cup cars, at least some of the pre-RP excitement is back at Daytona.
That being said, we expect the usual RP sustpects to run in front. Jimmie Johnson's #48 team, with the exptremely talented and crafty crew chief Chad Knaus atop the pit box, has had excellent results at Daytona. Johnson has what may be called a "devil-may-care" attitude, and has more than a little skill at bumping and blocking--skills which get fans, myself included, and other drivers quite pissed off, but nonetheless result in wins. Johnson is the current Cup championship points, and many of us, while not wanting to wish bad luck on any driver, secretly hope that he has engine problems, or some kind of difficulty that results in a "did not finish," or DNF. Just to tighten up the points race, you understand.
Jeff Gordon's ego is at an all-time high--he won at Sears Point and got engaged to a supermodel last week--and that usually means he will either race well, or, if his car isn't as good as he thinks it should be, cause chaos,. We do not like to see wrecks at Daytona, for they are usually very scary and dangerous when they occur, so we hope that Jeff is in a good mood and chaos doesn't ensue. In the past, Gordon has had a decent record at the RP races--in fact, he was once the perennial dominator of the race--but, over the last two seasons, some of that domination has dissappeared. Still, it would be unwise not to expect racing's second greatest whiner (Formula One's Michael Schumacher is the best at whining) to get a top ten finish.
Another Hendrick driver who has the potential for causing chaos is Kyle "The Shrub" Busch. There is no doubt that Shrub has skill, but it is a skill as yet unpolished. At last February's Daytona 500, he proved that he is very skillful at making other drivers very angry, apparently thinking he could side draft like Mark Martin. In reality, only Mark Martin can side draft like Mark Martin. Shrub just needs to concentrate on racing smart, which he is capable of doing. Racing smart means waiting until the right time to get aggressive--for example, not trying to win the race with 100 or so laps left to go. Kyle doesn't want to listen to anybody--well, he wants to, but what he hears doesn't seem to sink in--but most drivers will tell him that he shouldn't try to pass until the opportunity presents itself.
I may as well include all the Hendrick drivers.The only HMS driver I have somewhat of a liking for is Brian Vickers. The former Busch Series champion has had his moments at Daytona, mostly bad moments. Still, there are those of us who have a lot of faith in the driver--his skill has to be there somewhere, we know he is good--and we look at every race optimistically hoping that everything will gel, and he'll get a good run at the finish.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr fans should have something to celebrate this weekend. His crew chief, Tony Eury, Jr, can put together a mighty good RP car, and we all know that Jr is good at RP races. Since drafting is important at Daytona, so are drafting partners, and Jr's popularity as a drafting partner is excellent witness to his skill. Think about it--drafting with a driver like Johnson or Shrub could get you in deep trouble, because of their technique, but Earnhardt, Jr is almost gauranteed to get you to the front unscathed.
Tony "Smoke" Stewart definitely likes Jr as a drafting partner (some of you were probably wondering when I would get around to my favorite driver). Last year's fence-climbing Pepsi 400 winner has, time and time again, teamed with Jr to move up quickly through the field. In fact, if they get together, they will probably be the best drafting partners on the track. Hopefully, Smoke got his anger issues taken care of last week--Zippy told him "if you don't calm down you're going to have to deal with me"--and his win in Thursday night's IROC road race will mellow him out. He knows he has a great car, and he has found that he enjoys winning at Daytona. The competition is tough, though, and he has to keep his cool and not mess up the aerodynamics or chassis set up of his car.
Childress Racing is on a roll, and we may see a resurgance of the old days, when RCR and the much vernerated #3 team dominated the Firecracker 400. I'm talking about the #31 team of Jeff Burton, who has been able to show that he is anything but a "has-been" this season. He is another driver who should have no problem finding a good drafting partner, be it Jr, Smoke, or, perhaps, his own team mate Kevin "Happy" Harvick, and be very, very competitive this race. I like Jeff Burton--he is an old school driver who has shown that old school is still relevent in today's NASCAR.
Another driver who is very high on my "drivers I like other than Smoke" list is currently second in Cup championship points. He and his crew chief, Robby Reiser, have put together an excellent RP program. This modern day David Pearson is arguably the best example of patient aggressiveness on the track, with the possible exception of Mark Martin. We have to believe that he can add more evidence that he is one of the all time great drivers of NASCAR, and will make a very good run to the checkers. We at least expect him to the top finishing driver among the Roush team.
All in all, I believe that this is the best NASCAR Cup season since 1997, and I expect to see some more of the excellent racing that has made this season great. I was never a fan of the restrictor plates, but my mind has been changing over the past two seasons. I love night racing--the cars handle differently in the cooler temperatures, the paint schemes look great under the lights, and the party atmosphere is greatly enhanced. So, race fans, it is time to pa-r-r-r-r-r-ty!

Who is the Real "Road Course King?"

Mechanical problems and temper over a pit lane speeding penalty kept us from seeing Tony Stewart at his road-course best last Sunday, at Sears Point (Infineon) but, that’s okay, now. The Daytona road course hosted its first IROC race in 28 years and Smoke dominated. He dominated over such road course aces as 2005 Rolex Grand Am champion Max “The Axe” Angelino, and “Mad” Max Papas, the 2003 Rolex Grand Am champion.

The IROC race was a true test of driving skill, as the cars are all identical, with identical set-ups, leaving the ability to win to the skill of the driver. Stewart drove deeper into the turns than anyone else, accelerated faster out of the turns faster, than anyone else, and showed off his skill and experience at restarts, driving away from the field. He won after being in race cars the entire day, practicing the number 33 KHI car for Friday’s NBS race, and the number 20 Joe Gibbs Racing car for Saturday’s Cup race at the Daytona superspeedway. He must have been tired, but that didn’t seem to hamper him for the physically demanding road race.
It was Stewart’s second win in this year’s IROC series, putting him ahead in points by a mere 15 points over second place Matt Kenseth in the four race series. Way to go, Smoke!

Remember This Feeling?

I still remember my first race. It wasn't a big league race, such as NASCAR or IRL, but a short track race at a local dirt track. I was eleven years old, then, and am 52 years old now. Still, after forty-one years, I still remember the impressions I had then, impressions which made me a race fan for life.
I came across an article on first impressions of a NASCAR race, written not by a sports journalist, but by a business and financial reporter, and was posted on BusinessWeek Online.
It is a good read, and should bring back memories for everyone.

I'm standing behind a short chain-link fence at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., when my friend Paul yells in my ear. "All five senses!" he shouts. "What?" I reply, barely able to hear him over the intermittent roar of stock cars passing in front of us. "It's the only sport that arouses all five senses!" he yells, and he's right. I can't escape the sight of the cars' shimmering paint schemes, the deafening sounds of their engines, the stink of melting tires, or the rattling of the grandstands. And taste? Cold beer from a can. This is NASCAR, after all.

Before that muggy day in May, I had somehow missed out on one of the biggest sports phenomena of the past decade, despite spending most of my life in the Carolinas, NASCAR's epicenter. Consider this: The number of people who spend six or more hours a week following the sport has grown almost 20% in the last five years, to 75 million, according to market researcher Ipsos Insight.

As many of those fans know, NASCAR long ago outgrew its Southern, working-class roots. The 40-week schedule, which runs February through November, includes weekends in Chicago and Las Vegas, and could one day include New York, Seattle, and Denver. Upscale brands such as Sony (SNE ), Gulfstream, and watchmaker Tissot have signed on as sponsors, and developers are furiously adding trackside luxury condos, private clubs, and corporate suites. For example, Phoenix International Raceway just opened a chic lounge above the track's first turn where fans can nibble sushi and sip wine or mixed drinks. A weekend pass to the lounge during November's Checker Auto Parts 500 will run $2,400, but the raceway is only selling 100 such tickets.

Even celebrity chefs are getting into the act: Food Network's Mario Batali just penned a cookbook for race-day tailgaters; Wolfgang Puck will open a café at the track in Fontana, Calif., in September. "The image of [NASCAR as] the Bubba sport is not true," says Larry DeGaris, a sports-marketing expert whose clients include United Parcel Service (UPS ), PepsiCo (PEP ), and Bank of America (BAC ).

A day at the track has become a coveted perk for executives whose companies spend millions to sponsor NASCAR -- and their clients. Debbie Acocella, a customer business manager for Kellogg's in New York, got her first taste of the sport in June when she hosted two supermarket buyers and their families at the Neighborhood Excellence 400 in Dover, Del. Their Sunday included a catered breakfast, lunch, and snack in the relative quiet of the company's suite, a tour of the pits, and a pre-race visit from Kyle Busch, who drives the Kellogg's car. The group watched the start of the race up close before turning to the suite. "You can see why we have a car," Acocella says. "I finally understand it."

I anticipated my first race for weeks, wondering whether I'd be blown away or bored to tears. More experienced friends suggested I start with the NASCAR Nextel (S ) All-Star Challenge, a 90-lap evening sprint that's shorter to sit through than most and sometimes more exciting. The Challenge doesn't count in the standings, but it offers a $1 million prize.

Once the 20 cars' engines started to rumble, the only thing on my mind was speed. For a few preliminary laps, the cars huddled together, moving at a maddeningly slow pace. But in an instant, that jostling mosh pit turned into a screaming double-file line accelerating toward 200 miles per hour. That moment might have been the most exhilarating few seconds of sports I've ever experienced. One reason why NASCAR fans love to see wrecks is that they slow everything back down, bunch up the field, and set the stage for another collective burst of speed.

Understanding the finer points of racing is more difficult. The rules can vary from track to track. With only three carmakers (Dodge, Ford, and Chevy) and one kind of tire (Goodyear), the competition in the top division, the Nextel Cup Series, often comes down to tuning, pit stops, and track tactics. A winning driver might jump out to an early lead because his car is faster than the field and his crew executes well. Other times, a winner might have to steer his way out of an hours-long scrum on the very last lap. Either way, the drivers are making life-or-death decisions as they try to control their hot, hulking vehicles.

Even more impressive is the passion the fans have for the drivers in this age of prima donna athletes. One explanation: As independent contractors, drivers are kept on a short leash by sponsors and team owners, and most financial disputes and extracurricular antics are kept out of the public eye. Fans also get a more intimate view of drivers than they do of other sports heroes. The committed fans camp in the infield near the pits and garages, and for $35 anyone can rent a scanner that allows them to listen to the unfiltered chatter on team radios.

Are the fans rowdier than other sports devotees? Most tracks still allow you to bring coolers stocked with beer, and in certain sections, throwing chicken bones and empty cans is a hallowed tradition. But not far away, hospitality tents teem with corporate types in golf shirts and khakis. For the past few weeks, I've found myself scanning the sports section for racing news and following the points race, which determines who will vie for the NASCAR Championship this fall. Am I going to rush out and buy my favorite driver's flag? Nah. But I'll go back.

By Andrew Park

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Whoa Doods! Jeffy Dun It!

Yes, Jeff Gordon got his win number 74, tying the great Dale Earnhardt's Cup level wins. Though one of the great drivers, this doesn't mean that Jeffy is like Dale Earnhardt. Still, I'm not going to take from Gordon's victory at Sonoma, distasteful as it may be to those of us who are not Gordon fans. He deserved the win, and he drove the road course artistically. Gotta hand it to him.
Moving on, Congratulations to Johnny Benson on his second straight victory in the Craftsman Truck Series. Benson, a former Busch Series Champion has always been one of the popular drivers in NASCAR. There were many who though he may not have been aggressive enough for Cup, but he drove the MB2 #10 car, which just wasn't quite the equipment he needed. CTS, from my experience, has been as aggressive, if not more than, the Cup series, and Johnny has stood up to it just fine.

For those of you who don't think the Buschwhackers are good for the NBS series, I believe the proof that they do make better drivers of the NBS regulars is in the fact that Paul Menard won his first NBS race this past weekend at Milwaukee, being the second non Cup driver in the NBS to do so. Last week, David Gilliland, who is not even a full time Busch driver became the first non-Cup driver to do so this weekend. Racing the Cup guys in the Busch series seems to be paying off.

This rubbed me the wrong way, for some reason: At every NASCAR event across the nation, the request is made for "Gentlemen, please remove your hats for the presentation of the Colors..."
At Sonoma, it was "If you want, take off your hats..."
Anyone think there may be a line to political correctness?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wine and Cheese, anyone? Maybe Whine and Cheeez?

Apparently, I know nothing about super-dooper speedway racing. Our picks for MIS last week were only two for ten. OUCH!
So, oblivious to failure, and ever optimistic we march onward and try, once again to negotiate the brink of the cliff known as predicting the outcome of the race.
We'll do something different this week, rather than trying to pick a top ten finishers, we'll just do a preview of what we want to see. CRB says that's the same thing, but maybe a change of attitude will change our luck.
Last year, Tony Stewart seemed almost disappointed in his win at Sonoma, because he wanted to have a one on one race with Jeff Gordon. Instead, because of Jeffy's transmission problems, he ended the race in one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR road racing history, battling Ricky Rudd all the way to the the last lap. Could it get better than that? We hope so. With an average finishing position of eighth, Smoke has the best record of all active drivers at Infineon Raceway, the road course many race fans still hold dear as "Sears Point." If he continues his excellent performance at this race, and if Jeff Gordon steps up, we could see an even greater finish. Whether you like these two drivers or not, you almost have to agree that a one on one race to the finish between Stewart and Gordon would definitely be a treat.
Note to Smoke: You are entertaining enough without crashing. You don't have to crash to get the fans excited. Please be careful, you might hurt yourself. Don't crash.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr isn't known as a road racer, but his new-found confidence in his team and his own ability might just work for him. The perennial Most Popular Driver, probably won't win the race, but he will show that he can be competent in road course driving. This is one place he doesn't need to be aggressive, which is no problem for him, because he usually isn't aggressive enough. Patience and steadiness will net him a good finish.
I can say almost the same for Kasey Kahne. The cute little guy is on a roll, but I'm not so sure of his road course record. That is a very good team, and currently the best of all the Dodge Chargers. If he can handle turning both directions, he will do well.
One could always expect Robby Gordon to do well at Sears Point. His first NASCAR Cup win was at this track, and that was when he was still a part time driver and a road course ringer. He builds a great race car, and he probably builds best for the road courses. We're looking forward to seeing Classic Robby in this weekend's race, and hopefully his streak of bad luck has ended.
I haven't seen the starting grid, yet, so I don't know which ringers made the race. Of the ringers, though, probably the best ones with the best chance would be Scott Pruitt, Ron Fellows, and Boris Said. They have been doing this for quite a while, and usually make for an exciting race. Said tends to be a little overly aggressive in the stock cars, however, and he may cause some problems for other drivers.
That's as far as I'm going to go this week. Time to get a bottle of Napa Valley wine, from any vinyard except Jeff Gordon's, some good chedder and crackers, and enjoy the race.

Monday, June 19, 2006

NASCAR Weekend Review-Just some thoughts

Once again we held our breaths as a car hit the wall hard, this time causing an explosion, and tearing the sheet metal off of the left side of the car. In the NASCAR Busch Series race at Kentucky, Jeff Fuller seemed to run full speed into the inside wall. It seemed to take too long to get the driver out of the car, and when he was finally extracted, he was placed on a gurney. There was a tentative sigh of relief, as we realized that he was moving. As it turned out, Fuller was treated for smoke inhalation at the hospital and released, Sunday. Once again, we give thanks for the safety features implemented in what is, understandably, a potentially deadly sport. Still, we watch, and it is not morbid curiousity that makes us watch. We enjoy the speed, the competition, and the intensity on the part of the drivers. We know that it takes more than everyday integrity and motivation to do what our favorite drivers do every week. What we do know about these drivers is that it is not a death-wish, nor is it self-destructiveness that motivates their desire to race; it is, rather, an extraordinary love of the sensation of speed, and the desire to compete at those speeds. Their drive and determination maintain a nearly superhuman quality common mankind can only imagine. So we watch, fascinated by the relationship of a man or woman and the machine, the skills and reaction level of these drivers, and their bravery.
Meanwhile, David Gilliland, relatively unknown to most fans, mentored by the sorely missed Jerry Nadeau, went on to win the race, being the first non-Cup driver to win an NBS race this season. This is a great tribute to the talent of the up and coming drivers, and to the practice of allowing Cup drivers to race in the "minor league" series. Post race, the 30 year old Gilliland credited the so-called "Buschwhackers," saying, "they help me race better."
This was, in a way, a victory for the long absent Nadeau. Jerry Nadeau, a competent and somewhat popular driver, was seriously injured in a 2001 accident which left him partially paralyzed. Unable to race, he did not distance himself from racing. Instead, he kept himself as close to the sport as practical, coaching drivers, training drivers, and being involved in the design of safety equipment. As Gilliland's coach, the victory was, for Nadeau, almost as if he had driven the car himself.

Kasey Kahne is now the winningest driver in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series this season, with four victories. Nobody doubted his ability, for every other driver has expressed unmitigated confidence that the "cute little guy" is, indeed, a highly capable, championship quality driver. What was questioned was the ability of the car, the NASCAR fascimile of the Dodge Charger. Many insiders felt as though the Charger was poorly designed for the style and competitive level of NASCAR Cup racing. Kahne has, at most, belied that speculation and, at least, proven to the rest of us that he is a racer of the topmost quality.
My top-ten picks were sadly off this weekend, with my favorite, and my pick for victory, Tony Stewart, being taken out of the race early in an accident not of his doing. Much to his credit, the "old" hot-tempered Stewart did not emerge from the wrecked car. Instead of placing blame on Jeff Green, whose car had gotten loose and hit the #20 car, he relegated the incident to just "one of those things that happens when you race."
In my mind, I usually place an asterisk by a win in a rain shortened race, but this was a hard pitched battle, and a well run race. Sure it was pit position and strategy that had a large part to do with winning--many of the teams counted on a rain-out in their planning. Still it was a race and very worthy of the term.
Jeff Gordon even complained about having to race his team mate. I won't dwell on it, but here is the article from Scene Daily. It doesn't surprise me
Many of my pre-race top ten picks were virtually no-shows, but that doesn't matter. If nothing else, I am a race fan, and the race was every bit as exciting as I had anticipated. I have to admit, though I suck, lately, for picking winners, my enjoyment of racing is not even minutely diminished.
Next week is the road-course race at Infineon (formerly Sears Point) Raceway. I am very much looking forward to it, anticipating more excellence in yet another aspect of the skills of these drivers. And I know I will enjoy, immensely, watching the race..

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Preview for Michigan

In past years, the races at the two-mile flat ovals of California and Michigan have been fairly mediocre at best, but lately, with the competition as great as it is, they have become something to look forward to. Where the races were once a long string of cars parading single-file all the way around the huge ovals, now it is guaranteed that there will be wheel to wheel racing throughout the field and throughout the race. This has been an extraordinary season for racing, so far this season, and the Michigan 400 will not be a disappointment.
Greg Biffle will attempt to repeat his feat of last year, and Tony Stewart will do everything he can to avoid repeating his disappointing second place finish of last year. That alone will demonstrate some excellent racing. Both drivers are very determined and aggressive, both teams have been producing very capable cars, and the finish will be determined by skill and experience, which means Smoke will take the checkered flag. This time, I am not picking Stewart because he is my favorite driver, but because when he shows the kind of attitude he has shown since his shoulder injury, he usually wins. Knock on wood, discounting any accidents, temper tantrums, or mechanical problems, the Home Depot team will see victory Sunday.
It is almost too easy to predict the top five in this race. These guys are pretty consistant, and there should be little change at Michigan. Jimmie Johnson, Kyle "The Shrub" Busch, and the driver whose name I don't mention for fear of changing his luck (I'm really not superstitious, but I won't take any chances) will continue their performance and fill out the top five. Johnson may be a favorite to win, but we are picking Smoke, because, head to head, Stewart finesses the talented but less experienced Johnson. Shrub, however, is the kind of kid who will want to get involved in the intense race between the #16 and the #20, which we hope he doesn't get a chance to. If he does succeed in getting involved, we would more than likely see three or more, wrecked cars and Shrub crying, "I don't know that I did anything wrong!"
Gee, am I always this pesimistic? I'm not trying to be down on anybody, this is just my way of expressing my love of the sport, and my anticipation of some really good stuff on track. This is what racing is, no restrictor plates, wide, relatively flat turns, and long, wide open straightaways.
It may be a surprise to some, but Brian Vickers is auditioning. He is a capable driver, and is on a roll. Historically, though he has no wins, he does well at Michigan, and, if he doesn't over extend his talent, he should get a top ten, if not a top five. I would like to see him beat Jimmie Johnson, in a head to head race, but, in a contact situation, Johnson would prevail. Well, we don't know that for sure, it is only a matter of opinion.
Might as well pick all three of the Gibbs cars to finish in the top ten. Hamlin is almost a no-brainer--if I'm not mistaken, he had a top twelve finish at California. I don't think there is a single race fan who will deny that NASCAR's new Boy Wonder is a shoo in for a top ten at Michigan. Yeley is another story, with his tendency to wrecklessness, but he is learning, and he is also capable of getting a top ten at this kind of track. Besides, those Gibbs cars are good, darn good. If JJ Yeley can stay focused, he can turn a good starting position into at least a top ten finish.
Joe Nemechek? Why not. The #01 team has had half a season to pull its stuff together, and no one can deny that this very steady driver has the ability to do well at Michigan. If he has the determination, which he should have by now, he can get a top ten. It is only a question of the HMS power plant being able to stand up to the driver in this kind of race. Nemechek is my Cloudy Revelation Ball dark horse for a top ten at Michigan.
Of course we can't have a top ten without the man from Batesville, Arkansas.I hope this race is as good as I think it will be. Time to go racing!

1. #20 Tony Stewart
2. You Know Who
3. #16 Greg Biffle
4. #48 Jimmie Johnson
5. # 5 Kyle Busch
6. #25 Brian Vickers
7. #6 Mark Martin
8. # 11 Denny Hamlin
9. #01 Joe Nemecheck
10. #18 JJ Yeley

There is not enough room in the top ten to pick twelve drivers, but I would also like to pick Kasey Kahne, and Scott Riggs. I have a personal interest in seeing Riggs do this season. I bet on him to be one of the top drivers, when he was in the Truck Series.

Monday, June 12, 2006

But Seriously, Folks...

Seriously, I shall not, ever again, underestimate Denny Hamlin. I think I already knew better than that, and the error of my ways was brought to my attention long before the start of Sundays race, when Denny took the pole. Then, watching the NBS race at Nashville, in the closing laps, I was astounded at the moves young Hamlin was putting on none other than Kevin Harvick in a battle for second. It was then that I realized that I had not merely underestimated the young driver from Virginia, but I had seriously misjudged him. Honestly, I should have known better. The accomplishment of Denny Hamlin, Mike Ford, and the entire Fed Ex team was no less than incredible.

I was actually relieved to see Jeff Gordon climb out of that car, as I am sure most of us race fans were. That was a scary wreck. I don't like Gordon, but I would never wish harm on anybody in any race car. His composure almost surprised me, but we can't forget that, even while he is active, is a genuine legend among NASCAR drivers.

I don't know what it is going to take for a Yates driver to get a win. Jarrett and Sadler are both excellent, highly skilled drivers. And it can't be the engineering--both Robert and Doug Yates are highly accomplished engineers--and both are hands on in the design of the cars and the engines. That leaves only one explanation, and its not a very good one. Bad Luck.

Another realization struck me Saturday, as the drivers were traveling from the practice at Pocono to the NBS race at Nashville. I get really nervous when these guys travel. It used to make me nervous when Tony Stewart or Robby Gordon traveled between Indianapolis and Charlotte to run both races, too. The relief when they arrive safely is incredible. I think it is that Davey Allison’s death in a helicopter crash back in 1993 hit me so hard. I hope I am always able to breath a sigh of relief every week these guys travel.

"The Smoke Factor is back."
That is what Tony Stewart told his team, feeling comfortable with his injured shoulder, his car, and his driving ability. Last year, at Michigan, he was very disappointed in his second place finish. I think he is ready to win there next week. If his performance is as good as it was Sunday, he more than likely would. He got his 100th top five finish in his eighth year in Cup racing, which is quite a guage of his ability. He showed little sign of having a fractured scapula, and his performance was summed up by this quote by one of the Fox commentators:
"Smoke at 80% is better than 50% of the other drivers."
I think it was DW who said that, and I couldn't think of a more accurate assessment of Stewart's ability.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pocono 500 picks

I really like Pocono. The "roaval," part road course, part oval speedway, as it is called, consistantly provides the race fan with exciting flag to flag racing. CRB (Cloudy Revelation Ball), however, does not like it. CRB considers the races at this unique raceway a "wild card."
Listen up, Candyman, and fans of the Yates #38 team, this is your chance to change your luck! CRB has ordered Elliott Sadler to win this race! Yates produces the most powerful engine on the track, and the Ford Fusion has proven itself a viable all-purpose package. The Candyman is an excellent all-purpose driver, and really needs to be able to show his stuff. The Candyman can do it.

Okay, Babs, I have repeated "Candyman" three times. In the strange universe of Luck and Fate, with its strange and obscure rules, this just might work!

I like the chances for Bobby Labonte. The #43 team has shown much potential for success so far this season, and Labonte is one of those drivers who has a handle on Pocono. If the Everham engine holds up, and Labonte's ability is not interfered with, Petty Racing may get its first victory this year. The #43 team is gelling, the talent and the determination are there, and the combination should be the formula for success at Pocono. CRB is clapping its flippers, wagging its tail, flapping its wings, and grinning, so this may a good pick. You never know.
Dale Jarrett is a seasoned veteran at this track, and has been somewhat successful here. He may, however, be seen as a "lame duck," already having announced his plans to leave Yates (note to RYR: GET VICKERS!). Yet Jarrett is a serious racer, and his drive to win, his love for racing, his tremendous talent, and his experience should overcome any urge to not give a scheiss.
Tony Stewart will be driving the entire event, practice sessions, qualifying, and the race. I don't have a whole lot of hope for him going 200 laps at Pocono without his injury bothering him, but he has done so well when injured before. So to Tony, I say "Oh Hell Yeah!." Let's get behind him Smoke fans. Wendy and Clance, and Tina Renee, and all the wonderful Smoke fans at the forums, let's hear it:


Whew! That was exciting.

Now that we're fired up, we should see who else we think will do well at the Pennsylvania 400. As much as I want to have faith in the JGR rookies, who are very good, I don't think that either JJ Yeley or Denny Hamlin are quite ready for this track. One rookie who may be very good would be Martin Truex, Jr. He has shown some brilliance at difficult tracks, even at his first attempts. He seems to have the right kind of attitude, and, even though we haven't mentioned him much on this blog, I do like him. Without much more to go on than optimistic speculation, which, by the way, is the norm for this blog, I think Truex may finish ahead of the other rookies at this race.
Smartass of the race will not, for once, be Kyle Busch. It will be his brother, Boo Bait Busch, in the Penske South #2 Miller Light car. Not to say Shrub won't be a smartass, just that big brother Busch will do better, both at being a smartass, and negotiating the roaval. Experience counts. I don't have any doubts about the ability of the #2 team, but I do lack some faith in the equipment. I am being very brave in saying this, because I am sure that Roger Penske knows where I live. If I get "disappeared," well, I just asked for it.
I want to see Ryan Newman do well here. I don't know why, because he is not one of my favorites, but neither is he one of the drivers I don't like. Maybe The Captain won't send his goons after me if I pick The Rocket to get a top ten finish.
We cannot leave out Robby Gordon. This guy is beyond hungry, he is absolutely feral. Still, he has enough of a head on his shoulders to be expert at running the roaval. I like to watch him race at Pocono, for his style is exciting, if not sometimes dangerous. Being feral may sometimes cause him to do some uncivilized things, but the importance of keeping his cool, not forgetting what he is capable of , and being able to finish in order to win is not lost on him. Not being a dummy will be instrumental in getting a top ten finish for America's Top Underdog.
We always pick Mark Martin to get a top ten finish. There is no reason not to, and no explaination or analysis is needed here.
In keeping on the same roll that mirrors a certain driver's success, I will not mention the name of the Roush driver who will fill out the top ten. Nor will I actively pick him. The former Winston Cup Champ will be there. If you are still curious as to who "Not to Mention" is, click here.
Gosh, I picked neither Jeff Gordon, nor Jimmy Johnson. Is that good or bad? I just don't think this is an HMS kind of track. They may take some drivers out, but I don't think they will have the car to finish in the top ten.
I promise I won't forget Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

I hope that the Pennsylvania 400 will be as exciting as we expect it to be. Long Pond is always something to look forward to.

1. #38 Elliott Sadler
2. #43 Bobby Labonte
3. #1 Martin Truex, Jr
4. Not to Mention
5. #20 Tony Stewart
6 #12 Ryan Newman
7. #6 Mark Martin
8. #88 Dale Jarrett
9. #2 Kurt Busch
10, #7 Robby Gordon

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Playing Injured

I found this article on ABC news on-line, dealing with drivers playing hurt. It offers some suggestions, but I sort of like the way DW talked about it last Sunday. Why not just have a "permission slip" from a doctor to miss a race. With the driver as the declared entrant for the car, a substitute driver may be used if the primary driver is injured, and I mean, for the entire event. No having to start a race. The points the substitute driver gets would still be awarded to the primary driver. What do y'all think?

Monday, June 05, 2006

If I Must...

I must realize, when I post my race previews, that there are some highly talented drivers out there, whom I seem to be forgetting about.
I don't mean to forget about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He is extremely talented, and he continues to prove it every week. I just don't think his cars are quite up to snuff, yet. Jr realizes that he is not his father, but I would like to see him get just a little more aggressive, rather than apologizing for every time his car slides a little. He has a great attitude, just needs to apply it a little differently.
If I must mention Jeff Gordon again, well, he is not one of my favorites, but I do feel that he has a win coming. His erratic success, so far this season, has made it difficult to tell if he is on his way up or down. I still feel that win somewhere down the line, but when or where, I can't tell. I want to see both Jeff and Smoke in good form for Sonoma (heal fast, Tony) in two weeks, because I have to see that race between those two.
I must mention Jeff Burton. I thought it was to be Harvick who would put RCR back on the map, but Jeff is doing a pretty good job of it. I realized, last year, when Burton transferred to Childress Racing, that it was a good move for them both, and Burton has definitely shown that he is still an up and coming driver, not a has-been. Either Harvick or Burton could conceivably be the next Champion.
Finally, I must remember to not pick the last Winston Cup Champ for a top ten finish in my race previews, but to pick him in my fantasy games. That seems to be successful.

I want to add a link to a very interesting article from Jackson Sun on-line, about some stats on past NASCAR champions. It is very well worth the read.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Monster Mile

I poked fun at Jeff Gordon last week, so now I'm done with that. In fact, I am picking Jeff Gordon to win at Dover this weekend. Why would I do that? I have never accused Gordon of not being an exceptional driver. It was fairly obvious, from the beginning of the 2006 season, that all the #24 team needed was some experience working together, and some adjustments to get the handling combination to a point where Gordon could feel comfortable. I think Gordon is feeling comfortable in the car now, and, with his skill and experience at the Monster Mile, he should be able to see Victory Lane.
Gordon has three team mates who could cause him some trouble. Jimmie Johnson holds a comfortable lead in championship, and will more than likely run a supporting role for his mentor and car owner. But Brian Vickers is very hungry for a win, and is in a very good car this weekend. If he can avoid wrecks, and if he doesn't run over somebody who would retaliate, he stands a chance of putting some real pressure on the #24 team. Then, there is "Rowdy" Kyle "Shrub" Busch who is a loose cannon, but a talented loose cannon. He probably would care who's team the #24 team is on if that car is in the way of a win. One would think that Shrub would be a little more careful, after recieving a fine and points deductions, but this is Shrub we're talking about here. He has to get someone angry at him, so he can be angry as well. As I said, loose cannon.
I think Ryan Newman can change his luck, as Greg Biffle already has. Biffle, last year's winner, can get a top 5 finish, and Newman will finish somewhere in the top ten, if only it is a good track for him. With both Kasey Kahne and Scott Riggs on a roll, Everham should be able to put two Dodges in the top ten.
Robby Gordon is pulling double duty this weekend--at Dover, and at the Baja 500. He usually does well pulling double duty, and will win one of the races, most likely the Baja. But his adreniline level will be up, and he is another pick for the top ten at Dover.
I can't pick 10 without putting Mark Martin in there.
Finally, I'm picking Denny Hamlin, just because I know he can do it.
This, then, is our proposed finishing order:
1. #24 Jeff Gordon
2. #16 Greg Biffle
3. #9 Kasey Kahne
4. #25 Brian Vickers
5. #5 Kyle Busch
6. #7 Robby Gordon
7. #48 Jimmie Johnson
8. #10 Scott Riggs
9. #6 Mark Martin
10. #11 Denny Hamlin.

Now, a word about the #20 team. Tony Stewart has to be very careful not to get caught up in anything which may add to his injury. He will have to start in the back, because Rudd will be doing the qualifying, and no matter what position Ricky gets, the driver change at the start will put the #20 car in the back. Rudd, a four time winner at Dover, is a very good choice for substitute, but the driver change, ideally at the first caution, should keep the car behind, but hopefully not a lap down. As much as I hate it, I do not see a top ten finish for Stewart/Rudd this weekend. Let's hope for an early caution.