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!


- K - said...

hello there Jim! nice blog. very well written :) keep bloggin'

RevJim said...

Thank you,-k-. To my readers, -k- and her friends have set up a blog group page called "Blog Junkie."
It is another place to list your blogs and has a ratings system. Please check it out.