Saturday, July 08, 2006

Shooting the Breeze

Chicagoland is a developing race track. That is, it isn’t old enough to have developed the same characteristics year after year. The first year or so the NASCAR Cup series ran there, the track was slick, because of new pavement. Then it developed a groove, but there was still difficulty in passing, because there was only one line the drivers could take, because the rest of the track was still fairly slick. Then, pit strategy was more important than position. In 2005, as the surface became seasoned, we began to see side by side racing without a whole lot of carnage on the outside line, and that promised even better racing this year. The drivers claim., after practice, that the track now has multiple grooves, and promise a very good and exciting race Sunday. In fact, if all the cars are as good as the drivers claim, everybody except Jeff Gordon has a very good chance of winning, Sunday. It could be a wild race, and it will likely be a lot of fun to watch. If you have PRN or MRN. be sure you have your radio tuned in for the audio commentary while you watch the race. So there you have your preview of Sunday’s race at Chicagoland.
You know I can't stop there. Over the last month, or two, I have been tlaking about a resurgance of Richard Childress Racing. This could be the week we see that actually happen. Jeff Burton got the pole with a very impressive qualifying time, knocking off track speed record holder Jimmy Johnson. Meanwhile, team-mate Kevin Harvick, the only two-time winner at Chicagoland, is also showing a lot of confidence in his car and his ability to win the race, posting the second fastest time in second practice.. All three of the RCR drivers--Burton, Harvick, and rookie Clint Bowyer--are also driving in the Busch Series race this weekend, and though the Busch cars act differently than the Cup cars, they should get enough driving time on the track to get a handle on it. We wouldn't be unhappy to see Burton or Harvick win on Sunday, and it looks as if either one of them could.
Speaking of RCR, the rumor mill is churning with talk of Jeff's very popular and much missed brother, Ward--pronounced "waw-ed"--joining the team next year. That would be exciting for fans if it were to happen. The brothers from South Boston, Virginia, both on the same team. Jeff could be Ward's interpreter for the general public.. To paraphrase a Jeff Foxworthy joke, if you understand every word Ward Burton says, you may be a NASCAR fan . (Jeff Foxworthy once joked of Ward Burton's heavily accented speech, "I'm from the South, and I'm not even sure he's speaking English!")
Being an anti-Gordon fan hasn't yet made me an anti-Jimmie Johnson fan. Sure, he fell out of my top ten favorites list when he began his insanely unwarrented finger-pointing tyrade last season, but I remain very impressed by his driving talent. Of all the Hendrick drivers, Johnson has shown the best ability on the so-called "cookie cutter" tracks, and, barring mistakes--Johnson is error-prone--we should consider him a favorite to win. Barring mistakes, an error free race would make him very difficult to beat. The only things that keep me from declaring Johnson the outright winner are; (a) there are about fifteen drivers I like better than him, and (b) if he doesn't win the championship points race will tighten up. That's just being a biased race fan, I know.
Brian Vickers--the other Hendrick driver who looks good, so far, this weekend--wants a win in the worst way, the worst way being that it wouldn't be beneath him to knock his team-mate out of the way to take the checkers. Now that he knows he has a future in the Cup series, he is relaxed and able to concentrate on racing. The man does have skill, and he is very knowledgeable in the nuances of racing, if you have ever heard him on Speed TV's Inside Nextel Cup. He has learned a lot in the past three years, and should be able to use that learning to get, at least, a top five finish at Chicagoland.
Speaking of top five finishes, out of five starts, Tony Stewart has four of them at Chicagoland, including a win in 2004. Stewart is arguably the best driver on the track, and I'm not just saying this because I'm a fan. Every race analyst and commentator has expressed confidence that Smoke can start the race anywhere, and will bring his car to the front. It is an established pattern. Stewart is known for his outstanding car control, and is known to drive the car into the turns harder, and accelerate out of them faster, than any other driver, if he gets his line. He is confident about his car, but has said that he doesn't quite have a handle on the track this weekend. That shouldn't be discouraging, because there is no doubt that he will have it figured out by the green flag, Sunday. This is the part of the season that is rapidly becoming known as "Tony Time," a series of races at tracks on which Stewart has a very good record. All I can say is that Smoked has denied rumors that his flagstand-climbing days are over. "I said that it will probably kill me," he told the television audience Friday, "but as long as the fans like it, I'll do it for them."
JJ Yeley is a lot like Jimmie Johnson in that he has tons of talent, but is prone to errors. That being said, many of his race ending accidents have been merely a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Gibbs cars are good, and JJ knows that he has an excellent car for Chicagoland, and he knows that he can't make any mistakes, but it doesn't seem as though he is under any pressure. A calm Yeley is a good Yeley. Twice, Yeley has had this race won, only to lose it due to poor pit strategy near the end of the race. Yeley has vowed to stay out of the pits no matter what. We want to see him show what he can do, and Chicagoland may be the place for him to show it.
Also in the Gibbs stable is Denny Hamlin, probably the brightest star in the star-studded rookie field. Chicagoland should be a piece of cake for him. With a Bud Shootout win and a Cup points win at Pocono under his belt, this star will continue rising. We will soon be wondering, "is there anything this guy can't do?"
All the drivers I have mentioned so far drive Chevrolet Monte Carlos. There is a reason for this--nothing but Chevy has been in Victory Lane at Chicagoland. However, we have to consider the Dodge Charger teams of Ray Everham. Kasey Kahne is driving a car this weekend that has not lost a race. Everham calls it his "happy car," and Kahne is happy to be back at a "cookie cutter" track, where he has excelled so far this season. Since the introduction of the Charger aerodynamics, Dodge has been weak at the 1.5 mile ovals, except in the case of Kahne and his team-mate Scott Riggs. Riggs qualified well, is hungry for a win, and could very well show what he is made of at Chicagoland. Do not count him out, he is due for a win.
We can't count out Bobby Labonte, who drives a Dodge for Petty Racing Enterprises. It hasn't been lack of talent or confidence for him this season, just bad luck. There are many fans, including myself, who want to see the 2000 Winston Cup champion get back to his winning ways. He definitely looks as if he is making that comeback.
Okay, that's ten, but we can't overlook Greg Biffle. The Biff is back, and this is his kind of track If there is such a thing as a cookie cutter specialist, Biffle is the one. He is used to winning and is probably going through withdrawal, but that shouldn't keep him from making a good showing.
There are two drivers who could mess things up, and possibly make the race more exciting than we really want it to be. The two Hendrick drivers I haven't mentioned yet--a frustrated Jeff Gordon and an over-zealous Kyle Busch--could cause chaos on the track. Not for lack of talent, but Gordon, when he feels frustrated, and is so intent on making the chase, tends to do something rash during a race, if his car isn't handling well. It will either work out good for him, or bad for everybody. Busch, on the other hand, is often wreckless, flooring the throttle and racing as if he's at Daytona or Talledega. This may not be a good thing at Chicagoland--if someone gets in his way, cars and tempers will be flying in all directions. Good as he is, there isn't much good about the Shrub at an intermediate track like Chicagoland.
And I have to mention the driver whose name I won't mention here for the sake of superstition. Those who read this blog regularly know who that is, for those who don't he was the last Winston Cup champion in 2003, and is currently second in the championship standings by less than twenty points. I expect him to be in first place in points by the end of the race.
This is shaping up to be a very good race. If you are watching it from home, as suggested before, turn on your radio and listen to the play-by-play for ultimate effect. Enjoy the race, and know that, whomever it may be, your favorite driver could win this one.

1 comment:

yellowdog granny said...

howdy sweetcakes.just dropped by to say thanks for the nice comment on my post....after reading this i think you should check out babs nascar blog..it's on my blog roll..she is a matt and elliot fan and is not fond of jeff...she is a huge racing fan...
thanks..and please if my posts on the past inspire you to write about the same ..go right ahead..im working on turning the clock back..