Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Chase--Race#2 Preview (Dover)

It is nearly time for me to begin weaning myself from racing this season, for there are only nine races left in NASCAR Nextel Cup this year. I have yet to watch a football game this year. Football is okay, but it would be better if the players weighed 4000 pounds more and ran about 160mph faster. I will eventually start watching football, and rooting for the Broncos, but football season doesn't really start for me until after the NASCAR season is over.
Hockey does involve going in circles, and has plenty of beating and banging, so it has some appeal, but the sounds aren't quite right. Still, I look forward to the NHL going into full swing. Hockey, however, can be difficult to watch on television, and I don't have the same attention span it takes to watch it as I do for racing.
This weekend's race will be at the Monster Mile of Dover. There will be plenty of going fast, and beating and banging. Again, I must warn the reader not to take my picks seriously, because I am rarely right.
I want to see Mark Martin win this one. He has a good history at Dover, probably with a higher finishing position than any other active driver. Martin has the ability to put his car where no one else is, and he does it so quickly, one wonders if there isn't some sort of magic involved. When the number six car is running well, it is quite exciting to see the "old man" race side by side with another driver. He makes it clear that the other car better be faster or else back off. This will probably be graphically illustrated at Dover, where side by side racing isn't all that easy in the first place. In order for Mark to win, he must have a good car, though--he is not the kind of driver who will try to force a poor handling car to the front. That is not his style.
A driver who does have a knack for taking a poor handling car to the front is Kasey Kahne. The cute little guy's success as a driver is no fluke, as we have known since his rookie year. Last week, at New Hampshire, he took a thirtieth place car to the top sixteen. Kahne goes into the second week of the chase 110 points out of the lead, so he would like a good finish, and he has the ability to do so. Dover isn't really his forte, but his Sprint car experience can come in handy here, and with his determination combined with his talent, he can pull off a top five finish.
Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch both need good finishes at Dover, lest they be left behind in the Chase. They could hope for someone besides themselves to have the kind of luck they had last week, but they would have to make it good by having a strong finish. Either of these two drivers has the driving style and talent to win at Dover, in fact, out of four starts, Kyle B has three top five finishes, but as good as the competition is this year, winning is not a gimme for either one of them.
If Mark Martin doesn't win, perhaps Matt Kenseth can make it happen. Kenseth definitely has the patience and skill to make a race at Dover look easy.
I am worried about Dale Earhardt, Jr. I know his heart is very much into the race, but he needs something good to happen to lift his spirits a bit. He does have a fair record at Dover, but it is not one of his favorite tracks. It could be his way of fireing himself up, though, because his top ten finish last week was not good enough for him. Perhaps he is secretly wearing an Avis logo somewhere on his person. You know what I mean--"we try harder." Really, that's all the #8 team needs--to try harder.
Jeff Burton is always trying harder. A hardened veteran of NASCAR, it seems to many of us that Burton has not yet reached his peak. That #31 team for Richard Childress Racing belongs in Victory Lane sometime this year, because if trying harder and determination could win races, Burton would have swept the season. If there is a problem on which one can get a handle with this team, it is that they seem to be using the car up early in the race. We have seen this happen many times this season--the #31 car taking the early lead, leading lots of laps, then not quite having enough left for the final race to the Checkers. At Dover, this is bound to happen to almost every team--the track is bumpy, with a rough surface that is hard on tires, making it a very physical race which will take a lot out of both the car and the driver. This is where Burton needs to take care. He has the stamina to handle it, but does the car?
I actually cheered when Jeff Gordon took the pole for Sunday's race. Not for the driver, but in knowing what it means. It could mean that the race for first place would be boring, with no one able, throughout the entire race, to challenge The Gordon. Or it could mean flag to flag excitement, with multiple challenges and some very interesting and spectacular racing. Especially if Stewart gets up front to challenge Gordon, when we would get to see the two best beat and bang it out. They won't wreck each other unless something goes seriously wrong, but we can be sure that, if this does happen, there will be some serious donuts on the sides of both cars. Whew, I'm already out of breath just thinking about it. If such a race doesn't happen...oh well; the beauty of auto racing is that there is certainly something else happening on the track to get the adrenaline going.
Watch Denny Hamlin. This kid seems unable to discern the difference between different types of tracks, turns, or pavement. He does the same thing no matter what kind of track he is racing on, run and run good. He doesn't worry about points, or the nuances of the particular venue, the history of the track, or the competition, he just goes and gets the best finish he can. Don't be surprised if he wins Sunday.
We know what Kevin Harvick is doing. He is on a roll, and he will be hard to stop. Lke his teammate, Jeff Burton, he has to be careful not to use his stuff up early. That hasn't been a problem so far in this season, but we are talking about Dover here. Things don't always go as well as they have been when it comes to Dover.
Of the non-chasers, Scott Riggs looks good, if he doesn't blow his motor. This is one of my favorite drivers, and I feel he is much better than his carreer record shows. We shall see--he did hold the provisional pole for a while, but he may have damaged the engine, which will have to be changed, meaning he will start in the back. Still, he has shown the ability to move up through the pack, though the Monster Mile does not make that easy.
Tony Stewart has made two pledges; that he will race to win, and that he will be cautious so as not to be the reason someone is knocked out of the chase due to a crash. This will make an excellent racing event, especially if he can get up to the front to race Jeff Gordon for the win. Whew, out of breath again.
Now, I will do something I haven't done for a while. Here is my list of top ten picks and my predicted finishing order:
1. Jeff Gordon
2. Denny Hamlin
3. Tony Stewart
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Kyle Busch
6. Kevin Harvick
7. Kasey Kahne
8. Mark Martin
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr
10. Carl Edwards
Okay, this doesn't seem to be what I wrote about. We'll just say, not necessarily in order.
Good luck to all the fans and their drivers, and may we see a safe and exciting race.

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