Monday, October 30, 2006

Goblins and Gremlins

It's near Halloween, and, at Atlanta, the goblins and/or gremlins showed up for the occasion. Kyle Busch literally ran into trouble early, and finished several laps down. Kasey Kahne, the race favorite, put himself out of championship contention, when he forgot that David Stremme's car was to his right, and ran right into him. And, much to the dismay of us sentimentalists, goblins got in the way of Mark Martin, and he wrecked in the closing laps of the race. Kevin Harvick had gremlins in his car the entire race, and he finished two laps down. Matt Kenseth also seemed to have continuing problems with the "Miss Setup" goblin, but still pulled off a very exciting fourth place finish. This is something Matt can always seem to do--take a twentieth place car to a top five finish. This is why I have picked him to win the championship this year.
Gremlins also continued to plague Jeff Burton, as a cut tire relegated him to a thirteenth place finish. But the other Jeff in the Chase, Jeff Gordon, managed to overcome Halloween Demons and finish sixth. As did Denny Hamlin, who was a lap down for much of the race, and finished in eighth.
While the Halloween creepies were bothering all those guys, they left the others alone. Dale Earnhardt, Jr took a gamble on older tires at the end of the race, and still managed to pull off third place, in the aforementioned exciting race with Matt Kenseth. Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson raced valiantly and cleanly for much of the final eighty laps of the race. And Smoke won, his ability and experience guiding him around the track to find the groove where his car ran best, under the changing track conditions.
The beautiful carved bear trophy awarded to Tony for winning the Bass Pro500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway was only the capping off of a wonderful weekend for him. Saturday, he finished the final race of the Crown Royal International Race of Champions series in third place, which was enough to win him that championship. His name on the IROC trophy is added to such racing greats as Mark Donahue, AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Al Unser. I was counting all of Tony's championships in go-carts and quarter midgets when I counted 19 career championships for him. Officially, only his USAC, IRL and NASCAR championships count, and now, with the IROC trophy, it makes 11 official national championships for him.
After Atlanta, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, and Kyle Busch have fallen out of contention for the championship. With only three races to go, it was the wrong time for things to go wrong. Jeff Gordon, 144 points out of the lead, still has a chance, if everything goes right for him and goes wrong for the six drivers ahead of him in points. Kevin Harvick is 121 points out of the lead, and can take inspiration from Jimmie Johnson, who made up 130 points in three races to get to where he is, in third place. Jeff Burton is tied in fourth/fifth place with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 84 points out of the lead, and either one of them could still race his way to the championship. For the top three drivers, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin, there are only 66 points separating first from third, and any one of them could leave next week's race at Texas Motor Speedway in the points lead. Here's to another great race in a great season.

JPM Update
Juan Pablo Montoya finished his first NASCAR Busch Series race, the Sam's Town 250, at Memphis, in eleventh place. Not bad for someone who has only driven stock cars for a little over a month.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Atlanta Tricks and Treats

Atlanta is one of the fun tracks on the NASCAR Cup circuits. True, it's a 1.5-mile "D" shaped oval, like Lowe's, Texas, Kansas City, Chicago, and Las Vegas, but each one of these venues has its own personality, and Atlanta is the "fun" one. All the drivers like it, and if you are there and have a ticket, you can see the entire track, which also makes it very fan friendly.
The surface of the track at Atlanta Motor Speedway is termed "abrasive." This means that the tires will grip, for about ten or eleven laps, but then the cars will start sliding and moving up and down the track as the rubber is used up, and the track becomes slick. The good drivers like this--if the car is set up well. We can expect, during the first part of the race, every pit stop to be for four tires and fuel. There won't be that many tricks for fuel mileage until the last quarter of the race, and this depends on how many cautions there are. There may be a caution or two within the first 30 or so laps, but we should see more green flag laps than we did at Lowe's a few weeks ago.
The real trick will be catching--or should I say "katching"--Kasey Kahne. The cute little guy has had an excellent run on the 1.5-mile tracks, winning at six such races so far this year. He won, in fact at the Atlanta race last Spring, and sweeping another venue as he did at Lowe's two weeks ago will be some added incentive for him. There is no reason to believe that he can't win another one. Unless he has engine problems.
The Everham teams--Kahne in the #9, Scott Riggs in the #10, and Elliott Sadler in the #19--have all been gaining in strength. The engine problems suffered by Sadler and Riggs in the last few races are being dealt with, and hopefully we will not see such problems at Atlanta. However, because of the speeds an gearing used at Atlanta, the question of engine durability will remain a concern..
Hendrick Motor Sports (HMS) also has had some problems with engines this season, and if not with engines, then with gearboxes. It seems to be the biggest problem which has kept Jeff Gordon from getting to the top of the points race. Jimmie Johnson, who is only 41 points out of the lead, has also had such mechanical problems throughout the season. The #48 team is good at overcoming obstacles, and it should be remembered that Johnson has never finished a season outside of the top four in points. With that in mind, I am adding Johnson to my list of "drivers who I would not be unhappy to see win the Cup." He is on a roll, coming off of the victory at Martinsville, and he may just have the trick that will get him to Victory Lane.
An engine problem for Jeff Burton at Martinsville is what put the Chase for the Championship back to the piont where any of the top nine drivers can take the Nextel Cup. Kevin Harvick is now in second place, and Burton dropped from first all the way back to sixth, but still only forty-eight points out of the lead. Richard Childress Racing, the team for which both Burton and Harvick drive, is known for engine reliability, which is why the engine failure last week came as a surprise. Hopefully, the team engineers know what went wrong and have been able to remedy it, and they will be able to stay in the race to the finish. I'm expecting top five finishes for both of them.
Possibly the meanest trick was the rain. For A.J. Almendinger, the former Champ Car series driver, it was. Atlanta was to be his first Cup race in NASCAR, but, because of rain, he didn't get a chance to qualify.
For the Chase drivers, the rained out qualifying session was the biggest treat, for the cars start in order of owner's points, meaning the top ten start in the top ten positions. We could probably see a relaxing of the insanity that has marked the start of most of the races so far this year, because the chasers will be careful not to take each other out in the first few laps of the race. For fans of insanity, there will still be plenty of that from about twentieth position on back.
Matt Kenseth starts on the pole position, with Kevin Harvick next to him. Harvick will probably take a shot at the lead from the start, but Matt will most likely prevail, coming out of turn two, and be able to lead a few laps.
For those of us who are Mark Martin fans, he has declared that he will win the race. This is uncharacteristic of the driver who has been, at the most, pessimistically optimistic about his chances for winning a race, so we should pay attention to him. Martin is one of the greats, with a unique racing style, and the ability to quickly fill any space in front of him. If he says he will win, we better take that as a strong possibility that he will.
The treat for the multitude of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans is in the fact that the #8 team has strengthened greatly on the 1.5-mile tracks, and we should see a strong showing for Junior. As a driver, Junior is smart, and his car control abilities are among the best. Atlanta is a track that is good for Junior's style of driving, and he may move up some in the points standings by the end of the race.
Being in the top ten, and in contention for the championship is a treat for Wonder Rookie Denny Hamlin. He has shown some amazing ability to adapt to any type of track, and he is starting in fourth position. We expect him to back off a little in the first part of the race, letting others make their own mistakes, but he will be there at the end. To think, his goal at the beginning of the year was "to finish most of the races and to get Rookie of The Year." Those goals have been met, and there is a very strong possibility that he will be the first rookie in the history of NASCAR to win the championship.
It is my mind, not my heart that is picking Kyle Busch to win this race. He is energized, seeing that he is once again in reach of the points lead, after Burton's engine failure and the finishing order at Martinsville virtually reset the Chase. I'm not a big fan of The Schrub, but we must recognize his talent and his ability, and, if he doesn't put himself in the position of being taken out in retaliation, determination and skill will make for very exciting finishing laps, and victory.
In the end, it will come down to engine durability and pit strategy, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that no-one in the Chase has engine problems, just to keep the points close, and the Chase for the Championship exciting.

Friday, October 27, 2006

IROC Final Race is Saturday at AMS

Well, I made the mistake of watching Speed TV's The Chase is On and realized that every time I've written a preview, I sound just like Carl Edwards. I spoiled it--for my Muse, I mean--and can't think of writing anything about Atlanta which hasn't already been said. Not on the Cup level, anyway.
So, let's talk IROC, the Inernational Race of Champions. For those who aren't familiar with IROC, it is a four race series in identically prepared cars. They are Pontiac Firebird based cars, with fiberglass bodies, set up somewhere between the NASCAR stock cars and the GT class we see in the Grand Am series. The drivers in the series are made up of past champions and current champions from the NASCAR Cup series, the Indy Racing League (IRL), the Open Wheel Championship Car Series (Champ Car), The Rolex Grand Am series, the World of Outlaws Sprint Car series, the NASCAR Busch Series, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series, and, this year being the first time for it, the ARCA series. Atlanta marks the fourth and final race in this year's IROC series. If you need more backround, follow this link.
Tony Stewart leads the IROC in points, and can win the $1,000,000 prize if he finishes Saturday's IROC race in third or better. Mark Martin has done that six times, and he is also in the race. They are joined, from NASCAR by Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex, Jr., and Ted Musgrave. Also in the race are , Scott Sharp, Sam Hornish, Jr. from IRL, Steve Kinser, from World of Outlaws, Max Papis, from several different sports car road racing series,Wayne Taylor, from Rolex Grand Am, and Frank Kimmel--the eight time ARCA champion. Most of them are still in a position to win the IROC championship, which is par for the course in IROC, and which makes the final race always exciting.
Smoke can win it, though. He has the reputation of being able to drive the wheels off of anything, and he has amassed 19 championship trophies throughout his career, includng two in NASCAR Cup and one in the IRL. The IROC cars seem to suit him, as he has won IROC races at Texas Motor Speedway, which is similar to Atlanta, and on the Daytona road course. The IROC races depend on drivers' skills, and Tony is arguably the most skilled driver in the series. He has offered a deal with the owner of the IROC series, that if he wins the IROC championship, he will give the million dollars back to the series in exchange for including his dirt track at Eldora in the IROC mix next year. That would be exciting for those of us who follow the series. He is serious about it, and that is an added incentive for him. It should also be incentive for us to watch the race Saturday, and see what happens. It will be aired on Speed TV.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Review: Martinsville II

I'm writing this on Sunday, during the races, and I have to say Thank God for MRN, because I'm trying to follow both the NASCAR race, and the Brazilian Gran Prix, which is the last Formula One race of the season, and, incidently Michael Schumacher's final race of his career. Even if I weren't flipping, I'm still happy to have MRN on to follow the race at Martinsville, because a lot is happening during the television commercials. Mainly restarts--after five cautons, three restarts happened during commercials on NBC.
When ABC/ESPN get their turn, I'm hoping they use the split screen for the ads, like they did for the IRL races, where you can still watch the race while the commercials are on.
The race at Martinsville, was everything we could hope for. Granted, we didn't want to see the wreck on the first lap, which was once again the result of drivers trying to race the first lap as if it was the last, but the remainder of the race featured everything that is great about short track racing. It was actually fairly clean for a short track race--there were few instances on pit road involving contact between cars, and the majority of the sixteen caution periods were caused by single-car spinouts with minimal damage to cars. There were some great moments of racing during the entire course of the Subway 300--lots of drivers working well in traffic, racing each other as cleanly as possible on a half-mile oval. There was some real racing going on, such as Junior racing Jeff, Jeff racing Tony, and Bobby Labonte coming back from two laps down to lead some laps and finish third.
Not that we wanted to see Jeff Burton lose the points lead the way he did, with engine problems which put him out of the race, but what that did to the points standings is simply awesome to those of us who are paying attention to the points race. Now, with Matt Kenseth back in the lead, Kasey Kahne, in eighth place is only ninety-nine points out of first place. It is, with four races left, anybody's championship. But I get ahead of myself.
I genuinely feel that we got to see some of the best racing this year during the last hundred laps or so of the race. Nobody was going to give up anything, but the drivers were very respectful of each other. The only downside was David Regan, who will be driving the #6 car next year, but showed that he is not quite ready for the Cup level, causing many problems for other drivers, especially Ken Schrader, who could have possibly won the race. Smoke retaliated for Schrader, and I imagie he was congratulated for that by every other driver, except for Kyle Busch, who unfortunately hit the wall while trying to avoid Regan's spinning car. Otherwise, there was some great racing between Tony and Jeff, there, where we could see the two best trying to beat each other while avoiding beating on each other. But the race between Home Town Boy, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson in the closing laps was outstanding. Denny did everything he could, running on seven cylinders as he did nearly the entire race, to beat Johnson. He was definitely handling the turns very well, but he just didn't have the power to maintain the lead on the straightaways. I was certainly yelling for him, and he didn't lose the race for not trying.
But I'm not unhappy that Johnson won. He raced to that victory, and earned it well. There was some booing among the cheers--when Jimmie got out of the car he gave the booers The Finger, much to the delight of the crowd--but they don't throw beer cans at Martinsville, to their credit.
Two years ago, four members of the Hendrick family, including the universally liked Ricky Hendrick, Rick Hendrick's son, died when the plane numbered N501RH crashed on its way to the race at Martinsville. Johnson's victory was not without memory of that tragedy. This was another tribute to the memory of the seven who died in that crash. So, even though I was pulling for Bobby Labonte or Denny Hamlin to beat Johnson, my congratulations to Jimmie Johnson for his victory is sincere and heart-felt.
With the Chase for the Championship being reset for all practical purposes, I am still picking Matt Kenseth to win the Cup, because I feel he is every bit as good a driver as Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon, and a second championship now would help to prove that. There are some other drivers, if Matt doesn't win , with whom I would not be dissapointed if they won the championship instead, not necessarily in this order:
Jeff Burton
Mark Martin
Denny Hamlin
Kasey Kahne
Kevin Harvick
Next week is Atlanta, a very fast intermediate track. The Chase is anybody's once again, and this makes it exciting. I'm looking forward to some more great racing in each of the four final races.

Schumie's Last Stand

Seven time Formula One World Champion, Michael Schumacher could arguably be called the Greatest. He not only has the record seven championships, but also has ninety-one Gran Prix wins. And, for a little while, it looked as if he may end his career on top. He was three championship points ahead of reigning Champion Fernando Alonso with two races left in the season, and his career. Then disaster struck at the Japanese Gran Prix, when, while leading the race, his engine blew. That was strange, since the Ferrari engines are usually very sturdy and reliable.
One could say that it wasn't in the cards for Schumacher to retire with eight championships. Now, ten points behind the points leading Alonso, going into the Brazilian Gran Prix, Schumacher could still have won the championship if, 1: Alonso had to drop out of the race, for some reason, and 2: Schumacher won the race. After showing some excellent performance in practice and in the qualifying rounds, Schumie was almost a shoo-in for the pole, but, during the pole shoot-out round, disaster struck again when the hydraulic system for the #6 Ferrari's fuel pump failed. The car that should have been on the pole--it had been the fastest during the qualifying rounds--was doomed to start in the tenth position.
But Michael Schumacher, the Great One, was not about to go out with a whimper. Making some amazing passes in the first lap, he quickly worked his way up to fifth. Then, on lap eleven, his right rear tire* blew.
Having to limp around the circuit, pit, and repair, put him back in twentieth position. Again, with his unique and aggressive driving style, he picked off competitors one by one, passing inside when he could, and passing on the outside when there was absolutely no room inside. He was driving that car hard, and wheel hopping didn't seem to bother him--the Ferrari was bouncing, skidding, drifting, and sliding all the way around the Gran Prix course. Watching him, you have to feel, "that's what I'm talking about." You just know he is showing exactly why he is The Great One.
With three laps to go, Michael Schumacher has muscled his way to fifth place. Kimmi "The Iceman" Raikonnen, the man who will be in Schumacher's seat next year, is running in fourth. A battle for that position ensues, and it is racing of the kind rarely seen in Formula One racing of late. Raikonnen, a future champion in his own right, is not about to just let Schumie pass him. Schumacher goes right, and Raikonnen is already there. He goes left, and the Iceman blocks the way. Finally, headed into the front stretch at the end of the lap, Schumacher makes a move only he can make--in front of him is Raikonnen, and to his left is the guardrail. Seeing the slightest hint of daylight between the two, he deftly puts his car into the space where there is barely any space, and successfully passes without wrecking. It is the amazing ability of Schumacher that convinces us that he deserves to be known as one of the greatest racers of all time.
He finished in the fourth position, and Alonso, finishing second, took the championship. Schumacher's teammate, Brazilian driver Philippi Massa, won the race at his home track, giving Ferrari the constructor's championship. Schumacher didn't even make the podium.
But that didn't matter. Schumacher's final race before retirement showed us why he is the Great One, because we got to watch him make some of his greatest moves. It will be etched in our memories.

*Remember, in NASCAR it's "tire," in Formula One it's "tyre." Both mean the same thing.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Old School Racing at Martinsville

Many of the Cup chasers cut their teeth on tracks like the one at Martinsville, VA. This is a one-half mile, flat concrete paved oval, the shortest on the Cup circuit. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Denny Hamlin, for instance, spent their entire pre-NASCAR careers on short paved ovals such as Martinsville. Most of the population of North America lives within a two hour drive of a short oval.
It's old school, but for a longer distance than the Saturday night circle burners usually race. In addition, with 43 cars on the track at the same time, it's crowded, which makes a big difference in how the race is run. The driver has to be careful not to overdrive into the corners, which will certainly use up brakes. The corners are so tight, a car will have to slow from almost 120 mph to 50 mph in order to make the turn without crashing. At least aerodynamics aren't important, because, with the crowded conditions and the difficulty of passing, there will be body parts (auto body parts, that is) flying off the cars from all the beating and banging that will be going on. The late, great Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, once said, "Rubbin' is racin'," and that saying will definitely come into play at Martinsville
Qualifying is important here, for both pit position and for track position. As has been mentioned, passing is difficult, and it will take a ton of skill to move up through the pack. The pack will, by the way be illustrating the fact that NASCAR racing is a contact sport. You really want to start the race up front in order to have the best chance at finishing up front.
Jeff Gordon has seven victories at Martinsville, including last year's Fall race. This is one race in which we can see the skill that makes him one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. In two of the last three races at this track, he has one, and in the third, he finished second. He certainly has a handle on the track, and has secured a front row starting position in qualifying. He is not yet out of contention for the championship, but he will have to do a lot of winning in the last five races to get there, and it may start at Martinsville.
Junior, who is still within easy striking distance of the points lead, is very comfortable at Martinsville. In his first Cup race there, he learned what not to do, hitting, in his own words, "everything, including the pace car."
Since then, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has raced Martinsville using his extensive short track experience, and it is now, possibly, his favorite track. It is a lot of fun to watch him race there--his car handling technique shines at the races which require a high percententage of drivers' skill. All he needs to do is keep doing what he has been doing--avoid mistakes--and he could win this thing.
But the points leader, Jeff Burton, is also an accomplished short track driver. He needs to finish well to maintain his lead, for Matt Kenseth is only forty-five points behind him. However, Kenseth is not strong at Martinsville, so Burton may not have a lot to worry about, except to get through the traffic jam and avoid being involved in someone else's accident.
Kyle Busch is more of a dirt racer than a pavement racer, from his pre-Cup days, but has shown that he can run well on the short tracks. Like Gordon, he needs a lot of luck to get back into contention for the championship, but that won't prevent him from trying to get a win. Recently, the "Schrub" has shown more maturity than he has in the past, when he used to cause problems for other drivers in traffic, but our biggest concern is whether or not his recent education has stuck. He should make the race interesting, either way.
One would think that a Sprint car driver, like Kasey Kahne, would be good on the short tracks, but Kahne's strengths have been on the intermediate tracks. He definitely is a high quality talent, though, and he should be able to do more than hold his own in the traffic. There is no reason why he can't extend his strength to Martinsville, and he needs to finish all the rest of the races in the top five. He should be considered another driver to watch, come Sunday.
There is no telling how Mark Martin will do, Sunday. All of his good performance has been countered by a lot of bad luck not of his doing. He continues to smile, post race, no matter what happens. He had said that maybe the Championship "wasn't in the cards," for him, but that doesn't mean that he has given up. He continues to have fun, and who knows, he could pull it off. He did have to go to a back up car after crashing in pre-qualifying practice, so Sunday may be an uphill battle for him.
Kevin Harvick is steady, much like Jeff Burton. His performance at Martinsville has been competent, but not spectacular. Like Jimmie Johnson, he is able to adapt to any sort of track and make a good finish. It is my opinion that he may be better in traffic than Johnson. Johnson, a talented driver, tends to get confused in traffic, and his reactions are a mite slower, which could get him into trouble Sunday. If he didn't have such a penchant for running into the back of other drivers, we could have a kinder view of his chances at Martinsville.
Now, my pick among the Chasers to have the highest finishing position is Denny Hamilin, Wonder Rookie. He hasn't been that long away from short track racing, at least not as long as most of the other drivers. And he has shown an uncanny ability to adapt to any situation. If he stays focused, he could, once again, find Victory Lane.
Non-Chasers to watch:
Last week, Tony Stewart showed some great sportsmanship, deigning to avoid racing the race leaders in order to gain a lap, and thus avoiding a repeat of the accident a few weeks ago when his good friend Kasey Kahne was caught up in Stewart's wreck. Smoke definitely knows his way around Martinsville, and has led a lot of laps there, with some close finishes and some wins. He will likely let the Chasers race each other, and try to get around them only when he feels it is safe. He does have the highest drivers rating of any of the other drivers at Martinsville. It will be tricky, but if he gets a chance to try for the win, he will get it.
Scott Riggs, Clint Bowyer, and Dave Blaney all look good to go, Sunday. Riggs didn't qualify as well as we thought he would, but he is another "short track ace," and could make his way back through the traffic. Clint Bowyer is on the coattails of his RCR teammates, and he does have talent, and he is a focused driver, so he could also finish in the top ten. Blaney is a dirt track driver who has adapted well to paved short tracks, and he will certainly be worth watching.
Or listening. Martinsville can be boring to watch on TV, depending on what we see through the cameras, which is often a single file line all the way around the track for most of the race. It is highly suggsted that we listen to the radio broadcast, if available, with the TV on "mute," so as to get a good play by play on the action.
Now, for entertainment purposes, and since we are talking about old school racing, the following video is "Old School" School, and has nothing to do with racing:


Welcome Back Ward!

Big News for "wahr's Wah'rd" fans: Ward Burton, a long time fan favorite will be in the #4 car for Morgan-McClure Motorsports for the rest of the season. We have fun trying to decipher his heavy South Boston accent. Jeff Foxworthy once said, "I'm from the South, and I don't even know if he's speaking English."
Ward Burton is a very competent driver, and we are happy to see him once again in a driver's suit. In my opinion, he should have never left. He is starting in the 35th position, Sunday, and has said he plans to finish in the top twenty, or better, if my auto-translator was working correctly. Welcome back, Ward, we missed you.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Juan Pablo Update

JPM has expressed pleasant surprise that he can actually talk to other drivers in the garage area--they just don't do that in Europe. Nor do they compare notes. His main reason for coming to NASCAR was that he wanted to get back into "real racing." The following is from USA Today:

By A.J. Perez, USA TODAY
Something just wasn't right as Juan Pablo
Montoya turned his first official laps in a NASCAR Nextel Cup car this week at
Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"(Kevin) Harvick came to the team. He said, 'You
know, looking at the car from behind, I think the car is too low on the left,' "
Montoya relayed in a teleconference Wednesday. "He said, 'I think you should try
this here, do that.' "
So much for whether the Formula One-turned-NASCAR
driver at Chip Ganassi Racing would be accepted. The 31-year-old Colombian
already has spent time with Cup drivers off the track, and they've proved to be
equally as friendly on it.
"We don't do that in Europe. If you see somebody
struggling in Formula One, you never going to go and say, 'You're making this
wrong.' You actually go to your guys, and you say, 'You see what they're doing
wrong,' " Montoya said with a chuckle.
Montoya will make his NASCAR debut in
a Busch Series car Oct. 28 at Memphis Motorsports Park, which wouldn't be his
first choice.
"If I had to pick to say where I wanted to do my first Busch
race, I wouldn't pick that one," said Montoya, who has run two ARCA races in
recent weeks, of the tricky track.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Friday The Thirteenth Weekend Jinx

Last week, we saw something very sad at the end of the race at Talladega. Either Junior or Jimmie Johnson was about to win the race when an over-eager Brian Vickers took them both out. I felt sad for Earnhardt, and for Vickers, whose first Cup victory was tainted by his bad move. Sad for Earnhardt, Jr, because, though he is not my favorite driver, he is among my top five favorites, and I was really pulling for him to win that race. In fact, I didn't think I could be any sadder for any driver who had a chance to win and got caught up in somebody else's deal.
Then, with around 80 laps to go in the Bank of America 500 at Lowe's, Saturday night, another one of "my guys." JJ Yeley, made a sudden move toward pit road and inadvertently collected Mark Martin. Now that is really sad. Mark Martin's favorite track is Lowe's, and he really looked as if he could win. It wasn't totally Yeley's fault--he did signal his intentions--but it was a night race, and Martin obviously couldn't see the signal. Yeley had already made his commitment toward pit lane when the unfortunate Martin tried to pass him on the bottom, resulting in a bad accident.
It doesn't seem that Yeley can finish a race without getting in a wreck with somebody else. It isn't always his fault--as often as not, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I like JJ. He is really a nice guy, and people who know him are very impressed by his spirit. But I may be the first to predict that he will be driving full time in the Busch series next year, and be sharing the #18 Cup ride next year with the Cuban Missile, Aric Almerida. This is just a rumor, and you heard it first here.
I was already sad before that happened. As it has been this entire season, many drivers began the race as if the first lap was the last lap, and another one of "my guys," Denny Hamlin checked up coming out of turn four of the first lap, to avoid an accident, and got rear ended by an apparently inattentive Mike Bliss. Luckily for Hamlin, though, the #11 team was able to get the car back onto the track, sixty-eight laps later, and he finished in 28th, sixty-nine laps down, but not losing that many points.
That someone can finish nearly seventy laps back from the lead can finish in the top thirty can only attest to how heavy the attrition rate was. Blown engines took out Kurt Busch, Elliott Sadler, Jeff Gordon, and Jamie McMurray, among others. Other drivers, including Clint Bowyer and Chaser Kevin Harvick, had transmission problems. It was definitely a Friday the Thirteenth weekend for many drivers.
There were some really great moments, and some very heartwarming moments. On the restart--after a caution for debris, with 28 laps to go, Tony Stewart, my main man, was the first car a lap down, and the first car in line on the inside lane, could have raced the leaders to get his lap back, as so many others had done during the course of the race. He didn't. Instead he held off, letting the leaders, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr by before getting back into the race. He didn't have to do that, and he displayed some excellent sportsmanship by doing so. Way to go, Smoke. I'm sure that many of the Stewart haters were wondering who was actually in the #20 car. It's Smoke, people, and that is why we love him.
There were some other good times. Junior and The Gordon racing clean and hard, some very good challenges and passes for the lead, and some previously unthought-of of drivers, especially Tony Raines showing some remarkable ability in racing some of the top drivers. Raines led some laps, and stayed mostly in the top ten throughout the race. Talk about stepping up! Prior to Saturday's race, Raines had only led 3 laps in his Cup career, and had not yet had a top ten finish. Saturday, he finished ninth. Sterling Marlin, an old favorite, got his first top ten finish in over two years, and we were happy to see that. Bobby Labonte, another old favorite, did exactly what he had to do, and brought the famed Petty #43 Dodge to a respectable fifth place finish.
And it was Kasey Kahne who won, sweeping both Lowe's races, with Jimmie Johnson second, and Jeff Burton in third. Junior kept his championship hopes alive by finishing fourth, but Matt Kenseth, who once again had car problems, and was often two laps down finished sixteenth, high enough to maintain second place and forty-six points out of the lead.
Congratulations to Kasey Kahne, the "cute little guy," who now has six wins to his credit this season. He is still over 120 points out of the lead, but, considering his rough start in the first three races of the Championship series, he is doing well, and is not yet out of contention. A lot can happen in five races, and at least one of them is going to be as tough as the first five have been. Martinsville, the shortest oval on the NASCAR Cup circuit, is the home of next week's race, and it will be back to old school racing. Forty-three high-speed cars on a half-mile track always ensures some rough racing. It should be fun.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Friday Night Fights

Congratulations to Dave Blaney, who achieved his first Busch Series victory in a Friday night crashfest at Lowe's Motor Speedway. And to Kevin Harvick, who, although he didn't have that great of a night, being plagued by mechanical problems, clinched the NASCAR Busch Series 2006 Champiionship. This is Harvick's second NBS Championship, his first being in 2001. The 2006 championship represents the earliest clinch in NBS history.
Dave Blaney is a name familiar to most race fans. He is still active in open wheel racing, driving both USAC sprints and midgets, and winged sprints such as those we see in World of Outlaws and National Sprint Car Racing Association. His main job, however, over the past two years, has been in Stock Cars. Until 2005, Blaney was utilized as a standby, part time driver for several teams, but mostly by Richard Childress Racing. With the Childress restructuring in 2005, Blaney got a full time Cup ride in the #07 Monte Carlo. He was replaced by Rookie Clint Bowyer in 2006, but that doesn't take away from Blaney's ability, because that was the plan, and Blaney started the season in the Bill Davis Racing #22 Dodge Charger, which has become a team showing steady improvement this year, thanks to Blaney's skill. He now has a three year contract, with that team, and BDR will be switching to the Toyota next year.
Saturday night's race proved to be a tough one, with a high rate of carnage and attrition. There were numerous accidents, involving such notables as Bobby Labonte and Kasey Kahne, and many suspension and tire problems, because, after all the levigating and resurfacing, the famed "Humpy Bumps" are still there.
Cars bottomed out on the bumps, got into the "marbles"--the tire debris that is thrown against the outside wall--and spun, and there were no less than three red flag periods to clean debris. To top it off, there was a final lap crash which took out the race leaders, when second place Casey Mears went high up the track to pass first place Carl Edwards, got loose, spun, and crashed into Edwards. Dave Blaney, who was running in third, avoided the wreck and won.
It is always a thrill to welcome a first time winner to Victory Lane, and Dave Blaney is one who truly deserves it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Chase Tightens

For those of you who have read this blog before, you have probably figured out at least two things:
1. I am an amateur. I write about what I like about racing.
2. I don't read the previews written by the pros, so as not to influence my writing, until after I have posted my own preview.
That means that I often screw up on some of the stats, and that you should never use my preview to influence your picks if you are playing a fantasy game.

Lowe's Motor Speedway, near Charlotte North, Carolina is sometimes known as the "House of Jimmie." Jimmie as in Jimmie Johnson, who, by all accounts, is still pissed about Talladega. There is a good reason for this--he has won 5 out of the last seven races there.
He will have to work for a win Saturday night.
There are now eight drivers who are in points range of having a very good chance at winning the championship. This is not due to the results of Brian Vickers' questionable passing techniques last week at Talladega, but because Jeff Burton, the points leader, cut a tire during the final laps of the race, and had to pit, causing him to finish far away from the front, which in turn tightened up the points.
So we have what could be called a "do-over" for most of the Chase drivers, which should keep things interesting. In fact, between Jeff Burton, in first place, and Mark Martin in third, there is only a ten-point difference.
Kasey Kahne, due to his second place finish at Talladega, and the circumstances affecting nearly all the other championship chasers, is mathematically still in the running. His Everham #9 team has been strong this year on the 1.5-mile tracks, dominating the World (Pepsi) 600 at Charlotte earlier this year. If he gets a top five finish Saturday night, we may be able to say that he has made his way back into the realm of Championship favorites.
Mark Martin absolutely loves the track He seems to be having fun during the Chase for the Championship, and has had some very consistent finishes. He wants to win at Lowe's, and, with the determination of the #6 team, a win could be a reality.
Jeff Burton will want to defend his points lead, and he has the ability to do it. We have already noticed the comradary and the teamwork evident in the three RCR teams of Burton, Harvick, and Bowyer. Driving ability depends on attitude, and, this year, with Burton and Harvick both in the Chase, the attitude couldn't be better. Burton is on a roll, after just recently winning his first victory in four years, and having consistently finished well in every Chase race except for Talladega. The RCR intermediate track program is strong, and that strength will ensure that if Burton loses his points lead, it will not be by much.
Of the RCR teams, Kevin Harvick's #29 team has the best record on intermediate tracks. He has matured into a very smart driver, and he has a very smart crew chief in Todd Berrier. Tires will be more of a factor than at Kansas City, and fuel mileage less, as we generally tend to see more caution periods at Charlotte than we have seen at KC. A smart crew chief will take advantage of these factors.
Which brings us back to Jimmie Johnson, whose crew chief Chad Knaus is one of the smartest. Knaus has a handle on the track at Charlotte, when it comes to set up and strategy, both before and after last year's notorious "levigating" and subsequent resurfacing. It is almost a given that Johnson can pull off another win Saturday night. But, as tough as the competition is this year, it will not be easy.
Much of that competition will come from Johnson's own Hendrick Motor Sports teammates, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch. We'll leave Brian Vickers out of this, except to mention that his penchant to win at any cost is business as usual for all of the HMS drivers. There is no question that if Gordon or Busch see an opportunity to win the race, they will not hesitate to pull a bump and run on Johnson.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr has also shown a lot of determination and strength with his #8 DEI team. He has had some finishes, which are not that strong, but his main weakness has been on the intermediate tracks. That problem has seemed to have been corrected this year, and if the perennial Most Popular Driver can stay out of trouble, he can run up front, and stay there. The team, with crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. is steadily melding, and a good finish Saturday is another step on the way to being a strong contender at the final race of the season in November, at Homestead.
Denny Hamlin is another Chase driver who has had some bad luck in the last two races, mostly due to not having a good set up on his car. It is hard to believe that Mike Ford, his crew chief cannot fix that problem. Hamlin has shown that he can take a twentieth place car to a top ten finish, but all he has to do at Charlotte is to do what he has been doing best--just drive. The #11 team can step up, and Hamlin should have a good car this weekend.
Some one else who can just drive the way he does is Matt Kenseth. After an uncharacteristic missed set up at Kansas City, he came back strong, with a sixth place finish at Talladega. Kenseth can drive well on any track, and is my pick to win Saturday.
There will be the non-chasers out there who also want to win, but because of the closeness of points among the top ten, the racing will be mostly between the Chasers, as they each try to finish ahead of the others. This will bring the field of ten up front, and it may be difficult for the other drivers to get a chance to race them without risking taking them out, which, as Brian Vickers and his fans can tell you, it is a big no-no.
We do expect, however, Vickers, Tony Stewart, Scott Riggs, Elliott Sadler, Clinton Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon, and Dave Blaney all to be in the mix and give the Championship chasers some competition.
Here is another attempt on my part to outsmart Lady Luck--my predictions for the top ten finishing positions in Saturday's Cup race:
1. Matt Kenseth
2. Kasey Kahne
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Mark Martin
5. Jimmie Johnson
6. Carl Edwards
7. Kyle Busch
8. Dale Ernhardt, Jr
9. Jeff Burton
10. Denny Hamlin

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Why should he be sorry for winning?

I just found this article featuring Jimmy Johnson on, and I just have to wonder is why should Brian Vickers be sorry for winning? Vickers responded to Johnson saying something like, "He knows that if I hadn't been drafting with him, he wouldn't have been able to pass Jr."
Yes, that response was somewhat cocky, but let's give him a break. It was his first win in Cup. Johnson, we know, would have done the same thing to win; he has done it before. Go Brian!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hooray Broncos!

Okay, football season doesn't start for me until after the Cup race at Homestead in November, but it was Monday night, and there was no race. My team was playing, and they beat the previously undefeated Baltimore Ravens 13-3.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Just Racin': Talledega Review (Of Sorts)

Every driver in the race at Talledega knew that the possibility was very real that something could happen to ruin his chances for a good finish. They were all certain that things would get wild on the last lap.
We can't blame the multitudes of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans for being angry. He didn't necessarily have the race won--by his own admission, he expected Jimmie Johnson to win. But he did have a top five finish in the bag, had it not been for the wreck on the very last lap.
Junior was leading the race, and being the most popular driver at Talledega, the crowd was ecstatic. He had already taken the white flag and was on the final lap. Johnson was on his bumper, with Brian Vickers drafting him. Junior tried to block the faster cars, then, realizing the futility, pulled up into the outside lane to let Johnson and Vickers pass. When Johnson moved down to make the pass, Vickers followed him, which is to be expected from a drafting partner. When the #48 car left Earnhardt's draft, Johnson was faced with a head wind, which slowed the car slightly. So Vickers was following a little too closely, and his momentum, still being in the draft of both Johnson and Earnhardt, carried him into the right rear corner of Johnson's car. There contact was a mere touch, or less, but it was enough to cause the #48 car to spin--right into the side of Earnhardt's car. Both cars spun into the infield, and Vickers went on to win, followed by Kasey Kahne. The crowd at Talledega was stunned into silence. Women cried and men threw their beer cans onto the track. But, when all was said and done, it was one of those racing incidents, when no one is really at fault.
In football, a team could have a game seemingly in the bag, only to be tied up by a field goal, then lose in overtime. Or they could be on the one-yard line, first and goal, and six points down, with 10 seconds left in the game, only to fumble the ball on the goal line and have the opposing team recover the fumble and win.
In baseball, imagine a team with a one point advantage over the home team, in the bottom of the ninth inning. There are two outs, and the home team has a runner at second and third, and the count on the batter is one ball and two strikes. The batter hits the next pitch--a long high fly between left and center. Both the Center Fielder and the Right Fielder run toward the spot at which the ball is falling, calling for the catch, as they are supposed to. However, the crowd noise is so loud, the players do not hear each other, and they collide, and the ball falls to the turf, allowing two runs and the win.
This is the sort of incident,.NASCAR style, which happened to Jimmie Johnson, and prevented him from gaining a much needed victory.
But it wasn't the Johnson fans who were angry, it was the Earnhardt Jr. fans. There likely aren't very many Jimmie Johnson fans at Talledega. Last year, their beer cans were aimed at Jimmie Johnson, when he won the race at Talledega.
Of course, in spite of Junior's assertation that Vickers was not a dirty driver, and would not purposefully wreck anyone, there are things that fans could point to that would show otherwise. For instance, there was the Open, at Lowe's earlier this year, when Vickers spun Jeff Green to win and qualify for the All Star race. Then there is the perception that it is team orders for any driver for Hendrick Motor Sports to do anything to win; a perception Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Kyle Busch have often reinforced. In addition, having signed to Red Bull racing next year, and being replaced in the #25 car next year by Casey Mears, it is feasable that Vickers would have no qualms about taking out a teammate. So, it is not unlikely that Vickers could have intended to spin
If one watched the replays, however--which were shown multiple times--one would see that the accident was inevitable. Vickers only error was that he was following Johnson too closely, as often happens in racing. It takes at least two to make this kind of accident happen, and that's all it really was--an accident. Any fan who would argue that NASCAR favors HMS, would be laughed at, as it was an HMS driver who lost the race due to the accident. It is sad that what should have been a time of great celebration for Vickers, winning his first Cup race, turned into a hatefest for the young driver.
Vickers deserved the win, and no matter who the fan's favorite driver is, that win should have been recognized. A racing incident such as that which occurred in the last mile of the last lap should not have taken away from what was a well-run and exciting race.
It is, after all, just racin'.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Talledega: Order and Chaos

There are only two words for any Cup race at Talledega: "Order," and "Chaos."
This is the one race in the final ten that stresses teamwork more than driving ability. Driving ability is still important, but winning is going to count on the setup of the car, perfection in the pits, and having someone to draft with.
Because of these factors, there are certain teams that have a reputation--a dynasty, if you will--of dominance at the restrictor-plate races. Hendrick, DEI, Gibbs, and Roush all have, at one time or another, been dominant at Talledega, and Childress Racing, which "owned" the track in the days of Dale Earnhardt, is making a comeback.
Actually, while I'm writing this, I am watching the ARCA race, to see Juan Pablo Montoya in his first stock car race. That means that I am missing the most famous science fiction television program which deals with chaos--Dr. Who. Yes, the all time Captain of Chaos, the Time Lord, is back in a new edition of the old BBC television series, updated, but still campy. Even though the special effects have advanced from the cheap, flakey special effects we saw in the original series, they are still obviously phony, which is the trademark of the show and part of what makes that so fun. Those of us who remember the original series also remember that more than one actor played the Doctor, forcing us to get used to a different face and personality of the character every few episodes. That tradition has carried over to the revamped series, and my assessment of the new version is, over all, it is just as good as the original.
But that has nothing to do with what I'm writing about, except to illustrate chaos.
Chaos at Talledega occurs often. It is known, in fact, as the most chaotic track on the NASCAR circuit. There is good reason for this. The track is wide, and it allows for four- and five-wide racing, which, especially in a restrictor-plate race such as this, is often pretty chaotic in itself. The cars run so close together, at such high speeds, that one little burp in the activity of one car can cause utter chaos in which many cars crash. Add to this that this is the first race on a new surface, and that in itself can cause chaos. None of the ten drivers in the Chase have tested on the new surface, so practice on Thursday was their first experience on the track. At 2.66 miles around, it is the biggest oval on the NASCAR circuit, which means average speeds of close to 200mph, which is another good reason for the chaos. So, finding order in the chaos is tantamount to success at Talledega.
Finding order in chaos
It is not a given that one of the "dynasty" teams will field the winning car at Talledega. In the fall race last year, Dale Jarrett, who hadn't won any races in over a year, took the checkers in a hard fought battle with Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. There are more teams this year with a potential to win than there have been in recent years. The racing and competition has become that much better. Robby Gordon had the fastest time in final practice, and Bobby Labonte, driving for Petty Enterprises, had the second fastest time. Qualifying isn't until Saturday afternoon, so it is hard to determine where these two will start in the race, and there is no telling if they will be able to do what's necessary to stay in front, but it does show that other teams aside from the usual suspects have brought some good equipment to the event.
Jimmie Johnson always has good equipment for the restrictor-plate (rp) races, and he is part of one of the strongest teams in rp racing. The #48 team, and the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization, have been able to prove themselves at Daytona and Talledega, time and time again. Johnson is still a possible for the championship, but he needs to finish in the top five to stay there, and finish in the top five for all of the seven remaining races. The current top five in championship points--Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, and Kevin Harvick, are only 86 points apart in the standings, and the most that can be made up in one race are 125 points. Johnson, who is mistake prone, cannot afford any more mistakes, or hope like hell that mistakes happen to someone else.
The same goes for the #8 team. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is usually strong at rp races, and he almost always has help--if not the very capable help of DEI teammate Martin Truex, Jr, then from anyone on the Childress team, and often from Tony Stewart. He can also make up points in time to be a viable contender, but, again, currently seventh in the points standings, he needs a lot of luck Sunday and in the ensuing races.
Jeff Gordon, in 8th place, is the last of the chase drivers who has a reasonable chance to win the championship. Teaming with Johnson, Kyle Busch, and, perhaps, Brian Vickers, he has the ability to move up to the front and stay there, Sunday. Vickers is a "perhaps," because he has been locked out of the team meetings, since he will be racing with Toyota next season. Gordon may be the favored driver among the HMS teams to win at Talledega, and he may be the designated championship winner between the Hendrick drivers, but when it comes down to the last few laps, it's every driver for himself.
Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne, in ninth and tenth places respectively, need much more than wins to get back into championship contention. Therefore, already guaranteed spots in the top ten at the end of the season, they have nothing to lose, and can concentrate on racing without as much pressure as they would have to if they were still in reasonable contention. Kasey Kahne has some great teammates in Elliott Sadler and Scott Riggs, and can very well be one of the top five finishers, Sunday. However, their Everham Motorsports teams have yet to show genuine strength at the rp tracks, though, this season especially, that could change suddenly.
Not only is Jeff Burton on a hot streak, he has teammates who can keep him there. Burton, Harvick, and Bowyer have become like family, and that attitude coupled with their skill will make them hard to beat, Sunday. It is a good bet that Harvick, Burton, or possibly Bowyer will once again put Richard Childress Racing in Victory Lane.
Denny Hamlin could be a spoiler, though. He finished this race last year in twentieth, place, but not until after he had shown, in only his second Cup race, some amazing ability. It was a flat tire at the wrong time and place that caused him to finish so far back. He may have some trouble finding drafting partners, which are so important in rp races, because he does not yet have enough experience on rp tracks to gain the trust of partners. However, if he can find Tony Stewart to team up with, which he probably will, he also has a very good chance of finishing in front.
Matt Kenseth has been showing some real stuff at the rp races this year, running well and having good finishes in spite of set backs. His team-mate, Mark Martin has tons of experience at the rp tracks, and can bring them both up front, if they can team up. Both these drivers are very well trusted to draft with among the other drivers, so they should not have trouble finding drafting partners, which has been their strength in past rp races. It will be fun watching these two race--it always is. Expect to see a line of Roush cars--Kenseth, Martin, Biffle, and McMurray--make a very strong showing throughout the race, Sunday, strung together like a high speed passenger train.
All in all, anything could happen. JJ Yeley might not crash this time, and show that he does have the ability to win rp races. Bobby Labonte could bring Petty back to prominence, and return to his winning ways at Talledega. Tony Stewart could get his first Talledega win. This is all not only possible, but can be considered likely.
During practice, on Talledega's new, smooth surface, the drivers found that they could move anywhere on the track. Tire wear was good, meaning that green flag stops will mostly be for fuel, because, unless the wheel alignment is bad, the tires will last as long as the fuel, and nobody should have to stop early for new rubber. That doesn't mean it will be a fuel mileage race though--that type of racing is unwise on such a large track, but there probably will be some who will pit out of sequence to gain an advantage. I have never been a big fan of rp races--I like races that are wide open and flat out, and I don't much care for having the cars packed so close together at nearly 200 mph--but the racing at Talledega has been good in spite of all that. With the new surface, and for the fact that there were no accidents during practice, the racing should be even better this time.
Mesanwhile, Juan Pablo Montoya got a bunch of experience in Friday night's ARCA race. He finished a respectable third after spending most of the race in conversation with Chip Ganassi and crew chief Brad Parrot, asking for insrtructions on how to race at Talledega. He started the race from the outside front position, and immediately took the lead. He had a problem in the pits, due to a dropped tire, and had to wait until the team recovered the tire before he could leave the pits. He learned how to bump draft, when he and Steven Wallace joined their efforts to get to the front, after Montoya had been penalized for another pit incident, and had to restart from the back of the longest line. The race was called due to darkness witrh fourteen laps to go, but the experience for Montoya and for the people who who probably very thrilled to race him was productive, and impressive.
This is a report on the ARCA race from

Friday, October 06, 2006

Some Racing News:

I don't have my race preview ready yet for this weekend,but Tony Fabrizio of the Tampa Tribune has a pretty good article on line. This link will take you to theTBO.Com site.

Monday, October 02, 2006

How 'Bout That?

I have to correct an error in the previous entry I posted--my preview of Sunday's race. I knew that Matt Kenseth came in second at Loudon, but I was thinking of Richmond when I said that he won the first race of the Chase. Richmond is not the first race, Loudon is, and I had to unscramble my mind at correct that. I am terribly sorry, and it just goes to show--please don't ever quote me as an "expert," because I'm not. (Happily for me neither are David Poole, Ed Hinton, or Mike Mulhern. They're just professionals--I'm not. They have peeps to check their facts--I don't, unless you kind folks correct me in the "comments section.)

How about that Tony Stewart? For the first time in his career, he not only won at KC, but he did it on gas mileage. After so many times having victory "stolen" from him in gas mileage races, he finally "stole" one himself. He didn't believe it himself--over the celebratory noises coming in over his radio, he asked,"What position did we finish in?"
He has never been a fan of gas mileage races, and now that he has won one in that manner, he still said, "I would rather win a race by racing somebody." Way to go Smoke, stand by your principles, that's why we like you.
Just to illustrate how much luck is involved in this type of a win, Casey Mears was in second place, seventeen seconds behind Stewart on the last lap when Stewart ran out of gas with a half-mile to go. Possibly, Mears could have caught Stewart before he crossed the finish line, but he, too ran out of fuel and finished second.
Where were the Chase drivers? In a normal race, they too probably would have gone for broke, but in the Championship series, the last ten races of the season for those who don't know, they have to protect their points. They all wisely refueled during the last ten laps.
How about that Mark Martin? He finished first among the chasers--in sixth place. Jeff Gordon had a camshaft break, the part that was connected to the fuel pump, and was out of the race.
All in all, in was not a good day for the Chasers. Jimmie Johnson, who had been leading the race, ran low on fuel with five laps to go, and had to pit. He had to abort his first attempt to pit, as Matt Kenseth, who was not having a good day, spun while he was trying to make pit lane, also out of fuel. This cost Johnson time, as he had already throttled down and had to go around the track again to make his stop. The caution did not come out, as Kenseth's car spun into the infield, did not wreck, and did not jeapardize traffic, so Johnson got no break there. To top it all off, he was served a penalty for speeding on exiting the pit lane, but that was moot, as he had three laps in which to serve his penalty and after he pitted, there were only three laps left.
Jeff Burton and Dale Earnhardt, Jr both had some excellent pit strategy, both finishing in the top ten, Burton retaining his first place position in championship points. Kevin Harvick, who had problems, but not as bad as the one he had last week when his engine blew with thirty three laps to go, finished eleventh, keeping himself within the range of Championship possibility. Denny Hamlin, who after the Checkers flew pushed Tony Stewart toward Victory Lane with his car, finished in twelth, which moved him into second place in the standings, sixty-nine points behind Burton.
Kasey Kahne, for the third straight race, had some really bad luck, and once again wrecked his car, and his championship chances may well be over. We had high hopes for him, but it looks like this isn't his year. No doubt, he is good enough to be a champion, but it looks like that will have to wait.
But you never know. Next weekend is Talledega, the so-called wild card race. Anything can happen in a restrictor plate race, because it is mostly out of the hands of the drivers. Sure, some drivers are better than others at the strategy and tactics it takes to win such a race, but there are so many other factors, mainly that the cars are packed so close together, and one little mistake by one driver could put a lot of drivers out of the race, Chasers or not. So, it could happen, that
Kahne and Kyle Busch could have a very good finish, while eight other chasers get knocked out by "the Big One, and be back within range of the championship. It could happen, but again, that would be some really weird luck
How about that Dale Jarrett? People have been waiting for him to retire, but he is far from ready to do that. He foiled all the naysayers by finishing fourth, his best finish this year. Jarrett, who has been on my list of favorites since before Tony Stewart became a NASCAR driver, has once again shown that he is not done yet.
Okay, it wasn't the best race of the season, but there was some good three-wide racing going on all around the track. The Kansas City raceway has seasoned, and that has allowed the track to become one in which any driver may find a place to race anywhere on the track. The last time I can recall the winner of a race coasting across the finish line was, I believe, but I may be mistaken, was when Sterling Marlin did it in 2000. I don't remember any time when both the first and the second place drivers had to coast across the finish line out of fuel.
In other forms of racing, how about that Michael Schumacher? Winning the rain plagued Gran Prix of China, this morning, he is now tied in points with Fernando Alonso, who has won two championships in a row. He has announced that he will retire at the end of the current Formula One season, and, with only two races remaining--at Japan next week, and the Brazilian Gran Prix in three weeks, The possibility is very good that he will retire as the Champion, for an unprecedented eigth time, proving that he is one of the greatest race car drivers of all time.
Last, but not least, how about the good news for us sprint car fans? ESPN will air eight weeks of World of Outlaws winged sprint car racing next summer, and Speed will cover twelve more. This is great news for those of us who have been waiting for it, and gives us something even more to look forward to next year. Do it in the dirt!