Saturday, March 31, 2007

Roots Racing

Martinsville Speedway, located halfway between Roanoke, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina, is the shortest track on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit, and is probably the closest to the tracks most of us are familiar with when we go to watch the locals race on Saturday nights. It is also the closest to the tracks most of the NASCAR drivers cut their teeth on while on their way to the top. To Jeff Burton, Elliott Sadler, Ricky Rudd, and Denny Hamlin, it is almost home (Richmond, another short track in Viginia, is home to these drivers). With average racing speeds barely into the 80 mph range, it is not a track for those who like to see high speeds, nor is there much side-by-side racing. That doesn't mean there will be a lack of excitement.
"Rubbin' is racin'" and there is plenty of rubbin' going on at Martinsville. Passes have to be made as the result of somebody else's mistakes--going into the turns too hard or trying to accelarate out of the turns too quickly, for example--and causing somebody else to make a mistake is a tried and true method for many a short track driver. There will be some drivers trying to make the turns two- and sometimes three-wide during the course of the race. Two-wide, when it occurs at the wrong place at the wrong time, often forces mistakes, and three-wide, no matter when or where it occurs, is almost always a mistake. That's what the excitement is all about.
Winning at Martinsville means taking the lead and holding it, which is why most of the winners there have come from the first ten or fifteen starting positions. However, this track does take a lot of driving skill, and a top ten start doesn't necessarily mean a top ten finish.
There should be some excitement early in the race. Denny Hamlin, the pole sitter, will likely lead many laps in the first part of the race, but he will be challenged, early and often, by Jeff Gordon, who is starting third. That is about as good as it gets at Martinsville, and is definately something for the fans to look forward to.
Moving up through the field takes patience and cunning, and there are more than a few drivers who have displayed those qualities. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., a product of short tracks like Martinsville, learned patience the hard way, but his record there is a mix of very good and very bad. Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton, and Scott Riggs already know the kind of patience it takes to get near the leaders, but Kyle "Schrub" Busch's driving style has nothing to do with patience, so there probably won't be another episode of the Schrub and Jeff Show at the end of this one. Schrub will probably find himself out of the race for the lead at the latter part of the contest.
The "new" Smoke, Tony Stewart has the patience, skill, cunning, and car to make his way through the field. He will either win the race, or revert, temporarily at least, back to the angry "old" Smoke.
David Stremme has improved remarkably in the patience category--he was until very recently one of the most likely drivers to run others off the track--so Martinsville should be an opportunity for us to see just how far he has come in that category.
Kevin Harvick is really a short track driver, and he should give us a good show, but he can get frustrated easily, and Martinsville has been difficult for him, but, even after six years, he is still learning, and, with good pit stops and a little luck, should find himself near the lead toward the end of the race.
In theory, there are forty-three drivers in the Martinsville conflict who can win there, but many will fall by the wayside. Cut tires will be almost common, and a bad pit stop is almost always a killer to any driver's chances in a race. All that being said, we will be able to say, after the winner prevails, "that's racing."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Minor Rant on Points and Provisionals

Some NASCAR journalists and fans believe that giving championship points for winning pole qualifying would be a good idea. It really isn't, because it doesn't make sense under the current qualifying system. First of all, on most tracks on the ciruit, the pole position practically guarantees a five point bonus for leading the first lap, unless there are mechanical problems or the driver's reflexes are slow.
Secondly, bonus points for qualifying in first place would serve no logical purpose. The teams already have the incentive for making the car as fast as possible for qualifying, and the carrot of bonus points won't make the cars any faster. It may result in more reckless qualifying runs, as drivers try to gain bonus points and wreck their cars before the race actually starts. The "have not" teams who are only trying to get into the race would be left out of any chance for any pole position bonus points.
If there is to be any change in qualifying rules, it could be suggested that the top thirty-five provisionals rule be ammended. For instance, rather than carrying the provisional positions from the end of the previous season through the first five races, use the standings only for the first race, the Daytona 500, then apply the new points standings to the next race. The provisional system was added to the mix two years ago, when there were fewer full time teams in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series, and the idea was to reward the full time teams so they would have a starting position in every race. Now that there are more than forty-three teams who are attempting full time participation, the provisional rules are no longer relevant in that sense.
Personally speaking, I was never much of a fan of the thirty-five place provisionals. Being somewhat of a traditionalist, I sincerely believe that the forty-three fastest cars should be in the race. It would be a step in the right direction if the number of qualifying provisionals was reduced, to perhaps the top twenty in points. This would add to the level of competition, in both qualifying and racing, and would still make more sense than points for qualifying.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Getting There

Here is a little test to see how well you fit in with the demographic some believe is a prerequiset for being a NASCAR fan. And it has nothing to do with NASCAR.
The Yankee or Dixie Quiz puts me at 58% Dixie.
This is just for fun. Personally, I believe racing doesn't care where you are from.

There's always next week

AP Photo/Wade Payne

I must love racing. The #20 car was running so well during most of the race, there was no way Smoke wasn't going to win the race. Well, there was--the fuel pump failed. If I didn't love racing, there would be a whole string of expletives here that I would have used were I prone to explitives.
If I didn't love racing, that would have been the end of the race for me. But there was no way this race fan was going to be frustrated and dissapointed to the point of changing the channel when there was racing going on all the way around the track. A race at Bristol is one of the most attention grabbing events on the Nextel Cup circuit.
If I had stopped watching after Tony Stewart ran into nothing but hard luck, I would have missed a lot of great racing. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton--what a show that was! Kyle "The Schrub" Busch is one heck of a racer--he didn't even have the fastest car on the track, but persistence and guile got him to victory lane. It has been interesting to watch one of the wildest drivers in the sport remain one of the wildest drivers, yet become one of the smartest in such a short time in his career. Still, we have to think that if anyone besides Jeff Burton had been racing Busch for the win, Busch would have been bumped and dumped, and it was incredible that Burton sacrificed the win for the sake of sportsmanship. But that's just Jeff Burton. It all goes to show you don't have to be a Schrub fan to appreciate that kind of talent and that kind of win. It was a very close finish--Burton was faster in the drag race to the finish line, but ran out of time.
What is great about NASCAR Nextel Cup racing is the long season. If your driver hasn't done well in the first four races, there are still twenty-two races to go to make up points position before the Chase for the Championship. And, there is always next week. Tony Stewart had a great car for Bristol, and he is saving it for next week, another short track race at Martinsville. Even the fact that Martinsville is a different kind of short track from Bristol--it is very flat, compared to the thirty-three degree banking we saw Sunday--should not deter Stewart, who will dominate any race on any track in a car that is running and handling that well.
So, this early in the season, with so many drivers looking like they're on top of their game, there is plenty to look forward to.
Some other thoughts:
The new car for NASCAR racing really does look like the car NASCAR was running until the mid '90's. Darryl Waltrip has been saying that, but rather than "Car of Yesterday," as DW suggests, how about "Retrocar," at least until it becomes the "Standard Car."
Greg Biffle's bad luck may be over. We just have to hope he didn't pass that luck on to somebody else, namely Tony Stewart. Still, it would be fun this season to be able to say "Da Biff is back," even if he isn't one of our favorite drivers.
I gave up on Performance Radio Network this week. I realize they have to pay the expenses of broadcasting, but everything they say on the radio commentary is an advertisement. They even had commercials at the same time the commercials were on television. Maybe it will be MRN's turn next week, but listening to the race on the AM radio has become frustrating, and was not worth muting and unmuting the TV.
Carl Edwards looked a little out of practice on his celebratory backflip after winning the Busch race at Bristol. The flip was good, but the landing was rough. He's lucky he didn't wreck a knee.
Did Speed TV's Race Day steal my metaphor? Not really, I'm certain I wasn't the first to use the "gladiator" image in describing Bristol racing, and it was probably a coincidence. Still, it makes me wonder if whoever wrote the lead-in for Sunday morning's show reads my blog.
Before she wrecked, in Saturday nights Indy race at Homestead, Danica Patrick was showing us that she is for real. After qualifying badly, the handling of the car improved after several pit stops, and Danica was passing cars on a track where, for the high-powered, light weight-Indy cars, passing is difficult. She made her way up to seventh place, making some very good racing moves on the way, when, on what was to be her last green-flag pit stop, she spun and hit the wall. It was tough luck that could, and has, happened to the best of them.

The racing world lost another hero, Saturday, when NHRA funny car racer Eric Medlen succumbed to injuries he suffered last week while testing a car in Tennessee. Condolences and prayers are given to his family, and his friends, who include John and Ashley Force. Medlen was a driver for John Force Racing, with seven victories, in a too short professional career. He drove for John Force racing.
Meanwhile, life goes on, and onward must we go.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The House of Pain

With an unnatural roar, the Gladiators enter the ring. The crowd greets them with an equal, perhaps even louder roar. Forty-three seasoned fighters join in a free-for-all battle. For each of them, it is all or nothing. Many of the warriors will fall, but they will survive to fight another day, for this is a bloodless battle. They will be battered and bruised, but their resolve for future battles will be hardened.
Not one of the Gladiators will remain untouched during this battle. The crunch of metal against metal, the screeching of stressed equipment--these sounds combine with the tumultuous sounds of the crowd and the warriors to underscore the intensity and violence of the battle. In the end, emerging from the smoke, only one will be crowned Victor.

The Arena is known as Bristol Motor Speedway, near Bristol, Tennessee, also known to racers as Thunder Valley. It is a Mecca of racing on the same scale as Daytona and Darlington. Though a win at Bristol may not be seen as prestigious as a win at the Daytona 500, it is probably much tougher to win. The race car driver is never out of traffic--there is no such thing as "clean air." Aerodynamics are not involved, tires will outlast the green flag runs, and success depends mostly on the skills of the driver.
To attempt to predict the outcome of a race at Bristol is a foolish thing, but "fools rush in where angels fear to tread," and it is too much fun to try to answer the question. "who do'ya think is gonna win?"

Here are the ten drivers whom this writer thinks have the best chance.
Kurt Busch always seems to do well at Bristol. It is the kind of racing he likes, perhaps his favorite kind of racing. His former teammate, Matt Kenseth, can almost always be counted on to finish in the top ten. The statistics can be misleading for Denny Hamlin, because he doesn't have as many starts as most of the other drivers, but he does have the best finishing position to starts ratio among the current drivers at Bristol. "Smoke," aka Tony Stewart has everything it takes to win at Bristol, as does Jeff Gordon. Scott Riggs is going to win a race sometime this season, and his skills seem to fit Bristol fairly well. Greg Biffle needs a change of luck, but he too is a good short track racer, and perhaps that change of luck will come Sunday. Kasey Kahne won his first Cup race--I believe his first NASCAR race, in fact, in the fall of 2005 at Bristol. We have to believe he will remember that, and count him among those with the best chance to win. Dale Earnhardt, Jr knows how to race Bristol. It was the most difficult track for him to learn, but he has learned much at that track, and is almost a Bristol specialist.

The Victor stands tall among the fallen, raising the trophy high above his head, to the great adulation of the crowd. He is tired, but the emotions of the battle are still raging within him.
Counting only on gut feeling, my prediction of that winner is...Kevin Harvick. I can't even tell you why, except to throw in the phrase, "Richard Chilldress Racing." This is RCR's season of dominance, and it is Harvick's turn to carry the standard--at least for a week.
Godspeed to all these Gladiators, and may the best man win.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Retrieving my memory

Leave it to me to rush to the library, yesterday, and forget my flash memory stick. I was all set to post my observations on all of the racing that took place over St Patty's Day weekend, from the CTS race to the Busch Race, to the Sebring 12 hours and the Formula One races, the NNCS race and Ricky Carmichael's final Supercross race. Unfortunately, it was written and ready to go, except, it couldn't get posted because I literally lost my memory, even if it was temporary.
So, since all of this has already been discussed in detail by others, this post will be limited to a few summary points.
1. The hard, clean racing between James "Bubba" Stewart and Ricky Carmichael at the Sebring Supercross event was a fitting tribute to the all time leader of the sport. Carmichael will now be trading his racing leathers for a fire suit, racing in Dirt Modifieds next Saturday under the apt tutorage of Mark Martin, who has nothing but good things to say about the young racer's future in NASCAR.
2. Television commentators for the Formula One race, trying to be politically correct while describing rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton's ethnicity, actually made comments that unwittingly came across as racist. Something seems wrong with the statement "the darkest face ever on the podium." Race really shouldn't be a consideration, just say the kid is a brilliant racecar driver, and leave it at that. Hamilton is, by the way, worth every bit of the anticipation and high expectations that preceded his entry into the world's premier racing series. As long as Hamilton's ethnicity seems to be important to some, may I suggest that the term "AfroBrit," or "Afro-British" may be more appropriate, and, perhaps, more politically correct. If only we could live to see the day when the Human Race would grow out of having to make distinctions due to the color of one's skin.
3. Speed TV's coverage of all four classes in the 12 hour sports car endurance race at Sebring, Fla, was excellent, compared to their coverage of the 24 Hours at Daytona, where the GT class was totally ignored in favor of the Daytona Prototypes. We were treated to a very exciting and memorable finish in the GT2 class. To see a Porsche and a Ferrari beating and banging each other through the turns and down the final stretch was classic hard racing that would impress any race fan. The word for it was "Incredible!"
4. Craftsman Truck Series racing is Da Bomb!
5. The main topic of discussion concerning Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup race has been The Yellow Flag. As a Tony Stewart fan, I can commiserate with those who feel that Smoke was robbed of victory due to a late race caution for "debris."
It is true that NASCAR seems to be in the habit of throwing an unnecessary caution toward the end of every race to tighten up the field for the finish, but, in this case, the commentators on the PRN radio broadcast of the race were talking about the debris in turn four at least three laps before the caution was actually thrown. They were debating whether enough drivers would report the debris as possible interference or danger for NASCAR to call for the yellow flag. So, with this information, we have to believe that there actually was debris, and that enough drivers reported such to warrent the caution. Just move along, folks, nothing to see here.
6. Finally, many of us race fans will be curious about the debut of the "Car of Tomorrow" at Thunder Valley. That curiousity will soon give way to appreciation for the extraordinary spectacle that has been, and always will be Bristol, no matter what kind of car is being raced there. Bristol is not the kind of track where the aerodynamic differences between the "stock car" and the COT will be noticable.
Bristol is my kind of racing!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mark Martin is doing it his way

Atlanta boasts what is now the best track in non-restrictor plate racing on the Nextel Cup circuit. The track has wide turns and is multi grooved, meaning drivers can race anywhere on the track, and only need brakes when entering the pit lane. In fact, entering pit road is the only drawback of Atlanta Motor Speedway, because the commitment cone is so close to the racing area that the driver has to decelerate from racing speed to pit road speed in less than two seconds.
Mark Martin is having fun, and it was fun to listen to him for an entire hour on Speed TV's Trackside. Martin is only in it to race and win, this season--points don't matter to him, even though he is currently at the top of the drivers' points standings. In fact, when Darryl Waltrip asked him about leaving the car while on top of the points race, The Kid's response was, "Points?!?! Shut up!," much to the delight of DW's co-stars and the live audience.

Mark has earned the right to be able to choose which races he wants to enter and which he doesn't. That is part of his contract with Ginn Racing, options he wouldn't have if he had stayed with Roush-Fenway. Although he earned his wheels as a short track racer, racing with 42 other highly aggressive and competitive drivers on a short track is not Mark Martin's idea of racing. He hates cautions, and Bristol and Martinsville are both tracks at which the races are heavily laden with yellow flags. So, he'll sit out until the race at Texas, relaxing and coaching his son Matt, and his probable protoge, Ricky Carmichael.
During his interview on Trackside Martin gave away one of his secrets--he sees his area of expertise in "rolling the car through the center of the turns." This means that he likes to loose up his car and slide it around to give him an optimum exit out of the turn. AMS is a good venue for this type of driving, and no-one should be surprised if The Kid goes and wins Sunday's race. He is, obviously, my pick to win, Sunday.
There are, however, several other drivers who could incur the wrath of millions of fans by racing and beating Mark Martin for the win. The ones I see as most likely to do so are Tony "Smoke" Stewart, "Cuzzin'" Carl Edwards, Jeff "Good Hands" Burton, Kasey "The Kute Little Guy" Kahne, and Jimmie "Captain Incredible" Johnson.
Tony Stewart is a two time winner at Atlanta, is the most recent winner at that track, and is ready for a repeat at the home track of his sponsor, Home Depot. It is easy to see that if he pulled out a top ten finish at a track he didn't like, Las Vegas, he should do well at a track he loves. Wide open racing is Smoke's forte, among all his other strengths, and he may end up the recipient of much booing as he stands in Victory Lane. Personally speaking, I would be very happy to see Smoke climb the fence in celebration, even if it did mean beating Mark Martin.
It is almost a given that Captain Incredible would be among the top choices for a win. Jimmie Johnson is almost immune to adversity. Of all the drivers he has the best average finish at the 1.5 mile and 2 mile speedways. He is prone to mistakes, though, and his team, however invincible it seems to be, can't always get him back up and running, so he can take the lead at the last minute. Let the fans boo him if he wins. He doesn't mind.
Cuzzin' Carl won his first Cup Series Victory at Atlanta, in 2005, and after a dismal season for him last year, is on his way back up. Bob Osborne, with whom Edwards has been most successful is back at crew chief, and success this season for the #99 team is once again on the menu. He is probably the only driver who can beat Mark Martin and not be booed by the majority of the crowd. They will be too thrilled to see him once again perform a victory backflip.
Jeff Burton is probably the only other driver, besides Smoke, who has the skill to at least try to outdrive Mark Martin through Atlanta's wide turns. It would be very exciting to see a door to door race between Burton and Martin for the last lap or two. Anyone in front of them should be sure to get out of the way. I wouldn't boo Jeff Burton for beating Mark Martin. I would be way too happy and satisfied at the thrill of seeing those two guys race each other like that.
The Kute Little Guy not only had a break through season last year, but he proved himself to be very adept at the 1.5 mile ovals. He has been frustrated by bad luck so far this year, but he has the determination to overcome such luck. Must of the bad luck has been brought on himself, by his own admission. Since Kasey Kahne knows that he is making mistakes, it can be assumed that he knows how to fix them. It should be fun to watch him at Atlanta, and, if he can't win, he should be able to make it a great race.
These picks are probably obvious to most fans, and two other obvious picks to finish in the top ten are Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. These are two drivers who, so far this season, have made it seem unusual not to see them with a top ten finish. Both Hamlin and Kenseth are drivers who can avoid trouble during most of the race, and make it seem easy when they make their moves toward the closing laps, and Presto!, there they are, finishing second or third if not actually winning the race.
Elliott Sadler is as good a fit for Everham as Jeff Burton has been for Childress. This guy is an excellent driver, in case no-one has noticed, and is probably the best driver who has not won a Cup Series championship, besides Mark Martin. Atlanta is his kind of racing, and he rarely makes mistakes. His only problem so far this year is that he seems to be where others make their mistakes, which doesn't necessarily mean that he would be taken out of the race, but just set back some. Sadler is definately one to watch for a thrill, and will get another top ten finish at Atlanta.
There are several other drivers who could be picked to fill out the top ten, but gut feeling and performance tell me this will be a good race for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. His team has shown the potential to excel at the 1.5 mile ovals, they just haven't been consistent about it yet. But consistency is bound to happen for the #8 team this season, so why not let it be Atlanta where we begin to see it. It was only a small mistake that kept Junior from finishing in the top ten last week, and we would like to think they learned from that mistake.
There are about thirty other drivers I didn't pick for my top ten whom I would like to mention, among them Greg "Da Biff" Biffle. Da Biff can't seem to shake his bad luck, and most of it hasn't been of his own doing. I'm not a fan of his, but I do think he is a much better driver than his record shows. He deserves to see an end to his bad luck, and needs to begin his comeback soon.
I will also mention Jeff Gordon. I am notorious for underestimating The Gordon, but the reasoning is that, as good as he is, he seems to have problems when a car needs constant adjustment through a race. Still, he is one of the all-time best of the best, and we do like it that he is showing some of the old Devil-may-care aggressiveness that made him notable in the nineties.
So, with a cheerful "good luck" to all the drivers, let's all luck forward to a thrilling and satisfying race Sunday.

Friday, March 16, 2007

For NASCAR Fans (Mostly)

"Then Junior Said To Jeff..." (The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told) By David Poole and Jim McClauren. Triumph Books Copyright 2006

Why would you never want to fly in an airplane with Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly as the pilot and co-pilot? What was cheating to Junior Johnson? What condition did Smokey Yunick expect his cars to be in after a race? Was there anything illegal about Ray Everham and Jeff Gordon's "T-Rex" car? These questions and many more are answered in the excellent book "Then Junior Said To Jeff..." by NASCAR correspondent David Poole and long time NASCAR writer for The State, in South Carolina, Jim McClauren.
You probably don't have to be a NASCAR fan to enjoy the book, but, to paraphrase an old joke, it helps. The stories are written so NASCAR fans can understand them, without much explaination about how NASCAR works, but, if the reader is someone who not yet a fan, but is interested in NASCAR, he or she would probably enjoy some of the history presented in the book.
The stories are mostly short and easy to read. They are divided into fourteen chapters that are categorized by time frame, tracks, and personalities. For instance, Chapter 3: "The Lady in Black" is dedicated to stories about Darlington Raceway, Chapter 6: "The Legend of Ingle Hollow" features stories about Junior Johnson, and Chapter 13: "The Wonderboy," is, obviously, about Jeff Gordon. Many of the stories are about incidents that many of us may remember, but they are written in such a way that they remain entertaining and most are humorous enough to at least bring a smile to the reader's face.
Some of the stories remind us of those who lost their lives too early. Chapter 10: "Gone Too Soon," features stories about Tim Richmond, Davey Allison, and Alan Kulwicki. The last story in the book is about Dale Earnhardt, Jr's intense feeling that somebody pulled him out of the burning Corvette in Sonoma, even when there was nobody there to pull him out, except, possibly, the spirit of his late father.
The hardcover edition includes a CD that features four historic radio interviews from 2001. The first is an interview with Darryl Waltrip on his first season as a racing commentator for Fox. The second is Benny Parsons' interview with Bill Simpson, of Simpson Safety Equipment on the investigation into Dale Earnhardt's death at Daytona. The third is Parsons' interview with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. after his 2001 win at Daytona's Firecracker, er, Pepsi 400. The fourth is another Benny Parsons interview with Kevin Harvick after his surprise first win over Jeff Gordon at the March 2001 Atlanta race. This CD alone is worth the price of the book to the diehard NASCAR fan.
I'm not saying that this is a "must read" for the racing fan, but it is something the fan would want to read, and keep within easy reach in the home. If nothing else, it needs to be there to help keep the fan going through the next off-season.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What stays in Vegas

What a weekend! Not only were there wild races, but the practices and even qualifying were pretty wild, also. Kudos to Paul Menard for the amazing save he made after his car spun during qualifying, lifted all four wheels off the ground in the infeild, and managed to stay upright for the young rookie to bring under control, saving himself from having to go to a backup car.
The Sam's Town 300 was a wreckfest, as could have been predicted. The track was faster, but the tires were designed to slow the cars down--and slowing down is something drivers don't like to do. But how about that last lap? Jeff Burton showed us his stuff, driving that car as hard as he could to battle Kyle Busch for the lead. That was one of the most exciting NBS wins in my memory. Kyle did what he could, and when he could do no more he lost control while trying to block the faster and more experienced Burton, spinning across the finish line and still getting a second place finish. We have to give recognition to the maturity and sportsmanship the obviously disappointed Schrub exhibited after climbing out of the car. He didn't make any gesture except to shake hands with Burton when Jeff drove his car around to see if Kyle was alright. That is a big step up from the glove and HANS throwing kid we have seen in the past. I applauded Kyle Busch when he congratulated the winner, and I can think of no other driver who would have been so gracious.
The UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 started out as if it, too were going to be a demolition derby. After the first ten laps, during which there were three cautions, the drivers all seemed to settle down and get a handle on their cars. We were indeed excited to see the old favorite Sterling Marlin stay in the top ten during most of the race, until a sick engine put him out of the race in the closing laps. Still, it seems that Ginn Racing is giving the man from Tennessee what he needs in a car, and we will likely see him perform well in many races this year.
Another old favorite, Mark Martin, is still the points leader, and he still says he isn’t going for the championship. He has finished in the top ten in the first three races, and insists that he is not planning on taking the offer to race full time this season. He’s just having some fun.
The #20 team of Tony Stewart and the #11 team of Denny Hamlin did what was usual for them when they start a race with a set up they didn't like--they fixed the cars as the race went on, and all finished in the top ten. The most amazing of that group was Hamlin--he had been running around twentieth place most of the time, and came out of nowhere to finish third.
Kyle Busch was probably the most aggressive of all the drivers on the track. He drove like a madman the entire race, even after spinning out at one point. He wanted to win at his home track, and he was able to run well enough, with a car that perhaps wasn't as good as the others, to keep us interested.
Jeff Burton seemed on the verge of repeating what he did in Saturdays Busch race. He gave Jeff Gordon, and then Jimmie Johnson a serious run for the lead, until he apparently used up his car.
Greg Biffle just can't find any luck anywhere. He probabaly misses his old crew chief, Doug Richert. Since Richert's #83 Red Bull team, with Brian Vickers at the wheel, has only run one out of the first three races, he probably misses Biffle.
Jimmie Johnson seems to have all the luck Biffle doesn't have. It seems almost run of the mill for the #48 team to have a setback sometime during the race, and then come back as if nothing ever happened. It is probably much more than luck. There is a reason that Jimmie Johnson is the reigning Nextel Cup Champion, and though he is a very competitive driver, it is his team that makes the difference. Three wins in the last three races at Las Vegas is a very good record, and it was a well deserved win.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Gambling is hard work

LVMS graphic by Mystic

The cry of anguish heard across the Southwest came from me, when both David Reutimann and Brian Vickers failed to qualify for the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas this weekend. First of all, it is still very hard for me to believe that a Doug Richert car can't qualify, especially with a talented driver like Brian Vickers at the wheel. Secondly, Reutimann is my bottom dollar driver on my fantasy team in the Sporting fantasy league, and to replace him, I would have to trade him and David Gilliland just to get a driver who qualified, which would still leave me a driver short and not enough to get another qualifying driver, so I'm stuck with only four qualified drivers.
I'm not so worried about my drivers in the top ten picks game at the message boards, because that can be changed with a delete and a new post, and my team is already made up of locked in drivers--their points value system is more liberal than the Sporting News drivers' value so it's easier to get the higher ranked drivers. Fantasy teams aside, I'm more than a little bugged that Vickers didn't make the race.
However, there is a race to be run, Sunday. Tony Stewart isn't happy with the tires, so we can probably say this won't be the year he gets his first win at Las Vegas. When Smoke's not happy with something, it usually means he knows he can't run a good race. He wasn't so happy with the new track at Vegas anyway. Still, you never know. There are two more practice sessions before the race, and things may work out for him, and we'll see him drive his way to a top ten finish.
Once again, the name Richard Childress comes to mind. This is a team on a mission, and hard tires or not, they are going in with a very positive attitude. Jeff Burton has said he doesn't care much for the hard tires, but he ran one of the fastest times in the first practice and in qualifying. This guy is on a roll, and you can't even call it a comeback, the way he has been driving. It is more like a breakout for him. He has been driving some of the best races in his career. Burton won the first two races at the old track in Vegas, and is running very well on the new track. Watch this guy, Sunday, he has a very good chance of winning.
His Childress teammate, Clint Bowyer, is another driver looking to have a breakout season. He is good on the mile and a half tracks, and Vegas just may be his venue. I like the way he drives, and if he is having a sophomore slump, he doesn't show it. Bowyer is out to win, and he will at least finish in the top ten.
It will be interesting to see how Sterling Marlin does Sunday--he was once one of the best drivers in the business. The crowd would truly go wild to see a top ten finish for Marlin, and we would all be happy to see him make a comeback, but, sadly, I just don't think that Vegas is the place where it will happen. The track is too new, and Marlin has to learn it all over again, in a car he hasn't raced in before. But keep in mind that the track is new to everybody else, so Sterling isn't really at that much of a disadvantage. Before I argue myself into picking him for a top ten finish, it would be wise to look at some of the other drivers first.
Bill Davis Racing has become the flagship team for the Toyotas, this year, since none of the other teams have consistently qualified for races so far this year. Dave Blaney is a consistent driver, if nothing else. The 2000 World of Outlaws winged Sprint Car champion has shown some brilliance in the NASCAR sleds, and he has shown what it takes to be a winner. He has the patience and the instinct it takes to get around the guys who will be having trouble with the hard tires on a hot track. If he doesn't get caught up in someone else's wreck, he could very well finish somewhere near the front.
There will probably, judging by the first practice and the qualifying runs, be plenty of cautions in this race. Even if there weren't the thirteen gallon fuel cells will ensure that there will be many pit stops, the pit window for green flag fuel runs being about 38-40 laps. Knowing that pit stops will be important, we have to give an edge to Matt Kenseth, whose driving will put him up front and whose pit crew will help him get there and stay there. Kenseth is another very talented and consistent driver, and the only thing that would keep him out of the top ten would be mechanical troubles or, of course the dreaded someone else's wreck. He won't have problems with the tires, being the kind of driver who can adjust to almost any conditions. If he doesn't win, I would almost bet that he can finish in the top three.
Two reasons why I can't pick Kenseth as the winner are the Busch brothers. Las Vegas is where they live, and they will definitely feel at home at their home track. Kurt Busch has a good record at thie old track, and, so far this weekend, has had no problem with the new track. Certainly NASCAR's most unpopular former champion will finish in the top ten, if he doesn't win.
Brother Kyle is a very diverse driver when it comes to different tracks. When he does well, he can win, or come very close to winning. His problem is that he drives as if it is all or nothing. He will either win the race or wreck trying to do so. I don't think he will make any serious mistakes in front of his home crowd, but just the way he drives tends to use up the car and the tires, even the hard tires. It will be fun to watch him race, and I'm going to gamble by picking him for a top ten finish.
Now, how about those Dodges? Kasey Kahne, David Stremme, Scott Riggs, and Elliott Saddler all up in the first three rows. No doubt, Kahne, who has the pole position, will lead a lot of laps. He has to overcome the bad luck he has had in the pits to win, but he is clearly the favorite at any 1.5 mile track, with the outstanding performance he had at such tracks I would like to pick Kasey as the winner at Las Vegas, but gut feeling tells me it will be Jeff Burton's day.
David Stremme and Scott Riggs have both been improving over the past season, and the beginning of this season. Scott Riggs has just missed winning on several occasions, and he has taken his time getting his first win. He does have the ability to do it, but he needs to have better luck with his car and mechanical problems than he has had so far this year. I believe in him, though--he has beaten some of the same drivers he is racing against now when they were all in the trucks and in the Busch series, and there is no reason why he can't beat them now. It has taken him a while to get to where he is, but he is probably the best driver who hasn't yet won a Cup race.
David Stremme is another driver who has proven that he is better than his record shows. However, he still has a reckless side to him that he needs to overcome. I feel that if Kyle Busch can do it, so can he. But my heart is with Elliott Sadler, another driver who is much better than his record shows. He should have fewer problems finishing in the top ten than Stremme, if only for the facet of having more experience. Saddler in, Stremme out.
The last spot in my top ten list is a toss up between Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. I would be a fool not to pick the reigning champion of the race, but I like my foolish side. The track is different than it was when Johnson won the last two races at Vegas, and I still think Hamlin is more talented at different kinds of tracks, so even though I call heads, and the coin says tails, Hamlin finishes up my picks for the top ten.
Which brings me to the disclaimer. This post is by no means a fantasy preview, I am not an expert at picking the best choices. This is only a guide to the drivers I think will be the most fun to watch during the race. Sometimes, I predict well, but mostly it seems like a jinx to the drivers I pick, so please don't base your fantasy game selections on solely what is written here. I have done some research, but my research does not go as deep as that of the experts. This is just for fun. I do encourage the reader to take this as a challenge--to see how well your picks stack up against mine.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Johnny Paul Invitational

Photo by: AFP/Luis Acosta
From the very beginning, there was little doubt that Juan Pablo Montoya (Johnny Paul Beauford to some people in the state of Washington) would win the NASCAR Busch Series road race in Mexico City. He took the lead early, lost it due to a fueling problem in the pits, and quickly returned up to the front of the pack. We got to see the kind of driving that has made JPM both famous and infamous.
It is not my intent to justify for Montoya the wrecking of his teammate to take the lead, it was purely a move of impatience. JPM would have won the race anyway--both he and his car clearly outclassed the rest of the field--so he didn't have to make the "kamikaze" move he did with eight lap to go. It would have been much more fun to watch him take Scott Pruett in the esses, or in the drag race to turn 1, or at least with more finesse in that turn than he exhibited.
In Formula 1, there is an understood "blue flag" rule, where the slower car, even if in the lead, is expected to let the faster car overtake. This could be why he decided to move when he did--he thought Pruett was slower, and that he would be given room to pass. JPM has said that he has much to learn, still, about racing in NASCAR, and we hope he learned something on his way to his first NASCAR victory.
All that aside, it was an exciting race. Denny Hamlin once again showed us his capability and competive prowess while he raced the more experienced JPM hard and close. That race had me on my feet and scaring the cats.
Update: The legislater who made the comments about NASCAR and NASCAR fans, has apologized and spun his earlier statements to mean the ISC. I still don't have his correct name, but I wonder if he read my blog on the subject.
Nah, I'm just being pretentious.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"We Don't Like Your Kind"

In 1990, give or take a year, the city of Telluride, CO, was up in arms, trying to keep out “undesirables.” An event was about to happen that promised, to many unenlightened individuals, an influx of unwashed hippies, panhandlers, pickpockets, con-artists, and drug addicts. The event that caused the furor was a four day long Grateful Dead concert. The Telluride Chamber of Commerce and some members of the city council saw it as a boon to the city, but many of the wealthy “liberal” elitists who lived in that town saw the introduction of over 100,000 Deadheads to the home of the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass and Jazz festivals as disaster. They started petitions urging that the concert be cancelled, and they called for boycotts of the local businesses that were sponsoring the concert.
Happily, the Chamber of Commerce won out, and the show went on. The Dead, and the Deadheads came to Telluride, treated the locals with respect, spent their money, behaved themselves, mostly, and when they left they cleaned up their campsites and parking places, leaving less litter than was there when they arrived. The locals were impressed, even those who had opposed the concert, and the Dead was booked for a similar event the following year.

Washington State wants these fans...

If this were my political blog, I would point out that the same people who had prejudices against the Deadheads were purported “progressives” who supported Jimmy Carter, Richard Lamm, Gary Hart, George McGovern, and Bill Clinton, and I could point out that, as one of the aforementioned “Deadheads,” I learned that progressives were no less bigoted and narrow minded than conservatives. But, this isn’t my political blog, so I won’t do that.
A similar situation has arisen in the so-called “Blue State” of Washington. “We don’t want those kind of people here,” said one member of the Washington State Legislature.
What “kind of people” was he referring to? “Toothless, beer-bellied rednecks,” he said, referring to NASCAR fans.

...But not these fans

He didn’t stop there--he went on with derogatory comments about the drivers, calling them “Southern criminals,” and “trailer trash.” When a reporter asked if he knew who Greg Biffle was, he replied, “You mean the guy who got the DUI? He isn’t a member of the State Legislature.”
For those who don’t know, Greg Biffle is one of NASCAR’s top drivers, and a native son of Washington. As far as I know, he has never had a DUI.
I may be toothless--I have a metabolic abnormality that caused my body to absorb the roots of my upper teeth as if they were “baby teeth” making way for the permanents to grow in. But I’m not trailer trash , and I don’t have a beer belly, and I don’t think of myself as a redneck. I know a lot of NASCAR fans, but I personally have never met any who fit that description. I know that there are some fans who do fit that description, but I feel offended by the comments by the state representative whose name I didn’t get.
The Honorable Whatsizface somehow didn’t feel as though it would be enough to say that he didn’t think it would be appropriate to allocate $683 million of the taxpayers’ money for a NASCAR track. He had to make the derogatory comments and stereotypical remarks. After all, it isn’t as if NASCAR fans were a cultural minority. We can’t sue him or call for his impeachment. All we can do is laugh at him for being so ignorant. If this were my political blog, I would point out that his remarks illustrate how far out of touch with consensus reality many politicians are. But this is my NASCAR blog, so I won’t.
I will also laugh at International Speedway Corporation (ISC), the track ownership branch of NASCAR. They met with the same problems in New York, and will more than likely find them in Denver. I see it as well-deserved bad Karma for buying Pike’s Peak International Raceway (PPIR) and shutting it down. Colorado Springs and El Paso County had plans and money approved for the expansion of PPIR, and for the road improvements that would be necessary for expansion. ISC closed PPIR thinking they would be able to build a track closer to Denver. But the people of Denver don’t want “those kind of people” there. And the politicians whom ISC has to ask for funding and permits know enough to realize that building a NASCAR track doesn’t necessarily mean there would ever be a Cup race there. They learned their lesson from PPIR. Even though race fans drove from as far as Amarillo, TX, Oklahoma City , and Salt Lake City to see a Busch Series race at PPIR, very few would make the seventy minute drive from Denver to Fountain. What made ISC think that they would drive across Denver to see a race? Just something else to illustrate the stupidity and ignorance enough to make the politicians think of ISC and NASCAR as “redneck trailer trash.”