Saturday, March 01, 2008

Warming up in Vegas

Once again I find myself having to correct an inaccuracy from one of my previous posts. I hate it when that happens. I mentioned that there were three venues in the Cup Series at which Tony "Smoke" Stewart has yet to win. I believe I correctly mentioned California and Las Vegas, but failed to mention correctly that the other two are Darlington and Talladega. In spite of some of my self-depricating disclaimers, I do hope to be more accurate in reporting statistics, and maintain at least some semblence of credibility.
Last year, at Las Vegas, the track surface was new, the tire compound was hard, and the cars were the familiar "conventional" cars. Many of the teams and drivers had difficulty getting the handle on the car and the track, and the going was relatively slow as NASCAR racing goes. At the end of the caution filled Cup race, Jimmie Johnson easily out ran the rest of the field and beat team mate Jeff Gordon by nearly three seconds. However, in the Busch Series (now Nationwide Series) race there was one heck of a finish while Jeff Burton and Rowdy Kyle "The Schrub" Busch raced hard for the checkers, and Busch got loose after the two made contact and spun out--crossing the finish line in second place while still in a spin.
Fans watched as the young Busch, who had a reputation for being somewhat volitile and immature, approached Burton's car in Victory Lane, expecting a fight, or at least some kind of outburst. Instead, Rowdy reached out his hand and congratulated the winner.
Thus began the warming period.
The Schrub returns to his home track this weekend a superstar in the making. With the help of his new team at Joe Gibbs Racing, and with some accolades from the likes of Darryll Waltrip and Dick Bergeron, the new "Mr. Excitement" is seen as an extraordinary driver, and has thrilled the flock of NASCAR fans across the nation.
Jimmie Johnson is expected to win an unprecedented fourth UAW-Dodge 400 in a row, but he is facing competition that is very different from last year. In spite of his second place finish last week, he seems to have trouble getting a handle on the car in traffic, and couldn't get it to work when he most needed it to work. Success in the Formula N car is mostly up to the driver, as Tony Stewart has pointed out, and Chad Knaus, as good as he is, cannot help the self-proclaimed "Driver of the Year" as much as he has in the past. Johnson is starting 33rd, and has had trouble with his car in traffic, although whatever has been bothering may have been fixed by now.
It is true that nobody has ever won the UAW-Dodge 400 from the pole, so--although there is always a first time for everything--it can't be taken for granted that Busch will win.
Aside from Kyle Busch, I would be looking for Tony Stewart, who has led the most laps at Vegas for a driver without a win, to be crossing another venue off his "Things To Do" list.
Matt Kenseth seems to be able to get a handle on the car that is being used now, and his abilities are very impressive on this type of track. If the previous record at Vegas applies to anyone, it would be to Matt, because he seems to be very adaptable to different styles of cars.
And then you have Greg Biffle, who, in spite of his lack of wins over the last two years, is very capable of winning a race. Between the last few races of '07, and some very good runs this year, he has shown that he can still be a contender.
GEM is also making a comeback, and they had some fast cars in qualifying and practice, includingt Patrick Carpentier's Kasey Kahne wants to prove that he is just as capable of making a comeback as anybody else, and he will want to put on a good enough show to earn acceptance for being given the Budman title.

A sidenote: Kahne's sponsorship
partnership involving Allstate Driver's Insurance and Budweiser made me wonder
about how they could have joint commercials. How about ending a regular Budweiser commercial, featuring Kahne with the words "Allstate Insurance reminds you that drnking Budweiser and driving could result in an increase in your insurance rates?"
So far this year, the racing has been pretty good, even after the mess at Fontana. Once that race started, on Monday, it was interesting and very well worth watching. I think we will see more of this as the season goes on and the drivers get used to the new car. NASCAR seems to be regaining some interest from the, as there was a good sized crowd at the track for practice and qualifying, This may be partly because the three day ticket package for Vegas is a very good deal, as ticket packages go, but the performance of the new car, Dale Jr, Kyle Busch and a possible record-breaking run by the current Champion, have done a lot to bring people back to the track or their television sets. I feel that the obituaries written by many for NASCAR are a bit pre-mature.

1 comment:

Racefan57 said...

Good point Jim...did you see the crowd at Vegas yesterday