Friday, July 11, 2008

Chicago and Crisis Management

One thing that could help us to handle our grief over the loss of our favorite driver's will to win would be a good race. We may just get to see one Saturday night in the first night race at Chicagoland Speedway.

In the past, the races at Chicagoland have not been all that exciting, but that has been par for the course at most of the intermediate class speedways. But things change. Some races that we have expected to be somewhat boring have been exciting this year. The Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's earlier this year is a good example of that.

We can reasonably expect Saturday night's race to be different from other races from Chicagoland we have seen. Because it is the first night race at that venue, we can expect the track surface to be cooler than it would be on Sunday afternoon, thus providing more traction. More traction usually means faster cars.

Faster cars could mean a better race, but not necessarily. Chicagoland is unknown to the new Sprint Cup car, and to the tire combination Goodyear has been providing this year. These unknowns were disasterous earlier this year at Atlanta and Texas Motor Speedway, where the teams didn't get a chance to test, and there was very little racing at those tracks.

On the other hand, the Sprint Cup teams have been learning how they can better adjust the car, and that may make a difference Saturday. We are more than halfway through the season, and, hopefully, Chicagoland will not mean unpleasant surprises for the teams, as they may be better prepared by experience.

If the race Saturday night turns into a follow the leader event, we can probably expect Kyle Busch to win yet another one, as he seems to be the only driver who is willing to go for broke to get to the front. If the teams have their cars ready to race, however, there are two drivers who are poised to present a challenge to the likely winner.

David Ragan has come a long way from the time his driving style was described as being like "a dart without feathers." He has shown himself to be a quick learner, and has been able to put what he has learned to good use with his talent. His performance has been outstanding this year, and there have been several races where he looked like he could have won had it not been for pit strategy, pit performance, or the bad luck of being caught up in someone else's accident. We could see him get his first career Sprint Cup win Saturday night.

We have been impressed, as well, by Brian Vickers. This is another driver who has shown that he can overcome a lot of adversity to get a good finish. He has long established himself as a fast driver who can really get on the wheel of a fast car, and his talent may be rewarded Saturday night. If he does win the second Life Lock 400 of the season, it will be his second career Sprint Cup win, and his first since Talladega in 2006.

We can't rule out Smoke. This is traditionally Tony Stewart's time of the year, we know he likes night races, and he has always performed well at Chicagoland. The pressure of having to inform his friends and his team that he would be leaving them next year is off, and his attitude seems positive. Even though we are still in the anger stage of coping with grief, and are still puzzled about him getting out of a car that could have won--it wasn't long ago that "flu-like" symptoms wouldn't stop him even if it meant soiling his driver's suit--he is still Smoke, and we hope he still has a competitive edge. Personally, we are hoping to see him in Victory Lane.

Speaking of Smoke, could it be he has already made a choice for his Stewart-Haas team beginning next year? During an interview during Nationwide Series qualifying, Stewart used some words describing crew chief Dave Rogers that raised a few flags, such as "leadership," and "team builder."

Now these are words that have been used to describe Rogers all season long, but in context of what Stewart was saying, and the way he said it, Rogers would be a great choice for Stewart in building his new team. Would Gibbs release him? We would speculate that he would, because we know that JGR will not be running four cars next year after all, as the #20 will be driven by an unnamed driver who will share the ride with a developing Joey Logano. This would not leave room for Rogers to move up to Cup within the Gibbs organization, and no organization has ever stopped a crew chief from moving to Cup even if it meant he was going to another organization. We can also safely speculate that Rogers would jump at the chance to be a crew chief for a Cup team.

Of course, my record for believing rumors that turn out to be true is very bad, and my speculation has even been worse, but I don't think the idea of Dave Rogers going to Stewart-Haas is all that far-fetched.

So I have moved through the denial stage, passed the guilt stage, and seem to be getting through the anger phase. This would be the bargaining stage, thinking that it would be a good thing if Smoke can get a good crew chief right away. I hope my readers continue to follow me as I deal with this crisis, and can find my progress interesting and entertaining, if not informative.

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