Saturday, September 19, 2009

Light 'em up!

I seriously doubt that Jeff Gordon reads this blog, but something sure lit a fire in him. At Richmond, last Sunday, he and Denny Hamlin gave us a great of red hot wheel to wheel racing. He wasn't boring at all. That's the Jeff Gordon we want to see.

At the beginning of the season, listening to Gordon gave us the perception that he was ready to grab the bull by the horns and start racing to win again. But that fire we saw quickly dwindled, and suffocated under a blanket of, for the 24 team, mediocrity.

For the majority of teams in the Sprint Cup Series, Gordon's performance would be great, but this is the 24 team we are talking about. This is the team of one of the best drivers in the history of NASCAR, and we expect that desire to win to burn brightly.

Jeff Gordon must know that he will have to win some races in the Chase for the Championship. He should have learned that in 2007 when he gave away the Cup by finishing consistently in the top five while Jimmie Johnson finished consistently in Victory Lane. Now it is not just Johnson who will snag top five finishes and win races during the Championship season. We can be sure that Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, and possibly even Juan Pablo Montoya will each win at least one of the last ten races as well as post several top five finishes. Jeff Gordon needs to find the old fire that would make him unhappy with a second place finish if he is to achieve that fifth championship that has eluded him for so long.

That being said, here are my uneducated guesses for how I think the Championship points race will turn out:

Champion: Tony Stewart. I know, this is my heart talking, but my mind almost agrees. Stewart took a team that was barely making the top thirty five in points and turned it into a winner. He has mellowed when talking to the press, a necessity for a team owner, but he still has the fire and determination to win. After winning the qualifying season, so to speak, he will be hard to stop. Certainly, there has been some poor performance on the part of him and his team since Watkins Glen, but this is a team and a leader who will overcome those errors. I know this is a change of view from the beginning of the seasons, but I will now admit that all of my expectations from that time were wrong.

2. Jimmie Johnson. The other teams have caught up to what the 48 team has had for the last three seasons, and the competition is better. Besides, Jimmie hasn't been hitting as many cars lately, so it will be harder for Knaus to put the magic aerodynamics improving dent in the right place on the fender. I am only partly joking--many of the races Johnson has won have been won after he has had contact with one or more other cars early in the race. Yes, it's a crackpot conspiracy theory, but it does make you think. But Johnson will still be hard to stop. I think the points race will be close throughout the Chase.

3. Jeff Gordon. The new bridesmaid.

4. Mark Martin. He loves to win, but maybe he just isn't aggressive enough to be competitive with Johnson and Stewart. Still, we would be very happy to see him finally get a championship.

5. Juan Montoya. As mentioned before, this guy knows how to win championships. This team will come together during the Chase, and he will show us he knows how to win races as well. He has to remember, though, that "Shake" comes before "Bake."

6. Denny Hamlin. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, and nobody expects Denny Hamlin. Yet the guy is a good racer, and Loudon, Dover, and Martinsville are all good tracks for him. He could keep the points among the top six very close.

7. Ryan Newman. A very competent racer, and he knows when to be aggressive and when not to be. He has been in the Chase before, and he knows how it works.

8. Carl Edwards. It's very difficult to understand why the Roush Magic isn't there this year, but still, they got two drivers in the Chase. Perhaps it's just that, as the teams get the hang of the Cup car, the competition becomes tighter, and things are evening out. Edwards has a strong will, proven by showing us that the only thing he can't do with a broken foot is a victory backflip. His determination will put him in the top ten at the end of the season.

9. Kasey Kahne. We would love to put him in the top five, but the way things are getting shaken up at RPM there may be some lack of concentration.

10 Brian Vickers. He has a lot of determination, and will likely finish in the top ten points position. He will make the Chase interesting, but it is not Red Bull's turn quite yet. They will learn a lot, and will be even stronger next year.

11. Yea, he made the Chase. I wish he would make the top ten, but he won't.

12 Kurt Busch. The same mechanical and emotional problems that have plagued him in the past will continue to plague him his year. Too bad.

So that is my take. As always, I am very interested in discussing this with other fans and maybe changing my mind. Remember, I don't intend to slam any driver or team. This is just for fun, so please don't bet on my picks. Thank you.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Revvin' and Rantin'

As you may have noticed, I have been unable to post anything lately, due to lack of internet access. T'herefore, we will try to take care of several different subjects, including some photos from the 2009 Good Times Auto Show in Old Colorado City, while we have the opportunity.

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase qualifying season winds down to its final race, there is still plenty of drama. Of Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Juan Montoya, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch, two will not make the cut at Richmond Saturday night, so we know these nine drivers will be giving it their all. Carl Edwards could also be included in this group, but, no matter what happens with the other drivers, he can clinch his berth with a mid-pack finish or better.

We know that Kyle Busch will truly make it an all or nothing run for his team at Richmond, so we will have to say the driver with the toughest task in trying to make the Chase is Brian Vickers. He hasn't had a top five finish at Richmond in a Cup car,. and he almost needs to have bad luck happen to one or more of the other drivers who are currently in the top twelve in points. We would like to see him in the Chase, because we think he could bring some additional excitement to the championship season. At the same time we would hate to see any ot the drivers who are currently in the top twelve not make the cut, so we are, as usual, emotionally conflicted.

Tony Stewart's team's performance seems to have fallen off some since his victory at Watkins Glen. They may already be feeling the pressure of the Chase. We should remember that most of the members of Stewart's pit crew have never experienced being on a winning team prior to this year. They are still working out some kinks and some glitches, and hopefully they will get all of their bad stuff out of their system before the final ten races. We should also remember that we expected this to be a team building year for Stewart-Haas racing, and they have gone beyond all expectations. Most of us doubted that Stewart would make the Chase in his first year as a team owner, but those doubts have been dashed, as not only is Stewart in first place for the qualifying season, but his team mate Ryan Newman has a very good chance of making the Chase as well.

Jeff Gordon is boring. There, I said it. Certainly, he and his team have done well to stay in the top three in points throughout the season, but that is expected of the 24 team. We predicted that his fire would be back this season, but it seems to be smoldering. We also predicted that he would win the championship this year, which he still could very well do, but not while he is content with finishing in the top ten every race. Not when he is competing against the likes of Stewart and Johnson. He could step it up during the final ten races, and we hope he does. I have to say, however, that if he was not already locked into the Chase, I would rather see a more exciting driver in the final twelve.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr won't make the Chase, but we have seen some improvement since Lance McGrew came on board as his crew chief. It was fun watching him race with everything going good for him at Atlanta. Nobody rides the rim so close to the outside fence as well and skillfully as Earnhardt does, and it was fun to watch him do so at Atlanta. If he and his team continue to improve, we could see him back as a contender next year.

Atlanta showed us that these new cars can race wheel to wheel on an intermediate track, and they can race for the lead on the track, under green flag conditions. That was probably the best race we have seen on an intermediate track this year, as the Sprint Cup car is coming into its own. I have a feeling the performance of the car will continue to improve, and soon we will forget all about the aero cars. The only problem is parity. As predicted, the parity built into the CoT, CORN, or Sprint Cup Car (whichever one choses to call it), has resulted in separating the good drivers from the mediocre. There are no tweaks a crew chief could make to give Reed Sorenson or Elliott Sadler a chance to compete with a Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, or Jimmie Johnson.

Speaking of Reed Sorenson or Elliott Sadler, Richard Petty Motorsports will be merging with Yates Racing next year. As the tentative drivers' roster implies, the drivers for Petty-Yates will be Sadler, Kahne, Allmendinger, and Menard in Yates powered Fords, and Sorenson will be looking for a ride. This means that Kahne, who was a Ford man before he was a Dodge man, will be back in Ford, Sadler has an excellent lawyer, Allmendinger will get another chance to rise in the ranks with yet another manufacturer, and Menard's daddy is a great sponsor. We will think positively about Sorenson, who would be an excellent replacement for Brad Keselowski at JRM in the Nationwide Series, and we think that this would be an excellent opportunity for him to get that Nationwide Series Championship that so narrowly eluded him a few years ago.

Kahne, we might remember, was the subject of a lawsuit by Ford regarding his contract as a Ford driver, when he first went to Evernham as a Dodge driver. The merger also means that he will have driven for four different Cup Series teams without making a move from one team to another.

Sadler, we may remember, drove for Yates before he drove for Evernham. The number 44, driven by AJ Allmendinger, was once a Yates car number, and will be again. Ironic how things turn full circle, isn't it?

We can't close without remarking on the excellent finish at Bristol a few weeks ago. We got to see two excellent drivers race each other for the win, in a clean but intense battle. Mark Martin is a class act, and races the way he gets raced. If you race him clean, he will race you clean. So shame on those fans who would have rather seen a wreck at the end of the race than the exciting wheel to wheel racing it was.

One more thing. I will be keeping the double file restart poll up until the end of the season, so we can see every instance of the restart at every type of track. I do believe I have the poll set up so you can vote as many times as you like. I will think of an additional poll to put up in the meantime, possibly about the NASCAR wives. The criteria for this poll will include more than being eye candy, as in how involved the wife is in the driver's career. However, there will be a slot marked "other" so you can write in your favorite eye candy wife. Eva and Nicole will be included because of their near cat fight in the pits a couple of seasons ago.

Until I get a chance to get on line again, enjoy the races!