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NASCAR at Loudon: A Short Race at a Tough Short Track Starts the Chase

Rusty NormanSay what you will about the Chase, but one thing is certain… Even though NASCAR Cup teams visit ten tracks during the Chase, Loudon is one tough short track and it is one tough place to kick off the Chase. Add to that the fact it is a relatively short race, with probably a minimum of cautions and the possibility of some short tempers and there’s no telling what will happen.

Once again, in this fan’s opinion, I don’t think qualifying times are going to tell us the whole story of how things will go Sunday afternoon. To me, it seemed many of the teams hadn’t quite figured what setup they wanted to use by time for qualifying. After qualifying, it seemed many teams made major changes to what they thought was going to be “the setup” and some that qualified poorly, looked mighty strong after the two Saturday practice times.

Personally, I wouldn’t have given you two plugged nickels for the Hendrick teams’ possibilities of finishing near the front at Loudon this weekend, but afterwards, they appear to have hit on something that put them right back into the mix. Not only did Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson look good, but so did Mark Martin and Dale Jr.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are going to win, I’m just saying, it looks like they are going to give the rest of the teams a run for their money (which I personally wouldn’t have believed a week or so ago) and it should make the “Drive for Five” Championships for either Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon once again a possibility in this Chase. Oh sure, I know many of you will disagree with me on this, but it is still something to watch for the next few races and see how it goes for them. (In other words, I guess we can re-evaluate after a few of the Chase races are in the books.)

It appears the Roush/Fenway teams have consistently been improving over the last ten races, (much the same way the Childress teams did at the end of last season), and should be making the Chase interesting, at least for the Ford fans. Carl Edwards hasn’t won yet but has definitely been piling up the points, in particular over the last ten races. He just may be one of the ones to watch when it comes down to the finish in Homestead.

The same goes for Greg Biffle; although he has hit a few bumps along the way, he has been one of the strongest Roush teams until lately. It’s not that he hasn’t been strong… he’s just had some “challenges” along the way.

As for Matt Kenseth, well he’s just been plugging away and quietly sits in 11th spot waiting to pounce on any possibility to make it to the front. (I don’t think we’ve heard all we’re going to here from him yet this year.)

Kurt Bush remains the great unknown for me as to how he will do in the Chase. He has been both up and down, good and bad during the season so far and it seems he always shows up with a strong car, not always a great car. Crew chief Steve Addington has surprised many with how quickly he has gelled with Kurt and as a team and I think Kurt has a chance at winning the Cup Championship. He has strong engines and plenty of talent and with a little bit of racing luck he could be the one to dethrone Jimmie Johnson (something he doesn’t try to disguise as one of his desires.) It will be interesting to see how he does over the next few races and see if they step up their performance to the May level. If that happens, the #2 Dodge will definitely be tough to beat.

Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush all have made a statement in the last couple of weeks in one way or another. I’ll wait and see how they do over the first four races of the Chase before I really commit to their possibilities in taking the Cup. Although all three are capable, all three have had good and bad races lately and that can be at least slightly unsettling when it comes to looking at their consistency. In the next ten races, a bad week can be just a bad week, but several of them can be devastating.

Clint Bowyer has been the stellar performer for the Childress teams over the last few weeks and looks to be on a roll. For a while it looked like he may be on the outside looking in, but all of the sudden, he looks like a contender (and to be honest, listening to him in interviews, he is confident he will perform as good as any in the top twelve.) His teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton have not performed at the level they had hoped over the last couple of races but don’t count them out; the Childress teams have been strong all season and I don’t expect that to change that much over the next ten weeks.

I tell you what to look out for this Sunday; look out for the possibility of someone outside the top twelve to take the victory. There are some pretty strong cars outside the top twelve and one of them could take the checkers.

I’m still looking for one of the “Chasers” to win Sunday and it could be the likes of Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson or even Clint Bowyer. I think this race is just about as hard to call the winner of as it is to think who might win the Chase for the Sprint Cup this year. As many have said, this is the closest match-up of talent and performance as any Chase so far and anyone of the twelve can take the Cup.

As for who is going to win at Loudon, I’m going to stick my neck way out and say Jeff Gordon. I think it is about time for his luck to change and more have noticed the same thing I have about him at this point in the year; He still has that fire to win and he has had about all the bad luck one can have in one season and still make the Chase (aside from the fact he finished second in the points before the reset for the Chase.) I’m thinkin’ it’s time for him to win another one….

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 18, 2010 – all rights reserved

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By Rusty Norman

Amateur writer, NASCAR Fan, musician and former local Stock Car racer.