Looking at NASCAR 2011… from Just A Fan’s View

Rusty NormanHello everyone… this is Russ and I’d like to welcome you back to Just A Fan’s View for 2011. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to the coming season and I think it’s going to be the best year yet, at least for NASCAR (and Just A Fan’s View, too), and I can’t wait to see how everything shakes out. Of course you know we won’t be able to determine much until after the first few weeks of competition, but, like last year, this year has had some changes to the rules and to the way the cars look and I reckon both will have an impact on the year; but only time will tell how much that impact will be.

I’m not sure what your opinion is, but the consensus in my personal polling of friends and associates is mixed at best. The biggest discussions have been about the usual things, like who will win the Chase (and who they hope won’t win) and how the new rules may affect the racing. Personally, I don’t see much difference in the rules that made last year so competitive and what we have to look forward to for this year, but I think NASCAR fans across the nation are going to be pleasantly surprised with the way everything works out and with the level of competition across the board. Hey, as a NASCAR fan, you know as well as I do, competition has never been closer than it is right now.

I look for the Fords of both, the Jack Roush and Richard Petty camps, to make a statement early in the year this season, if for no other reason than the statement Carl Edwards made by winning the last two races of the season last year. I also think this will be the year NASCAR fans have to take a serious look at the capabilities of the Toyotas of Michael Waltrip Racing. I’m not sure how they will do on all the types of tracks, but I do think they could be a force on the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega. (I’m sure David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr are thinking that way and are ready to make that statement a reality.)

So, does that mean Joe Gibbs Racing is going to be left out in the cold with their Toyotas? Not at all… they’ve proven themselves and their performance last year was very strong; I just think the whole field is going to be more competitive this year and it remains to be seen how the JGR teams will fair as the season progresses.

As a quick side-note… I guess you noticed I haven’t said much about the Childress or Hendrick teams yet. The reason for that is the improvement of the Childress teams was well documented for most of last season and I don’t expect much to change in the days ahead for them. I do think RCR is a force that is going to have to be reckoned with if someone else wants to win the Championship this year. I’m not saying too much, because things can change on the competitive front so quickly in NASCAR, but, I don’t expect there to be much difference over last year in the performance of the teams from RCR as the season gets started and progresses. In particular, I think Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer will be tough competitors from the get go, (and of course, there is that other guy named Jeff Burton. If he can catch a few breaks this year, he just may surprise all of us.)

The Hendrick camp is a whole different story… It is already a well know fact there was a major switch-up, (uh, some would call it a major shake-up) in the off-season and the jury is still out as to how it will affect the performance of the four teams. The team left basically intact was the #48 team of Jimmie Johnson. Although there were some organizational changes made to the way the pit crew is made up and will train, he still has Chad Knaus as his crew chief and they still reside at the same shop. As for the rest of the Hendrick teams, major changes, along with major expectations are the order of the day. I have to agree with what many others are saying… Dale Jr needs to have a good year and with his new crew chief, Steve Letarte, the hope is he will make a good showing throughout the season and make the Chase this year. I think we will know sooner than later how that’s going the shake out, but when it comes to whether or not 2011 is going to be a good year for him, barring the complete unforeseen, I do expect him to perform well and I think he will be somewhere near the front at the Daytona 500.

Personally, I’m still not convinced Jeff Gordon won’t be making a run for his fifth Championship this year, (although some say he doesn’t really have much of a chance, what with a new crew chief and moving the #24 to the same shop as the #5.) I think Allan Gustavson and he will make a good team and I expect he will be one of the forces to be reckoned with as the season nears Chase Time. I just don’t see how sharing the same garage with the likes of Mark Martin can be a bad thing for Jeff. Somehow, I do think moving away from the #48 will be a plus for Gordon. Sometimes being too close to your competition (as well as a car you’re part owner of) can be a bad thing. I look for Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin to make themselves known right from the start of the year. Although this is Mark’s last year with the #5 team at Hendrick, I don’t expect him to just lay down and exit quietly. I do think he’ll be someone we’ll be talking about often during this season. Although he is comfortable with his accomplishments throughout his NASCAR career, if he is in position to win the Cup Championship, rest assured, he will give all he’s got and won’t hold back anything.

There are a lot of unknowns that have to be considered for this coming season. I haven’t even talked about Tony Stewart or the Bush brothers and what’s going on with them on their respective teams and then there’s that other guy, Denny Hamlin. Do I think they will all be silent? Not at all, but they’re not at the top of my list when it comes to those I think are going make a lot of noise to start off the year, (at least, not in the first few races), but they are definitely on the list of those I expect to see putting pressure on the rest and who knows, it could be I’m dead wrong and they are the ones all of the others will be “Chasing.”

I’m also thinking this could be the year Marcos Ambrose and, yes, even AJ Almendinger, win their first races in the Cup series. It isn’t so far fetched to think that way because both made some good showings last year and I expect both of them to improve as the season progresses. I think it would be great to see both of them do well if for no other reason than it would be very good for Richard Petty Motorsports and make up for some of what Richard has put his name on the line for and what he had to put with at the end of last year.

I know there are those I haven’t mentioned that have a very good chance of making it to Victory Lane at least sometime in the first 26 races and some of them are veterans and some are relatively new to the Cup series. Will one of them take the Championship? Well, that’s an great question and I really don’t have an answer for it at the moment, but… time will tell (as they say.)

Hey, that’s my take of how the 2011 season will start out and you can bet, it’s Just A Fan’s View, but, “It’s as good as any and better than many!!!”

See ya next time…

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© February 11, 2011 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com

All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

By Rusty Norman

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