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Chase race number two for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series didn’t really go as I expected except for one thing and that was that it was a fuel mileage race right down to the wire (which I did say it would be in my pre-race article.) Now, let me remind you, I’m not bragging but it does feel good to be right more often than it does to be wrong.
I don’t have to point this out (but I will) and that is the fact, Tony Stewart waited all year to win a race and now he has won the first two Chase races. A few weeks ago he was lamenting how poorly they were running and they weren’t likely to do well in the Chase (even if they made it) and now he sits atop the standings in the run for the 2011 Cup Championship and even though his lead is slim in points, he is one that absolutely has to be considered as one of the major contenders for the Championship.
I am somewhat surprised at how many people are complaining about the number of fuel mileage races there have been this year. Another surprising complaint is how those that complain, in particular, seem to think NASCAR should do something about it and that the race should not be decided on fuel strategy. (It strikes this fan as peculiar when all the rest of the time these same folks complain that NASCAR tries to alter the outcome of a race by throwing debris cautions and now it sounds as if they want them to throw a caution so the race won’t be decided by strategy.)
Let me just say, I do understand what they are saying, but, I do think the strategy for fuel and tires is just part of the overall picture when it comes to racing in NASCAR these days. Yeah, I understand what they’re saying, (especially when the driver I would rather see win loses because of a late race caution which alters his track position by erasing a large lead or some other advantage he may have acquired because of an extended green flag run.) But I also understand that fuel mileage is not a result of some miraculous or hidden agenda, or because one make has an advantage over the others (although there is that possibility even though NASCAR tries its level best to keep things as even as possible). It is a calculated item and the engine builders and crew chiefs figure what they need to accomplish with the amount of fuel they have and yet perform well and then they put it in the hands of the drivers to “save” all they can and still be at the front with fuel still in the tank when the checkered flag falls.
I guess I just don’t see what is wrong with fuel mileage deciding the result of a race. From my view, it makes the end of the race just as dramatic and just as much a mystery until all of them drive across the finish line. I mean, over the last two races we have witnessed a large difference in the finishing order over what it might have been just a lap or two earlier. If you don’t think it is dramatic, just ask those that have run out of fuel and lost a bunch of spots and points on those last two laps.
(Uh… can anyone say, Denny Hamlin?) He has to be one of the most disappointed drivers actually in the Chase with the kind of things he has suffered in the 2011 season. I’m sure he and his team are looking over their shoulders to see what lurks there. If it can go wrong, it has gone wrong for them this year, (and unless something big happens, I just don’t see them anywhere in the mix for the Championship at all.)
His teammate, Kyle Bush, didn’t have a great day either, but he did manage to pick a few spots back up from last week’s terrible performance. It seems to this fan, history repeats itself as he is struggling in the openers for the Chase. I don’t expect him to continue struggling every week, but id nothing else, it does make the conversation interesting when it comes to his chances for winning his first Cup Championship.
Jeff Gordon and the #24 team did exactly what they needed to do to get back in the hunt and, if it hadn’t been for running out of gas at the time for their last pit stop, had an excellent chance to win Chase Race two. As it was, he could only pull off a fourth place finish, but a top five made up for last weeks poor finish and moved them up six places in the standings. He is another one that has to be considered as one of the major contenders along with Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, in particular, to unseat Jimmie Johnson from his dominance of the last five years at Chase time.
Here’s another fact I know I don’t need to mention, but, Brad Keselowski had another top five finish to add to his illustrious last two months. To this fan, he has to be the biggest surprise for, first, making the Chase and second, for where he is in the points right now. When summer started, it didn’t look as if he was going to even make the Chase and now, he sits in the third spot, just waiting for someone above him to stumble for a week or two. If that happens, don’t be surprised to see him as one of the drivers to beat when it comes close to Homestead in November for the final race for the coveted Sprint Cup. If things continue on as they have lately for him, he just might be on top by a few points…
See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 27, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
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