Nascar in Texas: from “Just A Fan’s View…”

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How can two tracks be so similar and yet so different?

If we take a look at the two tracks, Atlanta and Texas, they are quite similar in size and banking, but much different in age of the asphalt and transition from the banking to the straightaways. Those appear to be the biggest differences from my point of view and it is what gives the Texas Speedway a character all its own when compared to Atlanta.

Both tracks have 24 degree banking and both are one and a half mile in distance, but that is where the similarities stop. According to the drivers, Atlanta is just plain slippery and the surface is old and abrasive, kinda like old Darlington used to be. It chews up tires quickly and the only thing you can do as the tires begin to wear is slow down or put it in the wall, (which once again according to the drivers is in a lap or two.)

If we look at the last nine laps in Atlanta last week, those that took new tires at the last yellow flag consistently moved to the front past those that didn’t. Jimmy Johnson was the most noticeable as he went from eleventh to second and, given a another lap or two, may well have passed Carl Edwards and finished first, but that’s just a ‘what if’ statement. The race was what it was and ended the way it did.

So, Texas is just another one and a half mile oval, right? Maybe so, but I’m interested in seeing how the tires hold up throughout a run and how much the drop off in lap times will be. I think that will be one of the important key factors in the results at the end of the race.

Another thing that will prove to be interesting is that the field was able to qualify this week and the difference in where the Chasers pit is totally different than the last three weeks. It is my opinion this could make the largest difference from the last three weeks in who finishes out front.

This week, the front runners in the Chase are not lined up in the pits according to the standings.

  • This week, Jeff Gordon starts on the pole and has the first pit stall and Jimmy Johnson will not have that advantage.
  • This week, Martin Truex Starts second and Carl Edwards is beginning the race back in sixteenth. That will also affect Carl’s ability to make anything up in the pits.
  • Greg Biffle, instead of starting third, will be mired back in nineteenth place. All of this could make a big difference in the way things wring out as the race progresses.

This week should be no different than other weeks with the C.O.T. Track position will ultimately determine the final outcome of the race and that will be affected by strategies and decisions made in the pits.

I find it interesting that several of those that are situated in the middle to the back of the top twelve in the Chase standings and need any type of advantage to make any advancement in the Chase standings, are starting ahead of the top four. It makes me ask the questions:

  • “Would the Chase standings be closer if we wouldn’t have had qualifying rained out over the last three weeks?”
  • “If things were closer would this week’s starting lineup shake things up when the checkered flag drops at the end of the race?”
  • “What if all of the top twelve were separated by only 225 points?”

These are all interesting ‘what if’ or ‘if only’ questions, but the facts are that the three straight qualifying rain-outs did give an advantage to those highest in the points at the time. Whether or not they could capitalize on that advantage depended on how prepared they were for the three tracks they raced at and whether or not they had part or equipment failures of some sort. The facts also showed that not everyone had great luck in that department during those three weeks either.

I guess that is what makes the Chase so exciting, isn’t it?

That brings us to the “Just A Fan’s View” opinion of who will win this weekend and, as usual, it is a hard choice because of the way things are shaking out so far this weekend.

I know how strong Matt Kenseth was at Atlanta last week and how incredibly fast Jimmy Johnson and Carl Edwards were.

Jeff Gordon has not fared well at Texas in the past but consistently ran up front at Atlanta last week. This could bode well for his chances of winning the race this week in Texas, but I’m not sure about that either.

It is very possible the winner this week could be one that is unexpected. Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer and yes, even Dale Earnhardt, Jr could be in victory lane at the end of the race this weekend.

You see, Jamie McMurray has been running strong over the last several races and is my strongest candidate for a dark horse winner this weekend, but, it is also possible that Kurt Bush could come home with the victory as my unexpected second choice for a dark horse winner.

With the way everyone is all over the place in the line up this week, it is a harder choice for me than usual.

I guess I shouldn’t leave out the one that has been the most consistent and say that Jimmy Johnson is a very strong choice for the visit to victory lane at the end of the race. This is his best chance to finish in the middle of the pack for the race and not lose a lot to those behind him. I do not think he will win but I do admit the possibility.

Carl Edwards is also strong at this type track and with Bob Osborn in the pits as crew chief, his chances are also very good this weekend.

Alright, enough of this avoiding the issue of who will actually win. It is time for the rubber to meet the road, stick my neck out and choose the winner.

I guess my problem is that I think it is a toss up between Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon and I am really torn between the two. Naturally, I would like to see Jeff Gordon end his drought of winning and take the victory but, I know how strong Matt Kenseth is at tracks like these, (which holds true for all of the Roush teams.)

Wow, as I said, this is tough, but here goes.

Jeff Gordon will win this weekend in a tight battle that goes right down to the wire and Matt Kenseth will finish in the top five along with Dale Jr, Jimmy Johnson and Carl Edwards.

Well, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it, no matter what.

See ya next time …

Rusty

© 2008 PCN Productions and Rusty Norman

Update on: Nascar at Atlanta, the After Chatter … from “Just A Fan’s View”

Coming Soon. Just a Fan’s View will be moving to its own location. STAY TUNED for the MOVE!! We’ll let you know!

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Racing in Atlanta was fast, slippery, at times a little wild and the finish … well … it was as I predicted. Carl Edwards won the race and that could prove to be an ominous precursor of who will win the race in Texas this coming weekend. I also predicted Jimmy Johnson would finish in the top five and he accomplished that by finishing second. Now, I’m not bragging but I do feel pretty good about both of those choices.

Chad Knaus once again made a gutsy decision in calling Jimmy to the pits for tires on the last yellow of the race. At first glance, it appeared to be a questionable call that could have either cost him a lot of points or moved him up to the front. The latter proved to be true as Jimmy went from eleventh to second in the single file start with nine laps left to go. He flew through the pack and, in my opinion, if there would have been two more laps or a green-white- checker finish, the end results up front could have been slightly different.

I have to be honest here, I didn’t think it was a very good call that Chad made, but when I saw how fast Jimmy was picking off the competition and moving toward the front after the last restart, I was absolutely amazed and once again realized why Chad Knaus is the crew chief and I am just a fan looking on.

It looked like it was going to be a bad day for the 48 team after Jimmy was tagged by Nascar for going to fast in the pits.That moved him way to the back and put him a lap down. At the very least, it looked like he was going to lose at least sixty points and could have lost as many eighty. Instead of losing points to the others in the Chase, he actually added to his lead slightly even though he finished second behind Edwards.

A quick look at the top twelve finishing order shows that all five of the Roush/Fenway team cars, all four of the Hendrick teams and two of the Joe Gibbs cars finished in the top twelve spots. Kurt Bush also made another strong showing for Penske Racing, showing they are becoming more competitive once again.

I heard quite a bit of chatter about the tire that Goodyear brought to the track from commentators and teams, but in reality, this “Just A Fan’s View” of the situation is, they brought a reliable tire and shouldn’t have to take too much blame. The track is just getting old and abrasive. Some compare it to the way Darlington used to be. That limits what the tires can actually be called upon to help as far as this situation is concerned.

It is my opinion that the high speeds and the heavier cars along with the bump stops and the higher roll centers, are very demanding on the tires and it would not matter who manufactures them. It is just the way things are at the moment. Time will tell if changes are made to help the tire maker even though the word is Nascar says it isn’t going to make changes to the C.O.T. at the present.

This race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway was a great race. It proved once again that the race isn’t over until the checkered flag drops. I think that the track and the tires just show us all how good these Nascar drivers are. I don’t know of any one on the track that didn’t have to manhandle in their car in some way or other to make it go as fast as it could and still keep it going the right direction. It was a handful with the slippery track and the hard tires.

Still, I am glad that the drivers don’t have perfect conditions at every track because they are touted as the best drivers in the world and they prove it week in and week out by the way get every hundredth of a second out of these cars. I like it when a driver like Carl Edwards gets out of the car and doesn’t complain about how bad the tires are but says, “It is fun and I hope they keep on running tires like this at this track!”

Well, that about says it all.

See ya next time …

Rusty

©PCN Productions and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Atlanta: Some Thoughts and “Just A Fan’s View” of Unrestricted Wide Open High Speed Racing

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The top twelve in points will start up front again this week because of the third consecutive rain-out of qualifying in Nascar Sprint Cup Racing. That makes pit selection and starting positions easy to figure out, but has caused a lot of fan chatter about the way Nascar handles inclement weather, (especially on qualifying day.)

Because this has been an unusual year of rained out qualifying sessions, (ten to date), it has become one of the hottest fan topics of the year, especially in the the last couple of weeks. There are calls for changes to be made so that it be “fair” to the ones that have to qualify to be able to race in the event of the weekend. This is in addition to the ever running criticism of the top 35 rule. Some have even called it the “top 35 protection rule”. I emphasize the word “protection” because that’s what seems to be the understanding of many of the vocal critics of the rule used to place the top 35 along with the others in case of rain outs and other situations that may arise.

So … I guess my first questions are why is this such a big deal? Why is it that everything Nascar does to keep things going disagrees with so many fans? I’m not sure I know the answer for sure, but I do know that Nascar has been around a long time and they are still going strong and are pretty much as popular as ever.

I know most won’t care to hear about my experience in short track racing, but I’m going to give it to you anyway only because it gives some perspective to the situation.

When I was growing up visiting our local race tracks there were times they had time trials every weekend. When I actually started racing years later, we didn’t have qualifying time trials, we lined up according to points. During the regular weekly racing, the field was set by the points accumulated by the drivers or car owners except that the field was inverted. That meant that we had to start further in the back the higher our points were. If someone was new to the track or had no points for the season they also started all the way in the back.

Usually, the people higher in points sort of outclassed the ones that were low in points. Like any other kind of racing, some one has usually figured something out a little better than some of the others and they dominate for a while. Whether we are talking about local racing or Sprint Cup Racing there is a reason why they call it competition. When someone goes faster than the rest, the others work harder to find the extra speed and be the one out front the others are chasing. That’s just the way it is.

One thing different when I was racing was that we had a mid-season championship and an year-end championship. When those particular races were held during the year, we lined up by high points in front and so on. This worked out most of the time, but there were times that it seemed unfair to us as drivers because we had to dodge the less experienced drivers mishaps. (In reality, sometimes there was no way to dodge ’em.)

Another difference was, most of the time at our local short track, we didn’t have people that didn’t get to race because we didn’t have more cars show up than could fit on the track and in the pits. Most everyone that showed up got to race and in our class, we generally had two heat races and a feature.

Oh well, we will talk more on this and other subjects in the off season. For now let’s move on to one of the fastest tracks on the Nascar circuit.

Atlanta’s no restrictor plate racing is what helps make it one of the fastest tracks on the Nascar circuit. The track banking of 24 degrees and configuration completes the ‘speed cycle’. That means things happen fast at Atlanta and usually results in some ‘hard hitting’ action when something go es wrong.

I won’t spend a lot of time talking about the line-up because it is pretty obvious form the standings who is going to benefit. What I will spend a little time on is who I think is going to win this weekend in Atlanta.

There is no doubt that Rousche/Fenway Racing is good on the one and a half mile ovals. With that being said, I do expect them to have a very strong showing this weekend. Carl Edwards probably would have won the race in Spring except his engine blew spoiling his chances. Greg Biffle and Matt Kennseth both run strong here also.

I think it goes without saying the Kyle Bush will also be a strong contender this weekend. We know he is anxious to get back on the winning track with his disappointing finishes earlier in ‘the Chase’. Although I think he is pretty much out of ‘the Chase’ at the moment, I am sure he is interested in finishing out the year with a strong showing.

Richard Childress Racing’s Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick are without a doubt hungry for points and wins and will be in contention for the win at the end of the race.

Although the Hendrick Motorsports’ teams have struggled at the mile and a half ovals, it is evident that they are making headway. I do think Jimmy Johnson will have a good advantage by having the number one pit stall even though he and the other Hendrick teams have been known to struggle at places like this. I don’t hink he is going to win the race this week but I do think Jimmy Johnson will be in the top five. I am not quite sure where Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr will finish, but I think they will be n the top ten.

So … who do I think will actually win this weekend? I’ll tell you it is a tough choice to make but I have to go with my gut feeling. I think it will be a toss up between three of them, namely, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Kyle Bush. Any of the three could finish out front and that’s what makes it so hard to choose, but, choose I must. I do think Carl Edwards is going to take the checkered flag although I am having trouble choosing between him and Kyle Bush.

There are also some dark horses out there that could also win this weekend even though I think their chances are less. To name a couple would be Brian Vickers and Jeff Gordon. Brian Vickers runs strong but I do believe his equipment is just not reliable enough yet. As for Jeff Gordon, he can win any race he is in. He has proved that over his career and this week is no different. I personally believe they are just missing a little speed so far. That could change, but, I see next year turning out much better for Jeff. I think this year he is just doomed (so to speak) to finishing in the top five for ‘the Chase’.

So there it is, my choice for winning the race at Atlanta this weekend is Carl Edwards. That’s the way I see it and I’m sticking with it.

See ya next time

Rusty

©PCN Productions and Rusty Norman

Nascar at TallaDega — A Fan’s View Of The Day After Chatter

The exciting, yet slightly controversial, finish to the Sprint Cup race at Talladega yesterday left me no choice except to comment. Being a long time Nascar fan and an ex-small track racer I have my own opinion and view of what happened, especially at the end. Believe me, I don’t mention either of these two previous items to brag or somehow get you to subscribe to the fact my opinion somehow carries more weight than someone else’s, but, I do want you to know where my limited expertise comes from.

I have been a stock car racing fan for many years starting with going to the Saturday night races with my parents at the dirt tracks in Southern Illinois way back in the Fifties. After we moved to Florida when I was 10 or 11, I kinda lost touch with racing for a while. Although I’ve actually loved racing as long as I can remember, I never really got the chance to have my own car until I was in my early twenties. I frequented and raced at a couple of small asphalt tracks in our area of SW Florida for over 10 years.

I really don’t remember when I began to listen to, or watch, Nascar racing but I do know it was a long time ago and I have seen a lot of changes take place over those years. I won’t say every change has been for the better, but overall, most everything seems to have improved the quality and closeness of the competition.

Though some may disagree with that statement, I stand by it. When I was racing it didn’t bother me at all to be the one to lap the field. When I watch racing, the last thing I want is someone lapping the field, clearly outclassing them and then knowing the only real race worth watching is for third to fifth, (or maybe even worse.)

Ah, but I digress. Perhaps I will tell you more abut my memories of the past at another time. Instead, I would much rather give my “Fan’s View” of yesterday’s Talladega race while it is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

First of all, it was my opinion the race was a really good TV event and that was because of the appearance of real racing for position throughout most of the event. Because there was an abundance of passing for position on a regular basis, I guess most of us thought the drivers were giving it their all right from the start.

This illusion was only slightly diminished when commentator Dale Jarret asked Dale Jr how the race was going in one of the “in-car reporter” interviews. It seems most were just killing time waiting for the final 10-15 laps. One of the memorable statements from that particular interview was when Dale Jr said that if a person was in second it was only because he wanted you in front of him, (or something really close to that.) It was his opinion everyone could pretty much pass at will but no one could really stay out front on their own.

After some tire problems and two “big ones” occurred the whole race came down to the last few laps and, as is the case normally, the very last one in particular. I watched it happen as it unfolded on the Tv screen and I listened to the explanations afterwards. I basically knew what the ruling would most likely be from my understanding of the yellow line rule, but I did find interesting the reaction of many on this, the day after and immediately after the race.

You see, it doesn’t really matter what I think about the judgment call that led to the declaring of a winner to the race so I won’t give you my opinion just yet. Logically though, what happened to Regan Smith happened for a reason and I would like to offer some input from my understanding of the reason for the “Yellow Line.” Admittedly, much of this could be considered assumption from input gathered from what has been talked about by many. Please understand, I don’t pretend to speak for Nascar, but in my amateur understanding there is a reason for having a yellow line marking an out of bounds area that makes sense.

First of all, did Regan Smith win the race?

  • Well, maybe but not necessarily according to the established rules for the race. I won’t go into the statement of the rule for the “yellow line” that has been quoted from the drivers’ meeting, you can look that up for yourself. What is important here is that Nascar needs to make clear to all concerned exactly what they mean so that there will be no more misunderstanding.

Here are some options concerning this situation as I see it:

  • Option one: Nascar could have required the tracks build an inside wall and, by doing so, that would remove any possibility of a driver passing another on the inside. Since that would be extremely dangerous in case of an accident involving cars crashing into the inside wall, it would not be a good idea.
  • Option two: Nascar could have required curbing be installed to mark the boundary. This would not be a good idea because cars could easily climb the curbing causing any number of bad situations to occur. The curbing could be a deterrent but more likely cause more problems than it would solve.
  • Option three: Nascar could have left things the way they were and have drivers trying to outdo each other to get the shortest way around the track. This would allow driving “through the grass” to the win. In some ways this may seem appealing. In my opinion, however, this does not make for a great ending. It makes the track way to wide. With the limitations of restrictor-plate racing, the racers need the advantage of being able block, (boy, I bet that opens up a can of worms).

What Nascar chose to use was an invisible barrier extended above an area represented by a yellow line on the inside of the racing surface. They use the yellow line to make it easier to determine when someone violates the established rule. After that it becomes a judgment call. If a driver races below the line and advances his position he will be black flagged. If a driver forces someone below the line it is possible he may be the one black flagged.

I think the idea of the yellow line makes a lot of sense, but without consistency it will always be a call based on judgment. They can solve the problem by making sure it is understood by all that you cannot go below the yellow line to advance your position as if there were a wall there. I know if one was there, nobody would be trying to stick their nose in and take the chance of hitting the wall. The same goes for the one out front. If he can’t hold his position next to the line (once again, as if it were actually a wall), he too will have to forfeit his position in some way.

I know this could possibly be an over-simplification of the problem, but, it is the way I see it …

See ya next time …