Nascar at Martinsville: The Chase for the Sprint Cup Continues and the Pressure’s On … Everybody.

Apparently, the obvious question for this week’s “Tums Fast Relief 500” race at Martinsville is, “Will this be the week of Jimmie Johnson’s mulligan?”

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If you listen to many of the reporters and commentators, it’s the only thing that can save Nascar’s 2009 season from becoming a ho-hum experience the rest of the way to it’s finale in Homestead… that is, if you listen to all the doomsayers…

Personally, I don’t think they have a valid point, but then who am I but “Just A Nascar Fan” with my own point of view, (just like most other Nascar fans.)

For a season that started with so many question marks because of the present economic situation of our Nation, I think it has been a pretty competitive year, full of excitement, drama and suspense and the stands may not have been full every week but, there have been lot of people sitting in them at every stop.

Do I like Jimmie Johnson? Yes, but he isn’t my favorite driver, (at least not yet), although I have been a Hendrick Motorsports fan for a long time. Now before you cop an attitude, let me quickly add I’m also a fan of most, if not all, of the teams in Nascar and over time I have grown to appreciate the individual personalities of almost every driver and visible team member involved. (Yes, there are still a few I can’t, or don’t understand, but hey, that’s racing!)

Admittedly, I have mellowed over the years and some of the ones I could hardly stand at all, I now have a greater respect and appreciation for than ever. I like the diversity of personalities represented in this “Great American Sport” and though I know none of them are perfect, I love the competitive spirit they display on a weekly basis. They prove to me every week that it’s okay to be real.

Taking a look at the top twelve in the standings shows an interesting fact that has kinda been the story for much of the season this year. As of last weeks race at Lowe’s, there are four of the top five that are Hendrick or Hendrick associated teams and five out of the top eight. If we just take a little closer look those top four guys we find that three of them are multiple Cup Champions, (so, is it any wonder they’re running up front?? I think not…)

Of course those names are familiar names and would be the likes of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. If we throw the qualifying positions out the window, any one of those three could come away with the victory this weekend along with about ten others I can think of right off the top of my head.

Well, I guess it’s time to talk more about the question of Jimmie Johnson having a bad week. We all know it can happen and if you’re one of those that has been enjoying the racing rather than looking for everything you can find wrong with it, you probably noticed how one bad week affected Juan Montoya’s position in the Chase. He was in third place before Lowe’s and everyone was saying he was the one to look out for because he had finished all of the first four races in the top five. After Lowe’s, he had lost three places in the standings and is 195 points behind the front runner, Jimmie Johnson. That’s why Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson keep reminding us there are still five races to go. They know as well as anyone, the very same thing could happen to them this week at Martinsville or next week at Talladega. (In fact, they also know something could go wrong both weeks and everything would be tightened up again in the standings.)

Taking an honest look at the points before the race this weekend, I have to say, barring the unforeseen, anybody that’s more than 155 points out of first is probably not going to have much of a chance at taking the top spot.  That doesn’t mean I’m ruling anybody out, but I have to agree with a statement I heard earlier this week. It is possible that one or maybe two of the front runners could have problems over the next weeks but it isn’t likely that all of them will.

For that reason, it’s getting hard for me to decide who I would like to see win this weekend and which one of the teams I’d like to see take the Sprint Cup Championship. Like many others, I’d like to see Mark Martin win his first Cup Championship; I think he deserves it. But then I’d like to see Jimmie Johnson make history with four in a row, Jeff Gordon win his fifth and Tony Stewart win his first as and owner driver and his third over all.

I don’t think many will disagree with me when I say this has truly been a ‘feel good’ year. A lot of good things have happened this year in spite of what many have tried to focus our attention on. I’m looking forward to the Tums Fast Relief 500 Sunday afternoon and let’s not forget those double file restarts and the short track racing with the rubbin,  bumpin’ and bagin’…

Yeah, you bet that’s what this weekend is all about and I can’t wait!

See ya next time…

Rusty

(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© October 24, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

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Nascar At Charlotte: Race 5 of the Chase from Just A Fan’s View

Qualifying aside, who will really be eliminated from taking the top spot in the Chase and added to the list of the ones already eliminated? Is this the week Jimmie Johnson begins to leave the rest in the dust on his way to number four? Will anyone come out of Charlotte and show they have anything at all left to show to the #48 (and the fans) that could change the direction the Chase appears to be headed?

These are all questions that have been asked going into this weekend and won’t be answered until the checkered flag falls on the Nascar Banking 500 this Saturday night. As a fan, I look at this weekend as one of the key races for what will likely happen over the next five. There are a lot of “ifs” contained in the rhetoric going around right now and it remains to be seen exactly how it all pans out.

Looking at the lineup for Saturday night’s fifth race in the Chase, I find it interesting, once again, that three of the four actual Hendrick teams and five total Hendrick associated cars are starting in the top ten. Those would include, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon. I don’t think that looks to good for the competition but it is possible that we could all be surprised when the race is over. I just don’t intend to start putting a lot of stock in the way the cars have qualified even though it is beginning to be a habitual thing for with the Hendrick cars.

This is the first week that Juan Montoya has shown any weakness since the actual Chase began. Qualifying 18th means he has at least a little challenge ahead of him on race night. Since he has been qualifying and running so well over the last four weeks, it is at least a little surprising to see even a hint of a chink in the performance of the #42 team at this point. I guess it is a reminder that no one is exempt from something going wrong and possibly making the Chase a bit more exciting.

Montoya’s consistency has been the one factor many have pointed to since the Chase began four races ago. I haven’t heard what the thinking is now that he has had a bad qualifying session, especially after his qualifying attempt last week. If you recall, he bounced off the wall in his qualifying run and still started in the top five. As hard as he hit the wall in that qualifying run, it had ‘starting much further back’ written all over it and yet he kept his foot in it and started where he did. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I think qualifying is a bit over-rated at times. Even with his 18th starting position this Saturday night, I won’t rule him out of the hunt for the win.

If  qualifying does actually say anything about how the race might go for the rest of the Chasers, Kurt Bush, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin could have long nights and, barring some unforeseen circumstances, will only be racing for who can finish highest in the 7th to 10th spots in the top twelve for the rest of the Chase.

Although Kurt Bush still has a chance to move into contention, this fan’s view thinks the actual Chase is down to five people and this fifth race is going to narrow the field even more.  The real problem is not the teams further back in points not being able to run well and make up ground, it is the strength and consistency that has been shown by the three teams leading in the Chase. Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Juan Montoya would have to have a couple of disastrous weeks for anything to change much in the top six positions and the disasters would have to start this weekend in the Nascar Banking 500.

Although there are several commentators that would like to see the disasters start and make the points battle tighten up, this fan doesn’t think that is likely to happen.  After the race finishes this weekend, it is this fan’s view, the Chase for the Sprint Cup will be down to four teams and quite possibly only three. No matter how we look at it, time is running out for Jeff Gordon and Kurt Bush.

Realistically, Tony Stewart is going to need some help from the top three teams to move up any further, too. (Of course, this is just this fan’s view at the moment.) One thing is fairly obvious, ‘If’… (gosh, I hate that word), something out of the ordinary and unexpected doesn’t happen in Saturday night’s race, the points race for the Chase isn’t likely to change much over the next several weeks as Nascar heads for its finale in Homestead for 2009.

As much as even I hate to admit it, I’m beginning to lean towards the idea that it is becoming a two horse Chase… BUT, after all… this is Nascar and… (yeah, you know the rest…)

See ya next time…
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)
October 17, 2009 – all rights reserved
Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman


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Nascar at Dover (After Chatter): Just A Fan’s View of the Latest Monster Tamers

Say what you will about the Hendrick teams and their performance this year, but no matter what you really think, they have been strong. Jimmy Johnson and Mark Martin “Tamed the Monster” and finished 1-2 in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway Sunday afternoon. Now, don’t think they were alone in their accomplishment because they weren’t. Matt Kenseth, Juan Montoya and Kurt Bush rounded out the top five and were ready to pounce if either Jimmy or Mark wavered in their run to the checkers.


Had it not been for a failure of an air gun in the #24 pits, Jeff Gordon could possibly have made it 1-2-3 for the top running Hendrick teams although I’m not sure whether it would have been in the same order. Jimmy and Jeff were both strong late in the race, but sometimes ‘stuff just happens’ in racing and changes your whole day. As it was, the #24 team finished a very respectable sixth place but couldn’t gain any points on the Chase leader, Mark Martin and now sits 122 points out of 1st place.

Taking a realistic look at the way the points situation looks after two Chase races, some things are pretty obvious. Mark Martin and Jimmy Johnson are beginning to separate themselves slightly from the rest of the field and continue to look like the ones to beat for the Sprint Cup Championship. Juan Montoya’s performance in the first two races shows that his team came to win and, so far, is in the same league as the top two Hendrick teams. Kurt Bush is looking to be tough right down to the end also, (although he has been whining quite a bit over the last two weeks. With what’s going on with his team, not many blame him.)

Now, I say all these nice things with only 20 percent of the Chase over with and 80 percent left to go. I hate to keep repeating myself, but, one or two races does not tell the story of a whole season or even the end of it. One or two races tells only the story so far, and anyone that’s been around Nascar much knows it is still anyone’s Cup to claim.

Looking at this latest season shows us some of the closest competition for the whole race to the Chase than any year so far. The top three pretty much separated themselves early on, but the rest of the field wasn’t decided until the last race in Richmond and it could have affected almost half the Chase field. As it turned out it only affected about the last three spots in the Chase, but the drama going into Richmond really put a lot of emphasis on finishing well.

That’s the problem (in a good way) with where the Chase is right now. After two races, the separation in points becomes harder and harder to make up for those that are falling behind unless some of the ones at the top of the standings have an extremely bad week or several not-so-good weeks in a row.

From this fan’s view, this is where it gets a bit sticky. If the races continue on as they have the last couple of weeks, the same people stay out front in the standings and the ones behind just fall further back. After the season we’ve seen so far, to me it would be a shame for that to happen. I don’t wish anyone bad luck, but this season deserves a tight finish in Homestead with at least six cars in the hunt at that last race.

Yeah, I know that puts a lot of pressure on the drivers and teams every week, but I also know this is Nascar and it, and racing in general, has a lot of unforseens and uncertainties. The unexpected has been known to happen, especially in Nascar, and it can still happen this year.

As I mentioned last time,(Nascar at Dover Prerace), racing luck can sometimes turn on a dime and no one is protected from it. Not Mark Martin, not Jimmy Johnson, not Juan Montoya and certainly not Denny Hamlin, Kurt Bush, Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon. No one is exempt from being in the wrong place at the right time and no one is exempt from something like an air gun or a crank shaft failing. It may not be likely but it can happen and it can change the way your season ends up, no matter who you are. That’s one thing I really like about Nascar and racing; You still have to show up every week and perform well enough to win… otherwise, you’re just headed to the back.

See ya next time…
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)
© September 30,2009 – all rights reserved
Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman


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Nascar at Bristol: Thunder Valley After Chatter from Just A Fan’s View



Kyle Bush held off a hard charging Mark Martin and brought home the victory for the #18 M&M’s/Joe Gibbs Toyota in the closing laps of the Sharpie 500 in Thunder Valley. Mark Martin led the most laps and had the dominate car most of the afternoon but could only manage second place. Along with all that drama, the end of the race saw Tony Stewart, Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon mathematically locked into the Chase while the standings were shaken up once again closer to the break point of, 12th place.

I guess it came as no surprise to many that Kyle Bush came away with the victory, but I have to admit it was just a little unexpected from this fan’s view. Sure, we all know Kyle runs very strong at Bristol but lately he and his #18 team have been struggling.

Personally, I didn’t think his luck was going to take a turn for the good just yet. From the way he had been running in Cup recently, it looked as though he could be in jeopardy of making the Chase and it didn’t appear to me that he was going to make it. Now, with two races left to decide the top twelve, it could very well be that he not only makes it in, but could have a great chance of being one of the top contenders if he does. If he has a good week in Atlanta and then in Richmond, watch out for what that kind of momentum could mean for his chances in taking the championship.

There wasn’t a lot of controversy coming out of Bristol. In fact, the Sharpie 500 was a typical Bristol race, with plenty of short track excitement and continuous action.

With the race at Bristol being followed by a weekend off, it appears that the time will be enjoyed by the competitors in the way they usually choose to enjoy a weekend off. For some, it will be another weekend of racing while for others it will be taking a breather in preparation for the next twelve weeks.

The focus of most of the ones in the 7th to 15th position in the standings is the race in Atlanta next week where they hope to solidify their place in the top twelve or break into the top twelve with a good finish. Time is running out for those outside the top twelve to make a spot for themselves in the Chase. Atlanta will very likely decide all but one or two of those that will actually make it.

For now, everyone draws a breath and prepares for Atlanta. Atlanta will be a turning point for some and for others, the end of the dream for this year’s Chase. All eyes will be on the ones that absolutely have to have a good finish to either remain in the Chase or move into it.

See ya next time … Rusty

(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)
© August 29, 2009 – all rights reserved
Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Bristol: Sprint Cup Returns To Short Track Racing in Thunder Valley

How about that “Old Guy”, Mark Martin? Another pole starting position and that makes five on the year, so far, for the guy that wasn’t even supposed to be racing this year and who will be making his 1000th start in the Nascar Cup Series Saturday night in Thunder Valley.

I always find it interesting how Mark Martin talks about his qualifying experiences week in and week out. He doesn’t step out and say things like, “I think I left a little out there, I hope it holds up…” or, “Well, it was a good run but I think I could have gone a little faster…” No, he says things like, “I’ve never been so scared in my life, I can’t believe how fast that lap was…”, or “It is unbelievable how loose the car was; there’s no way that lap could have been that good… I can’t believe I’m on the pole.”

Now, don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. He never criticizes his crew chief, car owner or the team. He is always saying how hard they work and how good a car they’ve provided for him. It’s just that, (and I think this is the key), he is outside his comfort zone. To get the results he is getting, he is pressing the envelope of comfort he would like to be in — keeping it right on the edge — and getting those poles and victories shows that’s what it takes. (Not bad for an “Old Guy”. Hey, I can say that ’cause I am one.)

He may be enjoying what is going on for him this year, but he isn’t as “comfortable” as he would like to be. He also says the pressure of making the Chase is taking a little bit of the fun out of all the good stuff going on for him this year. Although he has had some bad luck during the year, he is performing well but, he also doesn’t want to waste all of these “good results” when he is so close to making the Chase. It is this fan’s opinion, once he definitely makes it into the Chase this year, his racing life in Nascar will once again be fun for Mark Martin.

Once again, I don’t think where someone qualified is going to tell too much about where they will finish. During qualifying, it definitely looked as though many were taken a bit by surprise by how slick the track was. It looked like many missed the setup on their qualifying runs. That makes it look even more like it will be a very exciting race because, the outside lane is going to prove very “racey”, also.

One thing that can be said about Bristol; you don’t pass that many people in the pits. This is one track that is a driver’s track. When you win at Bristol, it is usually because the driver did his job. That doesn’t mean the crews and what they do doesn’t matter. It simply means that if the crews give the driver a good car setup, the driver is more responsible for the end result. The crew still has to do their part, but, more passing is going to be done on the track “rather” than in the pits.

I disagree with the overall consensus that Kyle Bush is the strong favorite to win the Sharpie 500 this weekend. It is this fan’s opinion there is just too much that has been going wrong for him this year. He may have won the Truck race but look what happened to him in the Nationwide race. To win these days a lot has to go right. He has the same chance as anyone else to take the victory, but he also has the same chance as anyone else to have something go wrong not of their own making. At Bristol, anything –and I stress the word, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g — can happen to change the outcome of the race.

Bristol is a track that demands a lot from the competitors and in particular the demand on their ability to endure mentally and physically throughout the race. This is a place that breeds short tempers and high emotions. That sometimes causes the drivers to react in ways that changes the whole outcome of the night for them and for those that happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.

The winner tonight could be a total surprise. It could be someone like Marcos Ambrose, David Reutimann or even Scott Speed. Actually, out of those three, I would probably pick Marcos Ambrose but he is a dark horse to me for tonight’s race.

Just looking at the last practice shows me some pretty strong possibilities for winners but it also gives a false impression. As always, the fastest single laps don’t mean that much in a race like this; it is the ones that can run the most consistent lap times on a regular basis and handle different lines on the track when they have to pass. In my opinion, that is the thing that will be the deciding factor in tonight’s race. Yes, track position is going to be important, but so is being able to pass when the need arises. That’s what makes tonight’s race hard to call.

I look at the Hendrick teams as possible winners tonight because they have been running strong all year just about everywhere. When I say Hendrick teams I also include the Stewart/Haas camp also. Now, the Roush cars are even looking good for tonight. Either Greg Biffle or Carl Edwards in particular could pull it off tonight. It just depends on what happens and when.

In fact, there are any number of individuals that could end up in Victory Lane tonight but unfortunately only one will. Do I think it will be one of the Bush brothers? No, not really. I think it’s going to be someone from the Hendrick camps. Only problem is, I’m not sure whether it will be Mark Martin or Jimmy Johnson. Even though I know Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart have an excellent chance for winning tonight, I’m going to go with a one two finish of Mark Martin and Jimmy Johnson…

Now, it’s up to you to figure out which one will be first and which one will be second. My choice is J J but, it could be M M … what do you think…

See ya next time …
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© August 22, 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

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Nascar at Pocono: A Fan’s View of Sunday’s Sunoco – Red Cross – Pennsylvania 500

Sunday’s race at Pocono could hold a few surprises. Tony Stewart will have to start in the back, just like last time, and will have his work cut out for himself if he wants to take home the trophy from the Pennsylvania 500 this weekend.

I don’t want to jump the gun on myself, but barring the unforeseen, Jimmy Johnson is going to be tough to beat this weekend. He has been fast since they unloaded off the truck and appeared to be ready to ride the momentum of last week’s victory at the Brickyard. With Stewart starting in the rear, that will be one less Johnson will have to pass and stay ahead of if all goes as I expect it will.

But wait a minute!!! This is Nascar! If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years of being a Nascar fan, the race isn’t over until they throw the checkered flag or call the race because of rain.

I think there are several that could take the victory away from Jimmy Johnson and several of them are his own Hendrick teammates. When it comes right down to it, others are looking pretty stout this weekend and some are looking strong enough to win if things go well for them. I don’t think there’s anyone we can count out completely so let’s take a look at a few of the ones I think have a chance.

Well, as I said,  it’s just this fan’s view but this could be the week that the Fords break out of their slump. Or maybe it could be someone out of the Richard Childress garage like either Clint Bowyer or Kevin Harvick. Both of them ran good last week at Indy, especially Kevin Harvick finishing 6th. It could be the “times they are a changin'” for them.

Of course, being totally honest, we can’t rule out the Bush brothers representing the Penske Dodge and Gibbs Camry camps. How about Denny Hamlin, (also from Gibbs) getting back to the way he performed when he swept both races the first year he ran there. It would be awfully hard to rule him out because his luck absolutely has to change, at least from the kind he has had lately.

Since the field is lining up according to points, it adds a little more drama to the mix even though Tony Stewart does have to start in the back because of that tangle with the wall in the first lap of the first practice on Saturday. We have Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon starting on the front row and Kurt Bush and Carl Edwards Starting right behind them. Any way you look at it, that is four strong teams starting in front of all the rest. In fact, the top twelve is the twelve strongest cars in the Chase, at least for the moment and the rest are lining up in order of their points. If you don’t think any one of them could possibly win, I just don’t think you understand the situation.

I am here to tell you, it is going to be a shoot out and it is going to be decided by two things; track position and flawless pit strategy. I don’t want to make too big a deal of the possibilities but it just may not come down to the last lap. It could very well be decided by the one that is first out of the pits on the last pit stop and is the first one to get out in to the clean air.

In reality, this is a race that is going to be a bit of a drawn out affair because Pocono usually comes down to being a race like that. It is definitely one of the ones that can be sort of a sleeper in the middle. Now that I’ve said that, don’t fall asleep on the couch during the middle. If you do, I can guarantee you will miss something important.

I don’t know about the rest of you but I am pretty sure Jimmy Johnson is going to win this one. To add to the Hendrick domination, I think there will be four or five of the Hendrick cars in the top ten. I’m really going to stick my neck out and say Dale Jr is going to finish in the top six this weekend, (which will make the Jr nation extremely happy.)

But when it is all said and done, I know there will be some fans that will come away from this weekend satisfied that Nascar has done everything they possibly could to screw up the race again.

Me, well I’m just gonna watch and listen to the race and enjoy it, even if the guy I want to win doesn’t…

See ya next time …
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© August 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman


Nascar at Indy: “After Chatter” from the Brickyard

I knew it wouldn’t take long for the “Black Helicopters” to fly or the ‘whiners’ to start with their, “Nascar controls who wins,” chatter after the Allstate 400 Sunday and I wasn’t wrong. It actually started before and immediately after the race and still goes on today. I think I’ve heard every excuse from, “they just wanted Jimmy Johnson to win,” to “There is no way they wanted a foreigner to win.” It is unbelievable what some fans think and amazing what some of the media types say and do to reinforce this type thinking on a regular basis.

In all of my forty some years as a Nascar fan, I don’t think I’ve ever heard such weak and ridiculous comments in my whole life. I really just can’t understand some fans’ opinions of Nascar and I can tell that some of the ones that make the most ridiculous remarks seem to know the least about racing and Nascar itself.

I hate to be blunt, but many of them appear to have done nothing in racing except watch it from the stands (or the Tv) and understand very little about the way the sport works. It is like they are sitting and watching a football game and think every call the referees make is wrong no matter what. If even one quarter of the things some say were true about Nascar, there would be no Nascar because the competitors wouldn’t want to compete in such a crooked and fixed environment. (Let’s be real honest about the racing this year, it has really never been more competitive in recent memory.)

I mean, come on … this year the Hendrick teams seem to have a definite advantage over the rest at the moment, but last year it was Roush and Gibbs, (at least in appearance), and who knows what’s going to happen during the last ten Chase races for the championship.

So why is such a big deal being made about someone getting penalized for speeding when it is done by speed testing equipment? Is it because some think that the equipment can be right for everyone else and still be wrong for the person caught by it or the one they thought should win?

All one really has to do is check the previous races and find all of the cars that were penalized for speeding in the pits. It’s not like it’s never happened before and it will happen again. I think the reason people may have thought it appeared the way it did was because Montoya had such a dominate car on Sunday. Still, (once again using that common sense thing), he was caught speeding and Nascar had no choice but to penalize him as they would anyone else on the track. It was only fair and it happened the way it should have happened. If he wouldn’t have been speeding, he very likely would have won the race going away.

While I’m spending a little time ranting, let me just mention my thoughts on the way several in the media look at Nascar. Sometimes I wonder just who they think they are and what they think they can do better than Nascar. It is very frustrating to listen to some of them give us their assessment of the year and all of the things they think is wrong with Nascar and why Tv ratings are down and why the stands aren’ full every week, etc, etc.

If what they have to say was worth much, maybe I would say they should keep it up, but all I see them doing is looking for a headline to get people to read their articles and hardly anything more. I have my own opinion of what is going on this year with the Tv ratings and the lack of people in the stands.

Since this is a rant, I guess I will have to share some of my thoughts. You see, I think the biggest reason for the attendance being down has to do with the economy. (Well, DUH!, I wonder how I came up with that idea?) If the economy is down over one third, wouldn’t someone expect the attendance to be down at least that much? In case no one noticed, people are struggling for every dollar they make right now. I know I am and I know many of my friends locally and across the nation are having a rough go of it, too. We just don’t have the extra money to spend. (I assume many are in the same boat.)

When it comes down to the Tv ratings, I think there are several reasons and none of them have to do with the COT or the lack of drama in the races. I don’t buy the opinion that Nascar must be dong something wrong. Like anything else, the popularity fluctuates with the attention span of the audience and not everyone loves to sit in front of the Tv and watch a 400-500 mile race every weekend.  It’s not that they don’t follow the races, it’s just that they have other things to do, too.

Personally, as a fan, I don’t watch every lap of every race every week. (I may listen to part of it on my Sirius/XM radio while doing other things and if something happens that would be interesting to see, I may check my DVR of it later.) In fact, I don’t remember ever watching every lap of every race on Tv. Even when I was racing my own car at the local speedway, I didn’t watch all of the races of every class every Saturday night. I talked with people and friends and kinda paid attention to what was going on. If something happened I felt was important to me I paid closer attention at that point.

One other opinion about Tv ratings. When Nascar started moving things around to several different outlets for coverage during the year is when I began to lose a little bit of interest in watching. When Nascar was on the local broadcast networks, I think I liked it better and it was easier to find. I guess I’m just not the normal adult American male in that I wouldn’t even watch ESPN if it weren’t for Nascar being on it. (Heck, I don’t even watch that much football since Dan Mariano retired.) When it comes to TNT, well it kinda goes the same way except I do watch it more than I do ESPN by long shot.

You see, I do like some of the different coverages but mostly what I want to see is the race and then listen to the talk of the drivers after it’s over. That’s when the adrenaline is still flowing, the drivers are tired and they tell you more what they actually think about the race and those in it. The one to two hour coverages before the race isn’t what piques my interest. I would much rather see the after race stuff. (Hmmm, maybe that would make a difference in the  ratings; what do you think?)

Okay, well enough of this looking at the “darker side” of Nascar. The facts are, Jimmy Johnson beat Mark Martin in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard and showed he is still a force to be reckoned with for the Chase and the Championship. Dale Jr ran good until his motor blew and Kyle Bush just isn’t finishing the way he did in Cup last year. The top ten finishers turned out to be pretty much the way I called it before the race and, just in case nobody noticed, Tony Stewart is still leading the points, the Fords are still not winning, Hendrick teams and equipment are still finishing strong and the Dodges are inconsistent with the way they’re running. Does any of this really matter that much? Probably not and, barring the unforeseen, Nascar will be at Pocono again this weekend…

See ya next time…

Rusty

(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© July 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Chicagoland “After Chatter”: Mark Martin, Double-file Restarts and the Race for the Chase

Mark Martin clearly had the strongest car Saturday night at Chicagoland and he managed to pull off the victory even though a couple of late race cautions and double-file restarts could have changed the final outcome. Mark pulled away from a hard charging Jeff Gordon as the #24 battled Kasey Kahne in the closing laps and took his fourth victory of the 2009 season. Not bad for an “old guy” that was semi-retired a year ago.

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Now, that being said, will Mark Martin make the Chase this year or will he be left just outside the top twelve? It is a question that even Mark Martin doesn’t want to have to keep answering every week. He would much rather have a little more cushion and a lot more breathing room than bouncing in and out of the top twelve spots for the Chase.

If anything can be said for his performance this year it is that he has been at the top, or at the bottom, of the list at the end of a race this season. From ‘just a fan’s view”, it seems he would be leading in the points if it weren’t for some off and on bad luck hounding him and his #5 team this year. He has been performing extremely well  but has had some inconsistent finishes that have put him further back in the standings and in and out of being in of the top 12 for the Chase. Hopefully he has put most of that bad luck stuff behind him and will continue to climb in the standings.

Needless to say, the top three positions are pretty much locked into the Chase this year unless something really unexpectedly disastrous and drastic happens to Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson. They do have a slight cushion of points protecting their positions, but in Nascar, anything can (and sometimes does) happen. (I don’t expect it to happen, but I definitely never rule anything out in Nascar, just because it’s Nascar.)

The Race for the Chase, (maybe I should say, the race for getting into the Chase), is a whole different situation in positions four through twelve, especially when we look at sixth to fourteenth. That is a pretty tight race between some very good teams and there are some lurking just outside the top twelve waiting for somebody to run into that string of bad luck.

As an obvious example, take Mark Martin’s season so far. He has run strong all year and won four races, yet he is only eleven points ahead of thirteenth place Greg Biffle. Both of them have run strong and also struggled along the way. Mark’s only hope is to keep finishing consistently near the front in the seven races to come. If not, he will be sweating it out right down to Richmond and though he says he’s having fun, it is this fan’s opinion, he would rather be having that fun without the added stress of possibly not making the Chase.

The double-file restart has added a completely new dimension to the Cup races. As a fan, I really like the drama it adds to the end of the races. Also as a fan, I understand how some of the drivers don’t like it.

In races before the double file restarts in Cup, the leader of the race had the possibility of pulling away on a restart because of the lap-cars being on the inside line. With them there, the leader had more of an advantage by using the lap-cars to shield himself from those running behind him. Now, the person running second starts right beside him and those running third, fourth, fifth (etc), start right behind him. No longer does the leader have a very real advantage over the rest of the top runners in a race. It becomes anybody’s race, (much to many fans delight), and it becomes more of a dash to the checkered flag, no holds barred. (It definitely gives a whole new meaning to the phrase everyone loves to hate, “shoot-out style”.)

I can’t say when the person I would like to see win is running out front that I like to see the caution flag fly. I know it is quite likely going to make a very dramatic finish out of what could have been a breakaway. But as a fan, and my guy is running a few seconds and places back, I do like the yellow coming out. It absolutely gives an opportunity for my favorite to take the victory.

When all is said and done, I think it all comes down to how someone is affected by the outcome of the double-file restart. If they fair well, they love it; if it takes a top place finish away from them, they hate it, (and I can’t blame them.) It reminds me of an old saying about facing every day in life … “Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes … the bear gets you.”

For a year that was supposed to be so questionable because of the economy and other situations, it has turned out to be pretty interesting and exciting. I think it has been one of the most interesting years for Nascar in a long time. I can truly say I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the races this year, (well … except maybe for the rainouts … but then I never much cared for them anyway … unless my guy won.)

See ya next time …

Rusty

(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© July 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar Fireworks from Daytona: the Coke Zero 400

The Coke Zero 400 couldn’t come at a better time than actually falling on the fourth of July. That it will be a great race and it will be followed by a great fireworks show goes without saying. This race, that used to be called the Firecracker 400 (amongst other distances), definitely won’t be one thing … predictable.

As everyone knows even slightly familiar with the way Nascar works, the field once again lines up according to points with the rain-out of qualifying on Friday afternoon. That’s the second week in a row and it should prove to be and interesting beginning to what could prove to be a completely unexpected ending. Lining up according to points could mean one of two things at the beginning:

  • 1 – everybody stays in line for a longer period of time at the start or,
  • 2 – an early “big one” wipes out half the field

I guess a third possibility could be that everybody remains patient and  we just see some ducking and dodging for about the first half of the race. Somehow, that just doesn’t sound like Nascar Sprint Cup racers to me.

I don’t know how you feel about restrictor plate racing, but I enjoy it. I like the close, door-to-door, bumper-to-bumper, running close to 200 mph traffic jam competition that breeds excitement. I know there are those that would rather just, let ’em loose and see what they can do, but it is my opinion, without the restrictor plates, the races could once again become somewhat boring. My hope is that this one doesn’t take out a bunch of competitors before it has a chance to really become interesting.

Just looking at the starting lineup shows the top 6 rows being pretty strong contenders for the race. Tony Stewart on pole, Jeff Gordon outside pole with Jimmy Johnson right behind Tony Stewart and Kurt Bush right behind Jeff Gordon. That in itself is a pretty hefty starting front four. Right behind these four are Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Kyle Bush. If that doesn’t look like a possible breakaway I don’t know what does. These are all tough restrictor plate competitors and there isn’t a one of them that couldn’t pull off the victory by the end of the night.

If I ever thought picking a winner was hard at other times this year, I would have to say that tonight is going to be one of the toughest calls of all. There are at least twenty some cars that could win.

I really think there is going to be a wild scramble at the end of the race and anything could happen. Unfortunately, I think tonight is  going to be a night where the “Big One” takes out some very strong contenders. It is all going to come down to how and when the yellow flags fly and what strategy is  used  to get somebody out front during one of them.

If by some chance, we see mostly green flag runs, look out because the field is going to be totally mixed up and that is when the trouble could start. There is a little uncertainty about tires and that could figure into the mix of when the “Big One” happens and who it affects.

Along with all of this, there are some that may not have their cars the way they want them because of it being an impound race. That means if they were in qualifying trim when they were impounded, that is the way they will start the race. Once again, I don’t like being negative, but that could spell trouble and be another possible cause of disaster for several or even many.

I am sure the start and park cars will pull out once they lose contact with the first draft, so I don’t think they will be around that long so they shouldn’t be much of a  problem.

There are way to many possible winners for tonight’s race so I won’t drag this out. I think it will be close finish between 5 or 6 cars and I do think it will be won on the last lap. One thing I know for sure, if you like exciting races, you don’t want to miss the end of this one. There will be fireworks in more ways than one …

Oh, by the way, just in case you don’t know who is going to win tonight, let me give you a hint … there will be a 4 in their number. (Or maybe a 2, an 8 or a 9 …) It won’t really matter that much if it is an exciting finish, right?

See ya next time …

Rusty

(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© July 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at the Magic Mile: Just A Fan’s View of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at NHMS

Once again the field lines up according to points this weekend so it’s pretty obvious the qualifying times won’t matter because they don’t exist. Fortunately for Tony Stewart, he crashed his car into the wall before the qualifying so by the rules, he still gets to start from the pole position. That may or may not prove to be a good thing for him and the rest of the field.

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I think the two practices on Saturday prove who is running the strongest and may give us a glimpse of who may take the checkered flag on Sunday but the most important things to consider are the fastest multiple lap times; not the fastest lap time. Oh, and just one more thought on this part; what changes will the crew chiefs make before the race starts tomorrow? In other words, who is going to be unexpectedly quicker right out of the box because of those changes? That could make a big difference.

I think I’m looking forward to this race a little more than usual because of all the uncertainty. No qualifying, cars running fast times that usually don’t show up at the top of the charts and the double-file restarts for the first time on a shorter track (even though I know this is not a short track.)

This could prove to be a race at the Magic Mile like none in the recent past and I know you’ve heard me say this a lot this year, but, I’m not sure who is going to win it. I don’t know if it is going to be a runaway by a couple of cars starting up front after the first part of the race or if the real drama is going to be nearer the end of the race. One thing I am sure of though; part of the credit for the win will go to the crews and their pit stops, the crew chief and his strategy and, of course, when and where the yellow flags fall in the race.

So, what do you think? Is this the week where Richard Petty Motorsports shows that their strong showing at Infineon was no fluke? I don’t know but it is a very good possibility. Reed Sorenson was fastest in the second practice session and was third fastest in the final practice. That makes it look like he could have a good run tomorrow (and who knows about the rest of the RPM teams.)

This could also be the week that Richard Childress Racing breaks into the win column. RCR has had a very lean time in Cup over the last couple of years in particular. Clint Bowyer and Casey Mears both performed well in the practices today and, if they catch a break or two, (and that is a pretty big ‘IF’), either one of them could end up in Victory Lane. Jeff Burton could break out of the box at any time and pull off a good finish this weekend. With the way things have gone this year, you just never know, Kevin Harvick could turn it all around at NHMS.

Martin Truex Jr and Juan Pablo Montoya both looked good and were fast in the practices and Montoya has just broken into the top 12 for the Chase after his finish at Infineon. That puts them both in the mix for being contenders on Sunday and everyone knows that the EGR teams would definitely like to take home a victory sooner than later.

I just can’t say that anybody really sticks out in my mind as ‘THE’ winner this weekend. There are a lot of possibilities, though. Just looking at the lap times for the last practice tells just how close the field is. If we consider the fastest recorded times for all 43 starters, we see some interesting facts. The lap times are separated by a little over a second for all 43, BUT, if we look at the top 20 spots there is less than a quarter of a second separating them. That could mean it is going to be hard to pass on a consistent basis for those starting in the rear. With this being just a 301 mile race, those starting out front are going to have their hands full with those top ten or twenty behind them. If they aren’t happy with the way their cars are handling near the start of the race, they won’t have a lot of time to make adjustments to them.

This is where it gets difficult for this fan, because it is hard to choose between those you would like to see win and the ones that actually can win. I really try hard to not play favorites, (even though I do have them), and I do try to weigh the stats to see who really stacks up as the possible winner. This week is pretty difficult for this fan to choose a winner but I have to try.

There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to picking a winner for Sunday’s race. I see some younger drivers looking awfully good at the Magic Mile, but I’m gonna have to go with some drivers that have been around longer, you know, they’re more … uh … mature(?) Yeh, that’s right, more experienced in calmly getting to the front at the right time … in time to take the checkered flag ahead of the rest.

So who will it be? I’m really glad you asked that question ’cause I’m just not sure. I think it is going to be a dramatic finish and I do think the top five is going to be chock full of former Cup Champions. I mean, just look at how many are in the top ten starting positions; there are five and some of them are multiple Cup champs. Hey, it could be anyone of them, but I’m gong to pick Jeff Gordon to get back on the winning track this week. He will probably be closely followed by Tony Stewart, Kurt Bush, Jimmy Johnson, Mark Martin and Greg Biffle.

It doesn’t really matter, but the one that wins this weekend is going to have to work for it. It’s just not going to be handed to him on a platter.

See ya next time …
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© June 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Sonoma: Infineon Will Be A Shootout between Ringers and Regulars

I love watching road racing with stock cars and Nascar road racing with the COT is definitely at the top of my list. There’s just something I like about a full body race car going fast and turning right as well as left.

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I’m not one of those fans that thinks Nascar should drop the road racing tracks in favor of something else in an oval. I think it is an important and integral part of the overall package that Nascar presents. They often say their drivers are the best in the world and they don’t add the stipulation of, “Except on Road courses.” You see, I like seeing what these guys can do with the challenge of something different to them and a bit foreign to what they may have been brought up in and around. The road courses do exactly that.

When Nascar goes to the road courses, it is interesting how many of the road course “ringers” show up to see how they can do against Nascar’s best. It is also interesting how they talk about their laps and how they compare them with the likes of Tony Stewart, Kyle Bush, Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson and several others that show themselves to be strong whether on ovals or road racing tracks.

I have seen something different going on at this year’s first road race. In the past, there were several drivers that everybody focused on and expected to win. The rest of the field and the road course “ringers” were usually given honorable mentions along with the stronger Nascar regulars. This year, I see more competitive efforts coming from drivers that usually are hardly even mentioned.

Take for example, Brian Vickers taking the pole this weekend. He ran an incredibly fast lap and surprised many. Kyle Bush showed up fast off the truck, qualified second and showed he is a road course force to be reckoned with once again this year, (and don’t forget how well he performed on last year’s road courses.)

I am looking forward to the race on Sunday because of the way it seems to be an upside down lineup. I expect the first part of the race to be a sort of runaway with Brian Vickers and Kyle Bush breaking away. I know they could possibly stay up front for most of the race but I expect to see a few things go wrong like engine failures and driver error and that will keep the field closer together.

In reality, we’ve already seen some engine and transmission failures in the practice sessions and I expect there may be a few more guys that run into each other, taking each other out and off the track maybe taking with them someones chance to win.

The possibility of wheel-hop is high at this track and it can happen to anyone, no matter what their experience. If it does happen, it’s going to come down to when it happens, where they end up after it does and how many laps are left to make up lost spots.

Could it be that this week will be another week of who get the best fuel mileage? I don’t know, but it is possible. Montoya used it to pull off a victory a couple of years ago so I don’t think it can be ruled out.

I don’t think the fastest single lap time is going to bring home a winner this weekend. I do think the one that stays clear of trouble, runs the most consistent faster lap times throughout the race will have a good shot. It could come down to how and when the double file restarts happen. That is one thing that is unknown for this year. Since it hasn’t happened in the past, it should prove to be interesting. I think it does set up the possibility for someone in contention to win to be taken out by someone’s miscue while the field is still bunched up. This is a tight race track and it could make for a very interesting turn of events if it comes at the right time.

As for who might win this thing, I am not really sure. I do think Kyle Bush has a great chance simply because of last years performance and he has been fast this year. Brian Vickers has been very consistent this year and he has also been fast. Jeff Gordon could surprise us all but he does have a long way to go starting in the middle of the pack. Marcos Ambrose having to start in the rear because of engine problems makes his job very difficult but I know he is up to the task if things go better for him Sunday than they have so far this weekend.

Some others are Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jimmy Johnson, Boris Said, Ron Fellows and Patrick Carpentier. I find it hard to rule any of these guys out. I think it is all going to be decided by whether or not the fastest qualifiers have problems or not. Starting out front has a definite advantage.

I would like to see Marcos Ambrose pull off the back to front victory, even though the deck is fairly stacked against him. Even Patrick Carpentier is a good choice, but, I’m going to give the nod to Kyle Bush. Hey, this is road course racing this weekend and anything could happen …and probably will.

See ya next time …
Rusty
(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© June 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A Fan’s View and Rusty Norman

Nascar at Michigan “After Chatter”: Fuel Mileage, with Horsepower, Takes Mark Martin to the Victory

Michigan proved to be a fuel mileage track once again and, much like Pocono last week, Jimmy Johnson came up just a bit short on fuel conservation. Although he dominated during most of the Michigan race, unfortunately, he didn’t dominate the last lap.

Mark Martin was ready to settle for just a good, strong finish when the two leaders ahead of him ran out of gas on the final lap. The battle for the top spot through fuel conservation led to a somewhat unexpected last lap drama and made the end of the race a feel good “crowd pleaser” as Mark Martin powered by both Jimmy Johnson and Greg Biffle.

That’s two in a row that came down to fuel conservation (Pocono and Michigan) and once again, Hendrick equipment came out on top. Now, they haven’t won everything, but, the Hendrick teams and teams running Hendrick equipment are looking very strong.

I suppose everyone has noticed they don’t call Mark Martin the old guy anymore…They call him “the Kid”. I have to admit he is having a lot of fun and I don’t recall him looking as happy as he has recently. It is great to see him doing so well this year and, it appears to this fan, he could very well be one of those in ‘the Chase’ that can be a contender for the top spot at the end of the year.

Now, I don’t want to make any rash statements because there is still a lot of season to go, but, this could be the year Mark Martin finishes first in the Chase and takes his first Cup Championship of his career.  Although there are lot of  things going on I would like to see happen this year, Mark Martin taking his first Cup Championship is right at the top of the list.

Some other things would be:

  • Jimmy Johnson winning and taking his fourth straight championship and setting a new record.
  • Jeff Gordon taking his fifth championship and putting to rest the rumors he is through winning the big ones.
  • Tony Stewart winning the championship in his first year as an owner driver

Wow! Although there are several more, I do want to move on.

You see, there are way to many things going on in all the Nascar series and I just don’t want to spend a lot of time only talking about last weeks race and the possibilities  for the Chase.

It seems the economy is finally catching up to some of the brave souls that were toughing it out hoping for better results and it is beginning to show in more and more places throughout Nascar.

As a fan, it is hard to really get a grip on the whole situation because I assume some are trying to cover (or, at least soften) as much of the suffering as they possibly can. I realize some of the teams are suffering, but I also see Nascar doing as much as it can to keep things moving. In my opinion, they haven’t gotten caught up in themselves so much that they can’t see some things need to be addressed. Overall, I am pleased with what I see, (as an outsider) and it appears to me they are trying to make the best of difficult times.

One thing I will say, and it is just my opinion, even though this has been a rough economic year for us all, overall, the racing has been very good. Not every lap you understand, but drama and excitement has been present in most every race.

I have enjoyed the racing so far this year. (I say that even though my favorite driver hasn’t been doing all that well lately.) The year hasn’t gone without its “situations” and “challenges”, but this fan thinks the “doom and gloomers” jumped the gun a bit in their early pre-season criticisms.

I know things could change a lot, but I am glad the year has gone as it has. It has been interesting racing and sometimes, even the ones that should have won, haven’t. That’s right, they didn’t win.

I’m kinda looking forward to the double file restarts this coming weekend at the Infineon Road Course at Sonoma. When the cautions come out near the end, look out! … it could get a little tight out there.

See ya next time …

Rusty

(all views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer)

© June 2009 – all rights reserved

Just A  Fan’s View and Rusty Norman