NASCAR at Martinsville After Thoughts: Hamlin Wins and Pulls Within Six Points of Jimmie Johnson

Denny Hamlin won Chase race #6 and, interestingly enough, pulled within six points of points leader Jimmie Johnson in the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. He entered into the weekend saying he wanted to start on the pole, (which he did), lead the most laps, (which he didn’t) and win the race (which he did.)  When all was said and done for the day at Martinsville, some in the top twelve were better off and some were much further behind than when the day started.

Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick both pulled closer to Jimmie Johnson in points and at least for those top three, it is becoming a tight race for the Championship. The two of them continue to make it an interesting Chase and both look to be the ones to end the #48’s consecutive Championships at four. Both Hamlin and Harvick manage to finish near the front each week even though at times it looks like they’re going to finish nearer to the back. If nothing happens differently for the top three, I expect to see the three of them fighting for the Cup when things wind down at Homestead in four weeks, although I’m not quite sure what order they will be in when they get there.

The only other one still within striking distance for the Chase at the moment is Kyle Bush but he is 172 points behind the leader. Unfortunately for him, it will take the top three having disastrous weeks at more than Talladega this coming weekend and him finishing strongly ahead of the field over the next few weeks. He will want to win poles, lead the most laps and win a couple of races, hoping the top three have overwhelming complications to really make it interesting by the time the Chase does reach Homestead.

With all the developments at RPM last week and along with Kasey Kahne suddenly moving to the Red Bull #83 team, it appeared to this fan we might not hear much from Kasey for a while. Actually, he finished a very respectable 14th on the day and I am sure had mixed emotions for the day. It does appear he has moved on and will be ready for next season. There is still some uncertainty about Richard Petty Motorsports and how they are going to come out of this situation. As a long time fan of NASCAR, I do hope the best for them.

The Hendrick teams did have three finish in the top ten, but two of them aren’t actually in the Chase this year. Mark Martin finished second, even after having a slight meeting with the wall early in the race and Dale Earnhardt Jr ran strong on the day and finished seventh. He and his fans were ecstatic as he led for 90 laps. It should prove to be interesting how he does this coming weekend in Talladega. After all, it is a well known fact he runs very well at restrictor plate races and his performance at Martinsville just might give him and his team some momentum and hope for a good performance at the last restrictor plate race for 2010.

Jeff Gordon had a bad day for the third week in a row (with a little help from Kurt Bush in the #2 Penske Dodge.) I admit, one of the three races didn’t turn out as bad as the others, but the last two have been killers for the #24 team. He has lost a bunch of points to the leaders and sits 203 points behind at fifth place only 10 points ahead of Carl Edwards and only 33 points ahead of Tony Stewart. Unless the #24 team hits a really hot streak, this fan thinks this year’s drive for Jeff’s fifth Cup Championship is over. (Oh well, there’s always next year… Right?)

Personally, I think the field is pretty much set for the showdown at Homestead in four weeks. I don’t hold out much hope even for Kyle Bush to really make a move closer to the top three, unless something at Talladega catches all three of the top runners up in it and doesn’t touch the rest. Still yet, it should prove to be very interesting how the next couple of races go. Kevin Harvick won at Talladega in April and hopes to do the same this coming weekend.

Of course, restrictor plate racing is one of the hardest races to call, simply because so many cars seem to stay in the main pack. I know several drivers are going to Talladega now that Martinsville is done, hoping to take home a win and more than a couple are quite capable of doing so. Unfortunately, the top three in points are quite capable of winning at a restrictor plate track also and that just means this coming weekend is going to be a make it break it weekend for those in fourth to twelfth.

Since at the moment, the top three are only racing each other, I do expect to see some defensive driving going on by Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, but, I do expect to see those other nine drivers in the Chase pressing the envelope to try and make up some points and get back into the hunt for the Chase…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 26, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

(All audio productions by and

NASCAR At Martinsville: It’s Do or Die For at Least Six In Chase Race #6

Rusty NormanIt’s coming down to do or die for about six (almost seven) Chasers and, if something doesn’t go differently for those in the top three soon, it will really be a three car Chase. As I said earlier this week, I’m not ready to count anybody in the top eight out just yet, but even this fan has to admit, it is looking might bleak for those guys at the moment. That is unless that disaster happens to one or two of the top three (or all three for that matter) and turns the current points situation around completely.

Of course there are those that hope and pray that disaster will happen and those that say emphatically, “There ain’t no way!” As can be expected, many of the latter of those are the ones that have already given the Cup to Jimmie Johnson.

I’m not one of those however… I am one of those that would like to see the points race tighten up if for no other reason than to make the rest of the season more interesting to watch as the Chase moves on through the next five races. I don’t think anyone would deny that watching six or eight drivers contending for the championship on a weekly basis as opposed to two or three all the way to Homestead is much better.

There’s a lot of talk about these next two weeks being the deciding tracks at separating the possible winners from the hopefuls and it is possible they could be. Martinsville is a half mile short track, Talladega a 2.5 plus mile super speedway and it is true, anything can happen at either one of them, especially trouble. The worst that could happen is the top three have two bad races in a row and completely shake up the points and put almost everyone back in the Chase for the Cup Championship. (Now we all know what the possibilities of that happening are, but it is fun to think about what it would be like IF it did by the time they all reach that final race in Homestead.)

Many have already handed the trophy for this weekend to Denny Hamlin since he qualified on the pole and looked really strong in practice. I’m not going to go that far even though, statistically speaking, he and Jimmie Johnson have won most of the races there recently. I just think back to last weekend how Jeff Gordon had the wheels come off his drive for possibly winning his fifth Championship with a bad alternator and then two mistakes in the pits. (You have to admit, he’s definitely had a couple of bad weeks in row.)

You can say what you will, but the very same thing can happen to Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville and completely change the look of the Chase in short order. (The same goes for Kevin Harvick, too.)

As a fan, I like to consider the possibilities even if they do sound impossible for the moment. NASCAR Sprint Cup racing has always been pretty unpredictable and with the cars being so equal any more, I just don’t think anything is outside the realm of actually happening. The chances of both, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson having major setbacks this weekend or next weekend (possibly even both) are almost unimaginable, but the fact remains, it can happen.

The thing about racing, (and I guess other sports, too) is Jimmie’s and Denny’s fate is not totally controlled by them and their crews. There are forty-one other teams that are trying to make statements for their sponsors, fans and owners as well and all it takes is being in the wrong place at the right time and a very good day can become a very bad one in a hurry.

This could be the second week in a row that a non-Chaser wins. Once again, the EGR teams look impressive and could once again surprise all of us by either Jamie McMurray or Juan Pablo Montoya taking the trip to Victory Lane. Ryan Newman looks strong again this weekend and could take it home for Stewart/Haas Racing. Even though I don’t expect it to happen, there is the possibility of a Michael Waltrip team pulling off a dark horse victory. Both David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr are capable and like short tracks.

With all that’s going on surrounding Kasey Kahne and Richard Petty Motorsports, I find it interesting that Marcos Ambrose qualified on the front row and, in this fan’s opinion, could win this weekend. Yeah, I know he won’t be representing RPM until next season, but it would be a big boost in moral for his present team and for his future team, (that is if his future team is still operating next season.)

There are several I would like to see win this weekend, but, there are also those I hope don’t. I won’t mention any names simply because it’s not that important. I do think it would be great to see one of the RPM cars finish at, or near, the top and I think it would be great if Marcos Ambrose takes the trip to Victory Lane.

I don’t think either one of the above is going to happen and I don’t think the one I want to win will wither. I do think this is going to be an interesting race, and because it is a short track and 500 laps, I expect there will be more than a few short tempers by the time it’s over. Whether anything comes of those possible temperament issues is anybody’s guess, but as for me I’m gonna be watching… just in case.

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 23, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

(All audio productions by and

Nascar At Charlotte After Thoughts: Non-Chaser McMurray Wins and Several Chasers Are Sufferin’

Jamie McMurray became the first non-Chaser to win in the 2010 Chase and what a year he has had. The only thing missing for him is, he isn’t in the Chase… Still, this year he has won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 and now, the Bank of America 500 at CMS. Not too shabby of a year for the man that didn’t really know what he was going to be doing this season. Fortunately, Chip Ganassi offered him the job of driving the #1 Bass Pro Shops Chevy and the rest is history.

Although it was a great night for the non-Chase EGR #1 team, several Chasers had some really bad racing luck and, unless the top three in the Chase have something happen to them in the same ways, it looks to this fan as though it is coming down to a three or four team run for the Sprint Cup. I’m not ruling anybody out just yet, but the points do continue to separate between the top three and the rest. (Yeah, I know there’s still 5 races left, but still yet, there comes a time when the odds just begin to make catching up and passing those ahead of you very difficult.)

Many around NASCAR Nation say you can’t really rule anybody in or out until Talladega, and I do understand what they’re saying, but my view is those top three teams keep on pressing on, or, they have problems and the race tightens up. (Gee, that sounded kinda obvious, didn’t it…)

Like I said, I really don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of races, but I do know the same can happen to those top three as happened to Jeff Gordon with his alternator going bad. Up until that part failure, Jeff had been running right up near the front for almost two thirds of the race. It was bad enough he lost the ability to charge his batteries, but he also was caught going too fast entering the pits after that and had to do a drive though penalty just like last week which put him a lap down for the second time on Saturday night. That only made an already bad situation even worse. It’s true, he lost no positions in the Chase but he did fall another 71 points further away from leader Jimmie Johnson. (That puts him 156 points behind the leader going to Martinsville.)

As all of you already know, (if you watched the race), Kurt Bush also had another bad night finishing 30th and losing more points and places in the Chase. His hope for being the first to sweep the Charlotte track for the year just didn’t quite go according to plan. (Six others have failed to do so in the past and he became the seventh.)

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards struggled the whole night. Stewart finished a very disappointing 21st and never really got going after being caught up in his team-mate, Ryan Newman’s second lap spin and dropped to 177 points behind Jimmie Johnson. (That’s not quite what he was hoping for after winning last week.) Carl Edwards did manage to finish 12th but needed a much better performance (like winning) to make up any ground to the leaders.

Kyle Bush finished a disappointing (at least to him) second behind Jamie McMurray and gained back four of the five spots he lost last week in the points. He led the most laps and looked to have the field covered, but just didn’t have enough for the #1 McMurray EGR team at the end. (He did manage to stay one spot ahead of Jimmie Johnson though.)

At this point, it is interesting to this fan how the top twelve Chasers have faired during the last couple of weeks. Many have had a good week followed by a bad week (and vice-versa) and have obviously had the “Mo” taken out of their “Big Mo.” They’ll have to go to the next races either hoping disaster doesn’t strike again, or if it does, it strikes those at the top instead.

Whatever happens, it just doesn’t make sense to take anything for granted. This year has been competitive (to say the least) and full of surprises. If anyone thinks the drama is over just because Jimmie Johnson is 41 points ahead of Denny Hamlin better not assume too much. Judging from the last couple of races, anything can (and probably will) happen. The way it’s been going, I just don’t think the racing or the disasters are over for everyone just yet. Yeah, the points are only close for the top three at the moment, but after Martinsville, it could be totally different… (or not…)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 18, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

(All audio productions by and

Nascar at Charlotte: It’s Chase Race #5 and Those Driving To Stay Alive

Rusty NormanThis is the last night race for the 2010 NASCAR Cup season and some of the top twelve are absolutely driving to stay alive in the Chase. This is the midpoint of the Chase, and unfortunately, some may have already crossed over the line (or point of no return) and some are on the edge, but after this weekend more of those racing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup will not have another chance at competing for it until next year.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is a very sensitive track when it comes to track temperature and in this fan’s opinion, should make this night race a bit more interesting than maybe it would be in the daytime. The reason I say this is because of the challenge it gives to the engineers and crew chiefs by pressing them to work with unknowns.

The practice sessions don’t fall at the same time as the end of the race. The track temperature, even though they have practiced into the early evening, can be up to twenty degrees different from the time they start the race to when they finish it. This means they don’t actually see what they will have to work with by the end of the race and it is “best guess” when it comes to being ready to work with the setups.

So, does this mean they are completely in the dark when it comes to the late race setup changes? No, it just means they have to use “all” of their input to come up with their “best guess” and if they blow it, it is almost a given their team will struggle all night. It also means the crew chiefs will have to listen to a frustrated driver for most of the race and that will make their night even more stressful.

I have to wonder if this will finally be the race that someone other than an actual Chaser wins. During the practice sessions, several cars were fast and even a quick look at qualifying  shows some outside the Chase as capable of putting up very fast times. Of course, once again, I have to mention the Roush/Fenway teams, too. The Richard Petty Motorsports teams qualified well and the Roush/Fenway teams of Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle looked awfully strong in the final practice.

Another thing I take into consideration is this is a 500 mile race. That extra 100 miles means a little more time for things to either go better, or worse, for the competitors. The first races in the Chase are a little shorter and this race could do more to help those that don’t quite get it going until the later stages of the race.

Ones to watch tonight in the Bank of America 500 are mixed inside and outside the top twelve Chasers. I’m thinking a couple of those outside the top twelve are AJ Allmendinger and Ryan Newman.  They have been running strong, or at least showing a lot of strength in the last several races. Allmendinger qualified third and Newman eleventh. Kyle Bush is another that could end up in Victory Lane by the end of the night and appeared to be pretty happy with his car by the end of final practice. His brother, Kurt is another looking to make a statement tonight and he looked impressive even after a dust up with the wall during practice.

Jeff Gordon had a great qualifying run and starts on the pole. I’m not sure whether they just didn’t want to show what they really have or whether they really were struggling in all of the practice sessions; (I reckon we’re going to have to wait and see how the #24 team’s night pans out.

Carl Edwards qualified second and showed he could still run fast in the final practice. The problem with running the fastest time in a practice session and running the fastest laps consistently during runs in a session  is the two don’t usually add up to a victory at the end of the night. Fastest for one lap is good; fastest for an entire fuel and tire run is much better and generally puts that driver and team at, or near the front at the end of the race.

I’m still a believer that qualifying says very little about how someone will perform during the actual race and from my observations, there hasn’t been that much advantage going to those that qualified up front over the last few races. It has proven out that the ones that qualified on the front rows, especially those outside the Chase, haven’t necessarily faired that well in the final results.

This being Charlotte and track position being so important, it is possible that having better pit stalls could make a difference at the end of the night. I guess it will depend on whether or not there are late race cautions and how they fall.

The biggest game changer all season has been the double file restarts. The strategies at the end of the race have become even more important because of them. The decision of how many tires to take and full or partial fueling can make a big difference in how the teams lineup for those restarts and it becomes even more complicated when you add in the possibilities of up to three green-white-checkered finishes, especially at Charlotte in the fall on a Saturday night…

Hey, I’m just sayin’…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 12, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

(All audio productions by and

Nascar At Fontana After Thoughts: California Takes Its Toll on Many Chasers

Rusty NormanTony Stewart won the Pepsi Max 400 Sunday afternoon, but the Auto Club Speedway in California took its toll on many of the Chasers. For some, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it was bad enough for some to think they just may be out of contention for winning the Sprint Cup Championship for 2010.

Those that suffered the biggest setbacks and expressed their disappointment immediately during the race were Greg Biffle and Kyle Bush both with blown engines. The “Biff” lost his engine early in the race and finished a disappointing 41st. It was a crushing blow to the #16 Roush/Fenway Ford team that entered the weekend with such high hopes and riding the “Big Mo” from their victory the week before. For Kyle, it was just another disappointment experienced during the Chase.

It was a shock to this fan that the Roush/Fenway Fords, in particular, had the problems they did and a surprise the Hendrick teams did as well as they did. It looked to me going into the weekend it would be the opposite and I did expect the Earnhardt/Ganassi teams to show a little more strength than they did.

Of course, several of the teams that struggled beat themselves in the pits and/or had ill handling cars, at least to begin the day. For some, the day only got worse and for others it just never got any better. (What that means is, they started out bad and never made much headway.)

Only five of the Chasers finished in the top ten and the rest finished twenty-first or worse. No matter how you look at it, it was a bad weekend for the ones outside the top ten and the separation in points is beginning to show a bit more now, it just remains to be seen if the other five have a bad day or two in the near future to tighten things back up.

Looking at the carnage for the Roush/Fenway teams a little closer shows the devastation of Greg Biffle’s #16 team, David Ragan’s 24th place finish after his late race run-in with Kurt Bush, Carl Edwards ignition problem causing him to finish 34th and Matt Kenseth’s “smoker” holding on for 30th place (which is one of those situations that could have been even worse.)

Kurt Bush wasn’t running all that well on the day and wasn’t in a very good position when David Ragan’s error in judgment put both of them in the wall late in the race. Although it didn’t cost him any places in the Chase, it did cost him some precious points and that’s what really hurt. With six races remaining in the Chase, he can’t afford any more setbacks. Sitting 140 points behind Jimmie Johnson doesn’t look good for the “Blue Deuce” unless misfortune steps in and helps him make up some major points.

Even though he finished 8th, Denny Hamlin struggled during most of the race. After the first pit stop, he fell back and, even though he moved back up to eighth by the end of the race, never looked comfortable. From this fan’s view, it’s not a good time for them to be “missing it” by as much as they’ve been missing it, if they want to overtake the #48 for the Championship. Although he is only 36 points behind Jimmie Johnson, he is only 18 points ahead of Kevin Harvick and just 49 points ahead of Jeff Gordon.

Speaking of Jeff Gordon, he ran better than he finished simply because he got caught entering pit road too fast. He was trying to press the envelope (not exceed it) and didn’t quite stay within the speed limit. That moved him back to 29th spot with only 15 laps to go. With help from a couple of cautions and some good adjustments and calls by crew chief, Steve Letarte, he managed to move back up to that ninth spot. He was disappointed and probably had a third to a fifth place car, but as it turned out, he managed to move up one more spot in the points to fourth place. (That’s a lot better than I thought he was going to do especially after that error in judgment.)

Even though the points had another major shake up at Fontana, the Chase for the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship remains a close one. With six races to go, it is still pretty much anyone’s in the top eight or nine to claim, (although those last two are really pressing their luck.) With the night race coming this weekend at Charlotte, it is still up in the air who may advance and who will falter.

If the five that finished in the top ten this last week have problems in the night race at Charlotte, there’s a very good chance the points will be shuffled once again and put a couple of teams right back in the hunt. That’s a scenario I know Kurt Bush, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards are hoping for and who knows… just because last weekend went the way it did doesn’t mean the other five in the top twelve couldn’t have the roles reversed this coming weekend.

Now, I’m not sayin’ things are going to tighten back up in the points… I’m just sayin’… it’s a possibility.

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 12, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

(All audio productions by and

Nascar At Fontana: Chasers Will Try To Even the Score In Chase Race #4

Rusty NormanIt’s only Chase Race #4 but the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chasers will try to even the score this weekend at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. This is the first time the points in the Chase have been this close since the Chase format began and it has made every “Chase” weekend very interesting so far. From this fan’s view, I don’t expect this weekend to be any different. The question I have is, “Will it continue like this all the way through, or will the top three to five begin to separate themselves from the rest of the top twelve?”

Even though the attention is focused on those in the top twelve, once again the front row has non-Chasers in it. Jamie McMurray took the pole and Elliot Sadler had the second fastest lap in qualifying and the two of them make up the front row for the Pepsi Max 400. Judging from the overall results in the first practice and qualifying, this actually could be the week a non-Chaser takes the trip to Victory Lane.

I always have my doubts about qualifying giving an idea of how the race will go, but there are some places it does have to be taken into account. Auto Club Speedway is one of those places and I do find several things interesting about this weekend in Fontana. It is a fast track and it requires horsepower to get down the long straight-aways and being able to get back in the gas sooner than the rest in the not-so-banked turns. So, does that mean the rest should pack it in just because they qualified outside the top twelve? No… it just means qualifying has to figure into the mix of who might win this weekend.

As expected, RCR and Clint Bowyer’s #33 team, had the penalties against them upheld, although slightly reduced, and they have accepted the fact they don’t have much of a chance to win the Chase. They have made the decision they are going to try and finish as high as they can in the points but they have a ways to go. The #33 team joined all but Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson in qualifying outside the top twelve. (Interesting that two of the ones that needed to show strength, Biffle and Kenseth, qualified in the top eight for this weekend, just as Jimmie Johnson.)

Although a Chevy sits on the pole, two Fords sit in the next two positions followed by the Chevy of Jamie McMurray’s teammate, Juan Montoya, (which says something about the Earnhardt/Ganassi race teams possibilities for the weekend.) Kasey Kahne’s RPM Ford sits in the fifth spot and he’s another driver outside the Chasers that could win this weekend.

Look, I know race-day goes a lot different than the practice times and qualifying, but let’s look at why this weekend could be a little different. First, it is becoming more and more obvious the Fords are back on track when it comes to being competitive. Yes, it is true they were a little behind the curve but they have proven to be formidable competition in the last several weeks. Greg Biffle winning last weekend is a great example of their advancement. He didn’t just win; at the end of the race he was ahead by eight seconds and pulling away. All of the Fords are benefiting from the alliance between Richard Petty Motorsports and Roush/Fenway. Between the two, they have gained in handling and in horsepower and it shows at the end of a race.

Even the Michael Waltrip Racing team of Martin Truex Jr qualified sixth for this weekend. Since all eyes are basically focused on the top twelve, it appears more and more of these teams are going unnoticed but they are making noise for themselves. (Does anyone remember what happened with David Reutimann and Kyle Bush last weekend? Yeah, two things about that… they are a non-Chaser and a Chaser and one of them races for Michael Waltrip Racing. Has anyone heard much about MWR except for that since the Chase started? Yeah… that’s what I thought.)

When it comes down to it, everybody, whether they’re in the top twelve or somewhere in 13th to 43rd,  is showing up to be as competitive as they possibly can. (Well, that is everybody but the “start and parks” and we all know in their own way they are doing everything they can, too.)

Personally, I think this weekend is going to be… uh… interesting to say the least. I really do believe this is a weekend that a non-Chaser could actually end up taking the checkers, but I also have to remember that a lot of the Chasers are quite capable of taking them, too and I’m not quite ready to kick them to the curb for the weekend. Greg Biffle definitely has the “Big Mo” on his side but even with that going on, he has a tough race ahead of him. His team-mate, Matt Kenseth usually has a good day at Fontana and I don’t expect him and his team to lay down and die. They are going to be pushing for every point they can get. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are going to press him, too and, as much as people are tired of hearing me say it, either one of them can win this weekend.

In all honesty, I just can’t get the thought out of my head that one of the EGR teams is going to end up in Victory Lane. Will it be Jamie McMurray or Juan Pablo Montoya?

H-m-m-m, I don’t know… does either one of them drive a Ford?

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 9, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

(All audio productions by and

NASCAR at Kansas After Thoughts: Biffle Wins and Race #3 Shakes Up the Points

Rusty NormanIf you would have asked me if Greg Biffle had a snowball’s chance in the hottest of places of getting back in the hunt for the Chase going into the race at Kansas, I would have told you, “No Way!”  As I mentioned in the last article, I thought he did have a chance of winning, but I have to be honest; I really didn’t expect it with the way his luck has been running. Not only did he win, but he made up a bunch of points on the leaders and he also advanced one place in the points. Considering where he was and the way things were going for his team, I’d say he did exactly what he needed to do.

As I expected, the points were shaken up and Jimmie Johnson took over the number one spot by a whopping 8 points, (which I didn’t expect), but that’s only part of the story. Kevin Harvick advanced two spots to third, Carl Edwards two spots to fourth and Jeff Gordon advanced three spots moving from eighth to fifth. Kurt Bush lost 2 spots to sixth place and Jeff Burton lost two spots falling all the way back to ninth.

The biggest loser on the day was Kurt’s brother, Kyle who lost four spots, falling to seventh place after a couple of run-ins with David Reutimann of Michael Waltrip Racing. He would have probably had a top five or so car had there not been the little “misunderstanding” between the two of them.

Kyle, um, “accidentally” got into the back of the #00 early in the race which caused Reutimann to hit the wall. About one hundred laps later, the #00 “accidentally” got into the #18 of Bush, causing him a great deal of difficulty for the rest of the day. (Needless to say, neither one was happy about either incident and neither one thought what they did was out of place.)

I guess it remains to be seen how Kyle does in the next couple of races. If he manages to move back up in the points, even possibly into first place, he can only thank the level-headedness of his crew chief, Dave Rogers. Because he kept his head and maintained control, they minimized their losses and only lost 35 points on the day. As has been said numerous times, during and since the race, “It could have been a lot worse…” (Yeah, they’re definitely right about that, it sure coulda been.)

Denny Hamlin also didn’t run as well as he finished; (and I’m sure he would disagree with the “finishing better” part.) At times during the race, it was obvious the #11 JGR team was struggling, at best, but they did manage to salvage a twelfth place finish after starting eleventh. That was much better than it appeared they were going to do.

The ruling for the #33 RCR team was upheld and Clint Bowyer’s penalty of 150 points becomes permanent and it is this fan’s opinion he will have a hard time finishing better than twelfth. I could be surprised, but I don’t think so. Since winning the race at Loudon, the #33’s performance just hasn’t been that good. Now, admittedly, they could begin to do much better now that the questions and pressures of the rulings and appeals are over. It is going to be tough for them to make up the 100 plus points deficit he has with eleventh place Matt Kenseth. (Sure, I know it can happen, but I just don’t think it will.)

I have to admit, even Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth in tenth and eleventh aren’t out of the Chase yet, but, they are going to have to perform like they did this last weekend by finishing well in the top ten. In my opinion, the problem with their predicament is their success depends on the performance of those ahead of them. In other words, if those in the top ten don’t help them out by struggling, their advancing in the points will be minimal at best.

Well, that being said, this is still the closest the top ten have been in points since the Chase began and, in particular, after three races. That definitely makes a statement on how tight the competition is in NASCAR Sprint Cup since the introduction of the COT. Of course, there are more factors at work in keeping the competition close, other than just the car itself. The introduction of the double file restart, the wave around and the ever present possibility of up to three green-white-checkered finishes. You take all of this into account and I believe you have exactly what we as fan’s are experiencing this year; Yeah, that’s right… one of the most competitive years of racing ever in NASCAR.

The tight competition has also carried through to this year’s Chase and this may just be the prime example of what NASCAR was trying to accomplish. I find it interesting that all of this is happening the way it is and next year is a year we are being told there are going to be changes coming. I only have one thing to say to that… If the new changes have as much impact on the racing as the most recent ones have had, “Bring ‘em on!”

Of course, I am hoping the new ones will have as much positive impact as the others, but I do wonder… how much better can the racing get? (Oh, that’s right, I forgot. According to some, this will only be considered a good year in NASCAR if Jimmie Johnson doesn’t repeat as Sprint Cup Champion for the fifth year in a row…)

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 6, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

(All audio productions by and

NASCAR at Kansas: Chase Race Three Is Crunch Time for Four (or More)

Rusty NormanNo matter what some may say, this third race is crunch time for the NASCAR teams in ninth to twelfth in the Chase or they’ll have to face the reality of waiting until next year to make another run for the Sprint Cup Championship. The pressure is on them to finish at, or near, the front if they want to have even the remotest chance of being in the Chase for the Championship by the time they make it to Homestead. Those in fourth through eighth have their work cut out for themselves, but those other teams have to finish well not only this weekend, but from here on out (especially if those top eight don’t struggle and help them cut their points separation.)

I know anything can happen simply because this is NASCAR and the competition throughout the Cup series is the closest it has ever been, but there comes a time when opportunity slips away and reality sets in.

So, will this be the week everyone was talking about as the Chase began when someone besides the twelve “Chasers” actually finish ahead of everyone else. From this fan’s view and the looks of practice and qualifying, I say this is probably the weekend (possibly more than any so far) that anything can happen.

Once again let me qualify that statement by saying, that doesn’t mean it will, but, there are some non-Chasers looking awfully strong, especially in the Ford camps. I mean, just look at the front row; Kasey Kahne on pole and Paul Menard outside pole. That’s a pretty strong showing for the Fords (not to mention Richard Petty Motorsports.)

Just a quick glance at the rest of the top twelve qualifiers shows six Fords, three Chevys, two Toyotas and one Dodge. (No partridge in a pear tree though…) Hey, I’m just sayin’, if qualifying says anything at all about how the race may go on Sunday afternoon, then the Fords have a great chance at pulling off the victory. (But when have I ever put much stock in qualifying telling us who will win? Yeah, that’s right…hardly ever…)

Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are the only “Chasers” that qualified in the top twelve driving Fords and both of them have to finish near the front to have much of a chance at staying in contention for the rest of the Chase. To come to what is called an intermediate track (1.5 mile oval) and have a strong performance is not unheard of for the Roush/Fenway teams, but it is a lot of pressure to have to come in and perform well with no room for error to stay in the hunt. They are on the edge and it is imperative they gain points on those ahead of them or it is all over for them when it comes to winning the Championship.

It is interesting how the practices go and the last one today was no different. The Hendrick teams of Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson ended up at the top of the speed charts for the third practice session and I wouldn’t rule out either one of them from the possibility of winning on Sunday afternoon. Of course, with Greg Biffle having the third fastest time, his chances do look hopeful for making up some points like I mentioned earlier even if only a little at a time.

While we’re talking about making up points, the teams that are furthest back in the points have an interesting decision to make. Either they have to go for broke and try to make up the points quickly or try to hack away at those ahead of them steadily by consistently making up points over the next eight races. Unfortunately, desperation is setting in on a couple of them and they may not have the patience to try the little by little method and, as we all know, desperation sometimes causes stupidity.

The thing about the Chase that makes this time of the season different is we have a tendency to focus on the top twelve and overlook the other thirty-one. Admittedly, because of the economics involved and the existence of the “start and parks”, some of them should be ignored. Let’s face it, NASCAR is full of talented drivers and, when we compare equipment, the cars are so evenly matched that just about any of them can win on any given weekend.

This weekend in Kansas could very well be the weekend that someone other than a “Chaser” ends up in Victory Lane. The problem is, figuring out which one. If you look at qualifying, you get one opinion and if you look at practices you get a whole different perspective. I expect the top twelve to be somewhere near the top this weekend, but, I kinda have this feeling that a late race caution is going to enter into the mix and shake up everything…

Will Denny Hamlin still be leading the points when all is said and done? Yeah, probably, but I really think this is the week the points positions are going to start changing and probably drastically. The question is, who are they going to change drastically for?

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 2, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

(All audio productions by and

NASCAR at Dover After Thoughts: Johnson Wins Number Two and the Monster Bites a Few

Rusty NormanJimmie Johnson won race number two of the Chase and once again tamed the Monster Mile. He didn’t just win, but it could be said that he had a dominate performance by also taking the pole and leading the most laps. So does this mean he is headed for his fifth Cup Championship in a row?

Well… if you ask some, this is exactly why NASCAR found Clint Bowyer’s #33 car illegal last week; so Jimmie Johnson could once again make history and he and Denny Hamlin could battle it out for themselves for the championship. Now we all know, NASCAR doesn’t do things like that (no matter how many people think they do) but it does give more opportunity for the “Black Helicopter” rumors to once again get started.

You know, as a fan, I do grow tired of the suspicion of how NASCAR tries to manipulate things like others do in those “Reality TV” shows. (Personally, I don’t watch them for several reasons, but mostly for the reason stated above – there’s hardly anything real about them even though they’re called Reality TV.)

You see, I have an advantage over some of you… I’ve raced and I do definitely understand how things can change in a race and in a season simply because racers go through a spell where nothing seems to go right. (Honestly, sometimes it does seem like there are racing gods and they do try to manipulate things even though I know there are no such things.)

So, what does happen? Well, as usual, that’s a great question and I’m glad someone asked it.

Racing is an interesting sport. It has highs and lows and it definitely seems to ride waves of times when you can’t do anything wrong no matter what you do and other times that nothing goes right no matter what you do or how good you car is. These are just my observations, but if you ask anyone who has raced, they will probably tell something similar.

Yes, I’ve heard people say, “Well, you make your own luck,” and I can say I understand where they’re coming from. The only thing I will say to that is; yes, you always try to put yourself in position to make the most of a situation by being well prepared, but in racing, not everything depends totally on your preparation or performance. Sometimes other people affect your performance by their actions and lack of preparedness. That’s because there is more than one person on the track at the same time… you’re racing more than a clock and a piece of asphalt or concrete. You’re racing those and the others on the track and the situations that come about because of them and their performance and actions. (It’s not a war, really, but sometimes it does seem that way. I guess that’s why it’s called competition.)

The Joe Gibbs’ teams did make a good showing by all of them finishing in the top ten. The best of the three was Joey Logano in third followed by Kyle Bush in sixth and Denny Hamlin in ninth. Denny was happy to finish in the top ten since he usually seems to have problems at the Monster Mile. Kyle wasn’t happy about finishing sixth but was definitely happier with that than any further back in the field.

The RCR cars were mostly bitten by the Monster with Kevin Harvick finishing fifteenth and Clint Bowyer finishing twenty-fifth. Jeff Burton was the RCR bright spot finishing second. Clint Bowyer definitely had a bad week over all and we’ll find out whether NASCAR finding his car illegal will be reversed on Tuesday. If the ruling is reversed he will be ninth in points instead of twelfth.

Others in the top twelve for the Chase bitten by the Monster were Jeff Gordon finishing just outside the top ten in eleventh because of a lug nut issue on the last pit stop; Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle finishing eighteenth and nineteenth and Tony Stewart finishing twenty first which definitely was not what he needed after running out of gas with a lap to go last week while leading.

So far, no one has really taken the point with really strong performances over the first two Chase races. Yeah, Denny Hamlin is still in first, but he hasn’t really dominated the rest of the contenders; they’ve just had their own set of problems and he’s ended up the better for it. That may or may not change over the next couple of races and, who knows, this may actually be the year the Chase isn’t decided until the last lap at Homestead in November…

Well… I reckon we’ll see about that, won’t we?

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 27, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and

(All audio productions by and