NASCAR at Texas: Sadler Takes the Pole For Chase Race #8

Rusty NormanNon-Chaser, Elliott Sadler, took his first pole in a very long time and delivered Richard Petty Motorsports some upbeat news after several weeks of nothing but tumultuous days and negative speculations. That doesn’t mean the RPM teams are out of the woods yet, but it does mean they are still working hard to make good showings every week which does offer a few rays of hope into their situation. Personally, I’m glad to see it for both Elliott and RPM.

When it comes to qualifying, it is pretty obvious the Fords are looking mighty strong this weekend. A quick look at the top thirteen shows seven Fords and three of them qualified in the top three positions. With my normal pessimism about how important qualifying may be, I can’t help but notice there are also seven Chevys in the top fifteen, along with only one Dodge and no Toyotas. That may or may not mean anything for this weekend, but I do find it interesting.

The top three in points are far back in the field with Jimmie Johnson starting in 17th, Kevin Harvick in 26th and Denny Hamlin starting in 30th. Of course, we all know over the course of 500 miles, starting in the middle to the back of the pack doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, but this is Texas and it takes some strategy and consistently moving forward to get up front and stay there.

Now, I’m not trying to present anything new to anyone, but the fact remains unless absolute disasters happen to those top three in the points (and on a regular basis over the next three races) it is pretty much a three horse race for the 2010 Sprint Cup. The interesting thing about it is they don’t really have to do much more than race each other for 15th place and they could still be the top three by the time they reach Homestead; (of course, that also depends on what some of the others in the top twelve do.)

So what should we make of the way the practice and qualifying went? Well, I guess that depends on which team is your favorite and who you think will win. From this fan’s view, (and yes, I know I’ve said this a lot lately), this could be the weekend that someone visits Victory Lane for the first time or for the first time in a long time. I’m really not sure which way it will go, but I do think it will be someone besides the top three in the Chase. In fact, judging from the late practices, it could even be one of the Toyotas and not necessarily one from JGR.

Of course, you can never figure Kyle Bush’s Toyota out of the mix, but I still say the Fords are looking very strong for the weekend. Even though they didn’t necessarily turn the fastest laps in the final practices, I do think Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards have a good chance of pulling off a good run for Sunday’s race; either one of them could win and I won’t put it totally outside the realm of possibilities that Matt Kenseth could too.

There is a dark horse Ford who’s been showing some strength and consistency lately and that is the other Roush/Fenway team of driver, David Regan. This is another one of those teams that could pick up their first victory, if things go right. If things go as they have for Regan so far this season, he may lead and run near the front for a period of time, but there is always that simple little something that takes him out of contention.

Texas is a fast track but it can also be a bit treacherous. I’m of the opinion it could also be a fuel mileage track this weekend. As I’ve stated often in the past, I’m not one that watches the fastest lap, (although they do tell a tale at times), but one that watches for consistency in lap times. Sometimes, we as fans don’t get the full picture about lap times until after the race starts and (even more importantly) how some do after several pit stops. My thinking is the ones that will be in there looking to take the win will be the ones that can run consistently on the bottom of the track all day and also make a move or two on the outside to pass.

I hate to be the one that says it, but I really think the top three in the points are going to have a mediocre day at Texas. It is this fan’s opinion, they are so close in points that none of the three of them wants to be the one that gives anything away. Denny Hamlin has struggled since they unloaded off the truck. I can’t say anything much different about Kevin Harvick either. Jimmie Johnson looks the least stressed by the closeness of the points and I think he has the best advantage of the three to finish closest to the front. Unfortunately, that spot closer to the front is somewhere around tenth or worse. Now that may not sit too well with some of you, but admit it, you’re not happy when he finishes any nearer to the front either. Let’s just say I think he’s going to extend his lead over Hamlin and Harvick this weekend but I think it’s only because he is going to finish ahead of them by a spot or two…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© November 06, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com)

NASCAR at Talladega After Thoughts: Bowyer Wins and the Points Race Tightens

Clint Bowyer pulled into Victory Lane at Talladega as the winner of the Amp Energy Juice 500 after NASCAR checked the video feeds and timing loops to be sure who was out front when the caution came out on the last lap on Sunday afternoon. As it turned out, Kevin Harvick finished second and Richard Childress Racing finished 1 – 2 for the day. If Jeff Burton wouldn’t have been taken out by a skirmish with Dale Jr and the wall late in the race, who knows, RCR may have finished 1-2-3 because all three of the teams were that strong all day. (That is also a testament to just how much of a turn-around there has been at RCR since last season.)

Well, the jury is still out on what happened to Jeff Gordon’s #24 late in the race. He and Jimmie Johnson were trying to stay out of trouble hanging around in the back of the lead draft until about fifteen laps to go. When the two decided to pull out and make their move, they proceeded almost immediately to the front of the pack and Jeff thought his engine was going to blow, smelled oil and pulled out of line, leaving Jimmie without a drafting partner. It turned out Jeff’s engine just stumbled, (possibly hit the rev limiter on the chip or some other circumstance having to do with restrictor plate racing) and he finished just behind Jimmie Johnson at the end of the race in 8th place.  It is another one of those strange things that has happened this year (and not just to Jeff Gordon.)

From this fan’s view, I know there was a lot of passing and lead changes, but, personally, I didn’t see anything going on other than follow the leader for a lot of laps. Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t have a problem with them running around a restrictor plate track in a big pack, single file, and I sure don’t have a problem with them running around for many laps door handle to door handle. I just think the race at Talladega needs something to make it more interesting in the middle.

I don’t have an answer to it (at least not yet) and I’m not really complaining, but, I do think the race needed just a little something. I know the top three, in particular, were running a safe race, (and Denny Hamlin almost ran so safe we all thought he might finish a lap down there for a while), and those top three weren’t alone in doing that.

I knew going into Sunday’s race that generally the first fifty or so laps are the best until we get to the last ten and it pretty much proved out that way. (Yeah, I know nobody really cares what I think about how the race went on Sunday, but I thought I’d tell y’all anyway.) I have heard some say since; they thought it was one of the best races they’ve seen at Talladega in a long time. From my view, I think they confuse the way the Chase is going with the actual on-track racing. I mean, if we do look at the way the Chase is panning out, it is the closest ever and, if the top three continue to run the way they have, it very well may not be settled until the final lap of the final race for the 2010 season at the finale in Homestead. Now, I’m not saying things are going to continue on as they have, but I have to be honest, I was thinking things would have already been different and that hasn’t happened yet. (There, now that I’ve said that, watch what happens this coming weekend…)

Oh well, everyone says the “bad tracks” are out of the way for everybody (uh, that would be Martinsville and Talladega, just in case you haven’t been paying attention) and now, (at least according to Denny Hamlin), it is back in the hands of the drivers.

Well, I’m not so sure I agree with him, but I will say this… I reckon we’ll find out…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© November 02, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com)

NASCAR at Talladega: Will It Be Treats or Tricks For the Chasers at Race #7 in Alabama?

Rusty NormanIt has often been said in the past several weeks that Martinsville and Talladega could be the biggest game-changers the Sprint Cup drivers face in the Chase for 2010. Judging  from the way Martinsville went; Talladega could very well end up making some feel less than super after Sunday’s race. The unknown is whether it will be those at the top of the points or some further back, that end up either feeling treated or tricked.

At a restrictor plate track, there are only about 40 some cars that can win on Sunday and nobody says it has to be the guys that are actually in the Chase.

Although, it is a well know fact restrictor plate races are highly appreciated by the fans, the drivers look at them like having to swallow some bad tasting medicine and driving on a high speed freeway at rush hour. Because of the horsepower limitations of the restrictor plates and the fact that most teams have figured out the setups to run 2 to 3 wide bumper to bumper and door handle to door handle in the draft, it will be an afternoon of who wants to lead and who wants to follow until about the last 10 laps. Unless something out of the ordinary happens, the last 2 to 4 laps will be the most exciting of the day.

The only considerable unknown for Sunday afternoon is whether or not the “Big One” happens, when it happens and who it takes out. Of course we all know there are at least nine teams hoping only the top three of the top twelve will be affected so the rest of them can get back into the hunt.

You know, come to think of it, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t like to see the Chase tighten back up to where at least most of them are back in it. It is a little more difficult to get excited about the races and their outcome each week when basically only three are still in contention for the Sprint Cup for four or more weeks. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not wishing any bad luck on the top three, I’m just hoping to see the Chase tighten up. (Yeah, I know it sounds like I’m wishing for bad luck to befall them, but I assure you, it only sounds that way…)

As everyone that is even the slightest bit familiar with NASCAR knows, qualifying has very little to do with who wins and who loses the Amp Energy Juice 500 Sunday. Anymore, (and especially at this super speedway) it is basically to see which pit stall the teams get to pick. Sure, I know that alone can make a big difference coming out of the pits, but its effect only lasts for about a lap. After that, it is who can hook up with whom and in the last several Talladega races, two are better than one, three, four or more (at least for a couple of laps, anyway.)

As I said earlier this week, I do expect the top three will be driving more defensively than offensively this weekend. I understand their position, but I do think the defensive driving strategy can go either way. Riding around at, or near, the back of the draft for extended periods can also be hazardous to your day. All it takes is being caught up in something a driver can avoid ahead of him and his day can be over faster than he can blink.

Because the cars run so close together and at a very high constant speed, just how fast they are actually going is deceptive. As fans, we have to remember they are traveling tightly bunched together at 190 plus miles per hour. At those speeds, what can happen does happen and happens fast. Just because any one, or all, of the top three thinks they can safely run in the back and avoid possible troubles doesn’t mean they can and it also doesn’t mean they won’t finish in the back, too.

When it comes right down to it, there are some I expect to be running for the win, even if Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin don’t. He may not run up front all day, but I do expect Kevin Harvick to be trying to take his second victory at Talladega this season. He and Jamie McMurray have to be near the top of the list as possible winners simply because of the way they finished earlier this year.

I’m not sure who is going to take this one, but one thing I do know; if there is a big one late in the race it could make a big difference in the how the points look at the end of the day. Will it affect the top three, the bottom nine or, none of the above?

Well, that my NASCAR friends, is one very good question and I reckon we won’t know until it happens… will we?

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© October 30, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com)

NASCAR’s Jim Hunter Will Be Greatly Missed

Just a quick entry to offer our heartfelt condolences to all family and many friends of, Jim Hunter, NASCAR vice president of corporate communications who died on Friday. We add our voice to the many expressing how he will be missed from among us. We appreciated all he did over his years associated with NASCAR and his other endeavors and thankful he was such a commanding presence in fulfilling his duties in the sport we love…

Once again, my, (our), condolences in particular to his family and also his many friends… Jim will be missed.

Rusty Norman

www.justafansview.com and www.nascarfansview.com

October 30th, 2010

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 NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com

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 NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com

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 NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com

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 NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com

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 NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com

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 NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com

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 NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com

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 NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProductions.com