Chase Race at Phoenix After Thoughts from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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After the Phoenix race it is down to the two top contenders, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart, as the NASCAR Cup teams make their way this coming weekend to the finale in Homestead. They came into the weekend at Phoenix separated by three points and they left separated by three points and that should make the race this coming weekend very interesting. Tony has to finish at least three points ahead of Carl to tie and then I think it becomes all about the wins, (and we all know how many Carl Edwards has.)

I have to admit, the track came in much quicker than I thought it would and all of us were treated to a great race Sunday afternoon. It appears to this fan, Goodyear definitely brought the right tire, the teams either had a grip on the track or they didn’t and the racing, well, it was very good. Once again, fuel mileage had something to do with the finish, even though it wasn’t the total determining factor for winning. Kasey Kahne ran good all day and had the others covered at the end of the day taking his first victory in a long time.

For the #4 Red Bull Racing team, it was a welcome relief to take the victory especially with the uncertainties Red Bull Racing faces for the coming year. For Kasey Kahne and his crew chief, Kenny Francis, it could be the shape of things to come as they head off after the season’s end to Hendrick Racing. I reckon we’ll find how that transition goes, but for now, Kasey’s Red Bull team has been one of the strongest in the Chase, (other than Tony Stewart, that is) and they haven’t even been in the Chase. Even though they will be switching to their new home at Hendrick, in my opinion, they will making the move with confidence.

As I mentioned earlier, some of the teams just never got a hold of the new track surface at Phoenix and struggled all day. Of particular interest to this fan was the plight of the Hendrick teams. All of them seemed to struggle most, if not all of the weekend. In fact, I would go so far as to say, they just haven’t performed with their usual consistency for the whole Chase. From my view, the year was not a good one for them and it appears they have a little regrouping to do for the coming 2012 season.

Both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have performed with complete inconsistency during this Chase and had to be a let down for them. Jeff Gordon looked very strong coming into the Chase, but when he got there, it was as if the wheels came off and he was dropping like a rock most of the Chase. From this fan’s view, he could very well be fighting Kyle Bush for the twelfth spot this weekend.

If Homestead is anything like his weekend in Phoenix, it could be a very long winter for Jeff. I’m not expecting much, but I’m sure he would be very pleased to have at least a top five this coming weekend and it would be very interesting to see the Hendrick teams in general do more than their usual struggling at Homestead.

Now speaking of Kyle Bush, it seems to this fan, when the wheels came off at Texas, they really came off for him and the end of his season. Two engine failures in one weekend don’t give a driver much to go forward with after being set on the sidelines for a weekend. From this fans view it appears to this fan he is having one of those character building moments many seem to face in life and, even though he has come a long way with his attitude this year, it is pretty obvious tho this fan, he still has a ways to go. I’m thinking this has been good for him and I expect he will bounce back from all of it next year.

I’m not so sure how he and his team will do this weekend though. He may do well or there could be more of those character building moments ahead for him this weekend, but I am sure he is glad to have the Texas and Phoenix tracks behind him. If nothing else, owner, Joe Gibbs, needs to have a less eventful weekend at least as far as the negatives go. No matter how you look at it, it has been a tough year so far for Joe Gibbs Racing,

With one race to go to name the 2011 Cup Champion and Phoenix in the rear view mirror, this fan has to admit facing the coming weekend with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am looking forward to some time off and spending the holidays with family and friends but I will miss the weekends of racing we have been witness to this year. Contrary to what many believed when we started this year with the new points system and a few other tweaks to the sport we love, it has been a very good year for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

There has never been a lack of drama for the whole year whether it was the fuel mileage races or the tandem drafting at both Daytona and Talladega. I really can’t say I expected the competition to be this close or this exciting. So far, emotions and competitiveness have been quite evident all year and there has been no letting up on anyone’s part.

It looks as if the naysayers were wrong when they said there was going to be a lack of competition and a lot of laying back until the end of the races. Often, at least from my view, it was all out from the drop of the green flag to the waving of the checkers in most every race. From this fan’s view, with only three points separating the two that can actually win the Championship this coming weekend, I look for more of the same and I expect to see Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart trying to get every point they can in the weekend ahead. As for the rest of the racers and Chasers, well, it may sound funny, but I expect them to be doing the same thing, too…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© November 17, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

Michigan After Thoughts from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Well, from this fan’s view, things didn’t go as I expected they would Sunday afternoon. The Fords were slower than I expected they would be in the latter part of the race and a Toyota ended up winning. I have to admit, I was surprised because I really thought a Chevy was going to take home the trophy. Now, I thought the Chevys would want to make a statement, especially since the race was in Michigan (the home of the big four auto makers), and a quick look at the finishing order says they did, at least to me. Of the top nine finishers, six of them were Chevys with one Dodge and two Toyotas. There was a total of eight Chevys in the top fifteen. I would say the Chevys looked very strong for the weekend at Michigan.

The first Ford was Matt Kenseth in tenth with two more finishing eleventh and twelfth. I’m sure that was not at all what they hoped to accomplish, especially at Michigan International Speedway where they usually are the ones to beat. Carl Edwards had an engine problem which caused him to finish many laps down and in thirty-sixth position. Now this is just my opinion, but, I’m thinking he and the #99 team are hoping they’re getting the bad luck out of the way before the Chase starts. Otherwise, it could be long ten races once it does.

As for Denny Hamlin, the longer the season runs the more his luck stays the same. His one victory this season is the only thing keeping him at all in contention for a wildcard spot in the Chase. He took another big hit in points on Sunday, finishing thirty-fifth and dropping further back in the overall top twenty standings to fourteenth. From my view (and listening to him talk during interviews) it appears he is ready to punt this season and work on being strong for next year. Honestly, I can’t blame him, because as I have been saying for the last several articles, he can’t seem to buy a good break even if his career depended on it (and unless things change for him, it very well could depend on his doing better sooner than later.)

Even though the four Hendrick Chevy teams didn’t look that strong in the first practice or qualifying, they sure showed up on Sunday ready to take it to their competition. From this fan’s view, it appeared Jeff Gordon had the strongest car on the longer green flag runs. Unfortunately, it took him around ten laps to get up to top performance in a run and he was also plagued by trash accumulating in his grill causing the engine to run hot and the car to get loose. In all honesty, he had as good a chance at winning as did several of the others. He just didn’t catch any breaks at the right time. Still, he finished sixth and moved up another spot in the top ten to sixth.

Jimmie Johnson and the #48 team showed their usual late season ability to overcome adversity and finish at or near the front. He had a very good chance of taking the win, but Kyle Bush was just too strong for everyone at the end of the day. Even the green-white-checker finish didn’t help him out, even though it did close the gap of Kyle Bush’s lead with the rest of the field.

Even Mark Martin and Dale Jr were looking good at the end, although that green-white- checker did cause Jr to finish much further back than it looked like he was going to. As it turned out, Martin finished fourth and Dale Jr fourteenth. Had it not been for the G-W-C, it is this fan’s opinion Jr would have finished in the top ten, possibly even in the top five.

Brad Keselowski continues to impress with his third top five finish in as many weeks. Whatever happened to him after that horrible crash during testing has sure been good for his finishes over the last three races. With a first, second and a third he has moved from twenty-third in points to twelfth and has been running strong every race. It is no fluke, he has just been sucking it up and driving since the accident. Does that mean he is going to continue performing at this level? Well, that is a very good question and I don’t have a good answer. All I know is this, in NASCAR things can often change to the negative just as quickly as they do the positive. Just ask Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and even Kevin Harvick if you don’t think that’s true.

Whatever happens, the next three races are pivotal for more than just Brad Keselowski. Depending on what happens in these next three races will either make or break the rest of the season for names like Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and even Mark Martin. Wins are the most important thing for all of them, and several others, as the season winds down to its close and the door for being in the Chase slams shut. The others with one win and in the top twenty have to move up in points, or get another win to even have any chance at all of being in the 2011 Chase.

One thing is certain from this fan’s view; it should prove to be a very interesting and exciting three weekends ahead and I don’t think we’re going to know all of the drivers that will be in the Chase until the last race is over. So hang on to that cup holder… the fun is just beginning…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© August 25, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

BrickYard After Thoughts from A NASCAR Fans View

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Paul Menard held off Jeff Gordon at the Brickyard 400 and won his first NASCAR Cup race at a place his family has been trying to win at for a long time. He drove his Richard Childress Chevy to victory over the Hendrick Chevy of Jeff Gordon at the place some now consider to be the second most prestigious place to win in NASCAR Cup. (The most prestigious, of course, is the still Daytona 500.)

Yeah… I know what you’re thinking… it definitely turned out to be another Chevy day Sunday at Indy, although it did surprise me that the Chevys finished better than I expected and the Fords didn’t finish like I thought they would. This time, however, it wasn’t just a Hendrick Chevy day, it was just generally a Chevy day and the finishing order spoke loudly about that and other things.

I’ll get to the other things shortly, but it doesn’t take a very hard look at the finishing order to see what I mean. Six out of the top eight were Chevys and the other two were Roush Fords finishing fifth and seventh – (as I said), not quite what I expected after the way practice and qualifying went. I honestly thought the Fords would finish a little bit stronger, but as is often the case when cautions don’t fly in the latter part of a 400 mile race, fuel mileage can often rule over horsepower and that is exactly what happened because the Roush Fords, in particular, seemed to have plenty of horses under the hood, just not enough fuel at the right time.

In all honesty, Indy is one of those tracks that NASCAR visits that often comes down to pit strategy, tire management and stretching fuel to the max. But like I said in my article before the race, those are the things that are almost a certainty – especially these days in NASCAR Cup.

There are those that lament the fact that Stock Car racing is more than just having a strong car, (and some of them are drivers), but it really is nothing new; and it is nothing new for a driver to complain about fuel mileage when his car uses more than the ones that beat him on fuel mileage. Much to the disappointment of many, it is all about the whole package in NASCAR these days and that is why some complain about the racing being too technical and not necessarily enough about the driver and having the strongest car.

To win in NASCAR Cup (and just about every other motor sport), it takes horsepower and handling, (which is being able to hookup up that horsepower to the track.) It also takes a driver that can take what he has to work with and get the most out of it. Along with all of that, it takes tire strategy, fuel strategy and not making mistakes coming in or exiting the pits and at times, just a bit of luck doesn’t hurt either. To the casual observer it may seem it’s just about cars going fast around a track, but to those that have been around it longer and are maybe a bit more knowledgeable about it, they know it is a thinking man’s game and during a race the driver is only one of several people doing the thinking.

One thing that stands out to this fan, was how good Jeff Gordon’s car was from the drop of the green flag. He started moving forward at the start of the race and, even though he did end up in the middle of the pack on a restart or two, he was always able to move back to the front. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened had a yellow come out with a couple to go, or if he had caught up to Menard a lap or two sooner. Even after thinking of all the shoulda – woulda – couldas, one thing is plain to this fan; Jeff Gordon and his team are letting it be known they are one of the ones to watch when the Chase starts.

Even though Kasey Kahne had a strong Toyota, he and his team had a problem on pit road early that cost them track position and then dodged an accident later on, filling his grill with grass, making him have to pit a little off sequence. He just never seemed to be able to recover from that or the earlier pit problem and drive back up through the traffic.

Once again, the Brickyard was historic. It just seems to be one of the places where history is made often. Although not every lap kept you on the edge of your seat, the race was interesting right down to the checkered flag and for the fourth time this year, a driver won his first NASCAR cup race. If that doesn’t say something about the competition in NASCAR Cup being closer than it has been in the past, I don’t know what does and it is great for NASCAR and for the fan’s.

Okay, it’s true, I’ve been a NASCAR fan for a long time and I have seen a lot of the changes that have made people both happy and mad with them and made the competition exactly what it is today. Sunday’s race was “as good as any and better than many,” (to quote a small sign on a friend of mine’s dashboard of his stock car.) With just six races to go until the start of the Chase, I expect the racing to be the same as it was at Indy, or even better, and the overall intensity to increase, especially in those top twenty to twenty five positions trying to make it into those two wildcard spots…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© August 3, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

NASCAR at Loudon After Thoughts from A Fans View

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You know, it isn’t often I start off with statements like I am about to make about a race, but, I think the race this last weekend in Loudon was one of the best overall races I have seen in a while. Whether it had something to do with the fact it was much like a normal weekend short track race and only 301 laps long, or because it went kinda like I figured it would, I don’ know. All I know is that it held my interest throughout all the 301 laps and, although it looked like we all knew how it was going to end, there was just enough doubt and drama as to who might win to make it interesting all the way to the drop of the checkered flag.

It is interesting how the luck of the two Stewart/Haas teams turned toward the positive and they finished the race exactly the way they started it. As we all know, Ryan Newman who sat on pole and Tony Stewart started with him on the front row and they finished first and second after the 301 laps. With the way their luck has been running over the first and middle part of the season, this fan thinks they were probably wondering what might go wrong in the closing laps but, all went well, neither of them ran out of gas and they crossed the finish line without any major disasters of any kind.

Jeff Gordon had a very fast car and constantly moved toward the front. That is, except when he had problems with the alternator not charging the batteries properly causing him to fall back and, at one time, he was a lap down. Even though he had those problems, he had moved back up into fourth place by the last lap. His troubles weren’t over even then though. On that last lap he had a flat tire that caused him to finish in eleventh as he crawled across the finish line.

From this fan’s view, he has to have mixed emotions about the day. Finishing eleventh had to be a major letdown with as strong as his car was and with how his crew kept him in the hunt even with the problems. He should be encouraged by the fact that his car was so strong and that could possibly mean he may have an even better race when the NASCAR Cup teams return to Loudon in the second week of the Chase. Naturally, all that is dependent on how he does over the next seven races and how he stands in the points when the Chase actually begins.

It was no surprise to me how the Fords finished. Marcos Ambrose was highest finishing Ford in ninth place and the next highest finisher was AJ Allmendinger from the Richard Petty camp. There were those that said they could have finished better but they were in fuel conservation mode. That may have been the case and we will have to take them at their word, but from my view, they just didn’t look like they had enough speed all during the race weekend to do much better than they did.

The Toyotas had a very strong weekend also, but Kyle Bush had a very rough weekend. It was obvious with all that was happening to him during the first part of the race, he was frustrated by the day. Still yet, we have been seeing a much more composed Kyle Bush this season and it has been an amazing transformation. He has been much less out of control, (although not anywhere near docile yet), and it is obvious he is maturing and working his way even closer to becoming a Cup Champion. Personally, I have enjoyed watching the process. From my view, he is much more likeable overall and yet he still lives up to one of his nicknames, “Wild Thing.”

Personally, I’m glad the Cup Series has a weekend off to catch their breath. It has been hectic and hard weeks since the last breather. One thing I notice when they have a break is there is generally a slight shift in momentum. I’m anxious to see how these last seven weeks go before the Chase begins and how the points shake out over the next few weeks. I really don’t see much happening with the top five or six, but there can still be ‘a whole lot of shakin’ going on’ in the rest of the top twelve. It also remains to be seen how those with wins in the top twenty figure into the final two wild card spots. It could get really interesting over the next few weeks in particular.

Overall, Loudon was a great race (and from this fan’s view, of course), it wasn’t that much of a surprise either. Going in everybody knew it was going to be a race where track position, fuel mileage and pit and tire strategy would all figure into the end results… and by the way; did anyone notice that it was a Chevy kind of day. Not only that but it was a Hendrick associated and Hendrick kind of day at that. (Hm-m-m… I wonder where I heard that?)

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© July 21, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

NASCAR at Kentucky from A Fans View

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Rusty NormanThis is the first visit for the NASCAR Cup teams to visit the Kentucky track, but really, it’s not. Many of the drivers and teams have gone there to test and they could do that up to about two years ago because it wasn’t a track that had Cup racing on it. So, it is the first time the Cup teams do go to Kentucky for a race on their schedule, but many of them are familiar with the track even though it sounds like it is brand new to them.

Even if it was the first time for some of them to be on the Kentucky track, NASCAR allowed a test session over several hours on Thursday, before they actually took to the track for practice or qualifying for the weekend on Friday and the race Saturday night. Of course, the rain out of the first test session did throw a little wrench into to works and then rain causing qualifying to not be completed has given us the starting lineup for tonight based on the second practice session, (Wow! That sure sounded confusing, didn’t it?)

So, tonight’s race becomes even more of an uncertainty (as to who might win) with the way they are lining up. Some of the faster cars didn’t even get to qualify, so lining up according to the practice session times doesn’t tell us the whole story. I do like this new way of qualifying NASCAR has been tweaking here and there this year, but it is unfortunate for those who might have actually qualified on time before the rain came. That means drivers like, Michael Waltrip don’t get to race tonight (and he would have made it in according to his qualifying time before qualifying was called). In particular, he would have really liked to have run in this inaugural Cup race at what he and his brother Darrell would call their home track. Unfortunately, because of the that last rain shower, that won’t happen this time.

There was a lot of talk during the week about how the drivers that had raced in the Nationwide series might have an advantage, but from this fan’s view, I just don’t think that will be the case. It is my opinion any advantage those drivers may have had is pretty much eliminated by that six hours of testing the teams had on Thursday. I could be wrong but there is a reason why they often call the NASCAR Cup drivers the best in the business and I think they and their teams learn very quickly. Being able to spend that much time on the track on the same weekend they race on it has to be an advantage for all concerned.

Now that I’ve said that, it is this fan’s opinion tonight’s race should be a very interesting one. Kentucky Speedway is a track that is rough and that makes it a little bit harder for these Cup cars to be set up and keep their splitters from rubbing the ground. I’m not saying that’s the only thing that will make it interesting but I am saying it will contribute to what will make it interesting.

Since they didn’t make it but about half way through the field before qualifying was rained out, (and so they would have time to get the track ready for the Nationwide race), this fan thinks this is a race that is going to be hard to pick a winner. Like any other weekend, you can’t tell a whole lot from the way they qualified, (and particularly from this weekend’s lineup being set up from the afternoon qualifying session), but there are some people that have run well here in the Nationwide series. Whether or not that will transfer over to the Cup race tonight is anybody’s guess, but from my view, it is a definite possibility and could affect the results of the race.

I expect tonight’s race could be a fuel mileage race and, as always seems to be the case these days, it will be a strategy race. The ones that can make the most of a tank of fuel and get out front and maintain track position will likely be the ones we see cross the finish line first. Pit stops will be critical and anyone that has problems in the pits will likely have a hard time keeping up with the front runners.

Kyle Bush is sure to be a threat to take the trip to Victory Lane tonight. His pole starting position and having the #1 pit stall just might mean trouble for the rest of the field. Kyle is often a threat to win and I don’t expect tonight to be that much different. Does that mean I’m ruling out all the others and declaring him as the victor? Nope, not at all. I don’t think he just going to walk away and dominate tonight, although it is possible. Personally, I think he’s going to have to work for it if he is going to win, but, he could be be first to take home the checkers from this inaugural NASCAR Cup race at Kentucky Speedway tonight.

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© July 8, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

NASCAR at Daytona from A Fans View

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Rusty NormanThe big question has already been answered about the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona this weekend. That question was how the different drivers were going to handle the “Two Car Draft”, (some call it “the Two Car Tango”), but it was answered before they got to Daytona this week. Many had already started planning their strategy a couple of weeks ago and most had already chosen their partners for drafting before unloading their cars off the haulers. It still remains to be seen how that strategy plays out simply because “stuff” happens in restrictor plate racing that can’t be forseen and this fan doesn’t see this night race at the super speedway being any different.

The next big question was wondering who would actually sit on the pole and that was answered Friday in the late afternoon and early evening. Mark Martin was fastest and took his fiftieth career pole in NASCAR Cup. He and the Daytona 500 winner for 2011, Trevor Bayne, will make up the front row. Yeah, I know many, (including myself), downplay the importance of qualifying on a regular basis but I do find it interesting that a fifty two year old and a twenty year old make up the front row. (Some have even said it is the old and new of it.)

From this fan’s view, after observing the practice session and qualifying (even though qualifying doesn’t tell us anything about the way the race will go), I don’t see this race being that much different than the race in February. The track is still smooth and still has a lot of grip according to the drivers. And it is very obvious it will be two-by-two unless someone discovers how to go faster in groups of three or four.

I look forward to this race with mixed emotions and it is my opinion the two car draft has changed restrictor plate racing completely. Now, when I say mixed emotions, I’m not saying they are negative emotions, I’m just saying restrictor plate racing is different than it was. In some ways, I kinda miss the big packs and watching them swap positions lap after lap. It seemed there was little to distract those watching because, at any moment, someone in that large pack of cars could get just a little squirrely and suddenly there would be mayhem and a bunch of spinning and sliding cars often changing the possible outcome of the race.

The “big one” usually affected more than just those close to the action, it affected anyone that couldn’t get out of the way. In those big packs, it could have been a contender, or someone with no chance of winning, that was taken completely out of contention and it didn’t matter which number was on the side of the car or who was driving.

With the two car draft, there is still a lot of action and they still run in packs. The difference is, (at least from my view), there is a bit of separation and when one of the twosomes get a run, they seem to blow by everyone and then they hit a wall. Of course you know I’m not talking about a literal wall (at least, most of the time) but a wall of air that seems to slow their progress and let’s someone else take over until they hit that same momentum killer.

In this case, momentum is key and that is what makes the end of the race so interesting. The teams have to time their move just right if they want to win. A great example of this was the race at Talladega in the spring. With eight of the contenders finishing four abreast and only thousandths of a second apart at the finish line, to me that says the finish at Daytona tonight could be one of the most exciting in recent history, including the race in February and the one at Talladega.

So that begs what I call the final question… Which of the groups of two will be crossing the line first to take the checkers? (Wow, I have to admit, you do ask hard questions.)

I have listened to several during the week talk about who should win because statistics say they should. Personally, I’m a little weary of listening to statistics because this is restrictor plate racing, plain and simple, and anything can and usually does happen.

Just because someone has done well in the past and has won or finished in the top five over the last several trips to a restrictor plate track doesn’t really mean that much to this observer. There are simply too many variables when it comes to this type of racing. That is why you see someone like a Trevor Bayne win the 2011 Daytona 500 in only his second start in a Cup car and only a day or two after his twentieth birthday.

So does that mean I’m discounting the possibility of someone like Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon or Dale Jr winning simply because they usually run well at restrictor plate tracks? Of course not; what I’m saying is, just because they usually run well, or because the statistics say they should run well, doesn’t mean they will. When it comes down to the end of the race tonight, we could see a first time winner on a restrictor plate track, or we could see someone that has won before… uh, statistically speaking that is…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© July 2, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

NASCAR at Pocono from A Fans View

 

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Rusty NormanPocono is not an oval, does not have four turns and it is a cross between a road course and an oval. They call it a triangle (and it actually looks like one), but one thing is slightly confusing to me. If NASCAR races at a race track called an oval they have four turns but this track, being a triangle, should have six in my book. When they talk about this track, they talk about as if it is a road course and it only has three turns. Of course, they name some of the turns and straightaways and that is supposed to make it easier for us to understand where they are on the course, (and notice I purposely used course instead of track in this instance just to show there is an assumed difference.)

Okay, okay… enough with the trivial stuff already…

Pocono is a unique track and it is always interesting to see how the different drivers handle the challenges it presents. Some just love it while others just suffer through it. It is a place you have to sacrifice something in at least one spot to make gains in others and it really does have three distinct turns, each one having its own characteristics. On top of that, the track has three distinct straights and one of them is wide and long and can handle six wide racing to the turn at he end of it. Hopefully, the drivers sort themselves out before they get to that turn or some of them aren’t going to make it through.

NASCAR has made some interesting changes for the teams to deal with this weekend and one of them is loosening the gear ratio rules so it is advantageous to shift into what many call a passing gear to better accelerate off the turns again. That may or may not be good for all of the drivers, but it will make the race all the more interesting.

If they do shift there is the possibility they can miss a shift and that can cause them problems. The expectation, is they will shift to try and pass coming out of the turns by throwing it down into third gear to get a jump off the turn and then back into high gear. Speed is going to be the determining factor on shifting and then there is the concern of how much more fuel they might burn by shifting. Personally, I think shifting is the biggest unknown going into the race tomorrow. I think it will be something the driver will decide on the fly. If it works for them and moves them toward the front, you can bet they’ll use it to the fullest advantage.

So what is the expectation of how things will go on Sunday afternoon for the 5 hour Energy 500 at Pocono from this fan’s view? Well, since you asked, I tell you what I think…

First of all, (and judging from the practice and qualifying sessions), I think the bumps in turn one are going to throw more than one car out of balance and possibly out of control. (Mike Skinner’s qualifying try was the most obvious example of what I am talking about.) One miscalculation and it can mean losing a lot of ground on a race track that is already hard enough to pass on anyway. If they lose it coming out of turn one, it puts them out of position going into the next turn which can lose them positions and possibly a car as they use one of the walls as a brake. I think the problems will only be more obvious under racing conditions and being able to be in the best groove may be a thing much harder to do when you blow the turn and have to move up the track in that area.

Two drivers looking very confident after the qualifying session were Kurt Bush and Denny Hamlin. Bush said he was very pleased with the way he and his team performed to take the pole even in a backup car. I don’t think that it necessarily follows that he will win, but I do have to admit the Penske Dodges are looking much stronger than they did just a short time ago in the season. Once again, from this fan’s view, Kurt Bush could take the win but Pocono is a tough place to win at and we’ll just have to wait and see.

As for Denny Hamlin, well, I just have to say he looks strong and that could spell trouble for the rest of the field, considering how well he usually does at this track. He is definitely not a shew in to win, but he is a definite strong possible to take the trip to Victory Lane once again.

The one that looked happy but surprised at his qualifying lap was Jeff Gordon. He felt his car handled way to good and was still fast. Could it be he will take his second victory this weekend? Possibly, but 500 miles at Pocono is full of surprises and possibilities.

I’m not fully convinced this won’t be a race where someone totally unexpected wins even though it will be a challenge. Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose and several others have great opportunities to be first past the checkers this weekend and look, I haven’t even mentioned the Richard Childress team of Clint Boyer, or the Carl Edwards Roush Ford.

Does anyone think Dale Jr has a chance this weekend? How about 5 time Jimmie Johnson or long time veteran Mark Martin? Hm-m-m… Now that I think about it, this could be another race that won’t show us the winner until they pass under checkered flag first and call out as the winners the last two weeks have, “I can’t believe we won!!”

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© June 11, 2011 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman and Nascarfansview.com
All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PodCastNorm Productions

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

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 NascarFansView.com

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

NASCAR at Loudon After Thoughts: The Chase Begins, Clint Bowyer Wins… on Fumes

Clint Bowyer is on a roll… His performance over the last several weeks has been enviable and he won the Sylvania 300 on fumes Sunday afternoon. To say no one expected him to win it would not be quite correct, but he was the “twelfth seed” going into the Chase and he received the least amount of attention as to who would win at Loudon. Oh, and by the way, he probably wouldn’t have won, IF, (and that’s a mighty big if), Tony Stewart hadn’t run out of gas about a lap from the end.

I find it interesting how things sometimes go in racing. I mean, if you take a good close look at the end of the race Sunday afternoon, three teams chanced not coming in for fuel and possibly tires and two of those three ran out of gas. (In case you weren’t watching, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart were the three and we all know who didn’t run out of gas.) To me, it just goes to show that sometimes a thing called luck, or possibly that thing called “Big Mo,” has to figure into the mix.

Now, I’ve heard some say, “It just wasn’t in the cards for Stewart to win” and others say, “The ‘racing gods’ weren’t smiling on him.” I don’t agree with those evaluations, but, I do know that sometimes things just don’t go the way you think they should, or could. Why Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton ran out of gas and Clint Bowyer didn’t is a good question (and don’t forget, the #31 team of Burton is also a Childress team like Bowyer) but I don’t think it had anything at all to do with ‘cards’ or ‘racing gods.’ I do, however, think it had everything to do with fuel mileage and the driver’s right foot. (I guess we could also figure in which one used the least amount of brakes and did the most coasting over the last laps doing that thing called “saving fuel.”)

I’m not sure whether it was the race only being 300 laps or because it was a shorter track, but the racing on Sunday was aggressive to say the least. No one, and I mean no one, could accuse any driver of just laying back and waiting for the last fifty or so laps. Many were aggressive (and some overly aggressive) from the drop of the green flag on the first lap. It really set the tone for the day and the intensity was high for the whole race. Even though the intensity was high, the Sylvania 300 had minimal cautions even though there was quite a bit of pushin’ and shovin’ going on.

If anyone questioned whether the thirty one cars vying for 13th place in the Chase were going to move out of the top twelve’s way or just lay back and let them go, well, I think that thought can be put to rest. From what this fan observed on Sunday afternoon, they don’t really care too much about those other twelve drivers… its racing as usual for all of them and that tells me this is going to be an interesting Chase. The top twelve may still be the ones finishing up front, but they are going to have to work for it if they do; (hey, I’m just sayin…’)

One thing I like about the first couple of races in the Chase is how fast the points’ situation gets shaken up. Considering how they all started the day and how they finished, there was a gigantic shakeup in the top twelve. By not running out of gas and winning on Sunday, Clint Bowyer jumped ten spots, going from twelfth to second. (Okay, maybe gigantic is a bit of an over statement, but there was a lot of movement in the top twelve spots even though Deny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Bush somehow managed to stay in their positions but I don’t think Jeff Burton is very thrilled about staying in the tenth spot after he ran out of gas in the final two laps while running in the top five.)

All in all, Sunday’s race a Loudon was a great start to the 2010 Chase for the Cup and, if it is any consolation to those that had a bad start, there are still nine weeks to go to move up to the top of the points standings. How they handle the adversity they experienced after struggling during the Sylvania 300 for the next few weeks will determine what their chances for taking the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship really are.

I’m not ready to make a pick for who will take the Cup this year, but if the start of the Chase on Sunday is an example of what we as fan’s have to look forward to for the next nine races, it is going to be an exciting and dramatic time ahead. Who knows, maybe Matt Kenseth will surprise all of us and make a move from the twelfth spot to the top of the list over these next nine weeks… or, maybe not…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 22, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

NASCAR at Loudon: A Short Race at a Tough Short Track Starts the Chase

Rusty NormanSay what you will about the Chase, but one thing is certain… Even though NASCAR Cup teams visit ten tracks during the Chase, Loudon is one tough short track and it is one tough place to kick off the Chase. Add to that the fact it is a relatively short race, with probably a minimum of cautions and the possibility of some short tempers and there’s no telling what will happen.

Once again, in this fan’s opinion, I don’t think qualifying times are going to tell us the whole story of how things will go Sunday afternoon. To me, it seemed many of the teams hadn’t quite figured what setup they wanted to use by time for qualifying. After qualifying, it seemed many teams made major changes to what they thought was going to be “the setup” and some that qualified poorly, looked mighty strong after the two Saturday practice times.

Personally, I wouldn’t have given you two plugged nickels for the Hendrick teams’ possibilities of finishing near the front at Loudon this weekend, but afterwards, they appear to have hit on something that put them right back into the mix. Not only did Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson look good, but so did Mark Martin and Dale Jr.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they are going to win, I’m just saying, it looks like they are going to give the rest of the teams a run for their money (which I personally wouldn’t have believed a week or so ago) and it should make the “Drive for Five” Championships for either Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon once again a possibility in this Chase. Oh sure, I know many of you will disagree with me on this, but it is still something to watch for the next few races and see how it goes for them. (In other words, I guess we can re-evaluate after a few of the Chase races are in the books.)

It appears the Roush/Fenway teams have consistently been improving over the last ten races, (much the same way the Childress teams did at the end of last season), and should be making the Chase interesting, at least for the Ford fans. Carl Edwards hasn’t won yet but has definitely been piling up the points, in particular over the last ten races. He just may be one of the ones to watch when it comes down to the finish in Homestead.

The same goes for Greg Biffle; although he has hit a few bumps along the way, he has been one of the strongest Roush teams until lately. It’s not that he hasn’t been strong… he’s just had some “challenges” along the way.

As for Matt Kenseth, well he’s just been plugging away and quietly sits in 11th spot waiting to pounce on any possibility to make it to the front. (I don’t think we’ve heard all we’re going to here from him yet this year.)

Kurt Bush remains the great unknown for me as to how he will do in the Chase. He has been both up and down, good and bad during the season so far and it seems he always shows up with a strong car, not always a great car. Crew chief Steve Addington has surprised many with how quickly he has gelled with Kurt and as a team and I think Kurt has a chance at winning the Cup Championship. He has strong engines and plenty of talent and with a little bit of racing luck he could be the one to dethrone Jimmie Johnson (something he doesn’t try to disguise as one of his desires.) It will be interesting to see how he does over the next few races and see if they step up their performance to the May level. If that happens, the #2 Dodge will definitely be tough to beat.

Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush all have made a statement in the last couple of weeks in one way or another. I’ll wait and see how they do over the first four races of the Chase before I really commit to their possibilities in taking the Cup. Although all three are capable, all three have had good and bad races lately and that can be at least slightly unsettling when it comes to looking at their consistency. In the next ten races, a bad week can be just a bad week, but several of them can be devastating.

Clint Bowyer has been the stellar performer for the Childress teams over the last few weeks and looks to be on a roll. For a while it looked like he may be on the outside looking in, but all of the sudden, he looks like a contender (and to be honest, listening to him in interviews, he is confident he will perform as good as any in the top twelve.) His teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton have not performed at the level they had hoped over the last couple of races but don’t count them out; the Childress teams have been strong all season and I don’t expect that to change that much over the next ten weeks.

I tell you what to look out for this Sunday; look out for the possibility of someone outside the top twelve to take the victory. There are some pretty strong cars outside the top twelve and one of them could take the checkers.

I’m still looking for one of the “Chasers” to win Sunday and it could be the likes of Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson or even Clint Bowyer. I think this race is just about as hard to call the winner of as it is to think who might win the Chase for the Sprint Cup this year. As many have said, this is the closest match-up of talent and performance as any Chase so far and anyone of the twelve can take the Cup.

As for who is going to win at Loudon, I’m going to stick my neck way out and say Jeff Gordon. I think it is about time for his luck to change and more have noticed the same thing I have about him at this point in the year; He still has that fire to win and he has had about all the bad luck one can have in one season and still make the Chase (aside from the fact he finished second in the points before the reset for the Chase.) I’m thinkin’ it’s time for him to win another one….

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 18, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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