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

NASCAR at Atlanta After Thoughts: Stewart Wins, Ten Are In and There’s One To Go

Tony Stewart won the Emory Healthcare 500 at AMS, ten of the top twelve are locked into the Chase and the last two of the top twelve would have to have an absolute   disastrous race in Richmond to miss it. Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer aren’t locked in, but they might as well be with what it would take for them to miss out on a chance to make a run for the Sprint Cup Championship.

That is exactly what Ryan Newman is hoping for next Saturday night; a totally unexpected happening that takes one or both of them out and giving him an opportunity to make it in. The chances of Ryan making it are astronomical, at least from this fan’s view, but it will add at least the slightest bit of drama to a points race that is pretty much already decided. Yeah, many are still pulling for Ryan to make it in, but not many expect it.

Basically, Jamie McMurray is out (barring the absolute disasters mentioned above) but he has had a year of highs and lows. He’s won the big ones (Daytona and Indy) but Atlanta was crunch time for the #1 Earnhardt/Ganassi team and they just didn’t have it. Jamie had a good year but as a team, they need to work on being more consistent.

The thing I noticed from my view was watching many of the Cup cars with over 800 horsepower dirt-trackin’ the asphalt for the whole night. For some, it was as slippery as a clay track in the Midwest on a Saturday night after a heavy rain. (Maybe I should mention why I say that… I grew up around the dirt tracks in the Midwest and remember some of those Saturday nights.) One thing is certain, no matter how many horses you have under the hood, if you’re not hooking ‘em up you sure aren’t going anywhere fast. The tire Goodyear brought to Atlanta was plenty durable but many of the teams had trouble hookin’ them up to the track. I don’t think we can put the blame on Goodyear (even though I’m sure many would like to.) Part of the blame definitely has to go the racing surface at the Atlanta Motor Speedway… it is losing it’s grip and has become more and more abrasive.

I really expected the Roush Fords to make a better showing than they did although Carl Edwards did finish second. From this fan’s view (and looking at performance over the last several weeks), it does look like the strongest teams going into the Chase will be RCR Chevys and, quite possibly, the Roush/Fenway Fords. I know things can do a 180 when the Chase starts, but they have been showing more consistent runs than the other teams for the last several weeks.

Atlanta Motor Speedway is not a good place to judge over-all performance and it seems from this fan’s view that it has become a track that many teams experience either feast or famine. Case in point would be Kurt Bush; he basically had the field covered in the spring and struggled most of the night with a car they could not get to hook up. I’m not sure whether it was the diligence of crew chief Steve Addington or Kasey Kahne slamming into him later in the race that helped them run better, but he did finish sixth on a night it looked as though he would finish 25th or worse.

Although I know Steve Addington was busting his hump to make it better all night, it seems to me they did much better after the 3400 pound “full body slam” of Kahne… (Hey, I’m just sayin’…)

I don’t expect much to change as far as the top twelve points positions are concerned even though the NASCAR Spring Cup series heads to Richmond this coming weekend, but, this has been a year of many unexpected happenings and I guess anything (even the next to impossible) can happen.

Like I said, I don’t expect it will happen… but… that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see it happen. Hey, it’s nothing against Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle or Richard Childress but it would definitely add something called drama to the racing for the weekend if both Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer blew engines during the first lap or two… don’t ya think?

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© September 8, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

(All audio productions by www.podcastnorm.com and PCNProduction s.com

NASCAR at Loudon After Thoughts: After All the Hype, the Magic Mile Was Relatively Tame

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The race at Loudon had a lot of hype coming into it, but when all was said and done, racing at the “Magic Mile” turned out to be relatively tame. One would have thought, (if they listened to all the media hype), there was a great possibility of major paybacks coming at the hands of those that had their day ruined at Sonoma the weekend before.

From this fan’s view, the race went pretty much as I expected and much of the “talk” was just that. I guess we should also keep in mind, just because it didn’t happen this weekend, doesn’t mean payback isn’t coming at a more important (or costly) time in the future. It just means an extended time of certain drivers having to look over their shoulders or passing those they’ve upset quickly and not spending a lot of time around them. In other words, the idea is to not give them any more opportunity to pay you back than you have to. Eventually everyone will move on to other problems and situations… hey, that’s just racing.

Now, just because certain things didn’t happen doesn’t mean there wasn’t any action at all at NHMS. Although it wasn’t a race that kept you on the edge of your seat until the end, there was still enough going on to make it interesting. The possibility of some of that payback coming to pass was a small part of it, but there were a few other happenings to add to the action. (I’m still trying to figure out what went on with Denny Hamlin and David Reutimann at the end of the race. Apparently they had some type of altercation that caused the two of them to end the day relatively “hot tempered” and upset with each other.)

One of the things that probably took a little bit of the excitement away was the long green flag runs and the strong runs of Kasey Kahne and Jeff Burton after the first pit stop. Kasey looked awfully strong and, had he not had engine problems, he quite possibly could have been the winner. True to the way his luck has gone this year, his engine did go south on him and eventually finished itself off near the end and after he had dropped back several places. It was unfortunate for him and Richard Petty Motorsports because it looked like RPM was positioned to have a strong team day as AJ Allmendinger and his #43 RPM team finished tenth, also.

The surprising thing to me has been the poor performance of the Joe Gibbs teams over the last two weekends. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush were definitely struggling early (in particular Hamlin) even though at the end of the race Kyle was in position to challenge for the win. That came to and end when Jeff Burton’s team decided not to pit at the caution with about fifteen to go and had to try and stay ahead of everyone else on old tires. The two of them got together and Kyle went around taking him out of the mix for the run to the checkers.

After that bit of excitement, the door was open for a showdown of sorts between Jimmy Johnson and Kurt Bush over the last nine laps. What followed was typical short track style racing with a couple of bump and runs traded between the two of them. It took most of those nine laps for Jimmie to run Kurt back down but he did do it with a couple to go. Tony Stewart joined in the tight racing at the finish and moved Kurt out of the way to finish second.

I have to agree with what many of the drivers are saying about “payback” lately. The word is definitely being over-used by the media and not everything that happens is because of, nor deserving of, payback. What we are witnessing as fans is what we like to see in racing whether it be NASCAR or at our local short tracks. This is just good hard racing with cars that are so evenly matched that it is hard to stay apart, let alone win. From this fan’s view, the old adage is true, “rubbin’ is racing” and that my friends, is what it is all about…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© June 29, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

Nascar At Pocono After Thoughts: Hamlin Wins the Gillette Fusion Pro-Glide 500 (So What Else Is New…)

Denny Hamlin won the Gillette Fusion Pro-Glide 500 at Pocono Sunday afternoon. (So what else IS new?) He continues to amaze many with his consistency and, whether you like him or not, he is proving he and his #11 FedEx – JGR team have what it takes to be considered a threat to win a NASCAR championship. (In fact, many think this could be the year he and his team unseat Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Hendrick team from repeating taking the championship for the fifth year in a row.)

Now, hold on just a minute!  Isn’t it a little too early in the season to start predicting who will actually win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship for 2010? (Well, it is at least from this fan’s view.)

I do find it interesting so many are so quick to write off Jimmie Johnson, (or any Hendrick Team for that matter), for being in the hunt to win the Cup Championship. I mean, let’s get real here… There are still 22 weeks of racing left to decide the Cup and 12 of those are outside of what is now called the Chase. I do admit the Joe Gibbs teams are looking pretty tough right now, but then so are the Childress teams and let’s not forget Kevin Harvick is still leading the points although Kyle Bush is beginning to press him hard for that spot. There comes a time when Kevin Harvick is going to have to win a race or two to stay on top instead of finishing 2 or 3 spots behind those that are closing in on him.

I do think the ones that are going to struggle to be able to make the Chase this year are the Roush teams. (Wow, there’s some real rocket science for you, huh?) Even though three of them are in the top twelve at the moment, I’m not so sure how long they will be able to stay there. Bad breaks and poor performance have definitely been eroding their chances for several weeks now. At the moment, (once again from this fan’s view), the only Roush team I think might have a chance at staying in the top twelve for the Chase is Matt Kenseth, even though Gregg Biffle and Carl Edwards are still hanging in there for the time being.

Kurt Bush is another one that has been performing consistently well and his spot in the top twelve is relatively safe. That doesn’t mean he is a shew-in to stay there, but unless something really drastic happens over the next twelve races, it is this fan’s opinion he will be there.

A quick look at the standings for Sprint Cup tells an interesting story for Stewart/Haas Racing. As of this last weekend, both Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are sitting 13th and 14th ready to break into the top twelve. A few weeks ago they definitely looked like long shots to make it in (or stay in as the case may be), but now, their chances look much better. One can only wonder if Tony Stewart will do what he usually does in the last half of the year. Usually, the last half of the season is when he performs his best.

Taking a little closer look at the 5th to 13th spots shows only 151 points separating them and if someone (or even several someones) has a bad week, that someone could make a big jump in the standings. Now, I’m not saying anyone will… I’m just sayin…

It is just my opinion, but one of the things that is different this year for the Hendrick teams of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin is their inconsistency. Sometimes they look ready pounce and at other times they look absolutely lost. It is such a different look than last year when they seemed to dominate the rest of the teams. One has to wonder if they’re just experimenting for the Chase or if they really are playing catch-up.

Unfortunately for them, I think it is the latter and they have their work cut out for them up to, and through, the Chase this year. That’s one great thing about NASCAR Racing the way this fan sees it. It may take a little time, but eventually the ones that are dominating lose the edge they have over the rest and have to find a new one to get back to the top again. It’s all about competition and when someone does get an advantage over the rest, the rest take it as a challenge to find an advantage that will put them on top; and then…  the cycle starts all over again…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© June 9, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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

Nascar At Pocono: The Treacherous Triangle Has Speed and Excitement In One Place

When NASCAR shows up at Pocono to face the treacherous triangular tri-oval, it is anybody’s guess who will walk away with the victory. It is another one of those tracks that has a list of drivers that perform well there, but they don’t necessarily perform that well all day long.

I do find it fascinating that lately some of the most unexpected drivers and teams seem to look strong during practice and qualifying. Maybe to some these performances aren’t unexpected, but, honestly, the real story won’t be known until the race is over Sunday evening.

As a fan I can’t expect to know what anyone else thinks qualifying and practice times tell us about how the racing will go at Pocono, I can only speak for myself. I am not alone in thinking running one fast lap, or maybe two, is really nothing at this unique track, but running consistently fast, lap after lap, is quite a bit harder even with the expected speed drop-off of the tires.

For me, there will be two things that will work wonders for the person trying to win the, (now here’s a name for you), Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 presented by Target. (Wow, that’s a name about as long as the front straight away.) The first is not making any mistakes in the pits and the other is being fastest longer than anyone else in a fuel and tire run.

At this track, no one expects to master all three of the turns with the handling of their race car, but they do hope to be fastest in at least two of them. This is also a track that seems to suit the driving style of certain drivers over others. Some have mentioned those that do well are also well-suited to road racing tracks and flat tracks as well. I think they are probably right about that in some ways, but the biggest thing I see is having a lot of horse power under the hood and making the most of every turn with what you have.

A lot of names come to mind when I think of who could win the race today at Pocono. Not all of them qualified near the top of the list, but past performances tell me they will be strong contenders at the end of the day.

Let me say right up front, I will be completely surprised to see a Ford sitting in Victory Lane when all is said and done today. I just don’t see the speed in them I do in others, at least in a long green flag run. The Chevys and Toyotas look to be the strongest and, of course, there are a couple of Dodges that I can’t completely rule out.

So, who will be at the top of the scoring when this day is done? Personally, I think there are a number of names and possibilities. I don’t think anyone can rule out the strength that Kurt Bush and his crew chief, Steve Addington have shown over recent weeks; they have to be considered as possible winners.

Kyle Bush qualified on the pole but admits he has trouble running consistently fast during a long green flag run and also just running consistently fast over many laps. The track just doesn’t seem to suit his aggressive style.

The Richard Childress camp is another possibility and at the top of my list for possible winners would be Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton. Both proved they are fast during practice and qualifying, (although admittedly, Jeff Burton looked better in the last practice than his actual qualifying run.) I don’t even rule out Kevin Harvick. He always seems to be there at the end.

Most look at Denny Hamlin’s performances since coming to NASCAR and put him at the top of the list for today’s race. I can’t totally disagree with that assessment although I do think he will struggle to stay at the front today even though I do think he will be near the front at the end.

I do think there is the slightest possibility of the EGR teams being in contention at the end also. I don’t expect it but one can never rule out Juan Pablo Montoya and some say he is due for a good finish and a win on an oval. (Now, I’m not saying I agree with them, but I do know Pocono is a place where stranger things have happened.) I don’t even rule out the possibility of Jamie McMurray taking the victory, but I do admit, he’s not at the top of my list (for whatever that’s worth to you.)

Unfortunately, that only leaves the Hendrick cars to mention, even though not all of them are really under the Hendrick roof. Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon have a lot of wins and top finishes at many places, including Pocono. I’m not opposed to the possibility of one of them taking the checkers today and I do think Jeff Gordon didn’t show all he had in practice. It looked to me as though they were experimenting a bit.

That leaves Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson as honorable mentions for possible victors in today’s race and all of the above mentioned drivers and teams have a chance today. It just depends on whether or not there is a caution at or near the end. Otherwise, Pocono has tendency to show the winner well before the last laps although not always.

Hey, even Dale Earnhardt Jr qualified third and could surprise all of us with a great finish… but then, well… you how that is…

See ya next time… Rusty

All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer

© June 6, 2010 – all rights reserved

Rusty Norman and NascarFansView.com

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